"Ear Candy"

Guitar Player, Mar'99

London-based trio Placebo hammed it up as '70s pretty boys in the recent glam tribute movie Velvet Goldmine, but, apparently, they weren't acting.

In real life, the band members play gigs in full makeup. "I always wanted to be a girl," admits singer/guitarist Brian Molko. The band also uses effects processors like makeup -- bending the gender of their guitars so you're sometimes not sure whether it's a guitar or a keyboard you're hearing. On Without You I'm Nothing (Virgin), Placebo dolled up their guitar tones with a Pro Co RAT, Mutron flanger, Alesis Quadraverb, Boss DD-5 Digital Delay, Roger Mayer distortion, and a Sovtek Big Muff. They also used a Sherman Filterbank for the synthetic-sounding feedback on

'Every You, Every Me', an Eventide H3500 preset called Cool Prez for the watery opening guitar on 'You Don't Care About Us,' and a Lovetone Big Cheese, to give songs a "real hyper-chaotic exploding speaker sound."

Although Placebo are deeply immersed in glam culture, they're not disciples of glam heroes such as David Bowie and Marc Bolan. "I use my Gibson SG to get a Pixies or AC/DC sound," says Molko, "a sort of classic rock chunk. And, with my Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster, I can get that grungier Sonic Youth sound. It depends what I'm looking for."

Another non-glam trick used on the album was borrowed from Sonic Youth. "By striking the strings behind the bridge on the Jag, you can get a really atonal, dissonant sound," says Molko. "It's like playing above the nut, but much deeper. Combined with a tremolo, you can get an out-of-this-world Gamelan sound."

"We also tune our guitars to F, B Flat, E Flat, A Flat, C, C because that suits my voice better," continues Molko. "Tuning the top two strings to C adds a shimmering resonance, and we never play solos where we need a high-E string anyway." Both Molko and bassist/guitarist Stefan Olsdal play through two amps to get, in Molko's words, "the chunk out of a Marshall JCM 900 and the fizz out of a Fender Twin."

After seeing the band Tortoise with their no-guitar/three-bass lineup,Molko and Olsdal were inspired to buy Fender Bass VIs. "Playing the Fender Vi is like playing two instruments in one -- it can be treated as a guitar and as a bass," says Molko. "Also, when Stefan is playing lead parts on the Fender VI, he's also using his feet to play a bassline with Taurus pedals.

I think if Stefan were an octopus, he'd be playing even more instruments."