What can fans expect from your upcoming tour with the Light?
Wow, that's a hell of a question, isn't it? Fans can expect me to show respect and consideration and passion and heart and soul interpreting Joy Division's music in 2011.
How has it felt to revisit such classic material with a new band?
It's been fantastic, actually, because when you consider that I didn't play any of it for about 30 years, it's come as quite revelatory. I must admit that I've enjoyed it a great deal. Doing Closer, this year, I've enjoyed the most. I was very happy doing Unknown Pleasures, but Closer is one of my favourite records. So it was great to get songs like "The Eternal" and "Decades," and "Heart and Soul" has been great, and "Passover" has been wonderful ― I've really enjoyed that one.
What's so special about Closer for you?
I don't know. In a funny way, I sort of detached myself from Closer, and listened to it as a customer. Because the trauma involved with Closer was so much, I was able to detach myself. Unknown Pleasures, I was very, very involved with, and felt very much a part of it, and was also very upset with [producer] Martin Hannett's interpretation of it. So the passion for Unknown Pleasures was always there. When we got to Closer, because we stopped anything to do with Joy Division when Ian [Curtis] died, there was a distance that you could feel. So it enabled me to listen to the record as a stranger. It made it different. So Closer I could appreciate as a customer, if you like, as opposed to a musician.
Do you still feel an emotional connection to the material that you're performing?
Oh my God, yeah, without a shadow of a doubt. Now that I've had to sing and I've had to interpret the lyrics ― and also interpret Ian's songsmith-ery, and his wordplay, and the way he uses his lyrics in the songs to build up power, to build up aggression, to build up emotion ― yeah, I've definitely become more of a fan, if that was at all possible, of Joy Division.
Is it a lot of pressure taking over the frontman duties?
Yeah, I was terrified, actually. The thing was is that there was nobody else who would do it. Everybody I asked ― because I wanted to play bass ― everybody I asked to do it was scared by the internet criticism. And the only person who saw it through with me was my friend Rowetta. God bless her, she was the only one that wasn't scared off by the keyboard terrorists.
Is she participating in this latest tour?
No, we can't afford to bring Rowetta, unfortunately. To fly someone around with you for ten days in America when she's only singing two, three songs, is a bit of a folly, really. We are a little more realistic these days. So no, she's had to stay at home.
How do the new band's versions compare to the original songs that were on Unknown Pleasures and Closer?
That's an interesting question. They are a lot different, actually. The versions [performed by the Light], I've taken directly from the LPs, and we used to play them differently as Joy Division. When I listen to Martin Hannett's contributions, now, in my dotage, shall we say, I realize how important they are. It took me a long time to realize that. I definitely had a lot of growing up to do. I'd never really listened to the albums in depth before, until I came to play them. And it was only because Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream inspired me with his playing of Screamedelica that the whole idea came about. And when I went back and transcribed and delved into the music, I realized that Martin Hannett was a very, very important part of it. And I do think that the songs are better for us [the Light] focusing on Martin Hannett's contributions. Whereas when we were in Joy Division, we fought against Martin's contributions. To be honest with you, the live [show] sounds more like the album than Joy Division, funnily enough.
How has it been to share the stage with your son Jack and have him play your old bass parts?
I was very jealous at first, because obviously I wanted to play bass. But I soon realized, because of the lack of interest from the singers, that I was going to have to do it myself. I've sung many times ― I sang in Revenge, I sang in Monaco, I sang in New Order ― so it wasn't such a huge step. But with Joy Division, you're taking a lot of responsibility. The critique by many people for even attempting it is compounded by the fact that I was going to sing it. But I've enjoyed it, I have to say. It was terrifying. It still is terrifying. But I love the words, I love the songs, and I love the music. And if anything, I've actually grown to love it more now that I've been playing it. We've only been playing for 18 months, and we haven't played Closer much at all. I know we're playing Unknown Pleasures for you lot, aren't we?
That's right. It's interesting that you're doing Unknown Pleasures in Canada and not Closer.
Well the reason is, hopefully we'll get to come back. So if we're good enough, people will allow us back to do Closer, which is of course what's happened in America. I'm delighted. America was always great. And Canada. The biggest gig we ever did as New Order was in Toronto. It was at the sports stadium, was it? The massive stadium. We played to 35,000 people in Toronto. So New Order had a huge audience in Canada. And I was very upset, actually, that we didn't get to go to Canada last time. I've been there DJing many times ― to Vancouver, to Montreal and to Toronto ― so I was very happy to get the band there this time.
Playing such celebrated material, how do you deal with audience expectations coming in?
I don't, because my expectation is higher than the audience's. And my nerves, and my fear of getting it wrong, is much higher than the audience's. So I don't worry about that. I'm a great believer that if you do a job well, then that's as far as you can go. And people know my history. After 34 years in Joy Division, Revenge, Monaco and New Order, let's face it: when they come to see me, they do have a pretty good idea of what they're going to get. The most fascinating thing for me, playing this music, is how young the audiences are. I thought it'd be a bunch of old geezers like me. But it sounds like it's a lot of young people like you. Literally the age range is 18 to 50-odd. And when you go out there, it's not a bunch of greying old granddads. There's a lot of young people there, which is a wonderful compliment to the strength of the music and to the chemistry of the band members.
Well there's so many bands right now that seem to be influences by Joy Division. The legacy certainly lives on.
Yeah, I know, thank God for that, eh? You can say that again. I've got a lot to thank Interpol for, funnily enough, haven't I? [Laughs] Interpol, the Editors, White Lies, my God. Arcade Fire in some instances. The bloody list is endless, isn't it?
