Hip Online "Stefan Olsdal Interview", May'99

May 17, 1999

After spending roughly an hour watching Placebo chat with David Bowie, I realized that I would be doing the same the following afternoon. A follow up to Bowie? Talk about pressure!

When the call came in, I was still unsure with whom I would be chatting. Soon I was to find out that it would be the very interesting and honest Stefen Olsdal.

From the start it was impossible not to talk about the live web chat with David Bowie, but Stefen was more than happy to talk about all things Bowie and many things Placebo.


Charlie Craine : I don't know how I can follow up that interview you had last night with David Bowie. I'm feeling a bit inadequate.

Stefan : (Laughs) Did you check out the web thing?

Charlie Craine : Yeah.

Stefan : It was good, wasn't it?

Charlie Craine : Yeah. And the whole time I was watching it, I was thinking to myself that maybe I shouldn't be watching it because I have to interview these guys tomorrow.

Stefan : Well, we played a show last night, in Roseland last night, and Bowie came up and joined us on stage. We did a couple tunes together and it was brilliant. It was a really good show anyway and then he came up and started jamming out with us. It was superb. Really good fun.

Charlie Craine : Great. So now I'm sort of wondering what I can possibly do or ask that wasn't taken care of last night with David.

Stefan : He's a pretty good interview actually, isn't he?

Charlie Craine : Yeah. It lasted almost an hour, right?

Stefan : Right. It was chill though, good fun.

Charlie Craine : He was reminiscing about the old days.

Stefan : Exactly. Every time we see him he is sort of coming out with like one-liners and stuff and stuff to do with people that are dead and gone. It's amazing. It's really hard to comprehend sometimes the amount of stuff he has done. He is throwing dates at you like from the late '60's and like I can't even remember last week! (we both laugh)

Charlie Craine : What songs did David perform with you last night?

Stefan :"Without You I'm Nothing" and "20th Century Boy".

Charlie Craine : Are there any plans to work with him on an album or something else in the future?

Stefan : Maybe. There are things in the old magic bag. We'll have to wait.

Charlie Craine : How did you guys all hook up?

Stefan : it was 1996, I wasn't in the band at the time, but Morrissey was touring with David Bowie, and then Morrissey went on a walkabout and just disappeared. Then Bowie discovered a Placebo demo even before the first album, Virgin just signed them, and he said, 'Come on tour with us.' And they went on tour and it has been a friendship since then really.

Charlie Craine : I was quite jealous of you guys hanging out with him like that, especially when he was reminiscing about the past. Like with the Brian Eno story.

Stefan : Exactly. I mean, he was coming out with that Brian Eno stuff about Berlin. He was talking about circumference and 'I got the change out of my pocket and I can go this far and see what happens.' It's like fucking mental. (laughs)
He is very cool. He's very approachable. He'll give you a load of time. He's very good.

Charlie Craine : I think you need days and days to do a story with him. Anyhow it might be proper if I actually ask some Placebo questions.

Stefan : Perhaps. (laughs)

Charlie Craine : Do you feel that you've found more than just band mates, that you've found soul mates?

Stefan : Definitely. I've been in bands for fifteen years and I've never been in a band that felt like this before. The chemistry has never been there before like there is now. Maybe because of our different ages, every different sexuality, and we're all from different countries. It's sort of this big mix and it's all come to this one big melting pot and it just seems to work.

Charlie Craine : Many of the songs deal with sexuality and they seem to have different gender points of view. Is it just me or are these songs written like that?

Stefan : Definitely. That is the way Brian writes his lyrics sometimes. Like the song "You Don't Care About Us". That is taken from the point of view of somebody talking to Brian. As opposed to him talking to somebody else, actually somebody is asking him, 'This relationship is going wrong. You don't care about us, man.' (laughs) But other people translate it like the kids are going to the adults, 'You don't care about us!' It's weird. They are all coming from all different angles. "My Sweet Prince" was a female friend of Brian's who just they were just kind of busting up and that was the last thing she wrote on his mirror in his bathroom before they split up. It is all real, but it can be from any direction really.

Charlie Craine : I read a really funny article where a writer was in the audience and overheard some rednecks who saw you guys take the stage and they were saying, 'That's a pretty hot chick,' and then they heard Brian sing. Is that an odd occurrence or is that something you notice often?

Stefan : It still happens all the time. The band is big in Britain and Europe and stuff and, I mean, we still get guys coming up to me on the street asking, 'That bloke in your band, is that a girl?' I mean, that is their first statement, 'That bloke in your band a girl?' Straight away. It's like, 'What the fuck do you mean by that?' And it's like, 'His name is Brian, work it out.' I mean, that has been going on for years and years. The funniest thing is like now, we are on our fourth tour of America, and it is breaking through slowly and this has been our easiest tour around America yet. It is just weird when you get to places like Tulsa and you get the biggest four-hundred pound redneck walking up to Brian and you are thinking that he is going to punch him in the face and instead he goes (in a deep south accent), 'You rock man!' I mean, that is not meant to happen. We are like, 'What the fuck is going on?' Do you know what I mean? We are getting them all from the insecure gothic types to the meathead rednecks. It's an achievement in itself. (laughs hysterically)

Charlie Craine : The American market is very big, vast. Are you going about it as trying to pick up one fan at a time?

