The first 30 years of Peter Hook’s career in Joy Division and New Order could only be described as having a slow, steady pace: an album here, a few gigs there, and a whole lot of laying low. Since splitting with New Order in 2007—both weathering and contributing to the very public fallout with his former bandmates—the bassist’s been anything but deliberate. He’s organized a new band, Freebass; penned a reflection on his role in the now-legendary Hacienda nightclub, How Not To Run A Club; and, apparently learning the lessons of that text, launched a new club and venue, called FAC251: The Factory, in his Manchester, U.K. hometown.
While hatching those plans, he’s also had time to begin reflecting on his legacy, particularly as a foundational member of the classic post-punk outfit Joy Division. He’s begun work on a memoir about his time in the band, and pulled a group called The Light together to play track-by-track re-enactments of Joy Division albums. Peter Hook And The Light made a swipe across the States last year performing Unknown Pleasures, and now he returns to give Joy Division fans a taste of Closer as well. Before he visits Metro Sept. 23—where he’ll play Closer in its entirety—The A.V. Club spoke with the storied bassist about looking forward and reminiscing.
The A.V. Club: You’ve kept pretty busy with a lot of projects in the past few years.
Peter Hook: That’s an interesting way to put it. Since I managed to split up with New Order, I’ve got very, very busy. It’s got to do with survival, I must say. We’ve got to pay the bills. We spent so much recording the albums; we didn’t have a lot of money left. It was out of necessity that I became very, very busy.
AVC: That seems like a very large contrast with New Order’s very slow and deliberate pace.
PH: We didn’t gig a lot, but the gigs certainly did support us. Once you made that decision to split New Order up, you were like, “Woo-hoo! I better get out there and get a job.” Thanks to Hacienda, we didn’t have the luxury to live off our past royalties.
AVC: Was that difficult, to switch gears and become so productive?
PH: No, it was nice. I realized that in New Order, Bernard [Sumner, singer-guitarist] managed to stop us doing virtually anything. We literally weren’t working very much. I must admit, it was nice to spend a lot of time home with the kids and the dogs, but there was a certain frustration. You’d get offered some really interesting things, and you’d just say “no” to everything. It was nice to get into the world where you could say “yes” to a lot of things. It’s led to some very interesting things and some absolute fucking disasters. [Laughs.] But you learn from everything, don’t you? That’s the way I look at it. My mother used to always say to me, “Do naught, get naught.” It’s an adage that I hold by. If you don’t do anything, you can’t really expect anything.
I remember Bernard saying to me when we were having an argument, “You’d play in Beirut, you.” And I thought, “Yeah, I would play in Beirut! I’d enjoy it as well.” It’s an odd thing, isn’t it. It’s one thing that I’ve learned as I’ve got older is that people are very different from each other. You have to accept it, don’t you?
AVC: Speaking of arguing with your old bandmates, there was a lot of coverage in the British music press of that, which made it seem pretty bitter and acrimonious. Was that accurately represented?
PH: They do seem to have got very bitter about everything, really. It’s quite sad, because it’s something you could sort out if you sat down and had a chat, or maybe got in a boxing ring and got in a fight. It’s quite sad. On the last collection that Warner Bros. did, Bernard and Stephen [Morris, drummer]—and Gillian [Gilbert, keyboardist], actually—used it as a vehicle to really have a go at me. Maybe that’s how they feel about me. I haven’t seen them in four years, so I don’t have a clue how they feel, to be honest.
AVC: It seems like working with anyone for as long as you guys did, separating would be pretty messy.
PH: Well, yeah. It’s really emotional. It’s like a marriage, isn’t it? It’s like a divorce, when you split up. They’ve obviously got beefs, but no more than I have. [Laughs]. I have plenty of beefs as well.
It was strange. We’d done this before. As soon as we split up, Bernard and I were slagging each other off royally in the press. It had to stop. We actually made an agreement to stop it. Everyone was getting upset. Our fans were getting upset, our management was getting upset, everyone. We made a deal to stop it. Then, when he started Bad Lieutenant, he started it back up again. So I phoned him up, and I went, “Hang on, I thought we had a deal that we weren’t going to do this.” He went, “Deal’s off.” I said, “Right. Fuck you, then.” We went straight back at it, and it’s been like that ever since.
