Suicide Girls "Brian Molko of Placebo", Feb'04

Feb 2, 2004
By Anais

For nine months Placebo (Brian Molko, Stefan Osdal and, Steven Hewitt) have been vigorously touring around the globe promoting their fourth album, emotionally charged ‘Sleeping with Ghosts.’. I traveled to Las Vegas in November to see them play with the Eagles of Death Metal. The anticipation in the audience before they took the stage was electric. Placebo began the set with instrumental “Bulletproof Cupid” which only increased the electricity and ensured what was to be a powerful set. Vocalist Brian Molko and Bassist Stefan Osdal feed off of one another's energy and lay to rest the notion that the singer of a band is the main focal point. I had the pleasure of sitting down with charming Brian before the show to bring you another Anais of SuicideGirls interview.

Anais: It’s been a while since I have planned a trip so last minute. How do you keep a level mind with such a lengthy, fast paced tour?

Brian: It helps being on tour with some friends. If they are the support band, you know. The Eagles of Death Metal are kind of like a super group. Josh from Queens of the Stoneage, Tim from Millionaire, a really really cool Belgian band who I’ve known for about seven years. He was in several other Belgian bands. Yeah Jesse is kind of new on the scene. This is his fifth or sixth ‘rock gig,’ I guess. So that helps, this sort of communal family and sharing atmosphere.

A: Fifth or six gig ever playing?

B: Yeah, yeah, but we also spent a long time getting a really good team around us. Getting people that we feel really close to, and we can trust, that we have a laugh with on tour. Our crew is really important to us. We have a very English way of showing affection, which is to be extremely insulting to each other. It’s the English way, so there is a lot of laughter going on depending on the level of insults.

A: Dave must be English then.

B: Does he have torettes as well? I think we also have the torettes.

A: More like if I say something to him its ‘Wait, hold um, I’m sorry my secretary is going to have to get back to you of weather or not I give a shit.’

B: Oh yeah, yeah, sounds right, that’s about right. Physically, I guess, just a lot of water and a lot of vitamins. Kind of replenish your system. Stupid amount of vitamins. What was the original question?

A: How to you keep a level mind?

B: A level mind? Well..

A: You know, without privacy.

B: Well that’s an issue but it’s kind of so family like on the bus that that’s not really too bad. It is lovely when you get a nice hotel room, unpack a little bit and spread out. You get used to living on top of each other. It’s like a little commune on wheels. At least you’ve chosen the people that you are living in that commune with. And to try and keep a level head, you know, to have the luxury of having some kind of counselor with you on tour continuously. It would be fantastic.

A: Hire a therapist.

B: But, they cost so much an hour that to take one with you would be absolutely crazy. I suppose you could communicate by telephone but I think that I sort of, maybe need to see somebody face to face. So If we ever make it as big as Guns N’ Roses we might be able to get our own shrink.

A: There are ways of self medicating. Have you heard of Lucid Dreaming?

B: Lucid Dreaming?

A: Dream manipulation. Realizing that you are dreaming and being able to guide your dreams. It definitely helps if you are trying to avoid chemical substances. Once you able to recognize you are dreaming you can enter a calm, lucid state in daily life. Basically it’s letting go of your mind and letting the reality of what is going on with yourself at that moment take you over. It’s a very peaceful moment. There’s different ways that you can do it. You can either stare at something and simply trip out on it (signals that you are dreaming) or accept everything that is going on at that moment.

B. A super reality that is very calm?

A: Yeah, more like some people describe as watching your life in a movie. That’s a really simple way of putting it. If you can get yourself in that mind you can avoid a lot of mental breakdown. That’s how I do it.

B: That’s interesting. I’ll have to read up about that and try and understand it better.

A: Have you seen ‘Waking Life?’

B: ’Waking Life’, no that’s the Richard Linklater film isn’t it? I haven’t seen it, no.

A: See that sober.

B: (snicker) See it sober? Okay.

A: First. If you are into mushrooms, see it on mushrooms second.

B: Okay. I don’t know about mushrooms anymore. I think I’ve kind of grown out of mushrooms.

