Having spent four years crafting a conceptual labyrinth of characters and crime stories inspired as much by J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan as it was by AFI's back catalogue, punk-rock renegades Creeper embarked on a two-year world tour flying the flag for the late-noughties emo-revival. By the time their feted faux farewell came about on 1st November 2018 - echoing David Bowie's on-stage retirement of Ziggy Stardust in 1973 – it was abundantly clear that Creeper were falling apart at the seams from creative, mental and physical exhaustion. As the Southampton sextet – comprised of vocalist Will Gould, guitarists Ian Miles and Oliver Burdett, bassist Sean Scott, drummer Dan Bratton and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood – welcome us to their world of 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void', Upset gets caught up in the middle of a global pandemic with Will Gould to find out just what happened during their year away.
"I know we needed to do it; I know we needed the break. We needed some time to work and then suddenly the craziest shit in the world happened to us and to me. It resulted in 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void'," reflects Will, almost as proud of his band's post-breakthrough breakdown as he is broken by the wreckage they've risen out of like phoenixes. While the Creeper Cult spent their time wishing for their heroes to make a return, the protagonists of our tale were battling their demons on a day-to-day basis. So much so that it began to feel like fate was waging a war on their year-long reinvention, constantly threatening to derail everything disastrously in a series of events that eerily echoes the tragedies the cast and crew making the iconic 1982 paranormal phenomenon Poltergeist experienced.
"We often think about this record as being cursed. When we first started it, Ian [Miles, Guitarist] got sick and was sectioned, and my mum's partner died, and I was in LA on my own for all of this. Our producer went through a divorce, and our manager was having a baby, and he couldn't be there for his wife because he was out there with us."
While major shifts in their personal lives were taking place, seismic quakes in the world around them were shaking up their landscape in ways unimaginable. "As soon as 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' was done being pressed, like the vinyl records at Apollo Masters in California, the entire plant burned down to the ground, which is absolutely crazy, and now we're going through a global pandemic.
"I've never through the course of one project experienced anything as chaotic as this, like I left my fiancé last year and moved to Manchester. It's just an extremely transitional period that surrounds this album, but it's allowed us to feel confident with what we've made and who we've become."
The creation of confidence in both the album they've written and the people they've grown into during it wasn't something important to them, it was critical to their continued existence. Following the band's on-stage breakup and the real-life breakups taking place in their personal lives, Creeper were undergoing an identity crisis in more ways than one.
"The infinite void was literally where we were drifting for some time while making this album. I didn't know if Creeper was going to come back, I didn't know if we were over." Will pauses for a moment, reflecting on the trials and tribulations he's faced over the past year. "I was floating through California with the shards of a broken relationship and a band that I'd just broken up on stage that had been my life's work.
"It was that feeling of drifting and staring off into the infinite void, like what the hell am I supposed to be doing? What is my purpose of doing this? Who am I? I'd lost my entire identity over the course of a few months. It was surreal."
While floating in the Infinite Void, Will found himself changing not only his band but his own lifestyle. Having doused his band in fire and set them alight on stage, he took their disappearing act one step further by taking an eye-opening social media hiatus.
"Imagine being the singer of a band, which inherently comes under being an absolute narcissist, and throwing away all of that ability to get attention – you have to look at yourself in a different way. It's actually been really healthy not having any social media or anything like that, just waking up to the world around you.
"I was noticing all of these weird things and having these strange nights. I really started to feel more of what was going on around me, I was going out in the middle of the night and getting drunk, meeting people and having relationships, and like what was going on with me. I recognised my alcohol dependency and all these different things. The Infinite Void to me was the thing that came along with all that."
The Infinite Void is as much a metaphorical wonderland for Creeper as it is a very physical space their minds operated within like their own personal four white walls surrounding them and ultimately challenging themselves to recreate, redefine and reinvent themselves at every turn. Their personal identity crises were slipping into Creeper's sonic subconscious, already bubbling at the brim in the battle of creative do's and don'ts, despite Will having foretold a change in their sound's waters many moons ago.
