British rock’s greatest hope aren’t just another band.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Phil Smithies.
Creeper was originally meant to put the flamboyance back into punk, that’s all we wanted to try and do,” explains Will Gould. A few years ago he and some friends recorded a self-titled EP, released it, and that was that. They never intended to play a show. They never planned a follow-up. They certainly never expected, three years later, to be sat in the central London offices of their record label talking about a debut album that draws as much from film and television as it does their musical heroes. It’s been a journey, with the band always threatening to outrun the reach of their control, but somehow they’ve managed each leap forward with grace and style. The band have given up their day jobs, and now Creeper is their full-time concern. They’re still injecting the flamboyance back into punk, but now, there are bigger targets in mind.
‘Eternity, In Your Arms’, is, by design, “a very sad record. We’re trying to take popular music,” states Will, before looking across to guitarist Ian Miles and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood and asking, “I guess we don’t really count as popular music, do we?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe,” says Ian, with a glint in his eye.
Of all the rock bands to come out of the UK in recent years, Creeper are among the weirdest. They’re also the ones Most Likely To Succeed. They are exciting, and that’s the point. Creeper try and filter things to make them seem exciting, “there’s value in the mystery” they reason.
“We’re encroaching on it, maybe,” offers Will, answering his own question. “I’d like any small involvement we have to be steering it back to a place where it was fun again. I bet everyone’s thinking we’re just going to write a load of radio rock songs because we’re on a major label and it’s what they do. I was keen to show everybody that we’re still a punk band, though. We’re not making sacrifices or smoothing the edges to appeal to a mass audience. We’re still doing what we’ve always done, and I think people can get confused if you’re trying to expand your sound like we’ve tried with this record.
“We’ve tried to push against it a little bit on the EPs, asking ‘Can we get away with that?’ Okay cool, we’ll do it a little more and see how much we can get away with before someone calls us out and says this is ridiculous. Luckily when you hide it in a bed of more traditional ideas, people normally don’t notice. Little flourishes slip through the net, and it’s great. This record, we tried to do it a lot more and in a more substantial way. It’s really important to prove that we’re a bunch of creatives who are trying a bunch of different ideas and not confusing that expansion of the sound with the idea of trying to appeal to as many different audiences as possible. That’s why the EPs are so important because they were our toe in the water to get the confidence to do it.”
Recorded in secret, Creeper love to maintain an air of mystery around the band ‘cause it heightens the romance. ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ has been in a long time coming. It’s not just a collection of eleven songs and a few videos; there’s an interwoven storyline with fully-rounded and conflicted characters, there’s backstory, introductions and the opportunity for interaction at every turn. The band disappeared, reappeared and have built up the excitement for their debut by letting the art speak for itself. “With Creeper at this point, it’s more important to focus on the art and to focus on the music. Sometimes you make more noise by making no noise at all.”
Each band member has a slightly different relationship to the record because “it was a very difficult to make. It was the hardest one I’ve been a part of,” admits Will. Ian explains he goes from “’I’m proud of this record’, then I’m ‘Oh no, that was stressful’, but I cant wait for it to come out.”
“I can’t tell if you’re worried about it or happy because sometimes you’re like, ‘It’s horrible, ha ha ha’?” questions Will.
“That’s the exact emotion I go through. But yeah, overall, I had a moment of clarity where I listened to it the other day properly, all sequenced and mastered, and I could sit back and enjoy it. And I did, I felt really proud. When this record comes out, I hope people enjoy it as much as I did listening back in that one moment, other than all those other stressful periods.”
“We went into the studio not knowing [record label] Roadrunner had picked up the album, just hoping they had. Just spending loads of money in the studio and shutting ourselves in and not letting anyone else be involved. Just being complete arseholes, trying to make sure we were in control,” says Will. If you snuck into the recording process for ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’, every visit would offer something different. Some weeks Creeper were only writing fast, hardcore punk songs and the next, pop punk songs with show tune choruses. The band knew what they wanted in their head, it was just going from that, via whiteboard, to reality.
Sometimes in their quest to push against the walls, they went over the top. “There was a load of nonsense. Sometimes we were in danger of pushing it too far.” There’s a Meat Loaf style song that the band spent three days on – Will still has a soft spot for it, and if you ask Ian, he’ll tell you it’s a great song – but it was just too Meat Loaf and made no sense to the narrative. “It’s a fine line when you’ve gone too far, and this was the first time it felt like we had gone too far and we had to reign it in again.”
Elsewhere there was a great song that, unfortunately, was a reworking of ‘Go West’ in double time. “The middle bit was one of my favourite bits we’d written for the record, and it was ridiculous. It sounded like Elvis Presley so we tried to fix it, to change the verse but every way we tried to work it, it wouldn’t work. Eventually, we just picked it off. And a song that sounded a little bit like Joy Division.
“It felt like we were doing everything in house, everything had to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb and I always knew it was going to be like that ‘cause we wouldn’t have it any other way, and I couldn’t bear to compromise with things. And that’s the hardest thing. When you’re making a record, and there are other people involved, it’s difficult to not compromise on things because people go ‘What about this idea?’ and you have to be like ‘No’, and that adds more stress. More than other bands, we’re headstrong with a lot of things. And we made very few compromises. I think, in the end, those calls were the right ones, right?” asks Will as Ian and Hannah instantly say yes. “If we didn’t do this stuff, we could be any other band.”
As tentative and unsure as Creeper sometimes seem, their debut is ferocious in its self-belief. The ideas aren’t just present; they’re paramount. The band are happiest when they’re at their most ridiculous and every weird, or wild thing they’re allowed to get away with is a victory.
