"The Life Of Brian"

Rock Sound, Jul'99

Cast your mind back three years. Placebo meant nothing here. A few singles that had scraped the bottom of the charts and a yet to be released debut album. Who could have predicted that the band would soon be on the front cover of practically every magazine? Incessant touring of America makes success Stateside just as likely, although it exacts a high price. Rock Sound caught up with Brian Molko prior to Placebo's appearance at next month's Big Day Out to find out how they're coping.

We met Stefan in a gay striptease bar, Brian reveals unexpectedly. We're talking about the Beastie Boys but Brian goes off on a tangent. "I could start telling you loads of shit, but I don't want to. Besides we've attracted so much trouble because of our honesty." Oh go on. spill the beans. "No, it's irritating for the others and turns against us. But then, I'm always trying to tell the truth"

Brian is in a slightly cagey mood today and although he's courteous and funny he's defensive about some of the press they've had recently. Being so high profile may be great for sales but it can be damaging to your sanity, especially when you're continually misquoted and set up.

"There are a lot of things I've said that have been distorted and turned against the band. It's frustrating. I mean you develop long and detailed arguments to deal with journalists and to explain your position in connection with music and at the end only the sensational remains and the essential has been forgotten."

Well part of this is brought upon by yourself, we suggested. A deliberate flirtation with androgyny and bisexuality is always going to be seen as provocative and confusing. "My sexuality is not confused!" he exclaims. "I'm very much at ease with what I am but other people seem to think it's confusing: There isn't any doubt; I am bisexual and happy because that situation allows me to have the best of both worlds. My 'partial' homosexuality is not a 'game' of seduction' as I read somewhere. I've known since I was very young that I was bisexual. Okay, so I let mystery hover for a while on the first album but I hardly hid it for a long time!"

But surely you have to accept that by exposing your private life in promotion of your work, people will see it as fair game to speculate about your relationships and sexuality. "Well yeah, it's a vicious circle. But I can't prevent myself from washing my dirty laundry in public. It's pathological with me. My writing is extremely confessional and defiantly shameless. But that in a strange way we are universal, because we come out bare, naked..."

This vulnerability has placed a real strain on the band. Replacing original drummer Robert Schultzberg with Steve Hewitt a couple of years ago eased the tension somewhat, but it's not been an easy ride since then. "Yeah," laughs Brian. "These last two years have been incredibly intense. We realized that things were actually much deeper than we imagined they might be. We became aware of the impact of our actions, especially when they took us much further than we expected. We've had lots of tests to go through and it's a miracle that we've stayed so close, like a family really. We're much closer to to the core of the band now."

So is being in Placebo the most important thing in your life? Brian considers momentarily and then nods. "The madness of being in a rock band has had an enormous impact on our lives," he explains. "The constructive thing is that we understand the band is much stronger than we thought. If our private lives are falling apart, the solidarity in the band is strengthened. We've become totally democratic, more complex and more ambitious. We've also become really good friends which wasn't the case earlier so it's all helped us overcome the confusion, solitude and emotional pain that we suffer." It's a common cry of the tortured artist. But in Placebo's case their peripatetic lifestyle, family problems and blend of sexual identities has been causing them problems for years, well before success came knocking. And it didn't get easier when they found fame. After the success of their debut album and hit singles like 'Nancy Boy' and 'Bruise Pristine' it's easy to think that they had the world at their feet but Brian insists they had to rein themselves in when they started work on last year's folllow-up 'Without You I'm Nothing'. The pace of life was too much for them, they "had to avoid the vicious circle of destruction," and concentrate on being musicians rather than one dimensional cartoons.

"Yeah. Success happened so quickly that we didn't really have time to absorb everything that was happening around us. It had all been so extreme and fast with true highs and very real lows. We had to detox from the life we were leading in order to find truthful answers to the question: 'Where does the shit in my head come from?' We managed to hide ourselves behind a lot of clichÎs on the first album, whereas Without You is rather more introspective and confessional. We needed something more true and lasting because the world of rock is, by definition, short-lived and artificial." "Yes, totally. Having said that, the majority of them were written for women because my most serious relationships were with them. It's like 'You Don't Care About Us' which is probably the most autobiographical song on that record. It's about an ex of mine and she used to say that to me the whole time."

Is it hard to re-live some of these songs every night on tour? You could be singing about your most moving experiences to a bunch of drunks who don't care and who, especially in America, just want to hear "the weed song". "Yeah, well 'Pure Morning' is a celebration anyway so that's cool. It's a celebration of friendship between two women. About that strange sensation you get when you've been up all night and your body feels like shit in the morning. In comes your friend, she makes you a joint and you fall asleep quietly. It's the song when you can't feel your flesh anymore. But then there's though ones like 'My Sweet Prince', which is two parallel love stories happening at the same time and I am the prince. One day somebody wrote a message on the wall of my room: 'My gentle prince, you are the only'. The relationship ended disastrously because the person in question is almost dead."

There's an uncomfortable silence. Brian doesn't want to reveal too much detail but at the same time is sick of accusations that he's faking it, pretending to be tortured for the fame and the money. In fact what Placebo want from success is not financial benefit, not tabloid intrusion but something far more rewarding. "Success for me means winning respect of the people you admire," explains Brian. "Being lucky to fell free in your creativity and able to live from your art. To be honest, I want to get rid of this comic strip character that England has stuck to my back. I'd like people to know that we are not 'international hedonists', we are not that vulgar image anymore. I believe it's called growing up."

Placebo may have grown up in public very quickly but it's only the start of a very long journey. Soon they'll have conquered the world.