The Cover Story

Creeper: “It’s harder to take left turns the more you do it… this had to be darker and more grandiose”

Since their 2014 formation, Southampton goth-punk heroes Creeper have been the undefeated masters of defying fan expectations. And third album Sanguivore – the band’s “big vampire record” – is no exception. Allow the newly-christened William von Ghould to reveal all…

Creeper: “It’s harder to take left turns the more you do it… this had to be darker and more grandiose”
Words:
James Hickie
Photography:
Bob Foster

Will Gould is holding his head in his hands. His severed head. The one gouged from his shoulders by a ravenous vampire at the climax of Creeper’s show at London’s Roundhouse in November.

Thankfully, the frontman is very much alive and kicking today, giving Kerrang! a closer look at this grim prop. His girlfriend, Charlotte, has been keen to have it on show at the Manchester flat they share. Despite a well-publicised passion for the macabre, Will finds the prospect a little too weird, so for the past few months the head has been stored in the utility cupboard above the washing machine – ironically, in a Bag For Life.

When he eventually frees the cadaverous crown from several layers of protective bubble wrap, it’s an alarmingly realistic specimen, perfectly replicating the singer’s alabaster skin and strong, distinctive nose.

“It’s horrible looking at your own face like this,” he suggests with amusing understatement.

Despite Will’s discomfort, the close likeness vindicates the hours he spent mummified in hardening plaster, with only the straws stuck up his nostrils preventing him from suffocating. And as if that doesn’t sound unsettling enough, then how about this: Clive, the horror designer responsible for this creation, was based in a rented space in Gloucester prison, which closed in 2013, and is the place where serial killer Fred West was remanded in custody after murdering 12 women.

Not that Will minded travelling there for the procedure.

“We used the prison for a video the other day,” he smiles. “It’s great.”

What Will is finding more horrifying is the state his dead doppelgänger’s barnet has ended up in. Creeper’s keyboardist/vocalist Hannah Greenwood would regularly parade the head around, holding it aloft by the hair, resulting in a combover similar to that of Will’s old science teacher.

“It’s got a bit of a Mr Penton going on,” the real Will laughs now, sporting a markedly different hairstyle – a mullet with a centre parting that suggests he took a picture of Wings-era Paul McCartney to the barber for inspiration. In reality, it’s a stylistic calling card for his new William von Ghould persona and owes a debt to the 1987 film The Lost Boys, one of the many vampiric inspirations behind Creeper’s third album, Sanguivore.

As Will gives himself a headlock, a large plastic tube can be seen, tucked into the bloody stump of the neckline. This was supposed to allow fake blood to be pumped onto the audience at the Roundhouse – before the band’s perceptive and plain-speaking press officer, suggested it was too visible and would undermine the moment, so the plan was nixed.

Still, the decapitation was a powerful climax to the show, a characteristic repeated from the end of the era for their 2017 debut Eternity, In Your Arms. Back then, in November 2018, the band ‘split’ onstage at London’s KOKO, vanishing from the face of the earth, only to return a year to the day later to tease their second album, 2020’s Sex, Death & The Infinite Void.

This time around, of course, the Southampton horror-punks launched straight into the Sanguivore era, unveiling a new logo, merch line and label partnership with Spinefarm Records on the night of the Roundhouse show – as well as the non-album single Ghost Brigade, distributed to fans present in attendance via 666 cassette tapes.

“Everyone knew that at these big one-off shows something happens,” Will says of the expectation-defying way Sanguivore was introduced to the world. “We’d been teasing it [this time around] as well, and half the stuff people didn’t pick up on. We started using red blood splatters on T-shirts the year before, and bats were introduced to the merch range – stuff that didn’t make any sense with the record we’d just released.

“It’s harder and harder to take left turns the more you do it,” he continues. “People have seen it all, not just from us but other bands, too. Our fans are amazing, but sometimes they get frustrated that it’s not more of the same. When we did the first big switcheroo into Sex, Death…, there was frustration initially that it wasn’t what they’d known before, another breadcrumb trail murder mystery. We’d done that and we’d done it to death, to the best of our ability, so the next one had to be a big glam record with a very cold colour palette, to represent the isolation of it. This one, then, had to be darker and more grandiose.”

It’s safe to say that Creeper have achieved their objective with Sanguivore. It’s an album that’s not just bigger than its predecessor but, somehow, even more bombastic and theatrical, leaning more confidently into Will’s love of composer and lyricist Jim Steinman, the man responsible for writing mega-hits for Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler – symphonic rock songs that sound old-fashioned in some ways, yet retain a timeless feel for melody.

