By: Alex Felten
Saturday September 1, the Projekt Revolution Tour presented by Linkin Park took to Tinley Park at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. The lineup included Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Him and Placebo. I was fortunate enough to get backstage and have a sit-down with Placebo’s Front man, Brian Molko. The humble, soft spoken Englishman welcomed me on to their bus and told me bit about what it has been like for the boys on their world tour and being first timers on an outdoor style tour like Projekt Revolution: backstage, the bands, the crowds and a whole lot of traveling.
CMG: How have you been enjoying the tour so far?
Molko: Look, we’ve been on the road for 18 months (lighting a Marlboro Lite). We’ve got two shows left of our world tour. So, We’re eager to go home and take six months off.
CMG: Do you guys do a lot of these outdoor venue style tours?
Molko: We do a lot of festivals in Europe. This was our first, you know, this style of tour in the U.S. Coachella was our first [U.S. outdoor festival].
CMG: How do you like all the traveling involved in these kinds of tours?
Molko: I like arriving. (laughs) We have an 18 hour drive to Denver tonight, for example.
CMG: Do you get a chance, when you are off stage, to walk around in the crowds and see and hear the other bands?
Molko: Yeah, um, bits and pieces. Mindless Self Indulgence just started and I was hoping to go see them.
CMG: Yeah, me to.
Molko: Oh you too? Great.
CMG: So they [MSI] have been a highlight for you. Anyone else you’ve enjoyed watching or just hanging out back stage with?
Molko: Yeah, you know there’s been a real sense of camaraderie back stage with this whole thing. You know, bands just cruising and mingling. It’s been really good.
CMG: There’s a lot of different music on this tour, some post hardcore, emo rock, electronic, even some hip hop jumping around in there. How do you feel Placebo fits into the mix here?
Molko: I’m not sure really. I know when we first started the tour the set was completely different. And we were quite, had a lot of bravado and you know, thought we could just waltz on in our French designer shirts and kind of play our particular brand of European melancholia, and we realized pretty damn quickly that Linkin Park and My Chem. fans, at 5 o’clock in the after noon, don’t wish to be wooed. They want to be slapped across the face. So we had to change things around and find a bunch of songs that did exactly that. So we are show casing the more sort of punk side of our repertoire.
CMG: So have you been able to play your newer material or have you had to go back and bring out some of the earlier stuff?
Molko: We’ve had to go back and play ‘Pure Morning’ and ‘Nancy Boy’. We haven’t even rehearsed it or played it in three years. And then there’s ‘Pure Morning’ which was like our biggest hit about ten years ago in the U.S. Then there’s stuff from the new album, ‘Taste in Men’ which we kind of feel is our most Linkin Park-esque song. ‘Every Me’ which is well known in the U.S., it was on the Cruel Intentions thing. ‘Running Up That Hill’ which was a big hit digitally thanks to The O.C., went down like a lead balloon. So, it went down pretty damn quickly and as a single here. So we’re not even playing the single here. That’s fine. We’re here to raise awareness about the band and not market a particular single. This is the end of the world tour for us. It’s become about exposure in the U.S. Fair enough.
CMG: Have you had a chance to see Julien K? I know they’re a bit more electronic.
Molko: Yeah. In fact today, you know, Brian, the singer was asked to be best man in his brother’s wedding. So Chester from Linkin Park is doing the whole Julien K set. Yeah, he’s been doing like the last song [of the set] and that’s been good for us ’cause it pulls more people in.
CMG: With that in mind, do you feel that you guys have been getting a pretty good response from the crowds?
Molko: It’s been pretty good considering, you know.
CMG: Did you see a difference when you started changing your line up a bit?
Molko: Absolutely, yeah. When we turned the set around there was a really big difference. It took about three or four gigs to find the right songs.
CMG: Yeah, it’s a bit more ‘hard-core’ out here. It doesn’t seem like your European fans as quite as aggressive.
