"Into the Black Market with Placebo"

Hip Online, Feb'01

Here it is February 2001 and Black Market Music has just fallen into my lap five months after its initial release in Europe. Who or what am I talking about? Placebo.

Placebo is a band that is quite enigmatic. No one knows more than they are told about these three and to dive in like the Brits just seems to churn up bloody arms and legs. They've talked drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. So what is left to talk about? Nothing less than the essence of a piece of work entitled Black Market Music. An album that is as dark as it is melodious. Placebo has created somber heavens in songs that wonder aloud about life and all its crimes and passions seemingly out doing everyone, even themselves.

Today I was given the chance to experience Placebo with bassist Stefan, for the second time, if even only briefly as they were getting ready to be whisked off again through the unknowing streets of Los Angeles.

You know the history. You know the claims. Here is their music in words.

How has the world been receiving Black Market Music?

It's been great. We went to number one in France.

You've been busy the last three years.

Yeah, we toured for Without You for fifteen months and then were in the studio for the new album for nine months. It's been like a pregnancy from conception to delivery.

How was the studio this go around?

We laughed our way through this one. The second one was full of relationship troubles and we weren't feeling good psychologically and didn't get along with our producer. This time we co-produced and it was more creative and inspiring.

Were you working on music before you entered the studio?

We wrote most of the album after we finished the tour. When we went to the studio we had it all in us really from playing the new songs too much. We were dying to do new stuff.

What do you think the differences between Black Market and the previous releases are?

I think its an angrier record. I think is more coherent. I think it rocks more. I think we had all of that in the back of our minds when we wrote this album. Because Without You I'm Nothing was a bit skitzo. It didn't know if it wanted to be a punk album or a melodramatic love song album. I think it suffered from being slow in some places. On a submusical level we wanted to keep this one up.

Black Market seems more passionate to me.

I think we matured more as song writers. We definitely decided to put music ahead of our lifestyles as we did in our past as well. Which is something I think we've fallen victims to.

It seems the press really loves to put your lifestyles ahead of the music as well.

Yeah its headline grabbing stuff.

Every question seems to be 'who are you sleeping with' or 'what drugs are you using'.

It gets quite boring really.

I have to admit this time around I'm quite interested in the songs much more because they seem to be speaking on a different level. Like "Special K" with its drug references, but also the part 'gravity/ no escaping'.

It's the comparison of the rush of drugs to falling in love. Where gravity comes from is what comes up always comes down. You can't escape it.

What about "Blue American"?

That is really about two and a half minutes of self disgust. It explores why humans treat themselves so badly and treat everything around us so badly. It seems everything we touch turns to garbage and how we've enslaved ourselves. And how we still feel the reprocusions of slavery. It basically explores those topics.

When I listened to the album I had the feeling it was very topical.

They are still broken hearted love songs that we've been doing since the first album. I think this album is more inward looking than outward looking. It's more worldly. There are topics of racism, homophobia, politics, voyerism, and other sorts of things.

What's the deal with the 'choking trojan' thing?

(Stefan begins to laugh) You know what a Trojan is right?

Yes. (We both begin to laugh like a couple elementary school children after hearing a fart joke)

Of course. (Laughs again)

I just didn't know if it was referring to oral sex or someone swallowing drugs to smuggle them. That song sort of threw me.

Well its really about changing a lifestyle. It's telling a friend to take it easy and if he keeps going the way the song describes that he die.

It's the sex, drugs and how they take their toll.

Yeah. It's really about pulling someone you care about back from the brink.

And what about the Dylan reference and the tone to "Slave To The Wage"?

It's about following your dreams and not getting stuck in the nine to five machinery. It's about promoting individuality.

Is "Spite & Malice" your venture into politics?

That was written during the May Day Riots and that is where the line "Revolution, dope, guns, fucking in the streets" comes from. It's the first track we brought hip hop into the mix.

How was that?

It was really cool. It actually felt really natural. It was a song that didn't have a chorus at the time. We were like "what the fuck are we going to do here?" And we were like "fuck, lets do a rap". And it seemed crazy, but it really turned out to be a great idea. We knew Justin Warfield for a few years and got him to come over. And it was just that one second before he opened his mouth where we were like 'shit, I hope this thing works' and then he opened his mouth and it was like 'ahhhhh'.

