New Order on its surprise reunion tour, its future and the legacy of Joy Division (interview)By John Wenzel | October 8th, 2012 | No Comments »
Bernard Sumner knows that New Order is an on-again, off-again proposition.
The 56-year-old co-founder of the seminal British synth-pop band has learned through more than three decades of breakups, makeups and creative peaks and valleys that anything is possible. And not always in a good way.
He just doesn’t care.
“We don’t really plan ahead,” said Sumner, who will bring New Order to the 1stBank Center on Wednesday, Oct. 10, one of seven North American dates for the band this year. “If you’ve got some big scheme that you’re following, yes, maybe you’ll make more money. But then life becomes predictable. So what’s the use in money if life’s predictable? Life comes first, money comes second.”
Sumner shared his thoughts over the phone from the U.K. last week about the inspiration for the tour, New Order’s (and Joy Division’s) legacy and the promise of new material.
Thanks for speaking with me today. So you’re in the U.K. right now?
Yeah, and it’s been pretty busy. We’ve only been back for about two weeks from touring on and off all year. And supposedly this was going to be a couple weeks of rest and relaxation but it’s not working out that way. We’ve been busy trying to rehearse some new songs to put in the set so we’re not playing the same set all the time.
You’ve only got a handful of dates in North America and Denver is one of them. What’s bringing you here in particular?
I don’t know, I think it’s probably logistics. We’ve not played there for a long time. This is kind of an expedition of a sort. We played the Ultra Music Fest in Miami in March or April and we were supposed to go on a tour of the States then but we got waylaid by an Australian tour, so we’re coming back now and coming back hopefully to do some new dates next year.
Do you feel like you have a strong fan base in Denver?
I think so, I mean, I hope so. The last thing I remember about Denver was going horseback riding somewhere along the foothills with my girlfriend. It’s just great to be coming back after all this time. I want to apologize for it being so long! I needed an extended break, I just didn’t expect it to be so long. We’re looking forward to returning.
How were the recent Asian tour dates? I know you were playing your first-ever concert in Singapore, your first in Korea, places like that, and that you had some wild weather in Japan.
Oh, we had wild weather in Korea as well. We played Seoul and had lightning on the day of the gig but the gig was in an indoor arena that they used for the Olympics, so we were alright there. It was fantastic, really. Just a really enthusiastic response from the people there, probably because they’d never seen us before so I think they were very surprised we were there. Some of those people were very young, but we’d ask them, “How did you get into New Order?” And someone would say, “My sister played it or my father played it or brother played it.” And Singapore’s great. I’ve stopped there a few times on the way to Australia and I find it quite fascinating because of their whole history. And it was quite a spectacular city, architecture-wise, a city of the future, and that mixed with the old colonial buildings made it interesting to walk around there.
I’ve read that the reunion was originally for a couple of benefit gigs. What gave you the spark to keep it going?
Originally it was those two gigs in Brussels and Paris but that went well so we did another gig in London and after those we said, “We’ll sit around and think about doing something next year.” And then we started getting offers in to do concerts, the first being three gigs in South America. We liked playing there and found the people very warm and unaffected, really. That was too good to miss out on, then the offers to go to Australia and Asia happened and it’s kind of mushroomed from there into this big-little tour.
And you truly don’t have any kind of grand plan for it at the moment?
You never know what’s around the corner. It’s kind of coming date-by-date. We base our decisions on whether to do the next date on the last date, but we’ve not had any time to think about doing new material so far. Playing live is just great and in a way it’s easier than making an album, but it’s not creative. And as a creative person you start getting that creative itch and you start thinking, “Yeah, I think I’m going to write some new material.”
But I’m guessing you don’t have any studio time booked.
There are really no concrete plans to do it. It’s just kind of an unspoken question about what we’re going to do after Christmas, so I think we’ll probably start writing a few days here and there, but we’re not going to do as many gigs as in 2012. We’re not going to a 40-date tour like we did in the ’80s. My constitution’s not up to it these days!
I’ve heard you’ve also been playing some Joy Division songs in concert lately. Do you feel pressure to do justice to your old band’s legacy?
It’s mainly a New Order set but we’ve just been learning some new Joy Division songs as well. It’s difficult to know how much of that stuff to play. In one city Joy Division’s big and in another city it’s all New Order. So it’s hard to second-guess where the dividing line comes in. And you always have in the back of your mind, “Would (late Joy Division singer) Ian (Curtis) approve of this? Would he like the way we’re doing it?” And you have to respect that.
Does it feel odd to be in such a long-running band with such a strong history when you’re still feeling like writing new material and performing?
It’s kind of like anyone’s life, isn’t it? As you get older you have more to look back on. But I’m not the kind of person who reminisces over the past. The future seems more exciting to me. And the present is really exciting. I’m proud of that past. I’m proud of what was achieved, song-wise. I’m proud of being in Joy Division and New Order. But the present is great, too. If you think about the past too much you’re going to become creatively in competition with it. These last few years have been the most enjoyable years I’ve ever had in music. I’ve really really missed it, and I’ve never said that about playing live in the past.
You’ve said in a recent interview that you’re happy to have (bassist) Peter Hook back out of the band since he wasn’t happy himself in New Order. I’m guessing the changes the dynamic in the band both on and off stage?
Being in a band is bit like pushing a car up a hill. It’s not easy. It’s like any job in the world. It’s fucking hard work. If it was easy, everybody would do it. On tour it’s hard work, and the recording studio is hard work, but enjoyable too. So like pushing a car up a hill, it’s a lot easier if all of you are pushing the car in the same direction. If one of you is going to push the car back down the hill because he doesn’t want to get to the top it makes life very difficult. So life is lot easier now and more pleasurable and that’s one of the reasons why we’re playing so many gigs. Did it change the dynamics? Yeah, it does, but I think it’s refreshed the dynamics on stage. I never ever had any problems with Peter on stage — I think it was fantastic what he did — it’s just that he’s a difficult person and I don’t miss that side of him. And I’m sure he’d say the same thing about me. But it’s nice for everybody to be pushing in the same direction. Put it this way: if it’s a football game — and not American football — and you’ve got 11 players on each side, you want all 11 players to be playing for your team, don’t you? If one of the player isn’t doing that, you don’t play well. Peter just made life very difficult in a lot of subtle ways. So good luck to him and I hope he’s doing well.
A lot of the gigs you’ve played recently have been at these big festivals all around the world. Do you get to spend any time checking out new music or catching up with other bands at them? Or do you just sort of hang out in your trailer and get ready for the show?
Sometimes we get to meet the other bands. There’s a band from New York called Hercules and Love Affair and they actually got up on stage and were dancing along with us. Wherever possible we do try to see the other bands, but it’s just been so busy. We’re just in and out of there, really. I think the busiest one was in Poland, where we’d never played before. You don’t really have any time when you’re just zigzagging across Europe. We try to get there a couple hours before the show to have a drink and loosen up and feel the vibe of the place. It’s an impersonal business, these large festivals. Sometimes if it’s a good fest and the weather’s OK they’ll have a hanging-out area for the artist and an artist bar. We played two nights at the Sonar fest in Barcelona and loved that. We try to keep on the straight and narrow, though. Steve, the drummer, used to be the wildest one in the band but we all call him the fun police now. We always say, “Hey, there’s the fun police!” when we see him. But really, if you wake in the morning feeling good, you enjoy it more. You’re not fighting the hangover. And I’ve really enjoyed it lately.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and Features blogs editor for The Denver Post.