Stylus’ Russ catches up with New Order founding member Peter Hook to talk about the band’s incredible ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’
(this interview first featured in Stylus’ May box)
I was eight-years old when I first heard New Order. The song was ‘World in Motion’. I’d come across it, like many others, during the World Cup in 1990 and, funnily, at the time, I was convinced that John Barnes was a real rap artist – and a good one too!
I didn’t come across the band for quite some time after that – I was a kid, after all. In fact, the next time I really heard their music was as a 16-year old lad at Reading Festival. Me and 20-some friends muscled our way to the front of the crowd, by means of the conga, as the band burst-into their 1993 hit ‘Regret’. From that point on, without really knowing it, I was hooked.
Ever since, New Order’s music has managed, repeatedly, to find a way into my life. Yet, even so, there was never one single moment where I considered myself a New Order fan, per say. That was until very recently, anyway. Their second album, and Stylus’ record of the month – Power, Corruption & Lies (P, C &L) – was what did it. That incredibly moreish bass line in ‘Age of Consent’ gave me no choice but to fall in love with the band. There was no looking back.
So, nearly 20-years on from that Saturday night in a Berkshire field, I’m about to chat with the man who wrote that bassline – Joy Division and New Order founding member, Peter Hook (‘Hooky’). And I’m bloody nervous about it. Those nerves, though, are quelled as soon as he answers the phone: ‘I’ve just come back from the States and I’m bloody knackered’ he tells me in a familiar and friendly Mancunian tone. I can tell, immediately, I’ll get on with him just fine. Perfect.
We speak briefly about Stylus, then quickly move on to the album – a record he confidently, and justifiably, describes as ‘a great album, without a shadow of a doubt.’ He tells me how, with his current band, Peter Hook & The Light, he’s performed several New Order albums in their entirety:
“THE ALBUMS TAKE ON A MUCH LARGER LIFE WHEN YOU PLAY THEM LIVE. AND, I MUST ADMIT, THEY ALL FEEL GREAT TO PLAY”
‘You know, the albums take on a much larger life when you play them live. And, I must admit, they all feel great to play. Even Movement, which gets a bad rap. I noticed Barney (Bernard Sumner, New Order’s vocalist) was very disparaging about it quite recently, which, I think, is very sad. But, Movement paved the way for us to succeed.
‘Musically, it was a Joy Division record, as most of it was written with Ian (Curtis), or Ian in mind. But it did have New Order vocals. P, C & L, on the other hand, was a New Order album, musically, with New Order vocals. That’s the difference.’ In many ways, then, it’s the first full New Order album.
So, what about P, C & L then? Was the band looking for a big, new direction, following Ian’s tragic passing? Or were they being deliberate about creating something fresh and new? ‘I’d love to say that’s what we were doing’ says Hooky, ‘but to be honest we were just sat there surviving. We didn’t know what we were doing. We’d amassed all this new equipment, which was brought-in to fill the hole that was Ian Curtis, and we were using it to the best of our abilities. There was no master-plan.’
But for us fans, the ones who cling to the album’s melodies, rhythms and atmosphere, there must be more to it. Right? Not according to Hooky. ‘We made a career out of not knowing what we were doing. We didn’t have a bleedin’ clue! But, I must say, for us to carry on as we did, after all that had happened, what with Ian and so on, showed remarkable fortitude. We could’ve fallen on our face. But we just kept taking gambles and were lucky enough to be great songwriters.’
Nevertheless, as we talk more, I hear snippets of how the songs came together and just how some of those ear worm-esque melodies might have been born. ‘Steve (Morris – the band’s drummer) was the real diamond when it came to vocal lines. He was very very good at it. But, as Barney started singing and amassing more, let’s say, instances of doing vocals, those melodies had to be cut to his taste. So, by P, C & L there was a subtle change in the vocal style.
“WE MADE A CAREER OUT OF NOT KNOWING WHAT WE WERE DOING. WE DIDN’T HAVE A BLEEDIN’ CLUE, TO BE HONEST!”
‘I recently listened to some tapes of us jamming ‘Age of Consent’ and Barney was playing the vocal line on the guitar. So, for that song, the vocal line was taken from there. Up until that point, we’d been learning, I suppose, how to cope without Ian. By this album, we’d kind of done it.’
But what if Ian had been around? Would the music have been any different or would the band have arrived at a similar place? ‘Well, he (Ian)was the biggest proponent of wanting to use electronic stuff and wanting us to be more dancey. It was him who was pushing it, if you like. In fact, we’d just started using a drum machine when he died. He loved it and would’ve been singing ‘Blue Monday’, without a bloody doubt.’
