What do you believe now that you believed 30 years ago? What do you believe in that you believed in 30 years ago? Personal belief is more fleeting a thing than quality art. And yet quality art carries inherent with it the same pitfalls as fleeting belief: what bands do you believe in now that you believed in 30 years ago? 20 years ago? Even five? In 2011, after an acrimonious split between the members of New Order—ironically, a split that stemmed from a gesture of charity for longtime New Order associate, artist and filmmaker Michael Shamberg—bassist Peter Hook left to tour the music of Joy Division with his band The Light (along with son Jack Bates on second bass, guitarist Nat Wason, drummer Paul Kehoe and Andy Poole on keyboards). It was, in its way, the culmination of all those youthful plans dreamt of on the eve of the U.S. tour in 1980 that ended abruptly when someone else had made other plans of his own.
In those early days of Hook’s revival campaign for the songs of Joy Division, two consecutive and fully-packed dates in Los Angeles witnessed the performance of both the Unknown Pleasures and Closer albums in their entirety, along with a wealth of music from the entire back catalogue: An Ideal For Living 7’ (the slam pits that formed on Warsaw and Failures becoming especially intense), the Licht und Blindheit 7’ (Atmosphere and Dead Souls), the Earcom 2: Contradiction EP (Autosuggestion and From Safety to Where?), the A Factory Sample 7’ (Glass and Digital), and Love Will Tear Us Apart.
These songs—some of the most vital music about brutality and depredation ever written—are meant to be experienced live. They exist as agents of communion—conduits through which the artist speaks truth to this world with enough force and belief to make it to the next world. These are some of the most intimate songs ever to grace a performance stage—and yet the response was somehow both personal and universal all at once. Ultimately, the music of Joy Division doesn’t make you want to spit in the face of God. It makes you want to be aware of your whole self as deeply and as thoroughly as you possibly can. To feel alive again. This interview by David Cotner.
Everybody asked you, on that tour, about the squabbles with the other members of New Order. But the one question everybody should have asked but hadn’t was, ‘Did they ever catch that rat sonofabitch who stole Ian Curtis’ headstone?’
No. No, no, they haven’t. It’s been replaced. It was replaced pretty much immediately, which is quite odd—because when you go to [Macclesfield Cemetery] it’s a different color.
What color was it before?
It was gray, like all the others. Now, because it’s a lighter stone—for some insane reason—it sticks out more. But I do think that that must have been one hell of a hangover, when that guy [whole stole the headstone] woke up in the morning and looked ‘round and asked, ‘What did I do last night?! Oh my God!’
And you couldn’t return it.
No. You can’t do anything with it. It’s a millstone around your neck.
When you die, and of course someone finds it, they will beat your corpse with it.
I would imagine that they would have had to dump it. Strangely enough, they’ve not dumped it somewhere where anybody could find it.
Do you think it was intentional?
In this world, when you get a lot of these high-art things stolen to order … it’s not actually ridiculous to think, in a funny way, that you would get someone’s headstone stolen to order. Would anything surprise you, in this world?
Apart from New Order getting together without me! [laughs]
I know you’re not a petty man, but if you really want to twist the knife…hire [former Warsaw drummer Steve] Brotherdale. Then call Stephen Morris up and say, ‘Hey, Steven … guess who’s our drummer!’
[laughs] You know, he works at McDonald’s.
As a manager?
I don’t think he was a manager when I went there, but he just got prosecuted for beating up his wife. Because it was in the ‘paper: Ex-Joy Division Drummer: Wife-Beater! Wild.
I’d wondered about him, because every so often you’ll hear about people who reconnect over Facebook with old members of their bands…
We haven’t got that many! There are a couple of drummers…
Yeah, yeah… a couple of drummers. There was the kid from the college [Tony Tabac]. He was really posh. I remember going to his house in 1977, ’78, whenever it was—and they had a games room. With pinball machines! It was unbelievable! The guy’s family was obviously very, very well-off.
What was more impressive: the games room, or his playing?
