Fine Time – New Order’s Bernard Sumner on the new tour, new album, and what Blue Monday is really about

Kevin Cummins photo
Kevin Cummins photo

Traditionally you’d take a year or two to write and record an album, then you’d go on tour,” says New Order’s lead singer Bernard Sumner with his soft Mancunian accent. “But things are working differently in the music business these days. The new idea is that we’re going to play concerts in small bursts, like nine dates, then go back and write a bit, and then play another nine concerts. Just so we don’t disappear off the face of the earth for long.”

New Order (along with opening act Johnny Marr) come to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday, but the announcement of this date was indeed a surprise. Following a rancorous split with founding bass player Peter Hook, the band really hasn’t released an album since 2005’s “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” and the 2011 mop-up B-sides release “Lost Sirens.” But no, here they are again.

Nabihah Hashim photo
Nabihah Hashim photo
Keyboardist Gillian Gilbert is back after a break — family and health issues — and Phil Cunningham, Mr. Hook’s replacement, is pretty much an official songwriting member. There’s new material, and for those who think that the last couple of albums had way too much guitar, the new upcoming album will be more electronic like their classic days.

“That’s what we’re thinking now,” Mr. Sumner says. “But as soon as you make a plan in music it changes.”

New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division after singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. Still signed to Factory records, the group continued in a more electronic direction that the British music press didn’t really like at first. They saw Mr. Sumner as a Curtis wannabe. But that changed when the group came back from a trip to New York City. Their heads filled with the sound of early hip-hop, electronica, Krautrock, and the mash of styles played in clubs in the city, they released the 7?-minute-long “Blue Monday” as a 12-inch. The rest, as they say, is history and/or the 1980s.

“After Ian died we were very down and unsure of our future,” Mr. Sumner says. “We started releasing stuff, and instead of a helping hand from the press we got nailed by them. We were struggling to find a direction … I didn’t want to be some Ian Curtis impersonator …. Don’t take the lyrics too literally, but in essence ‘Blue Monday’ was kind of a ‘f*** you’ record. John Lydon said, ‘Anger is an energy,’ and it was true.”

Mr. Sumner grew up in the working-class section of Manchester known as Salford.

“I didn’t feel poor in any way,” he says. “We didn’t have any heating in the house. But, in terms of community spirit, we were very rich,” he says. “I had a lot of fun living where I grew up.” That whole block was torn down, the families dispersed, and now warehouses stand on his childhood home spot. Things are worse now: when he drove past the spot recently, he saw thieves unbolting the aluminum sidings of the warehouse to sell on the black market.

Mr. Sumner still lives in Manchester, as do drummer Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, who are married. Mr. Morris, Mr. Sumner says, collects tanks, and has them scattered over his property. Even though Mr. Morris lives eight miles away from Mr. Sumner, the two are close.

“One of the tank barrels is pointed directly at my house,” Mr. Sumner says. “He’s worked out the elevation, what kind of shell he needs. We get on really well though.”

New Order with Johnny Marr
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas
Cost: $48.50-$78.50
Information: 962-7411 or www.sbbowl.com

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