"Interview with Brian Molko"

SUB, 1999

Translation by eunice

Sub: Hello, can I speak to Brian?

Brian: This is Brian.

S: Hello, this is Jeane from ‘Sub’, a music magazine in South Korea. I can’t believe I’m talking to you on the phone! I believe you are in Spain right now….?

B: Yes, we’re touring in Europe.

S: Wow… I just wish I could go to the airport right now and get a ticket to wherever you are!

B: (laugh)

S: So you’re on Europe tour which started in London early October. How has it been so far?

B: I think we’ve done with about a half the tour so far. It was really great in the UK because all the shows were sold out. But touring in other European countries is always more fun. People seem more relaxed. UK fans are a little too serious, you know? Or maybe more conservative? But fans in other European countries are really enthusiastic and crazy. I guess that makes us enjoy ourselves more on stage. It’ll be Christmas when this tour ends. Until then, we’ll keep touring.

S: Have you been to Asia before? Any plans for Asia tour?

B: Well, I’ve only been to Japan. I’d stayed in Tokyo for 5 days. I’m not sure but we’ll probably be doing Asia after Europe, early next year.

S: Great. So, Brian, how would you describe true Placebo fans? What do you think of them when you are looking at them from stage?

B: I see all types of fans. 11, 12-year old girls who are more into our looks than our music. It’s always them who scream at our gigs. And there are fans in their 20s and even in their 40s. They are the ones we have conversations with after the gigs sometimes. They are the fans who appreciate our music and the lyrics. But the most enthusiastic ones are younger fans.

S: Haha, naturally.

B: Yeah, they are ‘weirdos’, you know.

S: This is what I’ve noticed at Reading Festival this year: pretty boys are walking around with heavy eye makeup and mascara, just like you, Brian. (laugh) It is undeniable that you created that trend. What are your thoughts on this?

B: (laugh) Really? Well, that’s strange…

S: Only pretty ones, there were no ugly ones. (laugh)

B: (laugh) Thank you. Can I take that as a compliment?

S: Of course, it was a compliment.

B: Well, whether that was true or not, I’d keep wearing makeup. I really love wearing makeup. I enjoy every second of it. I think it’s fun to see how my action can influence people in some ways. We call them ‘Brian clones’ or ‘Molko clones’. All of a sudden, there are men wearing makeup and skirts in London.

S: Yes. And sometimes it involves bras. (laugh)

B: Right. Fake boobs and the same hairstyle as mine… Getting a haircut is the thing to do when something like that happens. I actually got a haircut recently. So now I’m ahead of my imitators.

S: Oh, that will make them even busier catching up with you. (laugh)

B: (laugh) Maybe. I think imitation is the most refined form of flattery. It’s strange but I’ve never imitated anyone when I was little. It’s interesting that I make influence on some people. That’s why I got a haircut. Now all of them should get theirs, too. (laugh)

S: I want to see your new hairstyle. (laugh)

B: The color is still black. A little shorter.

S: I see. Do you do makeup even when you’re not on stage?

B: Yes, almost everyday. I always do makeup when I go out.

S: Is there any special reason? Why makeup?

B: It’s part of my everyday life. Just like it is for women. Makeup makes your skin look cleaner and makes you look more attractive. Same reasons why women do makeup.

S: Have you been asked about your sexual orientation because of your makeup?

B: Yes. I’ve been asked about that often but I don’t really care. We cover all types of sexual orientation. I’ve never had any problems with my bi-sexuality. I’ve never felt any pressure to hide it. If this is who I am, I can’t do anything about it, can I?

S: That’s true. You recently appeared in a movie ‘Velvet Goldmine’ directed by Todd Haynes…?

B: Yes.

S: How did you get involved with that movie and how was the experience? Did you have fun on the set?

B: Yes! It was so great. Acting has always been my first love. I studied acting in college.

S: Right, you did!

B: Acting is a very natural thing for me. When ‘Nancy Boy’ made a hit in the UK, we were on the covers of almost every music magazine. Then I got a phone call and got the part. We also recorded ‘20th Century Boy’ for the movie soundtrack. Then Stefan also got an offer so we went to the set and made our movie debuts. I hope I can do more movies in the future.

S: Have you known Todd Haynes for long?

B: Well, you could say so because ‘Poison’ is my most favorite movie. When I got the offer, I went to audition and told him, “Just please give me any role. I need to be in your movie. I adore your works.” Then we became very good friends. Whenever we go to New York or he comes to London, we hang out. It’s really amazing to be friends with someone you admire.

S: It’d be like a miracle.

