The Age "Playing the game, his way", Nov'13

November 22, 2013
Craig Mathieson


Keeping a low profile in the whirlwind of fame has become something of a mission for Brian Molko.

When Brian Molko was a young man he discovered that he made a great rock star. The Placebo frontman with the androgynous bent threw dramatic shapes on stage, delivered licentious soundbites to the media, and turned high drama into catchy alternative pop songs. It was enough to sell more than 10 million albums and fill out year-long touring schedules, but no one noticed that Molko separated himself from the role.

"I don't have a public profile outside the band and I don't court the media any more when I'm not working. I've become a very private person as I've grown up in this business," says the 40-year-old musician. "I don't go to the right parties, I don't have a circle of celebrity friends. I like to keep a low profile. I live in London and it's easy to be anonymous there."

A child of trans-Atlantic privilege, Molko disapproves of social media, but acknowledges that he mastered the scandalous 140 character bon mot long before Twitter existed.

"I recognised what the press was looking for: a headline and a soundbite. When you're young you love the attention and you love playing the game," Molko says. "There's a certain amount of bravado involved, but inevitably it will turn around and bite you on the ass. It's a Faustian pact."

On Loud Like Love, Placebo's seventh studio album, there are hints of the other Brian Molko, a 40-something single father of an eight-year-old son. "I am a small and gentle man who carries the world upon his shoulders," Molko sings on the sombre Hold On to Me and the record sometimes suggests wariness instead of bulletproof bravado.
"It's the most emotionally vulnerable record we've made and the most direct. We didn't want to be intellectual and veer off into a cooler, hipper direction," says Molko.

Placebo remains a partnership between Molko and Swedish guitarist and fellow songwriter Stefan Olsdal. The two are, Molko believes, opposites as people and compatible as musicians. It was Molko who invited Olsdal to a London show in 1994 by his previous band, sparking their collaboration, and almost two decades on they're deeply intertwined.

"We've spent so much time with each other that there is an unspoken understanding of each other's deep emotional make-up," Molko admits. "We recognise very clearly in each other what we're responding to, but it's quite unspoken.
''We're the person each other has spent the most time with over the past 20 years.''

Loud Like Love cracked the Australian top 10 upon release. The band has become one of those rare beasts, whose fanbase is reinvigorated every album or two by a new wave of passionately dedicated teenagers. Molko believes it's because he became famous when he was 23 and retains that age's ability to relate to adolescents without resorting to over-exposure.

"Maybe it is a sign of emotional immaturity that people entering their 40s can still connect with teenagers through music," he wonders. "But in a world of constant interactivity and people putting themselves forward, there's also a lot to be said for cultivating mystery."