"New York Doll"
18 Jan 1997
The coolest rock star of the ‘90s was born in the Big Apple, raised in Luxemburg and could probably shag for England - meet PLACEBO’s Brian Molko, a self-confessed immoral, drug-loving slut. "People want me to be very f**ked up," he informs Paul Brannigan, "and I am"…
"I ALWAYS wanted to be a pop star," says Brian Molko. "When I was much younger, taking a shit on the toilet, I used to imagine I was being interviewed. My parents thought I was a bit strange talking to myself as I was shitting."
Throughout the 1990s people have complained that there are no larger than life rock stars anymore. The grunge phenomenon brought with it the cult of an anti-star, but as we hurtle towards the new milennium, you can bet that music fans are going to come of this grey conformity and start seeking out someone a little more flamboyant, exotic and erotic. Enter Placebo’s Brian Molko.
Placebo’s eponymously-titled debut album was the most enigmatic and adventurous release of ’96. By turns shimmeringly sexy and sleazy ??ister, it was filled with tales of adolescent damnation, moral confusion and sexual ambiguity. This year will see the London-based-trio-who are completed by Swedish bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt - take a firm grip on our hearts and minds. So, it’s high time to get acquainted with their charismatic leader.
An instantly likable chap, you’d never guess Brian Molko was an "aggressive little shit" as a kid. Born in New York, he was brought up by conservative American parents in the un-rock’n’roll climes of Luxemburg. He admits that he never felt he fitted in, realising at a young age that he didn’t think along the same as his peers. Aged 16, he got his first guitar, and found inspiration and empowerement in the Velvet Underground’s debased glamour, PJ Harvey’s fierce looks of sexual politics and Sonic Youth. But music can only provide a temporary release from life’s problems, and adolescence was plainly not an easy time for the young Mr. Molko.
"I’d rather not go into it, because the demons which haunted me then haven’t disappeared, " he says in his soft spoken drawl as we sip pints in a London pub. "But I never wanted life to be cosy. If it was, our music would be shit."
Placebo’s songs are rifle with tales of disintegrating relationships and devaulted sex. Sex is huge factor in Placebo’s land. And yes, Brian remembers the first time. "It was quite special, actually. I was 14, she was French, and my first girlfriend. It happened in my room and we lost our virginities together. I convinced my mother that I’d had a nosebleed on the duvet but she said, ‘You must have been lying in a strange position."
"I have a reputation as a slut," he continues, "based on percieved behaviour as much as music. It always amuses me that one day you’re a loser on the dole, the next you do a club gig and you’re infinitely more f**kable. I’m not going to say I’ve never taken advantage of it, but when people want to get intimate with you because of who they think you are it can never be real, so it’s no good."
Being from home a lot, presumably you have to make do with second-rate sex sometimes?
"It has to do, because it’s the only affection you can find. But, without contradicting myself, sex with a stranger is a totally different kind of exciting rush. Sometimes you get really guilty about something which feels brilliant at the time."
And are you a particulary moral person about urges of the flesh?
"Not at all," he grins. "I don’t believe there’s such thing as black and white when it comes to desire and emotion. Desire and sexuality are very fluid, and how much you accept that depends on how repressed you are. How repressed are you, Paul?"
One bout of red-faced stuttering later, we move on. The theme of fluid sexuality is captured in Placebo’s next single, "Nancy Boy". A homage to the blurring of sexual boundaries. It features the provocative lyric, "Does his make up in his room, douses himself in cheap perfume, eye holes in a paper bag, greatest lay I ever had".
A naturally pretty chap, Brian’s androgynous appearance has led to much confusion as to his gender. He actively encougares such confusion, wearing make-up and using the ladies’ toilets in pubs and clubs. "I like the idea of being as attractive to men as women," he smiles, before letting out a filthy chuckle. "And perhaps even being available."
Brian’s sexual orientation has been the subject of much debate, with no one quite sure whether, as TV chat king Alan Partridge once memorably remarked, he plays for Man Utd and Man City. So, who would be your ideal partner, Brian?
"I’m aware that if I answer this honestly I will never be able to live it down," he says. "Let’s say my ideal partner would be someone who keeps their opinions open as much as I do."
Okay, we’ll detour into that other rock star over-indulgence, drugs. Earlier, Brian joked that one reason he liked using ladies’s toilets was that they had more cubicles, a reference to "nose candy" indulgence. He also chats openly about using cannabis and assorted pills. "I love drugs - life wouldn’t be the same without them," he says. "Like most people, I’ve had bad trips on acid and Ectasy, but it doesn’t stop me taking things."
Anything you’d draw the line at taking?
"I’ve been around a lot of people who take heroin," he begins slowly, "and there have been so many times I’ve been up for doing it, but for some reason it hasn’t happened. It’s probably the only drug on this planet I haven’t tried."
Is that just because there’s needles involved ?
"I don’t have a problem with needles," he shrugs. "I’ve intravenously injected other drugs. You’re a bit scared the first time, but then you get a bit of fixation for them, which is dangerous.You like the little skin bubble it causes, and play with it. You start thinking that in hospital people don’t shove drugs up your nose, they inject you - so using needles is clearer, purer and gives you a better hit. I don’t recommend it for your readers, though."
Do you ever think that your behaviour is, as with many other rock stars, a cover for your adolescent insecurity?
"I couldn’t deny that I want to be loved and that I want attention," he smiles. "But I’m thankful that I have a hard time dealing with it, because if I was Liam Gallagher I’d start believing it was real life."
Admit it, you love all this, you slaaag….
"Well, the good bits are balanced out by the loneliness of touring, the antiseptic way in which people treat you, and having to talk about yourself all day. You just go home, have a spliff, and think, "Who the F**k am I?’."
Ands what do you think people want you to be?
"People want me to be very f**ked up," says this year’s coolest young rock star. "But they’re too late. I already am."
SEX TYPE THING
The night Brian Molko was mistaken for a prostitute…
Placebo mainman Brian Molko was most memorably mistaken for a woman by a hotel manager in Nottingham. The hapless hotelier spotted Brian entering his establishment late one night and assumed he was a prostitute. He confronted Molko - "We don’t have that sort of thing here", etc - and was somewhat brutally corrected."I was trying to take my trousers down and screming, ‘Do you want to see my dick?’," recalls Brian. "The poor guy was reduced to tears."