New Order: “Hooky’s not spoken to us in God knows how many years”

New Order’s Stephen Morris explains the Salford legends’ resurgence, their unfinished record, and why he couldn’t find a steady job anywhere else.

Feature by Dave Kerr | 26 Apr 2012

It’s been an uncertain era for New Order since Peter Hook declared, in a blaze of acrimony, that the dance rock innovators were finished upon his departure in 2007. Stopping short of definitively backing up his claim, frontman Bernard Sumner found refuge in Bad Lieutenant, a group which eventually counted each latter-day member of New Order besides Hook in its touring line-up.

And so it remained until late last year, when a request that Sumner and co play two benefit gigs for an ailing friend attracted the attention of original New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, prompting a full-blown reprisal without Hook’s involvement or blessing. The ugliness took another turn this March when he accused his successor, Bad Lieutenant’s Tom Chapman, of miming to his recorded basslines in concert.

Today, both parties stand belligerently firm in their conviction that there’s no way back, thanks to a grievance that spiralled once Hook bought the rights to the Haçienda brand, then took Joy Division’s legacy into his own hands by touring Unknown Pleasures, Closer and now rarities album Still with his latest project, The Light. As they prepare to tour, we navigate the minefield that is New Order 2012 and speak to Morris about the band’s controversial third act without their old comrade.

Just last year you said: "When you get in a band you never consider the day it'll all just stop," Of course, 2007-2011 wasn’t your first hiatus. To your mind, had New Order really split for good when Peter Hook left?
No, I don’t think so. There was the thing in the early 90s after Republic when people asked me ‘Do you think New Order will ever do anything again?’ and I foolishly said ‘No!’ At that point I did think we’d split and that was it and there’d be no more New Order. Then Rob [Gretton, late New Order and Joy Division manager] rang us up and we got back together again. This time I’m going to say no, I never thought we’d split! We’re just the sort of band who go away and come back together again.

Fans would argue that New Order is a band with constituent members that are uniquely vital to its success. Were efforts made to approach Peter once you reached the decision to play these gigs?
Well, not really. We started off doing it, thinking this would just be a small charity thing. It was really the occasion that made us do it as New Order. It was for Michael Shamberg, who was Factory America, he produced all the New Order videos and it was just to raise money for him. Originally we were going to do it as Bad Lieutenant, then Gillian got involved and we just said ‘Well, this is New Order really, isn’t it?’ It’s just kind of snowballed. Hooky’s not spoken to us in God knows how many years, and never told us about any of the things that he was doing. So no, there wasn’t!

Peter made the rift in the band public via the medium of MySpace, were his reasons for leaving made known or are you still guessing?
Yeah. The thing about it is that when we went away for a bit in the 90s we didn’t really talk about it, which is fine. You just keep your own counsel about it, and then when you get back together in a room it’s that much easier to sort things out really. But when you go public it all gets over exaggerated and it very easily gets polarisied and I think it just reaches a point where it’s very hard to go back…or climb down.

Had the band intended to wind down, for any period of time, in 2007?
No, not at all. We’d just done Waiting for the Sirens' Call and had enough material for two albums: We still have. We’ve got this whole bunch of tracks that we want to put out. You could say ‘Eugh, they’re just the outtakes that weren’t good enough to put on the last album,’ but they’re not. Basically, we realised we had two albums; it was more about how to split [the material]. So we ended up finishing off the first lot, but we still had eight tracks leftover. The idea was that we would finish those quite quickly, because everything with New Order seems to take five years. For one reason or another, history shows what, it never happened. Obviously there’s no way we can add to them now, it’s just a thing in itself, which is going to be like an eight track mini-album. We’re trying hard to get them out.

What do you say to those accusations that the band have used recordings of Peter’s bass parts live?
[Laughs] I say they’re outrageous! No, we haven’t used any recordings of Hooky live. Even with Hooky, we’d have two parts going and he couldn’t play two bases! Anyway, there’s only one song where Tom recorded his bass for an overdub.

Considering that the personnel in both bands is practically the same, minus Gillian, do Bad Lieutenant and New Order feel like particularly different groups from the inside?
It’s a bit of a misconception really, because Bad Lieutenant – and I’m not talking about it in the past tense because it is still knocking about somewhere – Bernard, Phil and Jake, they’re Bad Lieutenant really. They just roped me into play the drums. At that time I thought I’d have a go at being a session drummer, but the only person who asked me to play drums for ‘em was Bernard – it was like bloody coals to Newcastle. Tom was like me, he just played in the band and we were both playing songs that had already been written, which wasn’t the case with New Order where we were all involved.

