The Fly "Interview with Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal", Jul'13

26.07.2013

As Placebo prepare to release their new album ‘Loud Like Love’ later this year, frontman Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal speak to Alison King about their upcoming 7th album, digital dementia and how computers think we’re gay…


The songs on ‘Loud Like Love’ were originally meant for Brian’s solo project, so how did they end up on the record?

Brian Molko: I was working on some songs in my home studio or “garden shed”- every man needs a garden shed – and I was trying to write songs for me, without worrying about it having to be at a certain standard for the band. So I was playing acoustic guitars and piano and the only rule I had was that I could use regular guitars but I couldn’t use any distortion. It helped me write in a different way. For example, [new song] ‘Scene Of The Crime’ started with an oboe sample I found on the Internet – I just found it completely wild and started writing the song around it. Actually, we started working on the album accidentally because we went into the studio to record a single and then it became the ‘B3′ EP and then we were having such a good time with Adam Noble (producer, dEUS) in the studio that we wanted to stay. Normally, we have a writing period beforehand. As we didn’t really have a massive lump of material, I said ‘I have these songs, maybe some of these will work?’. In the end we worked on four out of the six songs that I presented, including: ‘Too Many Friends’, ‘Scene Of The Crime’, ‘Hold Onto Me’ and then we had our customary writing period to finish the record.

‘Loud Like Love’ was recorded in two parts, with touring in between. When returning to the studio was there anything you wanted to change after playing live?

Stefan Olsdal: The first half we recorded and it was already done so there was no reason to come back and rework those.

BM: We don’t have that luxury anymore to try out new songs. At the beginning, before we even started making records and before camera phones and YouTube, we would try out stuff at gigs and see what the reaction would be for the ideas we were working on, but we don’t have the luxury to do that now. If anything, we only had one new song to play anyway. I didn’t really enjoy being on that tour. I just felt like we were rehashing old ground and I knew that we were working on the new record so I really wanted to go back.

Would you write and record in two parts again?

BM: No, you end up putting way too much pressure on yourself. If you record something in two halves, you’ve already set a benchmark for yourself that you’re just trying to reach or surpass – I think that made it difficult for us. I’m happy with it but I can’t listen to it now. It’s not that I’m bored of it, I just don’t want to get over-saturated. I’m aware that I get over-saturated really quickly with our own stuff so I kind of have to stop listening to it because I know I’m going to be living with these sounds for a long time.

After touring, does your album change?

BM: The songs grow a little and almost take on a life of their own. By the end of the tour they end up being how you wish you’d had the time to get them to before you recorded them. If we had the luxury that Pink Floyd did with touring ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ before recording it, maybe the songs would get to a place where they felt like the definitive version.

Last month Russian parliament passed a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” What are your thoughts on playing in countries in which the politics are so at odds with your own beliefs?

SO: We’ve never shied away from playing in different parts of the world and I’ve personally become more active in gay rights. I’ve been as honest and open about it as I feel I should. A lot of the time people in these places don’t have a lot of power over what is happening with the government. We do what we can. It’s unfortunate because western civilisations should be opening up and becoming more liberal and accepting, but it isn’t.

BM: Just by being the people we are, we represent a certain thing to the people that come to our shows. I think it’s really important to play places like that because in a small way you’re a force for good. We promote tolerance just by showing up and playing.

Is there a level of responsibility involved when gaining success in music to have an educated or informed opinion about the message you may or may not willingly be sending out?

SO: I think a lot of the people who are role models or who have responsibility are teachers, politicians and people who take office in public positions. What we express is how we feel through our music and lyrics. Our primary purpose is not to go out there and be political with a big P – That’s Bono’s job!

Are you confused when people think you’re provocative?

SO: Well, you’re given all this freedom to express who you want to be and we kind of explore that. We never set out to provoke. I think just by the nature of who we were, when we started in the 90s, we didn’t really fit into a musical scene that was happening at the time. I think we’ve been pretty honest in our career. It can rub people up the wrong way, but that’s just the nature of who we are.

18th century philosopher Georg Hegel prescribed the theory that history is the unfolding of an awareness of freedom. Does that ring true with you?

