"I Thought I Was Good At Handling Pussy"

Select, Oct'98

Rock life took its toll on Placebo. They indulged themselves shamefully, spent a fortune on chemicals, and “fucked themselves empty”. Worse still, guns were pulled on them and Brian Molko was dabbling with heroin. Now Britain’s filthiest band have reached the morning after…

Brian Molko is in a claret-coloured smoking jacket, with pink eyeshadow and black lipstick, He is holding the Cat From Hell: a fluffy white bag of pure evil, which has clamped its jaws around the thumbs of nearly everyone in the room at some point. It hates all humanity, it exists solely to bring pain.

It now lies peacefully in Brian’s arms, purring revoltingly. “I feel like something being lined up to be fucked by Oscar Wilde,” he simpers. “All 19th century and renty.”

“You look more like a vampire,” Steve Hewitt points out. “You look like you want to pierce necks and sip, sip, sip at warm blood.”

The cat struggles in Brian’s arms. He clamps down on its neck with a gloved hand.

“Aaaaah. The children of the night,” he recites - it’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula soliloquy. He rests his incisors on his lower lip, and takes a rasping, lascivious suck of air.

Steve and Stefan Olsdal aid the mood by howling like wolves. “How sweeeeeeeetly they sing,” Brian croons, manically stroking the cat, Then he pauses, and the cat leaps out of his arms.

“Oh,” Brian pouts, deflated. “I thought I was good at handling pussy.”

The wolves start yelping. “he cat’s gone,” Brian sighs. “That’s ruined the picture.” He pauses again, and then says, brightly, “Shall I get my tits out, then?”

An hour later, placebo take their places around a pub table, and stick their noses in the first drinks of the day. Steve, the drummer with the Martin Clunes’ air, is on the lager. He’s chirpy but suave: a kind of Jimmy Bond. Stefan, Molko’s co-writer bassist, is also on the lager. Stefan is quietly gay and winks constantly, chummily and disconcertingly throughout the day, as if he were letting you in on The Big Gay Secret.

A fancy cocktail swiftly arrives. Ah, that’ll be Brian’s then.

“It’s not a fancy cocktail - it’s a Bloody Mary,” he chides/ Brassy vivacious like a slutty society hostess two vodkas down, he lights a cigarette, hi eyes glowing green/blue, like a Siamese cat’s.

“So what do you think to the flavour of it?” Steve asks, idly.

Brian: “Of what?”

Steve: “Spunk”

“It depends on what they’ve been eating the day before doesn’t it?” Brian ponders. “I mean a lot of curries or lemon juice…”

“Ugh: curry-spunk,” Steve grimaces, very straightly.

“They affect your spunk-flavour,” Brian continues.

“If they’ve been drinking loads of lager,” Steve asks tentatively, “does it taste all bubbly?”

“Fizzy lager-cum?” Brian replies, briskly.

“Yeah. You drink it and then, instead of falling asleep straight away, you pass out instead. It’s a more intense unconsciousness. But whatever the flavour, the Pope would have problems with it. You’re not supposed to drink your seed. There’s only one thing you can legitimately do with your spunk - PUT IT IN A LADY!”

He takes a reflective suck on his cigarette, and turns to Select. “So, you want out secrets then?” he inquires. He sounds vaguely Transylvanian - he still hasn’t quite come out of the character as a tit-slashing Dracula. “You want to… to revel the hairy bits no one else sees?”


“Here you go!” Brian thrusts his baldy chest in Select’s face. “I shave my chest hair. I’m not very hairy anyway. Except around the nipples. I’ve shaved round them today for the first time. I hate fucking shaving. Doing my face every day makes my skin look really grotty and horrible and zitty. I spend time as a man these days. But then, I’m not completely obsessed with looking like a woman, you know? I will often have two or three days’ stubble, with make up on top of it. It’s a nice look.”

Talk, for some reason, turns to putting Immac in your enemy’s hair conditioner.

“Yeah I remember doing something like that to a girl at school,” Brian says. “I replaced her face cream with…lube, and she wasn’t very happy when she found out about it: ‘Brian gave me this dick cream to put on my face.’ There’s a story I’ve never told before : the story of the time I lubed a girl’s entire head. Speaking of which, it reminds me of a horrible story a friend told me, about a movie he saw. There’s this really, really big woman, and a very, very small Japanese woman… and a bathing cap.”

