"The Lizard King"

Kerrang, Jul'00

Jul 22, 2000

by Paul Brannigan

Dabbling with heroin. Turning down Caprice. Sending Marilyn Manson roses. Hosting secret transvestite parties. These are the wicked , wicked ways of PLACEBO frontman Brian Molko...

In a North London photo studio, surrounded by an army of charmingly sycophantic stylists in tight white T-shirts and low slung jeans, the country's last great rock star is making an exhibition of himself. Again.

Dropping his trousers to his ankles, he tucks his cock between his leg a la 'Silence Of The Lambs' Buffalo Bill, and sashays over to the studio's full-length mirror to check out the black triangle of pubes covering his newly created 'front bottom'. As the studio stereo, tuned to London radio station XFM, begins blasting out the Chemical Brothers 'Let Forever Be', our young friend starts parodying guest vocalist Noel Gallagher's lyrics by singing, 'How does it feel like, to take it up the arse?'

Good afternoon Mr.Molko, how the hell are you?

Since we're asking, Brian Molko is fine and dandy, thank you very much. That much-imitated trademark black bob is gone, blemish-free skin and twinkling eyes suggest that Placebo's frontman is healthy and happy right now.

"When we did the Big Day Out last year, I read in Kerrang! that I was looking fat," he grins wickedly. "Well, as you'll see when you buy this week's Kerrang!, readers, I'm looking good again."

Such self-awareness is classic Brian Molko, textbook rock star behaviour.

"The intelligent artist." Molko observes archly in that unmistakably shrill nasal whine, "is one who understands that he's manipulated by the media and manipulates the media right back." Since Placebo lit up the British music scene in the summer of 1996 with the release of their eponymous debut album, their charismatic vocalist has been more adept than most cultivating an image in the classic rock star. There have been teasingly ambiguous revelations about Molko's "fluid sexuality" and completely unambiguous admissions of drug abuse and promiscuity culminating in a graphic description of the "trail of blood and spunk" left by the little fella as his band criss-crossed three continents. There's been cross-dressing. willfully antagonistic comments-Molko's sneering aside "This song is dedicated to 50,000 crimes against fashion" at the Big Day Out being one of the more notorious-and the predictable acquisition of stalkers and death threats.

All of which has positioned Brian molko firmly in the pantheon of rock star legends, a pocket-sized 21st century boy blending Iggy Pop's heroically OTT decadence, David Bowie's flamboyant androgyny and Jim Morrison's messianic self-belief.

"It's important to have rock stars," Molko smiles, as, flanked by his lieutenants Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt, he sips a Seabreeze cocktail while lounging on a comfy sofa in the trendy environs of Chalk Farm's Bar-Tok. "You're supposed to look up onstage and see something fantastical which makes you want to be a freak. Rock was never meant to be normal, but so much of what passes for rock music these days you could play to your granny.

" I remember Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode saying, 'Being a rock star is dangerous, hard work'," he continues "and he's right. You need to take a break from time to time to sellotape your brain cells together. For a while we became cartoon characters and we needed to become normal people again. You need to be able to get back to normality so that when the time is right you can be a proper rock star again."

But no one wants you to be 'normal'-we've got tonnes of 'normal' rock bands already. We want you to be a larger than life rock star.

"Hopefully we are 'rock stars'," Molko grins. "But I don't walk around in fish-nets and full make-up at home."

" You do round my house," Steve Hewitt protests. Molko flashes his bandmate a masterfully staged look of indignation. "I told you not to mention our secret transvestite parties," he chides "But look, if anyone's worried about us getting too normal, don't..."

Brian Molko says that he's proud to come from the same rock lineage as Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed. "I was throwing my best Jim Morrison poses for the photos earlier as a post-modern nod to the past," he smiles, "but I don't take it all too seriously."

Don't you admire the glorious fuck-up rock stars?

"I admire those guys stamina," Molko shrugs, "but I admire people more artistically than because of the glorious myths that surround them. People have the holy trinity of punk which is The Clash, the Pistols and The Damned, but without the Stooges and the MC5 there'd be no punk. And I used to like The Doors, but since the movie came out you can't listen to them anymore without thinking of Oliver Stone.

"You know, rock 'n' roll isn't what it used to be," he sighs. " Rock stars don't have much money now, and since AIDS the partying isn't as insane..."

Nonsense, man. I don't know that many rock stars who turn down shags when they're offered it on a plate. "I turn down shags all the time," Molko protests. "Yeah, 'Shock - horror, Molko turns down shags!'. I've been in a steady relationship for a year-and-a-half. but the temptation is always there."

