Peter Hook’s bass was a vital part of Joy Division and New Order, two of the most influential bands of the past 40 years. His sound and style are unique: He plays high up on the neck of his bass but wears it way down low, carrying not just the groove, but frequently the tune. From his mysteriously winding fretwork on "She’s Lost Control" to his buoyant melody line on "Regret," his parts were, and remain, unmistakable.
New Order’s forward motion as band was interrupted by multiple lengthy breaks and numerous side projects, even before things went sideways for good. Eight years passed between 1993’s Republic and 2001’s Get Ready, during which time singer-guitarist Bernard "Barney" Sumner started a supergroup with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr called Electronic; drummer Stephen Morris and keyboard player Gillian Gilbert released a smooth electronic album in 1993 as The Other Two, and Hook started a more back-to-basics rock side project called Revenge.
Things seemed to be rolling again with 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, but in 2007, Hook and the rest of the band finally parted ways. New Order brought on a new bassist in 2011, but in a 2015 lawsuit, Hook alleged that in the aftermath of the split, his three former bandmates had formed a separate business entity without his knowledge, securing exclusive rights to the New Order trademark and thereby costing him over 2 million pounds in lost revenues associated with the name. (In a statement at the time, the band maintained that Hook received his "full share of all back catalogue royalties.")
In 2017, a year after New Order released its first album without Hook, Music Complete, the band announced that the parties had reached a "full and final settlement," stating that "the disputes were based upon Hook's use of various New Order and Joy Division assets on merchandising and in the promotion of shows by his new band, and the amount of money he receives from the use of the name New Order by his former colleagues since 2011." But Hook wasn’t ready to let his past with New Order and Joy Division go. In 2010, he formed Peter Hook & The Light with his bandmates from another side project, Monaco, and set out to play every song in the bands' respective catalogs.
Nearly ten years later, he's getting close. Successive tours have seen him tackling his old bands' songs chronologically, and The Light has just reached an interesting chapter in New Order's discography: 1989's disco-leaning Technique and its even poppier, difficult-birth follow-up, 1993's Republic. The Technique tour—which saw the band criss-crossing the U.S., playing huge amphitheaters—was arguably New Order’s popular peak in America. Republic, though it spawned the hit "Regret," got a much shorter run, which makes sense since it was created under duress: The band wasn't getting along, but longtime label Factory Records was in dire need of cash—as was the Hacienda, the equally legendary nightclub the band co-owned with Factory. (The label declared bankruptcy in 1992, and the Hacienda shuttered five years later, a story chronicled in Hook’s 2014 book, The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club.)
With The Light, which tours the U.S. and Canada this October and November, he’s playing album cuts and B-sides that his old band never did, adding some punky energy and asserting his creative ownership over the material. VICE spoke to Hook about his feelings surrounding the band’s messy breakup and his desire to carry on New Order’s legacy in sound and spirit—one song at a time.
VICE: In re-learning the Technique and Republic songs, did anything surprise you?
Peter Hook: I did have the impression that Technique would be really easy and Republic would be really hard; it turned out that Technique is as difficult as Republic, but we've conquered it. Republic, as is documented by many New Order interviews, was our most difficult LP: being dragged back together to save Factory Records and save the Hacienda when everybody wanted to be somewhere else. We were right in the middle of our, shall we say, altered-minds phase, so nothing was easy, never mind writing a new LP from scratch. And being told that if you didn't write it, Factory would go bankrupt and so would the Hacienda.
We got back together again, and we hated each other basically. I don't think that I have to under-exaggerate that. We actually left the finishing of the LP to [producer] Stephen Hague, and I must admit that coming back to it, I've realized what a difficult and wonderful job he did of getting four people to actually be in the same room occasionally. We kept running off at every possible opportunity.
A lot of the tracks had a lot of unfinished stuff, especially the basses. So it was wonderful for me to be able to work that out, and I think it sounds a hell of a lot stronger and more natural for just that little bit of finishing off. It's gonna be interesting, because Technique was our best-selling album in England, and Republic didn’t sell that well in England. But in America, Republic was our best-selling LP by far. I'm wondering if, because you Americans are more familiar with it, it's going to be the other way around. We do play them very well. In my opinion, it all sounds a lot less like the Pet Shop Boys. It sounds more like old New Order. Not like new New Order. [Laughs.]
Were there songs from Republic that New Order never played live?
Yeah, five or so that we never played. Funnily enough, there were a few on Technique that we never played. My biggest frustration with New Order when we split up in 2007 was the lack of imagination shown in the set list. I felt we had some fantastic tunes that we just ignored. To be free of that and to be able to play any of them, from "Age of Consent" to "Every Little Counts"—I’m really enjoying getting them all back. I am in love with New Order's music. It’s a shame I'm not in love with New Order.
You mention in your book Substance: Inside New Order that, particularly around Technique, you felt like you had to "squeeze" your bass onto tracks in the studio. Is doing these songs live a chance to correct that?
