Bionic-club "Steve Hong Kong", Mar'04

March 9, 2004
Transcript from audio: EVIL GROUPIE

I: Steve Hewitt, welcome to Hong Kong, thanks for coming. It is your first time in Hong Kong, isn’t it?

S: Yes

I: You say that you had passed through the airport, but that was it...

S: I got drunk at the airport once, and then flew off back to England (laughs). But this is much more permanent, I think.

I: Now you’ve been through Japan, but apart from that, this is the only bit in Asia?

S: Yeah. Totally. Yeah... We’ve been on the road for about just over a year, so we were trying to come back... we were trying to come here earlier this year, but there was just no time really.

I: What are your preconceptions of Hong Kong? What do you see? I mean, is it a surprise what you see out of the window, or is it what you expected?

S: Erm, well, like I say... the last time we came here, it was just in the airport, we just broke off around the islands and that, so we didn’t really see any of it. But when you come round the corner from the airport, you just see this endless sprawling city and it’s... yeah, it’s a huge shock. Huge surprise... of just how much is here. Really. Yeah.

I: Now you say that apart from a couple of months at the beginning of this year, you’ve been touring for a year or so... Is it a drag? Does it become routine? Or do you stop it from becoming a routine?

S: After a year or so, yeah, it starts growing on you, I suppose, a little bit. We never get bored of playing, of playing live. I think we get bored of travelling... doing interviews! (laughs) 

I: I’m off, I’m off... that’s it.

S: No disrespect. (laughs). But if you can keep feeding it by coming to new places, I suppose, erm, y’know, that provides the excitement, you know, that provides the excitement that’s required to carry it on.

I: Do you still enjoy it? Or is it like, “oh it’s Thursday, so this is Switzerland”?

S: We still enjoy it. Definitely. You know, we’re very lucky to be doing what we’re doing. And we’re trying to continue to do it as good as we can. A 95 isn’t an option. (laughs)

I: Have you had any embarrassing moments? Or best moments on tour? There was one... I remember one event last year, when one rather famous female international artist went to Peru and at the end of the show said “Thank you Brazil”... Now, have you had anything like that? Anything that you wish you’d rather not done?

S: There have been a few things like that, but really you’ve just witnessed them, you haven’t done them yourself so it’s been quite good. I think that you work really hard not to embarrass yourself publicly (laughs).

I: And you’ve managed to do it?

S: Yeah, sort of. Sort of... you know, there has been a few things, a few things... I mean the endless Spinal Tap moments really, you know, they do raise their head now and again. Not finding the stage, and you know, like you say “Hello Brazil” and stuff like that. It’s kind of... it does happen. But apart from that, no, it’s been really good.

I: Is there a place that you look forward to going back to? Or one place that you think “Oh yeah, that was really good”... or for some reason that was just an “extra special gig”?

S: Erm, no. Because I think that every show we do, has got... is a different show. I mean, like I say, it isn’t the run of the mill sort of go on, on a daily basis and just do a show and knock them out. I think we try and make every show something different. And it really does work like that, so... We love Australia, y’know, we love parts of the States, New Orleans, New York... things like that. We still love London. I miss London more than anything.

I: Does each place have an identity? I mean, obviously you see hotel rooms and stuff, but as far as the gig: is it different?

S: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, from the crowds, and the people and the coaches... You instantly feel it when you step off the plane. So, erm, yeah.

I: You’re here for the gig on Wednesday, what should people expect from a Placebo gig?.

S: Erm, well I suppose this show in particular, it’s kind of like a... it’s kind of like a crazy train, like as soon as it starts, you just fall on until the end... So it’s like a big rock show. Erm, very loud, very very active. And before you know it, it’ll be over. So it’ll be like an hour and a half, but it’s kind of relentless.

I: Is that what it feels to you? Is it relentless for you?

S: Yeah, yeah. It’s an hour and a half of you know, kicking the shit out of it, and it’s... phew!. It’s always good to get to the end. You know, but I think that we leave a lot of people with open mouths, you know, and kind of stunned really.

I: As you say, you’re off to Australia now... Which is another place that likes their music, especially with having it loud. Where do you think that your strongest sort of fan base is? I imagine it’s sort of central Europe, but is that right or wrong?

