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Joy Division to New Order

Interview by David Gill

Peter Hook, New Order, Joy Division

Phone interviews are the bane of music journalism, multiplying all the horribleness of a regular phone call to a stranger. Imagine that stranger is an important person from whom you hope to solicit new, interesting, and exciting information. And the interviewee, most likely, is sitting in a room somewhere, doing interview after interview until the calls blend into one seamless, faceless interrogation regarding their latest album or tour. You don’t get any context, what they’re wearing, how they look, smell, their body language, and you don’t get to hang out with these stars, basking in the opulence of a green room backstage, hoping to get a hit off the joint they’re passing.

Generally the interviewee, or their representative, calls the interviewer. This works well for any number of reasons. Phone interviews are also tricky, because, without a specialized app, it’s unlikely that your smartphone will record the call because of privacy laws etc.

So this interview with Peter Hook was a little different, as I was to call him—in England—at his home, at 9am California time.

Realizing that it was too late to download one of these apps and that I couldn’t record the interview on my smartphone, I tried to call Peter using my ancient landline that I have in case I fall and can’t get up. A recorded operator informs me that due to my wife’s cheapness, my landline is restricted from making international calls. But I need to use my landline, on speakerphone, to record the interview with teh voice memo app on my smartphone - thanks, technology, for making life so fucking easy.

So, with a stab of discomfort, I realize I have to call Peter on my smartphone and then ask him to call me back on my landline. I get that sinking feeling in my stomach like you get in fourth grade when everybody is sharing their reports on the states, California, Arizona, Delaware, and you wrote your report on the state of depression.

So I dial the number on my smartphone, 012&^$%#()* And after a bit there’s a thick British accent on the other end of the line, “Ello?”

“May I speak to Peter Hook, please?” I say.

“Yes, this is Peter,” he responds.

“Hi Peter, my name is Dave and I’m calling from RIFF Magazine.”

“Ello Dave.”

“Hi Peter, can I ask you a favor? If I give you my number, would you mind calling me back?”

I imagined Peter struggling with this unprecedented turn of events. After a moment he says, “Can you text me your number?”

Of course, because otherwise he has to find something to write on and then a pen that works; it’s too much hassle. I agree and set out to try to text him my home number.

I already have Peter’s number, so I go to text him, but it’s so weird, it’s international. Do I dial the 0, like I dial a 1 before the area code? Is there an additional set of numbers that I have to add before the regular phone number? A country code?

I’m freaking out as I race to Google and try to figure this out, as I’m picturing Peter Hook staring despondently at his phone waiting, with his other business on hold, for me to text him my number so he can get this bloody interview over and done with.

Working from home, writing for a small music news website, already made me feel like a bit of an impostor and none of this phone shit is helping at all.

Eventually I managed to get a text through to Peter and he called me back right away. Here is the exact transcription of that phone call, which, when you look at it, was perfect.

RW: Tell me a little about this tour you’re doing.

HOOK: (laughs): This is the eleventh and twelfth LPs we’ll be touring as we play our way through Joy Division’s complete catalog and New Order’s complete catalog. The LPs are Technique by New Order and Republic by New Order. Technique was our best selling album in England, and Republic was our best selling album in America.

RW: Fantastic, I appreciate getting the boilerplate out of the way first off. As a bass player, what do you think the role of the bass is in music generally and in your music specifically?

HOOK: (laughs) Good question if ever I’ve heard one, is that from a bass player?

Peter Hook, New Order
Photo courtesy: Phil King/Flickr

RW: No, a guitar player.

HOOK: Ah, interesting. Well, you know in the old days the bass player was the one that brought width to the music, shall we say, and followed the guitar. That’s been something I’ve been unable to do ever since I began, so that answers your question in both ways.

I don’t know really what made me play the way I do, probably ego, maybe every bass player is a frustrated guitarist, so yeah. As soon as I began, I had a knack for writing very unique sounding riffs that sound, the Hook-based sound has become very well known and very well emulated by everybody including New Order, from what I’ve heard, which makes me laugh.

So, it depends on what kind of person you are, doesn’t it? I’ve known a hell of a lot of bass players—they always drive the van, they tend to be soberer than the rest, but maybe crash spectacularly when they do crash. But you know groups are full of clichés aren’t they? You know the drummer is generally a cliché unto himself; the lead guitarist is always into black magic; you know the singer is always a complete tightwad; the bass player is usually deemed to be the quiet dependable one; so I think I’m sort of happy with that cliché. And I will say this conforms to every group I’ve ever been in or met

RW: Oh, that’s fascinating. Can you tell me a little about the bass line for “Love Will Tear Us Apart”? I think that’s probably your most iconic creation.