A: I can understand. That gives you the basics of lucid dreaming as in dreaming while you are awake. Being aware that your mind is awake, but in a dream, and having control. ‘Waking Life’ is different than what I am talking about, the after affects of lucid dreaming in daily life. It will introduce what it is to be in that awake state and dreaming.

B: I’ll definitely check it out. I’ll see if I can find a little cliff notes on lucid dreaming. A small book on lucid dreaming so I’ll be able to understand more of what you’ve said.

A: This is all ADD and out of order, because that is the way I think. I wanted to mention that when I first saw you in Chicago at the Metro in 96’ ‘Bionic’ was the song that caught my attention. There was just such a pure, raw, sexual energy about that song that intrigued me. That is how I got into you guys and it seems you’ve grown more dynamic with each album. Do the shows now feel more connected than they did back then?

B: There’s a strange kind of feeling of interconnection between the songs that we are playing live at the moment. Simply because they are the only ones within our *repertoire* that we have, at the present, right now, an emotional connection to. We find it very difficult to play, to keep every member of the audience happy by playing all the hits all the time. We’ve changed. We don’t have an emotional connection to those songs anymore so therefore it would be, for us, a lie to play those songs to them. We’re not connected to them emotionally so how can they be connected to them emotionally in a real true fashion. So that way, when we play this show, they all seem to fit very well together. There is only one song from the first album that we are playing and that happens to be ‘Bionic’. Strangely enough, because we went back and played quite a bit of the first album and we act on instinct and ‘Bionic’ was the only one that felt right. It’s true, it’s screaming sexual energy. You know, it’s absolutely belting out desire. I was desperately so. That’s kind of a reflection of the person I was at the age of 20, you know, 10 years ago, 11 years ago. I don’t know, maybe I’ve come full circle. Maybe that’s why we are playing it again.

A: On the first album, when I think about the songs that still connect to me, as a listener of your music it is really ‘Bionic’ and ‘I know’. That line, ‘The past will catch you up as you run faster.’..

B: Yeah well it’s the one thing that you can’t run away from.

A: Exactly.

B: You can’t run away from your past and your memories..

A: Oh I’ve tried many a time.

B: Yeah. You know that’s what ‘Sleeping with Ghosts” really is about. It’s about trying to deal with your memory and trying to deal with those ghosts that you carry around with you, continuously, the people, the events that shaped you. Trying, I guess, to accept them and learn from them in order to take healthier steps towards the future.

A: That’s why I practice the affects lucid dreaming. It’s about retrospect.

B: Well there you go. Instead of lucid dreaming I use sort of an emotional exorcism, you know, through the creative process of writing songs. It’s definitely a form of therapy.

A: It’s amazing music and writing songs become forms of therapy, like taking self portraits is therapy for me.

B: There you go, yeah.

A: It’s fascinating, that’s why I love artists.

B: That’s why you should maybe familiarize yourself with Asia Argento’s work Her stuff, especially her first film, ‘Scarlet Diva’, it’s all kind of about her. She wrote a book when she was a teenager which is kind of about her. I think you’d be very interested by her work. We’re doing the music for her next film.

A: How do you find the US tours now vs. 1996, 1998 etc.? I mentioned to you that I was there in Boston, first gig off of the European...

B: At Mama Kins?

A: Yeah, twenty of us...

B: The Mama Kins culture shock. Yeah, yeah.

A: You did have a few devoted fans there but out of twenty it had to have been a culture shock.

B: Yeah from three thousand people to twenty. It was a bit much. We weren’t really prepared for it at that point. We’d just done kind of the biggest tour in our lives which took us up to an eighteen thousand person gig in Paris, you know, which is really intense. We had been touring since March and so by the seventh month I started to really sort of buckle a little bit under the pressure. Really feel the weight of expectation. I was getting tired. So even though these were kind of like the biggest shows of our lives, with a massive crew and three big visual screens and lots of projection, it was very show biz. Towards the end of it I kind of, I lost a little bit of a connection with the audience and it was kind of bringing me down. Coming here, it’s been so refreshing. It’s been like learning the ropes again. It’s been a long while since we’ve done this kind of tour and I think it’s going to turn us into a better band. We’re finally getting energy again. We’re feeling such immediate energy. You can see the whites of the eyes of the people in the audience. You know, you stand on the barrier and they’re trying to unzip your fly, you know stuff like that, it’s much more punk rock. We’re really, really enjoying it. It’s fresh. It’s brought a real freshness back to Placebo. I’m having a great time. It’s taken a little bit of readjustment but we’ve thrown ourselves kind of head long into it and are going back in time and learning again. Learning what it feels like to do these kind of shows, learning from them. I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened.