Stefan : It's like what we were doing in Britain and Europe, just constantly touring trying to build it and build it and build it. I think we wanted to take the same sort of scenario to America and say we are going to come back in August and September and then we are going to come back in December and just keep coming back and keep touring. U2 style, I suppose. I mean, a lot of British bands, I mean, we are not a British band, but a lot of British bands will come over and just play New York and L.A. and think they've done it. I mean, whatever.

Charlie Craine : Speaking of British bands and touring. Do you think that bands like Oasis and The Verve have put a bad taste in Americans' mouths for other bands coming from overseas by coming over hear very arrogant and acting the way they do then they don't end up being as popular as they were, say, overseas?

Stefan : Definitely. I think they've done it to themselves. I mean, The Verve came over to America booking twenty thousand seat arenas. It's like, 'No. You haven't toured America for a long time and nobody really knows you outside of Britain and France.' And then they come over and get pissed off because they can't sell out a twenty thousand seat venue. It's like, 'Use your loaf.' It's simple, isn't it? Then they get pissed because they don't sell it out and they think that all Americans are wankers. It's like, 'You've got it well mixed up there. You better go back, think about it, and then come back again.' That is the biggest thing with bands like Oasis and The Verve; they just think the world owes them a fucking living. I don't think they are particularly great bands anyway.

Charlie Craine : With Oasis, they had already struck gold with "Wonderwall". So, they had fans already in America, but when they got here it was like people were saying, 'We've created a monster.'

Stefan : Exactly. (laughs) It takes two to tango, I suppose.

Charlie Craine : How do you guys pass time on the road?

Stefan : We've been working on this. It's been like a scientific experiment basically, but we manage to rock all night and disco dance day all day. We listen to disco and techno all day so we are dancing our way around America on our bus. It is the easiest way to get around the states.

Charlie Craine : Anything in particular that you are listening to?

Stefan : Cassius, stuff like that. A lot of old school techno, stuff from 1990 and '88. Just endless amounts of old school disco like Donna Summer. We haven't been listening to a lot of guitar music because we haven't found any guitar music that has been that inspirational lately.

Charlie Craine : I was going to ask you about that. What do you think about the lack of quality music and especially the lack of star quality in music today? Do you attribute that to the lack of talent, or are record labels just completely oversaturating the market with bands?

Stefan : I think it is down to the lack of talent and the lack of imagination. I've never been in a situation, and I never intend to be in a situation, where a record company is telling you what to do and telling you the way that you should market yourself. It's like, 'No, no, no.' The record labels are the people with the plans and the contacts. I'm an artist. You create your own thing and bring it to them and say, "Let's do this with it." And then start talking.

Charlie Craine : Do you think that is why even the upper class kids and people who a few years ago would never be caught dead listening to Marilyn Manson are now listening to him because of his persona?

Stefan : Yeah. I mean Marilyn Manson looks great, but the album is crap.

Charlie Craine : I'm not big on the new one either.

Stefan : It's dreadful. It's like what the fuck is that?

Charlie Craine : He shouldn't have left Trent Reznor.

Stefan : Exactly, but he could have looked fantastic and actually had a fantastic album. Then it is a different story.

Charlie Craine : Yeah. It was just too much drama.

Stefan : It is very same. You can listen all the way through the album and you say it could have been the same song basically. It's a classic example of image taking control, which is wrong because you should always have your music first and then you play with your image.
And to finish answering the question, I do think that record labels are mass-producing and not giving artists enough time to grow.

Charlie Craine : Speaking of image, does it bother you that a lot of writers spend a lot of time on your image and don't pay as much attention to your music?

Stefan : We are trying to keep a tight reign on that. It doesn't really bother me, what journalists write. I mean, you get out of England as an artist and interviews become a lot easier because journalists obviously have got some kind of education and they seem to know what, he/she knows what they are talking about. In Britain, they have this idea that the journalist is above the artist. They've got this weird way of working it. They've got egos bigger than fucking hell. It's weird. Once they champion you and bring you to that level, they want to tear you down. And it's just kind of like, 'Fuck off'.

Charlie Craine : I did read a lot of articles where they were digging for dirt.

Stefan : I think it is funny when a band's press starts getting press. It's just silly. People fishing and trying to find shit and get more shit on you.

Charlie Craine : Do you find the American press is more respectful?

Stefan : Yeah. And they seem to know more about music and know their musical history a lot more. (pauses) I'm getting the signal to wind it up now. We've got to do this CNN thing now.

Charlie Craine : So I better let you go.

Stefan : Yeah. I'm getting people staring at me. (laughs)

Charlie Craine : Well, we wouldn't want to hold CNN up now would we?

Stefan :No worries. (laughs)