Hook sometimes relies on this Shergold Marathon 6-string, which he punked-up with a slew of stickers. The instrument is inspired by the Fender Bass VI and has a 30-inch scale length. Photo by Nikolai Puc
What were the working processes of Joy Division and New Order like, in terms of songwriting and recording?
We always wrote the same way. It was very equal in Joy Division. Each member wrote his own parts. It’d be very rare for any member to be encouraged, shall we say, or bullied into not writing his own part, so it was very easy, and always from jamming together. In fact, for the first year of Joy Division, we didn’t have a tape recorder. We couldn’t afford one. The only time the music existed was when the four of us got together to play, which is quite an insane thought in this day and age of ease with which everyone can record everything and change it to their hearts’ content.
The wonderful thing about recording was how immediate the process was. You couldn’t change it much because of the analog format. You had to go along with it and work with it, and it made for some wonderful and wacky mistakes. It kept you very buoyant, very busy, and engaged. The lead singer wasn’t disappearing with the laptop for three months and bringing the music back with it sounding completely different.
It was a completely different way of writing and recording compared to how you do it nowadays. And I don’t think most music is better for it. Today you pore over the music for hours, weeks, years. And then somebody else pores over it. It’s a very strange process. When I was writing my book—which was the history of the band from 1980 to 2011—I was aware that the monumental change in recording came with the advent of computers like the Apple SE.
In a nutshell, what do you think went wrong with New Order?
You have to be careful with the way that you act in a group. You have to work on making sure all the members are included. One of the reasons New Order split up was because the lead singer decided he was in charge and started acting that way, and I just thought, “This isn’t a group anymore. This is like a dictatorship, and it’s a terrible place to be.” People shouldn’t do it to other people and neglect to see that a song always is, in my opinion, never more important than the band. To me the band is the most important thing in the world.
That’s a really good point. What do you think has been lost in music as a result of today’s recording technology?
Well, there’s the happy accidents, for a start. If you listen to a song like “Blue Monday,” which still is the biggest selling 12-inch in the world, it’s littered with mistakes. [One section might be] six bars [long], you know, 12, 10 bars [when repeated]. Sometimes even five bars or three-bar breaks and stuff. Because when you were laying it down, you didn’t count the bars properly, so you had a lot of weird and wacky timing, and odd little bits, which you don’t do now because now you just correct it on the computer.
So you’d lose to that sort of intangible uniqueness: those happy accidents that happened in music. You’d have to work around it because you couldn’t afford not to, or didn’t have the technology to change the backing track.
And as I’ve transcribed all the old Joy Division and New Order material, I’ve realized those happy accidents actually gave it a unique feel. In music today, if you’re computer-savvy you have all the choice, all the time in the world to go, “Oh, that’s a mistake, let’s take it out.” I think because of that you tend to lose a lot of the immediacy, a lot of the wonderful and unexpected moments. And I listen to a lot of material now and think, “Oh, man. It’s just programed within an inch of its life.”
There’s a huge difference between [an analog] 24-track recording and a digital recording, you know. And you miss it. I think the thing about the resurgence of vinyl is ... I think the human condition responds better to a little bit of softness and a little bit of warmth than it does to the cold sort of starkness of computing digital treatment.
Also, I don’t want to start harping on about how the internet has certainly taken a lot of my earnings from me in the same way the journalists suffer—being appropriated without your permission. The internet really hampers our earning potential.
But as with anything, there’s good points and bad points. The thing about it is digital recording is a lot cheaper than analog recording used to be—and a lot easier because anybody can do it in the bedroom. It’s literally the computer equivalent of the acid-house revolution that happened around 1986, ’87. The advent of the new cheap digital machinery would’ve helped a lot more people become musicians if it had been around in the early to mid ’80s. Electronic musicianship was the pursuit of the middle or upper-middle class only. You had to have very rich parents or a very good job to participate.
What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of how the cheapness of gear has made it more accessible?
The advantage has to be the ease [of operation] and the ease of access for anybody. The disadvantage is you do get a lot of bad material. We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in the same way that you get great chefs and bad chefs, it’s the same with music.
But songwriting is a very underestimated art. A lot of artists that premiere today are propped up by a stable of good songwriters, you know. It’s become quite the norm for singers not to write their own material. I’m very lucky to be a songwriter, and I think it’s something you can’t teach. It’s still a very intangible art, which should be celebrated more.