This should be a great time for Peter Hook: The Joy Division co-founder and former New Order bassist is coming to the U.S. next week with his new band the Light to perform the Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures in their entirety. Plus, his old friend Moby will take over the vocals on some of the songs at two Los Angeles dates.
But his excitement over the tour – he says he's rediscovering the band that he "put away for 34 years" – has been dampened by the news that New Order has decided to reform without him for a series of charity shows. Rolling Stone spoke to him today about his former bandmates, his recollections of Joy Division and what else he's planning for his U.S. tour.
This morning you released a statement responding to the New Order reunion.
It’s a very difficult thing to talk about because it’s an odd position to be in. We are in business together, we have a Ltd. company together, and it’s been the goings-on behind the scenes that are the major problem. Them reforming as New Order, if you’re gonna ask me I’m gonna say it’s not New Order. It’s some members of New Order going out as New Order. It’s like me saying I’m going out as Joy Division. Their opinion might be different, but it’s a very tricky situation to be in and it’s upsetting because it was presented like a fait accompli. If I was gonna go out and say I was gonna use the name Joy Division I think you would feel duty bound to ask the other members, but obviously they don’t feel duty bound, they just did it. So I suppose the sad part has to be that your relationship has gone so bad that this is the outcome.
Were you surprised to realize the relationship had gone that sour?
No, I’ve known the relationship has been bad for a long time. There have been some very, very dodgy dealings. They are in control because there’s more of them than me. [Laughs] So it’s a very frustrating feeling because you’ve only got 25 percent and they’ve got 75 percent and it’s like being stranded on a desert island waiting to be rescued. You are a bit stuck and a bit helpless. Ultimately I am happy for them to go out and play live, I really am. They’ve just taken everything with no regard. Ultimately it’s my music they’re playing so it’s not the end of the world. I was instrumental, excuse the pun, in New Order for 34 years and they won’t take that from you unless they started releasing new records that eclipsed all the New Order stuff. And maybe they’ll do that, I don’t know. But I do know at this point in time there have been some really underhand, dirty business dealings that have enabled them to do this that I don’t agree with and I’m very saddened and upset by it. But it’ll come out in the wash.
This is a situation a lot of bands have dealt with. Are there musicians you’ve spoken to or looked to for guidance on how to deal with these issues?
Musicians are very interesting animals – they can get deeply hurt and then reform. The Eagles are the best example that I’ve ever heard of of hating each other and then getting back together to tour. So at the moment I have a business problem with my old colleagues that will have to be resolved. To my mind, they’ve, as we say in England, jumped the gun. But as my lawyer said this is generally something that can be resolved. That’s what musicians are like, they’re like children aren’t they? [Laughs] They need looking after by adults.
How did it come about Moby will be joining you next week in L.A and what will he be singing?
It’s quite simple really, he came through on the email asking for guest list and I said, "All right, how about working for your supper? If you’re coming down would you like to sing a couple of songs?" You know me, desperate to get out of singing. And he said, "Yeah, it’d be a pleasure." It was as simple as that. I gave him the set list and said you pick what you like, and I don’t actually know what he’s picked. But I believe it’s "New Dawn Fade" and I think it’s "Insight."
How have these albums changed for you over the years?
I definitely have a new appreciation. While I was in Joy Division I knew that Ian [Curtis] kept his side of the bargain up very, very well. He certainly looked and acted the part and sounded it, so I was always very happy. Strange thing about Joy Division is you did put it away when Ian died. So we’ve not had much to do with it over the years. I never really looked or studied the lyrics until it came time to play the music and it’s been wonderful, it’s been a wonderful insight into him. And it really did make me smile because it made me realize what a great band Joy Division were. When we were in New Order we really did concentrate on New Order, much to Joy Division’s detriment.
Is it also easier to appreciate Joy Division with time and perspective?
I think you can certainly appreciate things as you get older. At the time we were doing Joy Division obviously because of Ian’s illness it really was emotional and you did need a distance from it. It was quite a blessing really to sort of hide behind New Order. As you get older I think it’s a different feel; I hardly ever played any Joy Division songs throughout my career. We played it twice as New Order and Bernard [Sumner] didn’t like it. He said it made him feel miserable [laughs], but everyone’s entitled to their opinion. So we didn’t do it again and I never realized how much I missed that music. At the age of 55 to get your music back from 34 years ago is quite a strange position to be in. But I’m certainly glad that it came late rather than never.
When you look at it now with this perspective do you see what has made the music last so long?
You have to come down simply from a musician’s point of view – it’s the great music, great lyrics, great melodies and the thing is that people who write great songs usually will last forever. I was watching a Nirvana video and they are such great songs you know that they’re gonna span the ages. Martin Hannett, the producer, gave a finish and a depth to Joy Division that proved to be so lasting and so special it really was a gift from him. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it must be the combination of great music with a great production that just appeals. And the weird thing was is that when I first started doing the Joy Division stuff I thought the audience would be full of fat 55-year-olds like me, and it’s not. The audience range starts 16, goes right the way through. It has been wonderful to talk to young people about the effect that Joy Division had on them. It’s humbling to think and humbling to hear and it does always surprise me.
What are the definitive Joy Division tracks to you?
My absolute favorites funnily enough are a song called "From Safety To Where," which we literally threw away on an old Scottish sampler and my other favorite, which I’ve been so happy about playing, is "The Eternal." One of my favorite songs – I never thought I’d find something I loved more than "Atmosphere," but I love "The Eternal" more than I like "Atmosphere." If I move on to New Order then we could end up like Pink Floyd, couldn’t we? You could have two bands playing New Order stuff.
Will you be releasing new material as the Light?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it and we have loads of ideas actually. The interesting thing is it would be nice to establish yourself as a musical group in your own right without just looking as if you’re a tribute/cover band. So I mean the answer is yeah, we will be doing new music. I’m looking forward to it, I miss writing. The strangest thing about the internet with downloading is that it puts you off recording and writing and as a musician over the years I’ve always been taught that your best song is gonna be your next one.