Some bands are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them and then there is Brian Molko who falls into all the categories. Following a sudden leap into the thrown of indie he has achieved flavour of the month. Is he made of the right stuff to sustain the taste in public mouths? David Ireland chats up the current `queen' of pop himself.
Bigmouth Strikes Again
Placebo have walked a long hard route over the past twelve months. Brian Molko and his gang were pulled into the tornado like storm of media attention which seems to be rotating around more and more bands pushing the heavily emotional and archetypal rock and roll clichis. The thing is however, this method of attention seeking works, and it has done for the past thirty plus years, and it's bound to continue well into the future. Placebo though, have an uncanny way of fusing many of the classic attitudes and influences into one awkward whole. The transatlantic nature of the band splits their character into two, on one side you have the British sophistication reminiscent of Bowie, and on the other a more dark and sleazy motif that harks back to the New Wave scene, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Jayne County. We all know by now about Bowie's blossoming interest in the band. But what do they have to say about the birthday boy.
"Last year we had been signed for about a month and we hadn't recorded our album yet and Morrissey pulled out of the Bowie European tour, he sort of
disappeared for some reason. Through connections that we had through our agent we sent him a demo and he heard it and decided we were the band to fill Morrissey's place. Which is quite amazing really, we were quite shocked and we went on tour with Bowie in Europe, and a few months later we did it again and that kind of cemented our friendship really. He is a real big fan of the band and there is a lot of mutual respect going on now. It's quite amazing to talk to him as an equal and exchange ideas."
Didn't you go over to New York?
"Yes , we went over to do his birthday party, I got to meet all my heroes, especially Sonic Youth. I was more nervous meeting them than I was about meeting Bowie. They kind of influenced me more, changed my life really. When we were over there we hung out with Frank Black and Dave Grohl and David Bowie introduced me to Lou Reed. I spoke to Lou Reed for a while and he gave me a big hug and stuff and I was really freaked out by the whole thing. It was a really amazing experience. Prince was wandering around backstage, Naomi Campbell, Beck, Moby you know all those people. The show was really amazing, there must have been about eighteen thousand people."
I take it's not going to be that big tonight
"No, maybe a thousand I guess."
Bowie is still going strong at 50, what do you think you'll be doing at his age?
"Scratching the inside of my coffin!"
Your not planning any similar celebrations then
"Well if I get there I will definitely be celebrating!"
So with this apparent pessimism about old age and the likelihood of ever reaching it, the situation begs a question about rock and roll attitude and on-stage antics. Brian seems born to be a pop star with his "forget tomorrow" philosophy.
Looking forward to the show?
"Yeah I am, I'm going to be more sober tonight!"
So what was it like last night?
Did it affect your playing capabilities?
"Yeah, and it affected my speaking capabilities. It's only the second date but so far there have been no injuries. Everything broke yesterday, but we got it all fixed, so that was a big head fuck but you know we are still friends so that is a good sign."
With the media attention comes fame, and with fame comes more media attention and more offers. Some that are best to refuse and others that you shouldn't talk about. People can act differently when confronting a character who has graced the Top 40.
So how have things changed with your new found chart success?
"It's kind of shocking. I got mobbed yesterday. I went out of the venue after the gig and got mobbed by about fifty people, people just trusting things into my face screaming at me. This girl was like `will you spit on my piece of paper', and I have a really bad cold at the moment. So I hocked up this really huge looger for her and I think she was really freaked out by that."
Like green sort of...?
"You know when you have really bad catarrh and you get up in the morning and you pull really hard and it's really solid."
"Yeah... Yeah I coughed up one of those on to a piece of paper and she didn't really no what to do with it. Somebody who actually asks me to spit for them deserves something like that I think. It's very weird, there's a great deal of distance between yourself and what other people think you are. It's good though, it's opened up a lot of doors, a lot more things come your way, it gets more fun and the workload gets ridiculous. You have less and less time for yourself but you get to do more things so I guess I'm happy. I've just finished reading the script for this film that I might get apart in, but I don't want to tempt fate by telling you much more than that."
It All Breaks Down, Role Reversal
The split personality of the band is deep rooted and goes way back to Brian's childhood. His androgynous style has provoked a variety of reactions over the years and has surprisingly caused problems within the band as well as problems with the people he has come across during his travels.
How did it all come about?
"What happened was , when I left collage my hair was a certain length and I started to get for a girl on almost a daily basis, even when I hadn't shaved, and I thought that if people's preconceptions were so easily confused and upset, I should go with it a bit more and fuck with their heads. I wanted to provoke reactions in people from,'fuck you faggot' to, `oh my god, she's gorgeous.' We firmly believe as a band that when it comes to desire, things influx constantly and that sexuality is something that is challenging the preconceptions of what is suppose to look like at the end of the millennium."
