It’s fair to say punk rock changed bassist Peter Hook’s life. In June 1976, he went to see a noisy new group called the Sex Pistols perform at Manchester, England’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. The band made a horrible racket, but their attitude – hostile, careless, arrogant – was mesmerizing, and it made Hook want to play rock ’n’ roll.
He did, first with Joy Division and then New Order, two bands whose distinct sound influenced the likes of U2, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire. New Order broke up in 2006, but they recently reformed without Hook. Angry and with something of a chip on his shoulder, Hook has hit the road with a band of his own. He plays at the Paradise Sept. 10. We reached him on the phone last week.
PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT
Q. Hello. I looked up the country code and it turns out you’re in Spain.
PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT
Q. Tough life. Are you working?
A. I’m not working. I’ve been very lucky. For about the past 13 years, I’ve had a small apartment on Majorca, so whenever my daughter is on holiday from school we decamp to Majorca. I’m sitting here looking at the harbor. It’s a beautiful sunny day.
Q. What’s the water temperature?
Q. We’ll talk about the music, but you’ve also written two books that are very entertaining.
A. The first book was about [owning] the Hacienda, “How Not to Run a Club,” and while I was writing the sleeve notes, I began to think I have so many stories. With the Hacienda book, a lot of publishers said it was too niche and it wouldn’t sell. But it was a great success. We’ve sold over 120,000 copies. Once I’d done it, I thought, ‘Oh, the Joy Division story is so concise.’ It was 2½ years. And I knew the glories lived on. I thought, ‘Right, I can tell that story.’
Q. In that book, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,” you write about [singer] Ian Curtis’s suicide.
A. I thought I’d exorcise some of my ghosts. I was just as much to blame as anyone else. None of us said, ‘You have to stop.’ Trouble is, Ian’s passion and enthusiasm and belief in the group was so immense. Every time we’d suggest taking it easy or having some time off, he would say we’ve come really far for this, and, of course, that’s exactly what we wanted to hear.
Q. You write about wanting to wear your bass like Paul Simonon of the Clash or Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers. How much of rock ’n’ roll is talent and how much is attitude?
A. Personally, I think a lot of it is attitude. Anybody can play songs, but not anybody can write them. The writing is the tough bit. To get yourself an individual style and an individual sound is difficult. Then, blow me down, to do it again in New Order was an amazing achievement. The attitude that we had was instilled in us by Ian Curtis. It was, ‘You can do anything you want.’ We would indulge ourselves, find ways of annoying the audience, like not playing encores. For years and years, we wouldn’t play an encore because we felt it ruined a gig. What I loved about the Sex Pistols . . . I thought the music sounded terrible, but the attitude was so inspirational. I’d been to see Led Zeppelin at the Hard Rock in Manchester the week before. They were great, but I didn’t look at John Paul Jones and go, ‘Well, I could do that.’ I thought they were like wizards. When I looked at the Sex Pistols, I thought any of us could do it. They demystified it. They were the perfect antidote to me being a confused and isolated youth looking for my way in the world.
Q. In your book, you seem to suggest that bands today don’t have to work as hard to be successful.
A. It’s a way of learning how to live. The experiences of life set you up for the rest of your days. We struggled very hard for what we got. I judge competitions for young groups and they’ve all got fantastic equipment and Marshall Stacks and all that. But it’s not about your equipment, mate. It’s about the attitude that comes from you. It’s the intangible thing that Neil Young has. He makes quite simple music using the same amp from 1973, and he writes wonderful songs. Kids think if they use newfangled equipment they can make good music.
Q. Tell me about this tour. What are you doing?
A. My gimmick, if you like, is playing the LPs in full. I’m celebrating the genre of LPs. I grew up with them and they were a hugely important part of my life. The whole thing of spending that 35 minutes when you get sucked into someone else’s world, whether it’s Ian Dury, Neil Young, Kraftwerk, Velvet Underground. I’m going through the LPs one by one. I’ve done “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer” and “Still” by Joy Division. Next is “Movement” by New Order and “Power, Corruption & Lies” by New Order. September of next year we’ll play “Brotherhood” and “Low-Life.” The interesting thing about New Order reforming, and one of my big problems with New Order before they split up in 2006, was that they were very conservative in their choice of songs. I’m delighted to see that they are still very conservative in their choice of songs. They would never play the old stuff. It felt to me very lazy, like they were doing as little as possible to get by. It was a great frustration of mine.
Q. You and the other members of New Order have gone through a very messy divorce. They’re touring without you but calling themselves New Order.
A. Yes, I’m still seeking a legal remedy to what I consider their unauthorized use of the trademark.
Q. Is it true they didn’t tell you they were planning to play again?
A. Somebody phoned a young lady in my office and said, ‘Tell [Hook] to listen to [a show Radio 2 in England.] I tuned in and I heard about New Order reforming. The reason for using the New Order name is very much a financial reason. It’s a very established brand and attracts many fans. Bernard [Sumner] went out as Bad Lieutenant, which unfortunately failed. If it had been successful, you wouldn’t have seen New Order. I get messages from fans all over the world who say, ‘I went to see New Order and you weren’t there. I felt cheated.’
Q. They came through Boston this summer, and I was aware that you were not going to be there, so I was ambivalent about going. But I did go and I thought they sounded pretty good. I was hoping that at least it was good for you, financially, that I went. Was it?
A. Well, if you were informed one day that your wife had divorced you, and she had worked out your financial settlement and here it is. That’s what happened to me. Basically, whenever New Order earns $1, I get 1.25 pence. I don’t think that’s fair at all. In my mind, they’re as much New Order as I am Joy Division. But I don’t call myself Joy Division. I wouldn’t have the cheek.
Mark Shanahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.