State Of The Arts "Placebo", May'10

04 May 2010
by Miguel Cullen

Not even Molko can hold a sneer for 16 years. When Placebo released Meds, another factory-edition goth pop staple in 2006, it looked like the wind had changed, that the band would be left playing for emo trannys for the rest of their days. Happily, they’ve turned a corner.

The band have spent years trying to convince people that they’re not sat ‘in the gutter with needles hanging out of their arms quoting Oscar Wilde’, and with 2009’s Battle For The Sun they finally come correct.. The album marks a new page in Placebo’s aesthetic; they had recruited 23 year old drummer Steve Forrest. His attitude – described in a predictable Molko happy-exasperated quote as “I mean…he’s Californian. He’s just so goddamn positive” – has invigorated their sound with some welcome jam session vim. 

Speaking to us from his Westbourne Grove home, Forrest confirms: “We’ve really laid our balls out with this one. Before that it was more the heroin diaries, which was a common theme for the band for years.” He explains how with the help of Tool producer David Bottrill, tunes would grow out of purely live edits: “ We fucking rocked it, we used some optimistic ambience and some rock ‘n roll and some all you need is love – the songs have these really high moments and really low moments, especially with Brian’s voice that can evoke lows like that.”

Working with Bottrill was a fascinating experience, Forrest remembers: “He didn’t fuck with our songs too much after he’d be like [imitates agitated instructions] “I think this song’s great, but what if we did this with it? Or try this?” he never picked up an instrument. The model of what we were doing was to just try anything. If it works then that’s a wonderful thing, and if it doesn’t then at least you tried it you know?”

Forrest is an undeniable pretty boy – his corn sheaf mop and fine-hewn chin may be offset with navel to neck tattoos but there’s the undeniable suggestion that Molko and his long-time band mate Olsdal would enjoy more than his irrepressible optimism. He’s not shy to suggest, in his murmured underplayed way, that his own influence was integral in the band’s new look: “It was between me and Bottrill that brought a lot of the heavier sound to it.”

He adds that he was never a vamp reject – “a sociable kind of guy” and that crowds now “aren’t all goth kids in black t-shirts – it’s everyone from 13 to their mid fourties, all different kinds of lifestyles; it’s made the band a lot more digestible. We’ve created some controversy with the intense goth fans but opened up a whole new demographic with our followers.”

Placebo are now a very complete outfit with each member bringing a very tangible contribution to song-writing. Forrest breaks it down like this: “The album consisted of three parts – some of it Brian would come in with a guitar and an idea, some songs Stefan would come to the table with some electronic stuff a production idea, and then some of our songs came from just jamming.” – He attributes their biggest anthemic songs to this process – Battle for the Sun, Speaking in Tongues, Unisex and Bright Lights.

Since their dawn in the Britpop era Placebo have been fringe players; while Molko’s attenuated drawl cut a welcome snarl across the thrash union jack, they were perhaps never more there than a charming distraction. For all Forrest’s inclusive optimism, perhaps Molko puts it best “Placebo is music for outsiders by outsiders – our gigs are conventions of outcasts. And that’s cool”