There are parts of the 18th-century church where Creeper’s Will Gould lives that he dare not venture into. Even though this former place of worship has largely been converted into flats, remnants of its previous function are still in evidence, and they give him the willies. There’s the crypt, for starters. “It’s terrifying”, says Will. “I refuse to go in there. I keep imagining that there’s something really sinister in there. Or someone.”
Then there’s the mysterious area at the back of the church, which has been blocked off by a dividing wall with a door that remains permanently locked. Or at least it did until the other day, when Will found it open. “It was pitch black in there, except for this big, stained- glass window with light coming from it”, he says intently. “I swear it was the most haunted thing I’ve ever seen.”
There’s a double irony to this. Will was raised Catholic though he’s a confirmed non-believer these days, so the combination of God and the supernatural should have no effect on him. Even more ironic is the fact that his band, horror-punks Creeper, have made a concept album that centres around the undead. Specifically vampires.
That album, Sanguivore, is a gloriously grandiose, deliciously decadent goth rock opera inspired by The Sisters Of Mercy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Glenn Danzig, Billy Idol, such iconic movies as Interview With The Vampire, Let The Right One In, Leon, The Lost Boys and cult VHS-era fang flick Near Dark, and – towering above it all – the late, great Jim Steinman, the mad genius behind Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and half a dozen of rock’s most fevered phantasmagorias. Restrained, it is not.
Instead, Sanguivore – a word for someone who exists on blood in the same way as a carnivore exists on meat – has ambition dripping from the tips of its pointed teeth. It’s the soundtrack to the greatest 1980s vampire movie never made: a tale of demon girls and murderous boys, of sex, death and redemption. In a world where – Ghost and a handful others aside – rock and metal’s death-or-glory ambition seems to have shrivelled into a bloodless husk, Creeper have gone big, and damn the ridicule. ‘Are you brave enough to dream?’ urges Will on Sanguivore’s opening track, Further Than Forever. Given the song itself is an outrageous, nine-minute Wagnerian death ride, he’s answered his own question.
“I love the idea of building a world around your music, making it more than just someone standing on a stage”, says Will. “That’s what’s exciting to me. If you’re unsatisfied with reality, build your own.”
It’s an uncharacteristically sunny day in Manchester when Hammer meets Will in a just-the-right-side-of-hipster bar in the city’s Northern Quarter. Late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who took his own life in 1980 at the age of 23, stares down austerely at us from a mural on the wall. With his black hair, black jeans, black Sisters Of Mercy T-shirt and just enough make-up to ensure he passes as human, Will looks like a mortuary assistant on dress-down Friday.
We’ll stay in this pub for several pints, as the conversation wanders through everything from Will’s fascination with UFOs (“Do I believe in them? That’s a such complicated question”) to his love of stage magic and illusion (“I was a little loner when I was a kid, so I taught myself how to do card tricks”). When we’re done here, we’ll head off to another pub for several more pints and a monster hangover the next morning. Right now, though, he’s talking vampires.
“It’s a place where outsiders live”, he says of the mythology that surrounds these nocturnal blood-drinkers. “When you feel like you don’t really fit in somewhere, or the people don’t understand you, or you’re getting hit in the face for wearing a hoodie or being a dirty grunger, it’s a world to escape to."
Sanguivore leans body and soul into that mythology. It’s centred around two immortal vampire lovers, Spook and Mercy – the former a man in his mid-30s, the latter a younger-looking girl who is way, way older and who converted her companion to undeath.
“She’s the most vicious one of the two”, Will explains. “The story is him trying to remind her what life was like before she became such a killer. It’s a love story, but not in the traditional sense. It’s about co-dependency.”
The vampire chic extends to the presentation. Creeper have hit the dressing-up box hard, this time decking themselves out in black leather jackets, party-after-dark sunglasses, fangs and fake(?) blood. It’s a look that’s been cribbed wholesale from Near Dark, the 1987 movie about a gang-cum-family of vampire outlaws criss-crossing the American mid-west in a battered, blacked-out RV, with Will adopting the nom de vampire William Von Ghould for full effect. “We don’t just wear our influences on our sleeves”, he says proudly. “We’ve made them into our jackets.”
