When last we spoke to Peter Hook, the legendary bassist was bringing Joy Division’s debut album Unknown Pleasures to America and had just seen his supergroup side project Freebass publicly implode. A year later, he’s moved on to Closer, and tells Slicing Up Eyeballs on the eve of another U.S. tour that he may next perform Still — and could even dip into New Order’s catalog “to annoy Bernard even more.”
Our interview with Hook — who opens his U.S. tour next week in New York City (see full dates below) — was conducted before yesterday’s bombshell that New Order will reunite without him for a pair of gigs in October. While a statement from the bassist on that matter still is forthcoming, he did talk about relations with his former bandmates (“I still have to deal with a lot of New Order shit”) and their decision to release outtakes from their final album, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call.
Hook also spoke at length about touring the two Joy Division albums, how the two differ and what he’s learned about producer Martin Hannett’s role in making them — as well as what he’s learned, about himself and frontman Ian Curtis’ suicide, from writing his forthcoming book about the band.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: When I talked to you about a year ago, you were just getting ramped up touring ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ and now you’re doing ‘Closer.’ Was that a logical next step or were there special challenges you had to think about before deciding to play that album?
PETER HOOK: When I started Unknown Pleasures, I must admit it crossed my mind that we would do Closer, and to be honest with you, I was actually looking forward to it, because Closer for some strange reason has always been one of my favorite albums, regardless of the fact that it’s by me. It’s something I never had with Unknown Pleasures. It’s odd, because with Unknown Pleasures, I hated the record. So I wasn’t detached from it. But with Closer, I was detached from it so I could just listen to it and enjoy it. I know that doesn’t particularly make any sense, but that’s what happened.
EYEBALLS: Has playing Unknown Pleasures given you a greater appreciation of the record?
HOOK: Yes, it has, actually, in a funny way, because when I first went back to it to do my homework on the record, I realized how important Martin Hannett’s input was. So by playing Unknown Pleasures, I was using a lot of Martin’s input, whereas in Joy Division, we didn’t really use any of Martin’s input (when playing live). We ignored it wholeheartedly, but for me, once I listened to Unknown Pleasures, I realized how important Martin was. Martin had the same importance on Closer, actually, in a fun way, because of the way he helped do the keyboards. He actually had a lot more musical input into Closer, not to an extent of where he became a writer, but in layering and suggesting instruments. The strange thing about Closer is if you listen to it, it doesn’t have a lot of guitars on it. It was a bit of a surprise to me. I was expecting more guitar. There’s a hell of a lot of keyboards on Closer.
EYEBALLS: When it came time to learn to play ‘Closer,’ it must have been more complicated than ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ which is a much simpler, aggressive album.
HOOK: Yeah, I mean Closer has a much different feel. It’s much more melancholy. It’s much more vulnerable. It’s much softer, especially the end of the LP, the way it goes into “The Eternal” and “Decades” and “Heart and Soul.” You feel very open, shall we say, in playing it. There’s not much to hide behind with Closer, but it’s been great to play it. I must admit, one of my favorite Joy Division songs is “The Eternal.” To be able to play it, to hear it every time the piano comes in, it sends a real shiver down my spine.
EYEBALLS: It must make for quite a different show than the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ concerts.
HOOK: Well, yeah, I mean it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can do at a festival, shall we say. You know if you’ve got a real bouncing audience it’s sort of, I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s very introspective. I’m looking forward to the gigs in America because, basically, the only time we’ve played it in England, apart from in Manchester, has been at festivals.
EYEBALLS: Given that you’ve stepped up into the role of frontman and singer, with the vulnerability of ‘Closer,’ do you think it’s something you might not have been able to do without having first performed ‘Unknown Plesaures’?
HOOK: To be honest with you, Closer’s easer to sing because Ian’s vocals were lower and they’re much slower. There’s a lot more words in Closer, but physically, it’s actually easier to sing. So whilst you have to work quite hard to learn the lyrics, the message in the lyrics is, shall we say, a little disconcerting. When you’re reading it properly, it’s a bit like, “Oh shit, we should’ve spotted that.” I’m sure the guy in Kurt Cobain’s band will have the same problem when he comes to do Nirvana’s LP.
