Télémoustique "Placebo", Nov'05

28 November 2005

In March 2006, the trio will seal its ten years of existence with a fifth album that is reminiscent of the contagious energy of their debut. We were offered an exclusive look into the studio:

At first, we distinguish nothing – or almost nothing. Lost in the shadow of a commercial area sheltering pubs, indian restaurants and luxury boutiques, the discreet Charlebert Street seems fixed in place. Tired pavements, carefully arranged gardens, uniform walls… nothing troubles the monotony of the surroundings. The only building to clash in this bourgeois district situated by an underground station in Regent’s Park: number 42, an old Victorian school of architecture, transformed into a recording studio in 1976 by producer Mickie Most.

It is here, behind these walls of faded yellow bricks, that Brian Molko (vocals, guitar), Stefan Olsdal, (bass) and Steve Hewitt (drums) have been working since last June on Placebo’s fifth album. After leaving the cute hostess/receptionist and having been removed of MP3 players or any other electronic object vaguely resembling a recording device, we’re able to enter. In the kitchen, arranged into a work room, you can find an expresso machine, a leather sofa, a Ping-Pong table, a Wurlitzer juke-box, a vintage fridge on which a plate of cookies is balanced, and near the floor, a few gold discs of artists who recorded in this studio (from Kim Wilde to the Libertines, passing by Bryan Ferry, Feeder or Page/Plant.)

“Welcome to the RAK! It’s one of the last independent studios of London,” states Brian Molko, all smiles. “You noticed on arrival. It’s located in the residential district, far from stress, far from show-business, far from everything. When Dimitri suggested this address, we didn’t hesitate one second. This place gives us the atmosphere, the discretion and the comfort we were looking for.”

“Dimitri”, is Dimitri Tikovoi, a franco-russian producer settled in London for five years now, who was the originator of the Trash Palace project (an album that passed unnoticed in 2003). He was the one chosen by Placebo to produce the successor of ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’. “For ‘Sleeping With Ghosts’, we called upon Jim Abbis, a producer into the hip-hop scene who worked with Massive Attack and DJ Shadow,” specifies Brian. “At the time (2003), we wanted someone who was a stranger to Placebo and its music, so that he would break our sound and bring an original and personal vision to our songs. Dimitri is like the other extreme. He’s our age, he knows our course perfectly. I sang on his request for the Trash Palace CD (the song ‘The Metric System’ as well as a cover of ‘Je t’aime (moi non plus) with Asia Argento). He’d already remixed a track for Placebo (Black Eyed from the album Black Market Music). We knew he was the man for us. He had an ambition equal to ours.”

After the tiring world tour, ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’, Placebo released the compilation album, ‘Once More With Feeling’ before giving themselves a well-deserved rest. With the release of this singles collection, Molko announced that the majority of the songs for the fifth album were already written. “We could go into the studio tomorrow, but we don’t want to,” Brian told Telemoustique on the 2nd October 2004. “We need a break. It’s time that we each live a bit by ourselves. Relearn how to make our own lunch. We have to have some air.”

The trio has never imposed strict codes of conduct when entering the studio. The songs already had a basic skeleton, they just needed to flesh out. Certain rumours announced electronic, perhaps even hip-hop experimentation. None of that. The new Placebo is rock. It clearly demonstrates a will to realign with the sound evoking the beginnings of the group whilst in full post-adolescent fever on the deviant ‘Nancy Boy’.

“Placebo are negociating an important turn-around in their career”, specifies Tikovoi. “On the past four albums, the group has constantly evolved. Each album was more produced than the last. I talked with the group at length about what they wanted. To return to the energy and spontaneity of their debut or to go further into sophistication? They opted for the first choice, because the pieces lent themselves to that premise perfectly well. The RAK has three studios. I chose to record in the largest room. Brian, Stefan and Steve played in a triangle, looking at each other. There weren’t any machines. My aim was to get a raw sound out of them. I concentrated on the songs and the unity of the group rather than working the vocals and instruments separately.

Placebo has recorded 16 pieces in total, and the album should have 11 tracks. Flood has been entrusted with the mixing, responsible most notably for “Any Minute Now” from Soulwax, “Pop” from U2 and “To Bring You My Love” from PJ Harvey. Flood is also a faithful collaborator of Depeche Mode and Billy Corgan. When we visited the RAK, Flood was still working on the mixing of certain tracks. “We fixed an agenda,” Molko says. “The album will be finished by the end of December. I can’t give you the album title, simply because we haven’t found one yet. Same goes for the songs, and the titled ones could still be modified.”

We were able to discover an exclusive nine songs from this album, which is set for the 13th March. A single, “Song to Say Goodbye” should be out late January, the last piece Placebo let us listen to. “Flood finished mixing this last night. Hear those guitars?” They’re omnipresent. Direct, sometimes superimposed in several successive layers, illuminated here by reverberation, there by distortion. They support almost all the compositions, only two ballads put forward strings and piano.

It’s understandably impossible to give a verdict straight after this intense session interspersed with drinks of Stella Artois (“for Belgium”) and red wine (“for the French press”). ‘Song to Say Goodbye’ has all the key elements for a single, as does “Because I Want You”, the surprising “Space Monkey” (nothing to do with the similarly titled track by Patti Smith on the album ‘Easter’) and ‘Meds’ (a non-definitive title), duet interpreted with Alison VV Mosshart, singer from group The Kills. Certain Internet sites talked of a duet with R.E.M’s Micheal Stipe. In response, we simply got a “no comment” from Brian Molko. However, a few days after our meeting, he did specify to the magazine ‘Kerrang’ that there would be another duet on the album. “But I’m not telling you who with.”

Placebo wanted to be present for this private listening session – a rare enough occurrence. “We’re really excited by this album. It’s always interesting to see people’s reactions listening to it for the first time. They don’t even need to speak. We can tell if they’re getting into it or not. So far, there’ve been mainly happy faces coming out of here. It’s pretty encouraging,” confides Stefan Olsdal. “Obviously we don’t hear it the same way you do. We pay attention to the mixing details, to the bass drum that opens the piece, to the piano we discreetly added… we don’t have the necessary distance from the album, but we’re very proud of it. It’s melodic, fast, punky in places and depressing in others.” Verdict on the 13th March.