Before their gig at Liverpool Arts Club, Banjo spoke to Creep Show about egos, remaining childlike and being lonely.
That John Grant‘s musical path has led to Creep Show is no real surprise.
Following the almost folky ballads of his first album, Queen of Denmark, recorded with Midlake, Grant has shown a love of the stranger end of electronica and has used this well on follow ups 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts and 2015’s Grey Tickles and Black Pressure.
He has now teamed up with Wrangler, a supergroup of sorts, consisting of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire), Phil Winter (Tuung) and Benge, to create the wonderful Mr Dynamite album.
Mr Dynamite, is an odd, glitchy, compelling album full of twists and turns set to an electro funk backing. It is quite wonderful and can hold its head up high in the company of the back catalogues of all concerned.
And Creep Show themselves are not just a vehicle for their most famous member, but there are a fully fledged, integrated band. Furthermore, they are a band who are genuinely in love with what they do and, it seems, with each other.
That said, this seems in many ways and odd move for someone who is now used to selling a certain number of albums and playing gigs of a certain size. Then again, Grant is someone who has made a career out of unexpected turns and following his own keen instinct.
Mr Dynamite is even greater than the sum of its parts and comes highly recommended.
Ahead of their show at Liverpool Arts Club, we were granted an audience with Creep Show as they start rehearsals for their tour.
There is a lot of talent in the rehearsal room, each member of Creep Show has made serious contributions to their oeuvre, and this is one of the few times interviewing people where I actually feel daunted.
But I needn’t be. Creep Show are, to a man, open and talkative. Their friendship comes across as they talk, as does their enjoyment of their latest project.
The main feature of this interview is laughter. Creep Show laugh a lot. They delight in each other’s company and their affection and enjoyment is palpable.
When transcribing an interview, it is difficult to get this type of thing across effectively, but there is a smile tucked into to everybody’s voice and it is a pleasure to spend this time chatting with them.
But how did this disparate group of people find each other?
How did Creep Show get together?
Stephen Mallinder: “We came together because we were asked to do a gig at The Barbican, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Rough Trade. They put together some early artists, and I kind of represented Cabaret Voltaire and the other guys were newer and younger than me and then John was part of that.
It was a night of old and new, they had Scritti Politti with Hot Chip, us and John Grant and things like that. So that’s how we all came together.
But we had met and knew each other. We (Wrangler) had done a mix for John and we’d hung out a little bit, so we weren’t unfamiliar to each other, so that’s how we started working together.”
Who does what in the band when it comes to writing the songs?
Stephen Mallinder: “I do as little as possible and we make John do most of it and then bask in his abundance.” [band laughs]
John Grant: “We all do things on our respective instruments and then we look up at Mal and say ‘did you like that note? Did you like that tone?’
Stephen Mallinder: “And then they ignore me [laughs].
We’re kind of democratic, we bounce ideas off each other. It’s a matter of who gets to start something, which is usually Benge. And then we change it all and end up saying that Benge was right in the first place.”
John Grant: “I think it was quite a natural flow, and it’ll probably never be like that again. You never know, but there’s nothing like the first time. We wrote lyrics together, we just did everything together. Everybody was involved with sound design.
It was mostly me and Mal doing the lyrics and vocals, but everything else we all did together. Phil did a lot of percussion work and bass synths.”
Stephen Mallinder: “We’re bass players and drummers in this group, so we come from a world of bass and percussion.”
And how much of it the sound is down to Benge’s legendary collection of synths and drum machines?
Benge: “We did a lot of the first album in the studio together, so we were just playing around on things, firing up the sequencers. If you turn on some of these things they kind of put out half a track before you manage to turn it off again [laughs] and then you refine it and add bits or take stuff out.”
Stephen Mallinder: “Benge has made so much amazing stuff and sometimes it’s like ‘what’s just come back from the menders? Let’s turn it on and see what’s tickling everyone’s fancy’, or sometimes it’s just ‘what’s close to hand?’ You don’t have to go very far before you hit an amazing piece of equipment.’
Mal, I first saw Cabaret Voltaire at Eric’s back in, I think, 1978. And here we are 41 years later and you’re still making what could be described as leftfield music. What is it that still drives you to do so after all these years?
Stephen Mallinder: “Well, I’m not very good at making proper music [laughs]. I’ve no choice, it’s what I do. If you ask me to make something that was more mainstream I’d be really shit at it.
We all develop our own skills and our own way of doing things, and mine have stayed with that. I don’t think I could do it any other way to be honest.”
Do you realise just how influential you’ve been over the years?
Stephen Mallinder: “Not really, because I work with people like these three who just take the piss out of me [laughs]. I think if I was aware of it, I’d be an even bigger wanker than I am now [laughs].
It’s nice when people say so and I do love that, but it’s better not to have too much self awareness about these things.”
Who has the biggest ego in the band?
Stephen Mallinder: “I wondered what you were going to say then! [laughs]
We try not to work around egos, it’s democratic and it’s fun. Because it’s something we do because we enjoy it, there’s no pressure to make it into anything, so there’s no one individual trying to prove themselves.
