Songwriter Interviews

Peter Hook (Joy Division, ex-New Order)

by Greg Prato

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Within the realm of rock n' roll, there have certainly been flashier bass players than Peter Hook. But as evidenced by his strong and sturdy lines that propelled tunes in both Joy Division and New Order (and served as an obvious influence on countless alt-rock bassists over the years), Mr. Hook is one of the more underrated bass thumpers.

And he is also a rather underrated songwriter, to boot, as he co-penned many classics by Joy Division ("Love Will Tear Us Apart," "She's Lost Control," "Shadowplay") and New Order ("Ceremony," "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle").

When we hooked up with Peter, he was about to embark on a US tour with his band, Peter Hook & the Light, which will feature only material played from 1983-1987, including selections from such early New Order classics as 1985's Low-Life and 1986's Brotherhood.

In this conversation, Hook discussed working with the late/great Ian Curtis, the stories behind several Joy Division and New Order classics, and if reuniting with New Order (who he parted ways with in 2007) at some point is a possibility... or not.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): What made you decide to launch a tour in support of New Order's Low-Life and Brotherhood?

Peter Hook: Well, we have been touring now since 2010, playing the albums of Joy Division and New Order. We started out by playing Unknown Pleasures, then Closer, then moving into the New Order catalogue with Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies. All of those tours were very well received, so moving onto Low-Life and Brotherhood was the next natural step. It is all part of my quest, which is to play everything I have ever done. There are so many songs on these albums that have been ignored for too long, so it is great to be able to get the songs back and I am really enjoying playing our new set.

In 1980, two months before their second album Closer was released, Joy Division lost their 23-year-old lead singer Ian Curtis to suicide. The band carried on, but as New Order, with guitarist Bernard Sumner handling vocals. "We just put Joy Division in a box and closed the lid," said Peter.
Songfacts: How did songwriting in Joy Division differ from songwriting in New Order?

Hook: I suppose you would say the main difference was obviously Ian. When we were Joy Division, myself, Bernard [Sumner] and Stephen [Morris - drums] would jam a lot and get our ideas that way. Ian would be listening to us playing and would say, "That sounds good, that bit is great, do that bit again..." he was like a conductor in that respect.

As New Order it was very different because we had lost Ian, which meant we had to change our way of songwriting, and it also meant that we had to start doing the lyrics ourselves. It took us a while to get used to doing that.

Songfacts: In the many stories that are told about Joy Division and New Order, is there one thing they usually get wrong?

Hook: There are many, many things which are always wrong! That is the main reason why I decided to start writing my own books. I was very tired of reading things about our band by people who were simply not there at the time, so how could they really know what was going on? That spurred me on to write my own memoirs.

Songfacts: Which Joy Division song stands up as the band's best work? Why?

Hook: It's hard to pick just one, but I guess it would have to be "Love Will Tear Us Apart," wouldn't it? That song has everything: A great bass line, wonderful synths, a great showcase of Steve's drumming, the simple yet effective guitar that became one of our trademarks.

And of course, more fantastic lyrics by Ian. It's quite strange really, because the lyrics are very dark but I find the song to be very uplifting - no other Joy Division song works like that. People go nuts for that song when we play it live, but it really is quite dark.

Songfacts: Which New Order song stands up as the band's best work? Why?

Hook: Again, this is very tough! There really are two sides to New Order: The rock tracks and the dance tracks, so it is hard to pick one. If I had to though, I would probably say "Temptation" is a song that showcases every element of New Order as a band, and that's another one that always goes down a storm when played live.

Songfacts: Do you know what inspired the song "Bizarre Love Triangle" and where the title came from?

Hook: We used to take our song titles from many different places - books, TV, anything we saw that sounded good we would write down and use at a later date. That's why a lot of our songs have titles that are completely separate to the lyrics: "BLT," "Blue Monday," "True Faith."

As for what inspired the song, we were looking to split the album, Brotherhood, into two halves, the first being quite rock-y acoustic tracks, and the second being more electronic-based. "BLT" was written very quickly and is a standout track on the album.

Songfacts: What is the song "True Faith" about lyrically? Is it about heroin addiction?

Hook: "True Faith" features some of the best New Order lyrics in my opinion, but no, it is not about heroin, that is not something that any of our lyrics ever touched on. I think it's clear to see though that the lyrics do reflect being under some sort of influence.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind "Blue Monday"?

