The Weekly interview: Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook

Peter Hook & The Light play Brooklyn Bowl on May 14.
Photo: Paul W. Dixon / Courtesy
Annie Zaleski

After a well-publicized split from New Order, bassist Peter Hook has found a second life with Peter Hook & The Light. On this current run of U.S. dates—which includes a May 14 Brooklyn Bowl gig—the group is playing both Substance singles collections released by Joy Division and New Order. We caught up with the 62-year-old bassist to talk about the tour, the songs and more.

You’re coming back to the States to do both Substance records, which is very exciting. Yeah, it’s the first time we’ve made Las Vegas. [It’s] very exciting for us to play there as the Light. I must admit, I’ve DJ’d there many times but never actually made it to play. I don’t think New Order ever played there until this incarnation.

Looking at some of your recent performance setlists, it’s a marathon. You’re like Springsteen now. I’m the Salford version—or Manchester version—of Bruce Springsteen. The people that come to see us know what we do, and actually relish it being different, a lot different, to the present incarnation of New Order. We really are like chalk and cheese, with what we play and how we play it. … And now, if I go on and play for an hour and a half like we do at the festivals, I’m like, “Hey, what happened? I haven’t even broken a sweat.” So I suppose it does keep me fit and healthy at the ripe old age of 62.

How did it come about that the shows started getting longer and longer? I started out playing the Joy Division albums, which were generally shorter than New Order albums. Once you then get into CDs, where you could put 23 tracks on [one], you’re celebrating a record that has the LP and extra tracks on it. I think [we] are only two tracks short of playing every single track that New Order and Joy Division have ever played, written and recorded up to this point. We’ll start Technique and Republic in September.

As New Order, in particular, we dumped a lot of songs, because you literally couldn’t play them all. And I’ve had the opportunity to play all the ones that we haven’t played when I was in New Order for years and years. We played a track called “Run” on a special for Radio 6 in England, and it hadn’t been played for over 20 years. When we played “Age of Consent,” it hadn’t been played by New Order for 28 years, and it’s such a fantastic track.

To be honest, I miss those tracks. I missed the youngness of that music, the youth of it. It’s really nice for me to be able to go back and wallow, shall we say, in the nostalgia of learning it, and then playing it brought back.

Have you gleaned any musical insights as you’ve rediscovered that material? I did rediscover that [New Order] were absolutely awesome (laughs). Without a shadow of a doubt. We actually have quite a prickly, awkward, very unique character as a group, which was a reflection of our punk days with Joy Division. And we kept that right up until we signed to a major label, which was on the LP that I’ll be playing in September, Republic. We were actually quite an ornery outfit, and that reflected in some wonderful musical moments. It’s quite uncompromising music, length-wise and also otherwise, and just in its sound it was very fresh and very unique.

We managed to keep that for a long time—longer than any other English band, I’m pretty certain. Before they sold out, of course. Once you sell out to a major, you take the devil’s dollar; you don’t have a say in anything you do. It becomes a completely different way of working. And it worked okay for us, I have to say. But you miss those good old days when you could be really awkward in the way that groups love. And people love awkward musicians, don’t they?

And it feels like, too, that bands today don’t have as much of a chance to work out the awkwardness. It feels like they have one or two chances and, if they don’t hit, that’s it. That’s because of the attitude that record companies have now, which is completely different to the attitude they had in the ’90s, ’80s, where they would nurture an artist. If they believed in you, and you didn’t have a hit, you would be able to keep going at the same rate until you did have a hit—until the world caught up.

Now, of course, it’s completely different. I’m very lucky in that I’ve still been able to keep my career, and use the Internet to keep it going. Whereas a lot of these young bands now—my God, I wouldn’t like to be a band starting now. It’s just so difficult. In our day, all we had to do was play and record. Then the rest of the time we were drunken out of our minds. These young bands now have to be very, very sober. They have to be very savvy. They have to look after every aspect of their business. So I do count myself very lucky.

And you’ve got your son touring with you. Well, he isn’t at the moment. He’s just been poached by the Smashing Pumpkins. My good friend Billy Corgan has just poached him. He’s been with me now for eight years. So I think, maybe it’s time, in the true teenage fashion, that he flew the nest. I mean, I’m happy about that. But I must admit, I’m gonna miss him.

Are you bringing someone else on bass for the U.S. tour? Yeah, we’ve got an American playing with us, actually. A guy called Fred Sablan. He played with Marilyn Manson. He’s also played with Pixies. He played with many, many American groups, and he’s a friend of my son’s, actually. My son met him when he played with Smashing Pumpkins last time, because they toured with Marilyn Manson, so it’s all change in the bass camp, shall we say.

How has having the extra bass changed or enhanced the music? It allows me to sing. I can’t sing and play, so it allows me to sound the way New Order sounded. Otherwise, I’d only be coming in when I don’t sing. I join in on the bits that I can. So I suppose it’s good for a bass player, because all of sudden the bass gets dead loud.

The bass guitar in both New Order and Joy Division was very revered and very unique, if I say so myself. So it enables us to keep that aspect of it.

What appeals to you about presenting the music as full albums? How difficult it is. Most songs that bands don’t play off albums, there is an actual reason—because those songs are usually very difficult to play. Now I don’t have the option of dumping those difficult songs; I have to play them. For that reason, for me, it feels a little more valid, in an artistic format. You’re trying to bring the vibe and the feel and the musical aspect of an LP, which has many ups and downs. Whereas a normal group performance tends to start, build up to the ending and go bang. It’s a completely different experience.

Are you finding that you’re getting a lot of younger people at your shows?

We’re very lucky, as both New Order and Joy Division, in that a lot of parents seem very happy to educate their children. I’m not too sure it’s legal, subjecting your baby to a Joy Division record (laughs). But I’ve had millions of two generations, parents very proudly with the children.

So there’s an upside to the Internet: People are discovering your music that way. Without a doubt. I got the shock of my life, because Joy Division never got out of England. We had one run of dates in Europe, but the only place we ever gigged extensively was England. And we always harbored such great ambitions, as did Ian Curtis, to take our music and the group to the rest of the world. So I like to think that Ian sat up there going, “Well done.”

To play in the places that we’ve played, like Mexico. Fantastic reception for Joy Division. Very young, as well. America—fantastic reception for Joy Division. Very young, again. Brazil, South America.

Even now, we’re playing Substance New Order and Substance Joy Division, and the two records complement themselves very well. New Order’s obviously very commercial, very well known. Joy Division’s is much more intense, much lesser known, but none the worse as a record for that. And they both go down excellently. I’ve got nothing to complain about.

As you’re structuring these shows, is there any weirdness or any competition in the fact that New Order still tours? No, I don’t care, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. They’re able to be what they want, and I’m able to do what I want. And I think, for a fan, they have the wonderful position of being able to see both. I’m playing a lot of tracks that they will never play. And fans get to see both, and, obviously, judge both. So I’ll leave it up to them, really.

PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT May 14, 7 p.m., $30-$35. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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