WORDS: HEATHER MCALEAVY | PHOTOS: STEVEN HADDOCK
Creeper are known for having a flair for the dramatic, and their vibrancy continues to as they emerge from the shadows of a controversial hiatus with their dark, fantasy-filled second album, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. However, not even frontman and singer-songwriter Will Gould could have predicted the real tragedies that nearly stopped it in its tracks.
“We always say there’s the easy way, the hard way and then the Creeper way” jokes Gould, after commenting on his band’s exploits over the last two years. On 1st November 2018, the Southampton six-piece bid farewell to their fans at London’s KOKO, announcing that it was their last ever show. Pastiching David Bowie’s own renouncement of Ziggy Stardust 45 years prior at London’s Hammersmith Odeon (now Eventim Apollo), Creeper left 1,400 fans in the room and countless more across the world in hysteria. From an outsider’s perspective (as well as their label’s), it was impossible to fathom why they’d throw the towel in while running on such a high. Their debut album, Eternity, In Your Arms, had marked them out as true masters of music, performance and flair, as well as giving them a die-hard fanbase aptly referred to as a cult. So why would the award-winning, world-touring, ground-breaking group walk away from this in such drastic fashion?
To Gould, Hannah Greenwood, Ian Miles, Oliver Burdett, Sean Scott and Dan Bratton, it was the only option. “We kind of had to kill it in order to want to come back to it,” he stated as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, “We had to do this to get to where we are now, and that was scary because we were leaving behind something that basically built us a whole career and allowed us to tour the world. And of course, with our band it had to be very dramatic so it had to crash and burn the way it did [laughs] We’re a creative, flamboyant nightmare.”
“there’s the easy way, the hard way and then the Creeper way…”
Creeper always intended to return; choosing to lead fans to believe otherwise due to wanting a completely fresh start, detached from the precedent their previous work had set for them. 2019 was intentionally meant for taking a break from the spotlight and writing their new album, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void, in peace, surrounded by the Hollywood Hills. Alas, it turned out to be the most difficult year of their lives, and the KOKO show genuinely could have become their last. In between writing sessions in Los Angeles, Miles was sectioned and taken to a mental health facility in Brighton, all while Gould’s relationship with his now-ex fiancé was falling apart and his mother’s partner passed away. Gould was left with a difficult decision: pull the plug on album number 2 which was already well underway, or hold it together for the sake of everyone else.
With the consolation of close friends and family, he chose the latter and ventured back to LA alone, filled with despair, heartbreak and bereavement. “I just found myself at a very vulnerable and scary state. There’s a sinister undertone [to LA] you don’t notice.” He mused, “There’s something moving under the water, so to speak.” He quickly found himself swept up in this ominous side of Hollywood, making alternative bars and clubs his domain until everything closed at 2am and illegal afterparties continued in warehouses downtown. The only daylight he would encounter was walking to the studio as he combined hedonistic and alcohol fuelled evenings with a day job of writing fantasy tales around flouncy rock ballads. He calls it a “liberating” experience, saying “There were a lot of people washed up in the same place so it was kind of intimidating but by the end I absolutely was one of those people. There’s a reason I’d washed up here as well. I found it rather comforting. […] It’s strange and scary and weird but I think I’m a bit like that too [laughs]. I was among people who were the same as me in lots of ways.”