Hook: "Blue Monday" is an interesting one because it obviously went on to become one of our biggest-ever tracks all around the world. I don't think there is a great deal to tell behind the lyrics if I am going to be brutally honest! It was just one of those things where Barney [Bernard Sumner] just went for it and the rest was history.

Songfacts: When it came to writing lyrics for Joy Division, was it Ian Curtis that wrote them all, or was it a band collaboration?

Hook: With the Joy Division songs it was Ian who wrote all of the lyrics. It was only after we lost him that we had to step up and start doing it ourselves. In the early days of New Order it was very much a full band collaboration, but as time went by, Bernard began to seize more power in the group, and that included things like taking the lyric writing all to himself.

Songfacts: What were your contributions to the lyrics and song titles of Joy Division and New Order?

Hook: There are a good few that I contributed to. Some of the very early Joy Division songs feature some of my lyrics - "At A Later Date," "Novelty," a few others.

Song titles was definitely a strong point for me. I came up with some really good ones, mainly just stealing them from other places as I mentioned earlier. However, much with the lyric writing thing, Bernard began to take it upon himself to name the tracks too as time went by, which is unfortunately probably why we ended up with a song called "Hey Now What You Doing" - not my favorite title to say the least!

Songfacts: Do you ever wonder what Ian would have gone on to do artistically and musically had he lived? Did you ever discuss future plans with him?

Hook: Ian had big future plans for the band. He was extremely focused on making the band as big as he could. He wanted to change the world and he would be proud now to see that he did it. Had Ian lived, Joy Division would obviously have carried on, but I do think that we would have gone down the same route that New Order did - more electronics and eventually some dance-based tracks. Ian was very interested in electronics and synths. I can see him singing "Blue Monday."

Interest in Joy Division and their late singer, Ian Curtis, seems to be greater than ever. Case in point, two major films that were released a few years ago: 2002's 24 Hour Party People, which focused on the early days of JD's label, Factory Records, and 2007's Control, a biopic about Curtis. Additionally, a full-length documentary about the group was issued the same year as Control, simply titled Joy Division.
Songfacts: How close to the truth were such films as Control and 24 Hour Party People?

Hook: Control and 24HPP are both good films in my opinion, but they are very different. 24HPP is more of a light, good-humored look at Factory Records. It's almost like a comedy at times. There are some inaccuracies in it but it makes for a funny film, and as Tony Wilson said, never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

Control is obviously a lot more serious, and is more of a look at Ian's life. Anton Corbijn who directed Control is a great friend and he was with us at the time, so that film is in turn very accurate.

Quincy Jones signed New Order to his Qwest label in 1985 after the band left Factory Records. Their first Qwest album, Low-Life, was their first to crack the American chart (#94). It was Jones who supervised the 1988 version of "Blue Monday" (remixed by John Potoker), that became the band's biggest UK chart hit (#3) and topped the American Dance chart.
Songfacts: What are some memories of working with Quincy Jones? Why do you think he has such a "magic touch" when it comes to finding musical talent, songwriting, production, etc.?

Hook: Quincy Jones is a remarkable man and we owe him a lot. He took a chance on New Order when some others wouldn't. He is the very definition of a music man - his life revolves around it and he lives for music - so he always has the knack of discovering great talent. He was a pleasure to work with.

Songfacts: I've always enjoyed your bass lines in Joy Division and New Order - who were your influences on bass?

Hook: My two main influences in terms of bass playing were Paul Simonon of the Clash and JJ Burnel from the Stranglers.

Songfacts: Who are some of your favorite songwriters, and why?

In 2011, Peter was joined by Moby and Perry Farrell at a Peter Hook & the Light performance in Los Angeles, and ten years earlier, Billy Corgan toured with New Order (when Hook was still a member) as a guitarist.
Hook: I have been fortunate enough to work with two of them for most of my career in Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner. Myself and Bernard have our problems now but I will never let that cloud my view of him as a fantastic musician. I have a lot of respect for the other people that I have worked with in my career too, like Moby, Billy Corgan and Perry Farrell.

Songfacts: Would you ever consider reuniting with New Order?

Hook: Unfortunately I think it has come too far now. Too much has been said and done for us to reconcile. It is a great shame how it has come to this but that's the way it is I'm afraid. It would be nice to just be able to wish each other well and move on but the others seem intent on carrying on the arguing.

October 22, 2014
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