Rock Magazine "Stefan Olsdal interview", Jan'06

After Brian Molko last month and before Steve Hewitt next month, Stefan Olsdal speaks to us live from the mixing studio on Placebo’s future release, due 14th March 2006.

Rock ‘n’ Roll knows no holiday. If we have to go to the magazine’s head office the night of the 11th of November, right in the middle of the ‘bridge’ [note: this is the name given when there’s a holiday-day in France such as the 11th November, which is then ‘bridged’ across to the weekend, so they get extra holiday], to call Placebo right in the middle of mixing their album, then we do it with pleasure. Even if we’re told by the girl on the telephone that that “Stefan has just left” and “he’ll call you back later”. Even if, after 20 minutes, unable to contain ourselves, we try to call him again 16 times but “due to a busy line, your call cannot be put through”. Even if, the 17th time, the microphone falls on the telephone and hangs up. The 18th time, finally, we manage to contact the bassist, coming back from who-knows-where. In this situation, automatically, one question comes to mind.

Where are you?
We’re in a studio in the north-west of London. We’ve got two rooms: one where Flood mixes the album and the other where we’re recording with Dimitri Tikovoi. When we finished the recording, something happened that always happened for Placebo: we decided we needed a quicker, more ‘rock’ piece, so we write it and record it towards the end of the session. We’re busy mixing at the moment, trying to get everything done quickly to get the album out towards the beginning of 2006.

Last month, Brian told us you had 15 tracks, but nothing was certain. How have things evolved?
We’re currently at 17 tracks, and now we have to choose. It’s a difficult stage because they’re all very different, and we need to decide on the type of album we want to obtain. It’s a sensitive problem: the sound of the album and the emotion it will convey will depend on the tracks we decide to keep.

How’s the mixing going with Flood?
For me, it’s a dream come true. Flood has mixed a lot of my favourite albums: Achtung Baby by U2, Song Of Faith And Devotion and Violator by Depeche Mode, Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins, and some stuff by PJ Harvey. The guy’s even nicer and cooler than I thought he’d be, it’s really easy to work with him. There are no ego clashes in the mixing process – we’re all open to the opinions of others. We should be done by the end of November, or by the first week of December, and we’ll leave the studio with the mix we wanted.

And these extra recording sessions?
It should take one extra week. Brian is working on the voice at this precise moment on 2 tracks we just recorded. In fact, I was in the studio when I missed your call. I wanted to make sure Brian was singing in tune!

How has this mixing process been for you?
It’s been the most enriching and emotional experience we’ve had so far. For me, the new tracks are in complete connection with us. The 3 personalities in the group, their musical and human qualities are much more apparent on this album.

Which instruments are you playing on the album?
Bass, piano, guitar and keyboard. There’s a bit of evolution in that sense compared to past albums. For me more so than Brian. The question is, who plays better? [laughs].

Is there a spirit of competition?
Not at all. Brian likes to give me the most difficult parts to play, and I can’t sing like him. This album marks a return towards a basic guitar/bass/drum/piano formation. Like Brian told you, we wanted to go in a much more electronic direction, but in the end, the album turned out sounding much more organic. We realised during the recording sessions that the instruments conveyed more emotion than electronics would.

Your remix of the United track, Kinship – did it make you want to get more involved in the mixing of the album?
With Placebo, I’m more of a musician than a technician. It’s easier to only think of one thing to make sure the tracks are written in the best way possible. When I’m in the mixing room with Flood, I don’t touch anything, but I give my opinion, which is normal. Brian messes around much more with the mixing desks – he likes to have everything under his control… and we tell him to give it up. [laughs].

What can you tell us about the sound of the album?
That for the first time, we’re using strings.

Yes, it’s a big step forward for us. We always avoided strings until now, but it can really bring a lot to the pieces. There are even some epic titles. The album is bizarre, we let the pieces obtain what they wanted, what they needed. The album will be different to what we’ve been able to do, but you’ll still be able to recognise our sound: melodic, fast, punky in places and depressing in others. The fans should feel comfortable with it, while being surprised… hopefully!

Tell us about a typical day in the studio.
We begin around 2 or 3 pm, and work until 3 in the morning. This week, for example, we re-recorded the first track on the album because we weren’t satisfied with the sound of the mikes or with the studio it was recorded in. Between two takes we went down to studio 3 to see how the mixing was going, then we went back up the record, then we went back down to see Flood, etc.

So you spent a lot of your time on the stairs!
Yeah, we need the exercise! [laughs]. This week has been hard, intense, because we’re trying to go fast so the album’s out for the start of 2006. Everyone’s exhausted, but we’re still smiling, and we’re all going out tonight.

What are your plans?
We wait a bit before going out. Brian records some more vocals. Then, if the mixing goes well, we all go out together. Flood, the band, Dimitri and the technicians. We’re probably going to eat out together. There’s such a team spirit, everything’s going great. We wind each other up from time to time but it’s all fun. Afterwards we’ve got to go to east London for one of our mates’ private party. We’re going to relax, get release from the pressure. The session’s been long – we’ve been locked up since May, and since we’ve been mixing and recording at the same time, it’s been worse. We hardly ever go out. That’s why tonight, we plan on going wild.

You haven’t had a break since May?
We had two weeks off in September to rest our ears and distance ourselves a bit from our work in order to come back with a fresh view on things.

Have you been able to go to any concerts recently?
Yeah, a few. The latest one was when we saw Elbow playing in a little club in Camden before the release of their new album. It was the type of concert where, towards the end, you got the impression it had only lasted 15 minutes. They come off stage, the lights switch on, and you think, “already?!” They’re a very emotional group, I really like the way they construct their pieces.

What did you listen to during the recording?
I didn’t have much time to listen to music. Only in the morning between my first cup of tea and a shower. I listened primarily to ‘easy-listening’ music: Hood, and Dead Texan too. It’s very calming. The pianos and guitars are used in a very soft, smooth way. In the mornings, my brain can’t take violent stuff. I hate waking it up!

What influenced you during the writing of this album?
I think that musicians are not influenced solely by their music. There’s also life, which manifests itself in a certain way, affects you and provokes music. This summer I had problems with people close to me. That definitely influenced my music.

Have you started work on the album art or any videos?
We’re working on all of that, but nothing’s confirmed, so, for the moment, I won’t say anything. Maybe Steve will tell you more next month.