This year has been great for New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris. Following a pair of benefit concerts in 2011, the landmark UK collective — sans original bassist Peter Hook, but once again with Morris’ wife, Gillian Gilbert — set out on a global tour that trekked across Europe, Australia, and Latin America. They appeared at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival. They participated in London’s Olympic festivities. And, somewhere in there, they even released a live album.
In October, New Order also embarked on their first proper North American tour in seven years. One such date was at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, where they delivered a “stage show that [was] ravenous and creative enough to scream, ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over.'” While there, Consequence of Sound caught up with the band’s two brain trusts — Sumner and Morris — to discuss their exciting year and how they’ll follow it up in the near future. As you’ll soon discover, the two haven’t lost their chemistry or comedic wit.
Traveling to America over the the last two years hasn’t been easy for you; between problems with your visas to something as catastrophic and unpredictable as a volcano. When you were coming here earlier this year for your appearance at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, were you at all worried or even superstitious?
Stephen Morris: Well obviously, yeah. There was obviously the volcano again. Anything could happen really, couldn’t it?
Bernard Sumner: Well, almost as bad as the volcano was the immigration at Miami airport. It was like the Gestapo.
Morris: You really gotta get rid of a couple days of your life if you want to get through immigration in Miami. There was like a 747 full of people and they made us walk two miles in one direction — no, literally a mile.
Sumner: And then when we got to the desks there were six workers there. No, there was four. And then just as we got to the desks two of them looked at their watches and said “lunch time” and just walked off. I tell you, out of all the places I’ve traveled in the world…Serbia, Croatia, anywhere…I’ve never come across immigration as rude as them. It’s like ,”What have I done?”
And all for a short trip.
Sumner: Well, what happened was we were supposed to be doing an American tour then — it was on the books. One of the gigs, the Ultra Music Festival, wanted to know if we’d do it, so we had to sign on the dotted line and say we would. We were still thinking about the rest of the tour when we got asked to do the Future Music Festival, which travels around Australia and New Zealand. They said, “Well if you do it, we want you to do it, but it’s this month,” which was when we were gonna come to America.
Morris: So we ended up going to Australia, but we couldn’t not do the Ultra Music Festival.
How did sessions with the band go prior to touring?
Morris: It started a year ago when we were just gonna do two shows in December. And that was it really. It could easily have been just two shows. We didn’t really know how it would go down, but we knew we were going to do two shows, so we sat down and listened to a lot of the stuff and said, “Oh we’ll do that one, we’ll do that one.”
Sumner: We thought we’d update stuff, as well. We thought we’d do some visuals, so there was a process behind that, and we couldn’t tell anyone because it was a secret. We couldn’t farm anything out, so [me] an engineer did the visuals, Steve put a technical rig together, and [producer and DJ] Stuart Price reworked a couple of songs for us, which was “Temptation”, “586”, and I sort of reworked “True Faith”. So, we didn’t just want to play them, we wanted to update the songs and twist them, and add some visuals, which seem to work.
What was the process behind the setlist?
Sumner: We kind of put a hat on the table and everybody threw ideas in.
Morris: It’s a bit difficult, because some songs are like great on paper, but when you try to put them in a set… it just never works. I mean they’re great, if you came out and just did that one song, it’d be alright. But, for some reason, when you bump them in with a bunch of other songs it just doesn’t fit.
Sumner: You’ve got to play “Blue Monday”. [Pause.] They’ll be playing it at my funeral.
What separates this reunion from your return in 1998?
Sumner: Well, this is a continuation of it. Is there something that separates it? Yeah, a bass player.
Morris: It’s a lot more relaxed, everyone’s happy.
Photo by Cap Blackard
You’ve expressed how you want to make another album, though
Sumner: I always put it this way: It’s like pushing a heavy car up a hill — making an album while doing a tour — it’s work. It’s better if you’ve got – how many’s in the band now?
Morris: I think there’s five.
Sumner: But if you’ve got five people, it blows my idea out of the water. [Pause.] Say it was four, not five. It’s better if you’ve got all four people pushing the car up the hill, instead of one – three pushing it up the hill and the other one trying to push it back down the hill. Now, of course there’s five of us so…
Well, and you have Gillian Gilbert.
Morris: No, she doesn’t push.
Sumner: [Pause.] Is that called a simile?
Morris: You could say it was a simile or it — metaphor!
Sumner: Yeah, it’s more of a metaphor than a simile.
Morris: Because you wouldn’t actually push the car.
For the next album, you’ve recently been hinting towards a more electronic effort.
Sumner: Yeah, well, probably because the past few albums have been pretty much guitar-based. The Bad Lieutenant record and the last two New Order albums — Waiting for the Siren’s Call and Get Ready — were pretty guitar-based. Personally, that was important because I needed a break from electronics. Sometimes you need to get a bit of distance away from something to see it clearly again, you know? So, for me that was one of the reasons…
I mean, “Crystal”, for example, was written as an electronic song first. The first demo was like a house track, and then I made a conscious decision to twist it and make it a guitar song, which worked I think. So, we moved away from electronics because a) we needed a break, b) there’s so many damn genres these days that you don’t know which genre to frame it in, and c) if you write a rock song, you just gotta write a good song.
If you write a dance tune, it’s like, for us, you feel a little like you gotta reinvent dance music in a lot of ways, because we were pioneers, you know? You reach a point where that’s impossible. I mean, look at Kraftwerk for example. But, what I’ve come to realize, really, is just write a good song. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. You can’t, you know? Levi’s never managed this; reinventing jeans did they? They came up with a great idea straight away.
There’s quite an electronic scene out there right now.
Morris: It’s ubiquitous. It’s the same as rock music was nowadays… and any recorded chump… it’s everywhere. It’s kind of a cyclical thing that like, it’s our music that comes in for a bit and then everybody else synthesizes them. But nowadays, everything has got a bit of Kraftwerk in it somewhere. EDM is a very American thing; it’s kind of a big blanket with anything that’s got a synth and a 4/4 beat.
There’s also been a rise in electronic festivals across the world. Are you at least entertained by that?
Morris: Yeah, there’s some interesting people doing it.
Sumner: We played with Hercules and Love Affair in Serbia, and they were really good fun — and they don’t take it too seriously. Obviously Stuart Price, Chemical Brothers, you know…
Morris: I just like anything from DFA. Because I think that kind of blueprint that [James] Murphy did with LCD Soundsystem makes for a happy marriage.
Are these all things you’re keeping in mind for the next effort?
Sumner: Well, we still have to have a meeting where we all sit down and decide how we’re going to write some new music. I think the feeling in the air is we will. I think we’ll probably do the same; we’ll put the hat on the table and go, “I like these tracks. I think we should do something like that” and someone else can put there tracks in – “I like these” – and, you know, take a few influences and go back to school. We were electronic music pioneers, but doing it professionally as we’ve done for 30-35 years kind of kills your passion a little bit for listening to music.
And you can always learn something, especially from young kids that come at it for the first time, because they don’t have the back catalog in their heads that you’ve got. They’ve got a different back catalog and for them, everything’s new and fresh and they hear it in a different way. I remember being a kid and hearing something in music in a different way to how old people were hearing it. So, it’s important, I think, if we do something close to someone or some people who are interesting.