I think I can speak for all of us here, the nice thing is that we’re all people who don’t have to prove anything. They’ve all been doing amazing things all their lives, so there doesn’t have to be any egos involved.”
John Grant: “We’re just really excited by the beautiful sounds and these beautiful instruments and the things that we’re doing and there’s constantly lots of giggling and saying ‘hey, look what I just did!’
It’s that incredible thing that you want to keep a hold of as you become what is called an adult, and you want to hold on to the curiosity of a child, because that’s the way you keep being creative.
I certainly don’t have enough self confidence to have an ego. We’re very childish and I think that’s a very positive thing in this concept. And also when you go out into the world.
When people become what is supposed to be an adult, it’s a hardening process, in the heart and in the brain. And also in the joints – the mental thing takes hold in the physical realm.
I think staying childlike is important.”
This all comes across in the album. There is a sense of humour running through it. Was this deliberate or is it just another example of you being who you are?
Stephen Mallinder: “Well Phil’s really serious.”
Phil Winter: “I cried for a year. [laughs]”
John Grant: “Phil’s a method actor, he studied with Stanislavski.” [more laughing]
Stephen Mallinder: “I think that kind of answers that question really.” [huge amounts of laughter]
How does being in Creep Show differ to being in Wrangler, or John how does it compare to your solo work?
Benge: “Well, John can play chords. We’re just one finger synth guys, and John actually plays chords”
Stephen Mallinder: “Yeah, I watched John this afternoon when we were rehearsing and he was actually using both hands! I only ever use one hand.”
John Grant: “And sometimes I’ll play chords with four notes in instead of three.”
Stephen Mallinder: “Maybe we need to go back to that ego question, because I think I’m finding something out here.”
What’s the timeline for Creep Show, how long has it got? John, is this your Tin Machine?
John Grant: “I hope not, because people hated Tin Machine!” [laughs] I hope to continue doing this as long as we all feel like carrying on. It’s fun.
It’s difficult when you have a solo career and you work under your own name. It’s what I always wanted, because I wanted to have control over everything, but it can be quite lonely as well. This gives me a chance to interact with other children.”
Stephen Mallinder: “We were talking this afternoon about when we’re going to do the next album. And we’ve made a start, we’ve made tracks.
It’ll be a case of when we all have time with everything else that we have. But of course it will continue, because we enjoy it.”
How would you describe Creep Show’s sound?
Stephen Mallinder: “Oh god, erm…it’s electronic but it’s very rhythmic. We love the idea of music that’s got some kind of physical feel to it. It’s not esoteric, it’s sort of free your mind and your ass will follow, it’s got to get your body as well.”
The lyrics and the vocal treatments give some of the songs an odd feel.
Stephen Mallinder: “Yeah, we saw this opportunity to sort of mess with the voices, using the voice as an instrument.”
Benge: “We used a sampler on the voices as well, where we sampled little vocal parts and played them in by hand, where they become rhythmic parts or where there changed from being a vocal into something else.”
Stephen Mallinder: “We tend to turn a lot of things into rhythmic elements so it’s all got that feel to it.”
What can we expect from the live gigs?
Phil Winter: “We don’t know yet, we’ve only had one day’s rehearsal! We’ve just been plugging thigs in, we’ll let you know tomorrow”
John Grant: “We’re going to have a lot of fun up there. It’s about these sounds. Benge and I were talking earlier and I imagine that people who like this sort of music, there’s a lot of audiophile stuff going on there too.
There’s some distant confusion in some of the songs, we get so excited that we put a lot in, but there’s several songs with lots of space for these sounds too, so we want the music to be showcased instead of… we’ll all be standing behind the table together with nobody running around out front.”
Stephen Mallinder: “The one thing I can guarantee is there’s a lot of cables!”
We’re working with Dan Conway, wo did the Creep Show visuals before when we did the Barbican, he’s a massive part of the thing.”
Benge: “And he’s ironed out t-shirts. [laughs]
Any live instruments on stage?
Stephen Mallinder: “Live percussion, but it’s mainly just keyboards and voices. We were going to, but we decided not to. Phil and I were playing bass on a couple of tracks, but we decided not to live. We’re just going to knock stuff over if we use real basses. [laughs]”
These must be small gigs for you. What do you prefer, the bigger crowds or more intimate gigs?
John Grant: “When it comes to this sort of music, I prefer the smaller gigs because you get that fat sound of the sub woofers rocking in those smaller spaces, you can really give it to them. It’s hard in the stadiums and arenas with these sounds, you don’t really get them.”
Stephen Mallinder: “I prefer smaller gigs because whenever we do big ones it’s always really empty.”
It seems fitting to end this interview on a joke and another round of laughter. Creep Show are an intriguing proposition in this day and age, but the music they make has depth and soul.
It will be interesting to see how this translates to the live stage. Creep Show could deliver one of the gigs of the year.