It’s impossible to talk about Sanguivore without mentioning Jim Steinman, the man who conceived, wrote and orchestrated Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut album Bat Out Of Hell. Today, 46 years after it was released, that album is viewed as a kind of kitsch relic, a bombastic classic rock blow-out performed by a big man in a frilly shirt. Yet that does a disservice to the scale of what kindred outsiders Steinman and Meat Loaf achieved. Initially ridiculed by both the record industry and the media, Bat Out Of Hell went on to sell more than 40 million copies. Today, its devilishly funny mix of hard rock, musical theatre and blood-and-thunder drama is the benchmark for any band that dares to dream.
“There was one album I always saw near my dad’s record player with this amazing cover with this bike erupting out of the gates of Hell, with this giant fucking bat thing behind it”, says Creeper guitarist Ian Miles, speaking to Hammer from home via Zoom, a few days after we meet Will. “I was like, ‘That’s cool as shit.’ And I listened to it, and this whole world opened up. This musical Narnia that took me on all kinds of adventures.”
It’s hard to overstate just how much Will Gould and Ian Miles love Jim Steinman – not just his work with Meat Loaf, but the towering, wedding-cake production he brought to the Sisters Of Mercy (especially their staggeringly OTT 1987 single This Corrosion), gravel-throated 80s soft rock queen Bonnie Tyler and long-forgotten all-female group Pandora’s Box. They especially venerate Steinman’s 1981 solo album Bad For Good, a flawed masterpiece made when he and Meat Loaf were in the middle of one of their periodic spats. When Ian got married to his (now-ex) wife, Will gave him a lighter engraved with the words ‘Bad For Good’ as a wedding present. “We’re just Jim Steinman nerds”, says Ian.
They found a kindred spirit in Sanguivore producer Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Opeth). Like the band, Tom loves music that’s larger-than-life and full of character generally, and Jim Steinman’s music specifically. Coincidentally, or maybe not, he also lives in an old church. It was a marriage made in Heaven. Or Hell. Or wherever doomed vampire couples live.
“When you sit down and listen to Bat Out Of Hell or Bad For Good, you enter a world that someone has created in their own heads that turned into something real”, says Ian. “That’s what we wanted to do with Sanguivore.”
Will Gould describes Ian Miles as “my best friend”. The pair have known each other since their mid- teens, when they were both involved in the south coast DIY punk scene, albeit in different bands. Ian says his future bandmate’s sense of showmanship was intact even back then.
“He’d do things where, if you turned up to one of his gigs in a white shirt and black tie, you’d get in for half price”, says Ian. “It wasn’t very punk rock, but it was very Will. He’s a man who never lacks an idea. He’s got stuff flowing out of his brain constantly.”
The pair began playing together in 2010, when Ian left his hardcore band, Take Em Out, to join Will’s group, Our Time Down Here. OTDH split three years later, with a farewell show at their local venue, The Joiners in Southampton. In Will’s eyes, the rock scene back then was depressingly desolate.“Oh, fuck yeah”, he says. “Everybody was just standing there onstage. Emo had died a death, and I missed it: ‘Where have all the feathers and frills gone from rock’n’roll?’”
He decided to do the only sensible thing, which was to start a new band who would put ambition at the centre of everything they did. “I wanted to reinvent the entire thing every time, just smash all of the pieces and start again”, says Will. “I think by my own nature, I have a really short attention span.”
That sense of restless ambition was evident from the start. Creeper’s debut album, 2017’s Eternity, In Your Arms, put a melodramatic and very British spin on the kind of goth/punk/emo hybrid that My Chemical Romance had struck gold with a decade earlier. That desire to be bigger than everything else extended to their live show. As part of a show at London’s Boston Music Room just prior to the release of Eternity, In Your Arms, Creeper held a funeral parade for the old songs they were never going to play again.
More spectacularly, they wrapped up the Eternity... campaign with a show at London’s Koko, which concluded with Will announcing that it would be their last ever gig, prompting a genuine explosion of shocked emotion in the crowd (it was his ultimate homage to David Bowie, who did exactly the same thing with his Ziggy Stardust character in 1973). More recently, they concluded the campaign for their second album, 2020’s Sex, Death & The Infinite Void, with a show at London’s Roundhouse that culminated in Will being decapitated onstage.
“We never want to just go onstage and play music – there needs to be something else to it”, he says. “Jesus Christ, there’s only so many times you can see someone wandering onstage in the clothes they were wearing to go shopping in Tesco that morning.”
Sex, Death & The Infinite Void lived up to Will’s promise that the band would reinvent themselves every time. It drew on Bowie-esque early 70s glam rock and late 90s Britpop, resulting in an album that was visually and musically brighter than its predecessor. But it also came close to finishing Creeper off.
