“The reason you read Stephen King isn’t because you’re necessarily a fan of the monsters in the stories, you read them because they take you away from reality and let you live a different life,” says Creeper vocalist Will Gould over Zoom.
The singer is speaking to Rolling Stone UK mere hour before he flies out to Disney World with his partner, something which feels completely on brand for Gould. Much like Disney, Creeper have pushed the boundaries of creating fantastical worlds. For them, these creations provide a narrative arc that defines each of their albums.
“Where a lot of my favourite punk bands sang about politics direct on, Creeper never really went about it that way,” he says. The Southampton goth-punks have always opted for a different approach – to provide a little escapism in an “ever-darkening world” and a distraction from “the horrors of modern day living.” Their latest offering, Sanguivore, is no different. This time around, we enter into the vicious love story of Spook, an older man who falls under the control of 19 year old (in mortal years) Mercy, a deceptively innocent but violent vampire.
“I like the vampire metaphor,” says Gould, “breathing new life into an old body and falling back in love again was really lovely.” He speaks in reference to the difficulties posed when writing for their last album Sex, Love & The Infinite Void following lead guitarist Ian Miles’ admittance to The Priory, having suffered from severe mental health issues. Now, there’s been a creative reunion for the full writing process: “It’s been a return to form. It’s beautiful.”
The theme of friendship has been key to this record, where, despite the growth in production and ambition, it has seen the long-time bandmates and childhood friends return to their formative days for inspiration and approach. From writing on their sofas and the return of the band back=patch – a unifying garment of the punk scene they grew up in – to the love letter that this album has become for their childhood hero, the late Jim Steinman, Sanguivore possesses a tenderness that you’d be forgiven for missing amongst all of the bloodshed.
Sonically, the record is an impressive and unapologetic romp through an ever-expanding pool of reference points: the drama of Meat Loaf, the brooding urgency of Sisters of Mercy, and the 70s punk edge of The Damned, to name a few. At the heart of all the theatre, absurdity and grandiosity of Creeper’s new frontier is a band whose self-awareness, passion and child-like wonderment for music continues to make space for others who’ve forever felt on the outskirts: “I would love the privilege of [Sanguivore] being something that someone really properly, truly listened to and allowed us to be the soundtrack to something that you would escape to, because that’s what so much of music has been for me my entire life.”
I’ve known you for a number of years now and remember some of your bands prior to Creeper. It’s really exciting to see how the production and ambition has grown with each of your projects and albums, and where some of those original seeds were sown in the early days for what Creeper does now. Has it always been a conscious decision to always go bigger in regards to your sonics and the production and artistry that surrounds it? What does this album do that previous albums didn’t?
Will: I think mine and Ian’s love of Jim Steinman, you know, who obviously wrote all the Meat Loaf records, made this incredible album called Bad for Good back when Meat Loaf lost his voice and so Jim ended up singing the songs on the record. It was supposed to be Bat Out Of Hell II. But we loved it since we were kids, and what’s great about the album is Jim Steinman is not the best singer, Meat Loaf is obviously an immaculate singer, but Jim Steinman was an incredible songwriter and great at productions. He had all this incredible production behind him, but his voice is kind of collapsing under the weight of it all, and I’ve always loved that. I always thought it sounded very punk in that they’re trying their hardest to do this outrageous thing, but with just the tools they had. And in terms of what we’ve done, it’s always been a very similar ethos. It’s always been what’s available to us at the time – we’re going to try and make what we can from this. And I think there were some teething moments of our band where people wanted us to stick to a certain sound, but we were always trying to become more than just the sum of our parts and try and make more from the pieces than what you can actually make, I guess. And this new one definitely is that. This is the most realised version of something we’ve done.
And it’s because of a load of circumstances that just happened on their own, really. Like, I learned a lot more about singing – those early bands, I couldn’t sing, I was just shouting and then kind of trying to work in some melody here and there but I’d lose my voice all the time. And so I think it’s just repetition and getting better. But our will to try and make something more than reality has always kind of been there. My favorite things growing up were magic tricks and professional wrestling, and I always liked something that seemed more than it is. And we always try to do that with Creeper. And I always think the thing that is kind of a mission statement for Creeper is to try and make a fantasy world that you can disappear into for a small amount of time to distract you from the horrors of modern day living. And like where a lot of my favorite punk bands kind of sung about politics direct on, Creeper never really went about it that way. It was always kind of these fantastical stories, these kind of tragic romances. And there’s some references to my real life melded in. But yeah, this one we’ve managed to kind of push the boat out even further and try to make this thing that from the moment you press play it sounds like something completely different. And hopefully the live show is going to reflect that too. You know, where it’s a safe place for people to come and a place for people to go, because – I’m sure it was the same for you – but growing up for me putting records on was a great escape for me. I have these little Airpods now, and these have changed my life because I have them in at all times and I can filter out background noise. And when I was younger, disappearing into records on the school bus and a will to kind of escape the reality around me, was so, so big for me. And all of those records that we’re referencing on this one kind of come from an era like that.
