HE’S well-known for taking his time, but with age comes wisdom, says New Order’s frontman Bernard Sumner. Andy Welsh discovers how the band’s 10th album finally came to fruition
Bernard Sumner is feeling “great” - not that he’s entirely comfortable with that.
“I’m suspiciously all right,” he explains. “If nothing’s gone wrong, I get suspicious.”
It’s little wonder he’s feeling so good, however. The band he formed with Gillian Gilbert and former Joy Division bandmates Peter Hook and Stephen Morris in 1980 have just released one of their very best albums.
Music Complete was a few years coming. While there has been a live album and a collection of B-sides, the band’s last studio album, Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, was released in 2005.
But good things come to those who wait, and Sumner famously won’t rush anything.
Back in December ‘14, he talked about how the album was likely to just miss its spring deadline (it was eventually released on September 25).
“You’re going to ask what I’ve been doing all this time?” he says today. “Well, in the years since the last New Order album, I’ve done a Bad Lieutenant record [his side project with Phil Cunningham and Jake Evans], and I wrote an autobiography [Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division And Me, published last year], then I got busy with New Order.
“And there was Lollapalooza, some one-off dates here and there, a North American tour, and basically, we’re busier now than we ever have been.”
Where work is concerned, he advises a bit of caution too, emphasising the importance of balance.
“You have to find balance. Whenever I start feeling stressed, or not feeling myself, it’s about balance, and it means I need to find it again,” he continues. “That could be down to doing too much that involves my mind and not my body. If I work on music, it’ll be for 10 hours a day, so sometimes I’ll feel stressed and I’ll go for a two-hour walk. That sorts me out.”
He’s also stopped drinking while on tour, which has stopped the large hangovers that used to plague his time on the road.
“With age comes wisdom... I still like a drink, but I can’t do it as I once did any more,” says the Salford-born 59-year-old, adding that he’ll have a glass of wine or two while writing lyrics for New Order songs, something that tends to be an evening activity.
“I start about 6pm and go ‘til about 1am. That’s when I have all my ideas, and writing the vocals can make or break a track, so I like some wine while I’m doing it.”
He’s not a morning person, he admits, getting up around 9.30am and spending the first two hours of the day writing emails. Perhaps another reason Music Complete wasn’t released sooner?
“Maybe, but I have to be inspired in order to write. But saying that, we did actually have too many ideas for this new album. Daniel, the boss at our record label [Mute], said there was too much music.
“It’s not that we’re extraordinarily clever, but we’ve been touring for the last three-and-a-half years, so we’ve been on the starting block and ready to go. Touring is not creative, but it’s reproducing something you’ve already written.”
This time around, there’s no Peter Hook, however. He left in 2007, and he and Sumner have taken small potshots at each other in the press ever since. It seems Sumner’s over that now, and it’s not something he really wants to get into again.
The resulting album certainly sounds free from any constraint, and devoid of the sort of tension that had reportedly built up in the camp prior to Hook’s departure.
Less about who isn’t on the album, though. Someone who does appear is La Roux’s Elly Jackson, who sounds especially good on People On The High Line, singing lower than her normal vocal range, and The Killers’ Brandon Flowers shows up on final track, Superheated.
“He’s hard to pin down, Brandon,” notes Sumner. “He’s constantly busy; in the studio in Vegas or on tour, but he was playing here in Manchester in June, so I got up on stage to do Bizarre Love Triangle with him. I’ve known him a long time now and he’s a friend.”
Flowers has, for as long as anyone has listened, talked about how much he loves New Order and Sumner’s production work, while his band’s name - The Killers - is in fact taken from the fictional band that appear in the video for New Order’s song, Crystal.
Another standout on Music Complete could sound very different, if things had worked out as Sumner had intended. At first, he’d asked Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowland to produce a version of Tutti Frutti, while he worked on another - the idea was that they’d put the version they liked best on the album, but it didn’t quite go to plan. Sumner hopes both versions will see the light of day at some point, but says he’ll worry about that when their upcoming tour is out of the way.
“We don’t want to agree to anything else until we’ve done a few gigs,” he says. “If you agree to things and you get it wrong, the schedule becomes too punishing, so I’m cautious. It sounds like I’m being lazy but I’m not, I’m sensible.
“If you enjoy something, you’ll do it for the rest of your life. And I am so incredibly lucky to do what I do for a living, and I want to keep it as a job for life. There aren’t many of them.”
:: New Order’s 10th album Music Complete is available now. They begin a UK tour on November 16. For details, see www.neworder.com
NEW ORDER FACTS
• New Order formed in 1980 following the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. The band consisted of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris (who were members of Joy Division), and Gillian Gilbert.
• Sumner and Hook both embarked on other projects, as did husband and wife Morris and Gilbert, who released two albums as The Other Two.
• On their forthcoming tour, New Order will be supported by Manchester four-piece Hot Vestry, featuring Gilbert and Morris’ daughter Matilda.
• In 1988, Sumner formed Electronic with Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths. They released three albums between 1991 and 1998 and are best known for their single Getting Away With It, which features Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.
• John Simm played Bernard Sumner in 2002 Tony Wilson biopic 24 Hour Party People, while James Anthony Pearson played him in Anton Corbijn’s Control, which told the story of Ian Curtis.