HE pauses. “I don’t need to say anything else, do I? It’s all rather reminiscent of [the performance artist] Leigh Bowery. I saw him at Bohemia [club] once. He came on, hugely fat, and did an entire show before falling to the floor and screaming as if he were going to die. And then he opened his legs, and gave birth to his wife Nicola, who he’d been carrying strapped to his body for over and hour. She was covered in jelly - she had on a baldy wig, and sausages wrapped around her waist. I think there was blood too.”

Brian pauses again, and then says, delicately : “and then he was like a mummy bird, and she was the baby bird - he puked in her mouth and she drank it.”

“And people thing we’re extreme!” Steve yelps. “Do you see the difference, there? We would never vomit in each other’s mouths. We draw some lines.”

So here he is, Brian Molko. The Kylie-sized ladyboy who claims to have left a “trail of blood and spunk across Britain” on his last tour. The Born Again Christian who swapped Jesus for sex. 1998’s androgyne of choice. When Nancy Boy’ tickled the Top Ten’s balls in January 1997, you wouldn’t have put you money on Brian Molko being anything more than a six-week-long Marc Almond flashback. But two years later he’s still here, with one of 1998’s biggest singles - ‘Pure Morning’ - under his belt, and a “difficult” second album which turns ruination and self loathing into the best way to spend this autumn. So what cultural petri dish bred this quirky perv-midget? The answer is the equally tiny but perverse Luxembourg. Molko - it’s Jewish for ‘queen’ - is the product of European wealth.

“In the beginning,” Molko says, there was a very tiny private school in Luxembourg, and there were two sons of bankers. One of these sons was very tall and he played basketball. The other was very small and didn’t. they were ten. And they didn’t talk.”

The tall boy was Placebo’s nineteen-feet high bass player Stefan Olsdal. The short-arse was Brian. Mutual friends tipped the wink that each banker-spawn was hungry for pop and rock, and a very nascent version of Placebo had their first rehearsal in the school hall. “We didn’t do much else except eat pizza,” Brian explains. “It was an excuse to hang, really.”

Brian lost his virginity in Luxembourg to a French girl - but, by his own smiling admission, Britain was where he learnt about the spine-tingling triptych of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. He came to study drama at Goldsmiths College, and lived in south-east London for five years. “That’s where the accent comes from. It’s mid-Atlantic. Somewhere between Deptford and New York.

Molko - living on a frugal vegetarian diet so vitamin-free he got constant tonsillitis - bumped into Olsdal again at South Kensington tube and invited him to join the band that he and Steve Hewitt had formed. However, no sooner was Olsdal in board than Hewitt jumped overboard, citing drumming commitments to his day job with indie losers Breed.

Thus Placebo’s first ever tour was with drummer Robert Schultzberg. He never really fitted in. The line-up squabbled its way through a year-long tour of Europe, and a swanky support slot for their godfather-figure David Bowie. When Schultzberg quit, Hewitt returned to Placebo’s Addams Family-fold, “and we’ve never argued and all loved each other since.”

They’ve also “loved” a lot of other people since. Having gone to the pop hustings on the debauchery ticket, Placebo have more than lived up to their manifesto.

“Placebo’s Seven Deadly Sins are: Laziness, Homophobia, Racial Intolerance, Parental Guidance Stickers, Violence, Retro, Sobriety and the Early Licensing Law,” Molko explains.

When asked to put a figure on how much it cost Placebo to be Placebo on their riotous 1997 tour, Molko briskly says : “£700 a week - on chemicals. And our wages were only £20 a day each.” In France Brian was so out of it that he put his arm through a plate glass window. “It looked like I’d tried to commit suicide,” he says ruefully. In Germany, Molko’s dress-wearing tendencies led to an icky situation: “ I was chatting to this guy in a bar, when I felt something hard on my thigh. I thought ‘Oh hello.’ Then I looked down and thought ‘Oh no.’ It was a gun.”

This was the tour where Molko paid a roadie Ј1000 to parade naked around his hotel room for the entertainment of his guests and where he frequently engaged in “very, very dodgy fornication.” It was this now legendary “trail of blood and spunk” that paved the way for placebo’s latest album, ‘Without you, I am nothing’, in the way a virus paves the way for fever and delirium.