So you're better at resisting the temptation now?

"Of course," he sighs, flashing a conspiratorial smirk towards his bandmates. "I mean , Caprice chatted me up at the MTV Awards and it was like being chatted up by a 13-year-old-schoolgirl. I turned around to my mates and said, 'Okay watch me turn Caprice down', and their jaws just dropped. I reckon the buzz of turning Caprice down was higher then the buzz I would have got from sleeping with her."

Behind Molko's back Steve Hewitt rolls his eyes theatrically. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to.

This is the Brain Molko we know and love/hate (delete according to taste): mouthy, flashy, slightly conceited and more than a little melodramatic. In the couple of hours we spend in placebo's company today, Brian adheres faithfully to the 'I Am A Rock Star' guidebook as laid down by his illustrious forefathers. He is by turns patronising (when he mentions that 'Haemoglobin', one of the tracks on Placebo's forthcoming new album, is his band's version of jazz singer Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit', he adds, "not that that will mean anything to Kerrang! readers"), paranoid (when he talks about the inevitability of a Placebo backlash on the new album) and precious (when musing on Placebo's accessibility, he states "we're not mass appeal yet, hopefully we're still irritating").

One person who placebo managed to irritate in the past year is Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. The band are still mystified as to what exactly they did to irk the Durst-er.

"I never try to be confrontational," Brian smiles. "it just happens. We played a KROQ show in New York with kid Rock and Fred Durst just jumped onstage and started insulting us. Our manager was furious and he chased him out of the building because out tour manager was about to kill him. So we were saying to Kid Rock, 'Sort your mate out', and he was going, 'He's not my mate, man'.

"The next day Howard Stern got Fred Durst on the phone on his radio show, and he was saying, 'Fred, you're a fucking dick'. And Kid Rock was on the show going, 'The guys were cool, I don't know what Fred's problem is'. People used to say I have a knack for provocation, but now it seems like I don't have to try."

Like all true rock stars, Brian Molko is a consummate pro when it comes to name dropping, peppering his conversations with, 'Bowie/Bono/Stipe once said to me...' asides. He's only too aware of his pin-up status too. When the band's press officer says, "You must get your pick of girl", Molko flashes a rapacious smile and replies: "Yeah but not just girls."

It's all textbook rock star behaviour certainly, but today he's careful to avoid coming across as just another cliche, resolutely refusing to go into gory detail about past hedonism. But when he's asked if his band managed to fulfill their loudly trumpeted desire to "calm down" while on the road, he cackles loudly.

"What do you think? It's impossible not to go crazy on the road. We did a lot of gigs with Satan and they were quite mad."

Hang on a minute-you did gigs with Satan?

"Oh, that's our nickname for Marilyn Manson," he grins, clearly pleased as punch with his cheeky wit. "Manson and I got into this ritual of drinking absinthe before gigs and it'd get messy. He'd come in and pour me a triple measure and then pour a single for himself and I'd be like, 'Oi, Satan, what's the matter, can't take your booze?'. There's a scoop for Kerrang!. 'Satan can't take his alcohol'."

Spoken to Satan recently have you?

"No, not for a while," Brian shrugs. "But I did send him roses when he broke his ankle.

"We've banned certain Class A substances on tour now after Steve and I had a huge argument about nothing," he continues, when his bandmates and I have stopped laughing. "Certain drugs just rot your brain. And they're too exspensive anyway."

During one break from the touring treadmill promoting second album 'Without You I'm Nothing', one UK magazine printed a photo of Brian Molko looking decidedly pasty at some glittering showbiz event. The photo-captioned 'What The Hell's Going On With Brian Molko?'-exacerbated showbiz gossip that Molko was dabbling with heroin again.

"People want me to be fucked-up and strung out, taking it to Kurt Cobain levels," Molko spits. "That drug entered my life and left my life a long time ago. We did everything in our first couple of years and got it out of our systems so now we can concentrate on the important stuff."

"I went out one night without make-up and had my photot taken with Bowie and Pete Townsend and some of Nine Inch Nails, and they focused in on my zits," he sighs incredulously. "That's kinda representative of the tabloid state of British music journalism."

"People who'd never risk getting involved with drugs like heroin like to associate it with icons so that they can buy into the fantasy themselves," adds Steve Hewitt.

"They want to feel part of some dangerous mystique without having any danger themselves."