His playing was okay, funnily enough—and I remember being very entertained when he got a bass drum skin, and he stuck loads of things on it so it was dead punky, and I actually quite liked that. He was a nice guy, actually. You see, what he did was—his big mistake—was that he came up with the idea that if you were selling drugs, if you sold them cheap, he’d sell more. Which is fine, until you remember that all the other dealers who don’t want to sell it cheap will shop you to the police—which is what happened to him.
So that’s why he wasn’t in the band?
Yep. He got arrested and he got put away.
You’ve done pretty well—you’ve only had two ex-band members who were criminals! Most bands have lots of ex-members who were criminals.
Makes you wonder what the next headline will be! Don’t ask.
I won’t, I won’t. You know, I was thinking about your sound—your bass sound—the closest thing I can think of; the voice that you give the bass is what William S. Burroughs’ voice is to poetry.
Fucking hell, that is a humbling analogy.
There was a record put out by a company called Language Removal Services (Nb. the Static Language Sampler, from the compilation series Poets), and even taking out Burroughs’ voice, his breathing, his getting ready to speak, his glottal stops, you could still tell that it was William S. Burroughs. Even through the hesitations while he read—it’s the weirdest thing. So how did you reach the point where you’d actually perfected your sound? What it something you’d found immediately and stuck with, or was it a long process?
You know what? You got a lot of help, really. That is to say—I mean, as much as I hate to admit it, Bernard [Sumner] was a really great help in the beginning. So was Ian Curtis. And they encouraged you. I mean, the reason I played high was because I couldn’t hear the low notes—my speakers were that bad. My speakers cost $15—and they sounded like $15, even though $15 in 1976 was a lot of money. It sounded terrible, and you couldn’t hear it! The only way you could hear it was to play high. And Ian Curtis in particular said, ‘That’s what you should concentrate on. It sounds fantastic when you play high. Play high.’ And every time we came to rehearse, he’d say, ‘Hooky, play high, play high—driving along, driving along!’ And it was quite simple—and then Bernard encouraged me to get a chorus pedal, because he said, ‘Because you’re playing high, you need to fatten it up a bit,’ and that’s how I got an Electro-Harmonix chorus. And then Martin Hannett said to me, ‘Hooky, you’ve got a shit bass amp. You should have the best bass amp in the world.’
What was that, at that time?
It was an Olympic preamp with an Amcron DC-300A amplifier through two Gauss 1000-watt speakers. And he was right! When [Joy Division manager] Rob Gretton said, ‘Yeah, you can have them’—we didn’t have any money—so he paid for it. And when I got it, I literally never looked back. The sound was tremendous. And that, allied with the Yamaha BB1200S bass—when I found it, which is what Jack’s using—that was it. Over the years, I’ve been very paranoid.
About sounding like me! You get paranoid about it. It’s quite odd, actually, with New Order reforming. Everybody says the same thing—it’s an odd one. I’ve been listening: everywhere I’ve been when I’ve been in America, people have been saying the same thing to me, and every journalist is saying the same thing: they won’t be able to play these songs without you. ‘Age of Consent,’ ‘Sunrise,’ all the songs that are really bass-driven; I mean, New Order has two sides. They have a synth side as well. You could play ‘Blue Monday’ without me; you could play ‘True Faith,’ ‘Bizarre Love Triangle.’ I’m very interested to see what they do—how they emulate me.
Not to put too fine a point of it, but even as Ian was the soul of Joy Division, you’re the soul of New Order. From Republic onward—and I don’t know if this was a conscious thing, but—they seemed to be pushing your bass more to the back.
But the bass is what I want to hear!
It didn’t start with ‘Regret.’ It started a lot earlier than that. [laughs] It was with ‘Bizarre Love Triangle,’ actually. It was a fight. It was an equal fight, and by the time you got to ‘Regret,’ it was an unequal fight, and that’s why we finished. It was three against one. But it was the right time to finish. We finished because Bernard wanted to do Electronic. We split up because he wanted to do Electronic.
