"Missive Attack"

NME, Dec'98

The Placebo boys answer your probing questions

There’s one or two in every town, if you’re lucky. A certain look they have, perhaps. Maybe a smile. Maybe the promise of something just a little more. Who can tell the exact specifications? But you have to look, and this is why Placebo’s support group Six By Seven are combing the crowd at Marseille Moulin, tonight’s venue on their European tour. They are "looking for Morgans".

And what’s a ‘Morgan’?

Well, I’ll tell you.

A ‘Morgan’ is an attractive young woman who looks like she might like to socialise with Placebo after the show. Nothing complicated. No pressure. A few drinks with no strings. The prospective candidate, once they have been selected by the vigilant support group, must then decide. To say no, and leave after the gig. Or to say yes, and then present themselves to the merchandise stall with the words, "Hi, I’m Morgan," upon which introduction they are given a backstage pass.

And that’s why they’re called ‘Morgans’.

It’s a good if slightly impersonal way to meet your public, but there are some tasks that cannot be quite so easily palmed off on and amiable Nottingham experimental group, and one is to hold yourself accountable before your audience when they have questions for you. It has worked with the Manic Street Preachers and now, in the second of NME’s ongoing series, spunk rockers Placebo must answer your passionate enquiries, too.

Such questions you have. Questions about underwear. Questions about fear and loathings. Questions about what Michael Stipe smells like. Some have glitter on them, others are written on maths books, while others have emailed for an answer to life itself.

We can only ask. And thus it is that we grab Placebo drummer Steven Hewitt, bassist Stefan Olsdal, and singer Brian Molko to ask them...

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on drugs?

Brian: At a Spice Girls party, I told the American representative of our record company that they could take their record company and shove it up their arse. And I insulted someone’s wife at the same party, in front of the Spice Girls, and got picked up and thrown across the room. That was quite embarrassing.

Stefan: I mistook Scarlet Page (daughter of Led Zep guitarist Jimmy) for Liv Tyler (daughter of Aerosmith singer Steve). I went up to her and said: ‘You’re that famous guitarist’s daughter! Liv Tyler!’

What are your earliest memories?

Brian: I remember being in Africa, and we had a housekeeper. And I have this image of me being in a cot and it looking like a jail cell, and she was sweeping up. I think I was about two.

Steve: Being about four years old and running up the drive when my mum called me, and falling over, and sticking my teeth through by tongue and bottom lip and it all being stuck together.

Stefan: I remember running down a gravel hill near my parents’ house when I was about five, and just falling down. And smashing my whole face up.

Did you have a lot of teenage angst when you were younger?

Stefan: Mine came a little later. Mine came when I was about 18 or 19 (Er, isn’t that a teenager? - Ed)

Brian: I had a lot. I was a very frustrated, lonely and anti-social young man. I felt very alienated and very bored as well.

What do you think about the way you’re worshipped like Richey Edwards was?

Brian: To be honest, you kind of try and shut it out of your mind as much as possible, otherwise it ends up being a cross you have to bear, really. And it’s much healthier to just ignore it, because it’s so easy for your feet not to be on the ground anyway, that if you acknowledge it you could end up getting completely carried away. It’s absolutely flattering. But often I feel quite undeserving of it really.

When you go out on a date, are your dates ever intimidated by the fact that you’re rock stars?

Brian: I don’t think we would ever go out on a date with anyone who is intimidated. It’s hard to find people who are relaxed around you, but you wouldn’t want to go out with anyone who felt nervous in your presence.

Steve: Don’t know I’ve got more important things to worry about.

Are you going bald, then, or what?

(Unselfconscious laughter is heard from the rhythm section.)

Brian: Who me? No, I’ve always been a bit thin up here. It’s one of these (indicates nascent tonsure) then you can pretend to be a monk for a while to accentuate it, like Stipey did. Then you shave it all off.

Stefan: It’s true. He’s been like that ever since I’ve known him. I’m balding. I’ve got a bit of patch up here, and it’s all going to be receding. Over the last couple of months it’s really been freaking me out.

Someone wants to write your biography. What would you call it and what would be the first lie you told about your life?

Steve: If someone was writing my biography, then I’d definitely want it called Getting Away With It, except I think someone’s done that already (that’ll be Boy George - Ed)

Brian: I’d call it I’m Just A Soul Whose Intentions Are Good. Oh, Lord Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The truth is stranger than any lies we could come up with. And more obscene.

Stefan: Oh I’d call it Take Me Away From All These People.

Do you mind being short?

Brian: No not really. I would like to be taller, but I guess being short was one of the first things that drew me towards girls’ clothes, because they fit me much better, and there’s so much more variation. They’re just funkier, there’s more that you can do with them. The way that they’re cut is usually more flattering, and they’re usually available in pint-size, which is good.

Which fictional character in literature or films would describe you best?

Brian: Holden Caulfield (in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye), maybe. Just for the feeling of alienation. The only thing Holden Caulfield wants to do throughout this whole book is to call this girl, and he never manages to call her, he never manages to get through. And that sums up my life quite well.

What or whom are you nothing without?

