an interview w/ New Order’s Gillian Gilbert on rejoining the band, the new LP, Mute Records, touring & more
by Bill Pearis
details of a NYC new album listening party are also below…
New Order‘s Music Complete is out September 25 and it marks a number of firsts. It’s the first album without bassist Peter Hook, and their first for new label, Mute Records. It’s also the first album in 14 years to feature original member Gillian Gilbert. Married to drummer Stephen Morris (they have made music together as The Other Two), Gilbert dropped out of the band during the making of 2001’s Get Ready to care for their daughter. When the band, minus Hook (who acrimoniously left the band in the late-’00s), reformed for benefit gigs in 2011, Gilbert rejoined. (That lineup toured North America in 2013.) Her return also marks a return to the dancefloor for New Order, as Music Complete is loaded with the sparking synthpop that marked some of their best-loved songs. At 65 minutes, it’s also their longest studio album to date.
Mute has kept a tight lid on Music Complete, save for first single “Restless,” but folks in NYC can hear it a day early at a listening party on September 24 at Donna. In addition to playing the album in full, you can buy the vinyl that night and there will be New Order-themed cocktails. It’s free (21+) but capacity is limited.
Taking time out from band rehearsals at her and Morris’farmhouse/studio in Cheshire, Gillian Gilbert talked to us about being back in New Order, tour plans, the band’s songwriting process, why “you can’t beat a bit of cheese” and lots more.
BV: So what are you up to today? All interviews like this?
Gillian: No, we’re at our home, rehearsing in our studio all day. We just finished, so winding down now.
How are the rehearsals going?
They’re going very well! We just started this week because we’ve got a live radio show that we’re doing for the BBC. That’s in three weeks. We’ve not played together for a year, so it’s pretty strange learning everything again. It’s like, “Oh my god…” [Laughs].
Not only relearning old songs but trying to figure out how to play your new songs live.
I know, yeah. We’ve got three favorites so we’re trying to learn those. It’s going down OK.
Gilbert on New Order’s Low-Life sleeve
Which three new songs are you doing?
We’re doing “Restless,” “People on the Highline” and “Tutti Fruiti.” And also “Singularity” and “Plastic” which are on the album but we were performing on our last tour. Still pretty new though.
To my ears, “Tutti Fruiti” is the “hit” on the album. It would be my pick for next single.
Funnily enough…[laughs] I think that’s everybody’s favorite. It’s very tongue-in-cheek. It’s quite funny.
Is that Bernard pulling out his Barry White impersonation again, like he did on Technique?
He did his Barry White on “Fine Time,” didn’t he, but no this is an actual person that is doing that on “Tutti Fruiti.” It was somebody that Tom Rowland knew from Chemical Brothers. He got hold of the track and Bernard said “Oh wouldn’t it be good if we had somebody speaking Italian on it.” So Tom got this guy he knew. He played it for us and it was so good that we kept it on the record. We don’t know who he is, I will be quite interested to see him.
I have to admit that the opening of the song, the way the bassline is, it reminded me of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.”
Oh, I know. I know. [laughs] We were thinking of making some of those t-shirts made. No, a bit of cheese, though. You can’t beat a bit of cheese.
So you’re been back in the band now for about four years. Is it like you never left?
No it feels like it was a long time ago. But it’s quite fun to do, though. Compared to the end of New Order, certainly when I left, this is quite refreshing. Everybody seems to be adult about this new lineup. We’re doing everything in sort of small chunks. When we started up again we didn’t know how how people would respond to it. We did those benefit gigs in 2011, we just wanted to see how we’d gel. With Hooky leaving, it left a big hole, really. But it’s been really exciting and quite liberating. When we toured in 2013 we didn’t have a new album, we didn’t have anything to promote. It was a bit like starting again. Now we’ve got a new record label..things have changed. It wasn’t like going back to the old New Order. I think it was time to come back. I certainly did miss it. I’ve been doing a lot of other things, but not sort-of band stuff. It’s been fun going back to concentrating on music and the band.
When I saw the Brooklyn show in 2013, you all seemed to be having more fun that when I saw New Order at Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006, which wasn’t with you, but you know what I mean.
I really didn’t know a lot about what went on with Hooky, I’ve since watched past shows and Bernard had said to me he wasn’t very nice onstage. The atmosphere wasn’t very good. But I think you can tell when you look at all of us, it’s quite a different atmosphere in the band, now.
The other big change, I assume, is technology which is very different, even since Get Ready . I assume that has changed the way you write and record.
I think that’s got a lot to do with it. Our own little studios have evolved and we don’t have to go away to a big studio anymore. I remember when we were doing Get Ready, I started off still being in the band for that one, and then my daughter was starting school in September. The rest of them said they were going to this studio to do all the drums and everything else properly, and I really didn’t want to go. But it’s all changed now. We’ve done a lot of this album in our own studio because technology’s so much better. Plug-ins, all that stuff. We’ve done a lot of things in-house which you couldn’t do before. That gives you a bit more freedom to try different things. I remember in early New Order, when you got a new synth or a new sequencer you stretched it to the limit, finding out how it works, and songs were created around that. I think it’s gone a bit like that, really. Barney can take it home to his studio and work on the lyrics and vocals, and then he can bring it over to our studio and we can work on the music more. There’s a lot of that going on. That didn’t really happen before in New Order. We tended to jam a lot. Now you can take it home, think about it, change chords, and present what you’ve done. I think it was Tom Rowland who got us all together, working like that. Because me and him had never worked together, so it was nice having him around at the start of the LP. “Singularity” he wrote with us and we really liked that track. There was also “Unlearn This Hatred” which he and Bernard had already started working on, they had the lyrics and vocals. Stephen and I took it home, changed the music around and we had a couple of soundtrack ideas. It was more interesting working on it that way, everybody brought something to it. All these little pockets of ideas that all came together.
