The Sentimentalist "Placebo", 2001

Summer 2001, Issue VI

PLACEBO: three musicians from three different countries, who came together to form a band that pushes the envelope in all respects of music and art.

I first met them while they were seated for lunch at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York CIty, surrounded by their Virgin publicists and press agents. A bit awkward actually--walking up to a table of hungry musicians and their media reps.

One of their publicists introduced me around the table and then informed me that they were running behind schedule, (imagine that). I wound up waiting upstairs in their suite, figuring there were worse ways to spend an afternoon... Not long after, Brian Molko, with gentlemanly charm, swaggered over and introduced himself again, (very unlike the unabashedly arrogant persona he exuded in some older Placebo interviews I had read), while handing me a copy of the band's latest videos.I popped the cassette into the VCR and watched three striking videos for "Taste in Men", "Slave to the wage" and my personal favourite, te Fantastic Voyage-themed "Special K".

Brian curled up sideways in the armchair next to me and watched along, adding bits of commentary about the concepts and location. (He was hoping certain parts would have come out slightly more edgy). Drummer Steve Hewitt joined us and we chatted about how blasé the UK music scene had become as of late. He, like most English people I meet, seemed enthralled by our vast, yet humble Gotham City. A short while later, bassist Stefan Olsdal finished his last phoner and also joined us.

Brian and Steve left us to do some Station IDs, and after becoming better acquainted with Stefan during our talk of music and travel, we settled down for a tete-a-tete based more around the "business" at hand-- their outstanding new release, "Black Market Music".

When was the last time you were in New York?

Stefan: Last time we were here [in 99], we played at Irving Plaza and we had David Bowie on stage with us for a couple of numbers which was quite awesome.

Taste In Men.The song starts off with such a great groove, almost a bit of hip hop.

Stefan: There is basically a reversed bass loop in there. Steve is pretty much responsible for the hip hop thing. Steve came in for the second album but I dont think it shows as much as with Black Market.

So how did your collaboration with Justin Warfield come about on Spite and Malice?

Stefan: We had this track that had been around since WYIN, which was basically an eight minute jam, which we brought down to a four and a half minute song. The verses were there but we did not have a chorus and didnt really want to force anything out. So we said lets try a rap...Placebo and rap? well, yeah! We had known Justin since we had been on the same label. He was in a band called One Inch Punch. Justin was introduced to Brian, a few years before and he just became a friend. He was the only other person, other than Chuck D., who we could think of, and I think Chuck D was busy. We called Justin and he was really up for it.

I had to listen to Spite and Malice a few times before I figured out the direction you were coming from... I am not a big fan of the current rap rock phenomenon plaguing our airwaves these days.

Stefan: Sports metal?

I have not heard it called that before but that seems to suit the genre

Stefan: I just think Spite and Malice suits like Placebo

It works very well. Progression is very important for a band. Although sometimes you may alienate an older fan base for the sake of maturity.

Stefan: I dont think we have alienated any fans with this record. It feels to use what we had wanted to do with the first two albums.

When you went into the studio to record Black Market Music, did you have set ideas for the songs or did you write as you were recording?

Stefan: We had been on tour for about 13 months playing the same old songs, so when we went into the studio we were bursting to write new stuff. Our approach to writing is quite instinctual and organic, there is nothing calibrated about it. We just wanted to make a big "fuck off" rock record. It felt like we were having a baby-- from the time we started writing the album, recording and mixing it took about 9 months.

Do you enjoy listening to the cd now that it is finished? Sometimes I find that after you have spent so much time with a record, listening to the songs over and over during mixing makes it difficult to just sit and enjoy your accomplishment.

Stefan: Yes, we did get stuck a couple of times, but that is bound to happen...Sometimes you lose your confidence when you mix in different studio rooms. We mixed in this one room and then moved to a different room, and if you are not familiar with the studio, you become unsure, you lose insight as to where your boundaries are.

With Black Market Music, did you ever encounter the situation where you tried to work and work a song and basically worked it to death?

Stefan: That was one of the best things about this album -- we would not work on a song more than one day at the most. If it wasnt happening, we would just leave it and come back to it later. On the second album, we did 70 drum takes in one day, of the same song. It just turned out that the first and second takes were the best ones. We really tortured ourselves...

How does Placebo go about writing songs?

Stefan: It usually happens after we have been playing in a room together. The music comes first and then Brian adds the lyrics.

I noticed you are using a bit more bass distortion on this CD.

Stefan: Yes, i actually started using it on the second album. It just like the sound of it- the weight and the ground I get out of it. It seems to solidify the bottom end, but also bridges the gap between the bass and the guitar. It kind of goes back to "Kill Them All" by Metallica -- that bass solo is fucking awesome.

For the next ten or so minutes we discussed the duet Metallica did with Marianne Faithful. I told Stefan about seeing them on Saturday Night Live, when I could not even tell who "the woman screeching with Metallica was". It turned out a few nights later I heard the same song on the radio, only to find out that "that woman" was none other than Marianne Faithful. I think Stefan had a hard time believing my story.

So what was your connection with David Bowie?

Stefan: He is actually playing here tonight for a Tibetan benefit at Carnegie Hall. As far as our collaboration with David, I dont think anything could top it. If anything is going to happen again (between us), it is going to have to come by itself. It was so good, that doing something else could just spoil the whole thing.

Did it feel natural to work with him?

Stefan: Yes, definitely, he was very easy to work with. He is a very efficient musician. We had quite an awesome moment just before he was going to record his track. David was standing right next to us and said that before he was going to record he wanted to sing his part for us. He did, and we were just like, wow! Just the way he structured his overlay was so musical. The song doesn't repeat itself, it just crescendos into a big finale basically. Just the way he started off in this really low range, [this octave, Stefan mimics Bowie, and very well I might add], and ends up way up here--(whoa!) He definitely added something special to that song.

We went on to discuss their appearance at Madison Square Garden for David Bowie's 50th birthday party. I was in attendance at that show but I must have just missed Placebo's set since Stefan said that they were playing while everybody came in. I recall being at the show early, but then again, I think I would remember seeing Placebo playing live... Well it truly was unfortunate for me since the next time Placebo came around I found out about the show the night after they played at Irving Plaza. Perhaps it is destiny that I havent yet seen them play live. At least I was able to spend quite the languorous and insightful afternoon chatting with them at New York's Soho Grand Hotel.

While discussing the MSG show, we were again joined by drummer Steve Hewitt...

Stefan to Steve: Have you still got a copy of that [Madison Square Garden] show? Didnt you get a copy from those Germans?

Steve: Oh yeah right, I do have that...

So what made you decide to include a hidden track?

Steve: Well it was one of those songs that didnt feel quite right with the rest of the record. But at the same time you dont want to discard it. A hidden track is a good way to get that type of song on the album.

Stefan: Hidden tracks have become a bit of at radition. On the first album if you fall asleep after the CD ends, the hidden track will wake you up gently. On the second album, the secret track will basically wake you up and rip you apart. On Black Market you have the cabaret of death.
Steve: I like that track a lot actually...

So where are you off to tonight?

Steve: I believe we are heading over to MTV and later on, Alternative Press.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Steve/Stefan: We cannot wait to get back to America to play.

Placebo's Black Market tour of the US ran from April 30 through the end of May, wrapping up with two soldout nights at Irving Plaza in New York City. They will be playing a number of European festivals throughout the summer, many of which the band is headlining.