We've just played six dates in England, to 10,000 people or something. We've had no complaints. The only complaint I ever got about there being too much bass on a track was from the other members of New Order. When they say that in relationships, familiarity can breed contempt—I can certainly vouch for that. It's like the other three members of Led Zeppelin turning to Jimmy Page and going, "You know what? Maybe we shouldn't have any guitar on this one!" Can you imagine that? I will never understand how it came to that. But please, feel free to tell me if I'm doing too much, because I'd hate to make the songs suffer in any way.
The 1989 tour for Technique was huge.
We had the biggest tour we’d ever done, after Technique, and then the smallest after Republic. We did 13 dates after Republic, before we split up. Barney went off to Electronic, I did Revenge, and the other two did the Other Two. When we were at our peak, we decided to stop. It does amuse me now, watching New Order play in their sixties and thinking how in our thirties, we didn't want to play [in our] forties, we didn't want to play [in our] fifties. We didn't want to play. Now we get to sixty, when everyone else is taking it easy, [and] we've all decided to work!
Have you seen New Order perform since you left?
No, no. Only on YouTube.
What about listening to the one record they made without you?
I have listened to it, yeah! I like the ones where they worked with the guy from the Chemical Brothers. And I'm a great fan of the Killers, so I love that track ["Superheated," featuring Brandon Flowers], because it sounded more like the Killers to me than New Order. [The new material is] different music to me. It sounds like a cross between Electronic and Bad Lieutenant. It's missing an ingredient, shall we say?
What ingredient would that be?
I'll leave it to your imagination. [Laughs.]
Is all the legal drama over?
It was settled, but it was never judged. The English legal system is not really built for justice, in my opinion. It wasn't a very satisfying end, from my point of view. I have to say that our relationship since it "ended" has been just as bad as it was while we were going through it. We've achieved no closeness or no equal playing ground or no respect for each other, which is a great shame.
What would have been, to you, a satisfying conclusion?
If you look at the records, we've still got children together, haven't we? We've got this massive heritage that suffers from us still being as we are. It's an absolutely insane situation. It's bad for the fans. Nobody likes to witness this. But in another way, you've got two different sides playing the music in two different ways, so I suppose the fans have gained. If they want to see the music from the LPs played well, with loads of enthusiasm and heart and soul, come and see me. And if you want to see them, go and see them!
To extend the metaphor, it does feel like you're sharing custody.
Yes! And I must admit that there isn't a day that goes by when I don’t think think, "God, that was a shitty thing to do." It’s not stopped the fans going to see them! Maybe I'm wrong. I don’t know. If that’s how you like your rock stars, off you go.
What would it take to get you playing together again? What if the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame called?
No. As I said, what they did to me was unforgivable, and they've never shown any hint of wanting to repair or even talk about it, you know? We don't have meetings. I have to meet their lawyer and their manager. I've not met with them for years and years. We haven't really got a relationship. So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame couldn't rekindle that. It'll take a lot to mend that bridge. I think it's probably irreparable.
You seem to be having a marvelous time playing these songs, regardless of all of the drama.
I am! My recipe for group longevity now is to let people write together, but don't make them play together—like the Beach Boys did it. In the Light, we don't have the strain of having written it together or having suffered Factory Records, or the Hacienda, or the problems that we went through making Republic and da-di-da-dee-da. You literally just get together, you're great friends anyway—I worked with these guys in Monaco for years, don't forget—and we play the music that we love. If anything, they're more picky about getting it right than I am! It is a great pleasure to be with them and really we have no hang-ups when we play. I'm playing the music exactly how I want it to sound, and I suppose that they’re doing the same thing in their incarnation. That's the difference, isn't it? I’m finally getting my own way, and I suppose maybe they're getting theirs.
Will you continue on through the rest of the New Order catalog that you played on?
My ambition has always been to always play every song we've ever written and recorded. I'm well on my way. The only two we’ve not played is "Touched By The Hand of God," which we've got ready, and "Don’t Do It," which was a B-side. We've also got "Best & Marsh" to go, and I think there's one more, and then we'll have played every single track up to and including Republic. When I get to Get Ready, it'll be the same thing: the A-sides, the B-sides, until I play every single track that was ever written and recorded by New Order. There's only a couple I’ve not been able to fathom, you know what I mean? "Avalanche" was one. It was done by Steve and Gillian, primarily.
There was one other I also thought was absolutely crap. I can't even remember which one it is now! I might have to just make an attempt at it, just so I can tick it off. We can't get that far and then not do it all.
On this tour, we're doing [B-sides] "The Happy One" and "Don't Do It," and we’re doing "Touched by the Hand of God." So them three will take us right up—then we've just got a couple more to play, and we'll have done everything. I quite like the way they've been difficult to play. When you get to these tracks, you can see why New Order didn't play them. And seeing someone's face when they recognize that track that’s never been played before is what gives me the greatest buzz. People are like, "I've been a New Order fan for 30 years, and I never thought I'd hear whatever song." I suppose it's the exact opposite of when I was in New Order, before we split up, watching all those wonderful songs be ignored. My only recourse really is to bury myself in all of them.