Creeper frontman Will Gould has been keeping busy throughout the pandemic. Going one better than baking bread or taking on endless Zoom quizzes, he instead formed a second band, a punk rock project called Salem. Taking influence from AFI and The Cramps to write what Gould calls “satanic love songs”, they released their bubblegum-pink four-track self-titled EP in 2020.
Gould is currently on a mammoth UK tour, playing 19 shows as part of Salem’s first ever live outing. “I’ve been remembering how things go, catching my breath.” he explains to NME of his long awaited return to the stage, laughing that touring with Salem has helped him to prepare for theatrical goth-rockers Creeper’s next set of shows in December, which are always a borderline religious experience for their audience. “Some of the Creeper songs are so high in my range that singing Salem songs seemed easy in comparison!”
These will be the first Creeper shows since they released their bombastic second album ‘Sex Death and the Infinite Void’ in the middle of lockdown, alongside the two follow-up EPs, ‘American Noir’ and Sounds From The Void’, and it’s set to be a gothic spectacle on a grand scale.
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we caught up with Gould to find out about his Instagram confession booth, why nine-minute songs are still cool, and how Creeper are sworn to secrecy about what’s coming next. Here’s what we learned.
Fans confess their sins to him
Social media has given fans a direct line to their favourite artists, and Gould has been opening up his Instagram inbox as a confession booth for Salem listeners. Inspired by their song ‘Sweet Tooth’ which has a line about the confession booth, fans can write their ‘confessions’ in an Instagram question box, which Gould then shares anonymously on his story. They vary from the sweet to the x-rated, and has turned into a bigger success than Gould ever imagined: “I had the most responses I’d ever had [to something on Instagram]!”
He says the themes tackled in both bands allows people to be open: “I’ve had instances where someone has come up to me after the show to talk to me about their sexuality and gender identity, things they struggle with. I think there’s something within the music of both bands…a lot of the stuff we play around with is being comfortable and confident in who you are. People find that in our music and find a place they can go and be themselves, and I think that’s incredibly important.”
Given the anonymous nature of the confessions, it’s given some fans a safe space to share. “They just want to shout ‘this is who I am’. Sometimes when you’re in a situation that’s difficult, regardless of whether you’re the person in the right or the wrong, it’s very easy to feel isolated on your own, so being able to shout about it once every now and again…it seems to be really cathartic for people.”
Creeper like to keep their lips sealed
MI5 have nothing on this lot when it comes to keeping secrets, and Gould won’t give away anything when it comes to plans for new music or what they’ve got up their sleeves for the tour. “Creeper is always shrouded in secrecy,” he insists. “I’m always very wary about how much I give away with [what the live shows are like] because there’s an anticipation in the air when we play, about how we’re gonna perform and what we’re going to do.”
Of course, the secrecy can only last for so long, and social media has done a number on the top-secret element before. “After the first show everyone’s filmed what you’ve done and put it on the internet, which ruins it for the next people.” He can give a few hints though: “All I can say is it’s some of the most ambitious stuff we’ve done especially in terms of the drama and the theatrics of it all.”
A little melodrama never killed anybody
Any Creeper fan will tell you that they live for the theatrics of the band’s music and live show. In fact, Creeper’s second album was a full-blown concept record with nods to Jim Steinman and Meatloaf. Gould is a huge fan of both, and takes inspiration from them: “I think the original, full length ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ is about nine minutes [and] I think that’s really rewarding.”
He doesn’t like to make things easy for himself musically, with dual vocals, long track durations and sometimes obscure cultural references: “It’s difficult, and sometimes punk rock should be difficult, and rock and roll should be difficult. It shouldn’t always be easily digestible in 30 seconds, and then disposed of immediately. The records that last the test of time and are still around today from my parent’s generation were always the more challenging ones.”
The songwriting process for both bands is very different
Writing for more than one band, you’d think there would be some crossovers, but Gould says there’s only one song that started life for one project, and then ended up being used for the other: “It was at the very beginning of Salem. I wrote a song called ‘Eyesore’ and it was made up of tweets that [Will’s girlfriend] Charlotte had put out on the internet over a year.”
“I originally had it set for Creeper but it just wouldn’t fit on the record we were making at the time.”
He loved the song, though, and ended up using it for Salem instead, featuring it on their first EP. “With Salem a lot of the ’70s punk stuff is coming through more and more in our work. Creeper often jumps in a million different directions, it’s not quite as focused. Salem’s a punk band, but Creeper is a lot of things, often changing to everyone’s dismay.”
He takes inspiration from a surprising place for handling criticism
With a concept album featuring Meatloaf-inspired spoken word intervals for Creeper, and a break-neck punk rock record for Salem, Gould has never been afraid to push boundaries; but being unafraid of going over the top inevitably leads to a backlash. One critic even described Creeper as sounding like the Monster Mash. Gould doesn’t take it to heart, though: “I find it funnier and funnier. When I was younger I used to get extremely sensitive about it, but you can’t do the things that I do or make the things I make without getting comments.”
He has an unusual quote that he takes motivation from: “There’s a really great quote from Rick and Morty: ‘Your boos mean nothing because I’ve seen the things you people cheer’. When I see a comment like that I do a cursory glance at their social media and realise that they like a load of bands that are rubbish and then I don’t care.”