Brian Molko

DNAsix , Mar'03

Their wild 20s are over and with that a time of parties, drugs and saucy sayings. Short after his 30th birthday Placebo frontman Brian Molko has become more relaxed than ever. Which isn't the case with his new album Sleeping with Ghosts. The album is a journey through 10 years of rock and roll lifestyle. Also Brian's appearance has changed. At the interview in the poch Kölner Wasserturm Hotel he isn't the androgynous, overly styles rockstar anymore. He's more relaxed and an easier person to talk to. Without the make-up and nailpolish, the days of the 'glam posterboys' are over. And from underneath his short hair shows a bit of skin, a sign that time is taking it's toll. But finally the multi cultural trio (an american, a swede and a brit) settled in London, after 8 years together, having made 3 albums, done numerous tours, having experienced highs and lows. From the drug and alcohol filled 97/98 and the problems with the American record companies who released their album a year later to their succes in Germany, where they can easily fill the biggest venues. An emotional rollercoaster ride that leaves it's marks. Before making their latest album they first had to take a long break.

DNAsix: You've been away for quite a while now. Were you hiding or did it take that much time to record the new album?

Brian Molko: (laughs) Well the album has been recorded in half the time it took to record Black Maket Music. We worked on that album for 9 months, which was mostly caused by the fact that we produced it ourselves. On the new album however, we worked for 4 months. We also took an 8 month vacation. We really needed that. We've been touring for 18 months straight before that. This was actually the first break we took in 7 years.

DNAsix: Were you in that bad of a condition?

Brian: We were just exhausted. Which isn't strange, 18 months of touring is just way too long. Especially when you don't take breaks. Which was the case with us. We were living in this isolated bubble and we needed to get back to reality. Get rid of the nomade life you know.

DNAsix: Also sleeping in your own bed, meeting up with old friends and do normal, everyday stuff?

Brian: Exactly. You meet up with old friends you haven't seen in ages, and get a reality check. They tell you when you act like an arrogant asshole. You do all the things that were normal before the first album came out. We wanted to become human beings again. We wanted to get a life again, and be around people. If we didn't do that I don't think we would be able to make this 4th record.

DNAsix: This time you're using electronical effects. Are you experimenting?

Brian: We have strong electronical effects on this album which is mostly caused by the production. The producer being Jim Abbis, who worked with The Music, DJ Shadow, Björk, Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps. That's the music we listen to ourselves. We're great admirers of his work. Mostly because it's music that's relevant and modern. We're a guitar band that's orientating on the future you know. We don't want to make records that sound like they come from the 70s. We want to use other elements in our music. Elements that come from other musical genres. Things that are essential for our own development. We believe in fuson of different musical styles. That's improtant for keeping the music alive. And that's why we tried to create a new sound, and not just copy an old one.

DNAsix: Then the label "glam band of the year 2000" doesn't really suit you, does it?

Brian: We left that to The Ark - the only real Glam band. And in it's prime glam was a triumph of the style of the substance. (?) In the beginning glam was more of a social thing than a musical one. To us it's important to have a recent sound. Knowing that Jim is an electronical oriented producer, we thought the result would be even more extreme. But hearing that the new album is still very much a rock album shows that we don't let a producer rob us of our own sound. With lots of band you can see that they want to work with other people to create a complete new sound. They feel the need they have to that. That wasn't the case with us. We just wanted someone who could help us to develop our sound further. And Jim helped us with that.

DNAsix: Are you sayng that you weren't really satisfied with the previous album, despite it's succes?

Brian: It's a reaction to Black Market Music. It did very well in Germany but looking back on it I think it was a mistake to produce it ourselves. It just sounds one dimensional. Expecially compared to Without you I'm nothing..

DNAsix: How come?

Brian: We were propably too unexperienced. And as an advisor we used an old friend because we wanted the atmosphere in the studio to be as nice as possible. There was nothing in our way. We went into the studios right after we came back from our tour and used the same intruments we used on stage. That's different with this album. We used as many different instruments as we could. That was exciting, making this sound more extreme. We didn't want to make another album with a one dimensional sound.

DNAsix: Let's get into the titel of the album more. What ghosts are following you around? It is the age? Nostalgia? Looking back on the wild 20s?

Brian: Probably. If that shines through a bit then it was by accident. I didn't mean to. Although I do think that musicians age slower than normal people. It's the Peter Pan syndrome. People want to be in a rockband to stay a teenager forever. I'm also not ready for a midlife crisis yet. I've been through to much the last few years for that to happen. I've had many experiences the last few years, and I think it's a bit sad if you're still the same person you were when you were 20 at 30. Then you're not a fully developed human and then you haven't learned from the experiences you had the years before. The memories are certainly there and Sleeping with Ghosts is about how do deal with them. You look back and think about if your memories are accurate. If they're objective or not. And I believe that with me they are subjective. And I also believe we carry the ghosts of past relationships with us till we die.

DNAsix: And what's the story of the ashtray girl in This Picture?

Brian: Those are images that keep following us around no matter where we go. You see them when you least expect it and at times when you don't really need it. It brings back everything because of a certain smell, song or place. I find it very interesting, the way things follow us around. And I'm very open: I live the genre of the song. When you look back on certain relationships you can see who the person really was, which you couldn't at the time you were in it. You understand reality and you see that the memories you have can make a person seem very different.

DNAsix: Are you really the person the media portray you as. Relationshipwise. Do you really chance partners as often as you change ur underwear?

