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“There were times when I didn’t want to be alive any more”: punk heroes Creeper on their turbulent year and “aggressive reinvention”

The Southampton band returned to action earlier this month exactly a year on from their dramatic 'disbanding'

“Of all the shows we’ve played in the last four years, this one will remain with us the longest,” Creeper frontman Will Gould declared on stage at KOKO London just over a year ago. Because not only is it the last show of this album campaign, but it’s the last show we’ll ever do.”

He was echoing David Bowie’s speech that saw him kill off his Ziggy Stardust character in 1973. Fittingly, waves of panic, disbelief and confusion spread around the venue as the band broke into the poignant anthem ‘Misery’, before a video montage brought things to a close. “Even eternity ends,” it declared. Creeper left the stage, rushed out of the venue and into a waiting van before darting off. A year of silence followed and it seemed like Creeper, perhaps the most exciting British punk band of a generation, really had broken up for good in front of our eyes.

“We desperately needed a break,” Gould explains to NME about the thinking behind the dramatic gig. “The year before that KOKO show we’d only played huge gigs [such as an arena tour with All Time Low and main stage festival slots at Slam Dunk, Reading and Leeds]. We were only playing to masses and masses of people that had never heard of us before. I love this band with my whole heart, but it’s hard work introducing it to people over and over again. We were a victim of the band’s growth. Everyone was talking about us like we were going to be the next My Chemical Romance. We were under pressure to be this thing for people.”

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So the band had two choices: break up for real, or take some time away from the spotlight to work out what they wanted their next move to be. As they walked off stage at KOKO, though, their future was still uncertain.

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Creeper seemingly bow out at KOKO, November 2018 (Picture: Jenn Five / NME)

“It could very well have been the end of the band that day at KOKO,” Gould, who’s fresh from a day in the studio adding the final touches to Creeper’s upcoming second album on the day of our interview, admits. “We were at the point of collapse. I still think that [the KOKO gig] was the best thing we’ve done. It was an incredible piece of performance art and theatre. I didn’t expect quite the evening that transpired and I’ll never ever forget that for as long as I live. There was a magic in the air.”

Exactly 12 months on from that gig, though, Creeper sprung another surprise by returning to the stage at the small London venue 229 under the moniker Fugitives Of Heaven. Dressed all in white and boasting the goth theatrics of new song ‘Born Cold’, the show was a declaration of new beginnings. But some Creeper fans were furious at the band for playing dead, and that pissed Gould off.

“All we do is give,” he says. “I’m sorry, but you don’t get to dictate the way our art is performed. It’s not Burger King; you don’t get to have it your way.” He adds: “I definitely didn’t want to make kids cry, though.”

When Creeper first told their label, Roadrunner, about their feigned demise, they didn’t get it and worried how the move would affect streaming. Yet “We’re different beasts to other bands,” Gould says. “We’re difficult and tricky. If you’re a fan of our band, it’s hard work — I understand that. But you signed up for this. If you want something safer, there are a lot of people who will help you with that.

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“I’d spoken about aggressively reinventing the band for a long time, and it was time to make good on that. That era of the band is completely closed. I wanted this next album to be a chaotic, Los Angeles ’70s record, and I got exactly what I bargained for.”

So, what have the past 12 months been like for Creeper? “It’s been the worst year of my life,” Gould replies.

His relationship with his fiancée was falling apart. In addition, his mum, “an incredible woman who worked hard her whole life to support me and had always had terrible luck with men,” had finally found happiness with a new partner, who unexpectedly passed away. The day after his mother’s partner died, Gould’s bandmate and best friend Ian Miles was hospitalised for mental health reasons.

“It’s not my story to tell but I’ll give you the overview,” Gould say. “Ian had been struggling a lot anyway. He got very sick and had a really awful day in Southampton — the same city where our last record was made, down the same streets where we filmed the videos for the last campaign — and it was a very real-life situation that was terrifying. He got sectioned, and it was the worst day of my life.”

Gould was meant to fly out with Miles to LA the following week to continue making the new Creeper record. He wanted to stay and wait for his friend to get better, but feared that if he did, Creeper would never come back. So Gould flew to the West Coast to finish what they’d started, and to make sure there was something for Miles to come back to.