Time off in still, sweaty August. A hotel room somewhere in Europe. The blinds are closed against the sun. Fuelled by the uppiest uppers known to man, and the 30 bottles of champagne given to Placebo by a fan who’s father owns every oil refinery in southern Germany, the party has lasted three days. Couples have fucked on the floor while the conversation rages over their heads. Someone passed out in the locked bathroom for four hours, so the door is now off its hinges with the word ‘Wanker’ written on it. The carpet is stained with red wine, fag-ash and cum.

Of the twelve people in the room, seven are now fucking. Brian Molko is one of them: his eyes are glazed. He can’t remember whether he’s already come or not. As he pushes his hair off his face, he notices his hands are so trembly they’re vibrating. He looks up into the mirror over the bed: he does not see himself, Brian Molko - he sees the grimacing face of Louise Wener. An absolute black horrorwash floods through him. He detaches himself from his companion, and locks himself in he bathroom. His guitar is broken in the bath, the headstock limp like a broken neck. He picks it up anyway , and starts to play…

This was the first day of writing songs for Placebo’s ‘difficult’ second album, ‘Without You, I Am Nothing.’

Well that’s what it sounds like.

“Keep going with the orgy bit,” Steve urges. “It was getting good.”

“It was, ‘Here I am at the orgy, I feel so disgusted with myself I’m going to go and give myself a hard time for a couple of weeks,” Brian Molko confirms. “That’s ruined, Jane’s Addiction, ‘Three Days’ [post-orgy track on JA’s ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’] kind of thing.”

“And we were like ‘Do we have to leave?’” Steve moans. “Can we have one more shag?”

“I felt soiled at the end of it,” Brian continues. “All this meaningless fucking…”

“You’d certainly feel like ‘Don’t talk - I just want to fuck you’,” Steve notes.

“There were times when I looked back and thought - I shouldn’t have gone there. Moments where I went ‘I can’t believe I’ve just done that’,” Brian admits.

Paint the scene for us.

“I can’t. it’s far too shameful. And I don’t really use that word that much.” Brian says, averting his eyes. “We’d get -no! We just can’t. There are events which we just couldn’t…”

“Touring puts you in this bubble where you happily do things you’d find abhorrent un normal life,” Steve offers. “I mean, I now totally understand why people trash hotel rooms. I’ve done it myself now. And it’s not for the rock’n’rolliness of it: it’s because you just can’t stand seeing another hotel room.”

“That’s why this album has the mood of… post-coital comedown,” Brian explains. “There’s a real melancholia on it; that feeling of having…fucked yourself empty. But,” he says raising an admonishing finger, “we were never as bad as Led Zeppelin.”

“They had their own private jet,” Steve points out. “They had people employed solely to think of new ways for Led Zeppelin to be naughty.”

“I don’t think we were as extreme, physicallt, as people like to make out,” Brian continues to scold. “I mean I don’t know what fevered visions people have, but we probably never did half of them.”

Something triggers a thought in Brian. “You’re the only one of us who’s had sex in a plane, aren’t you, Stefan?” he asks.

“In my seat,” Stefan says smugly.

Even when they’re trying to sound good, Placebo can’t help being bad.

‘Without you I’m nothing’ is, as Brian points out, the sound of “having fucked yourself empty.” It has a sense of ruinous exhaustion, and rather smacky introspection. It evokes those rainy depressive days where you feel rather too frail to leave the house, and comfort yourself by playing all the records you loved five years ago. In Placebo’s case, this rainy play-list seems to contain Joy Division, The Cure, Jane’s Addiction and Tindersticks. ‘Burger Queen’ sounds like the blissy drift of early Spiritualized, while ‘Every Me Every You’ has a prime New Order bassline that will no doubt have Peter Hook knocking on the door for royalties at some point.

The isolation of Real World studios in Bath accelerated the album’s womby vibe. “It’s like a vicarage in the middle of nowhere.” Brian says, “We went to the local pub like, once. The rest of the time was spent investigating the cellar-full of fine wines.”

“We were trying to detox after the tour, really,” Steve says. “It’s in the middle of this beautiful, hyper-real countryside, and it was a retreat - a holiday away from all the….distractions.”

“I think it’s more self aware - we’re not hiding behind that sound anymore. There is rock on there - and when we roc, we rock, bit it’s generally a more complex, open record,” Brian says. “A lot of the lyrics are just off the top of my head - first takes. I don’t want to analyse it. I just wanted to get feelings and stuff on there.”