EYEBALLS: Yeah, Krist Novoselic is performing ‘Nevermind’ in a couple weeks.
HOOK: I wonder if I’ve inspired that. (Laughs) Everybody can blame me. It’s funny, really, because I was looking on this website called Brooklyn Vegan, I was looking at the comments. My friends were telling me about the comments on an article about us playing Closer, and they were quite ribald, shall we say. I was looking at the comments, which was quite interesting because before we started doing Unknown Pleasures, all the comments on the articles were negative. “That bastard!” “Fuck you!” “How could you dare…” But I was reading on Brooklyn Vegan, and they were actually 50-50. I’ve got 50 going, “Fuck you, how dare you…” and 50 percent going, “Hey man, you did a good job.” And I felt, “Hey, that’s headway.”
EYEBALLS: Seems to me there’s a split opinion. So many people are critical, but everyone I’ve heard from who actually saw the shows raved about them.
HOOK: I suppose that makes it all worth while. It’s quite an odd thing, really, because when you read a negative comment it really deflates you, but then, unfortunately, you’re stuck because you don’t know how to do anything else. As a musician, I’m sure the guy from Nirvana will be in the same position — he wants to play the LP, might be the same as me, to get a bit of a closure, but the thing is generally people are really against it. But as a musician, what the hell are you supposed to do? It’s a quandary.
EYEBALLS: But there must be validation in performing to an audience that’s so receptive.
HOOK: Yeah, it’s interesting, because, again it comes down to your vocation. A lot of the comments on Brooklyn Vegan were, “Oh god, he must be skint. He must need the money to tour America.” But yet the last tour we did of America I actually had to go back home hand in my pocket to fund it, and I fully expect to be doing that this time. But the thing is, it comes down to that fact that what the hell are you supposed to do with your life when you’ve done what I’ve done for 34 years. Playing is such a great pleasure and the reaction of the people is so fantastic. I’ve never had one person, and I now our fans can be quite vocal, I’ve never had one person complain to me after we’ve done a show, and I see a lot of people complaining before a show, so it’s actually a pleasure to do it. The funny thing is with (touring) Joy Division, you’re not promoting anything. You’re not promoting a record. Sometimes I actually sit there and think, “My god, I’m just doing this for the privilege, shall we say, of doing it.” And it has been very, very enjoyable.
EYEBALLS: And now that you’re back in this world, you’re writing a book about Joy Divison, too.
HOOK: Yes, I am. The book, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a bit of a different journey because it was when I was so young. Sometimes you don’t recognize yourself in an odd way. Your evaluate what you do by the person you are now, but you are looking at all these young mistakes and going, “Oh my god, how could anybody have let us do that.” Yet nobody could stop us at the time. Nobody could stop Ian. He was desperate to play. He was obstinate. He wouldn’t take any time off. It’s just a shock you when you see it written down. It’s been hard to face the timeline, shall we say.
EYEBALLS: Have you been doing research or this just purely from memory?
HOOK: No, no, I mean it’s funny, really, because the thing is really the research is in your head. I think, “Oh god, what happened in the Guildford Civic Hall,” and I sit there and think about it and things come back. It’s surprising, fortunately. It comes back. I must say, looking at Joy Division, we were a very, very hard-working band in the short time we had. It was very intense. It’s hard to face the facts of Ian’s illness because
I think when we were going through it, when we were younger, there were a lot of diversions. We were distracted form it quite a lot, the gravity of it. Now looking back, the gravity’s there on a piece of paper — and it’s quite startling.
EYEBALLS: Maybe people reading about it can learn something from your experience.
HOOK: Yeah. I’ve learned from it. It’s not something you’d ever let happen again, but it’s a hell of an expensive lesson. I’m sure I’m not the only one who learned it. You’ve got to come down to the fact that you’ve got management, his doctors, specialists, his family, you know, his wife — we all bloody missed it until unfortunately it was too late.
