Music Feeds "Placebo Talk New Album And Soundwave 2014", Aug'13

by Daniel Foskey
29th August, 2013

Slinging their androgyny-coated brand of alternative rock since the mid-90s, Placebo have returned with the impending release of their new album Loud Like Love. Their first full-length release since 2009’s Battle for the Sun, the new album cements Steve Forrest’s place in the line-up, after the departure of former drummer Steve Hewitt in 2007.

Fronted by the always emotive and often angsty Brian Molko, Loud Like Love sees the band successfully interfacing their trademarked Placebo-edged rock with today’s electronic production techniques. Music Feeds got on the phone to Steve Forrest to talk about his widening role in the band, getting his album writing on and geeking out on Green Day’s Tre Cool.

Music Feeds: Loud Like Love has a pretty wide emotional arc, with a lot of relationship-fuelled stories. What were some sources of inspiration for the new album?

Steve Forrest: I think, basically, most of it came from being honest with ourselves. For me, individually, we all pushed ourselves and each other to explore new territories. So when we’re playing, working with electronics and stuff, [at first] as a drummer I was quite stubborn and against that… I didn’t really want to play with loops and things like that, [but] that was one thing we did on this record, and we wanted to step up in a sense.

That, in turn, was very frustrating at times, it was very hard, but because of that there was some great things that kind of sparked up and happened in the moment. I think we’ve created one of the most unique records this band’s ever put out, really. If you listen to it in its entirety, it’s very eclectic with all its sounds and everything.

MF: I have read that Brian used some track ideas he’d saved away from his own solo projects. How did this affect the track writing process? Was it ever daunting trying to turn them into Placebo tracks?

SF: We ended up using three of them for this record and there were moments where we basically didn’t have enough songs. We didn’t plan to write a record, and we started writing all these songs, and now we’re making a record. We kind of hit a moment where we had all these ideas but nothing is really happening with them, so Brian’s like, “Have these songs.” The songs that were presented were in a demo phase, so it worked really well together; it wasn’t hard to take those songs, strip them down and build them up as Placebo tracks.

There was one of them, Too Many Friends, it took some work, but the other two we just kind of sat down and kicked into it and the songs kind of wrote themselves. There are moments like that with us. Sometimes the things that seem to be the hardest will just happen and almost write themselves, and other ones you think will be much easier, those are the fuckers you end up banging your head against the wall for days with (laughs). It didn’t really affect the song writing process with us. We work really well together; if a song needs to be made, we make it happen.

MF: This is your second album with the band?

SF: Yeah, it’s my second LP. It’s my fourth release, but second full-length.

MF: Was the process at all easier this time around? What’s it like working with everyone who has been in the band longer?

SF: As long as it’s heading in the right direction, you just try not to do anything stupid. I think with Battle for the Sun, I’d just joined the band. I came over in January 2008 and got welcomed into the band, wrote a few tracks for it and pretty much went straight into the studio. So, for me, I think I was spending so much time learning about everything, that with this album it was a lot different because now it’s been six years. We’ve settled in together and we’ve been through so much. This time there was a lot more sitting down and doing everything from scratch.

When I came in for Battle for the Sun… about 8 of the 13 tracks were already sort of written in demo without any drums, so I just came in and simply wrote the drums for all those tracks. I think about four of them we had written from scratch. With this record, about 90% of it we just sat down in a room and everyone grabbed an instrument – it didn’t matter what. There were times where I was on a guitar, Brian was on drums, and Stef [Stefan Olsdal, guitarist/bassist] was on piano. We’d jam out and it was anything goes. There’s no rules to how you make music. There’s definitely a lot more of my personality on this record… definitely.

MF: Is there any stand-out track from the album that you particularly enjoyed writing?

SF: I think that Loud Like Love, the title track itself. Funny enough, it was one of the first songs we wrote for the album. That one kind of wrote itself and we did it in one night. The way it is now, it’s pretty much exactly how we wrote it except it’s a little bit shorter. It was really exciting when we sat down and started adding all the synths and all the sounds and guitars and other stuff, to see it grow.

Really, the whole record was really exciting to get our heads into, because we’ve used lots of old instruments, like old guitars and drums, old synths, but also lots of things like the iPad to get fun sounds and loops. It was a learning process for all of us.

MF: The opening line of Too Many Friends stands out to me – “My computer thinks I’m gay“. There’s always a sexually open tone to Placebo songs and as a band you take a pretty strong political stance on things like gay marriage and equality. How did this help define the record’s message?

SF: It’s funny with that line; it’s kind of androgynous and with Stefan being gay and everything… But that line itself, Brian was just on the internet one day and he was getting pop-ups as if he was a gay man, for all these gay websites and stuff, you know what I mean? So he comes up and says, “My computer thinks I’m gay”, and that’s where that line came from (laughs). What a great line to start a song out with, what an androgynous line! It’s gonna grab people’s attention, you know?

The whole thing with the gay message and everything, Placebo are definitely not shy about backing the freedom for people to live their life exactly how they want to. I think with our music, that message is always there… Brian with his lyrics would be able to tell you a lot better than I would… But the songs, even though they are speaking from our personal experiences most of the time, and are about our own lives, it does reflect on that as well, and our viewpoints and how things happening in the world affect us. Especially for people like Stefan, you know?

