Friday, September 16, 2011

Interview with Peter Hook

Photo by Timothy Norris
Peter Hook and The Light perform Joy Division's 'Closer' tonight at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles with special guest Moby.

A version of my interview below originally appeared at

Peter Hook is one of the most influential bassists to emerge from the late ‘70s post-punk era.  
As co-founder of Joy Division and New Order, he gained a reputation for crafting a distinct, instantly identifiable sound. Hook plays the instrument like a lead guitar, using the baritone range and an unusually melodic tone.
In 2007, after a 25+ year career with New Order, he announced it had broken up, while other members wavered on whether the British band was still actually a going concern. That year also saw a flurry of activity surrounding Joy Division: the excellent Anton Corbijn-directed film biopic Control, starring Sam Riley as Ian Curtis, an equally fascinating documentary helmed by Grant Gee (Radiohead’s Meeting People is Easy) and Rhino Records’ fine catalog remasters containing rare live archival recordings.   
During the intervening period, Hook kept busy. First he wrote "The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club" (2009). The book revolved around the fabled Manchester music venue which served as a home to the acid house music scene and was primarily funded by New Order (a second book, on Joy Division, is slated for ’12). Then there were DJ tours (including an Orange County, Calf. stop at the Detroit Bar in ’08) and long-gestating project Freebass, featuring bassists Gary “Mani” Mounfield of Primal Scream/Stone Roses and Andy Rourke of The Smiths that spawned several EPs and a full-length studio effort last year.
If that weren’t enough, Hook started Fac51 The Hacienda, a digital label for his and others music releases and opened Fac251: The Factory, a nightclub in Manchester (the numerals relate to catalog numbers on projects related to Joy Division, New Order and others when they were signed to Factory Records). Last week, news arrived about New Order’s plans to reform for two charity gigs in Brussels and Paris – their first in five years – without Hook.
The bassist was caught off guard and released a statement on his website [] that partially read: “It has taken me completely by surprise! Everyone knows that New Order without Peter Hook is like Queen without Freddie Mercury, U2 without The Edge.”
Earlier this week, I talked to a jovial Hook, 55, via phone from Amsterdam right before his new group The Light embarked on their North American tour. 
Q: Has it been chaotic preparing to head over here for these shows and you’re suddenly blindsided by the New Order announcement?
Peter Hook: Yeah, it hasn’t really calmed down yet, to be honest. 
Q: Your bass work is so integral to the New Order sound; I can’t imagine hearing the material live without it.
PH: It’s an odd situation. The thing is, I suppose our bickering started when I refused to play with [singer/guitarist] Bernard [Sumner]. Then it was all about whether you left or whether you were dismissed. It’s gotten worse and worse since we did stop. The hilarious thing to me is them complaining about me playing Joy Division material…it’s just one of those childish things that unfortunately have now spread into the band’s heritage, rights, name and copyright business. 
Design by Peter Saville
Q: Going back to the beginning of Joy Division, can you tell me how that unique bass sound was originally devised?
PH: Funnily enough, I was encouraged by Bernard. There were these new effects pedals at the time called Electro-Harmonix that were American and had just come out in England . He [urged] me to get one from a shop in Manchester . It was a hell of a pedal and had a really fierce sound. It sounded better when you played high. Ian Curtis, God rest his soul, was a great fan of it. Whenever you played high, he loved it. That drove it along. He’d say, ‘keep doing that.’ Every time we’d practice, he’d say, ‘play some of that high stuff.’ So it was encouragement from two of my friends.
Q: Last December, you performed Unknown Pleasures in LA and will reprise it again on Friday, as well as debuting Closer. How did we get so lucky?
PH: It’s just a cheap ploy to get back there again, truth be known. What happened was, the [booking agent] in L.A. , because we did so well last time, offered us two shows - even though they’re the wrong way ‘round. There’s so much material [with B-sides and everything], that you can’t play it all in one night. We’re quite proficient now in playing about 45 songs. We aren’t The Ramones; you can’t get them all in one set. It’s actually quite nice to be able to play the two. Closer is quite a challenge, actually. Unknown Pleasures is Joy Division at their most aggressive. Certainly a different feel. I’m very lucky to get to do both.
Q: Moby is a devoted fan who once recorded “New Dawn Fades.” How did he end up on the L.A. bills?
PH: He emailed me to ask if he could get on the guest list. I shamed him into singing for his supper, shall we say. I’ve played with Moby a few times over the years.
