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True Faith: The Story Behind New Order’s Career-Changing Song
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In Depth

True Faith: The Story Behind New Order’s Career-Changing Song

Recording under pressure with an unfamiliar producer, New Order took some risks with True Faith, but they yielded substantial rewards.

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After parting ways with producer Martin Hannett following the release of their debut album, Movement, New Order largely oversaw the production of their own records during the 80s. Yet, while some of the best New Order albums, including landmark titles such as Power, Corruption & Lies and Low-Life were self-produced by the band, with help from engineer Michael Johnson, New Order weren’t averse to collaborative projects. Their sixth single, Confusion, came from a link-up with New York City-based producer Arthur Baker, while fellow New Yorker John Robie radically remixed Shellshock for 1986’s Pretty In Pink film soundtrack. However, it was New Order’s third tie-in with an influential US-based producer which resulted in one of their most iconic songs, True Faith.

Listen to the best of New Order here.

The backstory: “Everyone seemed to like what Stephen had done with Pet Shop Boys”

The man in question, Stephen Hague, was a native of Maine, on the US East Coast, but he’d initially made his name as a Los Angeles-based session musician, appearing on recordings by artists as disparate as Suicide, The Cars’ Ric Ocasek and country legend Dolly Parton. However, Hague really made his name for his production work with OMD, Malcolm McLaren and on Pet Shop Boys’ debut album, Please, during the mid-80s. He was first linked with New Order when the band’s US label, Warner Music, were keen to add a couple of new tracks to the upcoming singles and remixes collection, Substance 1987, early in 1987.

“Tom [Atencio, New Order’s US manager] had been talking with Malcolm about his next project and the name of fellow American Stephen Hague came up,” New Order’s drummer, Stephen Morris, recalled in his book, Fast Forward: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist: Volume II. “He had produced and co-written [McLaren’s] Madam Butterfly and was McLaren’s recommendation for a prospective producer. Everyone seemed to like what Stephen had done with this modern take on Puccini and the Pet Shop Boys, and despite the ‘Do we really need a producer?’ misgivings, he got the job.”

However, while both parties readily accepted the challenge of working together at London’s Advision Studios, they only had ten days to complete two brand new songs. Not only were band and producer meeting each other for the first time, but the songs they would record – True Faith and 1963 – had only been roughly sketched out before they entered the studio. To realise both tracks’ full potential, New Order had to adapt to a radically different method of working.

The recording: “We had ten days. It was like pulling off a bank job”

“Stephen’s plan was that we would work out a rough arrangement of the two ideas,” Morris explained. “Add some rough chords and then instead of Bernard [Sumner, frontman] adding more musical parts and overdubs, he would do his vocal parts, and then we would add any extra bits that worked around the words, build the track that way. Not the way we usually did things but there was some sense in it, particularly after the Brotherhood overdubbing. Together with Stephen, Bernard worked out the guide parts on the computer, which then got recorded on to a Sony 3324 digital multitrack machine.”

As Morris’ anecdote suggests, the Advision sessions required New Order to accept further integration of technology into their overall sound. Both True Faith and 1963 were written using cutting-edge electronic gear including Akai and Emulator sampling keyboards. Morris, too, largely put his drum kit aside, though his live hi-hat and cymbals were incorporated into both songs’ electronic rhythm tracks.

Working with this new MO, instead of jamming organically on new ideas as they’d done previously, caused some friction in the ranks (“Hooky [Peter Hook wondered if maybe we were missing something by not letting the band rip. It crossed my mind, too,” Hague later admitted). For the most part, though, New Order and their new producer were happy bouncing ideas off each other to see where it took them.

“We didn’t know which one would end up sounding better,” the producer told Sound On Sound in 2005. “But there was a strange kind of confidence settling over the sessions. We never seemed to consider that we might fail. We had exactly ten days to write, record and mix two tracks, the reason being their release schedule. Co-ordinating the European release dates, which at that time were scattered between various companies and various regions, was a bit like pulling off a bank job.”

The lyrics: “He found himself prisoner in the top-floor flat”

Despite the pressure, both songs’ musical backdrops soon coalesced. However, while New Order had decided on a title for the more promising of the two (True Faith, copped from James A Michener’s novel Texas, which Peter Hook was then reading), they still had no lyrics. In the end, Sumner produced the goods after literally getting locked into the band’s flat until the job was done.

As a frontman, Sumner “was inclined to leave the singing and lyrics until the last possible moment”, Stephen Morris wrote in Fast Forward. “This time, as soon as he’d come up with a vocal melody, he found himself prisoner in the top-floor flat we’d rented near Paddington, forced to write words. We only had one key and didn’t trust him with it…

“Saying ‘Write or die!’ is not generally conducive to creativity, [but] it can sometimes work,” the drummer furthered. Returning to find the flat empty of food and drink, and their singer still struggling to finish the task, Morris, Hook, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and manager Rob Gretton stayed up until dawn with Sumner, helping him to complete the lyrics.

From then on, the lush, cinematic True Faith really fell into place. Sumner briskly recorded his vocals in the control room at Advision, while Stephen Hague has freely admitted his admiration for both Peter Hook’s skills as a bassist and Gillian Gilbert’s synth work.

“Hooky would try a lot of ideas, really fearless, and often it was just me and him in the studio,” the producer told Sound On Sound. “The first time, it was a bit scary because I didn’t know what to expect, but he always delivered, and he’d often send the track into areas I never would have thought of.

“Gillian didn’t run ideas by me as we went along,” Hague added. “When it was finally her turn, she had all these fully formed ideas for both tracks. We just got sounds and she recorded them, all hand-played. It was so painless… She’s a real joy to work with.”

The release: “True Faith ended up being a big song for us, no doubt about it”

By the time True Faith was released as a single, on 20 July 1987, New Order had already debuted it at that year’s Glastonbury Festival, and they knew it was something special. Its release was accompanied by a striking video, directed and choreographed by Philippe Decouflé and produced by long-term Factory Records’ alumnus Michael Shamberg, which helped bring the song to a wider audience.

“Michael made another absolutely fantastic video for True Faith,” Stephen Morris later enthused. “Featuring bouncing elves, a choreographed punch-up and a turtle lady doing sign language, the visuals really stood out at the time. It was totally surreal and completely unlike anything else I’d seen. In fact it was so good, it won a BRIT Award!”

Indeed, as one of the best New Order songs, True Faith took things to a whole new level for the group. Melodic and accessible, the song peaked at No.4 in the UK – the band’s highest chart placing to date – and it went gold, in addition to cracking the Top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100.

The equally fine 1963 initially ended up as True Faith’s B-side, though it later had its chance to shine, when an Arthur Baker remix entered the UK Top 30 as a standalone hit from the 1994 compilation The Best Of New Order. With hindsight, you could argue that choosing to work with Stephen Hague was one of the best decisions New Order ever made.

“I didn’t think True Faith was that much better than anything we’d done in the past,” Peter Hook reflected in his book Substance: Inside New Order. “But it certainly eclipsed our previous work in terms of sales and international exposure on Substance. True Faith ended up being a big song for us, no doubt about it.”

“There was no hand-wringing at all,” Stephen Hague said in 2005. “We all left the studio really happy. It was just mission accomplished.”

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