EYEBALLS: I understand you also plan to follow the Joy Division story with a book about New Order.
HOOK: The New Order book is a complete different kettle of fish because it covers so many years. It starts in 1980 and finishes… well it still hasn’t finished yet. I still have to deal with a lot of New Order shit, shall we say, now. So you’re talking about a long period of time and I must admit putting that together is going to be a difficult mashing of it all into one book. Joy Division is easy. It’s very concise. Three-and-a-half years, a little bit more. The Hacienda (Hook’s book “The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club”) was comparatively easy because it had a very distinct period. New Order is 30 years. I’m not looking forward to the New Order book because there’s so much bitterness and so many ups and downs. You don’t want it to be a bitchfest, shall we say.
EYEBALLS: How much involvement did you have with the new compilation and the inclusion of the unreleased song “Hellbent”?
HOOK: Personally, I fest the way Warner’s handled “Hellbent” on that compilation was terrible. They handled it like they’d never put a record out before in their lives, which was actually quite shocking. Oh, what can you say about Total? It’s not creatively valid. It’s not artistically valid. But the thing is, to show how Joy Division morphed into New Order is quite an interesting thing to do, but I don’t think they did it very well. They just used Joy Division hits to go into New Order hits. Now I personally thought they could have done a much more interesting musical take on the crossover, if you like. You could have explored the dance aspects of Joy Division into the dance aspects of New Order, which I thought was a much more interesting way of doing it. But. of course. you wouldn’t have the hits on it. So it was pooh-poohed. I also thought it was a bit cheap sticking “Hellbent” on to sell it, which doesn’t work in this day and age, because once you’ve sold one, then it’s up on the Internet and it’s gone. Anyway, that seems a bit of an old fashioned gimmick to me.
EYEBALLS: Was that song left over from the ‘Waiting for the Sirens’ Call’ sessions?
HOOK: Yes, it is. Yeah. I mean, the interesting thing is it has led to us putting together the remaining tracks to put them out all together. That is coming, which I’m delighted about, but I can’t understand why it’s taking so long. I’ve only got 20 percent (say in New Order matters). The others have got 80. They keep elbowing me out all the time. Every time I try to do something, I get outvoted.
EYEBALLS: How many songs are left from those sessions?
HOOK: There’s seven more songs left. I suggested they put the soundtrack songs from (Anton Corbijn’s 2007 Ian Curtis biopic) “Control” on there because they were only used for a very short period in “Control” and they actually stand up as three great instrumentals. So we’re discussing at the moment, shall we say.
EYEBALLS: But you think that will happen?
HOOK: I don’t know. I know that the seven songs are coming out. As to whether they’ll put the “Control” tracks in there with them or not, I don’t know. I can just put my opinion forward and see if I get outvoted or not. To my knowledge, the full-length version of the “Control” music has never been released. So it would make a very interesting collection to me, those 10 tracks.
EYEBALLS: These seven songs, are you talking about more of a standalone release or an expaned reissue of ‘Waiting for the Siren’s Call’ with these songs as bonus tracks?
HOOK: I’m asking for a standalone. They’re suggesting we repackage Waiting for the Sirens’ Call. I keep telling them it will do them no good, because once one person has it, it will be up on the Internet and nobody will have to buy it anyway. So unless Pete Saville does a fantastic cleeve that makes it valid…
EYEBALLS: And why make fans buy an album they already have?
HOOK: Exactly. It’s just an opinion. I put my opinion forward, the others put their opinions forward, and then what happens… It would be nice, from my point of view, to get rid of those tracks in the nicest possible way that would at last draw the line under the New Order split-up in 2006. It hasn’t felt clean in any way, to be honest. So I’m hoping the release of the last remaining material will make it a little cleaner.
EYEBALLS: Given what you’ve done with the Joy Division albums, could you ever see yourself doing that with New Order records?