Do you like hearing bands reference Joy Division?
In an odd way. Because my bass playing style is so unique, if I say so myself, I'm sort of used hearing a lot of people emulate it. I hear a lot of people emulate New Order. There's a lot of bands in Manchester right now that I think sound like New Order: Ting Tings, Everything Everything, Delphic. I'm very lucky to have been in two bands that are deemed to be inspiration and also deemed to be worth ripping off, shall we say.
It's the highest compliment they can pay.
I wish you could make them pay, but you can't, can you? [Laughs] Well, sometimes you can.
I hear that you're working on a Joy Division book. What can we expect from that?
The reason I did the Joy Division book was because the last one that was written, which was by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade [Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis, 2006], to be honest with you, I thought got a lot of things wrong. And the inspiration came from the success of the Haçienda book. I didn't think I'd be able to do it ― to be one of you, to become a writer ― but I managed to pull it off. It was very, very hard work. I didn't think it'd be as hard. I thought you lot had an easy job. Honestly, I thought you lot had the easiest job of them all, and as soon as I came to do it, I realized how difficult that was. The thing that really surprises me about all the Joy Division books is that they're done by people who were not anywhere near Joy Division. So I'm hoping this one will put my demons to rest in the same way that the Haçienda one put my Haçienda demos to rest. I hope this book puts my Joy Division demons to rest. And then I can put my New Order demons to rest. And then I can rest.
So there will be a New Order book to follow?
Yes. The thing is that, if I pull off the Joy Division one and it's anywhere near as successful as the Haçienda one, then it's quite logical to finish it off with New Order. New Order isn't a pretty story. Joy Division's story, even though it's quite sad because of the ending, because of Ian's demise, is quite uplifting. The whole thing felt quite uplifting. New Order has been very bitter, right from the word go, really, if I'm honest. It's going to be a difficult story to tell. The trouble with telling those stories is that you don't want to bitch. You want to walk out of telling the story nobly. Nobody likes a bitch-fest. Well, maybe they all like a bitch-fest. Maybe they all like a bitch-fest too much, don't they? But from my point of view, I don't want it to be a bitch-fest. That will be the most interesting one. There's a lot of misinformation and a lot of poison around New Order. it will be interesting, that one.
Are there any plans to revisit New Order albums in the same way that you have with Joy Division?
To be honest with you, my idea, when I thought about it, was to play every LP I've ever written and then retire, so that I got to play all of the songs that I'd written once more.
Is that still the goal?
Yeah. It's been quite odd, really. I honestly thought, when I did the Joy Division celebration in Manchester, that I'd never play it anywhere else. And whether I was being naive or not, or stupid, I've managed to have a wonderful 18 months. We've done about 80, 90 gigs in 18 months, and I've enjoyed every single one of them. The next LP to do would be Substance, but Substance is such a strange LP, because it's such a weird combination. The one after that would be to do +- [Singles 1978-80] by Joy Division, but again, that's a very confused album. Patchy, thrown together, because it was done after the demise of Joy Division. So otherwise, I'd have to do Movement [by New Order]. I'm really looking forward to doing Movement, because I think that the songs on Movement were very underrated. So I'm torn at the moment to, next time, either do Substance or Movement. So I'm hoping that people like the Light and my son will give me a bit of advice, and we'll decide next May. We'll have to decide because it's going to be one or the other.
New Order have some leftovers from Waiting for the Sirens' Call that are going to be released soon.
Yeah. After the release of "Hellbent" on the Joy Division and New Order compilation [Total: From Joy Division to New Order], we are gearing up, finally, and I'm delighted ― I've been asking for six to eight years why we haven't released these tracks ― and now, finally, we are releasing them for Christmas, I believe. I'm hoping that they'll be stand-alone and not the usual cash-in where they're aligned to some LPs or something. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed, again, that they're done with nobility. [Laughs] But I don't have much control over that, mate, so I don't know. It'll be nice to get them out, to be honest. Because for me, since New Order split, they've always been hanging there. And what I want to see is a clean slate for New Order. I want to be able to look at New Order and go, "Well, it's all finished," and then we can all get on with our lives. Who knows where it might lead.
What do your former bandmates think about you revisiting the Joy Division and New Order material?
I think they think it sucks. So they say. It's quite odd really, because both Bernard [Sumner] and Stephen [Morris] played Joy Division and New Order tracks in Bad Lieutenant, quite a few of them, before I did Unknown Pleasures. So, to be honest with you, I don't know what the fuck they're moaning about, because they did it first. But they seem to have taken exception because I've done it with a purer form, shall we say. I don't really get the difference. I'd love to say, "Well, what's the difference, mate?" And I wish some journalist would say to them, "What's the difference?" But nobody ever does. Maybe you'll be the first.
Have you got anything else new in the pipeline?
I'm doing a new record as Man Ray, which is my electronic guise with my partner Phil Murphy. I'm very happy, actually, I've got a lot on. I run the Haçienda brand. We do a lot of Haçienda nights in England, we also do a fashion range. I'm happy, mate. I'm very busy. I've been DJing for six years, since New Order split, which has been very enjoyable. It's the second best job in the world, to be honest. The first is a journalist. [Laughs] Only joking. It's been really nice to get back to playing again. Playing in a group. Playing your own songs. It's great to be paid to play other people's songs, but it's wonderful to be paid to play your own songs. I'm very happy about that.