In November 2018, Southampton punks Creeper killed their band off live onstage. Their frontman and romantic bard, Will Gould, announced “This is the last show we’ll ever do” to a sold-out KOKO in London. They laid their jackets onstage and dramatically said their final goodbyes to rows of confused and crying fans. It was reminiscent of David Bowie killing off Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars some 45 years previous, but it was more than just a publicity stunt. Will meant what he said. It marked the end of the band as fans knew it.
One year after the death knell at the Camden gig, Creeper 2.0 rose from the ashes. They released a new single “Born Cold” and picked up where they left off, announcing a new album at the beginning of 2020.
Sex, Death & the Infinite Void, which comes out on July 31st, is a concept record about an extraterrestrial prophet who visits a small town in California and falls in love with a human, before being murdered by her fiancé.
The record’s 13 songs are an introduction to new sounds. The goth-punk of their debut Eternity, in Your Arms is still present, but it’s paired with new wave and Britpop influences too. Think the flamboyancy of Foxy Shazam and skate punk energy of Lifetime, but combined with all the melodrama of Meatloaf.
I spoke with Will and their guitarist Ian Miles about this new record, the afterlife, Stone Cold Steve Austin and their fight with the Westboro Baptist Church.
VICE: Alright lads. What was it like growing up as young punks in Southampton?
Will: The scene in Southampton is built around the Joiners Arms. Bands like Oasis and Suede would play there back in the day. Coldplay played their first gigs there. Green Day, NOFX, and all these bands have come through and played this venue. It’s historic and we’re really lucky to have an amazing grassroots music venue like that. When we were kids, our only goal when playing music was to play that venue.
I used to put gigs on at the King Alfred’s [a football pub in Southampton]. I put on Ian’s old band Take ‘Em Out when we were kids. My friend Rory from Brighton used to run an indie punk record label, which had bands from Europe on it like Backsight and that Malaysian straight edge band Second Combat [playing at our nights]. They were DIY shows – I had this really crap PA. I used to make loads of chilli for all the bands. We had so much fun.
Ian: At the DIY shows people used to do those human pyramids. We were playing downstairs and there was a pile of little gribblies doing a human pyramid. I ran out with my guitar and tried to climb up, but I rolled off and my guitar neck just snapped! Everyone did a whip-round, raised a bit of money and paid for the repair of my guitar! That’s the beauty of that scene.
And what’s that music scene in Southampton like now?
Ian: I feel like Ricky Bates [promoter from The Joiners] pretty much keeps the music scene alive in Southampton. There are definitely a bunch of other people that work on it too.
Will: There’s Death By Shotgun and Guillotine, they’re really cool.
Ian: Also, Seán McGowan, he’s a great singer songwriter who works at the Joiners. He’s played with Billy Bragg and stuff.
Ian, you and I met at Ieper hardcore festival in Belgium in 2009, many moons before the birth of Creeper. On the bill that year were Bane, Down To Nothing, Rise And Fall, Deal With It and Misery Signals, among others. Do you think coming through the hardcore scene has shaped Creeper’s approach, hustle and ethos?
Ian: It's literally everything. Growing up and going to DIY shows, it gave us that DIY ethic from the beginning of the band. Yeah I know we’re signed to a major label now and have all the frills that come with that. But you’ll still catch us literally making things. Like Will’s doing all the photoshoots for our merch and for our promos and stuff at home. The video for “All My Friends” – Will and Hannah just filmed it by themselves at home. That’s not something we have any qualms with because we are so used to that. In terms of touring I think we’ve learned one of the most important things from the DIY scene, which is to never be ungrateful for the situation we’re in. We’ve done so many tours playing to one to five people, eating red pasta and getting a tenner for petrol. We know where the baseline is for us, so anything beyond that is a luxury. I’m really proud of that in this band, it sort of knocks the diva out of you, so to speak.
Will: It’s handy coming from the hardcore scene because it teaches you to be creative with a very limited toolbox. You’ve only got so much to play with. We couldn’t have a string arrangement back then because we didn’t know how to play the strings, didn’t have any strings and didn’t have any money [laughs]. It also teaches you about being aware about the world around you, wanting to question things around you, standing up for injustices, trying to be an ally. We just auctioned off loads of Callous Heart records the other day and made a load of money for Black Lives Matter organisations. That stuff is in us, because that’s what we’d be doing in Southampton when we were younger. A big part of punk and hardcore is being compassionate, trying to better ourselves, thinking about what we’re doing and the words we’re using, education and expression.
So, your new album is a concept album. Will, how much of you is in the character Roe that you ‘play’ in the album?