And you did Revenge. I’ll tell you a story about that Revenge single Pineapple Face—the chorus of which is ‘Peace, in peace, we always live in peace—we live in peace, always, always.’ I was babysitting at the time, and I had to feed the kid. I had to feed him dinner, but he wouldn’t eat his vegetables. So I put a little butter on a knife, and I put the peas on the butter, and I sang, ‘Peas! Our peas! We always eat our peas! We eat our peas, our peas, always, always!’ And he was dancing—and he ate his peas.
[laughs] Pineapple Face! I’ve not heard that for years! God. It was named after General Noriega. [He had such a bad complexion], they used to call him ‘Pineapple Face.’ The piece at the end of the song goes into ABBA. The keyboard line is an ABBA tune. I must listen to that song again.
It’s a good song.
Thank you. It was a strange phase, that—because I used to think that a song was finished when you put bass on it. I never understood why people used to bother with vocals. And then when I came to do it myself, to finish songs up myself, to put on the vocals, it was a struggle. It was hard to learn—but it was a good education. It stood me really well for Monaco, actually. By the time I got to Monaco, you could do it. Revenge was a total learning curve, but we such a great time. Because Barney was such a miserable bastard.
Do you think that was the resistance for playing the Joy Division songs? Hearing these songs, after not having them played live for such a long time, by you and yours, it’s like putting away the Magna Carta, saying, ‘Oh! You can’t look at that anymore.’
It felt quite natural, though. When you were in New Order, you were concentrating so much on New Order that it didn’t feel bad. And New Order, again, we’d picked up success and everything was going on, you always had something to do—it’s like you really never had time, or you never really had the need to reflect back. We were always going forward, you know. Which I think was good—it’s quite an odd thing, really. It’s quite an odd thing doing it, because when you’ve not done it … I mean, I’ve been doing legal work all week about New Order. I was on to my solicitor today—which is very depressing—and I was really depressed this afternoon thinking about it, wondering, fucking ‘ell, is it worth fighting this? It’s a big decision to make. It’s so expensive to fight—I mean, even though you can, it’s just money after money. And the thing is, I don’t want to play with them again. I don’t feel an affinity with them. I don’t have any relationship with them. The only thing you share is the bloody name. And in a funny way, once we [The Light] started playing—I was playing ‘No Love Lost’ before—I was listening to it; I was listening to Moby do it, and I thought, ‘Fucking ‘ell—this is almost the perfect direction.’ Let those miserable fuckers do New Order, and I get Joy Division! It’s not half-bad an arrangement!
Is Moby in the same vocal register as Ian?
No, he’s higher. Whenever we’d play Joy Division songs as New Order, we used to pitch them up—and I never thought they sounded the same. I always thought they sounded bad. Barney thought they sounded better pitched up, and I always thought they sounded worse pitched up. It’s probably why we never could fucking agree on anything. I’d go, ‘It’s light!’ He’d say, ‘It’s dark!’ If it was cold, he’d go, ‘It’s warm.’
And water’s not wet.
Yes. It’s a strange position. I’m still coming to terms with it—to them getting back together without me. It’s the way they’ve done it that’s highly distasteful.
It was for a pal of yours—Michael Shamberg—a charity event for him?
Ironically, they never told the pal of ours! They told him that I wasn’t going to do New Order, and that I was having big problems. He said, ‘Sorry to hear you can’t do New Order because you’re having big problems.’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t got any problems—the only problem I have is New Order!’ And they didn’t fucking tell me! So it’s a whole … it’s very, very complicated.
So is this a cathartic tour?
No, no … playing it the first time, as I did in May 2011, it was very cathartic—because I hadn’t played properly with a band since New Order finished. And that was when it actually struck me that, in a strange way, you can do it without them. Over the six years we’d been apart, I’d been DJing. I might have guested on a couple of people’s records, but sure, I’d never properly played in a group. I did a couple of charity gigs, with Monaco, but that was it. I’d never really thrown myself into something and thought, ‘Shit, we could do this.’
I’m really glad you have.
[laughs] You know what? I’m glad.
I was telling Poole there that he’s the only one who plays a Korg Triton in such a way that it doesn’t sound like the theme music for the trolley on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Better than when Alice Coltrane used one. Better than Terry Riley. Holy cow. I saw he was going to be using it and I feared for the worst—and it sounded incredible.