When I think again about growing up in the scenes that we did, they always prided themselves on creating a community and a sense of belonging – something which Creeper has done so amazingly through creating these worlds people can step into. Did you ever imagine that the band would ever achieve such a cult-like following in the way that people have found solace in these records?
Will: No, not at all. We were just drunk punks all the time! I remember very vividly when we first got signed we were still getting hammered before every show. We almost didn’t get signed to Roadrunner originally because Danny Corr who was head of A&R over here came to our show and me and Ian had drunk two bottles of wine. So we just were just in that world where that was just the norm and we didn’t play very well because we were hammered and he wasn’t so sure about us. I certainly didn’t ever expect any of this for us. Creeper was just one of our bands, one of our fun things that we did. We loved it and it was our lives. But we never thought it would be anyone else’s. But one of the greatest privileges is that a lot of the kids that still follow us and are still with us to this day, they’ve kind of grown up with us now and they’ve been with us all this time. I’ve seen people transition, I’ve seen people come out to their parents. At our shows as well, they’ve come out, and it’s incredible. That’s so much more important than any song you could ever write, any album you could release. It’s creating that space, and that’s always been paramount to us. It’s people coming to our shows, dressing up as the characters that they see, but it’s more than just us playing them songs. And after a while the songs kind of become irrelevant. It becomes more about the experience of being there and that’s so similar to exactly where you and I come from in the first place. I think that’s always kind of been in the back of my head; it’s been about a bunch of kids that don’t fit in anywhere else.
Maybe not all the music is around punk as it used to be, and it’s going to have other elements going on, but the ethic kind of remains the same, I think, in terms of creating a safe place for people to be themselves. And much the same as the last question, you come to the show, you’re part of the scene and the community, and you meet friends and people who have similar world views to you and you can all disappear off into a different world temporarily. That’s kind of what floor shows used to be like, though. Going to play shows at [Winchester venue] King Alf when I was a kid, it was the place to go hang out with your friends and not worry about everything else. Except I would sometimes worry if I was putting the show on that I didn’t have enough money to pay the band!
It’s so important what you say about real life and about how it becomes an experience. With that in mind, with your last album being released around the time of the pandemic, how do you see the live experience being for Sanguivore? WIll it be bigger, more cathartic?
Will: I think it’s just really fun. I keep saying that Creeper shows remind me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something. That’s always what I see as even though there’s loads of punchlines on the record and lots of innuendo and stuff like that, it’s like, Rocky Horror was such an important thing for me growing up, especially in discovering my own sexuality and all those sorts of things, and I think it was for so many people, and so the Creeper show is kind of like that where you step into it and our live show is reflective of that. Like The Phantom of the Paradise as well, the Brian De Palma film, and a lot of this kind of campy, over-the-top horror, those huge productions. We’ve always been in awe of that and trying to aim for that from our little pocket, which is still kind of growing and kind of ticking away. That’s where we’d love to be – putting on something really spectacular like that. We’re always trying to amp it up and make it more ridiculous and over the top, and I think that the crowd have now started to be in on the joke. It’s harder to catch them off guard these days! We did the band break up at Koko, the Ziggy Stardust thing, years ago, and we disappeared for ages and came back a year to the day.
Our last one, we did a show at the Roundhouse and I was decapitated, but we failed in thinking that we were going to go away again. But the idea was we didn’t, we did the opposite. We launched it into something else. So they’re getting very smart now, like this lovely interaction we have with the audience where it’s hard to impress them now. They expect it to be something else. But I think we’ve still got them on their toes for a little while. But yeah, in November we’re going to try and really put on a great show, really spectacular. We always spend all of our budget – we get no money because we always spend all of our budget on this silliness! But it’s kind of part of what makes it what it is.
You’ve got to enjoy it, right? As soon as it stops being fun or enjoyable, what’s the point. With each of those kind of endings or iterations, that must allow you to remain really firmly in control of the band’s creative. But does that ever provide any new pressures?
