Unlocked: Going deep into the creative process of Creepoid

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Photo by Noel Conrad
Photo by Noel Conrad

“You cool with dogs?” Pat Troxell, drummer of Philly’s crushing fuzz psych band Creepoid, asks at the front door of the West Philly home he shares with wife and bassist, Anna Troxell, guitarist Sean Miller and Miller’s girlfriend.

Inside, the dog he’s talking about is a wired six-month-old pit bull mix named Whiskey that jumps and bites playfully as he leads to a second floor sitting room. There’s a blusey record playing on the turntable. We find Miller near the large bay window finishing what appears to be breakfast, and Anna Troxell is sitting on the loveseat opposite the room from him.

It’s early afternoon and the three present members of Creepoid are tired and hungover from last night’s gig in Kearney, New Jersey. But with every gig, they’re a little closer to the release of their upcoming self-titled album, coming out on No Idea Records on March 4. It’s just the first of four releases they have slated for 2014. The other three being twelve-inch singles on Graveface Records.

That rapid-fire approach to releasing so much material this year may sound a little surprising to most considering the upcoming self-titled LP will be their first in three years. It feels a little more arranged, more pointed in its direction and it more visual, but without forcing a message. The songs on the self-titled album aren’t necessarily new either. Many songs on the album have been in Creepoid’s repertoire for years, but haven’t been released, influencing many of the songs to change naturally and allow the band to find their voice as they continued to write.

“I think that’s the evolution of our band,” Pat Troxell says. “We started out with these pop intentions and it’s turned into our version that’s twisted.”

He stresses that when he says “pop,” he means song structures. But pop structures aside, this album is also noticeably dark. It’s grass-already-growing-on-the-plot dark. And it’s a walk through Creepoid’s outlook on what they see.

“I think we find with the dark stuff, that music is just a way to help you deal with things that make you unhappy,” Miller says. “And there are always a lot of bad things in the world to write about.”

However, that’s just Miller’s muse. Pat Troxell believes the album’s dark feeling and imagery comes from all of their moods collectively which he says is influenced by being a working-class Philly band. Each member has a hand on songwriting and seems to have their own perspective on the process.

“I think there is a difference between emotional and being sentimental,” Anna Troxell says. “And there’s a difference between speaking specifically from your experience and trying to touch overarching themes.”

Meanwhile, Whiskey is nearly creating a breeze with his rapid tail-wagging; jogging back and forth from each band member, seeking attention. And he receives it, saying thanks with playful teething before running up to the third floor of the house.

Anna Troxell and Miller share a perspective on writing, too. Anna is a photographer, so she says she has something in mind visually when writing a song and tries to put it into words.

With moments on the album such as the second guessing, “Yellow Wallpaper,” which has long, morphing guitar lines that create a dreary dream sequence as the song concludes, that are inherently visual. And not long after that, “Gout” starts, knocking the wind out of you. It taunts you with a moment to breathe before that air is taken away. It’s nearly representative of the increasing tension that the band forces on you as if pressing a boot on your throat.

But the best visual on the album comes from Miller about the trumpet part, which he plays, on “Tired Eyes,” starting the B side of the record.

“The horns in ‘Tired Eyes’ are like the beacon, the light house,” he says.

There’s an element of deliberate close listening required for the album; a certain keen ear for the cues and nuances of what’s potentially being presented. And Miller knows that, too.

“I always make it my goal to try to envision somebody challenging themselves while listening to our music,” he says. “So challenging themselves to look at the world from a perspective that they aren’t that comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be my vision of the world they see. We just try to get people to cock their head a little bit.”

If challenging yourself to listen to this album is one of Miller’s goals, asking lots of questions lyrically is a way to do so.

“We also noticed when we were putting together the lyric sheet for record how many questions we asked,” Anna Troxell says. “There are overwhelmingly more questions on it than answers. So that is representative of the record as well.”

Then a thud comes from a third floor room. “Hey!” Anna Troxell yells, prompting a break in conversation and a silence upstairs. Then Whiskey comes storming down the stairs like a freight train that lost its brakes. She’s all smiles, running around the small sitting room before jumping into Pat Troxell’s lap.

The rest of the year is going to be quite busy for Creepoid following March’s LP release. They have three twelve-inch singles scheduled to come out on Graveface Records after the LP. The first four-song twelve-inch will be released on Record Store Day; it was just recorded in January. And it shows some new sides of Creepoid, for sure.

“You can look at these twelve-inches as us exercising our ability to try new things in the studio so at the end of it all we are fully prepared for something new,” Pat Troxell says. “This first one we have an ambient instrumental and some heavier, doomier riffs.”

The arrangement made for the twelve-inch project was a “handshake deal and totally DIY,” according to Pat.

Rather than writing in the now defunct South Philly eModa Gallery space, where they used to practice, Creepoid is completely comfortable writing and recording in their own basement after moving into their current home about a year ago. This has led to more improvisation, prompting this series of twelve-inch releases.

“These give a chance to sketch,” Miller says.

There’s going to be a lot of variety to them, too. Anna Troxell says they’re treating it as an opportunity to do “this kind of twelve-inch and one like that.”

Sure, there was a lot of time between the upcoming Creepoid LP and 2011’s Horse Heaven, but they never stopped working. And they’re still progressing.

“We try to stay unsterile,” Miller says.

Creepoid is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the single “Baptism” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch the video for “Sunday” in Wednesday’s post, celebrate the album release with the band tonight at Johnny Brenda’s (tickets and info here), and check back tomorrow to take a roadtrip with Creepoid.

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