Peter Hook dishes on his Joy Division tour
Fri Dec 3 2010
Peter Hook, the bass guitarist whose rippling lines defined the sound of Joy Division and New Order, has been playing his first band's seminal LP Unknown Pleasures on the road over the last several months, in the process showing listeners too young to have witnessed Joy Division the kind of sweaty exuberance Hook recalls from his salad days. The tour, which comes to Webster Hall December 3, has not been without controversy. In a recent telephone interview, Hook spoke about how it felt to play with Joy Division and what it feels like to return to those songs now, as well as his work preserving the legacy of Madchester nightclub the Hacienda, his new former band Freebass and what's still to come.
TONY: You've got your son, Jack Hook, playing bass on Joy Division songs in your new band, the Light. How old is he?
Hook: My son is exactly the same age as I was when I started Joy Division, 21. I must admit there's moments when the band kick up and they're doing "Day of the Lords" or "New Dawn Fades" and I turn round, and I get that wonderful thing of seeing myself 20 years ago.
You originally put this project together for a tribute to Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in May. What made you decide to sustain it and take it on the road?
Basically, the interest, to be honest with you. The first gig I was asked to do was in Clermont-Ferrand, which is in France and is the twin city of Salford in England, which is where I'm from. It's been the twin city of Salford for 40 years, so the mayor [Laughs] asked me to come and play it there. And then, to be honest with you, the whole thing short of snowballed. Everybody started asking—once they saw you were doing it, the requests came in thick and fast. And I must admit that I've always found America really one of the best places in the world to play. The reaction that New Order got from playing in America was absolutely wonderful, so it was an easy decision to come back. You've playing music that not a whole lot of American fans would have had any opportunity to hear performed live.
Why do you think Joy Division's music has endured and continued to resonate with new listeners?
As a songwriter, I'd have to say it's down to the songs. I think that we were formed at a very, very interesting time in English cultural history. Punk was a fantastic happening in England, and I'm sure it was in America when it got there. But the thing is that it's quite easy to see the allure of YouTube: Everybody can see everything. It's absolutely wonderful, really, that nobody can see a lot about punk, isn't it? If that gig at the Leicester Free Trade Hall of the Pistols was on YouTube, it might make our little sojourn in Manchester not as interesting as it was.
Mythology could definitely be defused if there was evidence available.
Yeah, and you know, the thing is that the songs are wonderful, and it's fantastic to get them back after 30 years of not feeling, A, you could do it justice, or B, you weren't supposed to do it—some kind of guilt trip. To take the bull by the horns and play them in May, and to carry on doing it, has felt quite liberating, to be honest. And the thing is that [former bandmates] Bernard [Sumner] and Steven [Morris], in Bad Lieutenant, play a lot of Joy Division songs anyway, so I suppose really we're all doing it. It's just that they're not doing it in a sort of purist form the way that I am.
So you wanted to not only cover those songs, but literally recreate them?
The thing about the LP was that it took me many years to grasp what [producer] Martin Hannett meant, and in many ways what Martin Hannett did. Visiting it 30 years later with the benefit of not only hindsight but experience, you realize he really did give it another dimension. He gave it a depth, an ethereal, eerie quality that I think made it last. I don't underestimate that now, but I did for a long time. The thing is that when I was listening to the record, I was very conscious of the fact that I needed to keep elements in that Martin had added to Joy Division, so that people would not only listen to the band play it, but also hear elements that are so important to the LP, to do with the overall sound and the mythology, if you like, of the record.
When you played in New Zealand in October, some critics suggested that you were having a bit too much fun playing Joy Division songs. Your response?
