"The Bitterest Pill"
What's On, Feb'97
19 Feb 1997
Placebo have been saddled with that most unenviable of labels, The Next Big Thing. But, as an unlucky Nick Duerden found out, they're only interested in one thing…David Bowie. And, no, they don't like doing interviews.
The Time, The Place
Cardiff is uninspiring at the best of times. Today it's even worse. The drab weather conditions have lent a distinctly grey ambience and everyone feels the effect. Two and a half hours after the appointed time, Placebo singer Brian Molko finally ambles into view looking more gaunt than usual. As tall as Prince, as thin as an anorexic lamppost, and as blackly made-up as Siouxsie, his demeanour is curt, his mood bordering on the irascible. "Look," he begins, "I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm hungover. Shall we get this outta the way…?" Well, hello!
Some Background Information
Placebo were discovered at the music industry convenction, In the City, back in the summer of 1995, where they jointly won Best Band alongside a nascent Kula Shaker - "Yeah, and we despised them ever since," comments Brian. They then reputedly became one of the most sought after bands of the decade, with every record company clamouring to sign them. "There were a lot of sharks out there," he says on their decision to wait six months before signing anywhere. "We thought it best to take our time, weed them out." By early 1996, they had signed to Hut for a rumoured £1 million. In June, Placebo's debut album was released. It was, so the claim went, the very antithesis of Britpop. "No it wasn't," corrects Brian. "That's just our press people talking. F*** 'em.." Oh.
The critical verdict, however, was unanimous: this was magnificently skewed music, combining elements of The Cure, the awesome power of Smashing Pumpkins, and artfully confused lyrics whose honesty mirrored the Manic Street Preachers. Their recent top five single, "Nancy Boy", for example, is about sex with prostitutes, sex on drugs and sex with a paper bag on your head. Five years ago, this record would never have been played on Radio One, much less enthusiastically endorsed. Elsewhere, on the deceptively sublime 'Hang On To Your IQ', Molko sings: "I'm a fool whose tool is small / it's so minuscule it's no tool at all", which is a candid confession for any man, nevermind a blossoming rock star. "Well," he explains, "my lyrics reveal the truth about how I feel, and experiences I've had. I don't see why I should be shy and coy and hide behind macho rock posturing. That's not what I'm about."
The David Bowie Appreciation Society
David Bowie is a huge Placebo fan. He's already had them support him twice in America, and invited them to play at his 50th birthday bash in New Yaork recently, where they performed alongside heroes Lou Reed and Sonic Youth. "David's been really supportive. He's a real sweetheart, a lovely man, a true gentleman." He breaks off, looks away, looks back. "I absolutely love the bloke." We must do lunch sometime.
Brian, the product of an American father and a Scottish mother, lived for a while in Luxembourg where he attended a private American school. Smaller and far more delicate than his peers, and positively hopeless at sport, he failed to fit in and was branded a "faggot". "I've always felt outsider," he says. "But everything I got beaten up for at school, I'm now using to positive effect, making me richer, sexier and more popular than those f***ers will ever be. I was obviously born to do this job."
"You know what?" Molko suddenly reveals, "I really dislike the way interviews eat into my time." We have been speaking for all of 14 minutes. "It doesn't help that, right now, I'm not exactly in the best of moods, either. But even at the best of times, interviews are just a necessary evil, y'know? I've got far better things to do." And it was such fun waiting for two and a half hours for you!
Perhaps, just ten more minutes? "No! No, man, I haven't got ten minutes to give you. I'll give you two more questions, then I'm gone. Okay?"
A recurring theme in Placebo interviews is drugs. Brian Molko takes them. Quite a lot of them. Sure, he says, he probably doesn't do as many drugs as Oasis, but he does love them, nevertheless. He smokes joints, he's done cocaine, speed, he's tampered with shooting up, and has even experimented with crack, which, he says, was "dangerously nice". In the light of public outcry over East 17's Brian Harvey and Noel Gallagher, should he not think twice before speaking so freely? "Oh Jesus. Look, I'm gonna stop talking about drugs because it just gets me into a whole lot of trouble. I'm bored on the subject and I wish people would stop asking me about it. And anyway, I don't do very many drugs, not compared to some people I know, and not as many as I used to, okay?"
A short, agitated silence. Then: "And anyway, drugs have always gone hand-in-hand with rock'n'roll. The Beatles were so fucking high that they even let Ringo sing a couple of songs. So, y'know…"
Sadly, it seems as if the straw has just snapped the poor old donkey's back. "Look," he says with barely disguised exasperation. "I've really got to go. See ya." Up out of his chair, Molko disappears round the corner with impressive, um, speed. Hey, everyone has a bad day, right?