Poisoned Heart: Creeper's Astonishing Resurrection
In November 2018, Creeper played what seemed to be their final ever show at London’s KOKO. At the end of the evening, one by one, the band removed their leather jackets, each bearing their ‘Callous Heart’ logo, the symbol of their feverishly loyal fanbase.
Leaving behind a stunned and tearful crowd, they disappeared into the night. It genuinely looked as though one of the most exciting, creative punk bands of a generation was over. We know now of course that it was a piece of theatre. An elaborate way for the Southampton band to draw a line under their first era, and move on to create their next macabre, velvet rich world.
The result is their flamboyant second album, ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’, a decadent slice of goth-tinged Americana that singer Will Gould reveals is “rooted in terrible tragedy”.
Clash caught up with the singer talk about art, the story behind the record and turning their back on punk.
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Tell us about that night at KOKO. How did you plan the “break-up” stunt?
It was planned a long time in advance. Telling the record label that you’re going to break the band up live onstage doesn’t tend to go down very well.
Our A&R and marketing man at Roadrunner [Records] came down to Southampton because they wanted to see what I had in mind for the album, which is now ‘Sex, Death & the Infinite Void’. They sat on the sofa and I remember handing them a PDF - the very first page was; “The Death Of the Callous Heart”.
I remember them both being like, “For fucks sake…”
Why did there have to be such a sense a finality between your new album and your debut, ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’?
We were very burnt out and very exhausted from touring and I think we’d taken our ideas for that record as far as we could take them. If people aren’t expecting the unexpected every time they come and see you, you’re doing it wrong. If you start seeing [a band] as a job and stop seeing it as essential art you have to create, you lose the very basics of what you built the thing on.
As soon as that album became stagnant in my head, I knew it was time to erase it all, bring it down to rubble and rebuild it again.
We spoken to you before about the symbol of the Callous Heart and how it has brought your fan base together. Are you worried that by retiring it, you’ll lose the sense of community that has defined the band so far?
Our audience grows and is fluid with Creeper. I’ve always felt that. We put out [single] ‘Poisoned Heart’ yesterday, which is kind of like a country song and I was nervous about that one. But immediately, kids are wanting to learn about [the inspiration] Roy Orbison. They want to dive into that kind of music, they trust us with it and it’s that trust and mutual admiration between us and our community that’s more than just a logo now. It’s something in the air.
We always try to make our shows safe spaces but I this time, I think we’re going to end up with something that’s a very special thing. At our shows next year, you’re going to see a real parade of young people in a lot of makeup, toying with gender and finding a place where they can be free to dress how they want.
A lot of people are now sending me their makeup looks. Boys are being inspired to wear makeup for the first time and being comfortable with that, and that’s amazing. That’s how I felt when I saw [AFI vocalist] Davey Havok when I was kid and it’s a real honour people are seeing that in us now.
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Your new album is a very different sound for you guys. How did it come about?
We wanted to make an American record, that was very much in my mind. Our last record was made in Southampton, where we’re from, and as we’d spent so much time in America, it was essential we told the story of where we’d been since then.
Our next fiction had to be rooted in America, but we wanted to infuse something inherently British. There’s something cool about British people making an American record in America. So we started thinking about Britpop: Suede, Pulp, Oasis. Then further back, what influenced them - 70s stuff like David and The Beatles.
Then over the course of the time we were doing these things, we were struck with a lot of tragedy.
Ian [Miles, Guitarist] had a major psychotic episode in Southampton which led to him being hospitalised in the priory in Brighton for a long time. I wanted to immediately put the band on pause while I waited for Ian to get better, but a lot of people around me were saying the likelihood was we’d lose momentum everywhere, because we were already into a year off at this point.
So I went out to Los Angeles to try and keep this whole thing together. I was going through some major problems in my personal life: my mother’s partner passed away the day before Ian was sectioned. I’m absolutely comfortable to talk about it, but I don’t want to talk on behalf of [Ian]. Looking back, I’ve had an incredible amount of guilt, trying to work out if I could have seen something coming.
Is that what the line; “I'm so sorry if I failed you” in single, ‘All My Friends’ refers to?
I carried a lot of weight around because I had to call an ambulance and the police on my best friend. I feel guilty for a lot of things. It’s someone you’ve been so close to for years and years. How do you not notice these things? I wrote that song in while I was in Los Angeles at a piano in this amazing little studio called Wax, off Sunset. It was a dream come true to be in Hollywood on one hand, but on the other ... it’s not the dream you imagined.
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Have you let go of that guilt now?
That’s a difficult question. I think certain things in life will probably be with you forever. Me and Ian are in a wonderful place now and he was never mad at me in the first place. Our lifestyles were very destructive at the time. It was a difficult time for us, but we’ve been such good friends all these years and we’re all so excited about this record coming out. We couldn’t have made it without all this stuff going on.
What do you mean by “destructive”?
People had to have words with both us about our alcohol abuse and together, we’d enable each other quite a lot. Ian is completely sober now. I used it as a crutch on and off for years. Then when Ian got sectioned, it threw me into that kind of spell even worse. I managed to calm down and I still drink now, still get drunk and I still like going out, but I’m not sitting at home drinking anymore like I was in Los Angeles all the time.
The rest of my life is in much better shape. [At that time], everything was crumbling around me. I was trying to focus on doing my job and finishing up this record, but my best friend wasn’t there. Everything else was falling apart at home too and I just fell into this big hole. It’s so easy to do that in a place like Hollywood.
What was it like recording this album in Hollywood?
I love Hollywood but there’s a sinister edge to it. A darkness that lies beneath the water.
I realised a lot of people had found themselves there because there they didn’t fit into another place. Then I came to realise that I was actually one of those people as well. I wasn’t an observer watching weirdness happening around me. I fit in alarmingly well and realised I didn’t really fit in where I was from in the first place.
What do you think fans will take away from ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’? Will this album challenge your fans to rethink who Creeper are?
There’s going to be some people who want us to play fast songs forever and I get that. But I’m hoping this allows us to make all different types of music. Whatever we do next can be even bigger, more embellished and over-the-top. I’m hoping they’ll follow us down the rabbit hole.
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Creeper’s new album, ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’, is released on July 31st, via Roadrunner Records.
Words: Dannii Leivers
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