Ultimate-Guitar.com "Stefan Olsdal Of Placebo", Feb'07

Stefan Olsdal Of Placebo: Making Meds 'A Really Creative Period'
17 February 2007
by Amy Kelly

Call MySpace what you will, but it was a big confidence booster for Placebo. While the band has never had a shortage of popularity, it became very evident through the number of MySpace hits that the British band was a force with which to be reckoned. On the band’s page, bassist Stefan Olsdal appears in a video stating that the 4-million-plus hits was a big reason for the band adding new tour dates to its schedule. This year is already looking up for the 13-year old group, thanks to the January re-release of Meds in America and a date lined up at the Coachella Festival in April.

For those who didn’t pick up Meds the first time it came out last year, expect an album that is reminiscent of some of the 80’s most memorable New Wave records – but with a bit more of a rock edge. The latest edition also includes 3 new songs not released on the original, including a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” Bassist Stefan Olsdal recently talked with Ultimate Guitar writer Amy Kelly about the record that is getting a second chance at life.

Ultimate-Guitar: With the re-release of Meds, it seems like a whole new generation is getting reacquainted with the band. Have you noticed a new connection with fans in the United States in particular?

Stefan: It came out in March of last year, probably a year ago now. Normally with an album, we take it on the road and we tour for a couple years. With hearing tracks on YouTube, this time for some reason we just like made more of a connection with audiences in the States. So it’s cool. When it came to re-releasing it, it’s kind of what we like to call the K-Mart version without the swearing and all that stuff! So it’s re-released as a kind of sanitized version.

When you’re asked to make an album without swearing or something that is considered objectionable, do you feel creatively stifled?

It’s just reaching more audiences. It’s a bit annoying, but it’s just the way the market works. You just kind of go with the flow.

There’s a video of you talking about how MySpace has been a great force behind the band’s current popularity.

MySpace, when it started, it was more kind of used in the States. I think that kind of gave us an indication that, you know, maybe things are starting to happen over there. I mean, we’ve toured the States for every album. It’s just that with this one it seems to have paid off, all the touring that we’ve done in the past.

There’s definitely a polished, sleek sound to Meds. Did that come about from experimenting with different instruments and musical styles through the years?

Yeah. You want to develop as an artist and become a better songwriter. Throughout the years, I think there’s been an improvement and I think that we want to make a better album than the previous one. But yeah, there is experimentation going on. We want to try new ways of recording and new sounds and stuff, but also you want to maintain your own sound as well. There’s that balance between doing something new, but also staying true to yourself. Not trying to force anything.

Did you ever feel pressured by record labels to have a certain sound?

You know, they haven’t. We made sure when we signed the contract in the 90’s that we had complete creative control and freedom. I think that’s very important to have that. Otherwise, you might as well not work in a band.

The title track has a great construction, starting off with a straight acoustic and then slowly building layer upon layer. How did the song come about?

That was written while we were recording the album, so that came quite late. That’s quite interesting because some songs were written like 6 years ago. Meds, that was written in the studio. So it’s kind of interesting the way that song came about. When we were in the studio, we kind of had 3 studios going on at the same time. We had one studio where we were mixing, one where we were recording, and one where we were writing. It was a really creative period and quite intense. So that one was just Brian when he was sitting in the writing room. It just kind of came out, and in 5 minutes that song was written! Then I put the melody line on and then Steve came up with the beat, and in 2 days it was done.

Does the songwriting process usually flow that smoothly?

Some were written on the last tour in soundcheck and stuff like that, and some were written in the studio. Some songs, you can’t force them. They’re ready when they’re ready.

Is it true that the song “Infra-Red” was written backwards?

Yeah, the lyrics were that way. Yeah.

But the melody line was written more traditionally?

We just started off playing around keyboards and we finally found the sounds that hooked us. Then we just did it that way.

You and Brian both play guitar, bass, and keyboards. How do you decide on who will play what?

That’s a good question! We never set out any rules before with the band on who plays what, especially in the studio. It depends on who is really playing when you write the song. Usually if I write the bass line, I’ll play the bass line. And generally, I’ll play all the bass – I’ll put it that way. Then the guitar is split between me and Brian.

If you had your choice, what instrument would you prefer to play?

I think that the most challenging is the piano. That’s the one that you’re sort of scared of when you record. The guitar is fun because you feel like you’re 14! You can turn it up really loud and there’s a real satisfaction to just rocking out with a guitar. The bass is probably the one that’s going to shake the walls. It’s bigger and that kind of empowers you as well. That’s like a penis extension! Sometime we were playing the bass so loud that the walls shook and the plug would come out. We’re like, “What happened?” We really turned it up.

Do you enjoy a stripped-down acoustic session as well?

We enjoy doing acoustic sessions. We have a couple of old sort of 1950’s Gibson acoustics and we kind of rework it into songs in that kind of way, in doing intimate sessions. We did quite a lot of that in the States. So that’s all been quite satisfying, to try to take the songs to a lot more basic element. We feel that the songs can handle that, being stripped down to just acoustic guitars and a couple of brushes. That’s kind of proof of a good song.

What bass guitars and amps do you use right now?

My main bass is a Gibson Thunderbird. They just seem to, especially live, sound even and it’s really good for rock. It sounds great. And with that, I’m running them through a couple of old Ampegs, SVTs. Guitar-wise, we’ve kind of turned to quite a lot of Gretsch’s this time around. I’ve a couple of the reissues. They’re starting to come back on the scene again. So yeah, I play quite a lot of Gretsch’s and a couple of Les Pauls. It’s just a great rock sound, you know, straight into the Marshall. That’s pretty much my sound. It’s actually quite simple.

Do you experiment with different pedals?

Bass-wise, I’ve got a Big Muff. That’s the best distortion. For the guitar, it’s just the Holy Grail reverb and a delay pedal. I try to keep it simple because we’ve got to travel around the world. The less you’ve got, the less things can go wrong!

What can fans expect from the band in the coming year?

We’re still touring this album, but once we get bored of this we’ll start to write again.