Interview

New Order

New Order

By Brannavan Gnanalingam

Thursday 16th February, 2012 9:07PM

New Order, became one of the biggest bands of the '80s, through a mix of great singles ('Blue Monday', 'Bizarre Love Triangle', 'True Faith') and some great albums. Formed out of the ashes of Joy Division, the band went on to be the poster child for the iconic Factory Records and Hacienda scene. New Order have broken up and started back over again – and are touring New Zealand again (though without Peter Hook), and I talk to Stephen Morris, drummer of the two legendary bands.

Did you ever imagine when you were the only person to answer the advertisement for a Joy Division drummer, that you'd be where you are now?

No, no, no, not in my wildest dreams really. It was "simple drummer wanted". I played the drums. It was a punk band. It was a bit of a laugh. I didn't think I'd be doing it thirty odd years later. I thought I'd be having a proper job or retiring to the South of France for something by now, but neither had happened.

New Order has had such a long and distinguished career, do you think you guys were ever able to escape the shadow of Joy Division?

I don't know if you'd want to really. Joy Division was an absolutely fantastic band. It wasn't as if we were trying to escape as such, it was a way of getting on with doing something that wasn't Joy Division. It wasn't trying to disown them in any way, it was part of your life. You just couldn't carry on being Joy Division. We just thought we'd be New Order and find something different to do. Which luckily we did. It wasn't very easy. We managed it. I wouldn't say we tried to escape the shadow of Joy Division at all – we still play the odd Joy Division song.

Took a while for your sound to settle, Power, Corruption & Lies, took a while to come out, was there trying to find a sound that was different?

Yeah, it's the hardest thing in the world. It's the easiest thing to say, 'do something different'. But what the hell is 'different'? It was really hard. [Debut album, 1981's] Movement was, I'll hold my hands up and say, that was in the shadow of Joy Division a little bit, because we were learning how to write songs again, and the losing your lead singer and the person who wrote your lyrics, is very difficult, because none of us had ever done it before, and none ever thought we'd be singers. It was hard. It was only when we hit on this – we were using electronics in Joy Division, and if Joy Division had carried on we probably would have carried on down that road, maybe in a more atmospheric way – but we got into using machines, rhythm thing, and we thought 'this is good', let's give it a go. It also upset a lot of the diehard Joy Division fans, a lot of people who started showing up in macks. They got really annoyed we were playing disco music. We thought this is the direction. Let's play that.

Was it difficult for even non-Joy Division fans to get into New Order's new style – it sounds like you went to New York and listened to a lot of Italo-disco, and Latin style disco?

Yeah it was really [laughs]. It was about as far away as how you'd imagine Joy Division being as you could think of. We were all into Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, we were into dance music – or was it called dance music then – we were into that stuff anyway. We just managed to cobble together enough technology to be able to do it.

Your era in the '80s is seen as this great period of excess, thanks to things like 24 Hour Party People, the Ibiza recording, and people like Tony Wilson – did it feel like it at the time?

It's never like that when you're part of it, it's just life isn't? It's the goings-on, it's completely commonplace. Was it actually insane? I suppose it was, looking back on it. We were very lucky we were on Factory. They let us do what we wanted. A record company letting you do what you want? It was unheard of. Don't put your picture on the sleeve? It's great. It was basically anarchy, but unfortunately anarchy has a bit of a downside, there does come a point where it stops working. I think the point is when you start counting how much money you have left at the end. It was fantastic. Tony was a brilliant guy, really, really brilliant – all of them were. It was one of those things, it was inevitably doomed to fail, but at the time, you couldn't see that, you just thought it was this fantastic thing. And insane. But no, I didn't notice it at the time.

Were you prepared for the success of 'Blue Monday' [the biggest selling 12 inch of all-time]?

It was funny. [Manager] Rob [Gretton] was absolutely convinced that 'Blue Monday' was going to be what it was. When we were going into the studio, he was saying 'it's hot this record, it's going to be hot'. What do you mean it's hot? What does that mean? It's not even a proper song. We were going to play it, it's six minutes long, not going to do a 7 inch, how was that going to work? He was right. I was surprised. I'm constantly surprised by the longevity that it's got. The way people take what is a very simple riff and turn it into something else. Kylie Minogue did it, loads of people, there's a bit of it on that Electric 6 years ago, MIA, it crops up everywhere. It's great 'Blue Monday' spotting. It's worth all of that trouble it took to put it together. Was it like writing a song, it was like finding it out of this gear. There are loads of stories about 'Blue Monday' – it was this automatic song that would stop us having to do encores because we always got a lot of stick for not doing encores. We've got all of this gear, we will write this song, walk on, press this button, and walk off again. The machines will play it. It didn't work out like that, but it was one of the ideas.