Will: The idea is to blur the line between fact and fiction, so a lot of these songs have huge chunks of my real life in them. You know, like with Stone Cold Steve Austin. He’d get asked, how much of Steve Austin is in Stone Cold Steven Austin? He’d say that Stone Cold Steve Austin is just Steve Austin turned up to 11, you know. That’s what I’m trying to do with this. It’s like a hyper-realised version of me. It’s a character but you’re never truly summoning something from nothing. I find it a lovely writing tool.
Does it help when performing live?
Will: For me it helps. Me as myself would be stumbly, awkward and mumbly. But me as a character I feel confident going out onstage; people are coming to see a character and I can give them that every day. That’s one of my talents, it’s something I can do.
I’m not a natural performer, as in performing as myself, I’m not very good at that. It comes very easy to me to hide behind a façade. When I’m performing I stand up straighter and I sing better than I would if I ever performed as myself. I don’t feel anxious because it’s not me performing. That’s why sometimes I feel awkward meeting people immediately after the shows because I’m in a flux of personalities! [laughs]
I can imagine. A few concept albums I love are Deloused in the Comatorium by Mars Volta, 2112 by Rush and A Grand Don’t Come For Free by The Streets. What’re your favourites?
Will: [David Bowie’s] Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. For me that’s the all-time greatest story. An alien gets put into a rock band and gets killed in “Rock and Roll Suicide” at the end. “When the kids had killed a man, I had to break up the band.”
Ian: Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman have had a massive influence on us. Jim Steinman’s solo album Bad For Good is so good. It’s an incredible record, he hasn’t got the best singing voice in the world but he has so much character. The music videos are wild too.
Your new album is called Sex, Death & the Infinite Void. What is the infinite void you talk about? Is that where we go after we die? Sounds kind of scary.
Will: The infinite void completely varies for each person. It could be what happens after we die, that’s absolutely how a lot of people would interpret it. There’s also a void while you’re still alive that people enter. Drifting in the void is a place we were both at, at some point during this record.
I definitely feel it is a very real thing. Whether we find it when we die, or we find it while we’re alive on earth. I think we’ve all maybe seen the terrifying bleakness of the infinite void at some point in our lives. Some of us have managed to run away from it at the right point, and some of us run towards it. There’s something universal about that.
Ian: Leaving something open to interpretation allows people to insert themselves into the piece of art. It’ll be interesting to see what people make of it.
Will: I went to a Catholic primary and secondary school. I was raised Catholic, so it’s inbuilt inside of me. It was explained to me at a very young age that if I was a good boy I’d go to heaven. But, as it turns out, you’re much more likely to find something resembling heaven by being a bad boy here on earth.
What does happen after we die?
Will: I think our language is insufficient to describe what happens at that point. It’s almost impossible to articulate. I came to terms with that when I was younger. I came to terms with the fact that I was going to die and was comfortable with that.
In some ways, we are telling classic religious stories on this record. The Jesus Christ story is the same as the man who fell to earth story, when you think about it. An otherworldly being performing magic tricks, moving stones, and being killed at the hands of the people he was there to save.
So is Sex, Death & The Infinite Void basically The Bible 2?
Will: [laughs] Well this is what I’m hoping the record will become! The Bible did sell really well didn’t it. I’m thinking, no one’s made a Bible: The Album yet, have they?
True. Despite singing a lot about misery, you’ve described your band as hopeful in the past. Have you got any tips on how to remain hopeful in what can sometimes seem like a pretty hopeless world?
Will: Xandy Barry, our producer out in Los Angeles, would say to me that every day when you wake up and your brain imagines the world around you. Your brain loads up like a computer. It’s like reloading on GTA or something. You can do whatever you want with your day. I try to think about that when people stress me out or I feel anxious. This whole process begins again tomorrow, in one way or another.
Yeah. Every day is a new opportunity, a fresh start. Tomorrow could be the best day of your life.
Will: Yeah, I think there’s a truth to that. I like the idea of turning off in the night and waking up and reloading. There’s something about that that I find very calming. I wasn’t always like this, but I do love being alive sometimes.
I’ve read that you take inspiration from the term “apocalyptic romanticism”, which was originally used to describe Roy Orbison’s music. Do you think we live in a romantic world?
Will: It is what you make it of it. You can experience romance in something really sad. I think there’s something romantic about a dreary, sad day, sometimes. The world that our record exists in, kissing in the acid rain and all that, is a hyper-romantic situation. I think we could always do with a bit more of that. You can find romance in a lot of unusual places. I think it is definitely out there.