"It's always been important for us to keep our word and our promise. I'd spoken a lot during 'Eternity In Your Arms', that if we did this thing again, we would completely rebuild and come up with something new, that would be really bold, and I wouldn't be scared.
"The problem was that the sound we had on the record, we had built across three EPs beforehand [2014's 'Creeper', 2015's 'The Callous Heart' and 2016's 'The Stanger']. It had built our entire career, and it was quite successful. So, when it came to the point where I had to make the call on what to do, I had to decide between whether we double down on it and just make the same record again or we rip it apart and start again."
Creeper took the latter option of taking everything everyone has ever known about their band, dousing it in kerosene and burning it down to the ground like the real-life fire that would engulf the plant pressing the record they were about to make.
"I told everybody we didn't want to use the callous heart anymore and everybody was freaking out about that, and then I was telling everybody we weren't going to make any fast songs anymore and everybody was freaking out about that. For me, if you're truly going to do it, you have to destroy the entire thing, just smash the entire thing to rubble to rebuild it in a completely different shape, to have a true rebirth.
"A lot of bands in our scene promise innovative ideas, and then they do a really small version of that. I kept getting told by people that bands will only ever progress their sound by 20% on each record and I just felt like that was completely boring, and it didn't suit our band at all. I wanted to be bold and innovative, there were times where we started writing songs and I was wondering whether we were going too far, like it felt edgy and alienating, and that's when it felt like we were pulling it off."
If the creative cornerstones for 2017's 'Eternity, In Your Arms' was AFI, Alkaline Trio and My Chemical Romance, then for 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void', it's Suede, Pulp and Oasis. The Britpop invasion that engulfed the mid-nineties distils itself infectiously throughout 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void'. Whether it's the punchiest hook you've heard from the band or a new-found romanticism of old-fashioned ideals and the overdramatised exploration of modern youth culture, Britpop is as much a part of this album as David Bowie, Jim Steinman and the emo-rock revival are. In fact, escaping the tags they'd been brandished with was key to their reinvention.
"One of the things that was so frustrating about the last record was that we were constantly compared to My Chemical Romance, AFI and Alkaline Trio. We were constantly told we sounded like these bands, but none of them actually sounded similar to us. It was impossible to sound like us. I wanted us to be our own thing. I don't for one second ever want to be in the shadow of somebody else's career.
"We love those bands, but it got to the point where it felt like a lazy comparison. By the end of it, I was literally saying 'If I have to answer another question about somebody else's band I'm going to go crazy' – I think it's important to level with these things and build something brand new."
It might sound like a badly drawn business plan – the idea of ripping up your own rulebook in the face of an emo-rock revival you're the de facto leader of – but in hindsight, it's the beating heart that pulsates at the very core of what makes Creeper, Creeper. Therefore, when it came to writing on the whiteboards they used to weave their second album's web together, Will spent some time taking a trip down memory lane.
"It's impossible to make something if it's not in your blood. We collectively stockpile ideas in a memory bank somewhere in our minds, and we start putting them together with these very real-life experiences, and suddenly you have all these things to draw on you thought you'd forgotten about."
"I grew up with Britpop, I'm a child from that era, and I was just a boy then. I used to listen to the Big 4 – Suede, Oasis, Blur and Pulp – when I was a kid, and I pulled these influences out of nowhere while in America, and it was perfect for what we were doing."
Will reflects candidly on his time revisiting his British musical heritage while away in America, continuing: "I was in Hollywood all the time, and I made a lot of friends out there. I was going out all the time, to weird goth clubs and fetish clubs, and I found myself in utterly bizarre situations that I wouldn't normally at home."
It was in the many 'morning afters' Will experienced during his time in America that he would work with his band on their new album, revisiting his childhood and connecting the dots both consciously and subconsciously one-by-one. However, there's a single memory that sticks out the most when Will thinks of 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void'.
"When I think about this record, I think about when my parents divorced, and how I used to go round my now-step-mum's house with my dad. They would go to bed, and I would go straight to their CD collection and pull records out at random. I'd look at the cover and put the record on and sit there all night listening to the record.
