"Steve Hewitt interview", May'07

25 may 2007

It’s hard to believe, but Placebo has been around for ten years, making them veterans of the British Rock scene. Their brand of drugged-out glam rock has been a staple for any British music fan. Led by the charismatic Brian Molko, the band enters new territory with their fifth studio album, Meds, a hard-rocking, yet less-electronic effort.

This summer, the band embarks on a massive U.S. jaunt as part of the Projekt Revolution Tour with My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park.

Steve Hewitt is behind the drumset for Placebo, and I talked with him about going into uncharted territories with this new record.

MusicSnobbery : I have these theories about bands and when they release a Greatest Hits album like you did last year. It's kind of like saying that the first part of your career is Act I and what is released after the Greatest Hits is Act II. Do you feel with this new album that this is Act II for Placebo?

Steve Hewitt : Actually, the Greatest Hits is purely a record company exercise. We've done five albums with Virgin, so they wanted to squeeze something out of you. It does force you to map out what you've done in the past and it becomes quite emotional. We are always a band that looks towards the future, so we always go into the studio with a blank page no matter what we do. We don't listen to other music in the studio and we just stay in this vacuum. We had some things written during the last tour and we just let it take shape in the studio.

MS : You worked with producer Dimitri Tikovoi, who did some remixes for you in the past. Why did you go with him?

SH : The obvious thing to do with an album is to get a big name producer, so we went in the opposite direction and tried somebody who's less well known and hungry to achieve something. He's followed our 10-year career so he knows what we've done from an outsider's prospective. He came in and forced us to try different things. This album is our most live record. We used less studio equipment to chop things up and piece back together later. Most of the songs we recorded live in the studio without post-production.

MS : The first song on the album, "Meds", does seem more immediate. It's Placebo, but less full. On the other hand, it still rocks.

SH : Exactly, there was less layering involved and less studio trickery. Yet, I think it rocks more than some of our other songs.

MS : One of the guests you have on the album is Alison Mosshart of The Kills. Why did you go with her?

SH : When we were thinking of a female vocalists, our first thought of Courtney Love. Then we figured she would be a pain. Dimitri suggested Alison and it worked out. "Meds" just screams her.

MS : Did you want to set the tone of the album with "Meds"?

SH : Not at all. Creating a track listing for an album is hard as we've learned. It just seemed obvious to us.

MS : Having Michael Stipe guest on the album is a big deal. How did it come about?

SH : Well we worked with him on the movie Velvet Goldmine, which he produced. So we're good friends. We were in a hotel in Paris and we just written "Broken Promise". We were debating whether to make it another duet with a woman and Stipey walked in. I said, "There you go." We made it into a song about adultery between two men. Very simple.

MS : The second song on the album, "Infra-Red," is the most Placebo sounding song on the album. It has that fuzzy-guitar sound you'd fine in your past work. You agree?

SH : I actually never thought of it that way to be honest. It's one of those songs that just happens on the spot.

MS : I really enjoyed the songwriting on "Pierrot The Clown." Is there a history behind that song?

SH : That track has been kicking around for a few years. It's basically about a broken love affair that drags for years. One person is reaching for the stars while the other is doing smack in a back alley. It is a beautiful song, so it lent itself to be more of a ballad with a subtle drum machine.

MS : Is there a song on this album that you say to yourself, "We wouldn't have done this song ten years ago?"

SH : "Space Monkey."

MS : Good choice because it's a big epic, clash of different ideas and sounds.

SH : It was knocking around since Sleeping With Ghosts. We just couldn't fine the right tone for it. For some reason, in the Meds session it became a big, weird anthem. When you look at it, it doesn't seem like a typical song from us.

MS : So what meds were you on while making the album?

SH : Pure creative juice, my friend.

MS : Can you buy that at the local drug store?

SH : Mate, if I could bottle it and sell it, I would.

MS : There you go. You wouldn't have to find a new record contract.

SH : That's true. We're done with Virgin. It's us, R.E.M. and Radiohead. It is an exciting time. We've fulfilled our contract, so that's an achievement in itself. Once we finish this tour, we'll take a break then we'll see what's out there for us.

MS : Were you freaked out when the album was leaked?

SH : Yes and very pissed off. Some bloke in Brazil leaked it. And get this, he worked for bloody Virgin! He was pretty clever. We were prepared to go down there and break his legs. It's hard when something like that happens, because we put a lot of effort into the record and then you hand your baby over to management who look at it as a product. It's even worse was that the CD wasn’t even finished. We were gutted. It's the nature of the beast these days.

MS : What's the secret of staying in a band for ten years?

SH : Simple -- variety. The three of us are different people with different backgrounds, so we keep each other interested in making music together.

MS : You're on tour now. You have any favorite gigs, festivals or tours you've done?

SH : The first thing that comes to mind is opening for U2 on the Pop Mart tour. We did some big gigs for Depeche Mode. We played with Bowie one time. We did a gig with Robert Smith and Frank Black.

MS : Final question, you still get a rush from playing "Pure Morning" every show?

SH : The thrill has gone, my friend. A lot of fans want us to play our hits, but we want to move on. We shouldn't have to be tied to our past achievements. If we're not enjoying, I don't think an audience would enjoy it either. It's difficult to play it these days.

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's it gang until Tuesday, enjoy your holiday.