Q: ...Including when New Order did his Area:One festival tour in 2001. I caught the final show at Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, near San Bernardino. 
PH: Yes, I remember we did “New Dawn Fades” with him there one night with [ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist] John Frusciante [who covered it on his own solo album version]. It was fantastic and the first time we played that in New Order for 18 years. John had to teach Bernard and I the song in the dressing room! How bizarre is that?
Q: Very. Are you playing the Joy Division albums live in their exact running order or mixing them up?
PH: No, it’s not mixed up. It’s just as the record plays. For me, it’s quite important really. If you’re just mixing them up and playing it as a set, to me it seems too much like tribute band territory. It’s quite an odd feeling. Playing the LPs in the chronological order that they were written and made, to me feels like there’s an artistic lift. Whereas just playing the songs doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve tried to explain it to my son and the rest of the band. In an odd way, it’s unexplainable. It’s how I feel it should be.
Q: When you first started doing the Unknown Pleasures shows last year, did you intend to follow them up with Closer gigs in the future?
PH: One afternoon I thought, ‘I’d like to play every song I’ve ever written at least once before I shuffle off this mortal coil or retire to the garden.’ 
Q: This past May, you put out Peter Hook and The Light’s Live in Australia (Pylon), which is available on limited edition red vinyl and CD. Was that a particular memorable stop on the 2010 Unknown Pleasures jaunt?
PH: The live album was recorded by a friend of mine in Australia , who’s a great fan. The idea was just to release an LP of the tour. But because of the disaster in Brisbane [ Queensland , Australia floods that killed nearly 50 people in late ‘10/early ‘11], we’re donating proceeds to the Brisbane Relief Fund.
Q: Did going back through the old Joy Division albums in preparation for the tours lead to a new appreciation for the material?
PH: It did, actually. It made me appreciate producer Martin Hannett a lot more than I ever had because, to be honest with you, in Joy Division, we ignored everything that Martin did. We were very headstrong young men. We did things in our own way. Now I realize we made a mistake and can’t thank Martin enough for doing what he did. The albums still sound fresh. It’s a hell of an achievement. I’ve incorporated a lot of the touches that Martin put on the LPs into the shows. When I used to play these songs and listen to the records, I always knew that Ian was doing a great job. But to look at his words, learn them and sing them, has been a revelation. His little lyrical tricks are very clever and very underestimated. It amazed me how different the lyrical style is from Closer to Unknown Pleasures. There’s so little repetition. He’s written fantastic stories for each song. Ian always gave me the impression he was great, but when I started to study [the material], I realized how much.
Q: After debuting the Closer show at The Factory this past May, you had said it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the first Unknown Pleasures one you did in 2010. Why?
PH: It was very difficult, really, after we stopped playing as New Order. There’s a lot of things that happen when a relationship like that stops. Doctors treat it as a grief state. It can be very debilitating. So you are in a very strange position. I’ve been in New Order for 31 years, off and on…We’ve been through many stages. I suppose this is just another one.
Q: What was the impetus for doing the full album tours devoted to Joy Division?
PH: I knew that I was going to commemorate the 30th anniversary since Ian Curtis died [on May 18, 1980 ]. And there was an exhibition in Macclesfield. The playing of the album came because I read Bobby Gillespie’s interview about doing Primal Scream’s Screamadelica live. He said they were enjoying playing it so much because they never really played all the songs on the album. I thought, ‘it’s like Unknown Pleasures.’ That gave me the idea. Before I was just going to do the exhibition and a quite normal celebration. The interesting thing is that I was met with such a wave of criticism. It was absolutely quite terrifying. It was a deluge of keyboard terrorists on all the music forums. I only got rid of that by playing. The more I played, the more it felt natural and good. As to how long it will last, I don’t know. I’m just lucky I can still play the music I love.
Q: Were the other members of The Light – guitarist Nat Watson, keyboardist Andy Poole and drummer Paul Kehoe - musicians you knew from around Manchester?
PH: Yeah, the drummer and keyboard player were in [my old band] Monaco . The guitarist was on the Freebass sessions and the bass player is my son Jack.
Hook and son photo by Timothy Norris
Q: Jack, who is roughly the same age as you were during Joy Division, had done some Freebass shows. Whose idea was it for him to carry on with you in The Light?