So it's the next stage on from the 90s `new man' concept?
"Yeah the new `what?' I don't believe in the categorisations of desire and I don't see why we have to name-tag ourselves. Like in Trainspotting the character Renton said that in the next century there will be no such thing as gender any more and that there will just be one sex. I think that would be an interesting world to live in."
The first thing I thought about with this gender thing was maybe it was a Jayne County influence?
"She's kind of a slap-stick version, for me really. Where it's coming from with us is from like a much darker recess really."
I suppose it's a lot more blatant with her and it scares people off more.
"Yeah, we're more subtle, it pulls them in I reckon. I like the idea of being as attractive to men as women and both at the same time."
Placebo's debut imaginatively titled placebo is a collection of messed up pop songs showing a large debt to off centre rock of the past. So what about musical influences? Where do Placebo fit into the contemporary music environment?
Are there warm affections towards Suede perhaps?
"Suede are OK but I would definitely not count them as a musical influence, I like their single."
Brian is briefly interrupted to tend to the contents of his rider.
"Bottle of vodka, brilliant, plenty of Coca Cola please, Brilliant"
Back on to the case he goes on to say:
"Basically, there are few very important bands for me, like maybe two. When I was sixteen I heard Sonic Youth for the first time and they blew my head off and changed my life really and that was just as I started to play guitar. They sort of opened up so many possibilities and they acted as a sort of trampoline. I explored bands that influenced them from the Stooges the New Wave scene and through The Joy Division and The Fall and Post punk particularly and then when I was in collage I heard PJ Harvey for the first time. At that point I decided I wanted to make music that carried a similar kind of emotional weight and a similar kind of fragility and vulnerability and humanity."
So what sonic youth albums were you especially listening to at the time, was it Sister?
"Sister and EVOL and Bad Moon Rising, those are my tree favourites."
Your album has that slightly twisted feel?
"Discordant sort of theme to it, yes. It's cos I play the same guitar as they play. As soon as we got a record contract I went out and bought myself
a new Jaguar."
"Last night's dream was a talking baby lizard, all coming from human imagination. A day dreaming in a daydream nation" -Sonic Youth
So is being in a successful band fulfilling your fantasies?
"It is, it really is, there are certain draw-backs, it's everything I have always wanted, honestly it really is. People say be careful what you wishfor you might just get it. The negative side of it is that it has a devestating affect on your personal life and makes it very difficult to hold relationships together and makes you lose touch with your friends, things like that and touring can get tiring, but then every night you go in front of thousands of people that completely adore you and it's your gift that your passing on. That feeling transcends it all really. I'm trying not to become a wanker. I'm determined to keep my feet on the ground and not to become a wanker."
We know where the sound began but what about it's members. The people that pull it all together, shout, sweat and toil to make it work. Brian squints through the dust kicked up over the past year, and tries to find a start to it all.
When did it all start?
"Well I grew up in a place called Luxembourg, which is a very boring place, and I went to the American School of Luxembourg with a ridiculously tall guy called Stefan Olsdal. He was very tall, he was playing basketball and I was very small. I was into drama, so I was a loser, so we never spoke to each other and the then I went to London at seventeen and started collage. He played in a school band with a chubby Swede called Robert Schultzberg and then years later Stefan and I bumped into each other on a tube station in London and he was studying music at the time. I was doing a little acoustic gig one night and he came down and we talked and discovered that we had much more in common than we had ever imagined. We started playing around with a four-track fucked up old keyboards making music that was atonal and instrumental and stuff. We wanted to form a punk band, so we when Robert came over in October `94 we wrote some stuff together as a band that was the start of Placebo basically."
The pace of life in the fast lane has worn hard on the band. Like everything else these days it's the survival of the fittest and you are bound to get a few casualties along the way and ones straying from the fold. Robert Schultzberg was the case in point here. The ties between Brian and him became undone and they eventually stopped talking to each other altogether.
He was asked to leave the band while they were on the way to a rehearsal before the White Room appearance.
So what about the relationships in the group now?
"They're fantastic, our new drummer, Steve, has bought a lot of respect and friendship back into the band after virtually six months to a year of communication breakdown and misery. We are writing a lot of new material which we are playing live at the moment as well,, we are demoing the new record and glad that this amount of success has come when we have been at our most happiest and at our most unified. It is kind of like being in a gang."
What's in the pipeline?
"We're going to record the new record which will be more schizophrenic than the last one and more extreme. The first record is kind of like a blueprint for that kind of musical schizophrenia which we embrace and we want to take things to a further extreme. We might get a nice collaboration with David Bowie, that would be nice, it might happen, it might not. Hopefully I will get this movie and from that I will get more offers. We want to be around in ten years. We want to be a significant band and make an impact on rock and roll history and we'd like it to doit on a global level."
Brian, the torch baring romantic has a vision, and it could be television.