Will: Yeah, 100%. And you know, early on I was talking to you about High Vis, I think maybe we hadn’t started recording, and those awkward conversations [about new album pressure] and there’s definitely been times where people have told me that you need to only progress by 20% on each record or you’re going to lose your fanbase. And I was like, that’s not the motive at all, I have no motive of accruing a fanbase and hitting targets. That’s never, ever been the reason we do this. And I think people like us because we’re not one of those bands and maybe people like us for our bizarreness. But it is awkward sometimes, especially if people who like us outside of the punk scene that you and I know, they’ve found us or discovered us elsewhere and then suddenly hear a song that’s like a country song or whatever we’re doing that that time and it is jarring for people, but it never dissuades me from doing anything because, like, how many bands we’ve seen over the years that made one record that did really well when they were younger and then spent the rest of their career just trying to chase that same thing, tried to write like they did when they were 18? And it just ends up really stale and just not authentic.
I think the difficult one was the last one [Sex, Love & The Infinite Void] because people didn’t expect us to make something that sounded so different. This time around they were kind of expecting a different sound because that’s what we do and it’s allowed us to keep it really fresh and interesting and exciting in my life and with the guys because it means we can explore other things we like musically and it’s still under the same bracket as Creeper. It feels like we’re not writing the same song over and over again. And for somebody who has a very short attention span as myself it’s really, really useful. That’s a really useful tool we’ve got.
Friendship is a key theme with this new record. I wondered if we could talk about the writing process for Sanguivore, and particularly with you and Ian being reunited for the full creative process? Has your friendship or relationship changed?
Will: Oh, it was very different. I don’t how much you know about this, but on the last record Ian was taken to the Priory. We were recording in Los Angeles at the time and it put us in a very difficult situation in terms of what you do and how we could best support Ian. But what that ultimately meant was that he wasn’t around for a lot of it. I have vivid memories of being in Hollywood writing and having Ian on FaceTime while he was in The Priory with an acoustic guitar. That was a really, really, really dark, troubling time for us and for a lot of it we were off social media and so we were kind of very, very isolated. It was very, very difficult. It ended up with me kind of having to finish up – not through any fault of Ian’s – just having to kind of finish the record and kind of complete it. But this time around it’s been brilliant. It’s been a return to form.
It’s a darker record in tone in terms of what it’s about, its narrative and its viciousness, its violent lyrics and stuff, but it’s born from a joyous place and it kind of reminds me of when we first started writing together. We wrote it in my house as opposed to these very complex, convoluted situations we were in back then on the last one. It was done just sitting on a couch and just writing songs from scratch again. Me on the piano hammering away and making a love letter to Jim Steinman. He passed away the following year. I remember giving Ian a lighter etched with ‘Bad For Good,’ the album name, when he was getting married and yeah, we finally made this record together that was for our hero and referencing a lot of those songs.
I liked the vampire metaphor as well, weaving a new life into something that died. And it felt like for a while after the pandemic and after coming through that – when after we just got back on track, the world shut down. And don’t get me wrong, I know people who had it a lot tougher than us. But certainly in the context of this story, it was very challenging in terms of trying to keep everything together after it threatened to derail at any moment. So breathing new life into an old body and falling back in love a bit again was really, really lovely. It was really rewarding. It’s about our friendship and we’ve gone back to wearing back patches on stage which we haven’t done for five, six years from when we ended them before. We come back with a new design in reference to that friendship being rekindled and this whole new era. And it’s very exciting and it’s lovely for him. He’s done some incredible guitar work on this record. He’s got to reference a lot of stuff that his dad got him into when he was younger, Metallica and Judas Priest and stuff. It’s really good to see him back fighting fit and really back to helping me and to be collaborating again. It’s beautiful.
Album opener ‘Further Than Forever’, really feels like a mission statement. It’s a 9 minute odyssey which sounds like everything we’ve come to know about Creeper and everything yet to come. How did that song come about? What was the decision to lead with such a momentous song rather than end the album with it?
