There are everyday interviews with artists and then there are interviews which feel like milestones in the life of a publication. When Tone Deaf received the exclusive Australian opportunity to speak with Bernard Sumner, founding member and guitarist for Joy Division and then guitarist and vocalist for New Order we were pinching ourselves wondering if it was real. Tone Deaf ‘s editor Jim Murray tried to play it cool during an epic one hour conversation with Sumner as he discussed Joy Division front man Ian Curtis’ suicide, the nasty fallout from the dissolution of New Order and the release of the new compilation Total – The Best of New Order & Joy Division. Here’s part one of our interview.
After a few failed attempts to connect Sumner by the operator, then a call from a record company publicist in London who is desperately trying to track Sumner down, suddenly the phone rings again and Sumner’s Mancunian drawl is apologising for the summer cold afflicting him. “I’ve got a bit of a cough I’m afraid,” he explains dolefully.
He reveals that he’s in a studio, taking a break from recording a new project and pondering completing the new Bad Lieutenant album, his current music project with former Joy Division and New Order band mate Stephen Morris.
“I’m in Manchester, in a recording studio. Just the south of Manchester actually. I’m finishing off this album all week. Still a bit more to do next week. And I’m working on the next ‘Bad Lieutenant’ album which is a bit over half way through.”
He reveals that he’s just about to get to work on the lyrics for the new Bad Lieutenant long player, and that he’s also making good progress on the music. “Well yes, it’s just over half way through, except for the lyrics. But it’s building up and I just need to get into lyric mode as soon as this promotions done and get a shitload of lyrics. I should really look involved.”
Asked if that was always the process with New Order’s song writing that the lyrics came last, Sumner confirms this was always the case. “Yeah it’s same with Bad Lieutenant and collaborations. I think you need something to fire you up. You need an inspiring track; a hot piece of music to create an atmosphere in which to write lyrics. You also need something to hang a melody on. So a nice bit of music to ‘inspire ya’. The music is the fun bit for me anyway. You know, the bit before the solitary bit. Writing lyrics is a bit like book writing, it’s a solitary profession. There’s no other way to do it, you sit in a room and sweat it out. Actually you know these days, when I get a good vocal line and lyrics, I enjoy it but it’s really hard work. There’s no two ways about it. And I really don’t like hard work…” he says slyly.
Discussing his lyric writing process (and let’s face it sometimes the rhymes New Order songs utilised were, well, ‘unique’ Sumner says “Well I have a computer with two screens. One with the music on it and a multi-track program, the other with a word processor. That way you can re-arrange the instrumentation and put a lead vocal down while writing lyrics.” Discussing an interview Nick Cave gave some years ago where he revealed that the dark prince of music wrote all his lyrics on a computer, Sumner is happy to confess that he’s got both his feet firmly planted in the same camp. “Yeah, it’s the same thing isn’t it really? Pressing keys instead of twiddling a piece of plastic around. I mean, it’s a means to an end. I just got so used to using computers over the years. We used computers very early on; as soon as they were available in New Order, we were always pretty tactiled up. We used the very very first Apple computer ever produced to make music with. As soon as it became available. We’ve used computers ever since. We’ve got used to them over the years.“