B: Well, exactly.

S: From what I’ve heard, this movie is about Glam Rock in the 70s. Well, Placebo are sometimes labeled as a Glam Rock band. What do you think about it?

B: Well, unfortunately that’s the case quite often. But I think that’s an over-simplification, you know? It is just a movie, not an actual event. Besides, we are too young to remember what Glam Rock was. Musically, we are more influenced by Post Punk than Glam Rock. Music since the 80s. I was only one year old when Ziggy Stardust came out. How could a 1-year old remember anything? The time we remember is 10 years later. We remember music since Post Punk in the 70s and early 80s, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey and contemporary and electronic music. There’s a difference between Glam Rock and glamour. We are not a Glam Rock band but definitely glamourous. (laugh)

S: You’ve just mentioned Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey as your musical influences. Any other bands for the inspiration?

B: We are influenced by so many musicians. Very diverse. Stef grew up listening to ABBA and now he’s a huge Depeche Mode fan. Their music has both gothic melancholy and pop sensitivity. Steve likes hip-hop such as Prince, Sly & The Family Stone and Public Enemy and funk. That groovy, funky style is reflected in our music. As I said earlier, Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey are my favorite artists. Our experimental and dense guitar is influenced by those artists. PJ Harvey’s first two albums, in which you can sense pain, as if they were bleeding on you, made a huge influence on me. So basically it’s a combination of many different styles.

S: Right. The lyrics in this new album… well, they feel much sadder, darker and more melancholic than they were in your previous album. Do the lyrics mean great deal to you?

B: Of course!

S: Then how do you reflect your ideas into them? What do you try to express through the lyrics?

B: Well, this album is about the hurt for a lost love. The pain from a relationship that was broken into pieces. Melancholy, the impossible reality to be with someone and to be alone at the same time: these are the things I wanted to talk about in the lyrics. This album is a very personal one.

S: You mean, based on your personal experience?

B: Yes. It’s an album that is very truthful to my emotions of being hurt. Filled with emotional wounds for a lost love, romantic and yet desperate. The songs in this album reflect so much about where we were when we were writing them. We were thinking about ourselves a lot then. About our personal relationships and our lives in general. We were fairly successful when we were writing these songs but our personal lives were breaking apart. That is reflected in the color of this album. But there is still a hope. A tinge of optimism. It’s not all dark and sad. Just, um… just very personal. I believe the most personal can be the most universal.

S: I see... I’ve been listening to this album for the past 7, 8 days and well, I get melancholy and desperation but no hope or optimism yet. (laugh)

B: You’ll find them.

S: Ok. I’ll try harder. (laugh)

B: (laugh) You do that. They are right there, you just have to look for them.

S: Do you have your favorite song in this album? If so, which one is it?

B: Well, that’s like asking which one is your favorite child.

S: That’s true. It’s a stupid question, isn’t it?

B: Not stupid but impossible to answer. It’s really hard to pick just one song from this album. I love each song for different reasons. Each song was written with different emotions so I love all the songs. All songs have different meanings and feelings.

S: What is the most important thing when you’re writing? Or rather, what is making music to you?

B: It is the basic. To us, music is the most basic means to express ourselves. Just like food or air to survive, music is very important to us. We can’t survive without music. It is our emotional outlet. We would’ve been miserable if we hadn’t been able to express our creativity through music. By expressing ourselves through music, we can understand our feelings better and have better conversation with them. And also, it gives us a certain degree of accomplishment and satisfaction. Well… it just feels like music is the thing we must do. We are musicians, artists. Isn’t that what artists are all about? They are destined to live like that.

S: I see… I saw the video of the first single ‘Pure Morning’. It was very interesting. In the beginning of the video you were standing on top of a building as if you were about to commit suicide.

B: (cough) Ah, I was choking on my coffee. (cough)

S: Hello? Are you ok? Did you catch a cold?

B: Hm, ah, I’m fine now. We all have an eternal cold when touring.

S: You do? Really?

B: No, I was joking. I was just choking on my coffee. Um… that video is not about suicide.

S: No, it isn’t. At the end of the video, you walk down on the building wall as if you were sneering at people’s thoughts on death or as if you just realized how much you love life. What is the story or concept behind the video?

