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Joy Division and New Order co-founder Peter Hook relives a troubled legacy




Like the Velvet Underground before them, Joy Division wouldn't become legendary until they were long gone.

While Lou Reed's solo success perpetuated the Velvet Underground legacy, Joy Division's path to notoriety was considerably more circuitous. The British post-punk band's frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, leaving behind two albums and a single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which have influenced bands ranging from U2 to Radiohead.

Joy Division's three surviving members — Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris — reformed as New Order. Fueled by the success of signature songs like "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "Blue Monday," the band released eight albums of moody dance-rock before a particularly acrimonious split in 2006.

The animosity heightened after a newly formed Peter Hook & the Light began performing Joy Division's two albums in their entirety. Sumner, meanwhile, has been fronting a reassembled New Order.

Behind the scenes, the two musicians had been at odds since the early days. Hook's high lead bass playing, which rivaled Curtis' low baritone as Joy Division's most recognizable component, was a consistent source of irritation for Sumner.

"Bernard said to me, 'Can't you follow the lead notes?" recalls Hook. "And I said, 'No.' I said, 'You follow me.' I think it's the worst insult in the world for someone to say that to you: 'Don't be good, don't play anything yourself, just follow what I do.' I'm afraid my ego would not let me do that, now or then."

In the midst of an American tour, this time performing the first two New Order albums straight through, Hook took time out to talk about the rivalry and breakup, the battle over recently recovered master tapes, and what the future may or may not hold.

Indy: I'd like to begin by asking about the transition from Joy Division to New Order, and the band going on to work with dance producers like Arthur Baker. Did that feel like a departure for you, or was it, in some way, an extension of what you'd been doing all along?

Peter Hook: Well to be honest with you, it felt like too radical a departure for me. I'd been very happy being the bass player in a rock band, and to be presented with this new kind of music basically done by robots, it seemed a bit threatening to me.

Indy: Just like drummers used to feel.

PH: Yes, exactly the same. They say that drum machines were invented so the vocalist wouldn't have to speak to the drummer. And I suppose, in the same way, bass sequencers would have been invented so the vocalist didn't have to speak to the bass player.

Basically what happened was that Bernard decided the sequencing sounded better than the rock members. Once you've got a lead vocalist who decides that, you're fucked. Because you can't make him sing something he doesn't want to sing.

Indy: Why did you end up staying with New Order as long as you did?

PH: Well, when you're doing something like what we do, time goes by very quickly. And most of it's very, very enjoyable. Also, if you're on a team, and you don't get on with one of your teammates, you can still win the league, can't you? But I think that by the time we split in 2006, there wasn't that teamwork.

Bernard didn't seem to care whether New Order existed or not. And I didn't agree with the management style — in my opinion they were rubbish. I didn't agree with the music style — in my opinion that was getting a bit rubbish. And I didn't agree with people's attitudes for the same reason.

It was all too far removed from what we used to do. And that was the reason we split up the group. Me and Bernard started it, so me and Bernard could finish it.

Indy: Are you a little more outspoken and direct, maybe, than some of the other members?

PH: [Laughs loudly.] Whatever would give you that idea?

Indy: Just plucking at straws, really.

PH: I mean, I suppose I am outspoken, but I tell the truth. I watch Bernard go on now about how he loves the fans, and how he loves to tour, and he loves to play, and he's obviously been kidnapped by aliens, right? And they've sent back a slightly wrong Bernard, you know what I mean?

Indy: On New Order's first L.A. date, I remember the band playing with its back to the audience and sounding really different from what it would soon become. Was that a particularly uncomfortable time for all of you?

PH: Yeah. By losing Ian, it was like you'd just gotten to the top of a very big ladder and all of sudden you're right at the bottom. New Order never felt anywhere near as secure as Joy Division. It was always like a table with a wonky leg. And every so often, you'd put a beer mat under it, and it'd be OK for a while, and then it'd get wonky again.

Indy: Anton Corbijn's film Control portrays Ian as being constantly moody. Was he really that way?

PH: No, I'd have to say that, in my memories of him, he was never particularly moody. Or, to rephrase it, he was never particularly moody with me. I don't know what he was like when he was at home, and I don't know what he was like when he was at work. I only know what he was like when he was with us.

He was very passionate and very intense, but also very, very affable in the way that, if there was something he could do for you to make you feel better, he would always do it. That was the strangest thing. It sort of made you stop helping him. Because he would deflect you by telling you that everything was OK and you were not to worry.

Indy: A lot of bands since then, most recently Ice Age and Savages, have been compared to Joy Division. Do you hear a connection with those sort of bands? Or is it just wishful thinking on the part of fans?

PH: No, I hear a connection. I mean, if you listen to White Lies and the Editors, you can hear an influence there. And some of the Cure stuff that came after Joy Division, as well. It's a wonderful compliment, as a musician, to be cited as an inspiration. I think that [producer] Martin Hannett made a big impression on these people as well.

Indy: Especially when it comes to putting echo on everything.

PH: Exactly. But he had a hell of a gift. He made records that sound as good today as they did 35 years ago.

Indy: What's going on with those Joy Division and New Order master recordings that were found in a trash bin? News reports have been kind of confusing.

PH: The girl found them a long time ago and tried to sell them to a couple of bootleggers. I intercepted her, and then they mysteriously disappeared. They've since reappeared, presumably because she can't pay her rent, and she tried to sell them on the open market.

Our record company, who bought everything from Factory Records when it went bust, allowed us to try to get them back, and I offered her a finder's fee, but she wouldn't do it. And as my wife said, it became that very thin line between reward and ransom.

Indy: When this tour is up, will you be working on new material?

PH: Yeah, I do a lot of work with other artists, so it's not like I've stopped. But I know I'm due to make another proper album. The thing is, I'm having such fun doing what I'm doing now, because these songs seem so new to me, and it's so new to most people who've never heard them live before.

But, you know, [Factory owners] Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson always used to say to us that the best thing in the world is your next tune, so get on with it. And I'm very conscious of that fact. So yes, it's looming over me like a huge knife.

Indy: And I had to go bring it up.

PH: And please do bring it up, because it makes me aware of it. And now I just have to do it.

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