Molko: You know what, I think you have to be flexible. If you’re not flexible then, you know, people will just shut off after a while. It’s good for a band as old as us and as successful as us, in different parts of the world, to still be faced with the challenge of being flexible and being faced with the challenge of playing songs that we wouldn’t normally chose to play, because we feel we’ve moved on. So it’s certainly challenging, is the best way to describe this whole experience for us.
CMG: Well it’s good to still push your boundaries a bit and see what you can do.
Molko: Absolutely because when you’ve been in a band for ten years and when you achieve success and notoriety around the globe, you know, it’s very easy to get sort of complacent. And this kind of situation pulls you out of your bravado and your complacency. You have to walk the line in a way. So for us, we’ve had to kind of simplify everything and make it as punk rock as possible. It’s kind of refreshing as well.
CMG: Oh yeah. And you guys have been around longer than most of these bands, over ten years now, do you find that that has an impact on you as far as touring?
Molko: There are certain aspects of it that you can’t get as easily excited about. There are certain
aspects that, since you’ve been faced with them so often, they become instantly more frustrating. But I think the magic of it is discovering new things the whole time through so, I think this has been a really, really, good way to end an 18 month world tour. It makes you reevaluate a great deal of things.
CMG: So on the whole, you would say that it’s been a pretty good time on the road, playing and hanging out with all these different bands?
Molko: Yeah, yeah, it’s been fun.
CMG: They are [the bands] kind of a different crowd.
Molko: Yeah and they’re all good people and Linkin Park are very approachable and they even approach you. There’s been no big egos or anything like that floating around. It’s been like a summer camp kind of vibe, really. We have our little ‘chill out’ area set up outside [Placebo Gazebo] and it’s become very important for us as well. It’s been like our little hang out back stage where the bands and crews can come hang out. It’s been a really good come together environment for people.
CMG: Well thanks a lot Brian. I know you wanna get out there and see MSI [Mindless Self Indulgence].
Molko: Yeah, and so do you. Let’s catch that show.
I was able to catch Placebo’s 5:00 performance and they rocked it. As mentioned, they only played a few of their new tracks including ‘Meds’ and ‘Taste In Men’ (Placebo’s most Linkin Park-esque song). But they did bring it back to their punk roots with ‘Pure Morning’ and ‘Nancy Boy’. And they did play Every Me (Cruel Intensions) with enough crowd participation to keep that particular single afloat for while longer.
PLACEBO are Brian Molko (vocals, guitar), Stefan Olsdal (bass, guitar and keyboards) and Steve Hewitt (drums). One American, one Swedish and one Englishman.
Placebo’s unique vision of music and life began in Luxembourg, where Brian initially met Stefan, who is Swedish, at school, at the ages of 12 and 11 respectively. As Brian recalls, “in the space of seven years we might have exchanged one sentence.” Brian came to London when he was 17-years-old, studying drama at Goldsmith’s College. Stefan, meanwhile, had followed his parents to England, and was studying guitar at the Musicians Institute in the East End. It was thus by sheer accident that he ran into Stefan at South kesington tube station (at 9:30-a time when Brian was never awake),”There he was, with a guitar strapped to his back, and he didn’t actually want my phone number he asked for it out of courtesy” . By that time Brian was also working on his own musical ambitions, writing songs as well as playing occasional gigs with a drummer called Steve Hewitt and happened to be playing a gig that night. Stefan attended, and immediately decided a band had to be formed ” I fell in love with his voice and his guitar playing because it was really different” remembers Stefan. Steve Hewitt – whom Brian first met outside Burger King in Lewisham in 1991 through a common friend who was Steve’s girlfriend- was also involved with another band called Breed, but contributed to Placebo’s intial demos when time permitted.
Because of his conflicting commitments with Breed Hewitt was replaced in Placebo by a Swedish drummer called Robert Schultzberg.
Olsdal called round with Robert with whom Stefan has been at school and in a band with in Sweden (he was coming to London to study music ) and Placebo was born.”It was perfect, it just gelled ” remembers Brian. The band was named after a drug which cannot work, they figured something ” you only think makes you feel better”.
