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New Order Crystalised

By Paul Cashmere

New Order grew from the ashes of one of England's most innovative acts of the late 70s, Joy Division. After the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, the remaining members Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Peter Hook decided to continue under a new guise. New Order was born. Stephen's girlfriend at the time (and now wife), Gillian Gilbert completed the line-up as keyboard player.

New Order single handedly created the electronica music genre. In the 80s and early 90s, their music became the template for the genre. One song "Blue Monday" went on to become the single biggest selling 12 inch record of all time, with world-wide sales of over 15 million units.

By the early 90's, the members of New Order had burnt out. It took 8 years before they reconvened in the studio for their next album "Get Ready" It took 17 years to get them back to Australia.

Undercover Executive Producer Paul Cashmere talked to front man Bernard Sumner.

Paul Cashmere: 17 years, Bernard. 17 years since you've come to visit us.

Bernard Sumner: It's not that long. What's the rush, what's the rush?

PC: Of course it is. Nirvana weren't even around last time you were here.

BS: They aren't around now.

PC: Good point. Well, let's get the questions about the 8 year gap out of the way first. Did New Order self combust after being around for so long?

BS: The last album we made was in '93 and then we went on tour in America with that. Then we did actually get together again in '98 to play the Reading Festival and a dance festival in '98. Then I had some solo stuff to finish off with Johnny Marr with Electronic, and then we got back together again. The gap was really, speaking personally, I got burnt out with the whole thing. We were on tour for 10 years and it took it out of me. I was canning it every night, getting drunk, staying up all night. In fact, I ended up on the '93 tour in hospital in Chicago because I drunk too much and it just made me think twice about the way my life was going. I got burnt out really, and I needed a couple of years off at least. We had a lot of business problems. Factory Records was going under and at the Hacienda Nightclub we had a lot of problems with gang related violence. Having to deal with that can be a pain in the arse.

Paul Cashmere: Being in a band and being a businessman sometimes don't mix, do they?

Bernard Sumner: I remember going to meetings while we were trying to make the record and we'd get called out of the studio to discuss if we were going to serve cheeseburgers and whether we could afford metal detectors and bullet proof vests for the bouncers. It just got a bit farcical really.

PC: It all sounds like a movie plot and of course it is going to be a movie plot.

BS: It is. The film is called 24 Hour Party People. It's not a big budget movie. It is the story of Factory Records. Primarily the central character is Tony Wilson, the Factory Records boss, played by Steve Coogan who is a comedian in England. He's a really funny guy.

PC: And Leonardo diCaprio plays you?

BS: He applied for the part but he's not handsome enough. So did Brad Pitt. An English actor called John Sim plays me but he's not a central character. We were just a part in the whole thing really. There is another movie in the offing about Ian Curtis. It is based on his wife's book and it's called "Touching from a Distance". I've been speaking to a script writer in Los Angeles about making that film. But both films are nothing to do with us. They are all independent. Strangely two came along at once.

PC: The Leonardo diCaprio I just made there, let's tie it back into something that is New Order and the movie The Beach. The soundtrack to The Beach featured the first New Order song in years. What came first, the song or were you asked to write for the movie?

BS: We were asked to write something new for that film. Really late on so by the time we done it, it just about made the film, really. It was a warm-up for us to try and start working again. It was the first thing we wrote. After that came "60 miles per hour". We wrote the two songs as a pair. In fact, they shared the same drum beat at one stage. In fact, I think they still do share the same drum beat. We wrote them for the film and also seeing as we got on with each other we wanted to try different producers out. There was Rollo from Faithless who really, really enjoyed working with us but it wasn't the sound we were after. We were after a really hard sound. I love Faithless and I love Rollo. Maybe we will do something in the future. We wanted something just really hard. I think we kind of new that this album was going to be guitar based. I just bought a guitar that was very expensive.

PC: So you had to use it.

BS: Yeah, in a video for Electronic with Johnny Marr, in the video I rented a guitar. It's a beautiful Gibson SG from 1966. It was a lovely guitar. It was attractively expensive so after I bought it I thought, "Right, better start playing the guitar again". And that is true; it was as simple as that.

PC: I love English expressions. "Attractively expensive" translates into Australian as "it cost a shitload".

BS: Yeah, (laughs).

PC: It's interesting you mentioned Ian Curtis and Joy Division because this is the first time ever you have put a lot of those old Joy Division songs back in the set.