Will: We’ve been trying to write one like that for a long time. You know what it’s like when you write songs, sometimes you’re on a really good ebb and you can write loads of good stuff and it just falls out of you. And other times you have to just churn through them like butter and just kind of strike it and move on. And we tried to write a long Steinman-esque kind of epic for a while. I tried. I was about to pull my eyes out. It was just awful. We just kept hitting brick walls and we’d spend weeks working on something and then be like, ‘Oh, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?’ but you don’t know in the moment. Think about when you demo something and you go away from it, but then you come back to it thinking, ‘Oh God, what were you thinking?’ We did that over and over again, and I had this piano thing from years ago. You know when you play somewhere and there happens to be a piano that’s really out of tune? Why is that so common in the UK? I have no idea why, but it’s such a weird common thing in a venue. And I would play that ‘Further Than Forever’ piano part over and over again, and I had a lot of different verses and choruses for it, but it never saw the light of day and I was determined to do something with it and Ian did that weird Friday the 13th piano thing at the beginning. So we had these bits and when we met Tom Dalgety, who had done Ghost, Rammstein, The Damned, The Cult and Pixies, and all these great bands that we loved. He loves that kind of stuff and he loved Jim Steinman so much. And so we spoke about it and I showed him it and he was like, ‘This is great. We should work on this’. And me and Ian at first were like, ‘Oh, we tried this before and this might not work.’ And then Tom showed us this weird prog part which sounded like ‘Easy Lover’ in the middle of it and he was like ‘I’ve got this bit as well, how about this?’ So we just mashed all these things together and it took hours and hours and hours. And then I was like, ‘we need a verse that sounds kind of Springsteen-y’ and then the chorus was the last bit we wrote. We wrote it and I did that thing that I was just describing where I was like, ‘Have we gone too far? Is this too silly?’ And I took it home and played it to my partner and she was just like, ‘Oh my God, is the best thing you’ve done. You’ve got to use this.’ And then it was like, ‘Okay, well, we all think this is cool. It’s very, very dorky.’ It sounds, you know, it’s very, very us in terms of it sounding like a fantasy novel if it were a song. And so we said, ‘okay, where do we put it?’ And I was like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really go anywhere else other than the first song because you can’t come into a nine minute song midway through’, in the style this one is. It’s got a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s kind of three acts. And I thought if we put it on at the beginning whoever’s listening would know not to expect the unexpected for the rest of the record, because it wouldn’t be what they were expecting to hear. And it takes so many twists and turns and does some different stuff, but at least it sets them up with a kind of a warning sign as going forward that this is going to chop and change. There’s going to be a lot of different stuff going on. And also it did a lot of narrative work for the concept, telling the story of Spook and his descent into becoming a vampire and Mercy taking his life and being reborn, so it kind of introduces the characters nicely and kind of keeps people guessing from the very offset. I’m really glad you like that one. We were all really worried about it.
In regards to some of those things – the silly and the pompous – there’s some really great dark humour on this record. Are there any influences you draw on that demonstrate really well the power of being tongue in cheek and finding the fun in what you do?
Will: I think it comes from maybe a few different places. My favourite bands growing up were Jawbreaker and Alkaline Trio and with those two bands there was always a wit. You know that Alkaline Trio song ‘I said “Maybe you’re a vampire,” You said “It’s quite possible, I feel truly dead inside”’. Silly little quips like that, I’ve always loved that. And Blake did some really great ones on Jawbreaker songs. I always just thought what was really cool about that was the lyrics are really funny and smart and over quite simple chord structures. And, talking about the Jim Steinman thing, that’s really where a lot of this record has come from in terms of the sexual innuendo and the silliness. It’s like a Carry On Film. There’s a Carry On film called Carry On Vamping which we didn’t know about until we were making the record. It’s very, very funny because there’s a lot of that sort of… there’s a Britishness to that, that sort of silliness. But the Jim Steinman thing, there’s a lot of them, there’s a song called ‘Surf’s Up’ on his record Bad For Good and it’s basically about getting a boner, but it’s a really romantic ballad. I just love those moments where it’s like, in ‘For Crying Out Loud’ on Bat Out Of Hell I, at the very end there’s the line, ‘Can’t you see my faded Levis busting apart?’ And it’s just a song about getting an erection. It’s really, really sung with real conviction and I mean, that’s really funny.
I think some of my favourite lines on the record are the sillier ones and also placing them in a really non-silly place is funny as well. So yeah, to me I think it’s very important and I think it lightens the mood. I think if you’re playing this record straight the entire way through, it’s just ‘vampires’, you know? I don’t think it would be as fun as knowing it’s being self-aware and being like, ‘oh this is a bit, this is fun.’ We all really fucking love this but it’s silly, isn’t it? You know, we’re wearing fake blood and vampire costumes. It knows what it is. So the humour is very important to me, and half the fun of it is trying to come up with silly ways to make vampire puns.
What do you think Jim Steinman would have made of the record?