"In Hollywood, I'd think about that and the bands I discovered through that and that romantic period of time where you digest that music properly. It's such a formative thing for me, it's how I first got into music. This is why our album cover looks the way it does, it's supposed to look like an old record, because that's how I see this and the influences that go into it. Like when I first got my dad's copy of 'Hunky Dory' by David Bowie, and the cover was all beat-up, and it had been played a million times. I used to listen to that in my room all the time, and it's so much a part of me."
Those formative memories and their importance; not only in creating the frontman we know and love today, but in steering him through his own modern-day identity crisis; were critical to the creative process. Will, and in turn his friends in Creeper, found themselves drawing on these memories and finding more than just musical influences.
"In the daytime when I'm working on the record, I'm drawing on references that I had 20 years ago when I was a kid, and I'm singing about these immediate experiences over a vintage background. It felt like a really bizarre epiphany."
With a band of callous hearts on the brink of breaking and moments away from embarking on their journey to becoming the fugitives of heaven, epiphanies were being experienced like ecstasy. Much like when David Bowie took Ziggy to America in the early seventies writing songs about his experiences in America, the essential ingredients of 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' were bought together by Creeper's very real experiences as Britons in America.
Set in a small town based on Dunsmuir in Northern California, 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void''s twisted tale encapsulates the band's feelings of being Englishmen in America and the alienation that brings with it. Following the journey of a fallen angel's experiences as an outsider in a small town, listeners will embrace our protagonists' trials and tribulations as they fall in love with a woman while learning to be human and to feel again. The puzzle pieces that tie together the fictional America our heroes inhabit are the same that tie together Creeper's time in America.
"The songs are all real-life scenarios, our real-life completely mimics this fictional America that we've written. I think it's the only way to make it more real, you should write what you know. Even though this sounds like an out-of-this-world story that we're telling you on this album, it all really happened in real life, in one way or another.
"It didn't happen in a fictional place, some of the elements of the story have been expanded and blown up, and it's told in a slightly different way, but all of the plot points are very much there in my real life. You know, the very real tragedy that surrounded this record is the same that imbues it."
While out in America, Creeper were battling not only the demons of their creative muscles and emotional minds but of their very being against one of the countries most controversial names. "One of the biggest influences on the story was our experience with the Westboro Baptist Church, who were protesting Warped Tour while we were on it. We then protested the protest, and in America, obviously, everything is more heightened and more dramatic, so it went everywhere. In fact, there wasn't a better place to write a Creeper record really."
The album is split into three acts in which the songs they comprise of have all been categorised under the three key ingredients of it all: Sex, Death and - you guessed it - the Infinite Void. "Those three things have been extremely important in making this record. When we were writing in LA, we had a whiteboard with a graph and the three categories, and if we wrote something that didn't fit in those categories, we wouldn't use it.
"It sounds like a very hopeless title, but those are the ingredients that came into making this. Before everything happened and before Ian got sectioned, that is what we would talk about constantly, those three things all the time, every day. I don't think it's hopeless, the arc of the narrative is that when our character dies, the people of the town he's from are redeemed, and we're hoping this is what it does. Life is not as miserable as it seems, and that's very much in the real world, not in a fictional one."
While the Infinite Void was a blackhole Will and co. spent their time drifting aimlessly towards in a mental purgatory, Sex and Death were creeping up everywhere in aesthetical, mental and physical capacities as they travelled through their own version of America.
"There was some very real-life tragedy that we felt the ramifications of each of those in terms of death, and then there's so much sex on this record it's unreal. It's done in a quirky fun way, but in reality, we were exploring a lot of different avenues of sexuality in our personal lives, which is all so different. It's been a very strange time for us."
Strange is an understatement in the lives of Creeper, who spent as much time recording the record and hanging out with soundtrack producer Xandy Barry as they did visiting celebrity graveyards and fetish clubs.
"We were little weirdos going to death museums in Hollywood every day, we went to Hollywood Forever to see Maila Nurma, who obviously plays Vampira, to see her grave and we saw Jayne Mansfield's car, where she had been killed. They emphasise death out there like we've done with our band, and we had just killed Creeper, and I was surrounded by very real-life loss with my mother's partner, so the death thing was everywhere."