A: Yeah I do have the say the show other night, aside from Portland's lethargic audiences, that was one of the best shows I have seen of you.

B: Oh that’s cool. Yeah in? Portland the audience was amazing. Seattle was six hundred and five people, you know, and it just, it ranks in my top five gigs of all time. I had the most amazing time that night. I crowd surfed for the first time in years. It was electric.

A: Yeah Portland audiences can be snotty. I have a problem with that. There’s a cartoon slashed down the middle, LA and New York. It’s a guy in LA saying ‘Hey how are you doing?’ and there’s a thought bubble above his head , ‘Hey, Fuck you’, and the New York side is ‘Hey fuck you’, and a thought bubble above his head ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ That for me explains a lot of East Coast and West Coast. Well, my experiences with it.
How has two new members affected the feeling and outcome on stage? This is the first time I’ve seen you guys with all five.

B: Well, yeah, Bill has been around since day one, you know. Bill used to drive us in his ford transit van, you know,with a mattress in the back and the equipment and do everything for us, sound etc. He’s been our close friend since day one so when we needed and extra guy it was obvious that Bill was going to be that person. It took us a long to time get him out from behind the amps. He was shy so he liked to hide behind the amps. Now that he has come out in front of the amps it’s actually changed him into a bit more of an extroverted rock and roll person which is nice, which is good to see. The reason that we decided to have an extra keyboard player was because the sound and the album had become just too complex for even just the four of us to play live. Stefan and I would have had to become two computer operators, you know, a bit like Kraftwerk. It’s not very rock and roll and it’s not very sexy, it’s not very fun, to see that, I think , sort of onstage. Plus I wanted to take a step towards the audience a lot more. I wanted to put my guitar down and just be the singer. How could I do that if I was operating a computer? We decided to get Zav in so that Stefan and I could concentrate much, much more on the performance Take closer steps towards the audience, and fill out the sound.

A: I’ve definitely noticed that Stefan’s been a little less shy...

B: Yeah

A: Definately from 96’...

B: Stefs really come out of his shell and it’s fantastic. It’s great to share the front man duties with him. I don’t believe that in a band the front man is necessarily the singer. It’s nice that we’ve reached this point where there’s kind of like a two front man thing. And two very different personalities as well. It’s great, the knowing smiles and giggles that we share onstage are, you know, our special things. Yeah he’s definitely come out of his shell, it’s great.

A: yeah it’s good to see onstage. One thing that I have always appreciated about you guys is that you don’t seem to follow the trend of the day. Your music definitely has grown since the first album but you’ve still remained true to Placebo’s sound. Which is good because so many bands now are trying to be....

B: Garage..

A: The White Stripes, The Strokes, BRMC...

B: Yeah keep going on..

A: And I like the fact that Placebo has always been that band that I like that is just Placebo.

B: Yeah, I mean, a difficult equilibrium to strike is to try and find something fresh and to feel that there is an evolution in your sound and in your song writing. Just from being bored with it , whilst not turning your back on what matters, what’s uniquely you. That’s kind of the biggest challenge that you face every time that you make a new album. Yeah, I think you’re right. I think we’ve kind of always operated to the left of musical trend and fashion in music. When we started we were ridiculously unfashionable. We stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the height of Brit Pop. It was the Blur and Oasis days, you know? The Blur vs. Oasis days. So we were quite in converse in the scene at the time.

A: I think that’s why I found Placebo because I ignored the Blur and Oasis...

