Creeper’s William Von Ghould: “I think it’s the most incredible thing, to be an outsider”

Everyone knows William Von Ghould is a spooky chap. As Creeper’s iconic leader, he’s a fiend. But even without the severed heads and blood of the stage, he radiates darkness. Over a pint with him in his local, he tells the story of how he was seduced by the dark side and became British rock’s prince of the night. Even in civvies, it’s a full-time occupation…

Creeper’s William Von Ghould: “I think it’s the most incredible thing, to be an outsider”
Emma Wilkes
Nat Wood

Will Gould – or William Von Ghould as he’s now known – can be seen from miles away. All you have to look for is the unmistakable shape of a tall, skinny man dressed head-to-toe in black, shades firmly in place. Then again, given Creeper’s taste for all things dark and ghoulish, if the singer showed up to the function in white cable-knit, you’d be taking his temperature.

We find Will in Manchester’s Big Hands bar, a spot which come nightfall is usually full to the brim with revellers drinking before or after a gig at the Academy just up the road. It’s a bar that knows its purpose – it wears its devotion to music with pride, its red walls adorned with at least a decade’s worth of tour posters. Outside, it’s bitterly cold and the pavements are coated in icy slush after snow fell the night before.

In the warm, Will reclines against the plush red seats, pint of San Miguel in hand. With Creeper now back at full-sail following the release of Sanguivore last year – touring the UK, Europe and Australia, a March headline jaunt and topping the bill at Portsmouth’s Takedown Festival in the diary, before jetting off to America – it’s increasingly rare to find him in such a setting. While we have him, though, it’s a chance to get up close with Will himself.

Like onstage, he’s as magnetic as he is shadowy. You don’t become The Gothfather by deciding it one day, after all. For Will, the seeds of darkness were planted many, many years ago.

The soundtrack to his childhood in Portsmouth was dominated by the vintage sounds of T. Rex, Slade and David Bowie. While those acts remained pivotal in shaping his tastes, the real lightning bolt moment came when he first heard Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut.

“That was the first time I’d ever heard music that was scary,” he recalls. “I’d never heard anything like it before, and I was obsessed with it.”

His first gig was Ozzfest 2001 when he was 13 years old, and he still remembers turning up with his older cousin wearing a dog collar and a long-sleeved Slipknot shirt. “The first time you’re around other moshers, that feeling is incredible,” he says. “It’s a very binding experience, and it makes you realise that there’s more people out there like you [than you thought].”

As a teenager, Will would escape his reality through horror films and punk rock, falling in love with the likes of Misfits, AFI, The Offspring and The Sisters Of Mercy.

“Finding something that scared you, but was yours and fought back for you against the world, is really validating,” he says. “I’ve leaned into that my entire life.”

The real world had no such sense of mystery or intrigue.

“I didn’t have a lot of discipline in my life,” he considers, often spending time on his own while his mother worked long shifts as a nurse. Meanwhile, as a “weird, awkward kid”, the school environment felt oppressive and lonely, particularly after he moved to Southampton following his parents’ divorce and struggled to make friends.

At the same time, following the split, his mother lost her Catholic faith and Will found himself doing the same.

“I think it made me angry that they teach you those things as fact. I was like, ‘Why wasn’t I allowed to make these decisions for myself?’ The church was something that made me feel very weird – I was really repressed. When I was younger, I was very lucky to find scenes that took me in, and the goth scene really felt appealing because a lot of it felt very critical of the church as well.”

Even now, having just turned 36, it’s easy to sense that Will still carries his younger misfit self with him.

“I think it’s the most incredible thing, to be an outsider,” he asserts. “Suddenly, you have this whole world you can disappear into. It makes it difficult to interact with the outside world sometimes, and I’ve got better at it. But when I was younger, I always longed for something more.”

By the time Will started Creeper in 2014, he felt the magic in rock was missing. My Chemical Romance had consigned themselves to the emo graveyard the year before. AFI had moved on from their gothier past. There was a gap perfect for a theatrical, heart-on-bloodied-sleeve band to fill, and instead of mourning a bygone era, they became the band that a young Will might have wanted to listen to had he been born 10 years later than he actually was.

“When I listen to [Bowie’s] The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, even now it reminds me of being a really sad, lonely kid, disappearing into this world of fantasy,” he says. “I think that’s what Creeper’s goal always was: to provide something else. The magic of music is that it allows you to time travel; you hear something from your youth that really means something, you can go back there again.”