Interestingly, the lyrics aren’t printed on the album and requests to Placebo’s record company to have them fazed over are met with an apologetic “Placebo don’t want the lyrics quoted out of context.” Lyrics have traditionally been a bit of a Placebaic weak point. Everyone’s played the drunken game of making-up-new-lyrics-to‘Nancy Boy’ - “Drinking petrol just for fun/Bacon sandwich up my bum” and so this reticence to ‘share’ the words rings a couple of alarm bells. After repeated listens, headphones clamped to head, Select is pleased to report that things are no worse than usual. There are a couple of interestingcouplets, however, that need elucidation.

“Okay. Shoot,” Brian says, looking a little perturbed.

Well firstly there’s all these references to ‘boxes’. Are we talking lady front bottom here?

“Well,” Brian fidgets, “you could see it two ways, I mean, it could be a box, just a box, not a… a…”

Lady front bottom!

2Lady front bottom.”

Steve and Stefan are sniggering. “but…”

It is isn’t it?

“It is. But you can still see it two ways. I mean, the image that I had,” he blushes prettily, “is a safe place where you put…tender things.”

Fair enough.


The lyric “Your smile it makes me sneeze.”

Brian, astonishingly, looks less embarrassed than over the ‘box’ incident.

“the idea I had there was of hating someone so much that you get allergic to them - their smile irritates you, and makes you sneeze,” he explains breezily, “I think that’s quite self-explanatory. Next!”

Well this is one from the past. On ‘Nancy Boy,’ when you refer to cheap perfume, which sort do you mean? Are we talking Tweed, Charlie and Tramp, or do you maybe mean the Body Shop perfumes, which are the cheapest you can buy, but aren’t really that sleazy?

“Nah,” Brian giggles. “It’s that toilet-cleaner stuff that bad trannies wear. The stuff you can buy from market stalls in Deptford. Any more?”

Well there’s the line on ‘My Sweet Prince’: ‘Me and the dragon can chase all the pain away…. Never thought all this could backfire/Close up the whole in my vein’

“That’s quite obvious isn’t it?” Brian says, looking away. “It’s heroin.”

And does this refer to an experience you’ve had yourself?

“Well,” he pauses. “Everyone’s asked me ‘Are you a junkie? Were you addicted?’ And I’m not and I wasn’t, so I’ve always said ‘No’ But I did do it. There was a period where a friend - no on In the band - was… and I… but I was lucky. I didn’t get addicted. I gave it up quite easily.”

It’s a very selfish drug. You just sit and turn in. it’s not fun, and drugs are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? Did you know that Britain is top of the lust for taking Class As in Europe?” he continues, rapidly. “Whenever we travel around the UK, we notice it: and it’s the small towns and the places out in the sticks that have the worst trouble, Because here’s nothing else to do.”

“It’s why this country needs a proper, integrated, free public transport system,” Steve interjects. “Get the busses running,. Then people won’t take smack.”

The other development in Brian’s life since their debut album has been a sore, hairline crack in his heart. “I did the last one so right,” he moans, head in hands. “I nought her dresses, sent her flowers - everything - and she still shat on my face.”

But isn’t that the kind of kinky Placebo sex-thrill you crave?

“DON’T TIE ME TO MY CLICHƒ! I crave…love. Now. I crave love. I want the security of a real relationship. Someone who really cares. Someone who’s not going to fuck with my head. Someone who’s not impressed with the fact I’m in a fairly successful band.. Someone who’s kind to me.” He drifts blissfully away. “We’d stay in and watch TV…”

So who was the lady heart-breaker?

“I’m not going to say. But that was the last time I wept - when she went. She dumped me a month ago. I’ve only just, really, gotten over it. I spent a lot of time in tears.

Is she in a band?

“No. She’s an actress.”

Did you meet her on the set of Velvet Goldmine[in which Brian has a small part]?

“No. I met her through a friend. I first saw her on TV when I was 15, and six months ago she walked into my life, and I was determined to have her. And I did.”

So is she an older lady, then?

“No. She’s my age. She used to be a child actress.”

Is it Charlotte Coleman?


Is it someone who’s been in a soap since they were a child?


Is it Rebecca Callard?


The girl who played Annie in the musical?