S: Yeah, it is central Europe really. I suppose it’s like France and Germany... Spain, England. Most of the mainland Europe. Along with Australia. America is growing as well... Mexico, South America is huge for us as well. Erm, we did three shows there, last year... We did our third show there last year actually, and it was three shows there over the course of two years, the first one was 9000 people, the second one was 16000 and the last one we did was 35000 people...

I: Now that’s a thing... which is better, do you like the big ones? Do you like the big stadium things, or do you like the smaller ones?.

S: Erm, that question now... because we do... we still do gigs in America like, 600 people in a club to South America with 35000 people. I think because you can do both things, you’re kind of spoilt really. Personally, I love it all. Yeah. It’s great to be still in touch with the big stuff, and the small stuff.

I: Now we get a bit starved of live music here... But we’ve got Bowie coming at the weekend. You’ve worked with Bowie before, haven’t you I think?. A couple of times, at his 50th birthday bash... any dirt you’d like to dish before he appears here?.

S: Erm, I still wanna know why he constantly smiles. Now I’ve got two reasons: either he’s on Prozac or he definitely is worth 550 million. (laughs) I’d be smiling too.

I: The other wonderful tale that I heard about Bowie, that he said himself, that he has his lyrics on stage because years of substance abuse left him with a mind like Swiss cheese. Which I thought...

S: I don’t believe that for a second. He’s a very very intelligent man. He’s very on the pulse. He’s very, he still is... you know, the Space Boy. He’s sort of Captain Internet as well. So, he’s definitely lying about that.

I: So to continue with Bowie, you actually worked with him on the T-Rex classic that you did. Erm, for 20th Century Boy, wasn’t it?.

S: Yeah, 20th Century Boy for a film called Velvet Goldmine. A Todd Haynes film, yeah. Erm, which was roughly based on the swift gay relationship between Iggy and Bowie. But Bowie didn’t want to get involved with it, erm, and didn’t let any of his music go in the film. But Todd turned round to us and said that he wanted to use 20th Century Boy. And we did that for the film, but Bowie didn’t record with us on that. We just did that live at the Brit Awards. And then after that Bowie got in touch with us because he wanted to sing on Without You I’m Nothing and it was like kind of “okay David, come in... come in and do it!”. So yeah, we worked with him on Without You with Tony Visconti in New York, great experience being in the studio with Bowie, when he’s doing his vocal and it’s kind of “No, d’ya wanna do that again David, it’s a bit flat at the end!”.

I: Cheeky! Cheeky!

S: Very cool. (laughs)

I: As far as covers go, you’ve also done a lot of covers for the re-released version of Sleeping With Ghosts last year. You did all the Robert Palmer, the Smiths and the Kate Bush... Boney M even, which I thought was quite a quirky choice... Where did you choose these things from?

S: Erm, well you must understand that this is a compilation of recordings we’ve made over the years. For various reasons, for movies, for b-sides, you know, for whatever. So that is just a compilation of stuff, which we recorded. Boney M was I don’t know, I mean, it’s...

I: It works!, I thought that it was fabulous... It’s just cheeky!

S: It’s like within a list of all those covers, they’re all kind of, all the songs which were around you when you were growing up, so they hold some kind of personal childhood memories, really. And... and the fact that they’re great songs as well. Boney M was basically, it was going to be for my daughter. For her birthday. And I suggested it to the band, and they were kind of like “yeah, yeah... we’ll get round to it”. And we got round to it, but by the time we’d finished it, we thought “this is great!... let’s get it out!”. So...

I: Any other covers that you’d like to do? I mean, any in mind?

S: There are loads and loads and loads and loads. But I think we’d love to do “So into you” by Syd Barrett… I think that it would be a really really good one. Erm, there’s too many, you know… The thing with us and cover versions is that we actually try and keep it as true as possible, you know, to the original version. So, they always turn out quite good that way. I think that when people try and rearrange them and stuff, I think that you kind of spoil the covers sometimes.

I: Because you’ve got to put your own sort of stamp on it, haven’t you? But I suppose that there’s got to be some original, I suppose.

