Time Off (Brisbane) "The Right Prescription", Sep'06

by Andrew Weaver

Whilst ostensibly still at home in London, Placebo began touring their new album Meds by heading to Bangkok, France and Germany doing little club gigs as promotion.

It’s becoming quite the norm these days – when a band release a new record they embark on a worldwide whirlwind of promotional shows, almost always exclusively for the record company and media attendees to try and build some hype towards each new release. It’s not necessarily something that drummer Steve Hewitt feels comfortable doing.

“I suppose after ten years people expect more and more,” he comments. “It’s trying to please everybody all the time and the small shows are more about the fan club – they demand a taste. It is kind of healthy for your fan base, but it takes a lot out of your schedule.”

It’s funny to think, but rock’n’roll has evolved so much over the past 50 years that now everything is geared around timing, be it right or wrong.

“I think, in the corporate world, they call it pro bono work,” he says. “People come down to see the show and the word or mouth sets up the street vibe, really.”

And there was us thinking that a band like Placebo wouldn’t necessarily rely on ‘buzz’ to generate interest in their latest sonic adventures! With four previous albums and a singles collection behind them, you’d think it might be otherwise. But, then again, since Sleeping With Ghosts appeared, the androgyny that made the band such a breath of fresh air in the post-grunge world has been taken and with by the likes of the Killers and the Bravery.

‘I think they’re ripping off the Chameleons, really,” Hewitt theorises. “Bands like Devo were doing that in the late 70s – that spiky, straight chord thing. I preferred it the first time around. But I think it’s just another generation listening to older records; I don’t think we can take any credit for anything really,” he says modestly.

One thing that Placebo have been very clear about – right from their Nancy Boy beginnings – is that they were never interested in playing games that are sometimes needed to be played in order to ‘make it.’ They’ve never jumped through any particular hoop, but instead have consistently delivered on their albums time-after-time.

“We’ve always been in control of our music – from our videos to our artwork – and simply used the record companies to execute the ideas we’ve had. If you take control creatively you manage to create your space and avoid trends. You end up doing what you want to do and hopefully try to be unique. It’s really a good place to be; ten years down the line we’ve got the freedom to do what we want to do. The first five years were the initial survival period, but if you take the bull by the horns and make sure that you’re in control of everything and ignore the critics, then the fan base is always there.”

After all, you’re only as good as your last record. But, one thing Placebo have always been prepared to do is put their bodies (and minds) on the line and tour consistently for two year periods after the release of each album.

“It’s proper old-school,” Hewitt grins.

Meds is one the most uncomplicated released the band have ever come up with – no fuss, no muss, just 11 incredibly solid pop nuggets that don’t mess around.

“We wanted to strip it back down a bit,” Hewitt confirms. “But, generally, you just think about what feels good and worry about transposing it live later.”

In terms of the actual songwriting process, Hewitt confirms that the band are not necessarily quick when it comes to laying down new material, but they are (and here’s that word again) consistent.

‘It’s an ongoing process for us,” he says. “Whether there’s an album coming out or not, we’re always demoing and coming up with ideas and putting them down, so that they’re ready for when we do need stuff.”

As such, when it comes time to record, the band simply gather these ideas together for the next record. Of course, this can lead to innate difficulties – for instance, Placebo struggled with the final running order for Meds, meaning their first single Song to Say Goodbye ended up being the final track.

“It was probably the hardest of any,” Hewitt says of all Placebo’s back-catalogue. “We’re good at making records but when it comes to marketing we just turn around to the record company and say ‘Do your job.’ We wanted to know from them which one was the most likely to be the best for the first single, and from there we said ‘Go for it’, and that was it.”

It’s strange: despite all the protestations otherwise, Placebo are just like any other band – they want the fame and fortune, and as such are prepared to play the game and kowtow to their record company’s demands.

“Normally we fight hand-over-fist,” Hewitt outlines, “but this time it was ‘sod it, can’t be arsed’. It was going back-and-forth all the time, and we ended up releasing two singles – Because I Want You in the UK and Song to Say Goodbye for the rest of the world, because we know that Song to Say Goodbye wouldn’t have the same impact in the UK as it would in Europe, because you need to go in with something a bit more explosive.

“It really is just a point of dropping a bomb, which you’ve really got to do in the UK music scene, because otherwise it will just go unnoticed no matter how big that band are. It kind worked – it charted, and we did Top of the Pops and the album [debuted] at number three.”

At this point in time, Placebo are at the point where they can control their own destiny, pretty much – and the record company is prepared to trust them to follow their own lead. It’s resulted in Meds being one the quickest albums the band has produced, and certainly the most open – the sound is much more stripped back than it has been previously, and it works in the record’s favour.