JAM! Music "Placebo Bares All With Sophomore Effort", Nov'98

by Adrian Bromley

"I don't really sing in the shower," starts Placebo singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Molko humorously over the phone, after being interrupted by JAM!'s phone call while he was trying to catch a quick shower before his hectic press day began.

With that short statement, a "dripping wet and naked"Molko seems to have summed up the band's latest venture , "Without You I'm Nothing". Exposed and open for all the world to hear , the band's sophomore effort is a post-punk, Bowie-esque collection of melodic rock songs that showcase Molko's knack for hitting the nail on the head. Honesty runs deep here, and Molko wouldn't have it any other way.

Molko, who is exhausted after almost 24-hours of non-stop traveling and other band-related activities, calls the new album "an older record in many ways. Very pensive and retrospective. I think for people to make sense of this record, you really have to compare it to the first record (their self-titled debut) which was filled with the vigor, the energy and the lust of youth. This one is more introverted, a kind of comedown kind of record. The first record was kind of hedonistic. This record is far more broken-hearted and melancholic, with a great more emotional depth on the song writing basis.

"We didn't plan to make a record that was so romantic and desperate,"continues Molko, who, along with bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt, comprise Placebo. "The phrase and/or album title 'Without You I'm Nothing' kind of captures that dichotomy really. We just felt ourselves being pulled that way. We don't really like to censor ourselves anyway. I think this record really shows where our heads were at over the last year and a half. The significant factor being, that while our professional lives were really coming together and happening really well, our personal lives were falling apart at the seams.

"This record was quite well received from the demos onward," says Molko about the material. "We have a incredibly supportive record company (Hut Records in England). They told us to take it to the edge and that is what we did. We knew we were onto something when we saw how people were reacting to it, and this record has totally surpassed our expectations."

So how do song ideas and lyrics take shape for Molko? "Most of the stuff here is self-analytical really. I really made myself very vulnerable with this record and placed myself on the firing line. But that's okay, 'cause it makes you incredibly honest. The more personal you get, the more universal things become. When you're honest and tell it like it is, you become more attached with real things that every other person out there faces and can understand."

Placebo's sound is a throwback to the yesteryear of glam rock, mixed with punk tendencies and effortless melody. Molko's voice radiates a similar Bowie vibe but has also been compared to Geddy Lee of Rush. States Molko laughing, "That comparison has been haunting me for a long time."

"This is a post-punk record in my mind. I'm a kid who was reared on the Dead Kennedys as a teenager. I think there is a bit of Sonic Youth (his idols) on the new record, some PJ Harvey and some Nick Cave on some of the slower numbers. Maybe throw in a bit of the Cure sound when they were pop and you've got the sound of the new LP.

"This record reflects the inherit schizophrenia of the three individuals in the band."

How does Molko view today's music scene? "I think there is a far quicker turnover of bands nowadays," he says. "I think many band's shelf lives are very short these days because of that quick turnover. Things are moving very fast, but that's good 'cause all of the questionable-quality material falls to the wayside. With things going this way, it makes it more challenging to keep on top and not be dragged down with all the others."

And an inspiration to keep doing what Molko and Placebo do?

"Basically, and I know this sounds corny, but making music is the reason why we do this still. It's essential to us, like breathing or sh***ing. Without this ability to make music, I think we'd be miserable people. When you play live, you get a rush which goes far beyond any drug that I have ever taken. It's almost as good as sex."

And the future of the band's extreme, exploratative music? "We get bored really easily," notes Molko. "We try to find new ways to explore what we do. The single 'Pure Morning' came out of a B-sides session. We went into the studio with a guitar loop in the morning and when we came out at the end of the day the song was complete. It just happens that way for us. 'Pure Morning' may be an indication of where we are heading musically, seeing that is was the last song we worked on in the studio. We always work really hard, very spontaneouslu, and that guides us and continues to guide us."