More about: Creeper
"Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do.” - David Bowie, Hammersmith Apollo, July 1973.
All things end. Some things fade away into the ether, forgotten and unmourned. Some things end in such a crashing climax that the repercussions echo in eternity. Sometimes it’s not really the end though. Sometimes they come back.
When Creeper frontman Will Gould made a near-identical announcement to Bowie on stage at KOKO in November 2018, Twitter had ‘A Moment’. Had he really just killed off Creeper? Confusion and panic reigned overnight. But *spoiler alert*, it hadn’t been the end for Bowie but just a signal that Ziggy Stardust’s time was over. And so it has proved for Creeper, with the Callous Hearts laid to rest in order for something newer to emerge, blinking, unafraid of the dark yet still pursued by demons. Sex, Death and the Infinite Void is that rare beast, a follow-up record that takes a beloved, critically and commercially successful debut and throws it all out of the window in order to make something even more ambitious. It moves into glam rock, Britpop, cinematic beauty wrapping around each revived beat of its heart. So was it all part of a larger plan or something more organic? Catching up with Will over the phone the week before the record comes out, he laughs at the question before launching into an answer at a rate of about five hundred words per minute. “There is always a plan! Always, always, always. I always intended to end the band and the campaign in the way that we did. I really wanted to re-invent everything.” That is sometimes easier said than done of course. But if anything is clear about Will and the Creeper gang by now, it is that they don’t often take the easy path. “I was very cocky in the way I would word it, and I felt like I would be letting people down if I backed down. I couldn’t bear to just repeat myself. It’s a trap that bands fall into, they go from being amazing artists to something that feels washed out and tired.” That constant search for renewal is a theme that Will keeps returning to throughout our chat, the need to avoid repetition or nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. “When I said it was time to lose the Callous Hearts, everyone around me was like ‘what?’ It’s like when you’re cleaning out the attic and there’s stuff you don’t want to throw out but your mum’s going ‘get rid of it! You just have to kind of ignore everyone else and follow the same creative instincts. I didn’t want to get comfortable because as soon as you do, then you’ve fucked it man.”
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“Our last night on earth could be so cute,
You could be my end,
But I don’t wanna die tonight
At the hand of anybody else but you.”
- 'Be My End'
So the Callous Heart era is done. But in a twist on the usual ‘It’s 2020 so everything’s pretty much gone to shit’ angle, the follow-up couldn’t be more prescient if it had been meticulously planned to coincide with a global pandemic. Because, ladies and gentlemen, what we need now is a redemptive apocalyptic rock opera about rebirth and facing down your demons, both metaphorical and real. “Ha, it all makes sense!” He laughs, “It is a perfect time to have it out now, we got through the worst of it and now it’s some escapism after all this chaos.” It’s not entirely clear whether he is just talking about the pandemic or the litany of drama and crises that the band all individually faced over the period. Keen to avoid the pitfalls of recording anywhere comfortable or familiar, Will was intent on going Stateside to force the change. He picks up the story from there. “We needed time, and the plan was to go away and work out how to do it. We went round the houses to meet producers, almost everybody was wanting us to make a pop punk or some sort of post-hardcore record. And I just didn’t feel enthused by that.” With the search eventually finding one Xandy Barry, probably the only person on Earth to have worked with both Sebadoh and Britney Spears, the hunt was over. But the personal issues were only just beginning. “We were just trying to put out all the fires while we were recording. I was going through a lot of battles at the time, and it was a very trialling time obviously.”
That’s putting it mildly. Guitarist Ian Miles was sectioned for mental health reasons the day after Will’s mother’s partner died suddenly. Having relationship problems of his own, it formed a perfect storm for the singer. Today, seemingly out the other side, he is open and honest in where it led him. “It was a perfect cocktail of things I wanted to run away from, and luckily a window was presented to me in the form of an aeroplane and I ended up in Los Angeles. There’s no better place to run away from reality than Hollywood.” With repeated references to drinking and drunkenness on the record, it is clear that these experience bled into the writing. “Unfortunately, I come from a family of very, very good drinkers and so I found myself really abusing that ability.” He pauses for a moment to reflect. “I talk about escapism an awful lot with Creeper. Wanting to escape, wanting to be in another place. So how funny than in trying to create this thing that was an escape in itself, it wasn’t enough. I had to try and numb every day. It was really bad” he finishes simply. “That’s why this record coming out will be such a monumental day. It’s an achievement for us all that we managed to get to this point where we saw it through. There were days that it seemed like we’d never get it out, like it was Chinese Democracies you know? It was an endless, endless night.”
“Fill the car with all the ammunition you can get
We’ll storm the gates of Heaven
God is dead”
- 'Napalm Girls'
Thankfully, not all the demons are real. There’s a firmly post-religious theme running through much of Sex, Death & The Infinite Void, giving the record an End of Days feel at times. “Oh yeah! I have this kind of obsession with that [religious] stuff, from growing up with it as a youngster at Catholic school,” he explains, “The fear of God was put into me from a young age, though things have changed massively since then. All that stuff was drilled into me, so a lot of times when I’m singing I want to sing in absolutes. I want that apocalyptic romance! I want it to feel like the world is falling down but this couple are kissing as the world is on fire.” Every line feels torn from a graphic novel, evocative language and descriptions passing through each song to make you feel thrust into this dangerous but delicious world. It’s no shock then to hear that Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf, Sisters Of Mercy) was a major influence, but one listen to the guitars of ‘Annabelle’ reveal a, perhaps, more surprising inspiration. “That intro is absolutely like Suede,” Will nods, “That’s completely what it is. Going into this record, I was trying to work out how to build this very American record but use that very British heritage of bands we have here. You just think of Britpop, Jarvis Cocker’s vocal styling is all over this. But T.Rex too, a lot of their stomp and obviously plenty of Bowie references.” Suitably, it feels like the band have re-created Frankenstein’s monster, a patchwork quilt of styles and eras reborn and all tied together into something inescapably Creeper-esque and utterly exhilarating. Nostalgia? Maybe, but not for its own sake. This is nostalgia re-packaged into something altogether new and exciting. It is a conversation point that Will has a lot of thoughts about.
“If you’re not going forward constantly, it’s just nostalgia. And I think that is an amazing tool, it can conjure some amazing feelings and experiences. But if it’s just nostalgia, then that’s not enough is it?” He warms to his subject. “I think the reason things get so boring and stale in this industry, is that everyone’s so scared [to change] because no-one makes money any more from records. So if they don’t just keep a certain standard of song out or follow a certain algorithm, then they’ll all be bankrupt.” Will is confident that the Creeper fans will follow them into this new era. “I feel like, fuck it, nobody knows better about my audience than I do? The reason they came to see us before we were signed was because they identified with our ethos and ideas. That’s how good art is made right?” The conversation returns us to where it all began. And where it ended last time. “Can you imagine me stumbling out at 40 years of age, in a Callous Hearts jacket? You’d be embarrassed! ‘What are you doing man?’” He laughs at the prospect. “You don’t want to see that. That whole time period is locked away and no-one can touch it now. It’s perfect.” Does that mean that time is already ticking down on Creeper 2.0? Because after all, Bowie didn’t just kill off one of his creations. He did it all the time. “Oh yeah, that’s our intention as well,” he laughs. Better not get too attached then, those hearts are going to be hurting again.
“The bloom is off our rose
And now that rose is dead in part
But I wish I were
I wish I were more careful with your heart”
- 'All My Friends'
Sex, Death & The Infinite Void is out now.
More about: Creeper