“It’s much more ‘jazz-hands’ than we’ve done before,” suggests Will, adopting the appropriate gesture. “Early in our career, we got lumped in with a more contemporary scene and I never thought we were that band. I’m hoping that the last few years mean that people have started to see us in our own lane, rather than the next in line to fill a certain spot.”

Sanguivore is also, it should be noted, a very goth record, the influence for which can be attributed to the band on the T-shirt Will is currently wearing…

When Creeper released Cry To Heaven, the first single proper from Sanguivore, Will received an enthusiastic text from Patricia Morrison. Patricia, you will recall, featured as a guest on Sex, Death & The Infinite Void, providing the voice for the character of Annabelle.

While Will was deeply flattered by the praise, he was also a little embarrassed. With its huge choral sweeps, stabbing keyboards and heavy synths, Cry To Heaven was clearly inspired by 1987’s Floodland, the second album from The Sisters Of Mercy, made while Patricia was a member of the legendary goth outfit. Will, who currently has their logo emblazoned across his chest, was understandably rather conscious of how closely he’d cleaved to the more commercial material from Patricia’s old band. But if Patricia thought so too, she didn’t say so.

“She swept my suggestion that it was influenced by her work to one side, and said how much she loved the song and tells me every now and again,” reveals Will. “It blew my mind that Patricia Morrison was sitting somewhere listening to our songs. And her career has spanned far beyond The Sisters Of Mercy to include [punk rockers] Bags and [post-punks] The Gun Club.”

The Sisters Of Mercy’s place as a reference point, it turns out, has another function beyond paying homage to heroes. That sound, as well as the work of Jim Steinman (who also co-produced and co-wrote on Floodland) acts as a sonic “glue”, a unifying element Will suggests may have been missing from Sanguivore’s predecessor.

“On the last [album], the influences sat so far apart from each other. There was ’70s glam rock. There was Americana and surf guitar. Those elements were quite different from each other. So when we decided to make this big vampire record, we thought it would be a good idea to reference this stuff from the ’80s and ask ourselves what we were yet to explore in our arsenal of inspirations. It’s been really fun to try on a few different masks this time around.”

As a child, Will was obsessed with magic and professional wrestling. While in his younger years he considered these to be disparate interests, as an older man he now sees they’re both built around the same concept: illusion. It’s this fascination that led Will to the characters that have populated the worlds of Creeper’s past couple of records – the angel Roe from Sex, Death… and vampires Spook and Mercy from Sanguivore – beings that look like us but are anything but.

“I’ve always been fascinated by things that look one way but are another,” Will says. “The idea of looking human but being something else entirely, lying in plain sight, is something that really interests me.”

“It’s been really fun to try on a few different masks this time around…”

William von Ghould

So, too, did the opportunity to make an album full of guts and gore. He therefore took cues from Murder Ballads. The 1996 album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds is awash with appalling and visceral lyrical imagery – not least the song Stagger Lee, which features the lyric ‘I’ll crawl over 50 good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole’. Blimey.

Will flashes red momentarily. “We’ve got nothing like that on our record!”

Although Sanguivore features its fair share of sex, by virtue of it being a natural extension of romantic love, the album’s two main characters, Spook and Mercy, aren’t actually lovers. Instead, they have a platonic relationship, like a mentor and mentee, much like in the Swedish novel (and film) Let The Right One In. Meanwhile, for all the fang-tastical reference points being thrown around, this tale of friendship alludes to a camaraderie that’s closer to home: it’s about Will and Creeper guitarist Ian Miles.

“It’s specifically about Ian coming back to the front after being taken away on the last [album],” says Will.

The frontman is referring, of course, to the experience of making Sex, Death…, when Ian was being treated in a psychiatric ward after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Back then, working ‘together’ meant doing so over FaceTime. For Sanguivore, though, they were back together in the same room – a reconvening that both savoured immensely.

“This epic is reflective of our friendship,” Will proudly explains. “It’s giving more life to this band we’ve had for years, and is a tribute to our enduring friendship. The parallels with the real world seem to be constant. But I guess that’s writing what you know.”

Some of the credit for the deftness with which Creeper have successfully birthed this cinematic yet highly personal record must go to Tom Dalgety, the producer and engineer who’s worked with the likes of Ghost, Royal Blood and punk legends The Damned (whose frontman, Dave Vanian, is married to none other than Patricia Morrison).

Tom, says Will, is the perfect person to capture Creeper at this moment in time. While Eternity, In Your Arms producer Neil Kennedy grew up in the punk and hardcore scene and therefore understood the band’s early iteration, he was less attuned to their dramatic impulses. Sex, Death & The Infinite Void helmer Xandy Barry got them, but his predilection for slickness wasn’t right for an album that needed dirt (and blood) under its fingernails.