“We kind of had to kill it in order to want to come back to it…”
This strange feeling of being an outsider in a bustling environment is largely what the album is about. The story itself had actually been in the works for two years prior, and the idea behind it coming from a piano-lead musical Gould wrote as a teen. He worked with the forbidden-love, fairy tale trope but intertwined it with the story of K-PAX by Gene Brewer (which was also made into a poorly rated film adaptation with Kevin Spacey in 2001). The listener is introduced to Roe, a man who claims to be an angel from another world and is found in the amethyst mines of the fictional town of Calvary Falls. The town is made up of seven families which represent the seven deadly sins, and Roe comes with a prophecy that the world as they know it will end in seven days. His mission is sent askew as he falls in love with a human, Annabelle (the subject of their lead single of the same name), however, she is due to be wed to the richest man in the land, Buddy Calvary. Avoiding spoilers, the final act of Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’s narrative, ‘Black Moon’, shows the townspeople realising they must repent in order to save themselves but it may be too late. Gould poses the question, “What if the world is changing but in a different way to what you imagine? No angels or Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s more of an introspective change. You never know what happened, where he came from or if he was telling the truth.” The wild fantasy provokes so many questions and allows for such a unique listen. Each time, one can consume it while looking from a different character’s perspective, completely changing the interpretation of Roe’s credibility and his origins.
Gould’s love of the unexplained and other worldly is deep-rooted in his childhood. “I used to read a lot of literature around ufology which is the study of UFOs and extra-terrestrial crafts. […] I get very fixated on things so that kind of stuff I find really, really compelling. Those feelings of wanting the spectacular to be involved in the mundane. That’s what people who get into aliens and UFOs kind of really want deep down. Desperate for something more than what’s going on in front of you.” That message is the imprint of Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. Is Roe really a creature from another world, or is he just looking to become something more spectacular than human?
Delving further into Roe’s character, we can begin to find similarities between his alien persona and Gould, who also portrays him in their visual representations. “When I was at school, I always got that feeling of being from another planet. I think it it’s common between people who like the sort of music we play and the scenes we mix in.” He began, “I was, and still am, very effeminate, had strange and niche interests which stuck out quite a lot. […] I struggle to be interested in some of things other people are too. That was common when I first got into punk.”
“I just found myself at a very vulnerable and scary state. There’s a sinister undertone [to LA] you don’t notice.”
While Gould isn’t necessarily an alien prophesising the end of mankind, he does come with another message; one of unity and fluidity. One where everyone is free to express themselves as they please. Although, it’s not one that he feels is commonly shared amongst his peers in the scene, and also lead to Creeper’s hiatus. “I love punk rock but I do get tired of the same thing over and over again. That’s what happens with the alternative scene in general unfortunately. The rulebook in punk rock is what keeps bands [continuing to do this]. To me that’s just boring.” He admits, “I still think that I’ve completely different sets of goals and ambitions than other people who are doing what I’m doing. A lot of the time people are just interested in being in a band rather than making something that’s going to last […] I care so greatly about what I’m making and these albums that I feel like I have a duty of care to the person listening to them. I don’t want to let anything feel substandard.” Hence why this album is a chaotic blend of genres that’s shredded the rulebook and used it as confetti. The band have taken a look at what genres have withstood the test of time and intertwined the likes of Americana and jazz around their signature punk sound. From ‘Four Years Ago’, which is dowsed in strings and smooth, bold melodies, to the Meatloaf-tinged power ballad ‘Thorns of Love’, and the goth rock story finale ‘Black Moon’, the genres ebb and flow with the plot. It’s a melodramatic rock opera and it’s still authentically Creeper.
Despite the new sound potentially being a huge risk, Gould doesn’t consider it one. The thing that truly scared him about their new album was no one caring in the first place. After intentionally taking a year off, they witnessed new bands emerge and rise. He questioned if Creeper fans would still exist after the stunt they pulled, and if they did, would this be the sort of concept album they’d want? “While we’ve been in lockdown, every band ever is talking about politics and what’s going on with the world. That’s an amazing and really important thing to be discussing, but there was a part of me thinking ‘is this the right time to be releasing a piece of escapism?’” He began. “Then I took a step backwards and tried to look at it for what it was, and thought ‘absolutely, we should release something like this’. What have we been doing for the last three or four months? We’ve all been sat at home watching television, reading books, listening to music and consuming art. A lot of the time we’re looking for an escape from the world around us.”
