Hunger "The Interview: Placebo", Aug'13

Published on 08 August 2013
words Aine Carlin


Placebo’s longevity is not only a testament to their songwriting skills, musicianship and ability to put on a damn good show but a mark of their sheer grit and determination to remain a success while most of their 90s indie contemporaries have long since fallen by the wayside.

Staying on top has become a full time existence for the group whose two original members Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal, as well as drummer Steve Forrest, form one of the most intriguing alternative rock bands with a tinge of the intellectual.

With a new album to promote (Loud Like Love is due for release in September) and a tour schedule set for December (get your tickets booked), it’s all go for the trio who are merging their original guitar driven sound with a fresh technological twist to deliver the ‘all killer, no filler’ record they’ve always wanted to make.

We grab a few minutes with the diverse and down to earth trio who have a penchant for anthemic 80’s pop and an aversion to tweeting (grammar still presides with this lot). And whilst they might not be social media aficionados nor have any further desire to indulge in drugs, for us the Placebo effect is still as powerful as ever.



YOUR NEW ALBUM, LOUD LIKE LOVE IS DUE FOR RELEASE IN SEPTEMBER, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT AND WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

Brian: It’s our seventh album, not counting compilations, and the second we’ve recorded with Steve Forest. It’s ten songs long, about 46 minutes and it’s very much sequenced like an old vinyl record – it definitely has a side A and side B. I guess it’s Placebo’s very personal take and exploration on the most written about subject in the history of popular song. For me, I kind of see it as a collection of ten short stories with a unifying theme that approaches the subject from ten different angles. It explores how love can be violent, brutal and disorientating, and how the absence of it can lead people to behave in quite extreme ways. It also deals with jealousy, obsession, heartbreak and how addiction can tear relationships apart. So, it’s an album about people and the way that they interact with each other – or fail to.

Stefan: It’s all killer, no filler. It’s really hard to describe a record but I think it still sounds like Placebo. It’s maybe heavier and more layered – more pop in places, darker in places, lighter in places. Personally, it’s the album I feel like Placebo should have made and it feels like the most complete body of work to me. So, it’s very hard to describe but it’s an exciting record.

Steve: There are a lot of avenues that have been explored. In the previous records loops and electronic stuff had been used but I think the way they are used in this record is quite unique although the piano is featured quite heavily on this record as well. I think this record, more than any other one, is really sonically diverse.

I KNOW THAT EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT DAFT PUNK, BUT DO YOU THINK THERE IS A RESURGENCE OF ‘THE ALBUM’ – PEOPLE ACTUALLY SITTING DOWN AND LISTENING TO AN ALBUM FROM BEGINNING TO END? WAS THAT IN YOUR MIND AT ALL?

Steve: Yeah, I think that’s the other thing with having just ten songs, and having it all ‘killer no filler’. We want people to, when they get to the end of it, push play again. And I totally agree; people are getting more into listening records as a whole. I mean the first day I bought Daft Punk I listened to the entire thing, and the same with the new Sigur Ros. So we can only hope that people do the same with this record. We’re all happy with it and that’s where it starts – if we’re excited about it and we’re happy about it then I think the songs will benefit from that, and the record as a whole will too.

WOULD YOU SAY THAT YOUR NEW SINGLE ‘TOO MANY FRIENDS’ IS AN ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA PROTEST SONG IN A WAY? DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA YOURSELVES?

Brian: I wouldn’t say that I’m anti it but I don’t use it – I’ve never felt the need or the desire to. The song was kind of inspired by a couple of things… some friends of mine that do use social media had said to me that they’d stopped taking friend requests because they had too many, and that was a real novel idea to me because I don’t social network so I didn’t really understand. I started thinking about, ‘well, how many friends do I have, how many real friends do I have? And how many imaginary friends do they have that they could have too many?’ And it got me thinking about the nature of friendship and how it’s changed and it made me ask myself a few questions like, ‘are we better off, now that we live our lives in public and now that we communicate with each other through these social mediums? Is it a way of staying in touch with everybody or a way of not staying in touch with everybody?’ We don’t have to call people up on the telephone anymore because you announce to the whole world what you’re doing. I wonder how has this changed the way people interact with each other and if it’s having a positive effect or a negative effect on our ability to connect with each other in the physical world, particularly when we’ve become such slaves to our smartphones. I’m as guilty as the next guy, I freak out if I don’t have it on but is it really healthy?

Stefan: I think musically that song is a bit of a celebration of our love of big anthemic eighties pop, like ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. We kind of went all out there musically for that track. And I think in terms of lyrical subject, it definitely touches upon the effect of technology and on the way that we interact. It’s a phenomenon that’s occurring right now and we’re just asking a few questions like, ‘is it actually bringing people closer together? Creating a lot of cyber friends – what does that actually mean? Does it mean that you have more friends or does it mean you’re creating some kind of virtual existence?’

YOUR INFLUENCES ARE REALLY DIVERSE, WHAT KIND OF INSPIRATION – EITHER MUSICALLY OR OTHERWISE, DID YOU BRING INTO THIS ALBUM?

Brian: I’ve only really noticed this about myself recently but I’ve kind of fallen into a media blackout because I don’t own a TV, I don’t listen to the radio and I don’t really read the music press. So, the music that we create almost comes out of a vacuum. And because we make music with a lot of heavy guitars in it when I go home I have a tendency to listen to quite the opposite – so, a lot of instrumental music and language I don’t understand like Sigur Ros or instrumental piano music. It’s a reaction against my day job I suppose. In terms of the lyrics, it wasn’t a conscious choice to write about what we ended up writing about but it’s through the actual process of writing and recording that you discover what’s really going on in your mind because it’s an instinctual process. We hadn’t really decided that we were going to write about certain things but if you remain open following your instincts in that way then you kind of discover about half way or two thirds of the way through the process what’s on your mind and what you really want to talk about. I suppose at this moment in time it was about relationships.

