"Brian Molko interview"
With a mission to make you look at yourself and be scared at what you find, Placebo have burst onto the scene in Britain and have caused quite a stir.
The first thing that most people notice about Placebo is lead singer/guitarist Brian Molko's androgynous appearance. Brian thrives on the effect this has on people,- "what I would find amusing, a reaction I would like to create, for example, is for somebody, who in his life has been homophobic, to come to a gig and mistake me for a woman for the first half of the gig and actually think I was quite cute and then discover that I was a bloke and have to ask themselves some questions about themselves". However, there is more to Placebo than appearance, just take a listen to their first top five hit 'Nancy Boy' and you'll be smacked squarely between the eyes, both musically, with the fiercest buzz saw guitars to hit the charts in eons and lyrically, with lines like "woman, man, a happy monkey, just another happy junky" and "eye holes in a paper bag, greatest lay I ever had". This is not your usual inoffensive pop.
It's part rock, part punk that thrives on chaos and disorder, on urgent emotions and unsettling imagery. Crumbs! We caught up with Brian straight after a soundcheck at a recent gig...
Placebo use a real beefy guitar sound, what gear are you currently using in your set up?
It's the Marshall 6100LM, the three channel head. It took me a long time to get to a point where I got the dirty, really nasty guitar sound I wanted and it was basically done through the third channel on the 6100LM.
How long have you been using the 6100LM?
I used the same JCM900 for a long time but what the 6100LM does is give me incredible flexibility sound-wise. It's what I use the majority of the time, in particular the third channel and it gives me what it is designed for, that crunch. The crunch on channel two and channel three are actually amazing and I am really really proud of the sound that I can get out of the third channel. What I needed is a sound that basically had quite a full range to it, I needed a kind of a chunkiness to it and also a kind of sound that slices with a knife, kind of gristle but powerful, brittle but with a great deal of body.
I have noticed that Placebo sounds a lot meatier than a lot of the bands that have been in the charts over the last year. I even read somewhere that your sound was described as an 'antidote' to Brit Pop. What is your view of the current music scene?
I think one of the reasons that Placebo have been so successful is that British Rock for a long time has been devoid of danger really, devoid of perversion and devoid of provocation, which is intrinsic in the personality of this band and I think it has been crushed down quite a bit, it's been a bit limp wristed really recently. We just want to be a powerful rock band, we are an emotional rock band and a band that will merge with you - but will also play with your head.
I think that there was a reaction against the anti-star and anti-glamour of grunge basically and that the kids wanted something that was by its very nature dangerous really.
Who do you see, if anyone, as your contemporaries at the moment?
Do you know a band called Girls Against Boys? they are definitely our contemporaries and Sebadoh and AC Acoustics from Scotland who I am lucky enough to have as friends of mine as well.
Who were your heroes when you first started out playing guitar?
The Dead Kennedys and Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey particularly.
I notice that the band have done quite a few supports with David Bowie and I read that he was perhaps a bit of a fan of the band.
He is also a friend of the band really.
Were you a fan of his before you really got started.
I like the Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust period, particularly the Ziggy Stardust period. I do not think Placebo's look would really be in existence if it had not have been for the Ziggy Stardust period.
So how did your relationship with him start?
We were very lucky, what happened was that Morrissey pulled out of Bowie's tour and we had just been signed for about a month and he got hold of one of our demos and on the strength of our first demo he invited us to fill Morrissey's shoes on the European leg of his Outside tour.
He grew to love the band so much, love our album so much, that he invited us back. Then we got to know each other better and we had the honour of being invited to play at his 50th birthday party in Madison Square Garden and now we are going to do some more, about three arena shows with him in Spain this summer.
To take you back, how did Placebo actually form?
It was a series of coincidences and happy accidents really and it could be perhaps the hand of fate twisting that sort of made it happen. I went to school with the bass player in Luxembourg but we never hung out with each other, we never spoke and we weren't friends and it was through a chance meeting in a tube station, a couple of years after I finished college in London. He happened to be studying music in London and we met completely by chance in a tube station and that is when we kind of started to play music together. We realised that even though we had been total strangers yet very close to each other geographically, that we had so much more in common than we could ever imagine and that was really the beginning of the Placebo story.
What a lucky chance!
Exactly, my life would not be anywhere near as fruitful and as rewarding right now if it wasn't for that small chance.
I noticed that on some of the tracks there are some toy instruments and even a didgeridoo.
We are just kind of interested in trying to take big instruments which you wouldn't necessarily think would be able to work in a rock or punk context and use them. A lot of bands go for strings or they go for a horns section when they need to fill out their sound, we were more stimulated. It came to us to use toy instruments and to use things like the didgeridoo because they were so unorthodox and it came out of a period of time where we would make music on toy instruments before we were joined by our original drummer. Some of the tracks that were made have surfaced as 'B' sides.
Last question Brian, what is next for Placebo?
Well we have got to finish writing our next album, we will be going into the studio in September and a bunch of festivals and we have been in a film, we are going to be in a movie which will be out next year which is the new Ewan McGregor film and there is going to be lots of touring over the summer. We are going to finish writing the record and hopefully get something out by the beginning of next year.
Until then readers, grab yourself a copy of Placebo's self titled debut album...