At the time, Will was searching for magic in his own life, too. Following the dissolution of his and Creeper co-conspirator Ian Miles’ old band, Our Time Down Here, they both wanted something to do as a reprieve from mundane 9-to-5 life. This time around, things were different. Creeper sold out their first show at Southampton’s Joiners, a feat Our Time Down Here’s farewell gig at the same venue didn’t accomplish. They quickly signed to Roadrunner, and fans flocked to the Creeper cult, entranced by the band’s larger-than-life theatrics and dense world-building. As they’ve grown, so has their outlandishness, as they moved from witchy horror punk on 2017’s Eternity, In Your Arms to sepia-toned rock’n’roll on 2020’s Sex, Death & The Infinite Void and then, most recently, to decadent rock opera bombast on October’s Sanguivore.

For better or worse, Creeper have retained a misfit status, consistently moving against the tide of music industry trends.

“It’s harmed us, in some ways, because it would have made more sense to revive an existing sound,” Will considers. “I feel like we’ve often been lone rangers, and it’s been brilliant for us in the sense that people who understand it really gravitate towards us.”

He’s more disenchanted, however, by the rest of the industry. “The way that things are progressing, I don’t see a lot of myself in it. It feels like everyone’s making the same thing, but that’s not artistic progression; that’s moving in one direction.”

One young band who Will does identify with, however, is Static Dress. While, musically speaking, they’re in a separate universe from Creeper, they share one another’s flair for the dramatic, a taste for polishing older sounds into something modern without ever sounding nostalgic, and a refusal to conform to the expectations of an environment where music comes dangerously close to #content.

“They’ll do better than everyone, I’m predicting it now,” Will declares. “In one second talking to [frontman Olli Appleyard], you know he understands [music] better than most. It’s fantastic.”

When Will speaks onstage, his words echo so vastly they practically bounce off the walls. He has a majestic way of talking, like he’s immersed in playing a character, but it means it’s possible to overlook just how slowly he speaks. The reason for that is nothing to do with performance – it’s because he used to have a stutter.

“I got beaten up really badly when I was younger,” he admits. “When I spoke, I couldn’t get my words out properly for ages.”

As such, if his younger self were told he’d grow up to become the frontman of a band, he’d probably have an easier time believing Nosferatu was real.

“It never felt like something that could be my job, ever. I thought I’d make films; I never thought I’d be a frontperson. I always thought I’d be a great behind-the-scenes person.”

Asked when it was that the switch flipped and he realised that maybe he could do it after all, he says it’s never happened.

“I didn’t think I was a leader, or that I would be good in front of loads of people. I find it sometimes quite uncomfortable.”

He might not stutter so much anymore, but his anxious tendencies haven’t quite gone away. At last summer’s Slam Dunk, Will had a panic attack – the first he’d had for a while – not long before Creeper were meant to go onstage. He remembers throwing up out of anxiety near The Menzingers’ bus. Away on tour, he’ll frequently worry about how things are back home – is the house okay? Are the cats alright? How’s his girlfriend Charlotte doing; is she getting out and seeing people? It means, at home, he lives a quieter life.

“I’m a real house cat,” he says. “I like going out and drinking and having fun, but in small increments, or in a setting where I can control the environment.”

What else does the Lord Of Darkness get up to in his downtime?

“I clean my house a lot,” he answers a little self-consciously. “I listen to podcasts – I like Mark Kermode, the film critic. I listen to a lot of records. I’m a good swimmer, I think. I write music, I watch a lot of movies. I cook for my girlfriend every day. [We’ve been together] for five years this year, but I feel more in love than I’ve ever been. Most of my life is about my cats and my girl, really.”

Will is happy to admit that he’s an old-fashioned sort, older than his years, even. Charlotte, who is six years his junior, sometimes has to explain to him what certain internet-derived phrases or jokes mean. Compared to their peers, Creeper are purveyors of something a little more old-fashioned, too, but by no means are they cheaply nostalgic (“Jesus, it’s frustrating to see nostalgia for stuff from when I was a kid already,” he sighs at one point in our chat).

But Creeper aren’t recycling anything. They’re preserving something: the excitement of a live show, the drama of the fantastical, the euphoria of pure, timeless rock music.

That’s how they keep the magic alive.

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