ReadMag "Placebo", Nov'03

November 25, 2003
by Christopher Cannedy

After selling 3 million albums worldwide and three Top 10 albums in the UK after 18 months on the road and six years challenging everything from homophobia and gender; to the record industry and media; to drugs and pop culture, Placebo released their fourth album, Sleeping With Ghosts, through Astralwerks/Hut Recordings on April 1st. Produced by Jim Abbiss (The Music, UNKLE and DJ Shadow) this is their most emotionally reflective yet explosive album to date. 

"The album title's about carrying the ghosts of your relationships with you," Brian explains, "to the point where sometimes a smell or situation or an item of clothing they bought you kind of brings a person back. For me it's about the relationship that you have with your memories. They inhabit your dreams sometimes. There can be a lot in the future that's gonna remind you of the ghost of relationships past. So I see the album as a collection of short stories about a handful of relationships. Most of them mine. In a way writing the songs helps me to get a lot of the nasty things off my chest and put them in a box a little bit more, and therefore have a bit more of an objective discourse with those emotions because you've done something positive with them, you've rid yourself of them." 

Sleeping With Ghosts is a stunning achievement. It weaves furious scatterbeat electronics into searing, soul-baring elegies that are simultaneously dark, maudlin and riveting. When Placebo wrench open the Big Guitar cupboard and pile into a driving chordstorm like "This Picture" or "The Bitter End," they sound as though they've had a rock transfusion from the Queens of The Stone Age. It's a fundamentally experimental and stunningly fresh shove of the envelope. Sleeping With Ghosts retains Placebo's world-demolishing feral power, while both rewiring their hard drive and letting you in to see the wires. 

Placebo's international success is impossible to ignore. On their last tour, the band played to over 500,000 people in 30 countries at their own headline shows (excluding festivals) and they have sold out shows globally including the US, Asia and Australia. Their last album went Top 20 in over twenty countries, and knocked Radiohead off the number one spot in France. Placebo also played to over 6,000 people in Gorky Park, Moscow in 2001. 

Stefan Oldsdal (Guitars, Bass, Keyboard) was kind enough to spend a few minutes of the phone with me from Las Vegas, fresh from a rickshaw ride of the strip, and talk Placebo with a die-hard fan. I'd read in previous articles that he was the shy one but I was pleasantly surprised to find out he was anything but. 

So you were in San Francisco last night. How was it? How was the crowd? 

Unbelievable. At one point Brian was standing on the edge of the stage and the audience began unzipping his pants. 

Was it hard for Placebo to make its entrance into the music scene? Any industry horror stories? 

In the mid 90's, record companies were in crisis and it was easier to get a deal, they needed talent. We got our record deal after our fifth gig. We've been able to stay in control of our art which is important. 

Fans have asked me to inquire about upcoming releases. 

We'll release a live DVD from Paris from last month's concert. We played to 18,000 people with Frank Black. That should be sometime in the beginning of next year. B-sides are in the works but nothing definite. 

Working in a studio and playing live in concert must have different meaning for you guys. What do you gain from each experience? 

Studio is like being in a science lab, mixing of ideas, sometimes explosive sometimes creative. Spending ten hours being creative is very rewarding but do it for too long it gets boring…you want to get out. In concert we gets lots of love and energy from the audience, quite sexual. It's all equally satisfying just different levels. 

Ok, I have to admit, Siouxsie is first on my list then Placebo. Any Siouxsie fans in Placebo? 

Brian and Steve are big Siouxsie fans and hung out with them recently. I know they recently had a new album out. 

Right, I added that Siouxsie and Budgie as The Creatures had just released Hái! and Stefan mentioned the collection of Siouxsie and the Banshees greatest hits released about a year ago. 

My favorite is Depeche Mode though. They seem to explore the darker side of human emotions. 

In preparing to interview you I read every article on your website about Placebo. It seems as though every article can't be complete without mentioning homosexual this bisexual that and androgyny here and gender there. At the end of all those articles I'm left thinking…but what about the music?! I mean so Brian wears make up, so what?! Why is that still such a big deal? What about the music? 

It's a form of character assassination in England and I think most of the articles on our site are from British press. It gets headlines. In France it's much more about the music. 

When someone asks me to describe the kind of music that Placebo performs and what you guys sound like what should I tell them? 

Faggy Punk Rock Band. 

I know Pixies were a big influence on Brian. Any suggestions as to which album of theirs I should buy? 

Doolittle. 

I know David Bowie suggested you guys should read whilst on tour. So what are you reading? 

"'The Heart is Deceitful Above All things' by J.T. LeRoy and 'Dude, Where's My Country' by Michael Moore." 

My next question was actually intended for Brian but perhaps you can answer it. When he wrote "Protect Me From What I Want" was there anything he had in mind that he needed protection from? 

What he writes is very open ended and if I tell you what I think it means he'll just read this and say I'm wrong. Do you know of Jenny Holzer? Artist Jenny Holzer had posted signs around Piccadilly Circus one that read "Protect Me From What I Want." So I'm sure that was an influence. 

Well I have to admit after reading about how shy you supposedly are it's been unreal speaking with you. 

Well I'm in the Hard Rock and they're pumping oxygen into the lobby to keep people feeding the slots. 

During our talk I also managed to quash my own curiosity about Stefan's height which one article went so far as to describe as "giraffe like." Come to find out he's only 6' 4"! I've got him beat by almost two inches. (In the height department at least.) At one point in the conversation I mentioned I'm turning thirty years old and could he offer any advice before I enter "Thirty Therapy." He assured me that age was but a number and the he hated who he was in his twenties and is looking forward to bidding his 20's good-bye in March. I then went off on some embarrassing, blushing rant about how I feel I'd missed out on life because during much of my 20's I was in the closet and too confused and ashamed to have fun and live it up during the time of life when you're supposed to do such thing. And wasn't it ironic that my 30th birthday coincided with seeing Placebo for the first time in concert on December 12th in Washington, DC? A first timer at thirty years old. Fancy that! I'll keep his response to that one between he and I.