This time last year, Creeper’s biggest ever headline show was meant to be at London’s Barfly before it was moved to The Underworld. Twelve months later, they’ve ticked off the expanse of Brixton Academy and made it seem easy. “When we play a bigger room, it doesn’t feel scary anymore. It feels like, ‘Okay, what can we do here? What can we do to make this fun? What can we do to make this better than the last time? How can we make this show different to what other bands are doing? All those sorts of things, we’ve become much more comfortable using it as a canvas rather than be intimidated by it.”
The idea of taking a canvas and transforming it is something that flows throughout the neo-noir Blade Runner of ‘Eternity’ and into Creeper’s very identity. From the gender-neutral Lost Boys, that’s gone from fiction to reality via their fanbase and The Callous Heart patches to the album’s dress up escape and sense of claiming your body for your own; escape is everything. “Part of that is feeling like you could become whoever you wanted. If you were unhappy with who you are or what you were or whatever the world was saying you were, you had the ability inside of you to transform yourself. Dressing up is an important part of rock music and just being a teenager in general. I can remember vividly growing up and being obsessed with glam rock. I wanted to be Marc Bolan or someone like that. I remember taking my mum’s makeup and making myself up in the bedroom mirror, and that’s something that maybe I wouldn’t have been comfortable talking about until I started doing this band, y’know? It’s transforming yourself and that wish to escape, it’s a big part of the band and a big part of the audience as well. I think that’s why people come and see us; they want to feel a part of something else and be somewhere else. I don’t want to leave the house most of the time, but it’s so important to have somewhere to go.”
That escape shaped Will’s whole life. Instead of going to university in London he stayed in Southampton, at his job at a One Stop and made his first album with his old band Our Time Down Here. “It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave me everything. It was a pivotal moment where I chose to do what I wanted to do rather than what everyone was telling me to do.
“I think the reason I got to that decision was to do with going to shows, seeing bands and being inspired by them, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. A place to go where you feel safe and you can discover something is really significant when you’re growing up; you discover all the politics that comes along with it, and you become more aware. Punk rock teaches you to challenge everything, and challenge what you were taught as a kid and what your parents taught you.
“When you were a kid, and you went to gigs, it was almost part of your identity. It was the first time you found something that your parents didn’t dictate to you, or your teachers weren’t telling you to do. You found something for yourself, and you were claiming it for yourself and transforming yourself on your own terms and escaping on your own terms, I think maybe, what I hope, I don’t know for sure, but I hope our band means a little bit of that to young people as well.”
“We wanted to make music that would inspire other people to make their own things,” continues Ian. “That’s what we were always pushing for. Subculture is so important to young people. I feel some of the more alternative aspects of that culture have been stripped away and I miss those. Sometimes alternative music doesn’t feel very alternative, not just with sound but with the people who are making it, but it’s almost like it’s being reclaimed again. Everyone complains that the festival headline slots are the old guard still but, maybe with these bands coming through and properly making a go of things, there’s an opportunity for those bands to be replaced.
Challenging what your taught and updating the idea of the expected still plays into Creeper’s music. “There’s a thing in The X- Files where Scully is conflicted between scepticism of extraterrestrials and paranormal phenomenon versus her religious beliefs, and I always thought that was a really interesting thing. Faith, and what you believe in and what you choose to trust. There’s a lot of religious imagery with the record, and that plays a very big part with some of the themes. Also, I went to a Catholic primary school when I was a kid which seems weird ‘cause I am the antichrist now. ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ sounds quite religious and with this band, you could interpret it as throwing yourself into a project and burning the boats, so to speak. Throwing yourself into something forever. Although it means something very particular to me, I like the idea that the listener can take what they want from it. I named it that on purpose so that you could interpret it in a number of ways, much in the same way that people can finish the record and say ‘That was a load of old shit’; they can take from it what they will.
“Lyrically it was inspired by the purgatory of being too old to be young but too young to be old. It was also a reaction to everything else that was going on at the time and just how uninspired I was listening to what certain other bands were doing. I feel like we’ve been given this incredible crazy few years where… Look at us right now. I say this all the time but, look at where we are. This is mad. This is really silly. This is a place that’s not normally reserved for bands like us, so while we have a chance to work with a label like this, I’d rather be a band that was doing something different and creative and at that level, rather than making records just for the radio. It sounds like a band playing. A lot of albums that have come out recently sound like a computer trying to interpret human emotion. I’m excited about everyone finally being able to hear it, it feels like I’ve been building towards this record coming out for most of my life,” grins Will
“Well, we technically have,” adds Ian.
“The great thing about what’s happening with Creeper is that it means that the better this band does, the more it will hopefully inspire other bands to try other things. It inspires us to want to do more with the band.” That said, “It’s horrible when everyone is blowing smoke up your arse and telling you ‘You’re going to be the next thing’. It’s nice, obviously, but at the same time, it’s terrifying. When you think about your craft and your art and who you are as an artist, it’s easy. It’s not hard. But if you start thinking about the expectations everyone seems to have for you… We have a lot of kids coming up to us these days saying things like they were waiting for a band like us. I’m always scared we’re going to lose control somehow.
“I’m really protective of this band. Partly because of my feelings attached to it but also what it means to other people as well. Creeper can’t have any of those human failures; it can’t have those things. Our audience deserves better. They’ve already had years of bands making horrific mistakes, and I’m not saying our band is better than those because I don’t believe it is necessarily, but it should stand for something more. We have a duty not to put out anything that’s wishy-washy or made to be radio friendly. You have to be aggressive with these things and be brutal. Our record had to be what it is, for better or worse. I just want to put the magic back into things again.”
Creeper’s debut album ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ is out 24th March.