“He was completely on the money straight away with the things we were talking about,” Will says of Tom, whose shared musical passions meant he got something important out of the arrangement, too. “He’d tell us that he liked working with us because he could go to town with what he calls ‘Dalgo’s Big Box Of Spooky Tricks’, which other artists he’s worked with are less keen to delve into in full.”

What kinds of things are in this ‘box’?

“He loves bells,” reveals Will, identifying The Cramps-meets-AFI stomp of Chapel Gates as a prime example of that obsession in action. “He also loves a key change. There are three songs in a row on this record – Cry To Heaven, Sacred Blasphemy and The Ballad Of Spook & Mercy – that all have key changes in them. It’s flamboyant stuff.”

“Stop fucking singing that song!”

Will is recalling lockdown, when he wrote the track More Than Death. As has become something of a trademark with Creeper, it’s an album-closing piano ballad (see also I Choose To Live and Be Careful With Your Heart from previous records, respectively).

In the finished version of More Than Death, Will hits its high notes with remarkable gusto. Back then, however, with a case of COVID temporarily robbing him of the top register of his voice, it was a more wretched affair. Spare a thought, then, for Will’s girlfriend, Charlotte, who endured this grating cacophony for hours on end. Finally, her patience ran out.

“Stop fucking singing that song!”

The request was reasonable, even if said song was actually written for her.

The pandemic was a time of reflection for all of us. For Will, who, like many people in bands, believed for a time that his livelihood might be over, things started poorly. “Charlotte says I’m the worst version of me when I’m stuck inside all day. When she senses me getting grumpy, she’ll suggest I go out for a walk.”

The pandemic was a time of reflection for all of us. For Will, who, like many people in bands, believed for a time that his livelihood might be over, things started poorly. “Charlotte says I’m the worst version of me when I’m stuck inside all day. When she senses me getting grumpy, she’ll suggest I go out for a walk.”

Gradually, as the realisation that everything was fucked and therefore entirely out of his control set in, Will began to surrender to the banality of it all, appreciating the opportunity to drink whisky and listen to records. Soon he and bandmates Ian, Hannah, bassist Sean Scott and drummer Jake Fogerty began bettering themselves as musicians from the comfort of their own homes, ready for when life resumed.

“I taught myself to record my voice for the first time, because I’m a baby and couldn’t do it myself,” laughs Will. “That way, Ian and I could send things between us, so we realised, like so many people during that time, that we could work remotely. We had the resilience to build entire worlds from within the same four walls that you eat and sleep in. It gave us more faith in ourselves.”

What the period didn’t give Creeper was cause to dwell upon where they’ve been and where they’re at. Even with the band’s self-titled debut EP turning 10 next year, reflection was in short supply. (Will didn’t even know about that landmark until people started asking about it in interviews.)

“I find nostalgia quite problematic sometimes,” he begins, before correcting himself. “Personal nostalgia, at least. I love nostalgia when it comes to pop culture, but personal nostalgia is cancerous to productivity. It eats away at you. I’m friends with lots of people who play, or have played, in bands, and I always find it so depressing when they post flashbacks to a time they were doing something that they liked doing. I understand that it’s not my place to judge, but I can’t understand not living in the moment now and you’re harking back to another time, unless you really have to. There’s a real urge in me to move on and to make the next thing the best thing we’ve ever done. I don’t want to obsess over things I’ve already done.”

“I don’t want to obsess over things I’ve already done”

William von Ghould

As Will prepares for the release of a new Creeper album, he listens to nothing else. Absolutely nothing. He eats and sleeps it. He steeps himself in its sound and story right up until the moment it’s out in the world, at which point he stops because it isn’t his anymore – much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show is no longer Richard O’Brien’s but belongs instead to the millions of fans who wear outlandish outfits to attend sing-along screenings of the 1975 cult film. “The motivation and the measuring stick for us is that it’s good art and that people see themselves in it enough that, once you step away from it, it still exists.”

By that point, of course, Creeper are already well on the way to the next thing, a job made easier by having figured out the themes and narratives for consecutive records years ago. So while the road ahead isn’t fully paved yet, the route has at least been determined. “You can’t be in a band like ours without having to plan. That’s maybe why I’ve only got limited mental energy to deal with the past.”

For Will, creating music for the band’s audience is like playing chess with a highly intelligent opponent looking for you to make a mistake. “They’re playing for fun rather than to be mean, but you have to be on it with them. That’s what makes it wonderful. More than ever we’re motivated and excited to be looking ahead.”

Speaking of heads, as Will puts his back in the bag and prepares to return it to the utility cupboard. Perhaps sensing how peculiar this scene is, he laughs uproariously. “Creeper have never made great deals of money, as you can see, so there was never a financial incentive to what we’re doing!”

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