In New Order's later years the band seemed more comfortable with celebrating Joy Division’s catalogue. Will that continue into this new tour?
The Joy Division thing happened in ‘98 when we first got back together, and we felt, well, why the bloody hell don’t we play Joy Division songs? From that point we were playing 50/50 Joy Division and New Order. This time around there might be the odd Joy Division song, but it’s mostly New Order. When we said we’d do these gigs we sat down and listened to all New Order’s stuff and it was a case of ‘Oh, why’ve we never played that one?’ There’s been a few! One of the things about having Tom is that he’s got a different perspective on the songs; Phil [Cunningham, guitarist and keyboardist since 2001] too, to a certain extent. They come in and say ‘Why do you never do Thieves Like Us?’ If we can’t think of a good reason we’ll have a go. Some work out well, some don’t work out at all, but you’ve got to go through the same amount of effort to do this justice.  

What did you make of [Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis] Control when it came out – was it an accurate portrayal of those times in your opinion, having lived through it?
It tells a story, it’s largely Ian’s story, which is quite a tragic one. It’s a funny thing Control; I think it might’ve been because it was so close to 24 Hour Party People, but when it first came out I was a little bit blasé about it, like ‘oh, it’s another film.’ But it’s a completely different mood – it’s like Carry On New Order / Factory Records as opposed to the Ian Curtis story. The first few times I saw it I just thought ‘That’s a great film, but it’s about somebody else.’ But when it actually dawns on you that it’s about a portion of your life I get quite upset when I watch it now.

For decades, Joy Division have been a common touchstone for any band that aspires to be dark, minimal and atmospheric. Does the flippant ubiquity of the band’s name in the music press ever grate on you, or has it been flattery all the way? 
It grated early on. John Peel memorably said ‘Will bands please stop sending me tapes just because they sound like some sort of second rate Joy Division,’ which was quite early on in the eighties.’ Lately, I do find it very flattering and I am constantly amazed by people, particularly young people you come across who say ‘Ah, I think Joy Division are great.’ And it’s like ‘You weren’t even born, what do you know about it?’ I can only attribute that to the fact there isn’t that much of Joy Division and it’s not rammed down people’s throats. I mean, there are obviously the record company reissues – repackaging things – which is a little bit beyond our control. But the actual band itself, there isn’t much out there, there are hardly any videos, so you kind of invent a bit of Joy Division in your head, which I quite like.

Do you foresee a future for New Order beyond the current dates? Bernard recently alluded to the possibility of writing on tour; has that become a reality?
Writing on tour – never gonna work, that one. It’s one step at a time, I think. When your life, particularly at this stage, gets mapped out too far ahead, you start resenting it, and it’s not very inspirational when you know what you’re doing this time next year. There’s a vague understanding that when we’ve done these gigs we might try writing some stuff and see what happens. But certainly this idea of ‘Oh, we’ve got to do an album for Warners, and it’s got to be finished for July’ – there’s none of that, because that’s horrible. I mean, deadlines are great, they serve a purpose but it’s not a level of commitment that we’d want to get into at this point.

You’ve done a bit or remix work for Nine Inch Nails since New Order went away, but more recently you’ve taken Factory Floor under your wing. Did you see a bit of symmetry there?
Basically what happened is, I got a CD through the post, the package was just marked, like ‘Stephen Morris, Rainow’ [laughs] I put it on and I thought [whispers] ‘That’s fucking fantastic, this is amazing.’ It’s one of those things where I just wanted to go ‘Gillian, listen to this!’ I just said ‘Yeah, I’ll do whatever you want.’ Well, I met them first, because they could’ve been horrible. It’s always a good idea to meet a band before you go into the studio with them. And they’re lovely people – they’re brilliant. They just remind me a lot of how we were when we started off. They’ve got a really raw sound and I like what they’re doing. They’re off recording an album by themselves at the moment, but I’m doing a bit.

New Order very much pioneered its own hybrid of guitar and electronic music; do you see anyone pushing the possibilities further in 2012?
Factory Floor are doing it all for us! They’ve got this energy…it’s not quite an anger, but you could dance to it. They’ve got something that’s very human about it… probably Gabe, the drummer!

Rumour has it you have a ‘tell-all’ biography in the works. Is there any truth to that?
[Laughs] It’s not a tell-all biography for a start! It’s called What Is Jazz? There’s a bit of a biography thing in it, but it’s loosely about what happens to people in bands generally. They always seem to start off as four lads, a gang, and then they turn into a band.  Then they take on certain roles whether they like it or not. I’m just fascinated by the way the lead singer always turns into a lead singer, the drummer turns into the drummer, and the bassist, well, you know. Where do these archetypes come from? Is it purely Spinal Tap? I don’t know, this’ll all be in me book. I did try writing fiction but it was too much like hard work.

Finally, what’s your favourite Fac number?
There were so many. My favourite one? Well, there was a Fac number 91, which was a computer game I was apparently supposed to do – me and Carter Burwell kind of agreed to do it one day in Tony [Wilson]’s front room, and I’d completely forgotten about it until I saw a list of all these Fac numbers. I thought, ‘Maybe we should finish that off one day.’ It’s just waiting. It’s called Facsoft Computer Programme. There’s a lot like that.

Playing Glasgow O2 Academy on 5 May; Edinburgh Usher Hall on 6 May and T in the Park, Balado on 6 Jul.