Robert was asked to leave the band on the way to a rehearsal for The White Room as the atmosphere within the band was unbearable. ” I think Robert had a very big problem with me being the personality that I am. I guess being more flamboyant than him, receiving more of the attention than him, being more of a focus in the band than he was. I just became increasingly tired the focus of Robert’s rages against the world. i did a lot to gain his trust, but it was never enough.” It was the original chemistry which eventually proved to be the most enduring, and Hewitt was to permanently re-join Placebo in 1996.
THE BEGINNING OF GLORY
By that time the band had already made an extraordinary impact. Startring with their live debut at London’s Rock Garden in January 1995. During 1995 they toured with Ash, Whale and Bush, determined to hook all-comers into their congregation , and released their debut single, ‘Bruise Pristine’ on the Fierce Panda indie label in November1995. The band were also constantly on the road, playing club gigs and support spots in order to properly hone their music. Indeed, at the end of the first year Placebo had their first taste of tangible success when ‘Come Home’ a single recorded for the Deceptive label, reached number three in the indie chart. In January 1996, Placebo signed a deal with Hut Recordings. They’ve attracted attention from the outset, pursued by A&R men repeating the mantra, “You were brilliant. We’ve got to meet up.You blew me away,” Placebo secured their deal with Hut a mere 51 weeks after their first ever gig.They have also, in that time, set up their own label, Elevator Music, via a special deal with Hut Recordings.They began in 1996 with the critically acclaimed ‘Come Home’ single in January ‘96 and toured the UK with Belgian art rockers Evil Superstars and Europe with David Bowie, he became a fan of the band instantly, he invited Placebo to support him on several of his European concert dates.
“We went from 300 capacity venues to 8,000 to 12,000 capacity stadiums almost overnight, which was freaky,” Brian notes “Now we’ve played to 16,00 people in Paris, those festivals are not going to scare us”.
DRUGS, SEX AND ROCK’N ROLL-THE FIRST ALBUM
Placebo’s first album was recorded in Dublin during the spring of 1996 The 10 tracks were mostly about sex. The self-titled debut album was released in June of 1996 preceded by singles ‘36 Degrees’ and ‘Teenage Angst’ and went on to achieve gold status. Placebo then returned to the road, re-tracing their touring schedule of the previous year, this time playing to packed houses throughout the country. When Robert ‘left’ Placebo, Steve was the first drummer to be phoned by Brian who had placed Steve at the top of a list of three. ‘ I sat in my bedroom with my practice kit for two weeks and learnt the LP’, Steve recalls ‘ Then we had one and a half days rehearsal before touring thirteen countries in four months!’.In that way, the band embarked on a series of international tours – in America, Germany and France – . If confirmation was ever needed about Placebo’s rising fame, it came in January 1997 with the release of ‘Nancy Boy’ as a single. As one of the stand-out tracks on the album, ‘Nancy Boy’ went to number four in the UK chart . The same month Placebo played at Madison Square Garden in New York as special guests on the bill of David Bowie’s 50th birthday party. The New single Bruise Pristine was released on May 12th. The band were clearly visible throughout much of the year, headlining their own UK tour, culminating with a show at London’s Brixton Academy – before supporting U2 on many of the Popmart European dates.
THE CALMING DOWN-SECOND ALBUM
Placebo were also invited by executive producer Michael Stipe to play parts alongside Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard in the forthcoming film Velvet Goldmine, due out to be released in the autumn of 1998. The time had come for Placebo to record their second album. At the begining of 1998 the band started work at Real World Studios in bath, with Steve Osborne – whose past credits include U2 and The Happy Mondays – as producer. Due to be unveiled in October 1998, the new album is a collection of twisted love songs which deal, in one form or another, with heartbreak and loneliness. All this is fuelled by a powerfull new sonic identity; there’s now sex in the groove, the result of Steve ’s obsessions with funk and hip-hop. Despite being out of the public eye and in the studio for months, on end August 1998 saw Pure Morning, the first single from the second album, go straight to number four in the UK charts.
