Interview: Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order)
Published on May 20th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
At any given time, there is a lot to talk to erstwhile Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook about. So well received were January’s live performances of New Order’s first two albums Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies with his band The Light that they have announced a series of North American dates for September; meanwhile, closer to home, they will perform a “New Order Electronic Set” at London venue The Coronet on June 21st, with other acts on a tantalising bill including 808 State, Super White Assassin and a variety of stellar DJ sets, including one from Hooky himself.
In amongst all these live shows and Factory 251 club nights, Hooky still finds time to DJ, run Hacienda Records and write books – his Joy Division memoirs Unknown Pleasures recently came out in paperback, and he’ll be talking to Sarfraz Manzoor about it at Hay Festival next Monday – not to mention give fantastic interviews, one example of which Rocksucker is thrilled to present you with below. In it, we discussed…well, all sorts, even dildos. First, though, have yourself a simultaneous earful of and butcher’s at Peter Hook & The Light in action…
For those who don’t already know, what constitutes a New Order Electronic Set?
Because it’s a dance night, I wanted to concentrate on the dancier songs, the ones that use a backing track and a drum machine as opposed to a live kit. When we tried it, it worked because it sounded quite interesting: it takes away the rock element a little bit and makes it a bit cleaner, a bit more present. What you lose in power you sort of gain in clarity, so it’s actually worked out quite well. I suppose I’m the world’s worst for wanting to try something different all the time, and it was one of my frustrations in New Order that you were never allowed to do anything different. You always had to do what Bernard said and it seemed to me that he did the least he possibly could to get by.
It was frustrating to have such a huge catalogue and not be able to explore it, just play the same crap over and over again, so from the set we’ve been playing recently of stuff from Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies, we’ve basically been concentrating on the dancier ones. It’s been interesting because we threw a couple of Joy Division dance tracks in and it’s nice to see the line going through it, from “Isolation” and “Heart and Soul” through “Something Must Break” and then into the dancey New Order stuff. It actually goes through quite smoothly and it’s quite interesting.
Did you choose Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies for the suitability of the material at hand for what you just described?
No, I’m doing it chronologically. I did Unknown Pleasures to celebrate thirty years of Ian Curtis’s life, as I prefer to say it, and then we did Closer and then Still. Next year we’ll be doing Low-Life and Brotherhood, then the year after that I’ll probably do Technique.
You’re announcing North American tour dates today…
Yeah, the Americans have been very supportive. Since New Order split in 2006, I’ve done about three DJ tours of America and this will be our third tour as The Light, so we’ve actually kept our momentum in going over there. It’s actually quite a nice compliment that we’re able to go over and do it and it’s quite a contrast to what the others do, playing the same set all the time. Maybe I’m biased (laughs).7
How did you find the transition to the front of the stage?
I was absolutely terrified to come and and step into Ian Curtis’s shoes. Even though I’d sang in Monaco and Revenge, that was a big thing, and it took me six to eight months before I could actually enjoy it. I was absolutely scared to death, mainly about what people would say about it, and it took me a long time to feel natural doing it. I feel okay doing it now, it doesn’t bother me anymore.
It was nerve-racking when we first played New Order stuff because of the expectation, especially with the others performing, but I think I did it okay. Now people don’t have to force me to do it and I actually enjoy doing it, which is something I never did. I was always the physical one – I liked to play – so now that I don’t play much and do mostly singing…well, I never thought I’d get used to it but I have.
Have you tried playing bass and singing simultaneously?
No, I can’t do that. Neither me nor Barney, amazingly, can play and sing at the same time. It’s just one of those things that neither of us could do and one of the few things we have in common. We never had an interest in pushing ourselves to do it, either. It sort of gave New Order that unique sound because Bernard used to stop playing guitar when he sang, then when he finished singing he’d play guitar again.
808 State are just one of the great acts you’ll be playing with at the Hacienda night at the Coronet in London, and we’ll hopefully be speaking to Darren soon so it makes sense to ask about them…
Funnily enough we just did the Hacienda Festival in Japan together, and I’d forgotten just how bloody good they were and how many hits they had. They were absolutely fantastic and I hadn’t seen them since they last played with New Order in Turin in 2000 or something like that. They were on the same bill as Delphic and, in my opinion, they really put Delphic to shame. They were so much better than them, they really blew me away.
You should ask Darren about his new outfit because they’re really good, really bringing the fun back into music. I’m trying to get him to put a record out on Hacienda Records but I think he’s hoping for bigger and better things. He’s a really nice guy and I’ve DJ’d with him so much over the years. We’ve been all over the world together.