PH: Mine. All the singers I had in mind were scared off by the internet criticism. It left me to sing it, really.
Once I sang it, we had no bass player. So I gravitated toward Jack and he picked up the mantle very well, actually. Eventually, he’ll be as hated as his father [laughs heartily].
Q: The collaboration with Rowetta, best known for her work with Happy Mondays, on the 1102/2011 EP probably took some people by surprise.
PH: She was the only vocalist [that could do it well]. Simon Topping from A Certain Ratio had a go, but didn’t take to it. Rowetta was the only woman with balls enough to do it.
Q: Her rich, soulful singing brings a fresh nuance to Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades,” “Insight” and especially “Atmosphere.”   
PH: I enjoy listening to Rowetta. Funnily enough, there was an interview with [Joy Division/New Order drummer] Stephen Morris comparing her to Susan Boyle that made my blood boil. I thought it was unfair. She sounds fantastic.
Q: Rowetta has done some U.K. concerts shows with The Light. Will she be joining you in America ?
PH: [sighs] No, I’m afraid with the state of the world the way it is, we can’t afford to bring her ‘round. So she only plays in England . She will be with us when we play my hometown of Salford in November.
Q: Tell me how you unearthed the lost Joy Division tune “Pictures in My Mind,” which is also on The Light's new EP.
PH: The tape of that track was stolen from [former manager] Rob Gretton’s basement. It was distributed on the internet. I got a call from a friend of mine in America . He sent me the track and I honestly stated, hand on heart, that I’d never heard it before. But I knew it was us. It was actually quite finished. Quite ironic, the way things come back full circle. Ian Curtis always used to have a mantra: whenever we got a track done, that’s the point he’d say [mimics Curtis’ low voice] ‘OK, not great, but don’t dump it.’ He thought if you get a song together, finish it because somebody always loves it. That came back to me when I heard “Pictures in My Mind.”
Q: The track has an urgent, late ‘70s Iggy Pop vibe. You were a big fan of Pop and Lou Reed when Warsaw morphed into Joy Division around that time.
PH: It was done somewhere between Warsaw and Joy Division. We don’t know when it was or where it was recorded.
Photo by Timothy Norris
Q: Is the Joy Division book proceeding smoothly?
PH: The New Order book is coming along a lot quicker at the moment [laughs]. Joking! I just got another chapter last week. No, the Joy Division book’s going very well. I’m about halfway through. It’s been quite intense to look at it all put down in black and white, which I’ve never done before. The reason I decided to do it was simply because I was sick of reading books about the band by people that weren’t there. I thought it was about time one of us who was there did a book.
Q: So you can set the record straight.
PH: The thing about records is they’re generally about your memory and what you felt at the time. I have found, between all the people in involved - from [Factory Records impresario] Tony Wilson to Rob Gretton, Barney, all of them – everybody remembers things differently. The thing is to do it for yourself. When I did the Hacienda book, it put a lot of things straight in my mind. I’m hoping the Joy Division book will do the same.
Q: How has it been for you overseeing Hacienda Records? Are you actively involved in day-to-day business and scouting talent?
PH: Yes, I’m afraid I do it all. The idea always was to help propagate new music for groups that were starting out. I’m a great believer in giving something back. The Hacienda Records website is proving to be quite a historical document. It was a vehicle to put my own stuff out at first, which again, generated a lot of criticism. Now we’re moving to other groups. If it helps people along, that’s what it’s all about. I was inspired by the Sex Pistols and I’ve had a great run. I’m just hoping I can inspire somebody else.  
Q: Has the opening of The Factory nightclub been well received?
PH: [laughs loudly] Have a guess.
Q: No?
PH: Exactly! I think it’s me. I’m starting to feel victimized in everything I bloody do. It was met with a lot of criticism. See I always think you should use the past to help the future. Maybe that’s my downfall. A lot of people don’t agree with me. Fortunately, it’s been a great success in its first year. Whether that proves everybody wrong, we’ll have to see. I don’t know whether they’d admit it or not. Again, it has enabled me to not make the same mistakes I did with the Hacienda. One thing I’ve learned about the business is you do have to sacrifice a lot of creativity and artistry to survive. Because the Hacienda was subsidized by Joy Division and New Order, you could be very artistic and creative. In the real world, you can’t do that. That’s been a blow actually and a shock.

The El Rey Theatre is at 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $32.65, including fees. Doors open at 8 p.m.
For remaining tour dates, go to
Details on other Hook-related ventures, can be found at:       

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