"You said yourself we're looking incredibly healthy and happy at the moment," Molko says, looking me in the eye. "We wouldn't be this way is we were fucked-up on drugs. We're not drug addicts and we do not have habits of any kind. This band gets me off more that any drug. The thought that we'll be going to Moscow soon is more exciting to me than the thought of doing a gram of charlie. This band gives me me lust for life."

When rock stars cry off drugs and keep their cocks in their trousers, there's only one avenue left for them to flaunt their unconventional status. And so, following in the footsteps of his old chums Bono, Michael Stipe and David Bowie, brain Molko has 'got' politics.

"There's so much to get angry about." he chirps excitedly with the vigour of the politcallly re-awakened. "I mean, socialism barely exists any more in this country, but homophobia is still very much alive. The world is still fucked-up.

"The May Day riots and anti-capitalist riots happened while we were in the studio , and that fired us up too. You opened up the papers and saw that green mohican painted on Winston Churchill's statue and it was brilliant. I would have loved to have gone down to the police station where the guy who did that was held, bailed him out and shook him by the hand and said, 'Well done motherfucker'. that was so inspiring."

Is fucking the system still part of the Placebo ethos?

"Yeah, because the system is inherently fucked, so you have to keep fucking it," Steve Hewitt smiles. "You can't get complacent."

"That's why Bono, Bowie and Stipe are such significant characters," agrees Molko. "They've never ever got complacent and they keep doing the radical, right thing."

For the record, the politics of Chairman Molko are as follows: 'Old Labour was better then New Labour; the Millennium Dome is a waste of money; funding the foreign wars is bad; politicians are all the same; the Royal family should be abolished and Buckingham Palace turned into a homeless shelter.

"It's just refreshing to see people getting politicised again," Molko smiles. "You can only push people so far before they start reacting and smashing shit up. Finally people are taking to the streets again and it's good to see."

But that's easy for you to say as a wealthy pop star. You're not exactly slogging it out on the factory floor.

"Oi, i used to work in a fucking factory," Steve Hewitt interjects indignantly.

"Okay, so I'm not working in a factory," Brian admits." but surely it's better that people in the public eye actually have a conscience."

Fair enough, but there's nothing to stop you painting another mohican on that statue of Winston Churchill tonight?

"We have to go rehearse," he smiles.

That's a rubbish excuse.

"Yeah, it is" Molko laughs. "But at least we're responsible people."

Monday, October 9th will see the release of Placebo's "beautiful bouncing hermaphrodite baby"- their as-yet-untitled third album. Recorded in London with Paul Corkett, who engineered 'Without You I'm Nothing', Molko describes the forthcoming album as "harder, darker, rockier and more energetic" than anything his band has done before.

"It's still dark and it's a distillation of everything that we've done before," he beams. "Our first album was a learning experience and our second was a bit of an 'us and them' situation with our producer Steve Osborne, but this time everything flowed smoothly and we're totally happy with the results. Our sonic spice has got larger."

So if 'Placebo' was your 'hedonistic' album, and 'Without You I'm Nothing' was the 'comedown' album, what's Placebo album number three?

"It's anger and energy," he beams. "It's the final part of our trilogy. The next album might be real departure. We want to be legendary, but we're into longevity rather then going for the crash-and-burn career. we're not contemplating suicide, we're not developing habits with a capital 'H', we want to still be making significant music in 10years time. when you strip away all the bullshit, our longevity will be down to our music rather than all the myths that surround us."

The first single from Placebo album three is 'Taste In Men', a swaggering , confident, up-for-it anthem which owes as much to the Chemical brothers thumping 'Block Rockin Beats' as it does to longtime Placebo faves Sonic Youth and the Stooges.

"It's showing that we're not pussying out," Molko grins. "Last time around the first single was 'Pure Morning' when people were expecting another "Nancy Boy', and this is another statement of intent that's saying, 'We're going to fuck with your heads again'."

Our time with Mr.Molko and his merry men is up. When I leave the table to go to the toilet I find the trio wearing big grins.

"Have you got enough?" Molko enquires thoughtfully. Yes, thanks, I reply. But as I lift my tape recorder to put it back into my bag I notice that the interview tape isn't in the machine any more. Brian?

The singer cracks up laughing and produces the tape from behind his back.

"We just wanted to fuck with you," he cackles. "I can just imagine you on the phone tomorrow begging for another interview."

Tee fucking hee.

We wander back outside into the Camden sunshine. As Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt are asking about The Lost Weekend, Brian Molko sidles over with a big grin on his cherubic face.

"Be nice," he smiles. "It's only 50 pounds to have a journalist's legs done."

Fucking rock stars...