Editors’ Notes You don’t always know when you’ve made a masterpiece. In April 1979, Joy Division—singer Ian Curtis, bassist Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris, and guitarist Bernard Sumner—convened at Strawberry Studios in Stockport with producer Martin Hannett. Three weeks later, they’d recorded an enormously influential cultural landmark. However, Hook and Sumner in particular were unconvinced. Hannett’s singular, haunting vision for their music was in keeping with the bleak melodrama of Curtis’ lyrics, but some of the punk intensity of their live shows had been lost. “Martin had definitely toned down—or twisted—the rawness into another kind of rawness,” Morris tells Apple Music. “It wasn’t amped up. Martin gave the music a depth and put it in a setting that it was made for. It was just a setting that we'd never imagined our music being in, so it was like, ‘Wurgh, what have you done?’” What they had done was create 10 songs whose frostbitten grandeur, minimalist aesthetic, and unflinching introspection continue to manifest themselves in literature and cinema and on catwalks as well as countless dark-souled indie, synth-pop, and goth bands. To get there, Hannett’s eccentric methods included messing with the studio heating so that the band regularly suffered extreme temperatures and ordering Morris to completely disassemble his drum kit and play the parts separately. Here, Morris takes us track by track through a process of isolation, very few choruses, and an experiment that almost destroyed the studio in a fireball.
“Disorder” “Quite a frantic song. The three songs that should never be played together are ‘Disorder,’ ‘Interzone,’ and ‘Transmission’ because I collapse at the end. So of course that happened quite a lot. I really liked the lyrics. Going in the studio was really the first time that we'd been able to hear them properly. Before then, the only bit that I was certain about was the spirit/feeling bit [‘I’ve got the spirit but lose the feeling’].”
“Day of the Lords” “I always think of ‘Day of the Lords’ and ‘I Remember Nothing’ as a pair. They've both got that iciness, but they're both nail-you-to-the-wall numbers. We did it in an afternoon probably. We were doing it in isolation, cut off from the rest of the Manchester music scene. We had this nobody-would-give-us-a-gig thing, so we were just stuck in the rehearsal room, writing songs: ‘Well, this will show them—we'll write the best song ever.’ We certainly didn't think that what we were doing was going to be something that would stand out 40 years later, at all.”
“Candidate” “This was made up pretty much on the spot. We were sound-checking the drums and bass, jamming with Hooky, and Martin recorded it. Ian went away and wrote the words pretty quickly. He got ideas from films and TV as well as books. I can't remember what the film was, it might have been The Manchurian Candidate—there's someone in that who gets assassinated. I think that's where the title came from.”
“Insight” “This has my first drum synthesizer sound. I discovered that if you turned the filter knob right up, you could turn it into the sound of a Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper laser battle, which was always a highlight live. I didn't understand that the volume increased exponentially as you turned the knob up, so when we did the break, it was deafeningly loud. It’s another typical Joy Division song in that it doesn't really have a chorus. It’s just two moods—it goes from quite reflective to very, very sort of angry, then back to being reflective. Ian’s lyrics are absolutely perfect. We knew this one definitely didn't sound like anything else, and again, it just arrived one Sunday afternoon.”
“New Dawn Fades” “I remember thinking, ‘Oh god, this is really, really fantastic.’ And then, yeah… Martin accidentally erased the cymbals. I am absolutely amazed at how the album still sounds modern. We were very interested in the future, but we weren't aware that what we were doing was something that would end up there.”
“She’s Lost Control” “The version on Unknown Pleasures is pretty much the same as we'd been doing it live, but after that we got taken with the idea of a 12-inch disco remix. In order to embellish the drum synth rhythm on it, Martin sent me into the tiny vocal booth to spray tape head cleaner in time to the drums. I think we went through two tins in half an hour. I should really have noticed the picture of the flames on the side of the can—it was highly inflammable. When we'd finished, I was going to light a cigarette, but fortunately [manager] Rob Gretton had run off with my lighter. Otherwise the whole thing would have just gone bang.”
“Shadowplay” “This always reminded me of ‘Ocean,’ the Velvet Underground/Lou Reed song. Ian's lyrics are fantastic, a science fiction landscape thing. I remember listening to it for the first time, you could see this place, like out of a J.G. Ballard book. I’ve always played it exactly the same, because it's just like a reflex action, a muscle memory thing. But the other day I sat down and tried to work out what the hell I was playing, and it's like... God, you would never really play that. It was just a reaction to what everybody else was playing, and when I tried to analyze it, I just got lost.”
“Wilderness” “The stop-start-y one. I can remember Ian going on about an old ’60s black-and-white film about pirates who get marooned in the Sargasso Sea and cross the ocean with balloons on their feet… This sounds like I'm making this up, like some sort of psychedelic nightmare I once had. It was the idea that these people were just sort of stranded somewhere, and I think Ian got some lyrical inspiration from it. It's a very peculiar song, very unusual rhythmically: I had one more drum than was strictly necessary for a drum kit, and I couldn't figure what to do with it, so I wrote a pattern using this drum which otherwise would never get hit.”
“Interzone” “We all wanted to do something that was a bit like ‘The Murder Mystery’ on the third Velvet Underground album. Two lots of vocals going on; one's on one side and one's on the other side of the stereo. Ian wrote two lots of lyrics for it. He's singing one and Hooky's singing the other. In the end, when Ian's epilepsy became really bad, ‘Interzone’ became the song that we had to do because Ian couldn't sing anymore, Hooky could sing it.”
“I Remember Nothing” “This was probably the biggest step that we took on our own into technology. Bernard had brought the Transcendent kit synthesizer, which he made himself, and Rob and Ian had this idea that we should do this jam—unimaginatively called ‘The Synthesizer One’—at the end of the [live] set. It’s a brooding thing, it's malevolence in a tune. It was the beginning of Ian turning into a singer/guitarist, because when we did it live, Bernard would have to play the synth. Ian wouldn't go near the synth: He was frightened he’d break it.”
Day of the Lords
New Dawn Fades
She's Lost Control
I Remember Nothing
10 Songs, 39 Minutes
June 15, 1979
℗ 2007 London Records 90 Ltd.
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