B: Mmm. Which we were really lucky. It seems a little bit like it’s more fashionable to do the kind of stuff that , you know the kind of, either the faggy punk rock or just, well, rock is more kind of in fashion now and I guess we are a bit contrary. We always like to sort of walk against the waves, you know, and try to be unfashionable.

A: I think the most fashionable thing someone can do is just be themselves.

B: Well, that’s all that we are trying to do. And obviously our record collection has grown over the years. We’ve been exposed to so many different styles of music over the years more and more so it’s obviously just going to evolve. I just hope it continues to evolve organically, you know, that will make it remain truthful and that it involves sort of vital pieces, keeps us now, you know, keeps us today.

A: What do you think your current musical influences are?

B: Oh well, it’s difficult to say. That’s the question that I always think of when I want to buy lots of records. I walk into a record shop and...

A: Records, movies, books...

B: I can’t remember what I wanted to get. What are we listening to? Well we’ve been listening to, on the bus, the Outkast album ‘Speakerbox’ and ‘Love Hey Ya’, and Reggae. I’m listening to Arvo Part a lot. Let’s see, there’s a lot of Michael Jackson being played in the dressing room before going on stage and we’re really digging the new Janes Addiction album. I saw Janes Addiction in London a couple of weeks ago.

A: I’ve been listening to a lot of Gram Parsons.

B: Oh yeah?

A: That’s kind of what the bar I work at is aiming towards during the day shift.

B: We have to write some country stuff for this film soundtrack so I think, yeah that’s a good pointer. Actually I might go back and listen to some Flying Burrito Brothers and some Gram Parsons.

A: What’s the writing process like for you? I know you write the lyrics.

B: The lyrics. Well most of the time the lyrics will come after the music. The lyrics will be kind of an intellectual interpretation of the collective emotion of the music which the three of us come up with. Sometimes I’ll come with a very, very, skeletal guitar structure or piano structure with some lyrics half finished. Only on occasion will there be a set, you know, three versus and a chorus with a vocal melody line that I’ll bring. Usually the magic happens when it’s the three of us playing, jamming. We write a lot at sound check on tour. To be creative for a little while during the day, even if it’s on at night time, then it helps you to not feel like a performing monkey because of the repetitive nature of what we are doing. It’s good to feel that you’ve still got it in you. You should take opportunity to be inspired by the places that you don’t know very well, you know, that you’re in. Sometimes when you travel through middle America everywhere can start to really look the same. That can be a little bit uninspiring. If you are doing a U around North America as we are, and taking in Mexico, places have a tendency to to have quite the same personalities. It’s a good place. it’s a good time when you’re out of your element to see new things, you know, learn something new.

A: Is there an album or song, whichever you want to choose, that you hold dearest to you?

B: Mmmm...phew, it’s difficult, it’s very difficult. There’s a french song by Jacques Brel called ‘ Ne Me Quitte Pas’, ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ and being the sappy old romantic that I am that’s the one song that always makes me cry. It’s been covered by Nina Simone in French. It’s really charming, Nina Simone with her American accent singing in French. It’s also been covered by Scott Walker. It’s called ‘If You Go Away’. That one song for me really just kind of, yeah it’s the one that always really really just doesn’t pull at my heart strings it tugs with great *might* at my heart strings.

A: I’ve spoken to a lot of other musicians who feel TV appearances are a bit forced. How do you feel about TV appearances?

B: I don’t mind them if you can keep a live element. Even if that means just singing live, I don’t mind them. To me it’s when you have to do a complete mime that you feel like a prick, you know, you really do feel quite uncomfortable. Um, I don’t mind TV appearances because I get to wear nicer clothes than I get to do onstage. I can really break out the designer gear. It’s only a few minutes or four minutes at a time. The designer gear can be a bit cumbersome on stage. You need to wear stuff that’s a lot more functional. I enjoy that aspect of, well you know, being quite vain I suppose I quite like being on TV. And you can reach a lot of people by doing it. I guess the highest profile thing that we’ve done over here has been Conan.

A: Who was the last one to cause a ruckus on tour?

B: Who was the last one to cause a ruckus? Within the...

A: Not necessarily within the band.