HOOK: I like to say my idea is to play every album before I get too told to play them. It’s funny, really, I don’t know… The next Joy Division is (posthumous 1981 compilation) Still, and then there’s Substance. I think as the group (The Light) goes, they know every song apart from three Joy Division songs, so it would be quite easy to do. I only looked at playing Unknown Pleasures once. I never expected to do as many shows as we did. When we played Closer this year, I never expected we’d keep playing Closer. I only envisioned playing it in Manchester. I’d love to play Still because there’s songs nobody’s heard on there like “Exercise One,” “Something Must Break,” “Komakino.” “Exercise One” was one of my favorite songs, but the way it chronologically falls outside the two albums, it would be nice to sort of indulge yourself, you know, do “Walked in Line,” all those songs, all those sort of punky songs that have been ignored. Maybe I will do Still to say goodbye to it, then go on to New Order and annoy Bernard even more
EYEBALLS: A lot more ground to cover there.
HOOK: (Laughs) I don’t know, sometimes. When I saw him when he did the talking thing in Manchester, he was so irate. It was fantastic. We’ve got loads more ground to cover.
EYEBALLS: If you did one New Order album, do you have particular favorite?
HOOK: My favorite New Order album is Technique, to be honest with you.
EYEBALLS: Why is that?
HOOK: I have no idea why. When I listen to Power, Corruption and Lies — fantastic album. Low-Life — fantastic album. But for some reason, because we recorded it in Ibiza, and it’s all about acid house and Madchester and those Hacienda wild years, that really was one naughty period in your life, that period. And I think when I sit back and reflect in my pipe and slippers, it’s always Technique and the period around it. I thought we captured a sound on Technique — of Ibiza, the summery, bright very upbeat sound. And I thought it was amazing, because we completely lost it on Republic — which was even more shocking that we lost the sound so completely.
EYEBALLS: How are things going with Hacienda Records?
HOOK: Hacienda Records is very nice, because a lot of the first things I did were to do with me, and obviously, from a creative and artistic point of view, it’s not very fulfilling to just do your own projects. So now that we’ve done Humanizer, and we’re also doing a Canadian techno guy who’s bringing a track out and Jon Dasilva’s also bringing an album out and Section 25 have done an EP. And we’ve got a fantastic new group called the Super White Assassin that are bringing out an EP as well. It’s quite exciting. If there’s one thing that Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton always taught me, it’s that you need to support and inspire, because that’s what happened to us. It’s about giving something back. It’s about giving the opportunity and a chance. It’s very difficult, really, because in this day and age — and I don’t want to start going on more than I have — but it’s very difficult to support artists, so in many ways, you’re doing it for love. When I listen to the bands, I’m actually very proud. With Humanizer, the track is just fantastic. As soon as I heard it, thought, ‘Oh god, it’s worth it.” It’s that thing where these people wouldn’t be able to put out an album if you hadn’t helped them out. It’s quite rewarding. I do think it’s important to give something back.
Peter Hook and the Light tour dates:
Sept. 13: Gramercy Theatre, New York, NY **
Sept. 14: The Music Box, Los Angeles, CA **
Sept. 16: El Rey, Los Angeles, CA *
Sept. 17: Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA **
Sept. 19: Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO *
Sept. 20: Paradise, Boston, MA **
Sept. 21: 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. **
Sept. 23: Metro, Chicago, IL **
Sept. 24: Phoenix, Toronto, ON *
Sept. 25: Club Soda, Montreal, QC *
Sept. 28: Black Box, Tijuana, Mexico *
Sept. 29: The Warehouse, Guadalajara, Mexico *
Oct. 1: El Pasaguero, Mexico City, Mexico *
* Performing ‘Unknown Pleasures’
** Performing ‘Closer’
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS
- New Order to reunite — without Peter Hook — for October concerts in Paris, Brussels
- Peter Hook: New Order to release 7 songs from ‘Waiting for the Sirens’ Call’ sessions
- Peter Hook bringing Joy Division’s ‘Closer,’ ‘Unknown Pleasures’ to North America
- ‘Total: From Joy Division to New Order’ to feature unreleased New Order track
- Q&A: Peter Hook talks ‘Unknown Pleasures’ tour, re-recording Joy Division