Salem: life-affirming pop-punk for people who want to f**k witches

A portrait of Salem
(Image credit: Roadrunner Records)

When I speak to Creeper’s Will Gould on the phone, it’s only been a few days since he dropped the first track from his side project, Salem. Still, that hasn’t stopped his dedicated fans from buying up every single one of the just-announced EPs: “It’s crazy how much it’s taken off – it’s probably going to sell out tomorrow,” he says, and it’s clear he’s genuinely surprised. 

“It’s crazy, there’s only one song out and people have never heard the rest of it before. It’s mental, I’m really really stoked on how it’s been received, especially with something that’s been a secret for ages.”

He announced the project – a collaboration with longtime friend and occasional Creeper contributor Matt Reynolds – with a mysterious pink and black invite to 'The Apathy Ball'. The ball itself, which fans dressed up for before they even knew what was going on, was a live event on the Church Of Salem website, featuring old prom footage accompanied by a voiceover before the video for Destroy Me, a pop punk love song, dropped. The video features Gould and his collaborators playing against a baby pink backdrop, footage of the apathetic prom king and queen, and Gould and girlfriend Charlotte Clutterbuck getting cosy with a knife in the bathroom of a favourite bar. So far, so horror-punk.

The project itself came together a couple of years ago, when Gould met with Reynolds in Southampton. “I was sitting there talking about the Creeper record and that really traumatic year I was having, and I was like, you know what – sometimes I just want to go play fast and do something that people have no expectation of. Something that’s just for fun,” he says. Reynolds invited Gould over to his house, where they wrote an entire EP in an hour. “It was like going back in time,” he recalls.

Months later, Gould found himself at a loose end. He and Reynolds decided to record the songs properly over the course of a week, enlisting friends and collaborators to play the drums and produce the tracks. “Then there was me doing the vocals, I was the weak link. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who are better than you,” he laughs. After that, the project was paused, in part because of Gould’s schedule recording and releasing Sex, Death & The Infinite Void.

The decision to release Salem into the world came out of necessity – a return to Gould's DIY roots forced by the pandemic. With a slew of cancelled tours, Gould hit financial difficulty and tried to think of ways he could get by. He had already shown the Salem EP to most of his friends: “I’d get drunk and show people the songs and everyone who heard it really loved it. They’d constantly say: when are you gonna put that out? So I went back to it, and it was this little secret record amongst all our friends,” he laughs. 

He took it to his label, Roadrunner, who wanted to release it. For both him and his fans, it’s been a bright spot in a dark year: “Having something like this that you can enjoy and something you can escape into, that shit is so important to kids.”

Without either the budget or resources of Creeper, Gould found himself going full DIY, enlisting friends and family to work on the EP and release. “With this, I’m with Beth [the prom queen and Charlotte’s sister] walking around the Arndale trying to find a prom queen and king outfit and taking it home to spray paint it pink. I’m doing it myself and I love that, that’s how I grew up making things,” he says. “Pulling in the amazing creative people around me, making something together. Especially when there’s no budget to anything, it’s amazing. People just want to help and to be involved,” he adds.

The aesthetics of Salem are cuter than anything Gould has ever made with Creeper: all baby pink and pocket knives, with a cartoon version of his girlfriend wearing a skeleton onesie on the cover in the style of Archie comics, in another reference to Sabrina The Teenage Witch. They wanted to recreate that same style for the video: “I said Charlotte, we’ve got the cartoon of you, how do you feel about reenacting that? she said, ‘yeah sure, get me skeleton onesie.’ So it was that simple. Then I’m at an Army surplus shop buying a knife.” He laughs, and it’s clear just how much he’s loved returning to basics, corralling friends across his new home of Manchester to film the video and work on the release.

Despite Gould’s modest intentions with Salem, the power of Creeper’s fanbase has meant that the project has taken off in a way he never expected. “The way it’s going is really good, it means that we can do more of it. The fact that people are behind it so much from just one song is just so awesome. It’s so, so cool man,” he says. I can hear him beaming as he talks about how excited he is to tour and play more simple concerts, “like an emo show that we would have done when we were kids.” 

While Gould loves Creeper, his favourite thing about Salem is the liberation from doing things a certain way: “I just go, OK, so I want to write a song about wanting to go to hell with my girlfriend,” he laughs. “There’s a really great tweet that says something like, Sisters Of Mercy wrote about real stuff like wanting to fuck a witch in a factory that builds skeletons. For me, that’s the thing I really enjoy about Salem.”

Salem's self-titled EP will be released on October 23 via Roadrunner Records and is available for pre-order now