Visions "Färben oder Glatze", Dec'11

Translation by Madame


For the second time Placebo documented a tour on DVD with "we come in pieces". On the deluxe-edition there is the one-hour long documentary "coming up for air", which offers intimate insights into the everyday life of a band on the road. We spoke to Brian Molko about the 1 1/2 years long tour, the film - and how to confidently manage both growing older and musician's stardom.

Brian, "Coming up for air" turns out to be a rather unvarnished insight into the inner life of Placebo. Was it easy for you as a band, to allow the fans to come so close with the film?
We as a band and as persons make sure, for a long time now, to keep our lives private. This is a reaction to us being literally avid for attention for a while in the beginning of our career, true mediawhores. From that the opposite effect developed, that we kept everything, that didn't have an actual connection to the band or a new record, away from the media. But actually this small world, which you take with you on a tour, has a lot of intimacy in it. When we decided to do a live-dvd about the tour, we thought, it'd be a nice offer to our fans to give them a little more than just our music. We wanted to show how Placebo functions and the people and characters behind it.

To what extent does knowing something about the guys behind it make a difference (= to what extent does it have an effect on the way one hears and sees your music)?
It makes a big difference. What you usually get to see as a fan are the glamorous moments, the concerts. Everything is adequate, it's all right, every spotlight works in time. The emotionally and psychologically interesting things around the band happen almost exclusively off stage - everything that practically is the basis for new songs, how the band acts and so forth. Nowadays, where every sort of music is permanently available, I like to learn something about the people behind it, because it provides a different access. Because maybe it explains certain characteristics of the music.

In the documentary you see band members crying, occasionally overchallanged/overworked and you see moments of great blank (void). It seems as if in this case nothing was too intimate for you to show.
Yet, there were such moments. But for us it basically was about showing that on tour - even if you play in our league - not all is easy and convenient. When you watch other band documentaries, i often feel deceived - everyone is always happy and thankful. But that's not how it is. You can still feel lousy, even though a few thousand people cheer you every evening. On this tour everyone of us experienced at least one total mental/emotional breakdown, which in some cases lasted for a week, in one case it lasted for almost (one) half of the last year. That's a part of it and we didn't want to conceal it. We wanted to show the true/honest feelings and go along with the people that are torn out of their normal environment for one year and a half. We wanted to give Placebo a human touch.

There are two things to health on tour: the psychological and the physical. Which one is harder to keep?
No matter how healthy your diet is, how careful you are with your body and how many breaks you take: Sooner or later the feeling of loneliness and uprooting/social dislocation overwhelms you. For I have already experienced it a few times now, I can even tell you the point in time: Everything longer than eight months of touring is very difficult, because you lose your perspective and grounding completely. The points of reference, languages and cultures change every day, you constantly have a whole team of people around you, that take every chore out of your hands. All these extremely important things, which keep you down-to-earth in the real world/everyday life disappear into thin air. That automatically makes you a bit crazy. Additionally, you miss everything that is normal for others: the own family. The record collection. The favourite chair, where you read a good book. And most of all the people, with whom you - when you can choose - like to socialize with. All of this is missing and a (life like a) parallel world takes its place. That exhausts you, no matter how exciting all of it seems at first sight. In this respect you could also sum up the documentary like this: It is a depiction of our attempt to stay healthy. (laughs)

In those moments other bands - earlier on you as well - resort to after-show-parties and all sorts of stimulants, to escape this void.
Yes, and it is intelligible. You think: If I'm in this world anyway, which I don't understand, I can also find myself a way to escape, no matter how delusory it may be. You believe you find hold in highs/intoxication. You just realize how deceiving this belief is, when you have hit rock bottom and carried things too far. By now we deal with that aspect in a far more realistic way. You can let yourself go, but then again you have to strive for techniques that serve the general health.

A part of this is training on a crosstrainer like a fanatic and paying compliments to other musicians for their work, like Dallas Green recently told me about you?
(laughs) Exactly. We both played at a festival in Australia and shared a hotel. One morning I met him in the gym of the hotel, all of a sudden he stood on the trainer next to me. I am a huge fan of City and Colour and I felt the need to tell him what his last album means to me. On the one hand, because I like those moments myself, when other musicians tell me that they like what we do. On the other hand also for the reason we are talking about here: such an encounter, a conversation with a person you are on a par with, who is still a stranger, but who has the same profession, brings you down to earth. You feel ordinary for a few minutes.

What else helps to not go crazy?
The most mundane tasks. For example looking for a launderette on a day off and washing your t-shirts yourself. Or get a croissant at the baker's at the corner instead of ordering the 100th premium-sandwich from the roomservice. When I am alone, I discovered two things for me, which do me good: meditation and Miles-Davis-records. In a strange way it almost has the same effect on me.

Does religion help you in those moments when you are alone? After all you were raised in a very christian way.
The opposite is true: precisely my strict christian upbringing drove me into massive confusion for years because I rebelled against it. I didn't find hold in it, religion to me was a permanent nuisance. Of course I think different about it today, I have made my peace with the concept of belief on a rather philosophical level. Something like this helps me in my isolation anyway: coming to grips with certain correlations, which followed and partly agonized me all of my life. Because on the one hand it gives you wonderful material about which you can write new songs, on the other hand it teaches you to recognize patterns - also those which don't ostensibly have anything to do with yourself.

What are the things that you think about in those moments?
Concepts like love, desires/longings, phoniness, fate. It teaches the moral person inside you, or briefly speaking: I have the impression that through reflection/contemplation you become a better person.

Because the decisions that you take, are taken on the basis of a broad, elaborate/sophisticated/reasoned value system. And you become a better musician, as odd as it may sound at first. I had a very long, wonderful conversation about it with Frank Black, who grew up in a similarly strict way like me and had to cast it off. I am convinced that the Pixies touched me so much back then, because I could relate to the subtle rage against his childhood, which was still in him at times of "Come on Pilgrim" and "Surfer Rosa", even if it's not directly/explicitly thematized. The personal reflection on the subject gets you to the point where you make other - i maintain: better - music. You face your demons.

What was the first thing you did when the tour ended?
At first I told the others that I want a whole year off. Even though by now I am used to being on the road for so long, this tour, with its intensity and duration, burned me out enormously. I felt downright lost. Then as a sign of a new start, I cut my hair. The last months I spent as is right and proper for a man at my age: I was a good father, visited museums and zoos with my son, bought me some books and loads of new records. And I have - honestly speaking - enjoyed it to the fullest to be a successful rock musician with a well-filled bank account.

Are you still on a break?
Occasionally. But of course one day the madness starts again, your own as well. Cause after all you again want to make art of everything you experienced. I am already writing diligently.

And the hair is growing again?
Yes, unfortunatley with unpleasant results: I'm turning grey. Really. That means from now on for the rest of my life: dyeing - or bald head.