You had so many great singles – do you ever feel like you were unfairly categorised as a singles band?

As long as we're put in some category apart from 'where are they now' that's good [laughs]. Not really, because we always did two different things. We did singles and albums when we started out. One of the things Factory said was that we're not putting singles out on albums. That's why 'Blue Monday' is only on an American version of Power, Corruption, & Lies because we said 'it's not going on the album, it's a single'. In a way, Substance, which is just a collection of our singles, turns out to be our most successful album. Ironic really, but it just turned out that way. They're two completely different things. Nowadays, it's not so much so because the whole difference between what's an album and what's a single has gone out of the window. It's just music now. You get a couple of tracks and throw a few away. That whole thing of taking time and making sure the tracks fit together, you might as well not bother now, because somebody else is going to do that for you. We were very conscientious of that – this group of eight tracks are going to be an album, and this one over here is going to be a single, and the two shall never meet.

I suppose the re-release of the albums recently, might have got you guys thinking about it…

You're not talking about the reissues are you? [laughs] Yeah it got me thinking about a lot of things. It didn't entirely go very well, the re-mastering, reissuing thing. They made a bit of a mess with a few of the things. As happens with every record company. Towards the end of Factory, I thought, 'this is so chaotic, I can't wait to be on a real record label. They'd be really professional about everything. It'd be a real refreshing change'. And then we get on a so-called proper record label, you find they were just as bad as Factory were. Which is reassuring really. It's equally frustrating, because you think 'I thought you knew what you were doing'. The thing is we let them do the reissues, but the lesson you learn from that, you shouldn't leave it to anybody. If you want the thing done properly, you've got to get involved a great deal. I did the Joy Division boxset as a reaction to that. I got in and found all of the tapes, and made sure I got the right ones, and sorted out the mastering, and that's what we're going to do in the future. We'll try and fix the mistakes, somehow that was made with the reissues, and want to do a really fantastic thing with the back catalogue. Don't quite know how that's going to work, as there's this really big thing about the albums, and then there's the singles, and trying to mix them all together in a big way, it's going to be difficult. If we get it right, it'll be something.

Has it been hard touring without Peter [Hook], in terms of expectations of fans?

When we first did it, we were a bit anxious about it. It is a little bit weird. It's all gone great so far. It's all been really fantastic so far. Everybody likes it, we've all been having a great time. We only decided to do those two benefit gigs, that was going to be it. That went so well and we enjoyed it, so we said 'we'll do some more'.

You guys have been friends for so long, it must have been hard living this rock star life, tensions must happen?

I've never wanted to be a rock star. That's one thing I've never wanted. I'll play the drums. I'll be in a band. I put musician on my passport, but I'm not a rock star. I don't know. It's not the sort of thing I like to do. I'm the sort of the person who tidies up hotel rooms. If I drive a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, it would be a horrible accident. It wouldn't result from hideous excess. I've had my moments, don't get me wrong, I've had my moments, but I've never really gone for the badge rock star. I'm just not that kind of person.

I've got one final question, the Joy Division, Mickey Mouse thing is pretty weird [Disney recently released a bunch of t-shirts superimposing Mickey Mouse on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album design]…

[Laughs]. It's funny. A guy from a local newspaper rang me about it, and asked 'what do you think about this Joy Division Mickey Mouse t-shirt?' I said 'you can't really stop them doing it, because it's a public domain image. It's like a leaf. But it would have been nice, for the Disney Corporation, given how tight they are on copyright, to have asked you first to make sure it was all right. They quoted me as 'I was furious'. I never said that, they just wanted me to say something terrible. I think it's a bit rich of Disney of all people to do a Joy Division t-shirt. If we started doing Mickey Mouse ones, they'd be on us like a shot. You can't stop them. There's a Star Wars one, there's a Manchester City one. It's quite interesting how low can you go. Joy Division oven gloves – they're the height of chic. How far can you go with this thing, it never ceases to amaze me. It's fine isn't it, but it would have been nice to have been asked, or some Little Mermaid or Moulin merchandise for the kids. Disney has got enough of my money over the years.


related gigs
New Order
Mon 27th Feb, The Vector Arena, Auckland


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