A lot of bands do creative things to increase anticipation and excitement around whatever activities they have planned next. Radiohead disappeared (for about a day), Muse had a global scavenger hunt, Brand New are Brand New, Frank Ocean built some stairs – but one thing they, and every other example has in common is an end goal. A destination.
Earlier this year the band’s Will Gould let slip that, “Creeper are working on a project at the moment that is very top secret. I’m not in a position to let you know the ins and outs and what’s having a direct effect on it but there are a lot of things we’re digesting all the time. Yes, it’s much bigger than music. It’s very ambitious”
It’s safe to assume that the band’s current shenanigans (more on those later – Ed) will eventually have some form of payoff, be it musical or otherwise, but what’s different about this hype-inducing adventure is the joy of the journey. Part of that is down to the dedicated and welcoming fanbase Creeper have built, sharing every step and every discovery. The other part is the world Creeper have built. From their disappearance to the James Scythe mystery, everything links back to the universe Creeper introduced us to with their ‘The Callous Heart’. Let’s play catch up, ‘cause this is one hell of a ride.
In The Beginning, The Callous Heart and The Stranger
Will Gould: “I was that kid at school who would just play with a deck of cards and do magic. I hated how boring everything was and I didn’t like how a lot of the people at school treated others, so I’d escape into a bit of fantasy. I just loved the idea of it because it makes the real world seem a bit more magical. It makes it seem like anything’s possible.”
Taking that idea and running with it, the band’s second EP ‘The Callous Heart’ introduces us to a gang of back-patch clad kids whose whole world was each other. Sparked by a visit to Disneyland and listening to Jim Steinman’s ‘Bad For Good’ while he worked in a call centre, Will realised that the story of Peter Pan, “mirrored our lives so strangely yet accurately. I related to the characters so much more now. The Peter Pan story is timeless and I think it’s something people need again.”
Becoming obsessed “with the idea of floating out of the window. I just wanted to escape in the most fantastic way possible.” Enter The Callous Heart (“a ‘Lost Boys’ that wasn’t gender specific”) the band set about making something “where we could all escape together,” with the name and artwork of the record binding them together. “It’s more than just a band logo. It’s not clever marketing, this is going to stand for something. We can make a world out of this.”
Following up that EP with ‘The Stranger’, the band took their universe and expanded it with a new character, the titular The Stranger. “If The Lost Boys were The Callous Heart in our first record, The Stranger represents the crocodile who swallows the clock and he has it inside him. It’s time running out. He represents all the things we fear the most.”
The records were released, tours were toured and everything was going swimmingly. Then, after shows at Reading & Leeds Festival at the end of August, things started getting weird. First their Twitter account was ‘hacked’, displaying images of white noise (the same static that bookends their ‘Lie Awake’ video) with the band claiming it wasn’t them. Then, they just vanished. This is where we tumble down the rabbit hole.
A message of “Where is James Scythe?” appeared on the band’s account, a throwback to a text message fans received after phoning the number on a Southampton Coroners t-shirt the band made to go alongside the release of ‘The Stranger’ EP. Redialing the number 023 8000 0376 now leads to this website and a voicemail explaining, “On October 2nd 2016, we’ll die holding hands.”
The story of James Scythe (a few steps away from James Hook, AKA Captain Hook from Peter Pan) goes something like this. Born on either December 25th or 31st 1975, James Scythe worked for the British Government debunking reports of paranormal activity from 2002 to 2008, but his interest in that world continued until his disappearance on December 27th 2015. He had been married to Mary Scythe, née Darling (the same surname of Wendy) until she died in a car crash in Southampton that also injured James’ left hand in 2006 (leaving him, in essence, one handed. Sound familiar?).
James had been staying in room 309 of The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton when he disappeared, a room number that we’ve been warned about before.
Turns out James had been investigating The Callous Heart – a gang of seven boys and two girls who first appeared in 1903 wearing back patches, and have appeared on and off ever since, never ageing (Lost Boys anyone?) – and The Stranger, a shadowy figure who appears at night, normally to victims of sleep paralysis (a topic that ‘Lie Awake’ touches on and something that Ian Miles suffered from as a child). All his findings can be found on his The Spectral Sceptic podcast.
