Philadelphia Gay News "Stefan Olsdal", Aug'07

August 17, 2007
By Larry Nichols

The members of Placebo want you to know that they would like to be huge in America.

And they just might achieve that goal soon.

Placebo, like many U.K.-based rock and pop acts who are insanely popular in most of the Western world but only marginally famous here, are trying to figure out the formula to American blockbuster success so they can cut in the line ahead of acts like Robbie Williams, Oasis and Blur, all of whom have spent the better part of the last decade in a holding pattern here.

But Placebo isn’t a band content to rest on its collective laurels. Given that the band has a dedicated following all over the world, they’ve been on the road almost constantly since their album “Meds” came out in early 2006.

Placebo’s openly gay bass player, Stephan Olsdal, said the band doesn’t mind the grueling amounts of traveling and performing.

“The world is a big place and we don’t want to miss out on any part of it,” he said. “Hence our long tour schedules. We’re a year-and-a-half into touring for ‘Meds.’ It’s taken us to China, South Korea, Australia, all over Latin America, Central America, the States and all over Europe. We’re really hitting as much of the world as possible. We feel with this album, we had a bit more of a chance because we had a couple tracks on a couple of TV shows [i.e. ‘Queer as Folk’] that have raised our profile, along with our cover version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush. It just seems to be more ammunition for us to work on.”

Olsdal said that although Placebo isn’t household name here like it is in other countries, their American fans have been very loyal.

“We’re more of a cult band here,” he said. “One of the stronger followings for Placebo is the gay community. That’s been really supportive.”

The band has been focusing on breaking through to a wider American audience with this tour. To bolster this effort, Placebo has put together a new EP, the recently released “Extended Play ’07,” featuring a handful of studio and live versions of the hits to give new and old fans alike an audio crash course in the band’s 10-year history.

“We’ve been coming here for every album that’s been released since 1996,” Olsdal said. “For this album, this is the third time in nine months. We’re giving it a good shot. We’re putting the hours in. Sometimes all you need is a lucky break, that one song that is going to break you on the radio.”

Part of that effort to break out finds Placebo stepping out of the comfort zone of their own headlining shows and teaming up with different bands on the package-tour circuit. The band is in the middle of a run of U.S. shows as part of the Projekt Revolution Tour, which pulls into town Aug. 25 at Camden’s Tweeter Center and features modern-rock heavyweights like Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, H.I.M., Taking Back Sunday and others on the day-long concert bill.

“Linkin Park asked us,” Olsdal said of how Placebo came to be on the tour. “There’s been some stuff in the press about them and My Chemical Romance being big into Placebo. I think they like us.”

The package tours that make the rounds every summer tend to be male- dominated, testosterone- laden affairs casting the widest net possible in the genres of arena rock, country or heavy metal. Projekt Revolution, even with its high hipster factor and more that a few guys on stage wearing women’s jeans, eyeliner and product in their hair, is still, at its core, like every other big-budget package tour on the scene.

That fact isn’t lost on a band like Placebo whose members are very open about their sexuality and whose musical style is very eclectic (considering the chances anyone else on this tour having a Kate Bush cover in their repertoire is 1,000-to-one).

“We kind of stick out like a sore thumb,” Olsdal said. “First of all, we’re from Europe and half this band is gay.” (Of the other band members, vocalist Brian Molko is bisexual and drummer Steve Hewitt is heterosexual.)

Olsdal said that with their extensive catalog of songs, the band is more than up to the challenge of taming and winning over the average big American rock audience and plans to bring out the big guns on this tour.

“The kind of music on this tour is hard, almost metal in some places,” he said. “That kind of audience, you have to hit them with a big slab of rock. We changed our set to accommodate this kind of audience. We play the more guitar-heavy tracks. Two weeks into the tour, we feel that we’re starting to make a bit of a dent and get the attention of the predominantly rock crowd.”

Olsdal also said that, on a tour with so many mainstream and radio-friendly rock acts, their sexuality and androgynous image aren’t an issue with the people behind the scenes.

“The vibe backstage is great,” he said. “There’s no homophobia. In the music industry, it’s very common. There’s been nothing but a great vibe backstage and homosexuality has not been an issue or come up.”

Placebo is used to playing stages of all sizes — from the intimate theaters and club shows of their recent American tours to the massive stages of the music festivals in Europe. Olsdal said that when it comes to putting on a show, each setting has its unique advantages and challenges and he finds it hard to pick one over the other as a favorite.

“They’re different,” he said. “What we have to do now is play to the guys that are sitting almost half a mile away from the stage. You basically have to project a lot more. There’s a lot of drama and acting that comes into the whole thing to make your actions and your sounds a little bit larger than life in order for it to reach everyone. It’s a more physical show when you play a tour like this. Whereas, when it’s a club show, it’s dark, you have more control over the sound and the lights and you can also afford to be a bit more adventurous in the selection of songs. We like to mix it up and play more of the slower and downbeat tracks.”

After the Projekt Revolution Tour, the band plans to head home to the U.K. to recharge and regroup.

“This is the last leg of the ‘Meds’ tour,” Olsdal said. “We finish in September and then we take a break. We’re going to need to get away from this touring situation for us to get some new experiences and to get away from this bubble to get inspired.”

Placebo performs as part of the Projekt Revolution Tour at 12:45 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Tweeter Center at the Waterfront, 1 Harbor Blvd., Camden, N.J. For more information, call (856) 365-1300.