The Music Network "Placebo: We're a lot more civilised now", Nov'11

10 November 2011
by Poppy Reid

It’s 8am as Brian Molko calls from his home in London and within the first ten seconds of our conversation he authenticates his reputation for pretension. “I don’t feel very talkative so I’m not making an enormous effort.”

Of course, this opinion of Molko was formed over a decade ago when his DIY glam-punk band Placebo were at the height of their acerbic exhibitions of homosexual and narcotic-fuelled trailblazing; well before the hostility between Molko and Stephen Hewitt resulted in the drummer’s 2007 departure.

Throughout the last 17 years and over the course of six lionised records, the only placidity Molko seems to have adopted since Hewitt’s exit is in his renunciation of amphetamines, which he speaks as candidly of as he did his abuse five years ago.

“We’re a lot more civilised now,” says Molko, 38. “After the show it’s all about Chamomile tea now and trying to source the best Chamomile with the most flowers in it. We usually go back on the bus and have a little tea party.”

Placebo have just released We Come In Pieces, a live DVD and documentary bundle that centres around the band’s Battle For The Sun world tour throughout 2009 and early 2010, and although you do observe him sip from tea cups and Red Bull cans, his trade-off of narcotics for flowers and Guarana doesn’t seem to have affected his volatile stage presence.

With new stick-man Steve Forrest (who joined Molko and co-linchpin Stefan Olsdal in mid-2008), a plethora of musical and political votaries – David Bowie, the President of Chile, Robert Smith, just to name a few – one would think, and most have even said, that Molko’s sense of self worth would be strong enough to carry a country on its shoulders. But Molko is just the opposite when reminded of his merits.

“Each time one of these legends endorses the band it sort of makes that little voice in the back of your head that tells you you’re a bag of poo and that you may as well retire and quieten down.” In Moscow in September of last year, Molko ended his concert just five songs in citing heat exhaustion. Olsdal apologised to the audience, Placebo fans had their tickets refunded and he performed in St Petersburg two days later. The documentary only lightly brushes over this issue, like it does many others, leaving intentional unresolved spaces – even now Molko speaks reticently of the show.

“Sometimes you just feel that you’re really in the wrong place at the wrong time and that you can’t really continue,” he says. “It’s a mental thing really. To carry the weight of expectation for eighteen months can be quite a difficult thing, especially on such small shoulders as mine.

“I was definitely crumbling under the pressure of continuously performing for people and giving and giving and giving. There comes a point where you just feel so empty that you can’t give any more.”

Despite this detrimental Placebo- effect, Molko’s on and off-stage antics are part of what cemented their place in pop culture history before grunge and self-deprecation disintegrated into mainstream ‘emo,’ without the political envelope pushing. From public displays of homosexuality in Eastern European countries like Lithuania where mayors and governors had banned their exhibitions or awareness-raising rallies, to places like Israel and Lebanon where the political climate incited outraged reactions, to their overt androgyny which caused offense in draconian US towns like Knoxville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina where Placebo has worn the brunt of ignorance.

“I’ve been scared in some situations where people have thrown bullets onstage, and scissors,” he recalls. “And coins really hurt as well, you wouldn’t think it but they hurt... It’s an interesting form of appreciation, it’s complex and sophisticated.”

For Molko though, an audience held under a tyrannical thumb or unlettered tutelage is surprisingly preferred. “I enjoyed the gigs that were in the most out-of-the-way Southern states because those were the gigs where there was the most repression,” he says.“They were the ones that ended up being the more explosive. We provided a channel for all of that repression to express itself.”

Once recognised as an aspartame used to trick the brain, Placebo has redefined the meaning for anyone with a radio and sound hearing. However, after 15-years of publicised debauchery, when the band released Battle For The Sun in 2009, critics and fans alike sensed its lack of urgency. Molko may speak of retiring in jest but the documentary’s content speaks volumes of his need to escape negative epithets.

“I think Placebo has become a family for the first time,” he says, sounding less tired. “Tension is no longer the gas in the tank that gets the car going so I think that’s very positive. It’s very much a new era for the band.”

We Come In Pieces is out now through Shock Entertainment.