"Placebo Not Hard To Swallow"

Toronto Sun, Apr'01

by Kieran Grant

Placebo frontman Brian Molko could have been genetically designed for rock stardom.

Regardless of record sales and actual popularity -- his U.K.-based trio are huge in Europe, but have achieved only minor celebrity in North America -- in an interview there's a sense that he's on the verge of some Bowie-like omnipotence.

His outspokeness is enough to make a jaded journalist wish that Placebo's new album Black Market Music, the dicey follow-up to 1998's Without You I'm Nothing, would reach lofty sales-figures in this country, if for no other reason that to put Molko ahead of all those vacuous popstars and drab rock pretenders so he can spice things up a bit.

Placebo play The Warehouse tonight.

Between his jabs at Eminem and The Manic Street Preachers, psychoanalysis of Elton John, and excited chat about new records, Molko took time during a recent promotional visit to Toronto with bandmates Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt to weigh the interview process itself.

The singer-guitarist says, "We're not going to lie or hold our opinions back, particularly about things we feel passionate about. We may make a few enemies, but you can't go through life without doing that. "

Molko, an American by birth, hooked up with the Swedish Olsdal and British Hewitt in London in the mid '90s. The band stirred up interest in Europe with their 1996 self-titled debut. The popular Without You I'm Nothing spawned a hit here with the single Pure Morning -- memorable refrain: "A friend in need's a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better."

Black Market Music came out overseas last year but didn't see domestic light in North America until last week.

Suitably, Molko's reference points are far more European than American. He's taken with the work of Canadian performers Peaches and Gonzales, who became the toast of Europe's underground after relocating from Toronto to Berlin.

"I've been listening to The Teaches Of Peaches obsessively," Molko says. "It's like, 'Spice Girls? Girl Power?' No, no, no. This is the real thing. And Gonzales was the first person I've heard sample Leonard Cohen, and he does it quite successfully, with Famous Blue Raincoat."

Black Market Music actually contains Placebo's first foray into sampled music: Lead single Slave To The Wage contains a deftly placed snippet of an old Pavement tune, which is reshaped to provide the main hook to the song.

"I even tried to sample the ring on my telephone and change the pitch on it," Molko says. "We started off with toy instruments on the first record and moved on to more expensive toys. But we've been discovering new methods with these new machines, without really knowing how to use them. We make loads of mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes go on the record. 'How did you do that?' 'I don't know. Tape it!'

"That was always my approach to guitar," he adds. "Don't learn to play from somebody else, teach yourself. You want to make beautiful mistakes, basically."