Interview with Peter Hook of Peter Hook and The Light
Peter Hook is a man on a mission. The founding member of Joy Division and New Order has been touring the world hell bent on giving the fans the chance to hear every song ever performed by both bands. Whilst his former band mates Bernard Sumner, Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert tour under the New Order monicker playing the same set they have for years – a fact that is still a source of frustration for Hooky – he’s been offering fans all over the world his version of events, playing complete albums to rapturous audiences.
Now, Hooky and his band The Light are returning to Australian shores to present the most comprehensive setlist of songs by either band. New Order’s Substance album was essentially a greatest hits compilation designed so that Factory Records boss Tony Wilson could listen to their singles on the CD player of his car. Joy Division’s album of the same name, released a year later, was a different affair. Part singles collection, part rarities, it was a fans delight and featured some of the final recordings by the band before the tragic death of singer Ian Curtis.
Speaking from his car as he sped into London, Hooky was eager to offer details about his current band, his passion for keeping the flame of Joy Division alive, and yet at the heart of it the circumstances surrounding the behaviour of his former band mates still cuts deep.
Hi Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
No worries mate. Blimey this is a good connection. I’m in my car!
Yeah I’m in my car driving to London would you believe!
Haha I’ve done a few interviews myself like that!! So you’ve toured here a few times recently over the years, this time is a little different isn’t it?
Yeah we’ve done Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer and we’ve done New Order’s Movement and Brotherhood and Power, Corruption and Lies, and now we’re onto the next chronological set of albums which is New Order’s Substance and Joy Division’s Substance which came out a year later. So we’re almost achieving my dream of playing every song Joy Division and New Order wrote and recorded.
Being essentially a set of greatest hits by one band and a set of rarities and singles by another, how have each of the sets been going over with the crowds?
It’s interesting because the New Order album is a collection of very well known songs and the Joy Division album is a set of no so well known songs, with the exception of a few of the singles left off the albums, and yet it’s been going down very well actually. It’s going down just as well as the New Order one, which is a hell of a lot more commercial.
This is the most comprehensive set of both bands that you’ve ever performed, were there any songs that you especially enjoyed performing?
It’s not easy to play these records. Because there are some tricky songs, and the reason that New Order never played them is because they’re difficult to translate live. But because I’m playing the albums I don’t get the luxury of leaving them out. So there’s a lot of concentration involved. But I must admit that I love every track! It’s great really; as a fan of New Order I’m in seventh heaven here because I get to play all the tracks that we worked on so much in the studio, that we worked on so much to write, and then we ignored most of them for thirty years!!! So I am in a very good position right now where I’ve gotten them all back. I’ a massive fan of New Order, and Joy Division and I adore playing the songs and luckily for me the audiences seem to agree. And a smy mate said to me the other day it’s given me a second bite of the cherry.
And that’s it isn’t it.
Well when New Order split up I thought literally that it was all over. And then for them to get back together again the way that they did it so disgracefully and disgustingly, disgusting behaviour, I was worried that I’d never get those songs back again. So to play them has made me feel a lot nicer about their underhand actions in stealing the group name. It really has.
Does it still feel strange going out and playing those songs without the rest of New Order or are you used to it now?
No not now. I’ve gotten used to it. The band and I have been playing together now for six years so I’m well used to playing with the guys. It’s certainly different singing, I never thought I’d enjoy singing but I’ve actually grown to quite like it now. I mean I did it before in Monaco and Revenge (Hooks side projects with fellow member of The Light David Potts) and I get to still play bass in between, because bass is my greatest love, and it’s nice that my son plays bass because I get to hear the bass riffs whereas before I was always playing them. So it’s quite weird to be able to play and then sing it’s quite unique in a group. It’s the same thing as Bernard did going from Joy Division as the guitarist to moving into New Order as the guitarist and the singer. I’ve emulated what he did as well so it’s quite unusual. And there’s a lot of challenges in it, it’s difficult. It’s easier playing bass because you can hide behind your guitar, but being a singer is difficult. I found it difficult when we tried it out in New Order in 1980, so it does take a lot of bollocks to be a singer I’ll give him that. Which is probably why they behaved deplorably because of the pressure, but I’d like to think I’ve not gotten to that bit yet.
Let’s hope so mate. So which tracks of the albums are you singing yourself?
I’m singing them all except Perfect Kiss and Confusion. I’m singing everything apart from those two. Bernard’s range, the octave of his voice is higher than mine. I’m more suited to Joy Division, so I have to really try. And it’s nice to push yourself and really try, so I do, but Perfect Kiss and Confusion sounded better – I begrudgingly had to admit! – when Pottsy sang them so I’ve been the bigger man and I’ve stood back.
You’ve obviously been primarily responsible for keeping alight the torch for the memory of Ian Curtis over the years, is keeping the band’s legacy alive still important for you?