[Laughs] I'd have to say that that's their problem and not mine. Maybe the thing is that Joy Division and fun shouldn't go in the same sentence; I think that's another part of the mythology, really. The thing is that the person I remember as Ian Curtis was quite a fun-filled, very ambitious bloke, a very nice guy to be with and certainly someone who you were proud to have as a friend and work colleague. Joy Division and fun being in the same sentence to me is quite natural, but for other people it's quite foreign. And I think the thing is, is the fact that you're enjoying playing it live, and also, the people I have with me are enjoying it. I think that people are quite surprised, I suppose, with sort of the overall feeling of [the show]: it's not doomy, it's not gloomy, it's actually quite exuberantly played, and, to be honest with you, exuberantly appreciated. And I must admit that sometimes, when we finish "Day of the Lords" or "New Dawn Fades" or "She's Lost Control" and you hear the reception after, I'm like, wow, because to be honest with you, I didn't expect it to go down anywhere near as well as it has.
So, was it fun playing in Joy Division?
The thing is that it was fun, because I found my way in life. The thing you most want in the world when you're a teenager—and I'm sure you can remember—is a sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that goes with doing something that you love. I was very lucky quite early on in my life to find it, you know, at 19, 20. And that record in particular, Unknown Pleasures, really set my life up to be what it is. Every day I have something to do with Joy Division, and every day I have something to do with Ian Curtis, and to be honest with you, I'm absolutely proud of what we achieved in the two, three short years that we had. It's funny, to be cited as an influence on nearly every great young band—from the Killers to White Lines, the Drums, Interpol, Editors—is a fantastic compliment to our songwriting.
Do you ever think about what it might have been like if Ian had not taken his life and the band had actually had more of a full existence?
We'd have been as big as U2, wouldn't we? [Laughs]
Well, yeah, I think so! I think it's one of those strange things—the happiest I've ever been in a group was in Joy Division. And I think that goes without saying for Bernard as well, because New Order's been quite a rocky road. I think there was a balance, and a very well-balanced set-up, in Joy Division, until Ian got ill, and then it completely unbalanced, but through no fault of ours, really. His illness was unavoidable. But ever since then, with every other group I've ever been in, there's always been a sort of semblance of having to live up to Joy Division.
You've spoken very freely about your New Order bandmates; I wasn't sure if you'd want to dig into those troubles, but you've clearly got a real self-confidence about the situation...
I'm 54, mate, I don't care! [Laughs] Relations are still fraught with your former bandmates? Yeah, definitely. There's a really bad split, mainly, I think, to do with the Hacienda, from what I can make out. But I don't really understand it, so I can't comment on that.
As enduring a legacy as Joy Division has, New Order had its own devoted following. There will always be people who are wondering, "Will they ever?..."
You can mark me down as one of the ones that wonder, as well. I wonder, "Will they ever?" It's an odd thing, really; you went through so much together that really you should be able to sit there and go, all right, I like blue, you like red, but we still made these songs and let's get on with playing them. But it's an interesting thing—I can't see a let-up in it yet. There's no olive branches being offered on either side, really.
So what are you working on outside of this current tour? The Freebass album is finally being released here, but that group's already finished. What comes next?
I'm still very actively involved in keeping the Hacienda legacy and the Hacienda brand active. I'm also in another group, actually, with a friend of mine called Phil Murphy; we're called Man Ray. That's coming along really well, actually. I'm enjoying that, we're writing some good stuff. I mean, it's quite an enviable position to be in, you know, having a new LP out as Freebass and being able to revisit your first LP successfully. So I suppose you'd say that, as a musician goes, I'm actually quite satisfied creatively. I would have liked Freebass to maybe not have ended before it begun as badly as it did, but that's just the way of the world, isn't it?
Finally, is it true that you submitted yourself as a candidate to replace Carlos D. in Interpol, or was that just a rumor?
No, that's correct, I applied online and put my C.V. in. It was my son that suggested it, actually, as a gag on me. I put my C.V. in and got no reply [Laughs], which is quite weird, isn't it? But saying that, I also put a request in to be Billy Corgan's new bass player when he advertised, and I didn't get a reply from that, either. I'm not doing too well on that end, so I think I'll stick to doing what I do best.