Will: Weirdly on the last one I was trying to get in touch with him because I wanted him to do one of those monologues, you know, ‘I remember everything…’ or ‘on a hot summer night’, or something like that. But he was very old. Someone knew his manager and we tried to get in touch, and in the end I had my friend Patricia Morrison who was in The Bags and in the Gun Club, and Sisters of Mercy. And I had her come in and do some things with me which was amazing. A huge honour. She’s a really good friend now of ours. And she obviously recorded with Jim Steinman back in the day. She told me a crazy story because he was so quirky and strange, which I’ve always loved about him. He’s always unusual, a sort of little genius that he was like the record industry’s darling for a while, but he was an oddball. And that’s how I always feel, you know. And apparently he ordered loads of side dishes at this restaurant, had them all around the studio, and he’d eat a little bit of one and then throw them all away. He was famous for excess and silliness. And yeah, I don’t know what he would think of this, but I was always really hoping that he would see a younger punk band or a younger rock band now – I suppose that’s what we are – who worshiped his music and really listened to it and listened to the things that he has to say. I would hope that he would see it as a compliment. But I do remember someone asking Phil Spector what he thought of Jim Steinman and he said something really nasty and they told Jim Steinman and they asked him ‘What do you think of that?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s like being slapped in the face by God.’ And I thought that was the coolest thing to just come off the cuff like that. I’ll never be that cool. But if he did like it, I’d like to say that it would be like being slapped in the face by God.
I love that! We’ve spoken a fair bit about world building and narrative, and the joys of putting in your headphones on the school bus to get away from it all. So, how do you imagine people should listen to this record? What are the optimum conditions to enjoy it?
Will: It is very Jim Steinman heavy answers today, I’m afraid. But for another reference point, I’d shared a video a little while ago on my Instagram of an interview with Jim Steinman and he was talking about Jimmy Iovine, and Jimmy came in the studio one day and Jimmy was panning a guitar left and right manually, because that’s how you had to do it back then and he said ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m doing a little thing for the kid in Connecticut.’ And he said, ‘What do you mean? Who’s the kid in Connecticut?’ And he said, ‘Well, every time I make a record, I leave these little things for this kid in Connecticut,’ and he said, ‘Who is this kid?’ ‘Oh, it doesn’t exist. He’s in my head. In my mind he sits underneath his duvet after his parents send him to bed and he puts his Walkman and he listens to my record and I leave little things in there for him to find each time around.’ And so I’ve always loved the romantic-ness of that anecdote. So, I would say in the exact same way. I think it would have to be a little bit like The Neverending Story where they find the book and they’re in the room and there’s lightning flashing in the window, I would like it to be like that: lightning flashing in the window, you’re underneath your duvet, you’ve got your Walkman on, and you’re listening to it all the way through on your own the first time and letting it take you on a journey.
I would love the privilege of being something that someone really properly, truly listened to and allowed us to be the soundtrack to something that you would escape to, because that’s what so much of music has been for me my entire life, and it’s such an important part of who I am as a person.
I really agree with what you’ve said recently as well about how right now we all need a bit of escapism and fantasy. I mean, music is an incredibly important coping tool at a time where we’re not too sure what we can be doing.
Will: Exactly and I think that it’s something that you can take with you. I love cinema, I love film, but you have to find the right session to do that music. It can live with you and walk around with you wherever you go. The things you feel anxious about doing, it’s a friend. All those dark moments and activities exist in your ears. And that’s something truly magical. In a world that’s kind of scary and ever-darkening at the moment, it’s kind of important to rely on those things and to have those things around.
With that in mind, what’s the one song on this record that you love or perhaps the one song you think really distills what the album is about and what it’s trying to say?
Will: It’s very difficult because it takes a real turn, the record. I think personally the closer ‘More Than Death’ is such a ridiculous song and I’m so proud of that one because I wrote it with my partner in mind when writing it. It’s also the climax. The ‘death is us, we don’t fear death, don’t you dare ever forget’ line feels like a very punk lyric. It feels like a song you can really rally behind about living the way you want to. I love that song. I think it’s a really beautiful one and it shows the preposterousness of the band and how stupid and over the top it is. And if you can’t get with that one, you probably won’t get with any of it. It’s a silly ballad that I think has got a heart to it, and if you let yourself just believe in the concept for a minute, the hope is that it feels quite empowering and it gives it a sense of things being okay at the end of a very bloodthirsty, dark record at times. It’s a message of hope at the end of a lot of sludge.