He’s very, very good. They [Kehoe and Poole] were with me in Monaco. The guitarist (Wason) is from Freebass. He used to be in a band called Haven, he used to be in a band from Manchester, and now he’s in Freebass. I grabbed him from there. I’ve really, really enjoyed it! And when I did the signing at Amoeba, that was the strangest thing—because you don’t normally get to meet so many people. And it was lovely to meet them, because every single one of them said the same thing: ‘I’m so happy you’re doing it—I’m so glad you’re doing it!’ And yet the only people who don’t seem glad you’re doing it is fucking New Order! [cackles]
You know what it’s like? It’s like that really really hot girl in high school, that everyone says, ‘Oh, don’t go for her, she’s trouble.’ But you’ve got to fuck her. You’ve got to go for her anyway! And you do—and it’s amazing. Going back to New Order again, every so often over the years, I would see bootlegs of New Order concerts, and Gillian would every so often kind of muff it—she would be in the wrong key or something—and Stephen would come out from behind the drumkit and really sarcastically put her finger on the right key, roll his eyes, and go back behind the kit. Did that really go on, or was I just imagining that?
I’m afraid so, yes. She was never the most … accomplished musician. If she hadn’t been shagging the drummer, I don’t think she would have got the gig, to be honest. That was one of the puzzles with New Order: the happiest I ever saw Bernard in New Order was when she left! And that has really puzzled me. I guess the thing is: he must hate me more! [cackles]
But come on—you came up together.
Love and hate: there’s only a little hair between them. To do what they’ve done this time, from a business point-of-view, is total hate. It’s not about the band reforming; it’s about the business side of it. To enable them to reform without me to stop them—which is the distasteful part.
Yeah, but you’ve handled this whole thing very tastefully. You haven’t called it Joy Division Redux, and you haven’t put huge pictures of Ian Curtis up there for everyone to worship, nor said ‘Come on, cheer—rah rah, get your hands up…’
For me, simply, it was about getting the music back. I must say—it’s made me appreciate two people that I underestimated very, very much: one was Martin Hannett…and one was Ian Curtis. Not that I underestimated Ian—I knew that he delivered perfectly, but to analyze his lyrics and to analyze his words, and the way he sang the songs and wrote the songs, it’s given me the actual … because of illegal downloading, I’d lost all my drive to write, because I can’t get me head around the fact that you spend so much time, you write something for love and heart…and you get ripped off. I can’t handle that anymore. And reading his lyrics, and I saw the scene in the way he did, and the way he structured his lyrics, the way he built it—made me want to do it. [laughs] So in a funny way, he’s still fucking looking after you! Which is quite weird—because it’s the only occasion when I thought, ‘God, I’d love to use these tricks again.’ That is quite nice.
I remember the press around the time of Republic had mentioned that Stephen had had that dream about Ian coming to him, saying ‘Don’t be cruel,’ (Nb. In the Heart and Soul box set liner notes, Stephen Morris recalls, ‘I had a dream about Ian just before we made Republic: telling us not to be cruel, which I thought was really odd.’) That was a prophetic dream. It took 20 years to come true—you just didn’t know it at the time.
Mm-hm. And now they’ve been very, very cruel. People have short memories.
Yes, but these songs are forever.
Well, yeah. In a funny way, it did make me wonder what I was going to do next.
You could do this for a long time.
I could do this for a long time. My idea—funnily enough—when I did this (Unknown Pleasures live) and Closer, was to play every song I’d ever written—once—before I gave up.
It doesn’t sound like you’re giving up.
No, but by the time I got to the end of Technique, I don’t count past that. My last song I will play will be ‘Regret.’ That was the last New Order song.
PETER HOOK WITH SPECIAL GUEST SIMON REYNOLDS READS AND DISCUSSES UNKNOWN PLEASURES ON FRI., FEB. 1, AT SKYLIGHT BOOKS, 1818 N. VERMONT AVE., LOS FELIZ. 7:30 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. SKYLIGHTBOOKS.COM.