AVC: After sitting on the cutting edge for 30 years in Joy Division and New Order, how does it feel to stop and look back at your past?
PH: I think you’re aware that you had a long life in music, but I think the great thing about playing Joy Division stuff is that, for me, you still have a career at the ripe old age of 55. That’s a great testament to the music you wrote 34 years ago. The fact that you can still go out and play; I am a musician, and I make my living making music—one as a DJ, and one as a live performer—so, yeah, I am aware of it. A lot of the time it doesn’t help. It’s still hard work. But it’s nice, the respect. You can’t buy respect. You have to earn it.
AVC: Does it seem like you recorded it that long ago?
PH: My life has been pretty surreal, so everything seems a bit surreal, to be honest. I can remember it. One of the things about doing the Joy Division book at the moment is that you have to go over the whole thing in very much depth. That feels a bit odd. It also brings it right back to you. It puts you in a funny position, to be honest.
AVC: Is doing the book any weirder than seeing your life reflected on the big screen in films like Control and 24 Hour Party People?
PH: That was nice, I must admit. 24 Hour Party People was a comedy, and I knew that from the beginning. Michael Winterbottom [director] did a good job of getting laughs. Control was done much more cinema verité. I knew Anton [Corbijn, director] wanted the truth, and I knew that because he was a perfectionist, he would really work to bring the darkness that we all felt out. He did. I was very happy with them both, but they were both very nice.
AVC: Was that different than watching your exploits chronicled in the music press as they happened?
PH: As I said before, my life is pretty surreal, so things like that fit pretty well into it, to be honest. What I liked about 24 Hour Party People was when they rebuilt the Hacienda, which was absolutely crazy. As Barney [Bernard Sumner] said, it gave us the goodbye party we never got to have in the Hacienda. We definitely got our mileage out of both films.
AVC: How’s it feel to finally give Americans a chance to hear these Joy Division songs that you never got to tour on here?
PH: You know what? The strangest thing is that the audience is so young. It’s a great compliment, really. I thought it would be old buggers like me. It’s a mixed crowd of 16-, 18-[year-olds] onwards. It’s actually nice that you’re reaching all age groups.
AVC: So you were unaware that Joy Division was continuously popular with teenagers all this time?
PH: I was completely unaware for a long time, actually. That was the thing when New Order split up: I had the time to think about and realize the things we’ve done over the years. Being in New Order was like being in a cocoon. It stopped you realizing or worrying about or wondering about things like that. Once I got out of it, I was delighted to discover the effect we had and the effect Joy Division was still having. I think when I revisited it, I became more and more aware that what I was doing was the right thing. Playing it has been fantastically enjoyable for me. You only hope that the audience has the same feeling. So far, touch wood, it’s been exactly the same as I’ve done. They’ve seemed to enjoy it as much as I’ve done.
It gets summed up in funny ways. When I was at sound check in San Francisco, a guy came up to me, and he had a ticket to Joy Division in 1980. He said to me, “Look at that, man. I’ve been waiting 30 years to hear you play these fuckin’ songs.” I said, “Well, your wait is over.” I felt like the Queen, dubbing him on the shoulders, “Arise, and now hear them.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Having people show you decades-old tickets must put that into a strange perspective.
PH: I tried to buy it off him, but he wouldn’t give it to me. I guess it’s worth a few hundred dollars, that one. Wow! Even I don’t have anything like that. I was very jealous.
AVC: You’re obviously performing these songs with a different band than the one with which you recorded them. Does it seem like playing covers?
PH: Singing it is different. It’s very terrifying, to be honest. I feel that it’s as serious as ever, without a shadow of a doubt. There’s nothing light about it, really, because I’m very aware that you’re playing the LP. You’re not doing something that would not normally be construed as a gig format. People are concentrating on a lot more than they would do if you were a band playing a gig. Bands don’t play the whole LP. They play a selection of the songs that they like. Sometimes, it’s kind of humbling, the expectation. I’ve enjoyed it.
AVC: Do you ever feel pressure because of that?
PH: It’s a lot of responsibility. I have been aware. It has weighed on me. You have to do it right, otherwise you’re going to get a lot of people complaining. I have not had, and this is absolutely true, I’ve not had one person complain about it after they’ve seen it. It could be that they’re a bunch of ass-licking fuckers, or I’m doing it in some way right.