Rock Sound "Placebo", Mar'06

Translation by moondarri

Five studio albums in ten years. A flawless regularity in their discography that sparks much debate ("They were better before," "I prefer them now…") With Meds, Placebo comes back strong with a certainty and solid status of a rock group that’s impossible to ignore, particularly after the success of Sleeping with Ghosts. Eagerly anticipated, the trio decided to go back to a darker, harsher sound than that of the last few years. But how did they go about it? 

We heard parts of the new album in London… 

Bri – What did you think of it? 

It’s got quite a ‘live’ feel… but you get the impression that the general tempo is a bit slower than on Sleeping with Ghosts. 

Bri – [looks a bit disappointed, pauses slightly before answering] Well, there are two tracks missing from the record you heard, and the order of the songs was far from finalised. 

Steve – The fact it sounds live was intentional. We needed to get back to a rockier sound. 

More rock, yet still based on electronic instruments… 

Bri – One doesn’t rule out the other. Above all, we put forth an anti-sampler policy. Everything you can hear on the record is played live, without using any sort of machine that can replay a sequence once recorded. 

Steve – We wanted to feel free in the studio. The fact that we chose Dimitri Tikovoi as our producer also came from that desire to free ourselves. 

What does he have that your other producers didn’t? 

Bri – Each has his own qualities. Concerning Dimitri, it was a bit different. We knew him very well. We knew we were going to do something huge. He was the only guy who was open enough to not impose himself on us too much and let us develop as we wanted. 

Maybe it’s the fact that he’s not yet as famous as Rick Rubin… 

Bri – Frankly, yes. It sounds pretentious, but we were going with the fact that he had, as it were, more things to prove as a producer than we had as a band. We were convinced that we held a good record. We needed a guy capable of producing a considerable effort, a guy who wasn’t so sure of himself and his method of working to the point of not listening to anything. His desire to do well permitted us to create a dialogue within the studio. We all had something to win. He’s going to become a very big producer. 

Yet you did bring in the heavy ammunition for the mixing, by bringing in Flood in London. 

Bri – We asked Flood to produce our albums seven times. He was never available. And then, it was him who contacted us, asking if we could mix our record. I said, "hmmm… Ok." [laughs] We couldn’t pass up such a great opportunity. 

Stef – For us, Flood guaranteed a relatively pure and natural mix in perfect harmony with Dinitri’s work. One and the other really seized the essence of rock of this album. 

Bri – Most of the guys who mix records ask you to stay out of the studio while they’re working. They specify that they’ve got to mix the record and you’re just the artist. Flood was the opposite of that. He insisted that we were present for every moment of the mixing. He wanted to apply a democratic vision to the sessions. He asked us to come down every morning at 11 in the morning. It was difficult, but necessary. 

Why then, in these conditions, didn’t you do the whole thing yourselves? 

Steve – Because the last time we had that approach for Black Market Music we realised we couldn’t perfectly control it all. We took a long time to make that record at the time. The result wasn’t what we were happiest with. 

And if Flood proposed simply to produce your next album? 

Bri – We’d say no. Shit, we asked him I don’t know how many times already! [All laugh] 

We get the impression that this desire to make a more organic album is close to your hearts. What happened to make you so insistent on this? 

Bri – I think the group’s image has evolved a bit over the years. Placebo became something slightly obscure, a bit too intelligent, a band with a dark and simultaneously complex side. This return to the roots was necessary. The more famous you get, the more your image is offered up as meat to the media and the more compromises you have to make. We don’t do compromises. We continue to work as we wish with people we’ve chosen. We’ll soon see what the media makes of this album. But nobody will be able to say that this album was made with this or that goal, that it’s commercial or something else. It’s just a breath of fresh air, and most importantly, an album that feels like us. 

The new record conserves a very groovy feel that’s largely due to the presence of bass in your music. Aren’t you in the end more into groove than rock? 

Stef – It depends on the day [laughs]. The nature of a piece varies with the mood of its creators. But I think we’ve always been able to maintain some sort of balance. It’s the search for the purest sound that guided our path. We used acoustic guitars where they were needed. A bit groovy, a bit rock… but above all, organic. 

Bri – One of the two songs that weren’t on the CD you listened to is a perfect mix between Erik Satie and Metallica [smiles]. That’s rock and twisted at the same time. And then there’s also the track with Michael Stipe. 

So it was true… 

Bri – Yeah, but we couldn’t say anything a month ago. We just confirmed the presence of Alison Mossheart on Meds. 

Which single are we going to get? 

Bri – I think it’s going to be Song to Say Goodbye. The UK will get Because I Want You. 

Why do they always get a different track? 

Bri – Placebo has always been a rock band. We’re not marketing champions. As a good band, we’re entitled to a good label. Everyone’s got their own part of the job to do. Their job is to decide which single will fit in with the audience it’s for. It’s their bitch of a job to choose which track will be released on this or that market. If doing their job well is to release a different single when only a few kilometres separate the countries it’s because they have their reasons. And if they change their mind, it’s because they’ve changed their minds in between times. But we don’t want to intervene in that domain. It lets us keep some distance and concentrate on our music. 