Stefan: When we started making this record I personally was listening to music that didn’t have guitars. I found myself listening to piano music by artists such as Nils Frahm from Berlin or The Cinematic Orchestra. I had a penchant for sitting down at the piano stool quite a lot during this recording, and during the making of the record I sometimes feel like we all played within certain confines, which is challenging in itself because we’re not writing 25 minute symphonies, we’re writing 4 or 5 minute, quote on quote ‘pop songs’. So I found myself listening to quite a lot of postmodern composers like Steve Reich, to try and clear the musical part of my brain and get a bit of distance and perspective on what we’re doing.

THAT KIND OD MINIMALIST REPETITION GETS YOU INTO A CERTAIN HEADSPACE DOESN’T IT?

Stefan: Yeah, and I think the track Begin the End, is a place where we haven’t really gone before rhythmically. There’s a groove that’s there to the very end, that’s quite hypnotic. So yeah, we’re exploring different avenues that we haven’t done before.

YOU’RE PLANNING TO TOUR IN DECEMBER – WHAT DO YOU DO TO UNWIND WHEN YOU’RE NOT ON THE ROAD?

Brian: This is going to sound horribly clichéd but I meditate and do yoga. It’s been very useful for me in the last few years and is an interest of mine that has developed recently.

Stefan: I spend a lot of time reading.

Steve: Tweeting (laughs)

WITH REGARDS TO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, YOU MUST HAVE SEEN SO MANY CHANGES OVER THE YEARS – WHAT ARE THE MOST MARKED DIFFERENCES BETWEEN NOW AND WHEN YOU STARTED? ARE THEY POSITIVE CHANGES?

Stefan: Technology has certainly changed a lot since our first record came out. I think we’re living through a technological revolution and it’s happening quicker than we even realise. It’s very hard for us to imagine what life would be like without a mobile phone –technology has become a part of our everyday lives and we’re dependent on it. And the consumption of music has changed too. It’s a bit like the Wild West out there, it still hasn’t really been harnessed, and with such a powerful tool there’s going to be good sides and bad sides. Just because it’s out there and you can take it, and a lot of people do, doesn’t necessarily make it right. So, it’s a bit of a moral crusade, a moral battle that we’re fighting on a daily basis, and streaming services come into that. I still think it’s an unjust set up in terms of the artist.

Brian: People used to buy records – that’s the major difference. We started making records before the internet took off so it was before file sharing, which has changed the music industry immeasurably. There’s been an absolute revolution in the technology for making music. Our first album was made completely without computers and it used to freak me out when we were editing one tape to another, and we’d actually get a razor out and cut it because once it’s cut you can’t go back. Whereas now there’s always an undo button and you never lose anything and you can piece anything to anything. But that also opens up a whole wealth of possibilities, which is amazing. It needs to be said that no amount of technology is going to write a song for you or give your song soul so thankfully the human being is still necessary.

WHAT ABOUT THE CURRENT ARTISTS, WHO EXCITES YOU?

Steve: I think we all fell in love with the new Sigur Ros album, that’s kind of topping our list for album of the year so far. We’ve played a few festivals with them before.

Stefan: Yeah, it was kind of a transcendental experience and we’ve had that with a few bands including Rammstein and The Flaming Lips. It truly is the power of live music; it can transport you to another place. The new Daft Punk album is also very good.

WE ASSOCIATE CERTAIN ARTISTS WITH A CERTAIN LOOK – WHY IS THE IMAGE OF A BAND SO IMPORTANT TO THE SUCCESS OF IT?

Stefan: The power of the image and the power of the moving image should not be underestimated. I think a lot of the time people look at the photos more than they read article. For us, we have to embrace the freedom of what being in a band means and not conform to the boundaries that society puts out – like what gender should wear what kind of clothes. In the early days we wore what we felt good in but I think when it comes to playing live there has to be a practical element to it. We’ve become slightly less cross-dressy over the years.

DOES IT ALLOW YOU TO ADOPT A CERTAIN ROLE ON STAGE?

Brian: I wouldn’t say it was a role – it’s not a persona. It’s kind of accessing the flamboyant side of me, the exhibitionist, which needs satisfying. And I’m very grateful for the fact it can be satisfied in a positive way so I don’t need to seek out situations in real life in order to satisfy the exhibitionist in me, it’s already taken care of.

AND WHAT ABOUT PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHTS OVER THE YEARS, ARE THERE ANY THAT STICK OUT IN YOUR MIND?

Steven: Cambodia was quite special.

Stefan: Yeah, we were invited to play in front of the Angkor Wat temple – we were one of the first bands to have done that and we felt really honoured. It’s such a spiritual place and it was in aid of a charity to raise awareness for human trafficking, so everything about that gig was special. We’d also love to play on top of the pyramids in Mexico – we wanted to do it last year for the end of the world but there’s probably another end of the world coming up soon.

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR IN LIFE?

Steven: Adventure.

Stefan: I’m hungry for inner peace.

Brian: More self-confidence. When you start off in this industry, in your early twenties, you’re brimming with bravado and self-confidence, and you really think you are the best thing since sliced bread. But no matter how much success you achieve, as you age, your confidence gets chipped away. I think because you’re continually re-evaluating yourself, and trying to prove to yourself and others that you’re still relevant. So I’m just hungry for peace of mind in general. Deep down, I’ve always been a hippy at heart – it was just the drugs that made me think I was a punk (laughs).


Loud Like Love is due for release on 16th September