Today, Will half-jokingly describes Sex, Death & The Infinite Void as “cursed”. He reels off everything that went wrong: people connected with the band losing friends and family members, the record plant that pressed the album burning down, the financial hit they took when their tour was cancelled due to Covid. That the album even came out at all was a triumph in itself. As they were working on it, Ian was in the middle of a severe mental breakdown. He began hearing voices and suffering paranoid delusions that he was a member of a revolutionary underground cult. It was so serious that he ended up spending five weeks in a psychiatric ward.
“Will was there when the ambulance came”, says Ian. “He was actually one of three people restraining me.” Today, Ian can look back on that tumultuous part of his life with some clarity. “I’m in a much better place, I’ve just finished up all my therapy, I’m in a new relationship”, he says. “I went through something horrible and traumatic, and sometimes you need to shed your skin.”
Despite Will’s understandable concern for his best friend, Ian’s state of mind during and after his episode couldn’t help but impact on the band.
“We hit a rough patch”, says Ian. “It was definitely a product of difficult times. We were both struggling to process it. We had to be pretty open and honest with each other – probably the most honest we’ve ever been. It was painful at times.”
“It felt at times like an impossible task to put the train back on the tracks again”, adds Will, who spent several months finishing off Sex, Death & The Infinite Void on his own in Los Angeles while his friend recovered. “There were definitely times when it looked like the band didn’t exist anymore.”
There’s a point to bringing up such a difficult subject. Ian’s journey back to the place where he is today partly shaped Sanguivore. Sure, the album is a blood-splattered vampire love story set to an epic soundtrack, but there’s a deeper, more personal meaning to it.
“It signifies a rebirth”, says Will. “It was me and my oldest friend getting back into a room together after he had been very, very unwell. The idea of vampirism, of being revived and coming back from the dead, it’s about the relationship between me and my oldest friend.”
“I feel that all of the trauma that happened on the last record, all the shit we went through personally and as a band, was a death”, says Ian. “It was the death of our old selves. This album is us coming back as vampires.”
It’s getting late in Manchester, and neither Will nor Hammer is sure how much time has passed or how many pints we’ve had. In both cases, it’s a lot. He’s currently talking about how little time he has for much modern music.
“There’s such a blueprint to it, and I find that a bit ghastly”, he says, his candidness lubricated by alcohol. “I hear people telling me that something is ‘groundbreaking’. And I just think, ‘Jesus Christ, man...’” He rolls his eyes in exasperation, but he’s not done yet. “Listen, I’ve been involved with the DIY punk scene my whole life, I’m a vegan, I like to think I’m a man of morals myself. But a lot of the time we value the message more than we do the art.” He jabs the table. “That. Is. So. Boring.”
Even now, the part of him that loves the mythology and romance of rock’n’roll can’t help but push back against the mundanity of the music industry and what’s expected from modern bands. “I’ve had some very miserable conversations about TikTok and ‘content’,” he says. “I find it all so depressing, but it’s what you have to do.”
In the eyes of both Will and Ian, Creeper’s most important achievement is the community they’ve built – those misfits and lost souls drawn like moths to a lightbulb. They’re the ones who are immersed in the world– or worlds –created
by the band, the ones who are distraught when their idols pretend-announce they’re splitting up onstage, who follow them whatever dark, vampiric path Creeper lead them down.
This could partly be because Will recognises himself in them. As “a young, queer kid” growing up, he was drawn to rock ’n’ roll’s outsiders: David Bowie, Morrissey, Marilyn Manson (“The accusations against him are horrible, but I can’t deny the influence those early records had on me”). He remembers putting on his mum’s make-up when she was out in attempt to look like early-70s Bowie.
“Rock’n’roll is so camp and over the top, it’s always been something that’s been part of me”, he says. “Bowie being a bisexual icon was a huge deal for me. I’m bisexual, but for the first half of my life, I wasn’t really open about it. Over the course of doing a band, it’s allowed me to become more open.”
He says he’s met many queer and trans Creeper fans who have told him how important the band are to them. “I’m so proud of being part of their lives, part of the soundtrack of them growing up too. The fact that they’ve found a safe space in us, it kind of completes that circle a little bit for me. If we’re good at anything, it’s creating a space where people feel really comfortable to be themselves, because we didn’t have that when I was younger. I want all of this to lead to somewhere where people can come to, a kingdom people can enter.”
He smiles. It looks like there’s a flash of fang, or maybe that’s just the fading light. “People like me.”
Sanguivore is out now. Originally printed in Metal Hammer #380