Interview: Placebo


by Anthony Aughtman

Sitting down with all 3 members of Placebo is an honor and enriching experience as you will soon read. Placebo is Brian Molko (voice, guitar & keyboards), Stefan Olsdal (bass, guitar) & Steve Hewitt (drums)

Do you find American audiences are more jaded than European audiences?
Steve:I think it got better this time. They seem to be getting it now. The reaction to the gigs has been amazing.
Brian: Yeah, that used to happen in places like Germany, where people
looked confused. That was what the first few American tours where like, but now people are understanding it.
Stefan: Its a better vibe.

How many tours have you done in America?
Brian: Somewhere between 3 and 5 (laughs)

What is a dream place to record at and why?
Brian: Australia. We fell in love with Australia big time. We were there during the “Big Day Out” festival with Queens Of The Stone Age, At The Drive-In, PJ Harvey. It’s the most laid back place in the world. That tour was amazing. It was more like the “Big Day Off”. We spent 3 days on the beach. I know the concept of Placebo on the beach may seem alien to some people but not to us (laughs).

Are you concerned that your well-documented reputation will affect how people will listen to your music for the first time?
All: No
Brian: Its all part of the fuckin’ rock n roll myth. In every lie there is also a grain of truth but it is still a lie.

How important was the Rock N roll mythology to all of you when you where children?
Brian: I think we found out that every single cliche was true but it was worse.
David Gahan said “a lot of people romanticize this lifestyle but its actually extremely hard work to maintain”. You reach a saturation point after a while.
Steve: I agree.
Brian: My experience with people that I met, the people who have the worst reputations are actually the most intelligent, and the most interesting. It’s a meter of talent.

William Blake said “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. Rock stars go to the edge for the people who wont and should be considered heroes to a point.
Brian: (points to Steve) That’s what he said. A lot of people want to live vicariously through their rock stars. They want them to be fuck-ups so that they don’t have to themselves. That’s not fair. (laughs)
Stefen: Its very convenient for them. They can stand there and wait for their favorite rock star to fall. People love to see celebrities fail.
Brian: Or on a mortuary slab. It’s only so long you can stare into the void before it sucks you in. There is a certain point where you just have to stop staring over the edge of the cliff. It’s not always that easy.

Are you concerned with being a household name?
Brian: I think celebrity is a extremely facile, transparent, temporary, soulless, empty thing.

So Placebo is in it for the long haul?
All: yes!!!
Steve: Music men.

In the 60’s all of the artists influenced each other. The Beach Boys influenced the Beatles and vice versa. Is the climate like that now? Does KID A for example, raise the standards the way Pet Sounds or Ziggy Stardust did?
Stefen: We are really not in touch with other bands. We tend to do our music in a vacuum really. We have friends in other bands and its nice to see them doing well.
Brian: The one band who really blew our heads off recently was At The Drive-In. They restored my faith in rock music. There is so much sports-metal out there, so this was finally something with so much soul. I think seminal albums are still being made. The first 2 PJ Harvey records, everything Tom Waits releases, Radiohead’s the bends. It’s still happening. It would be really depressing if it wasn’t.

How much input does Placebo have in the live production?

Brian: It takes a while to actually get a set together that you believe really works. Once you get a good arrangement of songs, you tend to stick with it because they flow. It’s about taking the listener on an emotional journey. We also learned to trust people who work with us. We realize these people are artists. You have to give over to them what they do best. We have a very socialist attitude towards the touring party. There is no hierarchy. Everybody’s place is as important because it all contributes to the whole thing. Visually, we have a real stronghold on what we do. In the U.K. we toured with visuals that me and a friend did. We where very involved with the design of the set. I think essentially because we are control freaks.

Is Placebo a democracy?
Stefan: Absolutely. Being a three piece does that as well. It feels like the minimum you need to be in a rock band. You can’t subsection anyone off. You think as one. Musically, it leaves a lot of space to fill as well.
Brian: Its like an equilateral triangle.

