Peter Hook on revisting classic Joy Division songs and what he learned about Ian Curtis
With his ground-breaking band Joy Division, Peter Hook (due this Monday, September 19, at the Bluebird Theater) perhaps accidentally created a style of playing bass that made the instrument not just a part of the rhythm section but also a carrier of the melody.
Timothy Norris Peter Hook
In effect, Hook's role in the band helped to put rhythm at the forefront of post-punk music in general. This set the music in league with pioneering funk bands, krautrock, jazz and indigenous music around the world without sounding much like any of that.
Though Joy Division has a reputation for being darker than dark and as bleak as a death in the family, its music served as a catharsis of inner turmoil and anger, as well as an expression of singer Ian Curtis' far-ranging imagination and the capacity of his lyrics to tap into and express his rich personal mythology.
Mixing jagged guitars with deep, melodic grooves and a willingness to experiment with sounds beyond what most people would consider music at the time, Joy Division was more adventurous than, not much like, most bands of the 1970s.
When Curtis committed suicide in May 1980, he abruptly ended a promising career as one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. Somehow, his former bandmates carried on and put together New Order later that year with drummer Stephen Morris' girlfriend Gillian Gilbert brought in as a keyboard player.
That group's debut album, 1981's Movement, bore the sonic stamp of Joy Division but with more extensive use of synthesizers. New Order went on to write some of the most popular dance and pop music of the next thirty years, and became massively influential in its own right.
In 2010, Hook started touring performing the two full-length Joy Division albums, 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer, in their entirety, taking on vocal duties as well as playing bass. He is currently on tour with his band the Light performing Unknown Pleasures. We spoke at length with the humorous and amiable Hook when he was in Majorca, Spain about his club, the music, his gear and his recent foray into writing about the past.
Westword: When you were writing Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club, what did you do for your new club that went beyond just what not to do as you discussed in your book? And after your experience with the Hacienda, why did you even want to start a new club?
Peter Hook: The reason I started the new club was because my partner in it [Aaron Mellor] is a businessman, and quite a hard-working businessman. He runs twenty night clubs in England. He's managed to keep them all through this horrible recession that we've all been through. I met him when I was a DJ, and he's a real Factory fan. And he loves music, and it was quite easy, really, because he'd been my friend for four or five years. I'd started DJing before he came up with the idea of the club.
The problem with the Hacienda was that while we had wonderful ideas, we had no business acumen. And life, whether you like it or not, is a balance between reality and creativity. So we're all very good at being creative as artists but you can't look after the pennies. As my mother used to say, "If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves." So what my partner does, he looks after the boring bit, makes sure I don't do anything ridiculous and we get along just fine at the moment. He DJs at the club, as well. It's nice.
The thing is that it's an odd situation to be in because what happened with the building that was Factory's office was due to be redeveloped and knocked down and made into flats like The Hacienda. What happened was because of the credit crunch, the builder went bankrupt. So they offered the building up for rent and my partner said, "Let's get it before they knock it down. You know, this is an important landmark for Manchester, for the world!" Factory's office and what Factory achieved was important to the world, and he thought it was worth saving, and I had to agree with him, really. I'm quite proud of it. I'm a great believer of using the past as a stepping stone to the future.
How did you come to work with Rowetta on these new versions of Joy Division songs, and did her vocals suggest a different kind of interpretation of the music after you started working together?
Well, when I came to do the Joy Division celebration, for want of a better word, I envisaged playing bass and having guest vocalists. And what happened was was that because of the internet criticism surrounding it, the idea of it, the vocalists that I'd enlisted ran for the hills, really. Rowetta was the only one who stuck with me. I was very proud of her for doing that and also very grateful. Then I started singing, and we started doing it together. She sings "New Dawn Fades," "Insight" and "Atmosphere." She only plays with us in England. We can't afford to bring her abroad.
What she does to the songs is give them a different vision. A completely different feel. It was very nice, really, I thought it needed recording for posterity. It was quite funny because it was something Stephen Morris said that I thought was really unfair that actually prompted me to do the recording because he compared it to Susan Boyle, which I really took exception to.
And that was the reason I went in and recorded it. It was just to please my friend, because Rowetta is a very big critic of herself and she doesn't have much belief in herself, and so it was great to be able to record them and play them to her and go, "Look, I told you it was fantastic." She's a great girl and she's a great friend.
What has been most surprising and rewarding to you in revisiting those Joy Division songs for the recent shows and tours you've been doing, in terms of what you realized about the music you didn't fully appreciate before, and in terms of audience reaction to the material?
Two part question. The thing it brought home to me was how fantastic a lyricist and how fantastic a wordsmith Ian was. I never took much notice when I played with him. He kept his end up admirably, and he went for it. So I didn't really need to know every word he was saying, I just knew that every word that he said was delivered with passion and belief and a wonderful, wonderful sense of theater. And I just went along with it and was totally happy with it.
When I came to sing it, it was completely different. While Unknown Pleasures is quite aggressive, quite rocky, quite confident, when you contrast it to Closer -- it's a hell of a contrast -- so you go through two completely different emotions with each album. Which is nice. It's been very nice to sit down and read his words and concentrate and focus on them. It has been a revelation to me, actually. I've enjoyed it a lot, I must admit. There were a lot things about Ian that I took for granted. It also helps me now. I use a lot of his tricks, that I noticed, in new things that I do, which is great.
Audience reaction: While the idea was greeted rather badly, shall we say, the practice has been fantastic. The audiences are a complete mix of young and old. I thought they'd just all be old. They're not. The reaction is fantastic. It's really heartening because the thing is that when Joy Division finished, New Order basically ignored it for thirty years. And even when New Order split, we were still ignoring it.
And it's nice to hear people say to you, "Oh god, I thought I'd never hear 'New Dawn Fades' played live. I love it!" I must admit, and this is the honest truth, not one person has come up to me after a gig and said, "You shouldn't have done it." There's always been someone who has said, "Man, you should have done it years ago." [laughs] For me the time was right. It was absurd that you get accused of cashing in your band's heritage, when you've completely ignored it for thirty years. I must be the worst casher-inner in the world.
People say a lot of mean stuff.
The internet's very good for that, isn't it? Keyboard terrorists, everybody gets a voice, so it's a true democracy in a way, isn't it?