S: It actually comes through sonically, so you don’t really need to mess with the arrangement of the song, really.

I: Sleeping With Ghosts last year, it was your strongest album I thought. Is that what you thought about it?

S: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it’s our best to date. It’s our most successful sales-wise as well... And I think that it’s a firm step forward for the band, I think.

I: How? How? What was different about it for you?

S: Erm, I think that we came away from the formula of base, drums and guitar more this time. We worked with Jim Abyss, who’s in the dance camp, you know, Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps and stuff. And we’re all big fans of dance music, so it just seemed like a natural step and kind of embrace the dance thing with the rock thing, which people have been trying to do for a long time. But I think that it was just within subtleties of production which actually take away from your base, drums and rock and roll formula thing. And working with Jim Abyss sort of taught us how to play and listen to music differently. In a way... I mean, which is… I think it’s very hard to do for a band that’s been around this long and musicians that have been around that long. ‘Cos I think that people get stuck in their ways, but I think that it was a definite sort of musical head change because of working with Jim Abyss.

I: Favourite track? Or one that you enjoy performing the most from there.

S: The Bitter End. 

I: ¿Canción favorita? O la que más disfrutes tocando del disco.

S: The Bitter End.

I: Now, you’re sort of a hotch potch of people... I mean, Brian has his US roots, he’s also half Scottish I believe. Stefan from Sweden... They met in Luxembourg, but in London... You’re the token Brit. You seem to cover all parts of Europe between you... And beyond.

S: Yeah, definitely. But, isn’t that the New World? (laughs)

I: Ahhhhh... Yes.

S: You know, I think it’s... I think it’s important. I mean, I think it’s a great strong foundation for a band that come out and say what they say... about the world and about people. And about situations.

I: And what are you saying?

S: Well, you know, it’s kind of like no homophobia, no racism. You know we don’t need... we don’t need all of these evil kind of anti, erm, anti fascist views. Just kind of anti sexual views, you know, it’s kind of... it’s the 21st century. You know. If you’re gay, it’s okay. You know... If you’re black, it’s okay. You know, if you’re black and white and you get together, it’s okay. Erm, we have a straight man, a gay man... a bisexual man. You know, we still get a lot of gay bashing around the world. I mean, look at America. It’s as homophobic as hell. You know, it’s kind of “let’s move on”. I think that our message is to, yeah, it’s to the youth. It’s kind of “you’ve got to make the change”. But it’s okay for you to be what you are, you know. And I think that with our situation in the band, I think that’s a really good foundation and a strong foundation... It’s just working proof, you know what I mean.

I: So you can be proud about what you’re putting across as a message, but still be strong musically as well?

S: Absolutely, I really think that what we do say is positive. Erm, you know, we’re very kind of... we like hip hop and stuff like that. But we don’t like gangster rap... Now, we don’t want to like listen to my bitches, my whores, my money, my cars and stuff. It’s kind of like it’s such crap, you know. Let’s get some positive things out there. I think that reflects as well when you get letters from people saying, you know, “it’s taken me five years to come out, but I’ve been into the band and they’ve helped me come out... my parents know now...” and the confidence, that’s great, you know. And I’m not even gay, and it’s kind of like, it’s a great thing to hear. 

I: Now you were working with Brian, Brian Molko, before Placebo, weren’t you?. How did you just go back to the start? How did you actually get together originally?

S: Erm, well, Brian was the first person I met when I moved to London. I had a girl I used to know when I used to go to school and she moved to London... And I used to hitchhike from Manchester to London, and Brian was the first person I met. I met him in Burger King in ¿?, South London. And we were mates ever since, you know. He was into music, I was in a band just doing the first record... in a band called Breed. And we used to tour around the UK and he used to come and see us and stuff like that. And yeah, we stayed in touch. And then he started playing more and more music, and yeah, we did a little show together, I was on the bongos and little drums and stuff... And we were called Ashtray Heart. That was when Stef came down, the first time he’d seen Brian for awhile, and they started the band that night.

I: And what does each of them bring to the band? I mean, Brian has this reputation of being sort of the quirky, enigmatic, difficult... if you like, one. What does each of them bring to the equation?