New Order Low Life LP

HOOK: Yeah, I mean “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was written in about three hours. Steven and I wrote the rhythm tracks, you know the bass playing the melody etc and the breaks, and Ian said, “ooh, you know what, I’m going to go and write some lyrics to that. We did it in an hour and a half on a Wednesday night we did the rhythm track.

I have the feeling Bernie wasn’t actually there, as we didn’t have any keyboard or guitar on it until afterwards. Ian came back on Sunday afternoon, cuz we practiced on Sunday afternoons and in another hour and a half we’d written the chorus which follows the bass (half sings "Love Will Tear Us Apart" chorus) and the verse.

Bernard put the bass notes on the synthesizer for the verse and joined in with the bass riffs on the chorus, further enhancing, and nailing down as we musicians say, the melody. And Ian then added guitar over it when we recorded it when we had various overdubs done, and mainly emulating the Ronettes actually.

RW: Really?

HOOK: Yeah, the guitar riff at the end. Yeah, it was really quick songwriting. Literally, insanely, provided me with a wonderful, wonderful life. When you can write a song that quickly and people love it enough to buy it, even now, forty years later it’s nuts.

RW: So, did you just come up with that melody on the spot or was that something you had in your pocket for a couple of weeks?

HOOK: No, no, every Joy Division song was jammed.

RW: Really, that’s fascinating.

HOOK: Every one. Every acoustic New Order song was jammed live. Every single one, the only exception was “Dreams Never End” which I wrote in my back bedroom of my house on a Sunday afternoon before we formed New Order on the Monday morning. I came in with that riff that I’d written on the six-string bass guitar.

RW: Can you tell me what you get out of going back and revisiting this older material?

New Order, Power, Corruption and Lies LP

HOOK: You know what I’ve actually banished a lot of pain and a lot of frustration by doing the music the way that I have done. I always felt that when we were together as New Order before we split up that we’d got into a terrible habit of ignoring, not only all of Joy Division, but also a vast quantity of New Order’s songs. We just didn’t play them, for one reason or another. We didn’t play them, and I just thought it was a great shame and we also got stuck in a rut where we were just playing the same songs over and over again—very little actually now that I look at it.

We were just—we hardly gigged and when we did gig we played the same songs over and over again, mainly to a backing track and in my opinion I was deathly bored and frustrated by it, so when we split up it gave me a chance to explore Joy Division’s catalog which was the best thing that happened to me, it banished the pain and the sort of grief that I felt not only losing a great friend and a great singer, a great compatriot, but also losing the whole of Joy Division’s catalog.

The whole thing was utterly heartbreaking so to be able to stand up and play those songs was absolutely amazing.

RW: Fantastic.

HOOK: Which is judged to be one of the best albums ever written by any group. It’s right up there at the top of those lists. To never be able to play those songs off Closer was utterly devastating for me, and I got to do that. We toured both Unknown Pleasures and Closer. We’re touring for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer next year to celebrate 40 years of Ian’s life.

So, that was fantastic and made me sooo happy, and then to move into New Order and to sort of brush the dirt off those gems that have been ignored for years and years and years, I mean like for instance,(names some song indecipherable “Age of Consent”? ) look at those lists on the internet, where they list everything and see that we haven’t played it for twenty three years—Consent—so it was absolutely nuts. The interesting thing for the fans is that me digging them all up again has made so-called New Order dig them up again as well, because I suppose they had to keep up with the competition, so you know we’ve actually unearthed a lot of our gems shall we say; the fans have got two incarnations playing it and I’d like to say everyone’s a winner, but you know, the relationship that we had and have now are absolutely awful so that was the biggest loserthe relationship, arguing, constantly as we still do. And I’d love to know why because I’ve actually gotten to the point where I don’t even remember why we were arguing to begin with.

Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures

RW: Yeah. I know how that is. Do you think it’s weird that our culture is so fixated on the Unknown Pleasures record cover? There are endless mashups and t-shirts. Does that strike you as strange now? Do you care?

HOOK: The interesting thing about the artwork is that the designer, who we liked and trusted, was given was given full reign because, to be honest with you, we were having so much fun playing, getting drunk, et cetera, and writing the music, that we weren’t really bothered about, you know, our achievement, we’d’ve been happy getting the music out if it came in a paper bag.