B: Well, I think the video has more abstract meaning than that. We wanted to show a state of extreme desperation. We didn’t want to make another video showing us performing. Um… I don’t know, we wanted to make a video in which we can actually act, a video like a small movie. Anyway, the video started from our idea, and we wanted a very intense, desperate drama, which you might be feeling when you wake up to a pure morning. We wanted a video that can keep the viewers on the edge of their seats from the start to the end. And it also has a very important meaning that I don’t die in the end. It shows some hope, I think. Actually some of us view this video from a different perspective, for example, do you remember the scene where Stef and Steve get arrested? We thought of ourselves as special beings with supernatural powers who came from a far future. That’s why I could walk down on the building wall and people arrested Stef and Steve. People wanted to take us away and do experiments on us. That’s why I was standing on top of the building away from the people. Or, the video could be about anything, really. It just raised some questions without suggesting any clear answers. You have to fill in the blanks. It can be interpreted in any way according to the person’s experience and situation. That was our intentions. To raise questions without giving any clues.

S: So it’s fans’ job to figure out the answers.

B: Right. Exactly. I believe that’s the way it should be.

S: Ok. Um, is this the only video that came out from the same album?

B: No, we have two more: ‘You Don’t Care About Us’ in which we appeared as imposters, and ‘Every You, Every Me’ showing many twins. (I have no idea what Brian talked about here…) You’ll see these soon.

S: I’d love to. Actually I had to stay up until 1am every night to see Pure Morning video on TV. There’s this show on V channel which starts at midnight. This show introduces new music. I’ve watched this show for about a month but it didn’t show your video, not even once. But then one night, it showed Pure Morning. I got so excited jumping up and down in my room.

B: Haha, that’s cool.

S: Well, I didn’t get much sleep but I would do it again if I could see other videos of yours. (laugh)

B: Haha

S: Um, Placebo are a multinational band. Stefan is Swedish, Steve is British and you are American?

B: Yes.

S: Do you think that has a positive effect on the band?

B: Yes, absolutely. That gives very international sense to our music. It means that we don’t carry a burden as musical heirs of a certain country, for example the UK, or a certain musical tradition. Our musical backgrounds allow more variety. That’s why we can take one step ahead. We are not obsessed with one type of music or certain types of bands, like other British bands might. We don’t care much about being labeled as a retro of other bands. When we started making music, this was certainly a positive aspect, which still is. And it also keeps us from fear of touring all over the world away from the UK. It allows us to spread our messages we want to deliver to the world.

S: Sounds very cosmopolitan. (laugh)

B: Um, yeah, that. (laugh)

S: Where are you based? England, America or Europe?

B: We’re based in London. We’ve been living in London for quite a long time.

S: I think I read in some article that you grew up in Europe but went back to America only to return to Europe because you didn’t like it in America.

B: No, that’s not true. I’ve been living in Europe all my life. Stef and I went to the same school in Luxembourg.

S: I see… I always wonder about this whenever I listen to ‘Come Home’: what or where would you call your ‘home’?

B: I don’t know. I don’t think I have any. With non-stop touring, I feel more and more that I don’t belong anywhere. If you live like this… well, sometimes it’s just unbearable. Home, to me, is nothing more than a place where I am at the moment. Maybe it’s where your good friends are. But I can’t be everywhere at the same time so, I don’t know…

S: Especially when you’re always traveling for touring, it must be hard to keep friendship or relationship with your girlfriend.

B: That’s true. It’s not just difficult, it’s almost impossible. You get very lonely while touring. When you reach at certain point, you feel like you are going crazy. (sigh)

S: But you have to deal with it because there’s no option, right?

B: That’s right. Um, are there more questions?

S: Ah, yes. Last question: are there any new bands you are interested in?

B: We like lots of new bands. I can’t list all of them but I listen to DJ Shadow and U.N.K.L.E a lot these days. They are really amazing. I also like Mogwai. And I recently started listening to a British alternative band Six By Seven. They are great, too. We tend to listen to a lot of different music. But we don’t listen to guitar sounds. We like listening to funky or danceable music. Well, I guess it’s just natural to feel like listening to other music when you play rock music all the time. The recent albums of DJ Shadow and Red Snapper are really good.

S: Wow! My friends and I dance to DJ Shadow every Saturday!

B: (laugh) Really? Cool. (laugh) Well, it was nice talking to you.

S: Same to you. Ah, wait, one more question I’d like to ask you.

B: Yes?

S: Any plans to do festivals next year?

B: Nothing is settled yet but we’ll be doing one of the festivals next year for sure.

S: Great! Wow, I will definitely be there next year.

B: Good!

S: Thank you very much for taking time to answer questions.

B: No problem. And let’s have a drink next year if we can meet at the festival.

S: Wow, great. Thank you for the interview and I hope you enjoy the rest of your tour.

B: Thank you. That’s very kind of you. Bye.

S: Bye.