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He also filmed his own encounter with The Stranger.
Elsewhere on the website investigating his disappearance is a collection of photographs from his seemingly abandoned room. There’s a collection of ESP cards (used to conduct psychic experiments) laid out on a table, a photo in a police evidence bag collected by one Matthew Barrie (James Matthew Barrie wrote Peter Pan), and a scrap of paper with the url strangesouthampton.club written on it.
Again, this website is another rabbit warren. Alongside links to other sites detailing alien abductions (Ian has talked about sleep paralysis explaining tales of alien abduction and ghosts previously, and in another life Will started writing a musical about space. One of the songs became the chorus to ‘Astral Projection’), it looks at The Stranger (described as a ‘Black Mass’) and The Callous Heart from a less skeptical standpoint, as well as detailing a Stranger Walk around Southampton and photos of Will, Ian and Madeline (the girl from ‘The Stranger’ EP cover) taken on January 15th 2016.
After leaving us for a few days to sit with this information, Creeper’s social media sites uploaded missing person posters for the band, explaining how they got lost en route to Southampton from Leeds while wearing “black and puple clothes” (that spelling mistake is deliberate, by the way).
Next, on September 5th, came a game of hangman teasing “Soon, the search begins” (alongside the date October 2nd 2016, same as the voicemail) before kicking off the following day. “If you’re ready, it’s time to begin,” came the message alongside an address in Shirley (the site of the first sighting of The Stranger in 1850 as well as the starting point of The Southampton Stranger Walk) and a photo of a phone booth awaiting a call.
Following a sticker advertising Madame Darling’s Psychic Readings (same surname as Peter Pan’s Wendy, John and Michael as well as James Scythe’s wife), fans worked together to follow the series of instructions around Southampton and ended up with a collection of letters (S.U.N.E.R) which spelt out Runes (a word that also means ‘secret’ or ‘mystery’ in old Germanic languages, cheers Google). On working this out, Creeper’s twitter feed then shared a serious of runes, which explained, “You have missed something important.” We’re still looking.
There’s a countdown though, with all signs pointing to a little after 7pm on Sunday 2nd October 2016.
22 days, 7 hours, 54 minutes, 55 seconds. We’ll die holding hands. pic.twitter.com/ElfBZehkPl
— C R E E P E R (@creepercultuk) September 10, 2016
So what’s next?
In this story we’ve got The Callous Heart representing eternal youth and The Stranger as death, doom and fear, with James Scythe caught up in the middle (potentially with his dead wife/Wendy Darling guiding him and us via ESP cards and treasure hunts). In Peter Pan, Captain Hook is in a similar position to our James Scythe, caught between The Lost Boys and Tick-Tock the Crocodile. As Will told Louder Than War, “I felt [Hook] was the most interesting character. He was the most human element in the story. He spends his time constantly being terrified.”
Creeper’s ‘Stranger’ EP was a reaction to the reaction of The Callous Heart. “We were always completely blown away by the response and it meant we could justify a lot of the decisions we were about to make with this new record. It’s meant that we can kick everything up a gear and be really, really confident in what we’re doing. I have full confidence in all my friends in this band, in everything they do and every idea they come in with.”
It’s probably safe to assume that whatever the band are working on next, is a reaction to the reaction of the reaction.
“When we started with ‘The Callous Heart’ the idea was that it was an invented street gang and now, life is imitating art because they exist. People patch up, go to town and hang out in groups together. That’s so rad.
“Having a place to go that’s not your bedroom and having a place that you can feel at home was really important to me when I was younger. So, the ability to provide a show and an environment that’s safe for those kids to go to, I’m really proud of that accomplishment. I’m really glad people have allowed us to be that band for them.”
As for what comes next, the adventure continues.
“Our aspirations are still to write songs, make records and cool visuals,” reasons Will. “To tell a story and try and take people from their mundane lives for as long as we can. If we broke up tomorrow, I’d be happy with that world we made. That tiny little thing we managed to create.”
“The main thing for me is hoping we can inspire somebody to make something else,” adds Ian.
“We’re just ideas people, there’s no real magic to that,” offers Will. “The magic comes when you try and make something.“