"Placebo - Being Loyal Only To The Pleasure Zone"

VirginMega, May'01

by Kim Taylor

Six years ago I sat in a West Hollywood hotel room painting the fingernails of Placebo lead Brian Molko - a glittery blue. Hours later Molko and mates bassist-keyboardist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt would play the Viper Room for the first time, in support of Placebo's self-titled debut album.

The show introduced America to the gender bending, highly unusual rock sound that is Placebo, a band that has since proved to be one of the most talented and socially keen acts to stem from the late Î90s. Not afraid to ask tough lyrical questions about sexuality and defining oneself while shunning the expectations of society, Molko sounds hauntingly like Rush singer Geddy Lee from the late Î60s. Yet he wears a Nancy Boy persona that is the complete opposite of Lee's hard rock exterior.

Molko brings a nomadic confidence to Placebo's music stemming from being born in Belgium to a Scottish mother and American banker father. He spent time in Luxembourg (where he briefly met Osdal), Lebanon and Liberia before setting off to London at age 17 to study drama. It was there he reunited with Swedish born Olsdal to form Placebo with Hewitt, an American. It's no wonder Molko finds his ultimate home in his own skin.

Two years after releasing Placebo's first album, Molko went on to be cast by REM's Michael Stipe, alongside actor Ewan McGregor and comedian Eddie Izzard, in the cultish glam film, Velvet Goldmine. Before that, Placebo was personally asked by David Bowie to play his esteemed 50th birthday bash. The band also opened for U2 on the Popmart tour around the same time their second album, Without You I'm Nothing (1998), came out. In most places around the world, Placebo became huge while America lagged in embracing an act that intelligently blurred gender lines.

Perhaps with the release of Placebo's latest and, many critics contend, best album, Black Market Music, the yanks will at last see that truth lies in diversity, especially in ones' true self ö something that Placebo has known all along. It's too bad that Molko doesn't wear nail polish any more (ãbecause too many other bad metal bands are doing itä), but he can still pull off a thought provoking conversation.

Virginmega.com: Do you think America is ready for Placebo?

Molko: It's about time with this record, really. We've gotten a good response from the record · it's been given a lot of support so, yeah. I honestly try not to think about what other people think · but we've got a really strong work ethic now. In a way you're kind of in a bubble and it doesn't really matter but you're still going to bust your ass and that's what we're doing at the moment.

Virginmega.com: Is having a strong work ethic something new to Placebo?

Molko: No, it's just been a bizarre thing - taking everything somewhat seriously. Workloads have gotten bigger than before, responsibilities have gotten bigger, we're responsible for more people · there are a lot of people who have helped you along the way that you feel responsible for. We're just taking all that more seriously these days.

Virginmega.com: I think that's a big reason why more British acts find it hard to break America - they don't take it seriously and they don't want to work that hard.

Molko: I agree. There's a certain arrogance in British bands coming over ö a kind of British-centric attitude. In Placebo, it's got a lot to do with our identity because we've never really considered ourselves to be a British band.

Virginmega.com: I've never sensed that arrogance in Placebo. In terms of your music, what do you think makes it utterly original?

Molko: Well, I wouldn't even necessarily say that it was original. I think it's very difficult to be original in the current climate. Again I have a tendency these days to not really think about it in those terms. I try to be as honest and passionate and truthful as possible. Maybe those are the elements that make it that way. I'm surprisingly not cerebral about the whole Placebo thing or song writing or being in a band. I do know it's a time where I get to fill my ears with music, which I enjoy. And it begins and ends there for me. As long as it has meaning, as long as it says something about the human condition, as long as it communicates emotion then it works for me. It kind of has to be that first before anything else.

Virginmega.com: So you don't find yourself being as analytical about your music as perhaps someone else might be?

Molko: As a band we aren't very calculated about what we do at all. We have a very interesting approach to it - we kind of operate organically. It's not like we sit down and create a great strategy. A lot of our communication when it comes to the music is unspoken. There's a certain magic in the air that happens when the three of us are in one room, the energy changes.

Virginmega.com: How have you changed over the years, besides you don't wear nail polish any more ö which I'm very disappointed about by the way.

Molko: (Laughs) Maybe I'll let you put some on me again. As people, we haven't really changed at all. Our personalities haven't changed and we're still continually shocked at whatever success we achieve, which I think is a good thing. I think the band itself has become a much tighter unit. We've been playing with each other around the world for much longer, so that kind of tightness that's necessary with a three piece really exists now. I think that we've gotten so use to each other that it's like a marriage now (laughs) · a surrogate family really.

Virginmega.com: You may not be analytical about your music, but in Black Market Music, do you hear a greater confidence level with a more focused approach to playing ö because that's what I hear.

Molko: It's definitely more focused because this time we decided to take much more of a driving seat as far as production was concerned on the record. So it's essentially a co-production with Paul Corkett. I guess we realized that we were kind of control freaks and the only way we would be happy is by having that kind of control. We thought we were ready for it as well. That's probably why it sounds so instant and immediate and confident. It kind of jumps out of the stereo at you because I think finally we were able to really put the songs in our head on tape. Also when you work with producers they kind of take your baby and paint it a different color sometimes. For example on Without You I'm Nothing there's sounds on it that I have no fucking idea how they got there. We've found a really good way of working now and a really good team, so that's another worry gone.

Virginmega.com: Tell me about the song ãSpecial K.ä I take it it's not a drug anthem endorsing its use because it's such a disgusting drug.

Molko: No it's not. It's about suicide rates going up on public holidays: Valentine's Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve. All the lonely people get extremely depressed. It can be quite a dark period if you find yourself alone. Especially with birthdays for me, it always reminds me of all the things that were crap about my childhood, so I don't like them. It's that kind of vibe in the song. It's a song about desperation. It's making the link between special days being spent with people that you love and if they're not there, or if you don't have anybody, it's kind of a dark time.

Virginmega.com: What about the song ãCommercial For Levi?ä I find it very ironic because it's this perky little tune and then it has these severe lyrics. Do you agree?

Molko: That's exactly it. Basically it's an acid lullaby. I like the duality of having an incredibly sweet melody with pure filth as lyrics. I find that a very interesting duality.

Virginmega.com: In ãBlue Americanä you threw in the character of your mom, but it was your dad who was American. The song possesses a lot of self-loathing about American culture and its' racism. Is that what you meant it to do?

Molko: Absolutely, totally. You hit the nail on the head. Three and a half minutes of self-disgust American style.

Virginmega.com: What about drugs? Do you guys still have drugs of choice or are you clean these days?

Molko: I'm not answering that question.

Virginmega.com: So you don't have a stash of Special K like the song implies?

Molko: Special K is shit, I hate it. It's really not nice. I just can't see how it was marketed as a rape drug either, you certainly can't get off on that shit. I took that ten years ago and I haven't done it since. It's horrible. I didn't like it at all.

Virginmega.com: So, do you think having a song called ãSpecial Kä will glorify its use at all?

Molko: Absolutely not. No, I don't believe in that anyway. I don't believe in the whole kind of Natural Born Killers killed my children bullshit · Marilyn Manson is responsible for the Columbine massacre bullshit. Absolutely not. We're artists and we react to society. If you want to be an artistic ostrich and stick your head in the sand and not write about youth culture and culture of today, then go ahead be it. Be Britney Spears. But if you want to write about society, then drugs are everywhere, so it's part of the vocabulary. Otherwise, you become Disney World.

Virginmega.com: Or a mindless teen band with mindless followers.

Molko: Yeah, fuck that! Not interested.