You reworked some of your old songs when your toured in 2013
We don’t want to be dead retro and just play the oldies. We wanted to see if we could do something new. Fans know when you’re just regurgitating stuff. We also had these remixes that Stuart Price did, some old songs, and we incorporated those arrangements live. It was really refreshing to play someone else’s perspective on the songs. We’d like to do more of that when we start to tour this time.
So that was Stuart Price’s arrangement of “586” you played in Brooklyn?
Yeah. And it was his idea to open the show with “Elegia,” and have me walking on — it just created a really nice atmosphere. It was an unexpected start to the show.
New Order – “Thieves Like Us” live 1984
Are there any songs that never make the New Order setlist that you really wish would?
Yeah, there are always are. We tried doing “Thieves Like Us” because I really like that one, but it’s the key that’s the killer really. Bernard has a lot of singing to do, and in the old days it was no problem to go from one octave to the next. He doesn’t really do that now. I know it sounds a bit restrained. I’d love to revisit Movement. At the time it was kind of put on the shelf but I think it sounds quite good nowadays. “Procession” I’ve always liked. We’re trying to drag a few more out [laughs].
I am always hoping to hear “Dream Attack” which ends Technique.
Oh yes, I love that one as well. We played a lot of that in the ’80s and early ’90s. I don’t think Bernard likes that song very much, though. “It hasn’t got a chorus!” and I say “So?” The rest of the band like that one though. I’ll try and push for it.
I would like to talk a little more about songwriting. There’s a mystique around New Order, I was never really sure who wrote what or how. So I was wondering if you could give me an example of where a New Order song started with you.
In the very early days, we used to just jam a lot. But then Bernard got into sequencers and came up with a few basslines. I joined and I didn’t know how to write songs, and it was completely mesmerizing to see the other three jam and record everything. We would record everything on a really cheap two-track so when you listened back it wasn’t a pure sound, you couldn’t really differentiate between instruments. It was just like a general sound that suggested notes but made you think “oh I’ll do that.” I remember doing the bassline to “Age of Consent” — it was only two notes but you think “Yeaahhhh!” I was so proud of those two notes! Bernard and Stephen were really into the technology and I used to play stuff that Bernard told me to play because there wasn’t a sequencer that could do that many tracks. So I had to learn how to play precisely by pretending to be a sequencer, which was a feat in itself. There’s not that many people that can do that.
You were the human sequencer and Stephen was the human drum machine.
It really was like that in the early days. As technology gets better you can do more things but I still think if you have one really good idea, two notes can spin everything off. For example on “Restless” on the new album. We did the intro on the piano and then Phil and Tom just did the rest, completely, in about ten minutes. So we just said, let’s put that bit there and that bit there, and then showed it to Bernard. He loved it and did the vocal. We changed a few things around but that was a pretty quick thing. We originally had that intro for “Unlearn This Hatred” but it didn’t quite fit. I always like starting off with a chord pattern, though sometimes they end up getting lost and something new gets put on top.
New Order – “Restless”
In the years you weren’t in New Order were you still writing song ideas and saving them?
Stephen and I have done a fair bit of soundtrack work, which is nice as you aren’t trying to write songs, you’re trying to please the director and fit the mood. So you can pretend to be someone else. We did music for a one-off Cracker mystery in 2006 that was all filmed in Manchester, it was like a feature-length film. In the temp track was a Kasabian song. So at first we tried to copy the Kasabian riff, but it was impossible because there are hundreds of guitars, so we just came up with our own little piece of music that had a similar feel. For these things, you work really quick and don’t have time to think about it. So we have all these “themes” we collect. So when we did The Other Two, we just just took those themes and tried turning them into songs. And that’s how “Stray Dog,” which is the song Iggy Pop does the spoken word piece on, came to be. It didn’t change too much from the theme we had made. It’s good because it gives you a different vibe. That’s not the kind of thing you’d normally come up with if you were sat with a computer. Because we’d done it to pictures, you take it out of that and you’re left with the atmosphere.
New Order is touring Europe in November (dates below) — when are you planning to come back to North America?
We haven’t planned it all out yet but sometime in 2016. We wanted to tour before Christmas but stay close to home. Look for us next year.
And finally, what do you think Tony Wilson would’ve thought of New Order signing to Mute, which was surely a rival label back in the ’80s.
I think he’d absolutely love it. It was really a nod to him, choosing Mute. They were just like Factory, but very successful. [Laughs] I know, that’s really bad to say, but I think that’s what Tony was trying to do. He wanted a successful independent label. I really do think he would have loved it. And our manager, Rob Gretton, would have loved it too.
here’s a new RAC remix of “Restless”…
and those November tour dates….
New Order — 2015 Tour Dates
4 Nov – Paris, Casino de Paris – SOLD OUT
6 Nov – Brussels, Ancienne Belgique – SOLD OUT
8 Nov – Stockholm, Annexet
11 Nov – Berlin, Tempodrom
16 Nov – London, Brixton Academy – SOLD OUT
17 Nov – London, Brixton Academy
19 Nov – Glasgow, Academy
21 Nov – Liverpool, Olympia – SOLD OUT
24 Nov – Wolverhampton, Civic Hall
5 Dec – Manchester, Warehouse Project – SOLD OUT
6 Dec – Manchester, Warehouse Project – SOLD OUT