Suicide Girls "Brian Molko of Placebo", May'06

By Daniel Robert Epstein
May 14, 2006

When I put Placebo new album Meds into my player it really surprised me. It sounded so different from what I’ve heard from Placebo in the past but at the same time it was so uniquely them. I got a chance to talk with the lead singer of Placebo, Brian Molko, about making a less electronic based album, doing a duet with Michael Stipe and just generally what’s its like to be such a cool down to earth dude. 

Daniel Robert Epstein: Hey Brian, what are you up to?

Brian Molko: I’m in Paris at a hotel which resembles a 17th Century bordello. It’s got chandeliers, red walls and mahogany everywhere. I’ve been doing interviews and photo shoots. You’re my last victim of the day.

DRE: Are you guys playing a show in Paris?

BM: No, we’re just here for promotion.

DRE: What was the inspiration for Meds?

BM: During the lyric writing, I never sit down and “I’ve been inspired by this event or this feeling or this set of circumstances.” I try to operate on an instinctual level, which takes me to a place where I don’t think I would go to if I was being intellectual in my approach. In a way you don’t really know what the themes are and what shape an album is going to take until you’re halfway through recording them. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. Every day you go into the studio and you put another piece in. I find that the songs lead you as opposed to you leading the songs. The thing about the band is that we never sit down and decide in a calculated way where we’re going to go. We allow the emotion of the music to take us in a direction. Of course we try and achieve a certain amount of cohesion thematically but it’s never really calculated. We try our best to operate on a kind of a very instinctual level. We’re not the people who sit down and say “Well, today I’m going to write a song about politics” or “today I’m going to write a song about fucking.” A song tells you what they’re about as you’re halfway through working on them. I had no idea what the fuck Infra-Red was about because it was the first song where I’d written the lyrics backwards. I started with the last line and worked my way to the first. I’d never done that before. So it wasn’t until I got to the first line that I was able to take a step back and understand what it was about. It turned out to be about revenge but I never sat down and decided to write a song about revenge. I like operating on that level.

DRE: Has it always been that way?

BM: Pretty much. There’s never really been an agenda with Placebo. We just try to be ourselves. At the beginning we were just trying to find our own identity perhaps naively because it was a case of growing up in public. But these days we try to remain as open as possible like we’re conduits or vessels to a certain degree. I think that is what allows it to be emotionally accessible by people. You’re not trying to force them to feel something because you haven’t decided before you’ve written anything what this is going to be about. You lay yourself bare and open to where it takes you and perhaps you find more truth that way.

DRE: That’s cool because it’s so common for a lot of music to spell out everything.

BM: I don’t like to force the meaning of a song down somebody’s throat. I like the idea of each person who hears the song to live their own personal story through it. As soon as you record a song and release it, it ceases to be yours so it can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people and I’m completely cool with that. I want people to live their own stories through the emotion that’s communicated through the song. Far be it for me to tell people what to feel.

DRE: Have you ever met people that have misinterpreted your song it in a way that was wrong or incorrect?

BM: I guess so. Sometimes what’s more rewarding is when they come up with a scenario which you never even envisioned and they teach you something which makes you go, “Fuck, wow. I had no idea that it could be taken that way and in fact that’s very interesting.”

DRE: Meds seems to have a little less of an electronic feel to it.

BM: A lot of that was down to our producer, Dimitri Tokovoi a crazy Frenchman of Russian origin who we worked with in the past. Whenever we worked with him on cover songs and stuff we realized that those things sounded better than the fucking album we just recorded. At that point we went, “we have to make an album with this guy.” He’s relatively unknown and that was important for us as well because we realized that by working with somebody like that, he’d be as hungry as we were. Also he’s not set in his ways and that he didn’t have a resume as long as his arm. There wasn’t a generational gap or a cultural gap between us. In fact, we were born on the same day of the same year so we were very good friends before we started working on this record. He realized that we’d found a comfort zone which was Vince’s synthesizers. He wanted to pull us out of that comfort zone and make us stare at ourselves in the mirror to make us realize that in essence we are a rock band. So we went to a studio that hadn’t been renovated since the 70’s so there’s no technology to hide behind. There’s no studio trickery to hide behind it’s just, “get in the fucking room and play.” The album started to become about performance and musicianship and songwriting as opposed to constructing songs on computer and new technology. That brought us back to the essence of Placebo and gave us a new lease on life. It was really good for us because we’d been on tour for about two years and by the end we felt like a karaoke band playing the hits to make the audience happy. It’s about time that we brought a whole bunch of new songs to make ourselves happy.