Brian: Well that seems to be the public opinion. But I believe the english people are very amused by it, thinking: oh that little guy will never get his life on track. I have been in succesful fulfilling realtionships. But I've also been in many unhealthy ones. And that's an exciting mixture of ten chaotic years. What I've learned from it is that nothing lasts forever and it isn't always your fault. You change as time passes by and you get a different outlook upon certain things. Another aspect you can hear on this new album. Life isn't just a tragedy without friends. Happyness and sadness go hand in hand. The fact that I'm happier now doesn't have to mean that this album sounds more cheerful.

DNAsix: A song like The Bitter End. Does it have anything to do with revenge?

Brian: It's about a relationship. 2 People fighting, they both want to be the stronger one. A classic Fuck-you song.

DNAsix: Clearly the wild years are over. With the excesses of the 97 tour doesn't this one seems a bit dull?

Brian: I now know what's good for me and what's not. It's up to you if you do something with that knowledge. And now with Placebo it's more about quality than quantity. When you get older than 25 it's difficult to make changes in your life. But you do get your priorities straight. You get different interests.I've worked on everything surrounding me the last few years. When you're an arrogant prick you're just pathetic. I have been drinking a lot in the past. But now I know how important it is to ask myself: Am I acting like a rockstar asshole?. It's totally unnecessary. It takes more energy to act like an asshole than to act like a gentleman.

DNAsix: How did you celebrate your 30th birthday?

Brian: I had a big party with 200 guests. Neil Tennent from the Pet Shop Boys was there aswell. He wasn't invited and I was really surpised to see him. I hadn't met him before. But he's a nice guy. In addition I rented some kind of orchestra that played Smells like teen spirit and Paint it black. Very entertaining.

DNAsix: And how's life at 30?

Brian: I still don't feel mature and I don't worry about it really. I'm still the same. However I did learn to think a bit more before I speak. I don't have that big mouth I used to have and I'm not as easily annoyed anymore which I like. Nowadays I try get across as intelligent instead of chocking. I don't want to be that annoying person anymore.

DNAsix: It used to be your tademark to be as provocative as possible. Especially consearning sex.

Brian: Yes but I don't know if that's entirely true. To me it wasn't about being as provocative as possible. I wanted to state my opinion. But now we try doing that through our music which is much better.

DNAsix: Do you have a lot of stress?

Brian: Constantly. I've been in some bad situations is my life. I reckon my guardian angel has been very busy with protecting me these last 10 years.. I'm giving him a well deserved break now.

DNAsix:Do you still go out? If yes, which clubs do you go to?

Brian: Friends of mine run the Café de Paris in London. I go there often. Last year on valentines day me and a friend sang Don't go breaking my heart. I've also performed with a metal combo and in the middle of it my pants came down. A great moment (laughs). I'm lucky to know a person like Darren Emerson, who played at Underworld. He's the best DJ in England, if not the world. When he plays we often go there. As you can see clubbing is still a big part of our lives. We still love to dance, shake our behinds and totally get caught by the music. You get that happy feeling and it's cool to mingle with other people.

DNAsix:What music can you recommend?

Brian: First we have the whole Electro-Clash history that's been re-invented (? something like that). Even with band like Ladytron which I like. But the majority of the really good electronic music comes from Germany with people like Schneider TM and the new Console-Album. And the Sofa Surfers.

DNAsix: Is there anything you'd like to do with your singing? A side-project maybe?

Brian: I've already done that. I've sung an afternoon with the Alpinestars. We went into the studio inbetween a few beers in the pub. I recorder the vocals in an hour and that was it. I can't really imagine any kind of collaboration when you're the one who has to do a lot of work you know. It's just something you do for fun.

DNAsix: About another collaboration: Are you still in contact with David Bowie?

Brian: He sent me a Christmas card which I found very sweet. We meet whenever I'm in New York or he's in London. Whatever our schedule permits.

DNAsix: You didn't keep it a secret that you worked on the movie The velvet goldmine. How do you feel about having worked on that movie?

Brian: I'm content with it. The rest of the band has another opinion about it though. I think the film really suffered from the budget being cut down with 50%. It was a bit too long and some of the rolls didn't have the right actors for it. But it's the only film I've been in and I'm proud of it.

DNAsix: Any further movie ambitions?

Brian: To be honest, no. I've been offered some parts but as the years go by I become less interested in one. We have been offered the part of Judas Priest in the movie Rock Star with Jennifer Anniston and Mark Wahlberg. But I've learned that I don't want to end like some band in a movie. And other than some Vampire parts I haven't been offered anything I like. And the more I think about it the more I find that it's dangerous for someone that makes music to become and actor. It just has to be something good.

DNAsix: But you've spent 5 years in theater school. Was that just 5 years thrown away?

Brian: Propably. I'd have to a crash course or something. And it would take a while before I would be able to bring in practice what I've learned. I haven't really wanted to do anything with acting since we got our record deal. I was especially good at playing a younger man that suffered from depression. I was really good at that.

DNAsix: How come you're really big in Germany and not in other countries like the USA?

Brian: I think it's because of our concerts. After 2 or 3 years it kinda just clicked in Germany. The trick was to play live a lot. We've been copying that off R.E.M. and U2. And after 2 or 3 years came the turning point. Before that people were just staring at us and now they went crazy during the concerts. I have no idea if it has anything to do with us doing the soundtracks for Engel+Joe and Cruel Intentions. But they did bring us a bit further.

DNAsix: What can people expect from the upcoming concerts?

Brian: We're trying to make a big rockshow. We have lots of different material to play now. And we've seen some incredible concerts lately. For instance from the Flaming Lips. When they come to Germany you should really go and see them. I've also been to the Queen of the Stoneage tour with Dave Grohl and they've set a whole new standard for live shows. And we're aware of the fact that we have to put something special on stage. We made the mistake of playing too many slow songs in a row and we're not doing that anymore. Our motto for this tour is: Full Power.