A few tracks recall the good old Placebo from years ago. But it seems to move closer towards Without You I’m Nothing than the first album. 

Bri – We take that as a compliment. This is our fifth album. While we wait to have sufficient distance from it to judge it, we consider Without You I’m Nothing as our best record. Knowing that this last album can be compared to its illustrious predecessor is already a positive thing. 

But that’s not enough… 

Bri – Of course not. A return to the roots doesn’t signify living in the past. I’d like this new album to be judged on its own merit. But for that, we’ll have to wait a little while longer. 

Certain Placebo fans about to buy the record are also fans of Indochine. Your collaboration with the band during the recording of their latest album was something we’d all been waiting for… 

Bri – Effectively, yes. Too many people insisted that Nicolas and I work together a few years back. That’s one of the reasons we waited, especially me [laughs]. Complying would have been too easy. Many would have considered this work as a commercial act with no artistic goal. I preferred to let things build up. Placebo managed to prove itself without everyone summarising our career as that collaboration with Indochine. And while everything fades away softly… then we do our little thing without clashing with anyone. And that was a real joy for me. Nicola wanted to write something in English. He called me and asked me to help correct his grammatical errors [smiles]. He was in Paris while I was in Bangkok. I shut myself in the toilets in my hotel room for two hours to write that song. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written in such a short space of time. In Luxembourg, when I was nine, I listened to L’Aventurier on repeat on the radio. To write a song for Indochine a few years later is something huge. 

And this took place before you went into the studio? 

Bri – Yes. 

So it didn’t influence or modify your manner of writing for the group? 

Bri – What Placebo intended to record was already more or less set down. 

Does it also mean that you avoided listening to things during your six months in the studio so as to avoid being influenced? 

Bri – Absolutely. We made our music in a vacuum in the studio. Impossible for any outside information to penetrate. It was also difficult to get out. To become interested in what’s happening around you musically while you’re locked up, recording, is the worst thing you could do. 

You didn’t even visit the rooms next door to see your neighbours? 

Stef – We did. We talked from time to time with Gomez. The band was preparing its album at the same time as we were recording ours. 

To hide yourself in the middle of London seems a bit paradoxical if you’re trying to escape outside influence. Wouldn’t isolating yourself in the countryside have been a better idea? 

Bri – A couple of years ago, maybe. But a lot has changed since then. 

Steve – We all live in London. The fact that you have to go into the studio not very far from where you live forces you to have some sort of discipline. We’re recording in a place where you can only do that. We don’t sleep on site – we’re tied to the imposed time table. It also stops us from doing interminable night-time sessions. When we get out of here, it’s back to a normal life. 

Bri – This choice lets us stay close to our loved ones and to break the monotony often linked to intense work sessions. A complete immersion can also have a negative effect. The fact that we can go home and have a life on the side allows us to have some distance from our work. Going out a bit never hurts. 

For example? 

Bri – We went to see the Queens of the Stone Age in concert at Brixton. We also attended the Jane’s Addiction gig. 

You never wanted to change the way you were going after going to a memorable concert? 

Bri – Just a desire to play music live. Just as well, that’s basically what we did for six months. 

The session is over. You’re now beginning the promotional marathon before going on a new tour… 

Bri – I admit that we haven’t yet looked at the question of concerts. We’re only just beginning to meet the first journalists. If it carries on as it did last time, it can go all the way to the televison. 

Ardisson, like three years ago? 

Bri – Why not? He’s cool. It’s more Baffie who scares me. There’s also the programme with Fogiel. It’d be nice for the promo to vary the pleasures a bit. Did you see his programme with Brigitte Bardot? 

It was almost three years ago… 

Bri – He did well, that day. She was put back in her place, as she deserved. Who cares about her story and her filmography. What a fascist bitch! She said she liked certain animals more than some human beings. You get the impression that she compares people to horrible wild beasts under racist pretences. I think the young generation will quickly eclipse the image of the divine beauty she was with what she’s become today. And they’ll be right. 

The same thing happened with Charlton Heston after the film Bowling for Columbine. We were able to see what man he really was. 

Bri – That’s the power of Michael Moore. He put his finger on a man who represented something powerful and dangerous, the producers and sellers of firearms. When you think that guy played in Planet of the Apes… 

Stef – Farenheit 9/11 is incredible! Simply incredible…! 

Bri – I think France is the only country capable of having a film festival that dares to award its most prestigious prize to such a provocative film. Those who rewarded Michael Moore after that were just followers. They waited for others to take risks in their place. It’s not just a question of film, it’s a question of politics. It wouldn’t have happened in the USA. It wouldn’t have happened in England… it wouldn’t have happened anywhere else. 

But it is an America who’s president of the jury that gives this prize: Quentin Tarantino. 

Bri – Tarantino isn’t an American like the others. 

We can assume that you’ll do us the pleasure of spending a bit of time in France before going on a conquest of the rest of the world… 

Bri – It’s difficult to forget those who gave you your first chance.