Placebo Effect Gets Polished

Montreal Gazette, 2003

by Jordan Zivitz

Group has grown up. North American tour means smaller audiences - and less pressure.

"Oh no. Oh no." Brian Molko knew what was coming. The none-more-androgynous singer for Placebo was just told that his interviewer had been thumbing through old press clippings from Molko's debauched days: tales of demolished hotel rooms, verbal warfare with other artists and general depravity. The title of Placebo's latest album - Sleeping with Ghosts - relates to being haunted by the memories of former loves, but it's also relevant to juicy bad-boy stories that just won't die.

"Look, man, let me put this straight: If they're handed attention and money, every kid in their early 20s will jump into the deep end of the rock 'n' roll pool," Molko said in a tone that was more defiant than annoyed. "The only difference is that we did it in public, and we're still being crucified for it.

"If you expect us to be the same people at the age of 31 that we were at the age of 22, then you're a bigger idiot than me. I don't mean you personally, but for people to expect you to be the same person is just absurd. If you are, that means you're a very sad person. It means you haven't learned anything. You haven't grown. All these incredible, crazy, chaotic, mind-blowing life experiences that you've been through have taught you nada, and that's shameful."

Molko has learned plenty. How to live well without dying young. How to practise the fine art of diplomacy. (It's doubtful the singer will again describe his audience as "50,000 crimes against fashion," as he did at one festival appearance.) And how to sharpen his music into a sinewy glam/punk/electronica hybrid that can be as vulnerable as a first kiss while stinging like barbed wire.

Molko, bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt have been on the road since March, so they've had lots of time to polish the already refined Sleeping with Ghosts material. But the allure of playing North America - where the European trio draw a fraction of their overseas audience - is being able to scuff the polish.

"The pressure is lifted off of you to be this magnificent band; it's punk rock again," Molko said. "We've just done our biggest tour ever in Europe. The smallest show we played was for 5,000 people, the biggest place we played was 18,000 people. Now we're in North America, playing in front of 300 to 500 people. I'm having a blast, because it's like going back and relearning the ropes, but with all the skills that you've picked up."

As they often do, things play differently in Montreal. Originally booked for the Spectrum, Placebo's show tomorrow has been moved to the much larger Metropolis, where the band just played in July.

"It's our connection with French culture. I grew up in Luxembourg - I grew up watching French TV, I grew up with French music, I grew up with French cinema, and there's an obvious connection between me as a human being (with that background) and me as an artist. So it's not some kind of frivolous thing about 'We love Montreal.' It's the truth."

Molko always speaks the truth; just ask the old flames who have found themselves immortalized in song. The music-as-therapy cliche isn't so cliched in Placebo's case ("I've saved a lot of money on psychiatry bills, mate"), although not every relationship leaves a spectral trail strong enough to merit a lyric.

"You have to have a very serious impact to be worthy. I don't mean that arrogantly: Sometimes you have relationships that are frivolous and sometimes you have relationships that are very, very deep and meaningful. It's the ones that are deep and meaningful that affect you, that stay with you, that continue to haunt you for the rest of your life."