"Pure Brian Molko"

Rolling Stone, May'01

Placebo launch a full frontal assault on the United States with a new album and tour

May 10, 2001

by Scott Stegenga

"Black Market Music" is released in October in the UK, but maybe not until next year for the US. Is this because you wish to saturate the European market first, then hit the US?

BM: The thing about America is you need to have a presence there in order to seep into the public's imagination. You can't just come over for two weeks and just expect something to happen. Its very difficult for non-homegrown talent to come through. You need to dedicate a great deal of time and put everything in its right place.

Were you pleased with the reception "Without You I'm Nothing" [the band's last record] was received over here?

BM: Yeah, but we didn't get a great deal of MTV support, which was a shame. We did have a radio hit with "Pure Morning", which was being played 5,000 times a week coast to coast. Its good to still feel like the underdog though, we sold over 150,000 copies of WYIN in America, and that's definitely not a failure.

Would you prefer to stay as the underdog with American audiences?

BM: I don't know. At present, we can pull between 500-1000 people a night. Hopefully with this album, this can double. We always look upon albums as building blocks. We're interested in longevity, and it doesn't seem to me that America will disappear in the near future, so its something I hope we can build up over time, album after album. We do have a following, and its quite obsessive and extremely loyal.

The first album (self titled) had a raw sexual energy to it, the second album conveyed a theme of relationships you've had with others, so what's been the drive for the third?

BM: Well, we toured for 13 months for "Without You I'm Nothing," so by the time we 'got out of hospital' [laughs] at the end of that tour and 'all the broken bones had healed,' we had done those songs so much on automatic pilot, that in order to feel like artists again, we needed to write a whole new batch of songs. We decided we were going to take a lot more control over the production side. By the time we came out of the demo studio and into the real one, our intention was to make our classic timeless rock album.

So why the title, "Black Market Music"?

BM: To create the idea of it being something illicit, controlled, under the counter, and forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.

Your recent videos have a cinematic theme ("Pure Morning" with its Hitchcock feel and Black Market Music's "Slave to the Wage" which pays tribute to 'Gattaca'), do you want your further videos to be as such rather than 'three guys playing in front of a camera?'

BM: We got bored with performance videos really early on into our career. They're an essential marketing tool, and a necessary evil, so is the front cover of your album. We always wanted to turn these necessary evils into works of art. I was very much conceptually involved with our recent videos, and we would like to make more 'small films,' basically, and tell stories.

Any more film role offerings these days? [The group had a stint as band members in Todd Haynes' glam-rock epic movie, "Velvet Goldmine."]

BM: We've been offered a lot. We actually turned down 'Metal God' [the upcoming true story about a Judas Priest fan who eventually becomes the band 's lead singer.] We weren't going to be Judas Priest, nor "rent-abouts" in the music industry. Everything that I get offered has to do with music, and I'd like to something more challenging that uses my background in drama. Since the band is quite successful, and the main priority, it means I can afford to experiment a great deal more in films so I don't have to concentrate on more commercial films. We've turned down a helluva lot...

So do you think image is important? Has your image been incorrectly portrayed by the media?

BM: I think people have placed far too much attention purely on the image. It was never meant to attract so much attention simply because we didn't think that it was so shocking. It was just us being us. Being in a rock band gives you a great deal of freedom to explore every facet of your personality that you wouldn't be able to explore if you worked in a bank for example, so we embrace that freedom a great deal. Freedom is a lot about what the band is about philosophically, so being in a band allowed us to discover ourselves, and to be appreciated for it. Our image is strong, but if we didn't have music that was equally as strong, or even stronger, to back it up then we would be in a Milli Vanilli situation. If it were that, we probably wouldn't be making our third album, or even our second. We see ourselves primarily as musicians, not fashion queens. Even though we do believe in show business, and when you go to see a gig, people enjoy being transported to an alternative reality. They want to see something that's larger than life. That's what rock and roll is about, from Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed onwards. We prefer the kind of stage show that's more performing rather than look like you just came off the street. I think with Placebo you get the whole package. You get passion and honesty, the communication of emotion, which is extremely important, and you get a strong image and powerful music as well. That's why it works so well, because all the elements are in place.

Some bands today have that same substance, like The Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure, and now that they've both announced that they're calling it quits in the near future, would you call yourselves the new hope?

BM: It would be nice. I don't want to tempt fate by saying 'of course', but maybe in a certain way we can fill their shoes.

It does seem that Cure and Pumpkins fans like your music as well.

BM: And Nine Inch Nails fans as well. Its probably because as bands we explore the darker side of human emotions. Its honest and it touches a great deal pf people. The three of us growing up always felt like outsiders, and to a certain degree, Placebo's music is "by outsiders, for outsiders." When you come to a Placebo gig it can seem to be a convention of outcasts.

So is your music very personal?

BM: It is personal. It has to be personal. A lot of bands like Oasis shoot themselves in the foot by trying to write music that's universal in nature, and it later falls into the realm of the cliché. The more personal you make something, the more universal it becomes, because essentially we're all made up of the same emotional stuff, and because it is so personal, there's a certain amount of abstraction and ambiguity which allows each listener to place themselves within it and make their own emotional connection which is why I think our songs mean so much to so many people.

So what do you expect the listener to get from the new album?

BM: The classic Placebo themes of passion, anger, hedonism and a lot of love. We've explored the themes of voyeurism ('Peeping Tom'), some political themes ('Spite & Malice' and 'Haemoglobin'). I think that as well as making people feel, we can make people think, and we can also make people dance.