Without Placebo You're Nothing
By Matt Levine

"A friend in need’s a friend indeed; A friend with weed is better." That bold and novel line from "Pure Morning," the first single from Placebo’s sophomore effort, "Without You I’m Nothing," must be embedded in the minds of radio listeners across the Alternative Rock World. We caught up with the London-based band’s bassist, Stefan Olsdal, prior to a date on the band’s American Tour with Stabbing Westward.

ARW: I guess I’ll start things off with an easy question. How did the band form?

Stefan Olsdal: Oh Jesus. That was a long time ago and a long story. We started in London five years ago. Brian and I actually went to school together in Luxembourg and then we met by accident five years ago. (Drummer) Steve Hewitt joined us about two-and-a-half years ago.

ARW: How did you decide on the name Placebo for the band?

SO: It was hard to find a perfect name. We were thinking of codeine and morphine, but there were several other bands with those names. We wanted some sort of soothing drug for the name.

ARW: What was it like growing up in Luxembourg?

SO: There’s not much to do. They don’t even have charts or any bands coming through. For gigs, we had to go to Germany or France. We were removed from the music scene and that’s why we moved to London. London is a great place to start a band.

ARW: Have you noticed any differences between the United States and the United Kingdom as far as the record business is concerned? If so, what?

SO: Well, we switched record labels here. We were on Caroline (Virgin’s indie label) but we didn’t get the right push from them. With Virgin’s support, people know us much better now and it’s helps the band out on tour. (Our current tour) has been one of the best tours for us.

ARW: The UK music scene is very single-centric. Do you think that the actual release of singles would help you in the United States?

SO: I don’t think so. The turnover of music is a lot quicker in london and it takes a lot longer to build bands here. People here go out and buy the album more, even with people like Will Smith and Madonna. People drive a lot more over here, so they like something longer to listen to in the car. Singles don’t really work as well in the States.

ARW: How has the band responded to its success in the U.K.

SO: Well, we’re a very young band and were accepted in the scene with the first album. We were put through the rollercoaster of Rock and Roll and we came out of it a bit frazzled. We got away from the city to get a head start working on the music. We were pretty much known as a cartoon band and nobody looked past (lead vocalist) Brian (Molko)’s make-up and sex life. We came out a bit wiser and we’ve learned a lot over the past few years.

ARW: What is the difference between being on Caroline and being on Virgin?

SO: The people in Virgin England moved over to the States and they’re managing the record label now. We now have more of a priority as far as rock acts go. The whole aspect of Hut (the band’s UK label) and Virgin is very band oriented and we have complete control over everything.

ARW: Placebo experienced a slight altercation at the K-Rock (New York) holiday festival with Kid Rock. What happened with that?

SO: At the radio show, we went on after Kid Rock. He had strippers on ponies and his stage show was filled with pretention. Then he went on to say that he could not believe that a band with one song was going on after him and that annoyed us.

ARW: How did you hook up with Stabbing Westward for this tour?

SO: We got asked to do it by the band itself. The St. Louis band Flick is on the tour as well and we’ve been packing houses every night.

ARW: Is this the band’s biggest tour thus far?

SO: Definitely. We’ve never been to Florida before, or up to the Pacific Northwest or the Carolinas. It’s an extensive North American rock tour.

ARW: Name some of the band’s influences.

SO: I’m from Sweden, so I was into Abba, as well as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and all of those classic rock bands. Iron Maiden encouraged me to play bass. I also like Depeche Mode the jazz -pop coming from Sweden, and Lauryn Hill. Our influences are pretty varied. We all come from different backgrounds. Brian’s completely into post-punk like PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth, but he’s also into Billie Holliday.

ARW: What’s in the CD player on the tour bus right now.

SO: Aphex Twin, Radiohead’s "OK Computer," Depeche Mode’s "Ultra." It just varies. We spend so much time on the bus that in a day. We go through fifteen cds or something every day.

ARW: What’s annoying you right now about the United States.

SO: There’s always someone watching over you. You can’t drink on the street or anything like that.

ARW: Does Brian Molko generally dress in drag, or does he mostly wear less flamboyant clothing?

SO: Yes, he’s always in a dress. Actually, he’s not. It really depends on where we’re playing. It’s pretty much 50-50. He doesn’t wear the dress in the Bible Belt or other conservative areas like that.

ARW: Does Brian use his cross dressing as an outlet for expression? Is he shy?

SO: No, he’s not shy at all. He’s very outgoing, but he can be insecure at times. He certainly makes himself heard.

ARW: So what’s Brian doing right now?

SO: Brian’s doing another interview.

ARW: What’s the deal with "Every You, Every Me" being released as the second single here in the United States, when it was the third in UK?

SO: Singles move a lot quicker in the UK and we release a new single every couple of months. And "Pure Morning" was still on the charts after Christmas. Also, this single is in conjunction with the movie Cruel Intentions.

ARW: Did the producers of Cruel Intentions influence the release of "Every You, Every Me?"

SO: Not really. We as a band were sort of debating on which song should follow-up "Pure Morning" and we all decided on "Every You, Every Me" over "You Don’t Care About Us," which was the second single throughout the rest of the world.

ARW: You did a remix of "Every You, Every Me," right?

SO: Yes. We went in and recorded the album and the song didn’t turn out exactly as we wanted it to. The second time around we realized that we wanted it to sound more like what it sounds like live. The song starts off a little mellower in the beginning, but it becomes fiercer in the end.

ARW: How do you like having your song in "Cruel Intentions" and what do you think about the film?

SO: It’s a good film. I like "Dangerous Liasons" more. We met Ryan Phillipe and it’s just pretty good for publicity.

ARW: You played a very small role in the movie "Velvet Goldmine." How did you like acting?

SO: I’m hard to recognize and it was a lot of fun. Being in the make up and the glam was really cool.

ARW: Did you like the finished product?

SO: Yeah, I thought it was a real musical piece and it was sort of a beautiful love story. It was quite conceptual, but the point came across and it was pretty good at showing the glam scene if you weren’t there.

ARW: Do you like your music being grouped into the Glam Rock genre?

SO: I think it’s quite lazy. Really, we don’t have any T-Rex albums in the collection and we’re more post-punk fans. The androgyny is just part of who we are and the glam was never a real influence. Marilyn manson is carrying more of the glam on. We’re just too young to be into it.

ARW: Is there anything else that you want to add?

SO: No, do you have any more questions. I think that we’ve covered it all.