B: Within the entourage? Oh a couple of members of our crew got extremely drunk at a hotel bar in Spain. It was the last gig of the European tour and actually got into a fight with our production manager outside of the hotel. The Police were called and stuff like that. They were just very lucky that they were in Spain and not in the US otherwise they would have been face down on the pavement and handcuffed. They’ve come to America with a more timid approach to their drinking. (laughter)

A: Best they got that out of their systems there.

B: Yeah, I think, it was the last day and they were just kind of blowing off steam.

A: Speaking of such things, you’ve been known to be somewhat of a misfit...

B: (Laughter)

A: Which I appreciate, personally. Do you find you act more on impulse versus stopping to kind of...

B: Absolutely. That’s what gets me into trouble.

A: (laughter) Me too.

B: I’m impulsive. I often don’t consider the consequences of my actions until afterwards. I get wrapped up in an emotion and kind of somehow allow it to engulf me because it’s exciting, it’s very strong. So yeah, so I act on impulse.

A: Yeah I do that a lot too. Probably a lot of it is being 5’2 I often try to overcome preconceptions about being a small person.

B: I think I have a bit of a sort of, probably because of my childhood Imagine, a bit of a persecution complex with people who, I guess are taller and older than me. Sometimes I feel that people are talking to me like I am a child.

A: Exactly

B: You know, and it really really makes me angry. It brings out a real bucolic side of me which is not really very nice. I think that definitely comes from being a kid and being, you know, a little bit smaller than everybody else. Just below average height. I don’t know, there’s something about that I guess that sort of also contributes to your predilection for exhibitionism. Sort of up there, on stage, and compensate I guess. I don’t know if you feel that way with what you do?

A: (This is where Anais completely misses the point) Well it’s amazing how many people think I’m tall. Not only because I wear four and a half inch platforms most everyday but via being photographed usually a large physical head and a small body makes you look taller on film and pictures. So, usually people are shocked as hell when they meet me in person. Almost to the point where I don’t get recognized.

B: Well, people always look taller on stage.

A: Next to Stefan unfortunately....

B: I know, of course, next to Stefan, but even still tackless people that you meet along the way go ‘Oh my god you’re so much shorter than I thought you were.’

A: I was surprised when I met you but I am short too so it was more of a collecting short people that are witty and good in the world.

B: Solidarity.

A: Actually most of the suicidgirls, well I don’t know what the ratio is now, but when it was just about twenty five of us I think the ratio was about 85% 5’3 and under. One of my favorite SG’s Robin is a little one.

B: Wow, wow...

A: Yeah, she’s a lil’ firecracker. Um, oh I was going to share a Spice Girls story with you.

B: Share a Spice Girls story?

A: Yeah, well I’ve heard of experiences that you’ve had with the Spice Girls being around. The fight and such.

B: You know about the infamous incident where I got beat up at a Spice Girls after show? Yeah, it was all my fault. It usually happens when you insult somebody's wife and you’re so off you face that you don’t realize that he’s standing next to her. You know, but it was funny, it was just one of those nights. I broke a few ribs getting thrown across the room into table and chairs.

A: Yeah I was never into the Spice Girls but when I lived in Ohio a street kid came up and dropped some breath freshener on my hand. About an hour or so later I got home and was flipping through the channels and I started to realize I had been dosed and I flipped through channels and I landed on the Spice Girls movie. I sat there horrified for about an hour and a half just staring at it.

B: What do you think it was?

A: It was acid.

B: It was acid?

A: Yeah, definitely.

B: Oh my god I can’t imagine anything worse. Watching the Spice Girls film on acid.

A: Yeah it was one of the worst trips I ever had. Especially because it was while I was watching it that I fully grasped that fact that someone had dropped four drops of it on my arm.

B: Hmmm.

A: Horrifying. And that was my Spice Girls story.

B: The worst trip that I’ve ever had was when I was in college. It’s when I gave it all up. Gave up hallucinigenics and stuff like that. It was this purple arm was just so strong that I felt like it was so fresh. I don’t know, the sheet must have been dipped in different places at higher concentrations and I got one. And I was literally, I felt like every muscle in my body was about to sort of tear itself apart. And I thought I was going to die. I found myself in Greenwich park, in London, sort of just, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, hugging a tree. Trying to feel something natural, you know, against my face. Against my skin in order to try and calm myself down and tell myself ‘It’s only a drug. This will stop. You may be a causality after this but you will still be alive.’ So that was my worst experience.