I heard you had a run in with the Westboro Baptist Church, which inspired your track “Annabelle”. Can you tell me about that?
Ian: We were at Warped Tour and I remember somebody said that the Westboro Baptist Church are picketing the festival today. I thought: what the fuck have they got to picket? We’re just a bunch of kids having a good time and enjoying the music. We went down to anti-protest them. Everybody made their own signs and stormed down there. Warped Tour is a strange environment but there was a real sense of unity that day. Everybody came together, we had a common enemy. Blackcraft had these Fuck The Westboro Baptist Church t shirts made. When we got there we didn’t know what to do because it felt like we were watching TV. We couldn’t comprehend that those people we’d read about and seen on documentaries were right there in front of us doing exactly what we saw them do on TV. I stood there and thought woah, this is real.
Will: They tweeted us saying something like “Creeper are going to hell, they are 100 percent Satanic. All they have is death.” Obviously we absolutely loved that and we immediately put it on a t shirt, got them pressed overnight and sold it the next day at Warped tour!
Brilliant. Speaking of pantomimes, I read that you’re into musical theatre and musicals. I am too and I don’t care who knows it. What’s your favourite musical?
Will: The Phantom of the Paradise is my favourite musical. You ever seen that? It’s a film by Brian De Palma. The songs were written by Paul Williams. It’s a really fantastic and ridiculous story. It’s got the B Movie qualities of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but with a horror narrative. There are some amazing songs on it and it’s really kitschy and fun. It has Jessica Harper in it who is in the sequel to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and also in Suspiria.
Sounds right up my street. I can hear Southern Gothic influences on the new album, and some 80s moodiness, like Lloyd Cole or Chris Isaak. Is that something you took inspiration from?
Will: Chris Isaak was one of the direct reference points for Poison Heart. That kind of surf rock guitar tone that Dick Dale was doing that later became kind of Southern Gothic. It’s a bit Portishead as well, that guitar playing.
I can also hear a bit of Britpop. In particular Suede.
Will: That was very much on purpose. I’ve wanted to do the 70s glam thing for ages. We were in Hollywood making this ridiculously over-the-top record, with all these strings and stuff going on, it was really pompous. But there was something I loved about glam rock that was also in Britpop too. For example, if you look at “Stand By Me”, the Oasis song, it’s the same chords as “All The Young Dudes” by Bowie and Mott The Hoople. That was a reference point. Pulp, Suede and Oasis was very influenced by that 70s stuff. I thought it would be fun, as we were making this America-inspired record, to take that inherently British sound and thread it through that ridiculous lens of Hollywood. So it’s like a Suede song but it’s got the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on it. It felt like a really lovely thing to play with.
I know you’ve been through some difficult periods since the first record. Have these been related to the growth of your popularity as a band, or other elements?
Ian: There’s definitely pressure in growth and I feel like all of Creeper can feel that. There was definitely a lot of work for a long time that reached a tipping point and got blurry round the edges. Within the music industry I feel it’s under-recognised that a lot of artists go through mental health issues. It seems to be closely connected to the creative side of your brain. Not always, but there is definitely a correlation. It’s a really difficult subject. What happened to us, in particular, was a product of many things.
Will: We are getting better at talking about things. I think Ian is very brave for speaking about what he’s been through.
Ian: I’ve had issues with mental health for the majority of my life. It was never something I felt compelled to talk about so candidly until that episode I had almost two years ago. It led me to getting sectioned and I was in hospital for a period of time. At that point I was like, wow, this is life-changing. I was completely manic and psychotic for a while but as I was coming-to I couldn’t help but think about other people that had been through the same thing. Especially because of my interactions with other people in the hospital. When I got out of hospital I went through a program the government run called Recovery College. I felt that was really important to help it feel normal, for want of a better term, to experience something like this. I thought that maybe now is the time to talk about it and maybe that will help people that have gone through similar things feel less isolated.
I feel that education is key to making it a much more comfortable world for people that are going through issues like this. There should be mental health classes in school to talk through the whole spectrum of mental health – how to treat people that are experiencing these problems and what to do if you’re going through them.
Thanks for sharing that, Ian. Finally, what does making alternative music in 2020 mean to you?
Ian: 2020 needs alternative music. It is a very important time for subculture right now. The political climate and this pandemic has left a lot of people alienated and despondent. Now more than ever we need a place that is not a part of mainstream culture, a place where people can relate with each other and connect in a way that you can't outside of alternative music. A small utopia that people can escape to and not feel under threat by the norms.
Sex, Death & the Infinite Void comes out on July 31st via Roadrunner Records.