How do you find the time to balance so many different projects? There’s the music, the label, the new Hacienda 251 club, your books: how involved are you with everything on a day-to-day basis?
I do it all! It’s the only way you can do it, because ultimately the buck stops with you, and it’s my money I’m putting in so I have to be very careful. You do have to be very careful with a record label because it’s so hard to make profit; you can spend money quite easily but you just know you’re not going to earn it back.
With Hacienda, I just thought it was important to give the label a future as well as dwelling on the past. I want to try and encourage people to make new music, put new music out, and the great thing is that people give me tapes, you can put them out on the label! In the old days you’d just have to listen to it and go, “They were good, I wonder what ever happened to them.”
The loss-making element of the Hacienda and Factory Records was shared by Creation Records, which was also associated with a lot of great music. Do you think that kind of recklessness is missed in the current music industry?
For some people the drive is about doing what you love, not about making money. If Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton had been interested in making money, the Hacienda would never have opened its doors. They’d have said, “No, it’s too risky.” That’s just simple fact: they did it because they had a love of live rather than a love of money.
Factory wasn’t about money, and that’s why they made so many money mistakes. If they had a hit record he didn’t care about the money, just wanted to champion the groups, the people that he liked and the music that he loved. Same with Creation: these people are different to businessmen. Thank god.
I’d say that kind of attitude is badly missing now, in these times of heavily targeted, box-ticking, inoffensive guff.
I think you’re losing a big part of life as people like that disappear; you know, people who love music more than money. We’ve seen it change so much, and I suppose you’ve got the Robin Hood aspect of it with illegal downloading: you’ve got people who love music and want to share it but don’t want to pay for it! (Laughs)
I came across this fantastic review of your book The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club on Amazon, courtesy of one T. Harrison:
I bought this on the understanding that it was a business reference and advice book. On this count it fails miserably. I have followed the book to the letter & my own club has yet to turn any profit.
(Laughs) The guy’s obviously a fucking lunatic. I love that. You should leave a comment underneath saying, “I spoke to Peter and he says if you want your money back, get fucked!” It’s amazing how many people come up to me about the Hacienda book because it’s got accounts in it: “I really enjoyed that, you don’t see accounts in many books!” (Laughs) The accounts in the Hacienda book were like a fairy story; that’s why I put them in, because they were so full of errors and you were so obviously ripped off that you’d have had to be either a bloody idiot or completely pissed to let it go. Luckily for them lot, they were all completely pissed!
Not having a VIP room to fall back on, did you or anyone else ever fear for your safety?
No, I wouldn’t say so. It wasn’t about about being humble, it was just never proposed. We never wanted it; we wanted to be with our friends and run around like headless chickens enjoying ourselves. We didn’t want to stand and talk to VIPs; it was all about the world, it was about life, about all of it.
One of the things I loved about the Hacienda was that it didn’t have a VIP room, that you could be stood there next to or Ian Brown, or Mani, or Shaun Ryder, or the Pet Shop Boys, or Paula Yates. Every member at the club was a VIP.
Did Ralf Little or Joe Anderson spend any time with you to research their roles playing you in 24 Hour Party People and Control respectively?
No, they didn’t. Well, I missed Joe; they all came to a gig in Liverpool but Joe wasn’t there. Ralf Little I thought was nothing like me but Joe I thought caught me quite well, and the reason for that is that Anton Corbijn is such a perfectionist that I know he will have made him set there watching interviews to pick up mannerisms. Michael Winterbottom was taking a wider, more comedic look at Factory and Joy Division so he didn’t need the same level of perfection.
Can you shed any light on the “filthy, dirty, dark secrets” you’ve promised for the eventual New Order book?
No. I want that guy on Amazon to buy it again and complain about it: “This was supposed to be full of dark, dirty secrets, when really it has none.” (Laughs) God bless him. I tell you what, if you’re ever bored and you want to read another book about clubs, you should read Peter Stringfellow’s book King of Clubs. You’ll find that Peter Stringfellow made pretty much the same mistakes that we did. Rob Gretton told me to read it, so I read it and I couldn’t believe it. We’re all the blinking same.
Do you have any studio projects on the horizon?
Funnily enough I’m halfway through a Man Ray LP with Phil Murphy. We do it as more of a filmic feel, concentrating less on the song aspect and more on the music aspect, which is actually quite nice. I’m aware that I need to do that after the last record I made, where I wrote music and did proper songs with Freebass. Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton always used to say to us, “You’re only as good as your next song. The best song you’re ever going to make is your next one.”