Are the songs written in jam situations or are the songs brought in complete?
Brian: Mostly jams. In the studio recording this album, musician friends would stop by and jam and it didn’t feel right. There is a magical thing when the three of us play, alone together. That’s when the best stuff comes out. We have an unspoken understanding of each other. Steve was in the band a day and a half before we went on tour.
Steve: We had no choice. We’ve been touring ever since.(laughs)

Are you satisfied with the level of success you’ve had in America?
Brian: Sure.
Stefan: It’s been gradual. That’s healthy. We’re kinda a cult.
Brian: We have a building block approach to what we do. That shows longevity. You have to take the music to the people. Every gig is worth a thousand interviews.

Placebo has a 70’s style work ethic. 3 albums in 5 years and constant touring.
Stefan: It’s kind of an old school approach. It’s tried and tested as well. There’s not really a lot of bands doing it this way. I think that’s make us more of a band that a lot of other bands.

How many times have you played L.A now?
Brian: Whiskey, Roxy, The Palace, Viper Room.

Do you prefer theatres or arenas and stadiums?
Brian: Theaters absolutely. Arenas sound like your playing in a metal box.
The best venue in the U.K. is Brixton Academy. We blew the power at the Palace. That also happened in France and Spain. ROCK!! (laughs)

Is each album newly written material or do you use leftovers?
Stefan: Some ideas find there way out again. We have loads and loads of
Brian: “Taste In Men” started off at a b-side session. It’s all about context. Is it time for this song? Does it fit? Even if it’s really good it may not be the right time for it.

B-side sessions are different than album sessions?
Brian: Yes, there is a very different atmosphere. The pressure is off. It’s recreational music making.
Stefan: The sessions are really fruitful. One spawned “Pure Morning”. The last sessions created songs from the new record.
Brian: That’s where the lounge versions happen, the toy instruments come
out. Let’s have a laugh.

Is there a difference Brian between writing lyrics and poetry?
Brian: I’ve only written one poem in my life. Lyrics are meant to be heard not read.

Are You ever surprised by anything you’ve written?
Sean: All of Black Market Music actually. I wonder where it came from.
Brian: Ecstasy!! (laughs)

Was Black Market Music an easier record to do?
Brian: Oh Yeah.

Which album came together the quickest?
Brian: The first one took three and a half weeks. Second took four months. This one took nine months.
Sean: We wrote the most for this album.

Does Placebo draw any inspiration from any visual artists?
Brian: Jenny Holzar. It’s like neon art. She did a big neon sign in Peccadilly Circus that read “Protect me from what I want!” which became a song we wrote during some bride sessions. Sometimes it happens but in a very instinctual way. It would be too much like hard work if you had to think about all the time.

Does Brian ever get help with the lyrics?
Sean: Not really, sometimes we will brainstorm.
Brian: If we are stuck we will get together and go, “let’s make this better”.
What rhymes with penis? (laughs)

Have advances in studio technology helped the recording process?
Steve: Absolutely
Brian: Once a week you turn around and say thank god we’re not making music in the 60’s.

What does Placebo listen to to recharge the creative batteries?
Steve: A lot of dance music actually.
Brian: Sasha. Ladytron, she is amazing. Purely based on samples. Amazing
stuff. Very Kraftwerky.

Whats your favorite Bowie record?
All: Hunky Dory and Low

I love the murky, dreamy minimalism of the softer songs. Do you ever hear a song complete in your head?
Steve: I think as you work on stuff you realize when you’re finished.
Brian: I think less and less actually. It’s becoming more open and we have different approaches and methods.

Does it ever feel like you put too much in a song?
Stefan: Yeah, we usually do that.
Brian: It’s that eternal question; when do you put the final brush stroke on a painting? The only reasons records get released is because of deadlines.

Is the humor waning?
Brian: Our sense of humor is very black. You should meet our roadies. We
often get misquoted because people take us too seriously.

Is there another artist, alive or dead, you wish you could be on the same bill with?
Brian: Captain Beefheart.
Stefan: Sly
Steve: Billie Holiday

Does a glamorous image hurt your musical credibility?
Stefan: People are taking us more serious when they hear this album. We were in danger of that.
Brian: It is frustrating when no one speaks about the music. It’s always about how you got needles hanging off your eyeballs.

Is there a point to Placebo that you feel people may have missed?
Brian: Some people think we are a boy band.
Stefan: There is a controlled idea that we where put together. Its very insulting.

Placebo’s newest “Black Market Music” (Virgin Records) is in stores now. Sincere thanks to the band for their time and consideration.