"New Radicals"

Access Magazine, Feb'99

by Sean Plummer


That's how Brian Molko felt after British music magazine Select, in their October cover story on the band, declared Placebo 'the filthiest band in Britain.' We're backstage at Toronto's Guvernment club, just hours before the band's local debut. Molko curls up on the orange couch and takes a reflective drag on his cigarette. "Absolutely buttf**ked is the only word to describe how bad we felt about that."

Placebo's reputation precedes them. Adored by both the British music press and David Bowie, who chose them as openers on his '96 European tour, Placebo became as notorious for their outrageous behaviour as their music.

If Select is to be believed, Molko, bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt left "a trail of blood and spunk across Britain." That story, Molko contends, was a tissue of "exaggerations, inventions and downright lies. It made us out to be worse than Led Zeppelin. In every lie there was a grain of truth, but that was just so exaggerated and so out of proportion." He pauses. "I thought we were unshockable, but it was like, 'How dare they!'"

The decidedly androgynous singer contends that he and his mates did nothing more than most young men in their early twenties with some money would do "except that we did it in public." The band paid the price for its hedonism, though. As Placebo achieved their greatest successes, their personal lives fell apart. "Which," Molko readily admits, "is essentially what this album is about."

If Placebo's self-titled debut was the nigth before, Without You I'm Nothing is the morning after. Whereas their first singles -- 'Nancy Boy', '36 Degrees', 'Bruise Pristine' -- swaggered with libidinous confidence, the songs on Without You reek of self-loathing, guilt and shame. "By the time that we came off tour," the diminutive singer says, "I was in such a fragile emotional state that I ended up on anti-depressants. I was just f**ked up. I'd taken my soul through the blender, and I really just didn't know who I was anymore. I was disgusted with myself."

But adversity has always been an engine of creativity. After coming off the road, the band locked themselves into a "subterranean room with no windows for two months" and wrote the new record. "We had to do a lot of soul-searching. We had to really look inside of ourselves and... realize what we had done. I think there's a lot of guilt on that record, and it talks about a few relationships that I had which I think that I basically did my best to ruin but I didn't know any better at the time. It's a very heartbroken album."

As tortured as it may be, Without You I'm Nothing has a hit single. Originally slated for early '99, the album's North American release date was bumped up a couple of months after the first single, 'Pure Morning', was championed by influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ. A B-side written in the studio which "just ended up being too good", 'Pure Morning' is only partially a celebration of Molko's friendship with women.

A mischievous smile plucks at the corners of the singer's mouth. "There's been so many mornings when I've walked out of a dingy, after-hours drinking club in Soho, and gone, 'Oh, shit! The sun's up.' And you know for a fact that you're not going to be able to go to sleep for many hours, and that you're going to tear the wallpaper off... with your fingernails. And it's kind of about that feeling, about feeling the rest of the world is getting up and getting ready to go to work, and you're still coming down."

Whether or not his provocative image -- Molko is a bisexual with a penchant for wearing dresses on stage -- will prove too challenging for macho America, he is ready for anything. "I've been insulted already. I've had bullets thrown at me, things like that. But that makes me angry, and my best weapon is my mouth -- and I've got a microphone!" He laughs. "When things get that confrontational, it often gives me that extra push, an extra desire to overcome.

An extra 'f**ck you' "