“It was a really anxious, horrible time,” he says. “I had the first two panic attacks of my life. It should have been an amazing time. I was out in Hollywood, literally walking past David Bowie’s star on the Walk of Fame to get back to my Airbnb but I was very alone, very fucked up and very sad. I felt alienated. I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything felt like it was against me. There were days I wanted to die out there. There were evenings where I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”

Slowly, things started to turn around. Miles got better, and he’d call Gould every night from [mental health facility] The Priory to work on new music.

“We ended up aiding each other through the worst year of our lives by doing this record,” Gould says with a smile. “Ian is incredibly strong and resilient. He wanted people to know what had happened to him. He felt that if we ignored it, we’d be brushing under the rug something major that happens to a lot of people and isn’t something to be ashamed of. I think he’s been incredibly brave to be public about it because a lot of the time, people deal with this stuff in silence. A lot of the time, the reason we connect so strongly with our audience is because we’re as troubled as they are.

“For me, a really big part of that year [away] was about learning to cry and learning to let myself feel those things. At the worst moments, I just let myself be fucking sad and goddammit, it helps to let yourself do that.”

Creeper in 2019

It’s taken a lot of hard work and resilience, but Creeper are still standing, they’ve got a new record that’s even more ambitious than 2017’s ‘Eternity, in Your Arms’ and, Gould says, “everything is brilliant now”. There is, he explains, a “particular narrative” on the new album that’s taken two years to pull together. Incidentally, it’s probably the best thing Gould’s ever written.

“This is not a punk record,” he declares. “We made it in Hollywood. It’s not a record that’s been made in someone’s garage. These are big, theatrical goth rock songs. I’m really proud of the decisions we made to do that, too. I’ve been really proud of my band recently. They’ve been very strong in the face of a lot of difficult hardship. We’re a tough lot really, Creeper. Even when I’ve not been able to be tough, the rest of the band hav e been tough.”

While Gould maintains that Creeper “has always been a rock’n’roll band”, the band’s next album doesn’t have just one sound: Gould lists their current influences: The Cure; the pop sensibilities of Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper;, T Rex (who inspired a song called ‘Cyanide’), Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ and the “apocalyptic romanticism” of Roy Orbison’s ‘Mystery Girl’.

“It’s been a proper reinvention,” the frontman says. “We’re not a pop-punk band that’s started wearing make-up. We’ve gutted the entire thing and rebuilt it up. That takes so much time because you have to work out: ‘How good are we? What can we get away with?’

“We made an incredible body of work that’s really ambitious,” he continues. “Some people aren’t going to get it and I’m completely fine with that. Some people are going to fucking love it, though. We have not done the easy thing here. It’s genuinely interesting, varied and different, and it doesn’t sound like our old records. It’s been a real whirlwind to get to that point.”

While ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ was about being scared of growing up, this new record “is about being grown up. It’s about sex, death and the infinite void. It’s about alienation – it’s about feeling like you’re living in someone else’s world and it’s about learning what it is to be human.”

“Lyrically it tells the story of forbidden love and deadly sins,” Gould says. “There are songs about battles with alcoholism and crazy nights out. There’s a decadence to it all and there are lusty romantic goth songs, but there’s also a real heart to it and a real sadness to the whole thing.

“There’s some silliness on the record — Creeper are a silly band, after all — but at the end there’s a song I wrote for Ian on the piano. It’s the most personal song I’ve ever written and I didn’t want to put it on the album at first, but he persuaded me. It’s the bare bones of growing up and it makes me so sad hearing that song. It’s called ‘All My Friends’ and I have no idea how we’re going to do it live.”

Their ambition doesn’t end with the new record, though. “I love presentation, I love dramatics and theatrics, I’ve got a lot planned [for our new stage show]. Every time you see us play on this [album] cycle, you should see something different.”

Back together as Creeper, Gould, Miles, Hannah Greenwood, Sean Scott, Dan Bratton and Oli Burdett played their first 2019 show at the start of November – and it didn’t disappoint. The band shared a private moment behind the curtain before their set began. “I vividly remember thinking that in a couple of seconds, this year is over,” Gould says. “All the demons, all the traumatising things that have happened, all those moments of not wanting to be alive anymore — none of that will matter.”

The show started and the band opened with ‘VCR’, and it felt like nothing had ever happened “There was a sense of relief,” Gould  says. “I don’t think we knew how ready we were to come back and it felt like our fans knew we needed that moment. They were there for us. Creeper is magic, the whole community is back now and it feels so much more unstoppable than ever before.”

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