Without You I’m Nothing, their Virgin debut, expands upon the sound of Placebo’s earlier eponymous disc (released in America on Caroline Records) and shows the London-based trio thriving on ambiguity, uncertainty, and pure glorious noise. And once again David Bowie shows his attachment to the band offering us a sublime duet with Brian of Wihtout You I’m Nothing, the 4th single.
For the pleasure of French fans and their own delight, the band released a French version of Burger Queen on November 23th before starting a third album.
THE MAN IS BACK
July 2000, more viril than ever, the man is back, and he didn’t lose of his good taste. Taste In Men is the first single of the so much awaited third album recorded in London with Paul Corkett who engineered WYIN. What must we expect ? Something as good as WYIN ? Something different ? Brian promised it to be “a distillation of what we’ve done before”, ” It’s anger and energy”.
10 October, 2000. The world release of Black Market Music. Awaited by the fans and the critics. Placebo are in France to promote the album, autograph session in a music store, an interview and a live performance in a French show. Is it enough to convince the audience ? Well the critics are sharp. How can they do something better than “Without You I’m Nothing” ? That is the question. Are they able to do something different from their previous releases ? As Brian says, it is indeed a distillation of the successful first albums, nothing new, the same nervous guitars and twisted love songs. Just pleasant. “Run away from all your boredom”…Seems like it was what the critics expected. But the fans are there, others are joining the troup…And there’s apparently no one who will stand on their way. October 2001, Placebo will brilliantly end their world tour back in Europe, having marvelled thousands rimmed eyes around the world. Finally some rest for the band…They brought back some souvenirs for us.
SLEEPING WITH “SUCCESS”
24 March 2003, after 2 years of silence, well not really silence but let’s call it discretion : collaboration with Alpine Stars – Carbon Kid-; Trash Palace – Je t’aime moi non plus- (Brian and Asia Argento going back and forth to the Serge Gainsbourg so famous call-to-sex song), the trio is coming back with “Sleeping with Ghosts”. Rather promising album, it was definitely not a Bitter end for Placebo. Excellent tracks such as the devilish intrumental “Bullet proof Cupid”, the mellow slow “Centrefold”, “Protect me from what I want”… Some tracks are definitely bringing us back few years ago, during the glorious “Without you I’m nothing” time. Those same successful ingredients will lift that album to the charts again for our great pleasure. 2003 is the year of all success. Placebo did reconcile with its WYIN past success. A successful tour followed by a DVD release “Soulmates Never Die Live in Paris, Placebo are surfing on their wave, and we hope that it will last.
13 March 2006, Placebo is coming back with the fifth album MEDS. But it is again after a couple of years of productive silence. Brian Molko never stops. Hold your breath (as the list is long). During those two years, he gratified us with : a CD and DVD “Once More With Feeling – Singles 1996 To 2004, a collaboration with Jane Birking (2004), Kristeen Young (2004), Tino Mass, and last but not least, French band Indochine (end of 2005). He also participated in a tribute to Gainsbourg with two covers songs featuring in the beautiful “Monsieur Gainsbourg” various artist compilation (2006). Who said Mr Molko was having a rest? Meds is at the same level than the previous albums, nothing overlwhelmingly original but still has it’s Placebo-style charm. It reflects the band’s prolific years of collaborations by having REM’s Michael Stipe (Broken Promises) and The Kills’ Alison “VV” Mosshart (Meds) as special guests.
BATTLE FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
8 June 2009, after 3 years of silence with many lifeturns like paternity for Brian, touring, and the departure of Steve Hewitt as the drummer, they released their 6th album, Battle for the sun. The band is now striving to get back to the front stage and it works wonder as their return is awaited and acclaimed. The release of the album is immediately followed by festival and gigs. They are back. And back in good shape.
Brian grew his hair even longer than during the Meds period. As you can see. There are things that don’t change, his never ending change of haircut. December 2007, Steve Hewitt left the band due to “personal and musical differences” and was replaced by mid 2008 by Steve Forrest, after 11 years in the band.