Many of the band’s contemporaries – the likes of Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, The Human League – were, to Hooky, ‘middle class’ bands: ‘You know, their mums were teachers and their dads were accountants. You needed a lot of money to pay for all that bloody equipment. We were just lucky to have a raggedy-assed working class group – Joy Division – to pay for ours.
That made New Order different, according to Hooky: ‘If you look at most of ’em from that era, they’re all very middle class. That helped us stand out – we sounded different. We were obviously cut from a different cloth. But that’s not saying they weren’t good at what they did. They were. It was just an interesting culture gap, I think. I’m not sure whether it means anything, but you know…’
There’s no doubt, being in an “electronic” band in the Eighties meant significant cost. ‘You’re talking tens of thousands of pounds to get yourself a decent set (sic) of gear. The equivalent of that today would be, like, 80-grand or something! Thankfully, we got it all from our first band and never paid it back!’ How very working class of us them, eh? Hooky laughs and tells me ‘We robbed it!’
Now, despite New Order being considered pioneers in terms of establishing a successful hybrid between ‘rock’ music and electronic music, Hooky has previously talked with a degree of reticence about the period where the band began to experiment, more and more, with electronic equipment:
‘I suppose I don’t have the drive that Barney has to create the sounds. I mean, we were writing great songs without all that equipment. And maybe I knew what they were gonna do, the bastards! Squeeze me out. It was a weird dynamic at the time – suddenly, they didn’t need to speak to the bass player to get a bass line. They were able to do it on their own and that’s what they did!’
There was more to it, though. It can’t have all been about pushing Hooky out, as the void left by Ian Curtis’s death had a lasting impact on the band’s decision making. ‘I think Barney was feeling the lack of Ian. You know, I always compare it to a table with a wonky leg: Joy Division was solid; New Order had a wonky leg. You can keep putting stuff under it, but it always comes out. You keep on spilling your beer. After Ian’s death, we were never solid. But it helped our song-writing.’
Before picking up the phone to Hooky, I checked out the footage from New Order’s Reading Festival show. His ‘hunger’, if you will, to put on a ‘rock’ show seemed stronger than the others. ‘Yeah, Barney used to call me a “bit of a dinosaur”, which was the saddest thing in the world. It was a change in New Order. We went from having the counterpoint melody on the bass, which to me gave the songs real depth and sophistication, to us being quite normal and pop oriented.’
Of course, stick four people together doing one thing for long enough and personalities, and opinions, will clash. ‘Exactly, every band’s the same. The very chemistry that allows you to write great music, is the chemistry that will destroy you, in one way or another.’
“THE VERY CHEMISTRY THAT ALLOWS YOU TO WRITE GREAT MUSIC IS THE VERY CHEMISTRY THAT WILL DESTROY YOU, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER”
Speaking of destruction, what about the ongoing lawsuit between the rest of the band and our mate Hooky? ‘It’s been a wake-up call for me. Since the case started and they reformed without me, I’ve realised that most of what we do in our jobs is pure pantomime. Even the press want to carry on that pantomime and very few people tell the truth. I’m just glad I learned that late, if you like, because when we were doing records like P, C & L we were so blissful in our ignorance.’
It’s obvious, speaking to him, that he’s feeling the strains of the ongoing case and, more than anything else, there’s a sense of disappointment. ‘New Order, now, are all about the work we did back then. And that’s what’s so galling about the fact that they turned around to me and said, “Well, you’re not in the band anymore, so you shouldn’t get anything from it. It’s ridiculous.’
So, back to this month’s album. Where does Hooky place it in the New Order pantheon? ‘Well, P, C & L fuelled us, if you like. After that, we were really ready to go on to bigger commercial success. The biggest problem, though, was selling the bloody thing. Factory Records, our label at the time, wasn’t geared-up to sell it all across the world. In a way, though, that turned out to be a good thing, because you can hear the other records then go back to it.
‘I think what we achieved was very admirable. We did some great things with that record. Everyone with us – Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, and so on – all went along with it and got in on our gamble, again and again. Power, Corruption & Lies created a lot of angst, a lot of fear and a lot of success. The record should be thanked for that.’
You can catch Peter’s band Peter Hook & The Light on tour later this year, where you can expect plenty of New Order and Joy Division material. Also, for more of his insight into the music, check out his book Substance.
This interview first appeared in issue eight of the Stylus magazine, found in May’s New Order box, featuring the album Power, Corruption & Lies awesome artwork and an incredible Spanish rose wine. Get it here!