New Order's Peter Hook: 'It's the End of An Era'
This week's release of the seminal band's latest album, "The Lost Sirens," precedes the bassist's second book, "Unknown Pleasures," a memoir of Hook's years with Joy Division.
It’s been 10 years since New Order began work on The Lost Sirens, the pioneering electronic dance act’s latest release. In that time, the group shed a popular co-founder before completely disbanding a year later, only to reform in 2011 and triumphantly tour the U.S. last fall -- albeit without bassist Peter Hook, whose sudden and controversial 2007 departure is what set all of this in motion.
No wonder Sirens got lost.
Actually, the eight tracks that make up The Lost Sirens were never lost per se -- they were just sitting around, collecting dust. Written and recorded during a particularly prolific period, the mini-album was conceived during the same 2003-04 sessions that resulted in 2005‘s Waiting For The Siren’s Call, New Order’s last collection of new material. The original plan was to reconvene and come up with a few more songs so they could send a second collection out into the world not long after its predecessor. “But that’s when we had the falling out with Peter Hook,” frontman Bernard Sumner told THR last fall before the first of New Order’s two sold-out shows at New York’s Roseland Ballroom. “He refused to come to the writing sessions and was busy DJ-ing.”
Interviewed by phone from New Order’s native north of England four days before The Lost Sirens’ Jan. 15 release, Hook begs to differ. “People have been trying to paint me as the one who was stopping it,” he says, “but it wasn't like that at all.” He blames the delays on Sumner’s preoccupation with Bad Lieutenant, Sumner’s band from 2008 through 2011, and the fact that their Warner Brothers deal had lapsed, leaving New Order label-less for a period. (The Lost Sirens eventually ended up with Rhino, Warner’s catalog division.)
One thing both men can agree upon, though: The Lost Sirens is the final chapter in Hook’s New Order story.
“It’s the end of an era,” says Hook, of the three-decade-long journey that has unfortunately devolved into a he said/he said battle in the press between him and Sumner. Nevertheless, Hook is “absolutely delighted” with his swan songs, some of which were composed in the actress Jane Seymour’s Bath manse right before the once hard-partying bassist went off to AA. Eight years later, he’s still sober, and he thinks the songs have held up too.
“What really made me happy is when I listened to the tracks and realized how good they are,” Hook says. “It came as such a relief to realize that, ‘Oh God, we did do some great things together.’ We did have a great time writing that music. We were very, very together in the writing of [The Lost Sirens], and that was the nice part.”
Along with drummer Stephen Morris, Sumner and Hook started New Order in 1980 following the demise of their earlier incarnation, Joy Division, and the suicide of that band’s singer, Ian Curtis. Without Curtis’ natural leadership, a long-simmering power struggle and personality conflict emerged between the reserved, artsy Sumner, who became New Order’s vocalist and lyricist, and the laddish, tell-it-like-it-is Hook, whose driving basslines and rock-star stage presence made him a fan favorite.
Yet it was the pair’s stark differences and fiery relationship (Hook said they never really enjoyed a friendship) that arguably gave New Order its signature sound. From their game-changing 1980s club smash “Blue Monday” all the way to “California Grass,” the standout Lost Sirens track that blends jangly shoegazer Britpop with the sixties dreaminess of the Mamas and the Papas, New Order has managed to sustain a rather lengthy career of making melancholy dance-pop.
Then Hook announced his exit to both his bandmates and fans during a radio interview in which he also suggested that New Order was no more. More than a little miffed, Sumner and Morris nevertheless soldiered on without him before splitting the group for good -- or so it seemed at the time. After Sumner’s stint with Bad Lieutenant, he and Morris restarted New Order, which now also includes Morris’ wife and original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, who’d been on hiatus looking after the couple’s children since 2001.
And in the wake of their 2012 U.S. tour dates -- New Order’s first American trek in seven years -- Sumner said they will likely begin work on their first long-player without Hook. “We as a band now want to move on, move forward,” he said, adding that the long-delayed Lost Sirens was like “a blockage in the pipework.”
Meanwhile, Hook is seeking financial restitution from his former bandmates. “I'm fighting for my history and for what is rightfully mine, which is my share of the New Order name,” he says. “I consider that the work that I've put in over the 33 years of New Order is very important to New Order's standing, and they're saying it isn't.”
This month in the UK, Hook will perform New Order’s first and second albums -- 1981‘s Movement and 1983’s Power Corruption and Lies -- with his band the Light, a show he plans to bring to the U.S. this fall. Hook calls this and the 2010-11 tour for which the Light played a set of Joy Division tracks “an art project.” Sumner, however, has another take. “He seems to be doing it for the money,” he told Billboard.com. “To me, Joy Division and New Order were never about that. I thought it was disrespectful to the rest of us.”
“How can he say that,” Hook says, “when he's doing the most commercial thing, just going round playing the hits to anybody who will have him? Playing the albums is a much more difficult thing to do, because you're dealing with a lot of the lesser-known material in a context that requires much more concentration not only from you, but also from your listeners.”
Hook continues: “And I'm sure he's doing it for the money. He's not giving all the money away to a local dog's home. If he wants to send me a copy of the receipt from the local dog's home of all the millions that New Order's earned over the last year, I will retract that statement.”
This month also marks the U.S. release of Hook’s second book, Unknown Pleasures, a memoir of his years with Joy Division. Though that band’s post-punk pilgrimage and Curtis’ untimely death have been the subjects of several films -- most notably Anton Corbjin’s Control (2007) and 24 Hour Party People (2002) -- and books (Curtis’ widow’s 2007 tell-all Touching From a Distance), “all the others have been done by people who weren’t actually there,” Hook says.
He then clarifies: “Well, Anton was there a little bit” -- the director/photographer got to know Joy Division while shooting now-iconic pictures of the band -- “and he used that insight to do Control, which I think is by far the closest thing to us, forever. But the reason I did the book was I was sick of reading and watching things about Joy Division by people that were not there every moment. I was there every moment. This is the truth about what happened to Joy Division.”
Although Sumner may not agree with Hook on how to best preserve the legacies of Joy Division and New Order for future generations, he is proud that what they’ve created together continues to find new fans.
“A friend brought his daughter around to my house,” he recalled. “She was like 13 or 14, and she had an iPod. I said, ‘Oh, what are you listening to?’ expecting her to say Justin Bieber. But no: ‘It’s this band called Joy Division.’ I didn’t tell her who I was, but her father [must have]. The next time she came around, she was like, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ ”