I’m very excited to be able to present you with an interview I did with legendary bassist (Joy Division, New Order, The Light) Peter Hook, who has influenced me from my early days of bass playing and and still does today. Big Sir’s Old Blood was my homage to this great musician; Peter’s high note melodic lines made a lasting impression on me and I will always be in awe of his talent.
When I was a teenager, I remember wanting to find some music that was similar to U2 (they were my favorite growing up) but something thematically darker. I went to my favorite record shop, Rasputin in Berkeley, California and asked a punk rock employee to make a recommendation and he pointed me towards Joy Division. I remember buying the Unknown Pleasures LP because I loved the album artwork, then putting it on my father’s turntable and thinking that punk dude was right…it was darker than U2…way darker. Being the dark little teenager I was, I got way into this record.
Joy Division disbanded after the death of singer Ian Curtis, and Peter and the remaining members of Joy Division started New Order. New Order was more synthesizer driven and cool but it never impacted me as much as Joy Division did.
1. How conscious was Joy Division’s visual presentation?
Well obviously these days a lot is made of the visual side of the band’s output because things like the Unknown Pleasures sleeve or some of the photos by Anton Corbijn or Kevin Cummins have become iconic over the years. At the time, we weren’t really aware of it to be honest. We thought the sleeve idea for Unknown Pleasures looked cool, but that was where it ended really for us in terms of being interested in the visuals. We gave Peter Saville pretty much free reign I suppose which he ran with and went on to come up with some truly great designs and ideas. I think, in a way, because of the short lived nature of the band (2 and a half years), coupled with the tragic circumstances surrounding Ian, meant that everything to do with the band developed a sort of mystique around it and almost started to become a myth. The fact that the visuals seem to have stood the test of time over the last 30 or so years as much as the music just makes me very proud to have been a part of it all.
2. Please share what basses and gear you used early on with Joy Division and why you were drawn to that gear for this band.
Well, my first ever bass guitar was a Gibson EB-0 copy which I bought for £35 (that was a lot of money back then!) in Manchester, the day after Barney and I had seen the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in town in July 1976 and been inspired to form a band. It didn’t come with a case so the guy in the shop gave me a bin liner and I carried it home in that. Of course, when I got it home I had no idea what to do with it at first! But that was all part of the fun of learning and becoming more accomplished on the instrument just as Barney was doing with his guitar. Soon after that I bought a Hondo Rickenbacker copy as soon as I could afford it – this one went on to become quite a famous guitar because I used it on our first TV appearances on Granada in the UK. Around the time of recording Closer was when I bought probably two of the most important things I’ve ever owned in terms of my sound – a Shergold Marathon 6-string bass and an Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory pedal. This was really when I started to shape my sound and develop my own styles of playing. I bought them on Barney’s recommendation – he said I would suit them and he was absolutely right! So I must thank him again for that next time I see him…
3. How different did you approach your sound with New Order? Did you feel your playing changed much? Did your gear change?
Yeah I think it’s pretty obvious that Joy Division and New Order did go on to sound very different which definitely meant that my playing had to adapt. My gear didn’t change all that much in the early days of New Order but my playing style did – I tried to focus mainly on a more melodic style of playing as I think it suited our new musical direction a lot more than the playing I had done as part of Joy Division. I used the 6-string bass more and more with New Order’s material and really started to fall in love with that instrument.
4. Now that you are on tour on your own, has your role as a bassist changed? Do you see yourself evolving your sound to accommodate your vocals? Any gear changes?
My role has changed a lot in the sense that now I have been propelled into the role of front man (!), as well as still playing the bass. At first this was extremely daunting, but as we did more and more gigs with this new setup I have become a lot more at ease with things. My role has changed in terms of playing because I find it quite difficult to sing and play together, always have, so I actually drafted my son Jack in on a second bass which means I can handle the vocals properly and then come in on the bass during the instrumental breaks and/or lead parts. I think it actually works really well – Jack is a fantastic bass player and does a great job of holding everything down, then I can come in for my parts and the sound really does go up a level when the two basses are going together. I think it gives a real unique element to our show.
5. Who were any of your influences in terms of your bass playing? Your playing, especially the melodic high register playing, has always influenced me.
I would say that my two main influences on bass guitar were Paul Simonon from The Clash and also Jean Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers. Paul Simonon was a definite influence in terms of how I went on to hold my guitar – his low slung bass inspired me to do something like that. JJ Burnel will always be one of my favourite bass players of all time – his work in the early Stranglers material is second to none for me!
6. How do you feel when you hear bands emulating your previous band’s sounds? Interpol is a good example.
I get asked this question a lot and I think people want me to say I’m annoyed by it but I can’t simply because it does not annoy me at all. I find it very flattering and a nice compliment when contemporary bands say that they have been influenced by us. It makes me proud of what we achieved and proud that music that was written a very long time ago can still go on to inspire people today. Interpol are a great band and I also really liked Paul Banks‘ solo album which he released a few months ago.
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