"The sex thing was absolutely everywhere," he continues, "especially in Hollywood. Like, oh my god, it was fucking everywhere. We'd be out at clubs until two, and there'd be these out of hours places in downtown LA, and you'd go there until six and seven in the morning."
Whatever happened regarding the holy trinity in their real lives entered their fictional ones, as if they were holding up a giant mirror. Ultimately, 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' is an album that has pushed Creeper to the upper limits of their pain thresholds.
"This record has been a really explosive one to make and unlike anything I've ever made in my whole life, and it's threatened to ruin absolutely everything at times. When you can hold the record, like the vinyl, and know it's the last thing made in that place before it burned down to the ground, like that's just crazy. Sometimes the reality is much more fantastical than the fictional one we've made."
While their worlds – both real and fictional – are fantastical, the songs that define them are just as much. From the So Cal sun of alt-rock explosion 'Be My End' to the piano-laden dream-pop soundscape of 'Cyanide' to the honey-dripped harmonies in the Suede-like future first dance 'Thorns Of Love,' which is perhaps Creeper's most grandiose departure. In crafting their story, they also crafted a narrative of sounds split into acts that ease you into their new era.
"It needed to be three really definitive acts, which is how it's divided: the first third is still jarring if you're used to our old sound, but it's not as jarring as the things to come with songs like 'Be My End' and 'Born Cold'. The middle section begins with 'Paradise' and goes right up to 'Thorns of Love', they're these songs that are much more grandiose, and they have the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on them. They're slower numbers that you've never heard us do before. It ends with these big rock songs like 'Napalm Girls' and a cracking piano finale in 'All My Friends'."
As much a theatrical act as they are a punk rock band, the structuring of both the narrative and its accompanying songs was as important to Creeper as the music itself was. Will, in particular, suffered sleepless nights stringing together the tiniest details.
"It's paced and put together meticulously. That's one of the biggest things for me, especially the way it's track-listed and the amount of time between songs. We spent ages changing seconds and milliseconds of pauses to make sure it hits the way it should.
"The one that sticks out in my mind is the spoken word track with me and Patricia [Morrison] from The Sisters of Mercy. When it goes 'and I feel nothing' and then into 'Annabelle' straight away, it's such a small thing, but I couldn't work out the exact balance to go into the next song. We fretted over tiny little nuanced details, but it's essential it flows nicely; otherwise, it wouldn't work, it'd be disjointed.
"It was the same with 'Eternity, In Your Arms', when Hannah had her first appearance as a solo voice on 'Crickets'. If we had started the record with that song, it wouldn't have made any sense, and if we'd have ended the record with that song, it wouldn't have made any sense. You have to condition the listener to expect the unexpected, almost."
The notion of expecting the unexpected runs through 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' almost infectiously, throwing you completely off-guard track-by-track, moment-by-moment. There are audible and narrative Easter eggs aplenty throughout, providing what the band believe is a much-needed escape from reality, just like the one they experienced while making the record in America.
"At the very core of what we're trying to do with this is providing escapism, our mission statement when we very first started was to put the dramatic pomp back into punk rock," muses Will, laughing at the reality that his band's dream has become. "There's a mythology behind it, especially with this album. It was made in Hollywood, and it wasn't like a pop-punk record where you go to Hollywood, and you make a pop-punk record sat with some dude from another pop-punk band making just another pop-punk record. It's not like that at all. It was made in Hollywood with this amazing madman named Xandy Barry in a place that's a stone's throw from Warner Brothers where they filmed Blade Runner, which we based a lot of our visuals from our last record on.
"We were trying to make a magic record which people can lose themselves in, and no matter how rough their life in the daytime is, they can put this record on or our last one on and zone out and live somewhere else for a minute, and be somebody else. I think in times like this when things are getting harder and harder and the world's so maniacal all the time, to be able to zone out is a really valuable thing and to escape with an album. It's a magical thing, isn't it? Putting a record on and being able to lose yourself in it?"
