Interview: Peter Hook

Life after New Order has been generous to Peter Hook. I caught up with him before his gig at The Cockpit to discuss production, the state of music today and touring with Unknown Pleasures.

Over thirty years since its release, and since the death of its harrowed and turmoiled vocal pioneer, Unknown Pleasures still beats out an overwhelming pulsar of anger, suffering and desolation. Recorded over two weekends at Strawberry studios, Stockport, Joy Division coined one of the great post-punk albums ever made. Behind the attack of reverb, scratched punk guitar and baritone vocals, the smouldering and polished bass lines of Peter Hook ties every track seamlessly together. Since 2010, Peter has been touring with Unknown Pleasures in its entirety for the first time. After a precarious wait, an offer of a bottle of water and a firm handshake later and we were underway. We started by talking tours, Peter’s own brand sound and, of course, Joy Division. So, how’s the tour been?

“It’s ok, it’s been good actually. Tiring though, I must admit. Going from place to place”. A fatigued but enthusiastic Hooky told me as we started talking. Peter would be met later with a sold out show at Cockpit, with an expected diversity of fans old and new awaiting him. “The interesting thing about playing it [Unknown Pleasures] now is that I now play it more like the record. Whereas when we were Joy Division it sounded a lot different. For a start, you didn’t have guitar when the keyboards played and vice versa”. Continuing on his new take on playing Joy Division, “things sound more polished and less edgy than Joy Division” Peter explained.

Since the widely anticipated announcement to play Unknown Pleasures in its entirety in 2010 as a tribute to the life of Ian Curtis, Peter has barely had time to catch his breath since being on the road. “I really didn’t think we’d play it a lot. I thought we’d play it once. I was only looking to play it once, but we were asked to play it around the world. So we happily went off all around the world; I must admit the sort of negative feedback we got from England when we announced it didn’t make me want to play it in England” He elucidated.

From the Joy Division era, the importance of Peter Hooks bass playing becomes ever more apparent on particular tracks. The post-punk aggression of ‘Transmission’, the depth and sinisterness of ‘She’s lost control’ and the shifting embodiment of ‘Wilderness’ epitomise the legacy of Peter Hook as a bassist with this unique and distinctive style of playing. “It is distinctive, yeah” he laughs. With a harsh truth, but an evolved modesty Peter adds “it’s a gift from God, it just came”, before throwing his hand through his hair. “He [Ian Curtis] said the same thing as you, that’s what you should do. As my mother always used to say, you’ve got to have a gimmick”.

Little did Peter know at the time, but that “gimmick” became one of the forging sounds of British indie music. “In my own band my son plays bass, and some other twat imitating me in the other band. So I’m the only fucking bass player. I’ve got two people playing my bass lines. It’s really fucking weird” he humorously continued.

Recorded in April 1979, Unknown Pleasures and Joy Division were under the assured and heated palms of producer Martin Hannett, who would go on to produce Joy Divisions second record, titled Closer. Since working with Martin Hannett, how had Peter found the production process to have changed over the course of thirty years? “It hasn’t really. Technology has changed. In the old days you used to record on analog tape but now you do everything on a computer. The only thing that’s changed is that you can fuck about longer. Money is pretty much the enemy. When bands get money they can stay in the studio for longer. Little or no money gave production an edge to it”. He went on.

“What I’ve found over the years are that some producers are weird. Some of them are nice and some of them are nasty. It’s like teachers at school. You know, you go into physics and he’s a cunt. You go into history and he’s a really nice guy. They’re all doing the same job but they all do it in the same way” he added, with typical charisma. A very northern way of describing things, you could say.

Peter remembers a more circumvent time in adapting to singing on Joy Division tracks for the tour. “It’s weird singing. I used to love playing. I enjoy it now, I never used to. It’s something I just had to do”. In relation to singing Ian Curtis’ lyrics, Peter becomes more passionate and objective. “Ian’s lyrics are absolutely fantastic. Every time you listen to them they’re wonderful. It kind of pisses me off, really. Because when you’ve get them from the internet they’re really fucking wrong. All his songs had little things wrong with them. I keep meaning to correct them and put then on my website”.

Ultimately, the question still remains to whether Joy Division’s sound would have moved in the direction of New Order’s sound had Ian Curtis never had died. “Yeah, it would have”. Peter said adamantly. “Barney and Steve were very interested in the technology and dance sound. And Ian was as well. I don’t know what it would have sounded like, but it would have done”. Alas, something we can all only ever speculate about it.

Later that evening, Peter Hook and The Light played to a sold out Cockpit crowd. I’m not sure whether it was the raucous, yet polished Joy Division sound, the electricity of the crowd or the one bloke lighting up a cigarette next to me, but for a few hours, on the twenty-ninth of November, it felt like 1979 all over again. It’s a tragedy that I am not old enough to know what that really feels like.