Peter Hook, the potent bassist of Joy Division and New Order, who had just returned from sunny Spain, sat in the comforts of rain and gloom in his native England home while we talked over a crackly phone connection last Thursday morning.
Hook and his backing band The Light will be performing Joy Division's two studio albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, in their entireties on a U.S. tour that starts Sept. 13. He heads to the Music Box on Sept. 14 to perform all the tracks from Closer, then hits the El Rey Theatre Sept. 16 for Unknown Pleasures. He'll be doing a signing and meet and greet with fans at Amoeba Records on Sept. 15.
Moby, an old friend of Hook's, will be the guest vocalist at both dates. “I didn't announce it because I thought he wanted to keep it secret but he posted it on Twitter,” says the 55-year-old Hook, who's been married to Rebecca Jones for 15 years and was previously married to comedian and BAFTA winner Caroline Aherne.
The bassist went on tour last year and played Unknown Pleasures to honor the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis' death, the 23-year-old lead singer of Joy Division who committed suicide in 1980. Hook was approached by the city council of Macclesfield, Curtis's hometown, to perform with members of New Order, singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris. The plan fell apart. But Hook went with the idea and put his own band together, with his 21-year-old son Jack playing bass (the same age Hook was when he did Unknown Pleasures).
He initially wanted guest vocalists to lead the project, but they were all scared by the rabid online criticism. Some accused Hook of capitalizing on a dead friend's legacy. Hook says that Curtis was “too unique a person to copy,” but that he's able to sing the songs in the same low register that Curtis was known for: “It's easier for me than Bernard [Sumner] because Bernard would have to change the key to go up to sing them.”
Hook and Sumner have not collaborated since their acrimonious split in 2007, when Hook suddenly announced on his blog that New Order had split without speaking to the other members first. He had not seen the group since their last concert tour in 2006. New Order recently reunited without Hook, and in October, will play a two-date benefit concert in Belgium and France to support their ailing friend and producer of their early works, filmmaker Michael Shamberg. Joining Morris and Sumner is keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, who last played with the group a decade ago.
“I love Michael, he's a great friend. I think I've been elbowed out by the others because I learned about New Order's reunion when you learned about it. And that isn't strictly fair because I'm in a business partnership with them,” Hook says. “But five years has given me a lot of time and space to reflect. If they want to carry on as New Order I can't stop them because there are more of them than me. And I'm actually quite happy for them. I'm sorry that I didn't know anything about the concert because I would've been delighted to do anything to help Michael.”
Given the group's long history (Hook has known Sumner since they were 11), he talks about Joy Division as the best time of his music career. “We were equal in Joy Division, although it wasn't like that in New Order. We put in 25 percent four ways. Compared to everything else I've had in my entire career, Unknown Pleasures was very idealistic. When we got to Closer, it changed because of Ian's illness.”
Hook's leading bass lines for Joy Division and New Order were encouraged by Curtis, who urged him to play the notes high and loud, like a guitar. His tones in Joy Division were deep, depressive and solid, many times driving the melody of the song instead of accompanying it. In some songs, I picture bones vibrating beneath skin to his notes. “Bass players are always the underdogs of the band, but I made sure that I was never viewed as one,” he says. “I went out of my way to steal as much limelight as I could. Or as my mother always said, 'You need a gimmick.' The worst words I could ever hear as a bass player was, 'Can you play the root notes?'”
Of the two albums, Hook prefers Closer because he is more detached from it and can appreciate it from a listener's perspective, with “The Eternal” being his favorite song. It's more personal with Unknown Pleasures since it was the first album that he and the group worked on. “It was always Ian who had the stamina to pick you up and shake you when you felt like hitting your head on a brick wall. Then you carry on and try to write great songs. All it comes down to is the work.”