“No!” Brian yelps, amused. “I’m not going to tell you. But she broke my heart.” [Select subsequently discovers the lady in question is Lisa Walker, sometime star of Press Gang and Cadbury’s chocolate ads]

Back in the pub, the sun is starting to set. Placebo, having spent the last hour talking about their relief in leaving some of the more exhausting hell-raising traits behind, are discussing their forthcoming tour.

“Maybe we’ll be tempted,” Brian considers. “Maybe we’ll want to be bad again.”

“We’re all dying for a shag,” Steve points out.

Perhaps you should make a plan, to keep your minds on higher things. Take up a hobby.

“Like what?”


“We could render each other,” Steve muses. “But - no.”


“We’re Placebo,” Brian sniffs.

A correspondence course in First Aid.

“You don’t get the powers to prescribe drugs with a First Aid certificate do you? So fuck that.”


Brian shoots a filthy look. Steve and Stefan look glum.

“we were going to get a Nintendo,” Steve offers, feebly.

“I could write that novel I’ve always been meaning to write,” Brian muses.

“You’re still living that novel you’ve always been meaning to write,” Steve points out. “It’s going to be fucking isn’t it?”

“We all have totally different taste, so we never argue over our ladyboys.” Brian explains, happily. “The one thing we all have in common though, is that we all like people with a certain sadness to them. A shadow of melancholia, if you will. That’s a trait for all of us.”

“Yeah: because it’s a trait in all of us,” Steve points out.

“I think it’s quite healthy to fancy people who remind you of yourself,” Brian insists, knocking back the last dregs of his Bloody Mary. “We sit up long into the night discussing the narcissistic nature of desire. And the funny thing is that, when you’ve been having one of these conversations, you always go back to your bunk and have a wank.”


Placebo’s rock gazetteer of Europe’s finest sex and drugs


Brian: The groupies are psycho. Very young. Very bad. They all lie about their age. And they’re very determined: it’s almost like ‘How dare you come into my country without shagging me?’

Steve: The drugs are good, but it’s difficult to get them, because the cops carry guns and they’re real aggressive. There’s a toll-both on one of the highways, with customs officials who can board at any time

B: Oh yeah! We’d been playing the Rizla game when we got stopped, and we were in such shock that it was only one second before they climbed on the bus that we were like ‘Okay. Everything’s gone. Oh! SHIT! We’ve got Rizlas on our heads!


Huge sighs

S: Plurgh

B: Germany. Oh dear.

S: There is no sex in Germany.

B: None at all. It’s too white and too old and too German. And it was in Germany that we got a tub of lard on the rider. And we hasn’t even asked for it. it was pure while pig’s lard.

S: We used it as an ashtray. Germany’s more relaxed about drugs than France. You can smoke a spliff in the street.


B: it’s very relaxed, in that ‘Manyana’ way. Like: ‘We know you’re late, but first we have coffee and a chat.’

S: We’ve never done drugs in Italy. That was our abstemious week.


Stefan: it’s very posh, very blond, very tall. Can you guess I’m from Sweden?

B: if Scandinavia was a person, it would be a school-master with a dildo in one hand, pickled herring in the other, and he’d be contemplating suicide.

Stefan: The winter night’s are endless. You wake up each morning and your body can’t understand why.


B: I get my arse pinched here. They think I am a Sexy Lady. The sex there is great. Very full-on, very sensual. Spain is a sensual voluptuous ladyboy.

S: And drugwise, it’s very handily placed. I mean, you can see Morocco from the beach.


S: Great weed. Lots of donkeys.

B: That’s sex covered, then. Great ass.

The Netherlands

B: Well you don’t need to ask about drugs. We have an Amsterdam curse on us. Every time we play there, we suck.

S: I think that’s because, technically, we’re very stoned.

B: The sex is - slow. And very hungry, afterwards.


B: I learnt all my wicked ways here. The sex is full-on. The drugs are comparatively cheap as well. The British Malaise, though, is that you think you’ve got it right, that you’re better than the rest of the world. It’s the island mentality. Existing in splendid isolation. It’s not progressive or positive. Britain’s rather like the Isle of Man Hey isn’t homosexuality illegal there? There’s only one gay man on the Isle of Man? We’ll have to go search for him. Get a photograph. Get David Attenborough in. ‘Here I am, entering Douglas, looking for signs of gayness, but I haven’t seen any.’