Well we ignored it for thirty years while we made a success of New Order, but it was always there in the background getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And since we started playing the Joy Division music and celebrating the LP’s I’ve been to some places that Ian only dreamed of. And Ian was such a Joy Division fan, he was our biggest fan and he was always the one to pick us up. Whenever you were feeling down and that you weren’t getting anywhere, it was always Ian who would pick you up by the scruff of the neck and drag you along, you know. So I like to think that he’d be very proud of the fact that The Light have gone and played Joy Division in Brazil, America, Australia, and made a success of it and done it proud. I don’t think that anyone has criticised us for what we’ve done, we do a very honest, very passionate and very enthusiastic rendition to the best of my abilities. I’m amazed that them two miserable bastards (Sumner and Morris) aren’t happy. [laughs] They must be the only fucking two, apart from Gillian Gilbert, that aren’t happy with what we’re doing. I mean the fans have got the best of both worlds; they’ve got me doing Joy Division, me doing the older New Order stuff, them playing the same thing over and over again along with their new album, so really from a fans point of view things are good. If we could just cheer them two miserable buggers up, it’d be great wouldn’t it?
Your bass playing is regarded as one of the most original and influential styles of modern times, can I ask you how you came to develop it?
It came about quite simply really. When you play the low notes on the bass, especially on shit equipment as I had, the low notes were not discernible at all. So what I started doing was playing the high notes, they cut through because Bernard had a louder amp than I did, and Ian Curtis in particular loved the sound of it. So every time we went to rehearse the first thing he’d say to me was “Hooky, Hooky, play high. That drives it along and keeps it going, play high” So he encouraged me to do it all the time and that was how it came about really. Obviously there was a bit of latent talent there but with his encouragement I sort of developed the Joy Division sound.
Can you talk me through your touring bass rig a bit?
My touring bass rig is actually a lot simpler than the rig I used to use in New Order. I use a HiWatt 200 amplifier, I have Trace Elliot speakers, 2 x 15’s which suit my way of playing. I find that if you use 12″ speakers it’s too trebly and if you use 18″ speakers it’s too bassy, so I use 15’s so that I can make it bright and yet still have bottom end with it. I use the same foot pedal that I used in 1978, it’s an Electro-Harmonix Chorus pedal. It’s a vintage one from 1978 and I’ve got thirteen of them. I’m running out of parts but I’m pillaging them all the time to make them work, I use a JoJo echo which is a modern one that’s very good and that’s it really. When I play six string bass I use a Shergold, and I use a graphic equaliser foot pedal to boost the single because the Shergold is passive whereas the Yamaha that I use is active.
Are there any bands around at the moment who you particularly enjoy, that you think are influenced by either Joy Division or New Order?
[laughs] it’s very difficult to hear a band that’s NOT influenced by either of them. My great love at the moment is The 1975, I’ve known Matt Healey since he was 10 years old, ‘m a friend of his mothers so I’ve watched him grow up and he’s my neighbour which is quite weird. He once had a crush on my daughter!! But they really are a good group. I went to see them recently and watching them grow from playing small venues to arenas has been very nice because he’s a lovely lad, he’s a really sweet guy and I really just hope that stardom doesn’t change that. It’s amazing because their new LP (i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it) is so influenced by Brian Eno, I was amazed. And I said to Matt “have you been listening to a lot of Brian Eno?” and he went “fucking right I have!!” So it was nice to hear two of my heroes coming together there.
When you’re out on tour in different countries do you visit any record stores and hunt for new music?
I’ve still got all my record collection at home, but no I don’t really. I’ve been to, God there aren’t many places in the world I’ve not been to and I’ve not seen fucking anything! Most of the time you’re so busy or so tired, and in the old days you used to be so hung over that all you did was go and score drugs in very insalubrious areas!!! Once I got sober that all changed of course but no see I’m quite old for a musician, I’m 61, so I’ve got to look after myself and that requires getting a lot of rest. So I work at keeping myself together and I really just take it easy. I’m at that age where I really appreciate every minute and I don’t have to be running around, I’m just as happy being in my hotel room watching a zombie film. Wherever it is in the world, zombies come with me everywhere.
And finally what songs have you got on your phone that you’re listening to?
I’m listening to Laura Marling at the moment actually, that was the last one I had up on Spotify and before that was Drake. I went to see him last week and he was very good actually. Considering he does everything alone it’s quite amazing what he pulls off. Clever geezer. So yeah for me it’s Laura Marling and Drake and I don’t think you could get two more incongruous artists.
Well thanks for talking to me Hooky, looking forward to seeing you out here!
Cheers mate, good talking to you.
Get your tickets to Peter Hook & The Light performing the albums “Substance” by Joy Division & New Order from Metropolis Touring http://www.metropolistouring.com/peterhookandthelight/