When New Order went on tour this past summer — three years after reporting that they were done for good — the band played a single new track amid a set heavy on classic hits. The band had worked on the song, titled "Plastic," between the gigs that were supposed to be their last; and now it will appear on their 10th studio LP. "The shows were being well-received and we were enjoying it," singer-guitarist Bernard Sumner, 59, tells Rolling Stone. "It seemed like the logical thing to do."
Drummer Stephen Morris says that new material "has been small steps coming since 2011," but this past December he and his bandmates started moving faster, recording for the first time since bassist Peter Hook left the band in 2007. The current lineup welcomes back Gillian Gilbert, the keyboardist who last played on 2001's Get Ready, and adds Bad Lieutenant members Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman. Sumner says that the new configuration has made the band more flexible, allowing different members to move across guitars, keys and backing vocals. "The lines have gotten a bit blurrier than they used to be," he says. "We've become songwriters instead of instrumentalists."
Still, recording has become less glamorous since the days when the band hung out at Manchester's Haçienda nightclub and producer Arthur Baker rushed their "Confusion" reel-to-reel straight to the DJ booth at New York's Funhouse. "We used to just play for hours jamming in the studio and then find a bit — a second — that wasn't bad," says Morris. "And then find another second that could go on top of that. Now we've become a bit more professional in recording, for better or for worse. We're streamlined."
He and Gilbert — the couple married in 1994 — have spent the last decade raising their family on a farm outside of Manchester, and the band that brought the couple together has once again occupied their home. "Me and Gillian have long conversations about music all the time when we should be doing other stuff," says Morris, whose daughter Tilly plays keys in a group called Hot Vestry. "It's like, blimey, we did it again! Once we watched a box set of Breaking Bad, and we shut up while doing that. We're just waiting for another one to divert us from going on and on about New Order."
Over in London, Sumner's creative process is a little more insular. "It's rainy and cold and wet outside," he says. "It's dark. It's a good time to write."
Morris laughs knowingly when he hears this. "That explains a lot of the band's content, doesn't it?" he asks. "Bernard likes to be alone while writing – alone with his wine."
The band has thus far completed two tracks: "Plastic" and "Restless," which features Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands. Morris says that the record will keep true to New Order's sound while taking advantage of newer drum and synth programming technology, adding that he thinks "production is going in reverse now."
"A lot of people have started using old analog stuff even though it has no memory," he explains. "I fool around with modular synths because you create a sound by accident. There's a lot of noise, and then you'd stop and see something great. There's something spontaneous about it. You don't really get that anymore."
Morris' nostalgia is particularly endearing given his band's overwhelming influence on the last 15 years of electro and dance-punk. With equal passion he praises the krautrock drums of Neu! and Can and the younger generation that has taken New Order's innovations into the new millenium. "I absolutely love James Murphy and DFA," says Morris. "We toured with Holy Ghost!, which was fantastic. Everything they do is incredible: It's what we were doing years ago only they're doing it for now."
Adds Sumner: "I don't think you can say that anyone is doing what New Order does but musicians are all influenced by their record collections. Our earliest influences were Bowie and Iggy Pop and Kraftwerk and songwriters like Neil Young before that. Instead of changing things in a negative way, [the bands influenced by New Order] are giving it new life."
Appropriately, the band will be releasing this LP — hopefully sometime in Autumn — on Mute, home to a roster of synth-loving electronic artists including Zola Jesus, Arca and Depeche Mode. Founder Daniel Miller acts as the band's informal soundboard. "I don't think we'd ever finish if we didn't have someone to tell us to stop," says Morris. "It's hard to let something you're working on go." When the record comes out, Sumner says that fans should expect a heavy electronic sound with melodic guitars and "an orchestral feel."
"Some people may say that electronic music is cold and unromantic," Sumner says, referencing their hit "Blue Monday" as a example of how a song can be both robotic and emphatic. "That's true in a way, but now a computer is able to translate exactly what your brain is thinking. That's exciting. It's what we were trying to achieve in the 1980s."