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New Order Answer "Call"

Bernard Sumner and Co. make club music while their kids are at school

April 26, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Bands who rock eyeliner and angular haircuts while churning out beat-laden tunes are all the rage these days. But if the Killers and the Bravery want to stick around to see their hairlines recede, they should pick up some tips from New Order. Though it's been almost three decades since they formed out of the ashes of Joy Division, the Manchester dance-rock stalwarts are still going strong, as they release their eighth studio album, Waiting For the Sirens' Call, today.

New Order -- frontman Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter "Hooky" Hook, drummer Stephen Morris and new guitarist Phil Cunningham -- are more family-centric these days than the hedonistic clubbing community they helped spawn (Morris' keyboard-playing wife Gillian Gilbert left the band to raise their children). Though they engage in fewer late nights, Waiting For the Sirens' Call is peppered with the trademark synthesizer-laced grooves that made singles like "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" time-tested dance-floor classics. Sumner talks to Rolling Stone about how he gets his groove on . . . while his kids are at school.

When did you start work on this record?
We went in the studio last March. Because we've all got children now, we take the school holidays off. So, excluding the holidays, it took us seven months to write and record the album. We actually need only two or three more songs to finish the next album.

How did things start out this time?
We wrote about eight songs by jamming together -- but we didn't want the whole album to come together like that, because you tend to get the less experimental songs that way. So we switched the computer and synthesizers on and started working on the more dance-orientated tracks like "I Told You So," "Guilt Is a Useless Emotion" and "Jetstream."

You ended up using a few producers on this record. Why is that?
When you apply a producer, it's a very, very big commitment. You can have a nice meeting, but then you start to work together and you don't get on. So we decided to do a couple of tracks with different producers, like Stephen Street [Blur, the Smiths]. We worked with him on the stuff that came about through jams, and on the next album to come. He's a real gentleman, and he's always aware that it's your music at the end of the day. Then we worked with John Leckie, who's worked with everyone from the Stone Roses to Radiohead, way back to Pink Floyd, John Lennon and George Harrison. He's more of an atmosphere guy, and he likes to get a vibe going in the studio, to relax the band.

You wrote at Stephen's house in Manchester. Where did you go to record?
We went down to Bath. We like it there because it's really beautiful and we can't get into too much trouble. There's an English actress called Jane Seymour, and she's got a very old Tudor manor house in the countryside that we went to.

You worked in Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman's house?
Yeah. It's a really fabulous house, but it's very old. It was built by King Henry VIII, and it's quite creepy -- I must admit I didn't sleep very well there. [Eventually] we moved three miles down the road to Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios. I think I've done five albums there, and Peter's always hanging around.

When did Gwen Stefani call and ask you to contribute to her solo album?
Unfortunately, Gwen asked us to write a track for her on the second day of our recording in the studio. It was just really bad timing, so we said that we couldn't do it. She said, "Well, I've got this track ['The Real Thing'] that I've been working on that I think sounds a bit like New Order. Would you play on it?" So that's what we did.

You have booked Coachella and another show in San Francisco with the Chemical Brothers. Can we expect more than that?
We've agreed to do ten festivals around the world, but we've tried to avoid the ones that are during school holidays so we can see our children.

Your first show for your last album was at a Liverpool venue. There's quite a rivalry between your hometown of Manchester and Liverpool across the water. Why did you play there?
When we started out in Joy Division, we got loads of gigs in Liverpool. We probably played more there than we did in Manchester. But, yeah, between Liverpool and Manchester there's this competition. I don't know where it comes from, because both sets of people are very similar, and they're both Northern, industrial cities. Perhaps from football: Fortunately, Manchester has always had a better football team than Liverpool and this creates a grudge on behalf of Liverpudlians against Mancunians [laughs]. But I'm very anti this competition. I think it's a load of bollocks.

You guys still live in Manchester, as do bands like Elbow, Doves and the Stone Roses. Is there a sense of camaraderie, with you often popping by each other's studios?
There's a lot of that. The other night, [former Stone Roses singer] Ian Brown was having a party just a few blocks away from us and we went out to see him. Hooky's been doing some stuff with Andy Rourke of the Smiths and Mani of the Stone Roses. I sang on one of the Doves records, and Jimmy [Goodwin, Doves frontman] played on some stuff that I did with [former Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr, who still lives here. I'm not quite sure why there's so many good groups that come from Manchester, but there does seem to be a big musical heritage here.

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