What about "Haemoglobin"?

On the musical level we managed to sequence music with a live rock band on top. That took us the longest to get right. On the lyrical level its our version of "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday. It's about walking around the south in the last century.

That is where the line comes from about hanging?

Yeah, about black men hanging from trees.

And like you said with this album you had a bigger hand in the production, is that something you won't let go again?

We want to be more hands on each time, but we always have had the final say. We have to live with it so this time we decided to let it be on us and become more hands on. We wanted it exactly the way we wanted it and I think we achieved that.

How was going back on the road again with the new stuff?

It was really good. We were more focused and definitely more confident.

Do you still get nervous?

We had an acoustic show about a week ago in Paris. And we did the songs differently and I was shitting myself so badly.

When you are onstage where is your head? Are you thinking about playing or other things?

It depends. Some nights I feel really intimidated by the whole thing and other nights I sort of surf like a wave and try and eye as many cute little boys as I can in the audience.

I often wonder what is going through people's minds when they are onstage.

I also run through my rock poses. (Laughs) It's like 'rock pose number twenty-three coming up'. (Laughs)

After the show is it still hard to unwind?

We found the perfect way recently in a hotel in Australia. We found this Jacuzzi and a beer and that was a perfect way to unwind. We don't have that everywhere so usually it's a couple of drinks and I'm out by six in the morning.

Do you ever reflect back on negative press or things you've said that you may have regretted?

No, I think any press is good press. We stand behind everything we've ever said. But there have been a lot of lies printed about us, some have been quite good.

Anything that you found especially funny?

Yeah. Apparently I had tea with the Dalai Lama. I thought that was quite good. There are just loads of silly lies like how many drugs we've consumed in a week. Which if we would have done it we wouldn't have been here.

Does the fact that so much has been focused on drugs and not the music bother you?

I find it annoying. I mean they want to blame us for everything like the Columbine massacres because we do drugs as well. Its one of those things were drugs have always been a part of music since the days of smack, sweet potatoes, and jazz. It's just headline grabbing. It's going to be more interesting than what guitar strings we use.

Do you think too much is placed on artists' public lives?

Yeah, but we live in a see tv culture with shows like Big Brother. People are fascinated by other people's lives. It's a voyeuristic quality like we explore in "Peeping Tom".

I know that you really like dance stuff, like Aphex Twin, have you ever wanted to explore this route musically?

Absolutely. We do that sometimes in the studio. There is no defined roles in our music. Maybe we should just get three keyboards and stand around like Kraftwerk. I'm a huge fan of Depeche Mode as well.

With Placebo is it cool because as a listener I you never quite know what to expect from you guys.

Once you've written one way and then do it again you can't keep doing it. We don't like working from a formula. It just gets boring if we repeat ourselves. We want to find new methods. I think anything that feels write when we play it together becomes Placebo. I think the fact that we come from three different backgrounds makes it more possible and opens more doors.

I think the thing about Black Market is you need to listen to it a few dozen times before it really grabs you.

Thank you. To me any music that intriques you enough to want to listen to it again is a really positive thing.

I know I haven't stopped listening to it all weekend and I only got it four days ago.

I think most of the songs are filled with melodies.

Was there any music growing up that inspired you most?

I picked up the bass because of Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. (Laughs) And then I really wanted to write music because of Depeche Mode. I'm just in total awe of their song writing.

Is there any song that really moves you?

"The Winter Takes It All" by ABBA. I grew up to them. I still think they are the best pop band of all time.

What do you think of the kind of pop today that actually seems to have been inspired from the same place.

It's kind of ABBA on speed. It's all just songwriting by the book to make a million. It's stinksville. (We both laugh)

Lastly, if someone told you that you could write Placebo's place in history what would you write?

I think we'd like to stay around for a long time. We look up to bands like U2 and REM for their longevity and reinvention. If we can still be here in ten years and make relevant music. And if you go to the record shop and can still find us between PJ Harvey and Portishead we'll be happy.