Peter Hook has come to terms with his musical past in a variety of ways in the last 16 months. To mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Joy Division singer and goth-rock icon Ian Curtis last May, Hook led a band through “Unknown Pleasures” in its entirety. While Hook had played bass on the original album, he tackled this commemorative endeavor as the singer. The outing was successful enough that he took the show on the road. This year he reincarnates Joy Division’s more sophisticated follow-up, “Closer.” But not all of Hook’s recent reckoning with his past has been happy. Last week, his bandmates in New Order (the group that soldiered on after Curtis’ suicide) announced a reunion — without him. Metro spoke to the man whose style of bass playing defined post-punk music.
At what point did you realize you were going to sing these songs, instead of playing bass? Did you ever try both?
I’ve never been able to do that. My son plays bass. ... It’s still quite nerve-wracking, especially playing Ian’s parts. My son, who plays bass, is the same age as I was when we did “Unknown Pleasures,” which is quite weird, but my son was very supportive. He said, “Dad, it sounds fine. Don’t worry about it. It will get better.” And as we practiced, it did, and I felt happy doing it, but it’s still very nerve-wracking.
When you’re singing these old songs, what goes through your mind? Is it different than what would go through your mind as the bassist?
As a bass player, I never thought I’d enjoy singing them, but to be honest with you, the words are so delightful and the little tricks he uses in his vocals in the songs are so clever. And the way he rhymes and the way he repeats the rhymes and leads you and does these merry little tricks in his vocals are fantastic. ... And I had never noticed them before.
When you’re singing these lyrics does it become more apparent that maybe Ian was trying to cry for help? I guess I am thinking most specifically of that “I’m ashamed of the person I am” line.
The thing about lyrics is you don’t necessarily write them about yourself, and the biggest problem with Ian was that he wanted you to be happy, so whenever you asked him something, he would always tell you the answer that made you happiest. So if I asked him, “Ian, are you OK?” He would go, “I’m absolutely fine, Hooky. Stop worrying about me and let’s get on with it.” ... Even though he was singing these very obviously tortured lyrics, if you asked him if he was OK, he’d go, “I’m absolutely fine! I’m on top of the world! Let’s go!” and then we’d go, “Oh, thank God for that.” The thing was, in reality, that was what a 23-year-old was longing to hear. But in it wasn’t actually true, because obviously he was suffering a lot, but didn’t want you to know. The thing you have to keep in mind was that Ian was such a fan of the group and was so over the moon when we started to be successful. Because he thought the music was fantastic. He was the one who wanted to carry on.
One thing that I always wanted to know more about, I was reading something years ago about a phantom in the recording studio whistling the melody to “Decades.”
I’ve never heard that! Who told you that?
It was in some Rolling Stone ‘Best Albums of the Eighties’ special edition that I saw when I was a kid.
[Laughs] That’s a great idea! It was quite odd with “Closer,” because [producer] Martin Hannett had gotten into this sort of nocturnal recording, and Ian went along with it heartily. So they were in the studio late at night on quite a few occasions. Don’t forget, “Closer” was done, lock, stock and barrel in three weeks. As compared to the three years it took to make [the final New Order album] “Waiting for the Sirens’ Call” it was absolutely amazing. But that three weeks felt like a long time then.
Working those late nights and hearing phantoms, were there drugs involved?
I never saw a drug in rock ‘n’ roll until I was about 32.
I used to hear about them, and the lads would tell me that they had done speed, but I had never seen any hard drugs. I, myself, didn’t start doing drugs until I was about 34. ... I resisted valiantly, and as Bernard [Sumner, Joy Division’s guitarist and New Order’s singer and guitarist] always used to say, “F—, mate, since you started, you’ve really gone for it.” I’m an alcoholic and cocaine addict in recovery, so it certainly took its toll on me, let’s put it that way.
You mention Bernard. Are you guys still close at all? I was surprised to see that New Order were reuniting without you.
We are the worst of bitter sworn enemies, which was proven this week by them starting New Order up again without telling me, the f—ers.
So you learned about the new New Order when I did?
Yes. In fact, I heard it on the radio. I’m not too bothered, to be honest. We split up five years ago and stopped working together. And, it’s a long time. And really, our relationship has been terrible ever since we stopped working together. So I’m not in a hurry to work with that bastard and I’m sure he’s not in a f—ing hurry to work with me. But they didn’t tell me that they had made this decision. And there have also been some, shall we say, little business shenanigans, which have proved to be quite distressing, which I’m sorting out at the moment. It’s not been nice, and I didn’t expect it to be nice.
Do you think there will ever be any additional remastered concerts or anything coming out in the future?
I’ve got hundreds of rehearsal tapes of Joy Division and New Order. I found a wonderful one the other day that had the whole New Order set without vocals, which sounded great, but the problem is that the relationship between us is so bad that we can’t reach any agreement about how to do anything, and I must say that Bernard and Stephen [Morris, drummer] haven’t got the interest in the old stuff that I have.
Do you scold your son for missing notes?
Yes, and he always tells me to f— off. It’s quite funny, I suppose in a weird way, he’s the nearest thing to me in the world, my son, and I cannot criticize him. He goes bonkers when I criticize him. He does do a very very passable imitation of me. The weird thing is, the music that he’s into, which is Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, all that much heavier stuff, that was what he played for fun before I made him play Joy Division.
Did you also make him wear his bass around his knees, as has been your trademark style?
Well, no! He chose to do that. He cottoned onto that one quite quickly. The weird thing about it is that as a bass player, the lower you play it, the harder it is to play. So when he does start dropping a few notes, I’m always going, “Just hitch up your strap a bit.” And he’s like, “F— off, dad! F— off!” But it’s nice because it can’t be every man in the world that can say he knows exactly where his 21-year-old son is every moment of the day.