New Order: "You need a crisis to create a good record."
Despite hiatuses, messy splits, and even a marriage, New Order can comfortably exist in modern music, where they’re revered as gods. The band is an absolute institution. It was formed in 1980 from the remaining members of Joy Division (Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook), following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. They then added keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, and became a fixture in the electronica scene.
New Order is definitely one of the more influential acts around. Influential and successful: “Blue Monday,” the band’s 1983 track, is the highest-selling independent 12′ single of all time in their native UK. The band’s blend of synth pop, combined with Sumner’s unmistakable vocals, created a career of dance rock records that stand the test of time, all with effortless charm attached to them.
We met with Morris and Gilbert, said married couple, inside the Four Seasons Houston, on the eve of their lone U.S. performance of 2015 (at Day For Night Fest). The couple was incredibly gracious. We extended handshakes and pleasantries, and then gushed over how great the mints in the hotel were. As part of the band since its inception, Morris and Gilbert have seen the constant evolution of New Order, and how it translated into their new album, Music Complete. We sat and discussed that evolution, how they’ve managed to balance raising two daughters, the freedom of spontaneous decisions, and why you shouldn’t dictate plans out for your children.
It’s always amazing to see someone grow, to see someone chart their success. And you two have kids!
MORRIS: Oh God, yeah…
You’re raising family within a family.
MORRIS: Well, I guess it just a question of which is more dysfunctional for us. [Laughs] I mean, which is the hardest to get anything done? In an actual family, you can say there’s a day where you don’t do anything. When you’re in a band, you can’t really do that.
True. Otherwise, you end up on hiatus.
MORRIS: Yeah, it definitely doesn’t do any good.
So, you’re playing Day For Night Fest, your only U.S. date of the year. You’re no stranger to playing festivals, but how is it to come here for your only show then jaunt back to the UK?
GILBERT: We had a little mini-tour, didn’t we?
MORRIS: It was more than a mini-tour, wasn’t it? It was supposed to be nine dates. Then somebody said, “Hey you can go to Hong Kong!” for one gig. The tour started in the UK, then the Midlands, Manchester via Hong Kong, then back to Manchester before somebody said – let’s play Houston!
There has to be some serious jet lag from doing all of that.
MORRIS: It kind of evolved that way. It wasn’t supposed to be some grueling thing, which it turned out to be. It’s not a bad thing, but it isn’t what it was on paper. You think you’d have weeks to get on with that, but we haven’t been home. We haven’t unpacked since November.
GILBERT: We kind of want to stay here for Christmas.
MORRIS: Or California, but that would be too much of a “rock star” thing. The main attraction here is the weather.
And speaking of Christmas, shopping for two teen girls has to be a pain in the ass.
MORRIS: Isn’t it? We’ve been doing a bit of shopping. We have Grace, our youngest, with us, although 16 isn’t that young. The other daughter [Tilly] couldn’t make it, but she has other touring commitments of her own. So we said we’re spending Christmas in America and she said, “No I got this gig in Newcastle…” [Laughs]
“You need a crisis to create a good record. It may sound stupid, but when things are alright, you kind of do alright records.”
Does it worry you that one of your daughters is a second-generation rock star?
MORRIS: It’s very weird. I something I never aspired to, having a daughter in a band, because I don’t think it’s good. Hell, doing music isn’t really that healthy. “My dad is in a band so I have to be in a band…”
GILBERT: But at first she didn’t want to be in a band.
MORRIS: At first she didn’t want to do it. She wanted to get a proper job, but then she met a drummer and history started to repeat itself.
It’s always when you meet another musician.
MORRIS: Always. Though maybe I should have encouraged it. You never do what you parents want you to do. So maybe that’s where I went wrong. My dad wanted me to play the clarinet and I was like, “Whoa, no way!” Then you meet a bunch of lads and you want to get in a band.
So, back to music. I was curious to know how you feel about the evolution of electronic music. Because now it feels like you can just push four buttons and make money.
MORRIS: Yeah, that’s kinda true. If you press the right buttons at the right time, you can make a lot of money. It’s gotten to that stage now where there’s more technology in your phone than putting a man on the moon. I mean, when we started off messing about with synthesizers and computers, you knew it was going to happen.
People like Kraftwerk and others were utilizing synthesizers, and you knew people were going to use the dual technology. I think we had this idea of how it would work in our heads but those who made the instrument had no clue. It wasn’t really designed for idiots. [Laughs]
In the early days, you couldn’t do a great deal. And it was ridiculously expensive.