BS: I think we went many years without playing any of the Joy Division songs. I don't think we have played any in Australia. We felt after Ian died we wanted to make it on our own feet and not use the Joy Division songs to propel our career in any way, which was probably a bit naive really. We wanted to start off on our own bat and write our own songs, but it is a bit silly because they were our own songs. I think one of the reasons we didn't play the Joy Division songs after Ian died was that it was so painfully emotional to do it, to play it so close to Ian's death. But when we got back together again, after the 6 year gap to play the concerts, it was such a good feeling being back together again, you know a nice feeling, that the Joy Division songs came with that package really. It just felt the time was right to play them again. And also, they are great bloody songs and they are our songs. I think it's good not for Ian's work to be forgotten and for us to remind people what a great band Joy Division were.

Paul Cashmere: I think the first time I ever heard a Joy Division song live was when Smashing Pumpkins were last in this country and they had "Transmission" in their set. That leads me to Billy Corgan who played on your last album and then went out on tour with you. What is that relationship all about?

Bernard Sumner: Completely independent really. I just like Smashing Pumpkins and I like Billy's voice. Nothing to do with him being a fan of ours or playing "Transmission". I just like the records and my son is into him. He gave me some CDs and made me a compilation tape and I just really dug it. I like Billy's voice. He's got a kind of metallic timbre to it. He sounds high and low at the same time. You can't tell if he has a high or a low voice. He's got a metallic tone to it. We just wrote a track on the album and I could hear him singing on it. I just said "I can hear Billy sing on that". We knew Billy a bit when he used to come to our shows in Chicago. Hooky (Peter Hook) knows him a bit better than I do and said "we'll I've got his number here, why don't we just call him". So we called him up and he said "That's really weird man. I just went out and bought Peel Sessions Joy Division album and I was listening to Joy Division when you called". He said he was coming over to Europe the next week and would do it then.

PC: Then "Turn My Way" pops up on the album.

BS: Yeah the track was "Turn My Way". We then mentioned that we were going out on tour and needed a guitarist and he said "hey, I'm out of a job with Pumpkins so I'll come on tour with you. I'll play guitar". It was great.

PC: Had Zwan (Billy's new band) not happened for him would you be still touring with Billy Corgan?

BS: Well it was only temporary. We always understood that. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to come to England and Europe with us but we had already asked Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) to do some dates with us. We didn't want too many "names" on the stage. Billy was great and he really added something with his guitar.

PC: What's Gillian's (New Order keyboard player Gillian Gilbert) association with the band? She's no longer touring with the band.

BS: Well, Gillian's actually here today. She's come over with the children and it's her birthday today. She is 28.

PC: So am I.

BS: Yeah and so is my waistline. She comes out every now and then to see the band but she has a family to look after now and family comes first, really.

PC: That must be hard if she's going to be at the gig tomorrow. She must get the urge to jump up on stage and play along.

BS: Yeah, I suppose so. We obviously miss her, but you can't take your kids everywhere touring. She is coming out for the last week but I can't bring my kids out because they are at school. One of her kids has just started school. It's just impossible really. I don't think it's fair. You go through all these time changes. It gets a bit too much for kids. Besides, there are all these drunken roadies around.

PC: What is the situation with you and Electronic? Is there more to come?

BS: I don't think so, no. I want my work load to get smaller, rather than bigger. I really enjoyed working with Johnny and we might release the Best Of album soon. I haven't seen Johnny for a while, not since August on holiday last year, I don't think. I just want to concentrate on New Order now. That is enough work for anyone my age.

PC: So there won't be another 8 year gap for the next New Order album then?

BS: There might be. You never know in New Order, do you.

PC: The biggest selling 12 inch of all time is "Blue Monday". That must be something that you wear quite proudly.

BS: Yeah, I have played it an awful lot of times in my career though.

PC: And you'll be playing it an awful lot more.

BS: It's not my absolute favourite song to play but unfortunately we have to play it or else the audience get rather upset.

PC: What did you think of the Orgy cover of it?

BS: I thought it was dreadful to be honest. I got a lot of publishing money from it.

PC: That heals the wound doesn't it.

BS: No, no, no, I like it, it's really good. Did I say dreadful. I meant dreadfully good.

PC: Thanks Bernard, it was great to have you here at Undercover