Creep Show are a merging of Cabaret Voltaire founder member Stephen Mallinder’s act Wrangler and former Czars frontman and solo artist John Grant, following a chance encounter when Wrangler bumped into Grant at their soundcheck for Sheffield’s Sensoria Festival in 2014 where they were playing with Carter Tutti. A friendship formed, and when they were invited to perform together for Rough Trade’s 40th anniversary show at London’s Barbican in 2016, Creep Show was born resulting in the album ‘Mr Dynamite’ in 2018. They have just released the second Creep Show album, ‘Yawning Abyss’ and it’s a cracker (check out the feature review on OL here). We caught up with Stephen Mallinder and John Grant as they were preparing for a string of upcoming live dates in July to promote the album.
Outsideleft: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Outsideleft. I am of course a big Cabs fan and John has also worked with so many talented people over the years, so it’s great to be able to talk to the two of you together about the new Creep Show album. It’s been five years since the first Creep Show album ‘Mr Dynamite’ and it would be an understatement to say a lot has happened in the world since then. How does the new album ‘Yawning Abyss’ reflect that?
Stephen Mallinder: I think we've retained our critical eye but tightened the focus so the observations in the words bite and the music feels stronger, and again more focused
OL: Creep Show feels like a project you come back to from time to time as you are busy with Wrangler and John works with lots of other acts and is also a major solo act. What was the impetus to get together as Creep Show and what are the differences/synergies between Creep Show and Wrangler/John Grant?
Stephen Mallinder: We love being together and enjoy working so always trying to find a way to do Creep Show. It's not a project. That makes it feel corporate. We are a band of friends and artists who see this as ongoing while the world turns.
OL: You go back a long way with Peter Care who directed the latest video for the single ‘Moneyback’, having worked with him previously in Cabaret Voltaire. He has also got a reputation as a video creator for some big name acts too. What is the process behind turning a track into visuals that add an extra dimension? Does Peter have an ongoing role in the band?
Stephen Mallinder: Funnily we've just been touch about things, he's in LA but saw the live show with his work incorporated and he totally loved what Dan, our live show designer, had done. It's symptomatic of working with people who you relate to, you always continue connecting and collaborating ... Peter is wonderful.
OL: Talking of Cabaret Voltaire (and you probably guessed I would want to touch on this at some point!), the Cabs are recognised as a hugely influential act and are often referenced by other dance, experimental and electronic acts. Do you find this tends to overshadow your later work with Wrangler and Creep Show?
Stephen Mallinder: I like to think what I do now is an extension of the Cabs legacy and not separate from it so it all comes from the same source I'm proud of what I did then and do now. I'm happier that I get to work with incredible people and we share these things
OL: I’m sure you have had regular requests and offers to re-form Cabaret Voltaire over the years. Following the untimely loss of Richard Kirk, that will never happen now, but do you ever think that you had unfinished business with the Cabs and regret not re-forming?
Stephen Mallinder: Perhaps but as time moved on that felt more difficult and I accept that, but also the Cabs legacy remains and stays true.
OL: Richard put out an album ‘Shadow of Fear’ in 2020 under the Cabs name, although it was really more a solo album. What were your feelings about that at the time?
Stephen Mallinder: To me it was a Richard record and it was a bit uncomfortable with the Cabs name on it but importantly it didn't tarnish our legacy and so it's all ok
OL: One for John now. I think you live in Iceland? Did that make working with the Wrangler guys a logistical challenge?
John Grant: It’s pretty easy to get to London from Reykjavík, but the challenge is that we all have busy lives, so it’s just about finding time when we can all get together.
OL: Coming back to the new album, it is an exotic melange of different influences, with a collage-y feel to some of the tracks. The Cabs and Wrangler influences shine through and there is extensive and varied use of different vocal styles and cut ups, alongside retro-sounding analogue synth tones (which as a vintage synth nut myself I appreciate!), all of which add up to a different and distinctive Creep Show sound. How did you approach composing and recording the album to achieve that?
Stephen Mallinder: It was, as always, an organic process. We didn't start with a template, or roadmap, but negotiated our way through the tangle of ideas and technologies by bouncing off each other. Creep Show instinctively knows what Creep Show is
OL: Finally, the nature of music production and consumption has evolved hugely since the days of the Cabs and The Czars. People stream and download individual tracks now rather than sit down to listen to an album end to end, there is a huge amount of music released every day, and income from direct sales is a far smaller part of a band's income now with touring being more important again. In that environment, how relevant is it to release albums, and what sort of lasting impression do you think Creep Show can make in such a crowded market?
John Grant: We don’t think about that. That’s all just noise. We just concentrate on having fun and making the music we want to make.
Stephen Mallinder: We make music so don't stress on the other side of how it is accessed and who hears it, we create and hope people get it. But I do think the album format, vinyl specifically, is such a perfect format for us to present ourselves and for people to try to get us.
‘Yawning Abyss’ is out now on Bella Union on vinyl, CD and download/stream.
UK live dates:
Friday 21 July - Blue Dot festival, Jodrell Bank
Saturday 22 July - Hebden Bridge, Trades Club
Sunday 23 July - Latitude festival, Henham Park
Tuesday 25 July – London, Village Underground