S: Quirky, enigmatic, difficult... I think...

I: Quote and unquote!

S: I think people call him that just because he’s just very intelligent and witty, you know. And you can say anything to him and he’ll come back and verbally beat you, anyway... So that’s just why people call you “difficult”. I think Stef kind of brings us... Brings us kind of like the sweeping elegance, really. You know, the kind of “woman’s touch” of the band. And I’m just a dodgy Manc!. (laughs) I’m kind of, sort of... the engine of it really. You know.

I: Because you have to, have to get on. I mean, you’re on the road for over a year... I mean, do you get on? I mean...

S: We do!. Yeah, I mean it’s family. I’ve known Brian for over 15 years now. But we all share the same goals still, we all still want to be here, in this band, doing Placebo... So, ‘cos that’s established, you can just get on with being in the band and making music, you don’t have to worry about what somebody else is thinking, there are no paranoia’s, no weird games being played. I think it’s still the little things that keeps bands together, it’s all sorted out, so we don’t have to worry about that... It’s done. It just works. I mean, you can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family. And in this case it’s like you’ve chosen your friends and they’ve become your family. So...

I: So where are you going musically? You’re going to be on to album number 5 I suppose before too long... Where’s that going?

S: Too early to say, really. Too early to say... but erm, the early demos for the new songs are exciting, we obviously always want to push forward, you know, like we did with this record, but we’re not sure who’s going to produce it yet, but I think... the same point of not trying to do the formula thing, we’ve still got to be contenders for British rock and roll... I think there’s still too much retro attitude going around the British music scene, everybody still wants to be the Stones or the Beatles... it’s like “come on and move along!”. And then there’s America, which is... you know, you’ve got Queens of the Stone Age, and these great great rock bands, you know, really kicking it out... It’s kind of “Are there any English bands doing that? No!” So I think that we’re sort of still trying to fight that fight and bridge that gap, really. So we still want to keep it... I suppose we’re getting harder, but at the same time... I don’t know, maybe more dance... I don’t know. Or more hip hop, I’m not sure. It’s still a bit too early.

I: What are you listening to? What’s on your walkman, or I suppose, on your I Pod these days, isn’t it?

S: Erm, the most recent album I’ve listened to constantly is Zoot Woman. The new Zoot Woman album which is fantastic. It’s kind of more eighties, but still it’s got the band feel to it. Erm, Franz Ferdinand?. New album, great... a new great band from Scotland, which reminds me of Talking Heads a lot. It’s good, it’s got that kind of weird eighties thing... Erm, I still listen to Queens of the Stone Age. Radiohead are still relevant for me, you know, (they’re) still knocking out great albums. I mean, it’s an endless list.

I: Has it got better for you? In the last ten years?

S: What???

I: Well... the whole... the whole thing. The whole... the band. Placebo. Steve. I mean the whole thing, is it better now than when you started off? I mean, you’ve got that original, I don’t know, excitement, I suppose... when you’re kicking off. Is it still there?

S: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I was doing this ten years before even Placebo and it’s... it’s something that’s in you and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. I’ve never done anything that I’ve hated. If anything it’s got stronger and stronger and stronger. And when you’re able to, and allowed to just focus in on what you want to do with your life, it’s, you know, to play drums. I find myself improving and putting more and more time into it, and getting more and more excited the further I go along, so it’s getting stronger if anything.

I: What’s the best thing about being in Placebo?

S: Coming to Hong Kong!!! (laughs). 

I: Oh, what a perfect answer!!! A year on the road, endless PR interviews, inane questions... I have to ask, what’s the most stupid media question that you’ve been asked? Or the one that you think “Oh, not that one again!!!”...

S: You said it earlier! “Where did you meet?” You know, it’s ten years on and somebody sits down with you and says “So where did you meet’” and you just want to walk out of the room... You know, it’s just kind of “Read the biog, for God’s sake!!!”. You know, we just look at each other and just you know, “We’re not answering that!”.

I: Well, thank you for answering it anyway. Steve Hewitt from Placebo... Thanks for the great music, thanks for Hong Kong and we’ll look forward to your gig, thank you.

S: Thank you.

Source: bionic