Brian: You know, that’s about someone I used to go out with really, and that was like me exorcising the guilt or that failing relationship which I was mainly responsible for. But I’m also nothing without these two. At the moment spliff and minibars, because we go from bus to minibar to bed.

Steve: I’m nothing without a coffee machine, fresh coffee and a mobile phone.

Stefan: My bed. Because I’m sleeping about 15 hours a night at the moment.

How do you want to die?

Steve: In my sleep and definitely not on an aeroplane.

Stefan: In oblivion.

Brian: I’d be interested in finding out if there is a light you walk into, and if you do meet people from your life and walk hand in hand with Jesus. I would hate for my death to be tragic: I’d like to be old when it happens. But hopefully a young death is unlikely.

What was your most pure morning?

Stefan: We were in Cologne and went to this most amazing rave party, and we got back at 8am and smoked reefers the size of the... tourbus, basically with some German mates.

Brian: I spent two hours with my feet above the ground at that party. I thought I could fly. It was really lovely. I saw the sun come up this morning.

Stefan: I haven’t seen the sun for a couple of days. How is it?

Brian: Still the same.

What do you parents think of your band and image?

Steve: My mum was pretty blown away. My dad’s pretty blown away too now, though it took him a long time to get his head round it. He used to want me to get a proper job. They take the image in their stride.

Brian: They’re getting used to it. I think fear is slowly turning into pride: I think they were quite perturbed in the beginning, but they’re coming round to it. I was always a bit of a loose cannon, then again I was always the artistic one: bit of a social misfit. I probably still am.

What song makes you cry?

Brian: ‘Nature Boy’ by Nat King Cole and ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ by Jacques Brel.

Steve: ‘Montague Terrance (In Blue)’ by Scott Walker.

Stefan: ‘The Winner Takes It All’ by ABBA.

If you were going to have a tattoo what would you have and where?

Steve: I was going to have a Prince symbol done once, but I’m bloody glad I changed my mind. I’d love one of those old sailor busty maidens. Tits everywhere. Be fucking ace.

Brian: I’d probably have a little demon tattooed on my shoulder.

Stefan: I’d probably have a snake on my shoulder blade.

Brian. How comfortable are you seeing loads of little versions of you?

Brian: I’m getting more and more comfortable with it. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. My comments about Molkettes and Molko clones have been misconstrued in the press and particularly in NME. I was quoted as saying that they should get a life, basically, but that was only half of what I said. It’s a strange thing: you get used to it after a while, but you still react with a similar amount of shock. To you, you’re still the same arsehole you always were and you don’t understand why someone would want to look like you. But I’m not dissing it at all.

Is cocaine good for you?

Brian: Very bad for you. I can’t go there anymore. By the end of the evening you end up hating yourself for being such an over-the-top individual, just talking about yourself, and you end up really, really paranoid. It all ends up in a big mound of self-disgust. It ain’t good for the soul, man. Just have a fucking spliff, man.

If you were to be neutered tomorrow, which person would you sleep with tonight?

Steve: Tara Banks.

Brian: A girl I met in Spain.

Stefan: A guy I met in Spain.

Brian: Spain, man. We just want to roll that country over and fuck it raw.

Stefan (quietly): With no lube.

Steve: No lube! Jesus!

Brian: I’m supposed to be the evil one. He’s the evil one.

What’s the best or worst rumours that you’ve heard about yourselves?

Steve: That I was supposed to be going out with Tara Banks.

Brian: That I was a junkie. That was really hurtful, also the one about me being a misogynist.

Stefan: That I had an enormous dick.

What are your porn names?

(Your porn name is the name of your first pet, and your mother’s maiden name)

Brian: I’m from France. Mine is Lancer Farrel.

Steve: Mine’s Butch Williams.

Stefan: Mine’s more a Germanic one: Ihssdey Haha.

If you were born a girl, would you still want to look like one?

Brian: I hope so. I was talking about this last night, because it would have been fun to be a real rock chick superwench, and use my sexual powers to destroy men. Hopefully, I’d be a maneater.

When did you lose your virginity?

Brian: When I was 14.

Steve: When I was 13.

Stefan: At the illegal age of 19.

How did you get into that fight in Middlesborough?

Brian: That wasn’t us, it was a couple of our crew. These people heard a couple of cockney accents on them, and waited for them outside a pub, and beat them with sticks.

Steve: It was a football thing. It was all because they supported a different football team. Sad fucks. Every football fan can go and fuck themselves.

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?

Steve: Probably sending flowers. Used to be quite into that.

Brian: I don’t really date in that romantic way. I have to be really, really smitten, and that doesn’t happen that often, unfortunately. I spend a lot of money, and shower them with loads of gifts.

Stefan: I threw a surprise party at CafÎ Freedom.

What’s the worst way you’ve dumped anyone?

Brian: Just not phoning. Pretending they don’t exist. It’s really evil. But it’s so easy.

Steve: And at the same time you hate it when it happens to you, but shit happens, you know?

If you were a woman for a day, what would you do?

Brian: I’d probably have my period. Maybe invest in some exotic extravagant and battery operated toys.

Stefan: I’d probably fondle my breasts all day.

Steve: Dunno, maybe get some lesbian action.

