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Bad Lieutenant is eternal adolescence for Bernard Sumner

Veteran of Joy Division and New Order relishes his new role in Bad Lieutenant
BAD LIEUTENANT is comprised of (from left) Bernard Sumner, Jake Evans and Phil Cunningham. Photo courtesy Joel Chester Fildes

BAD LIEUTENANT is comprised of (from left) Bernard Sumner, Jake Evans and Phil Cunningham. Photo courtesy Joel Chester Fildes

By Peter Lindblad

Not every studio is Abbey Road, and New Order co-founder Bernard Sumner, now playing guitar and singing with Bad Lieutenant, has plied his trade in some real dumps.

“I remember playing a rehearsal studio with New Order that had rats in it,” recalls Sumner.

As far as Sumner knows, the home studio of his Bad Lieutenant band mate, Jake Evans, is free of vermin. That’s a plus. But the facility does present its own unique set of challenges, ones Bad Lieutenant had to overcome while recording parts of their fall 2009 album “Never Cry Another Tear.”

“The control room is a reasonably sized control room, but the only way to describe it is, it’s shaped like a coffin,” says Sumner. “You put the speakers at one end, which is not ideal. It has all the ambiance of a Gestapo interrogation room. There’s a light bulb hanging off the ceiling. There are no chairs in there.”

Though spotless, perhaps even antiseptic, the studio’s Spartan atmosphere offers little inspiration for creative types like Sumner. The other distractions, including a karate studio upstairs, made it even tougher for Bad Lieutenant to get anything done.

“The studio is typical of Jake’s organization skills,” jokes Sumner, who seems to take real pleasure in busting his band mate’s chops. “The studio is good, clean. That’s the only good thing about it. Like most musicians, Jake gets to work late. He starts about 1 p.m. Then school gets out, and karate class starts about 4 p.m. And then, about 4:30 p.m., there’s a heavy-metal drummer, and he’s got a tribute band in the next room playing away.”

If that was the only studio Bad Lieutenant had access to, “Never Cry Another Tear” might never have reached the finish line. But Sumner, Evans and Phil Cunningham, part of the last incarnation of New Order, and Sumner’s former Joy Division band mate, drummer Stephen Morris, plus bassist Tom Chapman, didn’t spend all their time at Evans’ studio.

True DIY vagabonds, Bad Lieutenant pieced “Never Cry Another Tear” in various home studios. And those familiar with New Order will hear echoes of Sumner’s other band in Bad Lieutenant, the pristine, with streamlined guitar parts that Sumner is famous for at front and center, along with his earnest vocals.

That doesn’t mean Sumner dominates the proceedings. Along with sharing vocals with Evans, Sumner shares guitar duties with Cunningham and Evans, and their melodic, hook-filled parts are woven together to cast a magical spell of sparklingly danceable, New-Wave rock brimming with romance and ennui.

Some have wondered when Sumner might embark on a solo project. This is not it. Bad Lieutenant is a product of various points of view and contributions from all involved, including Blur’s Alex James. In fact, Bad Lieutenant would conduct three-day studio sessions to get everyone together to write.

“It was very much a band thing,” says Sumner. “Everyone chipped in. It’s been said to me, ‘Are you going to make a solo album?’ But it should be fun. I enjoy working with people if they’re the right people. You get better results with three brains and three sets of tastes.”

Still, it took time for all the parts of Bad Lieutenant to come together. The first four months, according to Sumner, were spent trying to get to know everyone, even though Sumner knew Cunningham from New Order and James “ … is a long-standing friend of mine,” says Sumner.

As for Evans, he was a bit of a wild card. Hailing from Macclesfield in the U.K., a place where Morris and tragic hero Ian Curtis met to plot out Joy Division’s Dark Wave revolution, Evans leads the upstart U.K. combo Rambo And Leroy. He’s also a friend of Cunningham’s. Sumner first heard him sing and play a Neil Young song at a birthday party. Then, Rambo And Leroy supported New Order at the band’s last gig, and for Evans, a big New Order fan, that led to a part in Sumner’s new project.

“Yeah, we met at a friend’s birthday party,” recalls Sumner. “A guy was playing acoustic guitar, and Jake, not being very organized, had not brought a present. He claims he was on the dole, which is partially true, but instead of a present, he would play a song. It was ‘Like A Hurricane’ or something, and when he did it, I thought, ‘The guy’s got a lot of balls to get up in a crowded restaurant and do it note-perfect.’”

NEW ORDER (circa 1989), which formed from the ashes of Joy Division, put Bernard Sumner in the spotlight as lead singer. Photo courtesy Andrew Catlin/courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

NEW ORDER (circa 1989), which formed from the ashes of Joy Division, put Bernard Sumner in the spotlight as lead singer. Photo courtesy Andrew Catlin/courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

Bad Lieutenant began rehearsing at James’ British home, and James wound up playing on some of the “Never Cry Another Tear” tracks. But people who heard of James hooking up with Sumner would be sorely disappointed when they found out that Bad Lieutenant was not going to be a Blur/New Order supergroup.

On the new album, Sumner is particularly pleased with how the song “Sink Or Swim” turned out. “It’s so simple. No overdubs whatsoever,” he says.

Much of “Never Cry Another Tear” sounds just as effortless. And soon America will get to hear Bad Lieutenant live on a tour that was supposed to happen last fall.

“That was an administrative error,” says Sumner. “Someone made a boo-boo with the visas.”

Of course, the set list will be made up of Bad Lieutenant material. However, this tour will also offer a Sumner retrospective of sorts, as Bad Lieutenant plans on playing songs from Joy Division, New Order and other one-offs Sumner has done with other groups. “Which is really the first time I’ll ever have played them live,” he says.

Talking about the set list, Sumner adds, “We’ve spent a lot of time putting it together, gluing it together. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing involved. Jake just wanted to play Bad Lieutenant songs, but people want to hear the old stuff.”

What about the Joy Division songs? Hearing Sumner play them again will certainly bring back a lot of memories, including Curtis’ suicide, which brought Joy Division to an end.

“I dropped {Joy Division songs] when Ian died, and for 10 years I didn’t play any Joy Division songs,” says Sumner. “The decision [to play them again] is ethical. Jake’s enjoying it. It’s his first time on tour, and it’s nice seeing it through his eyes. He loves playing live. They’re a good bunch of guys to be with. I enjoy playing with those guys more than I’ve enjoying playing with anybody in a long time, which is what it’s about. If it became a job, I wouldn’t like doing it. Being in a band is like eternal adolescence. I don’t want to be 95 and buy a house and cut the grass. In my head, I do feel that eternal adolescence.”