Talking About the Substance of New Order with Peter Hook

Some artists are lucky enough to be in one band and make a career out of it. Some artists are lucky enough to make music that changes the world. It is even odder to find an artist that is in two bands that not only were successful but shaped music forever.

Peter Hook was lucky enough to experience an occurrence as rare as Haley’s Comet.

The bassist played in both Joy Division and New Order, two bands that shaped indie music, rock, and generations forever. The 60-year-old has documented his career with New Order in a new book called Substance: Inside New Order.

It is his third book, following his 2009 biography on the ill-fated and influential Hacienda night club in Manchester, England, called The Hacienda: How Not To Run a Club and his 2012 memoirs on Joy Division called Unknown Pleasures.

Joy Division was short lived, the band, who were only around for four years, ended in 1980 after singer Ian Curtis took his own life. Soon after, the surviving members formed New Order and altered their sound.

“The weird thing is that none of the books have had a happy ending which is the most frustrating aspect of the whole thing. You would love one of them to have a happy ending. Maybe it'll be the next one. Was it easier, the difficult thing was the length of time. The Joy Division book was my musical childhood, at three, four years. The Hacienda book was 16 years and New Order was 31. So the sheer quantity of time is what dictated how long it took,” Hook told me of his writing. He added in his new book: “I also wanted to balance out the excesses, the sex, drugs and rock and roll with the hard work and graft that went into producing the music. That was why I included the ‘geek alerts’ about the equipment we were using because I wanted people to realize how hard we worked and how difficult it was to create that sound. You've got to give all of us, Barney, Steve and myself, the credit for doing that.”

Technique

“The writing process has become easier as it's my third book but as I think people can tell each book has taken a lot of time and they're quite in depth. The New Order book is some 800 pages long but it does deal with twenty six years of the band,” Hook said.

The latest book dives deep into the history of New Order like never before, it becomes a dissertation on what to do and what not to do when in a band, especially when one rises to the top.

“As for rediscovering the past I find it sometimes weird, especially when you're concentrating gig by gig, session and trying to remember precisely the details but it can be interesting when a revelation appears. It can sometimes be a little unnerving but I have learnt to deal with it by now,” Hook added.

New Order didn’t take a break after the death of Curtis. Hook had told me once before, “it was as if we put Joy Division in a box and placed it in the closet,” the way he and his bandmates marched on.

In their first 10 years, they released five brilliant records that altered electronic and dance rock forever. New Order almost seemed hell bent on not catering just to the 1980s dance floors, they wanted to go beyond that.

“Well that was all to do with the uniqueness of the sound and equipment that we were utilizing in the Eighties. It really was a new sound that was brought forward by new equipment. It is quite recognizable as being from that period and has a very individual and distinctive sound. If you hear an Eighties record now, even though you know it's from the Eighties, the production values make it still sound contemporary and current,” Hook said. “That's why it stands up to the music of today in my view and long may continue to appeal to new audiences and fans. All good music is timeless really, and most of the music we did in the Eighties, we're lucky that a lot of what we did falls into that category."

From 1980 to 2007, his bass playing was more than just adding to the rhythm section of a tight band, it was crafting a new style of music. Even all these years later, Hook admits that he cannot read music but knows how to craft a bassline that will have even the biggest music aficionados in awe.

State of the Nation

In Substance, Hook takes the reader into a tale that is both cliché and totally unique.

Since New Order were pioneering a sound and trying to stand out of a crowd in an era when bands from England were crafting “New Wave” or the “Madchester” scene, they seemed to be ahead of the pack.

He credits their sound with the gear they were using in the 1980s.

“It really was a new sound that was brought forward by new equipment. It is quite recognizable as being from that period and has a very individual and distinctive sound. If you hear an Eighties record now, even though you know it's from the Eighties, the production values make it still sound contemporary and current. That's why it stands up to the music of today in my view and long may continue to appeal to new audiences and fans. All good music is timeless really, and most of the music we did in the Eighties, we're lucky that a lot of what we did falls into that category,” he said.

After years of internal struggle, Hook left New Order in 2007. The band continues on without him and in 2015 released their post-Hook album, Music Complete.

Hook says he speaks to his former mates “only through lawyers as it stands.”

In 2014, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner released his memoirs titled, Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division & Me. I asked Hook, since some of the accounts in Sumner’s book differ from his, the bassist replied: “Well the audience will be the judge, jury and executioner there. It's a matter of who you choose to believe. Bernard and I were never able to agree on anything so ultimately it's down to the reader to decide.”

Dreams Never End

Today, Peter Hook DJs around the world and performs Joy Division and New Order’s back catalogue with his band, The Light, which also features his son, Jack, on bass.

“The way it works with me and Jack is that he plays the bass parts when I'm singing and we both play bass together, kind of dueling with our instruments during the instrumental parts. It is great to have Jack in the band with me, he's very hard working and also a very gifted musician,” the proud father said. “He has been on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins as well but he's very dedicated to The Light and to the material. It's fantastic for me as a father to have his son playing in the band. When I look over and see him on stage, I get an enormous sense of pride."

If one were to turn on the radio now or attend a major music festival, the influence of the sound he and Joy Division and New Order created is echoed through major acts of today.

He says he hears New Order’s influence “all the time, most bands now use a combination of dance and rock. In fact most acts are like that, even if you listen to Rihanna or Beyonce, it's the same recipe so I listen to all of it.”

He added: “I'm a great consumer but I tend on the whole to prefer groups at the moment. There's a band from Stockport, near Manchester called Blossoms doing very well, the New York band, Cults and a London band, Savages, those are my picks for now.”

While he has no plans to record original music with The Light “because I consider The Light as a band for playing my back catalogue. That's what people have come to expect so I'm not sure it would work,” he does have other new music arriving. Later this year, he plans to have a new release with his band, Monaco, whom he formed in 1995 with David Potts, who also plays in The Light.

As Hook continues to tour the world with his music and discussing his career, he looks back on it with great pride.

He reflected: “It struck me that New Order were an absolute product of the Eighties, beginning in May 1980 and then finishing in June 1990 with the England World Cup single. Ten absolutely fantastic, wonderful years. It was action packed; it really was an intense period of time. Looking back on it, I am amazed we managed to survive it all. I was amazed that we all survived The Hacienda after I wrote that book but I'm even more amazed that we managed to survive New Order.

“One thing I did realize is that time flies by so quickly, that was the biggest surprise. To be here and think that this is 41 years since we started the group as Joy Division following the Sex Pistols gig. I can't believe its gone in a heartbeat. I long for it constantly, to have it again, I wouldn't mind that 41 years back.”

A Version of This Interview Appears on Officially A Yuppie.

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