Why do you have a second guitarist offstage? Who is he?

Brian: He’s Bill Lloyd from the group Tram, and he plays a little bass when Stefan and I are both playing guitar, and plays a little keyboards. It’s his choice he’s offstage. He doesn’t want to be seen. He’s our tech, who got promoted.

Is it true that when you recorded ‘Bruise Pristine’, you did it naked?

Brian: Absolutely.

Have you ever had a near death experience with a fan?

Stefan: When you dive into the crowd at gigs, and they’ve got you by the crotch and are strangling you.

Brian: Most fans have been really sweet to me. Real darlings. But when you spend an hour signing autographs outside a gig, and then suddenly it’s time to go, and they go from screaming ‘I love you’ to being the worst c---- in the world. It’s quite blinkered. A hotel receptionist in Z&Mac217;rich once pulled a gun on me, because I jumped behind reception and started to hug him because he was being such an arsehole. It was then I was told it would be a good idea to go to bed.

Steve: I haven’t. But I tried to hang myself when I was 16, from an apple tree, with a fucking garden hose. I was really pissed up. I was going down, and my mates sorted it out.

Brian: You never told us that.

When did you start smoking?

Brian: When I was 13. I stole my mother’s: Peter Stuyvesant luxury length, gold. And went to the park in Dundee, where I grew up.

Steve: When I was 11.

Stefan: Properly, when I was 17, but my first cigarette was at a Monsters of Rock Festival in Germany when I was 12. They gave out free packets of three fags. ‘Kids! Smoke up!’.

You’re one of the few men who actually look more attractive in make-up. Who told you it was a good idea to wear it? What’s your favourite make-up brand?

Brian: No-one, really. I was about 11 when I started acting in school plays, and I instantly loved it. I figured it out by myself, really. I have an excellent make-up artist now. Maybelline does an excellent eyeliner and an excellent concealer. But as far as foundation goes, Ultra-Moist Max Factor Long-Lasting if you’re a working musician.

Where did you get that dress you were wearing at Brixton Academy?

Brian: It’s a John Richmond. And please don’t go out and buy it.

What’s the most money you’ve paid for an item of clothing?

Stefan: About 250 quid. At Alexander McQueen.

Brian: Mine was a Moschino dress.

Steve: About 400. I had a pinstripe suit made to measure.

Why do you think Velvet Goldmine was such a lot of self-indulgent bollocks?

Brian: Because you obviously didn’t understand it. It’s a great love story, it’s a feast of colour and music.

Stefan: And it has the most beautiful scene of two men kissing, ever.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve been given by a fan?

Brian: We’ve just been given a tape by some fans. These two girls were waiting outside, and they’re playing ‘I Know’ off the first album really badly and they’ve changed the words to how much they want to have intimate knowledge of our... er, privates. It’s not very musical but it’s hilarious. Another time I got given a photograph of this girl with a black eye with ‘Kill/Fuck/Die’ written on it, which I carry with me everywhere, because it’s the most intense thing i’ve been given.

Will you ever grow facial hair?

Brian: Stef, you used to have interesting facial hair: that Prince beard kind of thing. You looked very suave. Facial hair I don’t think is my thing, really. I’m a pretty clean shaven kind of guy. It doesn’t suit me.

Which do you prefer? Embrace or a custard pie in the face?

Brian: Sorry it’s going to have to be a custard pie.

Are you happy?

Steve: Yes. I’m fit, and well, and playing like a demon.

Brian: I’m relatively content. It’s a few hundred miles away from happy. I would like to have a meaningful relationship with somebody that I cared about. Loneliness is quite debilitating.

Do you think that your reputation as the filthiest band in Britain will do you any harm in the future?

Brian: Only if we start getting probe searched at customs. It’s all complete bullshit, but it’s all part of the myth.

What does Michael Stipe smell like?

Brian: He smell very nice, actually. Very clean. Of expensive beauty products.

Prince or Madonna? Who would you be?

Brian: Madonna.

Stefan: Madonna.

Steve: Prince. So fuck you two.

What’s worth fighting for?

Steve: Love.

Brian: Freedom. I actually tried to beat up our crew the other day. The bus ran out of gas, and I lost it for a while. I didn’t get on very well, they’re huge.

When you wear a dress onstage do you wear knickers, or plain old boxer shorts?

Brian: Oh, knickers. Lacy ones.

Why do I have to live?

Brian: Because there’s nothing else to do.

Stefan: The grass is always greener somewhere else. But you have to be here to know that. Make sense?

How do you amuse yourselves on the tourbus?

Brian: Watch South Park. Also we have a new court jester, our new merchandising guy who amuses us for hours by talking complete bollocks over the intercom. It’s bollocks, but it’s the funniest bollocks you’ll ever hear.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Brian: Whatever you do, don’t sleep with her.

Good advice, indeed. As a group of giggling girls gather around Brian for some perfectly accented words of wisdom, they cannot know that their questions have already been answered, and that the trail of blood and spunk does not lead to oblivion. It leads, in fact to the palace of wisdom.

Sated and content, NME adjusts it’s pantyhose and leaves, resolving to leave a shallower and more exciting life.