A: We could go on a three hour long interview if I even got anywhere near into my trip stories. As an SG my initial response to my ‘Nice ass’ letter is ‘Thanks I like to poo out of it.’ Do you find you ever have fun playing with responses to repetitive questions?

B: Yeah whenever we get asked by an interviewer ‘How did you meet?’ we try to invent some sort of calicoes, licentious story about being young boys and stuff like that. You know, ‘We met in Thailand’, just stuff like that. Yeah it’s just sort of to alleviate the boredom.

A: I was jokingly going to start the interview with ‘What’s the difference in size between your cocks and frocks?”

B: Ummm (laughter)

A: It’s not actually a question... (laughter)

B: Probably, I’d say quite a large difference, you know?

A: Tell me about your DJ night.

B: It was funny. We decided to start, just for the hell of it during time off, we decided to start this club called Introvenis. It was to be a kind of fetish night. It was to be a doctors and nurses night. Simply because we wanted to create an atmosphere were I think people could put some kind of mask on and dress up, cut loose a bit more. Probably cause they have something to hide behind, have a little bit more fun, feel a little less responsible. It was a little bit of a cross between sort of a club and a cabaret. DJing in a blood spattered surgeons outfit into a mannequin with effects in the mannequin and have the whole thing set up like a sort of operating theater. Kind of have adult babies come on and do a bit of go-go dancing and dancing nurses. I had a guy dressed up as, an NME journalist actually, was dressed up as George Bush. So we had a George Bush go-go dancer once. It didn’t last very long because we had to start work on the album and we made no money whatsoever but it was a lot of fun. People actually did travel from Europe to come and see that night. It wasn’t that successful it was just a fun thing. After that we were thinking of starting a collective of Introvenis DJ’s. People that we would bring on tour with us that could DJ between sets. But they would be anonymous, obviously, because they would have surgeons masks on, things like that. So you could never be sure who it was, a member of the band or a promotional DJ that we had. That could be something for the future. Introvenis has been laid to rest for a while. It was spelled Introvenis, I-N-T-R-O-venis.

A: The most I ever did during my DJ night was roller-skate. I was a karaoke jockey and a DJ. I decided to wear roller-skates one night and get completely blitzed. I’m at the age where, obviously, I don’t throw up in public anymore but when I took those roller-skates off to go home the gravity hit me...

B: Yeah?

A: Way too soon. It was at a Suicide Girls event that happen to occur at my bar. Tons of people anyhow that knew who I was and I usually don’t try to get too drunk around and I just went (puts hand up to mouth) pardon me.

B: Ah ok...

A: (zooooooooooooom)

B: Oh yeah, yeah.

A: What helps you through moments where silence allows inner convictions to speak all at once? Do you recognize madness?

B: That’s probably why I am an insomniac to a great degree. That’s why I kind of often fall asleep not in bed because I am trying to delay the time where I have to be face to face with my own soul.

A: Exactly.

B: And consider my own morality, and consider all of those things. It’s a too quiet moment. Quiet, in itself, does bother me. Continuous quiet, being in a totally still room will freak me out sometimes. I need to have something around me.

A: One of the moments I am most happy to be alive is when I realize that moment after a difficult time where it’s ok. ‘Wait a minute, I’m happy right now, and I haven’t felt that in a while.’ That, to me, is the most beautiful moment and I was wondering if you’ve ever noticed that and when last?

B: Hmmmm...(silence) Wow...I don’t know if I can actually answer that one

A: It’s a difficult moment to notice. Maybe like, three times a year I ever do.

B: Hmm...I’m sorry you’ve stumped me on that one. You’ve managed to..

A: I never thought I’d stump you. (laughter) The last one is,and this is my joke question, is this the first time you will be able to see your interviewer naked on the internet?

B: Yes. (laughter) And I’m looking forward to it. (laughter)

A: Nice.

Source: suicidegirls