DRE: How was the first day of being in the 70’s style studio?

BM: The first week was a bit crazy with lots of insecurity. But then you slip into a work ethic and we’ve never been shy of hard work. Ultimately it was extremely rewarding because it was hands on as opposed to coming up with bits and pieces of sound and then just throwing them on the computer.

DRE: I assume you’ve known Michael Stipe for a long time.

BM: Yeah we met Michael in 1998 when he was executive producer on Velvet Goldmine which we had small parts in. We became friends then and kept bumping into each other. In fact, it was in this very hotel itself that we had the idea of working with Michael again because we bumped into REM here. We had written a song about adultery for a duet and we weren’t sure if we were going to include it on the album because we couldn’t find the right female vocalist. Then we saw Michael and it just was like, “Michael. He’s the one.” That immediately made sense to us, because there have been so many songs written about adultery and so many duets sung about adultery and it’s always been a guy and a girl. It’s so much more modern to have a song about adultery sung by two men. Also the idea of working with Michael who has such a recognizable voice was very exciting. Since Michael is a friend and was somebody who’d really influenced the development of my voice, that was extremely exciting. We wanted to take this potentially cliché song and give it extra gravitas and more edge. It totally wasn’t about trying to find the most famous person to be on the record.

DRE: When you revealed that certain part of your personal life out in the media, did you realize it would be such a big deal or did you just want to get it out there?

BM: When it comes to something important I’ve never been a shrinking violet. I wasn’t going to lie and pretend that I was something that I’m not. It really wasn’t that much of a big deal. People’s reactions were just really unimportant to me.

DRE: Was it not a big deal since you reveal so much about yourself through your music?

BM: I’m 33 now and I feel like I express myself to the world. But over the past five or six years I’ve become a more private person than I was in my early 20’s. It’s really important to draw a line in the sand. There’s only so much of myself I’m prepared to give away and that’s what I do in the songwriting. Anything beyond that is personal and private and it has to remain that way.

DRE: If you gave away too much would your music feel less relevant?

BM: No, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with music. I think it’s got everything to do with everyday life and that you have to have a life outside of your band. If you don’t have a life, you’re going to have nothing to write about.

DRE: How do you give yourself a life?

BM: When I’m at home I’m not particularly that different from anybody else. When I’m on stage hopefully I’m unique, but that’s up to opinion.

DRE: How’s the tour been going so far?

BM: We’ve been doing really small shows in clubs around Europe and it’s been great. We get to go and play 11 out of 12 songs on the album and then choose a few oldies that fit in with the new record. We’ve got a new guitarist in the band because our keyboardist left us to go be a cabaret artist in London so the show’s become quite different. It’s become much more of a rock show and less about technology. The response has been phenomenal.

DRE: Since Meds was leaked onto the internet earlier this year, did it change how you guys think about releasing material on the internet?

BM: Not really. It was really depressing to spend six months of your life busting your balls making a really good record and then some dickhead in Brazil puts it on the internet. It’s depressing for one day but then you realize that there’s no use crying over spilled milk and you just have to get on with it. I understand a lot of people’s impatience to have access to their favorite band’s new music and these people will go out and buy the album anyway. I really don’t think that it’s harmed us in any way whatsoever. In fact Meds is the fastest selling album of our career.

DRE: Would you release tracks from the next album online?

BM: It’s definitely something to think about in the future. You can’t really be a luddite and just ignore technology. You have to use it in a positive way and the most important thing, if it gets music closer to people, then that’s really good. But there is the simple law of economics. If you don’t buy your favorite band’s music, your favorite band won’t be able to house themselves, put food on the table, put their kids through school and so then would have to get a second proper job. If you love your favorite band you have to support them. But apart from that, I really have no problems with the internet as long as the music is distributed fairly. 

Source: suicidegirls