MF: Too Many Friends deals with a feeling of disconnect in the digital age. How do you think this emphasis on personal image and social media has impacted people’s lives?

SF: I think the song is about asking the question, “Do social media networks bring people together? Are they actually doing that?” On one hand, yeah, we can have a chat on Facebook, you’re in Australia and I’m in London, that’s cool. But it’s also taking away from people sitting down and having a chat face-to-face. We are spending more time looking at screens than actually seeing things… Have you ever been to a gig? There used to be lighters in the air and shit, yeah? Now all you see is all these screens, people filming through their iPhones or whatever. It raises questions.

As a musician, with the whole social media thing, it can be a double-edged sword. Many people can experience your music and you really can reach a much wider audience because of things like Twitter and Facebook. I use them to keep in touch with family and all the fans. But at the same time it’s making things a lot harder for a lot of smaller bands. Things are so available that people aren’t as interested because it’s so easy to get. I can get this, and this, and this. I have a lot of friends in smaller bands that are really struggling to get out there because of the availability of music now with all the social media, Spotify and things like that.

MF: The band is anti-streaming services like Spotify. What are your thoughts on this? How do you feel about releasing a record in the industry’s current state?

SF: I think that it is getting better. I’ve noticed it’s getting more and more uncool to steal music nowadays. If someone says, “Oh, I ripped this record,” it’s kind of like, “Bad form, man!” I think 1991 is coming back; musically it’s the way things are. People are getting into records again, and some really great records are coming out… [There’s] a lot of psychedelic rock with great guitars.

The whole Spotify thing, man… I think it’s a good concept but I don’t think they’ve perfected it yet. At the moment, it’s still a complete piss take in my own personal opinion. I’m not reflecting on Brian’s opinion or anything, but I think it’s a piss take. You pay 10 pound a month and you get all the music you want… A friend of mine’s band, a pretty decent-sized band, got a check from Spotify for their plays. They had a shit-tonne of plays… but the amount of money was a fraction. It didn’t even cover their plectrum bill.

It’s such a piss take. Basically, people are listening to music for free, but they put a bit of lipstick and rouge on it and say, “It’s fine, it’s fine.” I think it’s a good idea but, in terms of your question, yes, I am hopeful about the future and I do see things getting better gradually. It was a massive impact, the whole downloading and streaming thing, it fucked everything up so bad. So many record shops are closing now, and I think it’s just starting to get people’s attention.

MF: So do you have a favorite record shop?

SF: Yeah, there’s two places in London that I go to. One’s called Rough Trade, where I buy all my vinyl, and the other one is called Intoxica. These two places have all the gems. I go in there and I’ll buy all the new bands and music that I love. Everything that I love on vinyl, I’ll buy it twice, because I love having it in the digital format as well. I don’t usually buy CDs but I have a shit ton of vinyl. I’ll get the old stuff as well, so at least once a month I’ll spend half a day there sifting through and coming out with a stack of vinyl.

MF: The album is out next month. Are you looking forward to taking it on the road?

SF: We spent the better part of a year making this record. Part of that was because we had to take a break halfway through the process to do a tour for a couple of months. There was so much hard work, so much put into the record and promoting this record, that all I want to do now is just get on a bus or a plane, and just tour the shit out of it. I cannot wait. Right now we are playing a couple of tracks from the new album live, but I can’t wait to play all the others, man.

MF: Do any of the new tracks work particularly well live?

SF: Most of them, actually. It depends on the show, though. If it’s a kind of intimate show, where it’s just us, we might do a few slower numbers and make a big thing of it. Festivals, obviously, you want your rock songs, your get-up-and-go songs. When we come and do Soundwave in February, usually in that one you’re playing 45 minutes or something like that. You want all your kick-ass heavy shit… But, yeah, they all work really well live. We sort of set ourselves up for that, before we even recorded it. Me, Stefan and Brian, we played these songs live before we even recorded them to make sure they sound good.

MF: You will be coming to Australia next year to play some shows as part of Soundwave 2014. What are you looking forward to?

SF: (Laughs) I cannot wait. On the last world tour we did, Australia was by far my favorite place that I went. Not to say the rest of the world wasn’t amazing, it was, but Aussies, man, you guys have so much fun. I think with me being from California, it’s quite relatable. All my Aussie mates, we’re quite similar. I had so much fun. The gigs themselves were really fuckin’ hot, but amazing. The fans, everyone was so awesome.

Not only that, but with all these other bands you travel to all the same places, airports and motels, so it’s like some big rock ’n’ roll summer camp. I went surfing last time, I was swimming with sharks and shit. I fed a crocodile in Perth. It was the most amazing time. We are going to be really excited and really energetic, I can’t wait, man. I love enthusiasm.

The other thing – Green Day’s going to be on the bill. Now, when I was growing up in the ’90s, one of my favorite bands in the whole world was Green Day and I used to write them fan mail and shit like that when I was 12. I’m a full geek, I learnt every one of Tre Cool’s beats for every record until American Idiot. Now we are gonna be headlining with them and travelling for a few weeks, so that’s going to be really surreal for me.

Placebo will be touring as part of Soundwave 2014 in February and March next year. Their new album, ‘Loud Like Love’, is out Friday, 13th September.