SO: Musically, I think it’s become more challenging as we go on. It’s a challenge to not repeat yourself, to find something that is relevant to us that excites us. Being in a band does give us freedom to express ourselves but it doesn’t mean that it gets any easier.

BM: I don’t think we’ve decided what we sound like yet. By the time we did the second album, in 1998, we’d already grown tired of the “power trio” format which is very much what our first album was about. We wanted to find what our sound could be. Hopefully, we have done that a little bit more with every record. I think this one really has broadened the idea of what a Placebo song can be.

Will you ever find the definitive Placebo sound?

BM: I hope that the day that we stop – if we ever do, and I hope that it’s not very soon – that at that point we sound completely fucking different to how we sounded before. Otherwise, I will be horribly disappointed. I’d quite like to be big enough to keep trying to redefine it every time. I’m not saying that [last record] ‘Battle For The Sun’ was a step backwards, but it was more of a macabre, rootsy album and I feel that this one is a reaction against that. It’s considerably different.

You can buy the album in five different formats – what’s the best way to listen to it?

SO: We were in a hotel in Germany and each room came with a vinyl player. It was nice to put on a big round disc and sit back. Vinyl has that tactile aspect to it and you can actually sit without even the volume on and hear the music of the vinyl. So, you can get the record because that’s something that’s close to our hearts.

BM: No matter what people say, it will sound better on vinyl if its mastered to vinyl. I grew up listening to music [in that way] so it has a sort of romanticism to it.

Online music is cheap and easily accessible. Has that instantaneous aspect made us listen to music differently?

BM: I mean, human beings are like electricity, we always veer towards the path which is easiest and people will go for whatever’s quick. There’s this new kind of syndrome which apparently a lot of people are suffering from which they’re studying in South Korea. University professors are studying digital dementia and the idea has got to do with neuro plasticity and neural pathways which are continually forming in our brain. Due to overuse and overexposure of technology the right side of our brain is shrinking and the left side is growing and as a consequence we’re having more and more problems concentrating and remembering things. It’s very easy when you wake up first thing in the morning to check your phone or emails before you even have a cup of coffee, so it’s an interesting thing for me and I wonder what the effect of this continuous exposure to technology is doing in changing the way we express and digest art. I mean, when you listen to a record on vinyl, you’re making a commitment. The physicality of listening to it and what you have to do to get sounds to come out of it makes you more likely to sit down and concentrate. You have a physical relationship with it because you have to get up and turn it over.

You sing “my computer thinks I’m gay” on ‘Too Many Friends’, where did that come from?

BM: Well, that actually happened to me and it was the spark for writing the song. I don’t know what I wrote or what I had watched but one day my computer just switched what it was advertising to me and I thought, ‘Wow, my computer thinks I’m gay!’. I thought ‘What a ridiculous way to start a song!’ and it kind of stuck in my head. Around the same time some friends of mine said they’d stopped taking friend requests on their social network because they had “too many friends”. I don’t social network at all, so I thought about what that actually means – having “too many friends”. Then I thought, ‘How many friends do I have?’ and ‘What does friendship mean today?’

More people are quitting social networks. Are we simply turning against them, or is it the paranoia of being spied on?

BM: Well, I think, ‘Why are you surprised that you’re being spied on by the American government?’ With the amount of information you put out there about yourself and to think that it would not happen is naive. It is as naive as believing that the creators of these social networks are trying to do something that’s honourable for society. All they want to do is to create wealth for themselves and their shareholders. The problem isn’t the technology itself, the problem is the people. It’s the same thing when people say to me “You’re writing about drugs” or “You’re writing about depression” or “You’re writing about addiction”. No, I’m just writing about people and these are things that have an impact on how they relate to each other and how they interact with each other.

You’re now 40 years old, a father and have quit drugs. Does that automatically mean your music is more mature?

BM: Mature always makes me think of a cheese, a cheddar is mature. I don’t know, the whole change of lifestyle thing is more of a physical imperative to be able to tour – it’s a young man’s game!

Finally, what is your best achievement?

BM: I feel privileged to be in the position to make records and to put on shows and sell tickets and that we haven’t bored our audience senseless yet. So, there must be some kind of process of renewal within what we do – it can’t just be working a formula and producing the same sound because you can’t sustain that every time.