In a time and an industry where anyone and everyone can access millions upon millions of tracks at their fingertips on their phones, where music to many has become a disposable commodity for background listening, Creeper are throwing caution to the wind and bringing their old-fashioned ideals to the fore. 'Eternity, In Your Arms' broke the mainstream barriers and peaked in the UK top twenty. Most other rock bands would've double-downed on their schtick and carried on. For Creeper, this simply wasn't an option.
"I feel like it's from a different time almost, I can't see it the way other band's see it these days, where it's an autotuned verse and chorus, and all the drums are a certain way, I just can't do that, it's not a part of me, so I kind of have no choice. I have to create in the way I feel is becoming, so even if it's a bad idea, I'm tethered to it. I'm going down with this ship because it's all I know, especially when you're trying to create something that provides escape, and put magic in it. That's a really old thing, these are old ideals."
When you're committed to the old ideals you've been raised on, you've got to put a lot of stock in the following you've amassed. For Creeper, their cult of fans is integral to the success of 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void''s mission to provide escapism. In Will's mind, they're what makes the risk of ripping the rulebook up worth it.
"We went from doing something that was heavily branded, like every time we went on stage, we had a uniform, and we completely abolished the entire thing. We threw the entire thing away, and we made a bunch of sounds that are absolutely not what somebody listening to our contemporaries in alternative music would normally put on. We're just hoping people will follow us down the rabbit hole a little bit and go 'okay, well this is weird, I'll follow this down and see where it goes', and they'll realise that this is what we're trying to do.
"We couldn't do it another way anyway; it wouldn't make sense. If I had to make music the way other people have been doing it, I just wouldn't do it, I'd just make something else. I'd be better off staying at home making things and selling them on Etsy. It wouldn't make sense for me to do something the way things are these days; I find a lot of the music around me quite boring."
In Creeper, Will is not alone with his longing for the golden age of albums, and he's fully aware that they'll be many who spend little time appreciating the nuances of their work, but he's more interested in rewarding Creeper's more dedicated listeners.
"In this climate, you have to keep throwing music out because everything's so disposable now, like kids don't sit down and listen to an album in the way that you and I used to. They want the singles, and that's it. This album is very traditional in lots of ways, I like to think of it as a return of form in the way of a great rock and roll tale, you have to sit down and listen to it in the order it's planned to truly appreciate it.
"There are people that will press play on 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' and skip through it, listening to the first verse and chorus of each song, hear what we've done and move on. I get it, but the whole thing is loaded with Easter eggs and little nuances, and you'd miss it all that way. The idea of us is that everything rewards the more dedicated listener – like, you can listen to it and hear a hook and think it's a cool song or whatever, but if you listen to it over and over again, if you listen to it as much as you can, that's when you truly get it."
Rewarding the listener isn't something Creeper take lightly. From breaking up and resurrecting themselves on the very same day a year apart to releasing an entire book dedicated to the world they'd created across their EPs and debut album; they've always gone to infinity and beyond to reward the most dedicated of their cult. For 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void', they even made their universe playable.
"If you focus on the things we're putting online, like the video game we launched a little while ago, if you play that enough, you'll find things no one else will find. There are things on The Mainframe no one has discovered yet. It's a deep, deep world, and it's intentionally deep because we want people to spend some time on it and lose themselves in it.
"Imagine if it was just a shallow fucking t-shirt design and a record chucked together, that's not Creeper. There's nothing wrong with that but it's not what Creeper does."
Since their inception in 2014, Creeper have constantly defied the odds, having risen from the ashes of a dozen local acts to headlining festival stages and playing support slots in UK arenas, with an act that in this generation shouldn't work. On 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void', Creeper skip a rung or two on their way to the top of the ladder, crafting their definitive sound and multiverse much like My Chemical Romance once did when they transitioned from 'Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge' to 'The Black Parade'. No matter what happens, Creeper will continue to push themselves as a creative anomaly putting the pomp back into punk and the magic back into music. They simply won't rest until they've achieved it all.
Taken from the June issue of Upset. Creeper's album 'Sex, Death & The Infinite Void' is out 31st July.
Featuring Creeper, Palaye Royale, Lonely The Brave, The Used and more.