Brian Molko - Vocals/Guitar
Stefan Olsdal - Bass
Robert Schultzberg - Drums - replaced by Steve 1/97
"We're not championing a cause or anything: We just want you to look at yourself and be scared at what you find". Placebo's Brian Molko fronts a band who thrive on chaos and disorder, on urgent emotions and unsettling imagery. Only six months into their career, Placebo have managed to forge themselves a reputation that has as much to do with delighting people as it does with dismaying them. Every reaction has been extreme. They have also, in that time, set up their own label, Elevator Music, via a special deal with Hut Records, and recorded an astonishing, challenging and beautiful album, titled simply "Placebo". It could be underwritten: 'The antidote to Britpop'.
"You run the risk on the first album of making a record that has one particular sound, that runs the whole way through it", considers Molko. "And we wanted ours to be like a collection of short stories, approach every single song individually with the orchestration and vocal styles. We wanted to take you on a journey, an emotional rollercoaster, with little surprises here and there, instead of just having a blanket sound."
'Placebo' took just two months to record, in Dublin and London, and was produced by Brad Wood, a founder member of Tortoise, who has also worked with artists as diverse as Liz Phair, Veruca Salt and The Jesus Lizard. "He's as much into electronic music as we are," says Molko, "and we didn't want to make pure punk record, we wanted to make something that was colourful." The moodwings and frissons of Placebo's songs were carefully textured, using analogue synths, ans more unorthodox sounds from toy instruments and a didgeridoo.
Placebo's songs invite vivid experiences. There's a lot of characters in there, and a lot of the lyrics are telling stories too. But if it makes you feel that it's an emotional record then I'm happy about that," offers Brain, "I'm happy to walk the line. to make things dangerous, hopefully. People could really hate the record, it could really annoy them - which would be cool. Indifference about it would piss me off more."
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 Molko recalls, "in the space of seven years we might have exchanged one sentence." Brian left for London when he was 17, but a chance encounter in South Kensington tube station brought the two of them back together. "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," Molko laughs. The singer happened to be playing a gig that night. Olsdal attended, and immediately decided a band had to be formed.
After initial dabbling in what they describe as "art rock", the old school network came back into its own. Robert, with whom Stefan had been at school and in a band with in Sweden, was coming to London to study music. Stefan called him up and asked him to join his new band. "It was perfect," says Brian, "it just gelled".
For all three, London was the perfect environment in which to create and unleash their musical medicine show, and they've attacked attention from the outset. Pursued by A&R men repeating the mantra, "You blew me away," Placebo secured their deal with Hut a mere 51 weeks after their first ever gig. 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 hip Fierce Panda label in November. They began 1996 with the critically acclaimed 'Come Home' single in January, and toured the UK with Belgian art rockers Evil Superstars and Europe with David Bowie. "We went from 300 capacity venues to 8,000 to 12,000 capacity stadiums almost overnight, which was freaky," Brian notes. Bowle became a fan of the band instantly, and at his request, they'll be supporting him again this summer, as well as taking in the The Park and Reading festivals. "Now we've played to 16,000 people in Paris, those festivals are not going to scare us", Molko promises.
"We like to provoke strong reactions in people," admits 24-year-old bassist Stefan Olsdal. "Indifference is something we try to avoid. Sometimes that leads to confusion, or anger, or interest -- but you can never really predict the outcome."
Now Olsdal and his bandmates -- 25-year-old vocalist Brian Molko and 27-year-old drummer Steve Hewitt -- take that provocative stance to new heights. 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.
With its crushing groove and instantly identifiable vocals, debut single/video "Pure Morning" (which debuted on the UK singles charts at #4) introduces the album on a bold note. Through a dozen tracks, the mood varies from bruisingly confrontational (e.g. "You Don't Care About Us," "Every You Every Me," "Scared Of Girls") to wistfully introspective ("Ask For Answers," "Summer's Gone").
Molko readily acknowledges the personal nature of his lyrics, delivered with a variety of thematic twists: "Most of these are love songs where I'm trying to come to grips with relationships. They're frequently told from the point of view of ex-lovers, so at first it may seem like I'm being arrogant, but actually I'm eating humble pie. I'm cutting open a vein and letting it bleed for you."
Without You I'm Nothing represents a thematic progression from the group's auspicious debut. "The first album was a very sexual record," says Molko, "packed full of youthful vigor and lust. The new album is introverted, more of a post-coital depression: the comedown. It deals with an ever-pervading heartbreak and loneliness that seems to be in the air. The morning after is usually more analytical than the night before, and it's often more painful."
More importantly, Without You I'm Nothing shows the group realizing the huge potential demonstrated so powerfully on 1996's Placebo. The growth process has been punctuated by live shows: Tackling a busy schedule of international touring throughout late 1996 and 1997, Placebo's itinerary included numerous European dates supporting U2 on the Popmart Tour. The group's U.S. touring was highlighted by a January 1997 show at New York's Madison Square Garden as special guest on the bill of David Bowie's 50th birthday party.
Beyond music, Placebo's members were invited by executive producer Michael Stipe to play parts alongside Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard in the upcoming film "Velvet Goldmine" due for release later in 1998.
On Without You I'm Nothing, the trio attacks their musical pursuits with renewed focus and energy. "There's two years between the two albums, and there's been a hell of a lot of living going on during that time," admits Molko. "In many ways it feels like a different band. This is our first album with Steve on drums, and the band dynamic has changed. It can seem a bit schizophrenic, but we're just trying to take it as far as possible in each direction: stretch it, and aim for a wider scope."
In the Without You I'm Nothing -creative process, Molko writes the lyrics, and all three bandmembers contribute to the sonic flow. "The first album was pretty much written by Brian in his bedroom," nods Olsdal. "This album has been a three-way collaboration."
"Pure Morning" typifies Placebo's approach: "It started out as literally about five seconds of music," says Olsdal, "and by the end of the day we had a full song. It felt like it was handed to us on a plate." "It was purely accidental," laughs Molko; "we went in to do some b-sides after the album was already completed and delivered. Suddenly we had a new song -- it happened before we even had time to think about it."
The balance of raw spontaneity and sharp introspection infuses each track on Without You I'm Nothing -- and reveals yet another layer of delicious ambiguity which surrounds Placebo and its music.
Placebo's Brian Molko explains a few of the key tracks on Without You I'm Nothing:
"Pure Morning" -- "It's a celebration of friendship with women, kind of immortalizing a couple of my friends. It's also about that time of the day when the sun's coming up and you're coming down; and everybody else is getting ready to go to work and you're feeling incredibly dislocated from the rest of the world; and all you really want is for a friend to be there to put their arms around you and help you ease into sleep."
"You Don't Care About Us" -- "It's about an ex-lover having a furious rant at me for not caring and being wrapped up in my own head. Unfortunately, that's how I used to conduct my relationships: I was always imagining the end just as it was beginning."
"Brick Shithouse" -- "A disembodied soul floats overhead, observing the living. It's a ghost story, about somebody watching their lover make love to the person who killed them."
"Scared Of Girls" -- "It's an investigation into male heterosexual promiscuity. Do male flirts do it because they really love women or actually because they're actually scared with women and themselves. I'd say that they are scared of girls."