GILBERT: And we really couldn’t afford the top of the line stuff.
How does a band that people consider pioneers keep pushing it even further?
GILBERT: I think doing it in a different way. We brought in Phil and Tom, and that brings about change. Our bass player [Peter Hook] leaves, and that brings about change. So we had a lot of changes, and we’ve not been static. We’ve been together, then not been together for a few years then got back together. So it’s not as if we’ve been doing album, tour, album, tour…
MORRIS: You need a crisis to create a good record. It may sound stupid, but when things are alright, you kind of do alright records.
Turmoil does bring out your best material, right? And you’ve had plenty from lawsuits and you’re like… jeez.
GILBERT: It felt like we had to prove something.
You said in a prior feature that the band lives with their contradictions, like it ties directly in with the turmoil.
MORRIS: It plays into the dysfunction. It’s not as if we don’t talk, because we have to talk. You gotta communicate, but you never talk about what you’re doing. You just kind of get on with it. Things turn up. As you can tell, we really don’t make a lot of plans. [Laughs]
GILBERT: When we got back in 2011, we only sort of looked ahead.
MORRIS: We never looked back or made resolutions or made plans. And that’s what a lot of bands do these days. They have their careers month and months in advance.
GILBERT: They think if you do that, then this will happen. Like preparing for an exam. Or college.
MORRIS: When we started back a few years ago, we thought it would be only two, three gigs…
…And now three years later.
GILBERT: [Laughs] Originally we just wanted to do EPs. Then as the album progressed, we got Elly Jackson (of La Roux) singing. And we liked her last album. She played with us in LA, and all I remember from La Roux was “Bulletproof.” She’s really nice; I was a bit scared of her at first. She’s got a scary image! [Laughs]
I bet when she met you guys she was geeking out like a child.
GILBERT: I was geeking out over her! “I have all your records!” So it’s been like a dream. We got Iggy Pop and Brandon (Flowers) to do a track. We sent Iggy a track, and he was in Miami and sent it back. We really didn’t have to mess about it.
MORRIS: When making the album, we didn’t attempt to go for a lot of filler. It kind of ordered itself, and we accepted the fact that it was going to be something more dance-like. Less guitar-heavy. The trouble when making an album is when you finish it, you just don’t like it anymore. What technology has done for the music business is getting rid of expensive recording studios. Bands in the ‘80s would stay in studios for months and do nothing. We didn’t do that this time, we just stuck to small studios or at home.
GILBERT: We used [producer] Craig Silvey to mix it, because when you’re in a band of 5 people…
You sometimes need an outside voice.
MORRIS: Like a referee! [Laughs]
Seeing that both of you have been around each other for 35 years, has that strengthened your marriage? You’re never not around each other.
MORRIS: [Laughs] I think the big problem with it is that you never get away from it. We never sit back and ask each other, “Well what did you think of that one? Or I don’t like that one…”
GILBERT: The kids would get into the argument, “Will you shut up talking about it? It’s all you do!” [Laughs]
MORRIS: Since we’re both tangled up in the same thing, it’s interesting. It’s difficult aside from when we went solo with one another. It must be alright, because we haven’t gotten divorced yet.
GILBERT: Because we started together in a band as young people, we don’t know anything else really. It’s nice having a break with the kids. It’s nice coming back.
MORRIS: The thing is it, at home, you don’t really get away from it. You try to get away from music from time to time. You have a set of priorities, and you know music is never going away. You don’t force yourself, but you kind of see people and they talk music…
And all you want to do is go home and watch Netflix or something!
GILBERT: Right! Luckily we’ve got a studio we can just lock up and throw away and not talk music. And bloody Grace has a room full of guitars now, so it seems like it’ll never stop.
MORRIS: It’s funny you talk about the daughter and her band. And how they have ideas about the music industry works and I probably have the same sort of ideas. But you tell yourself, “Oh, please don’t take it seriously, cause it could all go wrong tomorrow. Just appreciate what you’ve got. It could all end soon, and the world don’t owe you anything.”
You better be glad if you write a few good songs, because you never know when the next one’s coming. We’ve had some bad luck and some good luck and I think we’ve gotten some good luck at the moment. Cause you don’t know what’s around the corner. You just enjoy it while you can.
New Order’s latest album, Music Complete, is available now on iTunes.