Of course, Gould is referring to the COVID-19 lockdown which has entrapped us all since March and affected varying industries, but especially those music and performance-based. In a way, it’s had varying effects on Creeper. Their UK headline tour throughout April was rescheduled for August and then again for 2021, while Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’s release date was moved back from May to July. Although, these extra two months of the campaign and year working on tour production could be their silver lining.
“While we’ve been in lockdown, every band ever is talking about politics and what’s going on with the world. That’s an amazing and really important thing to be discussing, but there was a part of me thinking ‘is this the right time to be releasing a piece of escapism?’
“The wonderful thing is, almost all the venues got upgraded so we’ve got more to play with, there’s more we can do.” Gould says on their future plans for the stage and how Roe and Annabelle’s story will be brought to life. “I like to think the reason people see us over other bands is you never know what you’re going to get, you never know what you’re going to see. It’s going to be an event. I think this has allowed us to open up the flood gates of ridiculousness.”
The less wonderful side to this, however, is the state of the venues themselves. Grassroot venues have been fighting against their neighbours and councils for years, but COVID-19 is the final nail in the coffin for many. Unable to support themselves and continue to pay rent with no mention of government support until just recently, we’re witnessing closures at an alarming rate. Having just relocated to Manchester, the topic of central Mancunian venues Deaf Institute and Gorilla comes up. Despite being popular musical hotspots for many in the city – Gould included – they were both recently victims of the closures, and their future is still uncertain. His usual upbeat tone takes a turn as he says “One of the things that makes me feel infuriated about the current government, among a million other things, is the complete disregard for the value of the arts. Now some of these venues have been bailed out but it’s too little too late in my opinion. This is so sad and I feel so blue about it.” But Creeper are a proactive band and are contributing to helping such venues in whatever small way they can. That’s why, in December, they will perform their very first headlining shows of 2020 at the likes of their Southampton local, The Joiners, to help keep them afloat.
In regards to the album, since May’s original release date, they’ve been able to put out a plethora of creative content that has enhanced the story and helped build the world of Calvary Falls. In particular, the crime-noir style animation for opening track ‘Be My End’ encapsulates all but the final scene, allowing us to visually grasp the surroundings while their performative live shows currently can’t.
“WE DON’T MAKE IT EASY TO BE A FAN OF OUR BAND…”
Another way they’ve used this time wisely is to release a podcast which chronicles the making of the album without the safety net of characters and costume. Gould adds “We’ve not been quite candid with anybody as we have on the podcast. There’s a lot of triggering mental health stuff that come up in it. Talking about the situation surrounding the creation of Sex, Death and The Infinite Void and about what happened to Ian, but it’s with all the people who were involved in making it.”
Miles’ personal struggles have not been openly discussed at all by Gould, who frequently tells press he won’t speak on his behalf. In fact, the only reference to his mental health on the album is the poignant closing track ‘All My Friends’ which Gould wrote for Miles, and didn’t even want to include. However, Miles insisted he must, and on the podcast, he is due to open up for the first time.
The key players are interviewed on the podcast by journalist and former punk musician Giles Bidder, who Gould says took it upon himself the uncover the undocumented history and will release it over the course of five episodes. The frontman also wrote an introductory poem to the podcast, named The Day I Lost My Halo. He says “The mystic line ‘Kingdoms of fact and fiction, each must be reversed’ [refers to] us telling the story of what really happened rather than through fantasy.”
Although, it’s these cryptic and mysterious campaigns and clips that have kept the Creeper Cult loyal and refined down to only the hardcore fans. Gould wraps up our conversation with the statement “We try and ween them [the casual listeners] out, we just want the die-hards [laughs] that’s the thing, we don’t make it easy to be a fan of our band but I feel like if you stick with it, the fruits of your labours do outweigh the feeling of being a casual fan anyway.”
Sex, Death and The Infinite Void is out now via Roundrunner Records.