That stuck with us right through New Order: you never stopped when you made a massive hit, you just carried on. Ian Curtis always used to have a little saying that I thought was very true, which was, “You should finish off every song you write because someone will always love it.”
With regards Freebass, are you and Mani friends again?
Yeah, very much so. He’s had twins, I went to see them a couple of weeks ago. He’s very happy, which is nice to see, and it’s also nice to see The Stone Roses reaping the fruits of their labours. It makes me quite happy. We actually started Freebass with Alex James, and the reason we started Freebass was because our singers wouldn’t tour. All the bass players wanted to tour and that was why we started it.
We didn’t hook up with Alex in the end – I can’t even remember why, now – but Mani, Rourkey [Andy Rourke] and I started it. Basically, it was too many chiefs, not enough Indians, so it was doomed from the start, and as soon as we made our record all of our lead singers started to tour, apart from Morrissey. Both Mani and I couldn’t commit to it fully because New Order and Primal Scream became active again.
We did a sellout tour of England, we did really well for what we did and I enjoyed it, but you know when you do something and you just think “ah, this doesn’t have a life”? Good record, it just wasn’t going to go into anything. We had too many discussions about it; I preferred the stuff that we did with the other lead singers, yet Mani and Gary [Briggs] the singer wanted to keep that apart whereas I thought we should put it all together. It was just daft little disagreements like that where you think to yourself, “You’re too old to start again.”
I think Bernard found the same thing with Bad Lieutenant; you’re too old to go right back to the bottom. I know for a fact that if Bad Lieutenant had been successful then he would not have reformed New Order. Reforming New Order was more about his pension fund than about his music. They’re just cashing in because he lost so much money on Bad Lieutenant, and I can’t say I blame him, actually. I just wish they hadn’t gone behind my back like a bunch of sneaky fuckers.
There’s nothing worse than doing it without your knowledge or consent. It was like having a divorce and your wife going, “This is how much I’m going to give you a week, you twat,” and you going, “Thanks, luv!” It wouldn’t happen, would it?
I have fond memories of Monaco, coming as it did just after I’d started really getting into music…
You know what, I was actually thinking about this the other day: it was Pottsy [David Potts] that made me go back to New Order. I wanted to stay in Monaco because I had an awful fear it was just going to end up the way it was before, and he kept saying to me, “No, Hooky, it’s unfinished business! You’ve got to see it through!” and all this. I’ll never forgive him for that (laughs). Bastard!
It’s funny, it’s like when you split up with an ex and you go, “We had some great times, didn’t we?” then you get back with them and you think, “Oh fuck, that’s why I can’t stand them.” It soon gets back to normal, as it did in New Order; it soon got back to how it was when we split up the last time.
Do you think New Order could ever be resurrected again?
I don’t know, it’s so bitter at the moment that unless you meet and make a business settlement where all four of you are happy, then the bitterness is always going to be there. You need to take it to a level playing field where you can go, “Okay, you get on with your life, I’ll get on with my life and let’s see what happens.” We’re happy now, we had a good time, we’ve sorted it out, let’s go.
How about Monaco?
Pottsy did his own thing. He doesn’t do music professionally, he works and does it as a hobby.
Where do you keep the Joy Division dildo? Is it paraded on the mantelpiece?
(Laughs) It’s not a dildo, actually, it’s a massage kit. I could never find a Joy Division dildo. The Joy Division massage kit was without dildo, unless someone snuck it off before I got there! That company has been established a long time and has a European trademark registration, whereas Joy Division the group doesn’t have a trademark registration. They beat us to it, so we can’t register in Germany whether we wanted to make dildos or not! They do a very wide range, vaginal deodorants and all sorts.
I sense an ambassadorial role in the offing. Finally, a bassist friend wants to know if you’ve ever experienced back problems from having your strap so long.
D’you know what’s really weird, I’ve actually got back problems now. I’ve got curvature of the spine. I do a lot of running now and I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I noticed when I was looking in the mirror that one of my love handles was bigger than the other. I thought, “Fucking hell, that’s weird.” Then I went on a book tour of America and I was a victim of my own success; we sold something like five thousand books on the book tour, so I signed five thousand books, shook five thousand hands and I got repetitive strain injury. Unbelievable!
It was really painful, and now I’ve been analysed and it’s gone to my back. Because I’ve got curvature of the spine through playing low, it’s trapped all the nerves in my neck, so be warned: that guy out of Level 42 has got a great back (laughs) but if you want to look like him, that’s the trade-off!
Peter Hook, thank you.
For more information, please visit the official Peter Hook website.