Really, we weren’t that interested in trying to, you know, politicize anything or make it enigmatic or anything like that. We just wanted to get it out and by giving Peter full reign, you lot, the journalists, thought we were up to something. “Why don’t you put the names on it, why don’t you put the name of the LP on it? This is weird. They must be strange." But in reality, Peter thought it would spoil the album and we didn’t care. So we created this wonderful subplot, because we never spoke to journalists at that time, there was no one to contradict you or correct you so, yeah, it was great, it worked in our favor.

RW: If you want a record cover to be iconic, just keep your mouth shut, I guess...

HOOK: Yeah, well we were very lucky that Bernard, you know, opened that encyclopedia and found that particular image and stole it (laughs) because it grabs people’s imagination because of the music.

Yeah, I mean I remember having a massive argument with Peter, several ones, because he said to me, “people buy Joy Division records and New Order records because of my covers.” And I said, “Peter, they don’t play your covers on the radio.” And he was like, “Oh.” He’d never thought of that.

But you know, he was a great friend but we’re all capable of, shall we say, being silly at times. Me especially. The thing about the sleeve is, you know, it worked to our advantage and we hated self-promotion. We didn’t believe in self-promotion. We were sticking to that weird punk ethic: letting the music talk for itself and not entering into this sort of niche that we’d seen and preached against for many years. We wanted to try to be true to the fans.

In a weird way that was why we never put singles on the LPs because we didn’t see why anyone should pay for something twice. I mean how wonderfully naive; now we have a whole world that works around people paying for tracks on many different platforms in many different ways.

RW: Are you still teaching some classes on the music business?

HOOK: I have a masters course in Preston College where we are mentors and co-promote, I suppose you’d say. The idea of that is that I hated the fact that when people learned about music they were learning it in a classroom without any hands-on experience. It just didn’t make sense.

So, myself and my partner in my nightclub in town we educate the kids. You know, instead of reading about how to deal with a drunken drug dealer at twelve o’clock on a dancefloor, you can actually go and experience it.

Or you can come with me on the road, as they do, and they work for us at an actual gig, so they’re actually in the firing line. The thing is they’re not just learning about it on a blackboard or writing about it from sources in the library; they’re actually in the business and that to me makes complete sense, as the other way didn’t.

I met the kids last week actually, of my masters course; there’s thirteen this year, two from China and eleven from England, and they are a great bunch, very bright and, interestingly, both me and my partner learn a lot from them in the hopes that we don’t scare them off with our stories of our ups and downs.

Joy Division, group photo

So yeah, I mean, my managers always said to me you need to give something back, always, to keep the wheel going round and that to me is part of you know helping people not to make the mistakes that I did.

You do have to be careful that you don’t make those mistakes seem attractive, do you know what I mean? But again, it’s nice, it’s grounding to see the people interested in this business especially when they’ve been inspired by you.

You know if a bass player comes up to me and says, “aw, man, I play the bass because of you.” I was watching some kid on Instagram today actually, funnily enough I stumbled upon it, and he was trying to play “Atmosphere” on the bass and he wasn’t doing a great job of it, so I just sent him a little message going, “Come on, mate, you can do it. Keep trying.”

I mean, I remember when I was like that and I couldn’t play and I was scared and you know that some people back down and some people go for it, don’t they? And I suppose my only message to anybody is, “My god, I’ve had a fantastic life and I still have a fantastic life and if you go for it, mate, so you don’t sit there spending your whole life regretting not going for it. You know if you go for it and you can’t do it, that’s perfectly fine, you had a go, and if you go for it and you make it, wow, what a world, it’s fantastic.

RW: You might have just answered my next question. What do you think is the most important lesson you can impart to your students about the music industry?

HOOK: The most important lesson is to never give up, it’s as simple as that.

RW: Tell me about playing with your son….

HOOK: My son’s gone on to bigger and better things; he now plays with the Smashing Pumpkins.

RW: So he won’t be on this tour?

HOOK: No, he’s not coming this time; he’s literally just finished playing with the Smashing Pumpkins. He’s decorating his flat. He tends to boss me about when we’re on tour. And he’s got better ears than me; he can pick up my riffs much easier than I can.

RW: Really?

HOOK: Yeah, I work in a different way. He can play Smashing Pumpkin tunes. I couldn’t play a Smashing Pumpkins tune if you put a gun to me head.

RW: Is there anything you wish I had asked? Got any stories or anecdotes you’re dying to share?

HOOK: You know what I always find, and I was talking to my wife about this before, is that American journalists actually ask much better questions (laughs) than most English journalists. Don’t tell them I said that. It’s all about enjoying yourself, like I said to you at the start.

More interviews by David Gill
Andy Gill (Gang of Four)

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