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Q&A: Bernard Sumner (Part 3)

By Lauren Barbato on December 23, 2009


Q&A: Bernard Sumner (Part 3)

When you come from bands like Joy Division and New Order, it's kind of a big deal when you release a new record. Fortunately for nostalgia post-punkers, Bernard Sumner, the founding members of both highly influential bands, doesn't seem to be letting up when it comes to creating fresh music. Although Sumner's current project, Bad Lieutenant, which features Phil Cunningham of New Order and Jake Evans of Rambo and Leroy as its primary members, is an unexpected departure from his musical resume, no one seems to be complaining. Bad Lieutenant, which released it's debut album (Never Cry Another Tear) on Oct. 5, has been touring throughout Europe for the past couple of months, and are currently scheduling its first North American tour for next April. 

For the last two days, Sumner discussed with FILTER the formation of Bad Lieutenant and his love-hate relationship with electronic music. Here, Sumner opens up about coping with the trials—both professional and creative—that are inevitable when you're a musician. 


Do you feel that now as an established musician you have more creative freedom when it comes to your work? Or do you feel like you had more creative freedom when you were first starting out?


Bernard Sumner: That’s an interesting question. I think back in the day I had more creative freedom. Well, I suppose, technically, I have more creative freedom now. But when you first start out as a musician, you really don’t know what you’re doing, so you’ve got a blank canvas. As you get older as a musician, you’ve got all these experiences and memories and a stock pile of music going around in your head and you’ve written all these [songs]. I must have written, like, I don’t know in total with all the bands I’ve been in, but it’s probably around 500 songs. So you haven’t gotten that blank canvas; you’ve got musical memory. In a way, that makes it more difficult because you got a lot of history that gets in the way. There’s not much you can do about that, really. 


As a musician, I know all the chords on the guitar, but on the keyboard, I’ve purposefully not learned them. On a keyboard, I play by ear and that really works because it means that whenever I write a track on the keyboard, I don’t know what I’m doing—it’s like being 21 again. I don’t know what I’m doing, I just know what sounds good. So there’s something to be said about keeping as much naiveté in music. I mean, that’s not true for everybody, but that works for me because as a naive musician that can’t play that well, I’d probably do less with my hands and more with my brain and my imagination—that’s the secret of what works for me. 


So you never formally trained to play the keyboard.


Purposefully, yeah. I could sit there for hours and learn it, but I wouldn’t achieve anything. That keeps it fresh for me.


In an interview you conducted last summer, you said, “When I make music these days, I want it to be fun, nice and enjoyable.” Has that been the experience so far with Bad Lieutenant?


[Laughs] Well, it was at the start, yes. The problem is the creative bit is the part that’s enjoyable, and hanging out with the guys in the studio. But there comes a point where it becomes just work—where you’re just working really hard. Like in rehearsals, where you got to interpret songs to play live and you’re going through the set and it takes you seven hours to go through the set because you have so many problems with it. Or you’re doing a lot of traveling and you’re tired. And then you’re [talking to] 15 journalists a day and you’re doing 15 interviews and you’re just brain dead. It’s unavoidable. It gets to a point where it gets tough, you know. I think that tends to be when the record first comes out, and then it eases up after that.


The secret is is to find a balance. What I actually enjoy is making the record, writing the music. I like starting with nothing and then ending with something I’m really proud of and that people will like. And I like playing the gig, playing the concert, being onstage, playing the set. I like to get behind what music is about. But, you know, everything in life can’t be exactly how you want it, can it? So long as things are well planned and well balanced, I’m cool about it and I’ll enjoy it.

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