No matter what one does with their lives these days, it still seems like in the eyes of Mom and Pop, it's just not good enough. Just ask Placebo frontman Brian Molko, who had a gold record in the U.K. (1996's Placebo), a string of Top 10 U.K. hits, and a fine little ditty about weed ("Pure Morning") all over the American airwaves -- all before by the tender age of 24. So what's the problem?
"My mother is a Christian and my father is a banker," says Molko, who is American but was raised in Luxembourg. "You couldn't really get a son which is more different than that. I'm everything that they didn't want me to be -- a boy that wears makeup and plays guitar. And they still have a very cliched idea of what rock and roll represents -- it's all about butt-fucking and heroin, you know what I mean?"
Not particularly, but drummer Steven Hewitt certainly does. "I decided I wanted to be a drummer in a famous band when I was 11 years old," says Hewitt, who, despite what has been said elsewhere, is the only British member of the band. "My dad's been on my case about being in bands for fucking years and years. My parents were bragging around Manchester, 'My son is doing this and my son is doing that' and then turn around to me and say, 'Get yourself a proper job! It won't last!' When I was 20 years old, I managed to get two weeks doing demos with Simply Red for God's sake, and it still wasn't enough! Nowadays it's, 'Sorry dad -- how much money do you make a year? Fuck off!'"
Placebo seemingly burst out of nowhere in 1996, when their brilliant debut became all the rage in Britain. A blood-curdling mix of pent-up emotion, gender-bending turmoil, and tumultuous guitar licks, Placebo proved something we see time and time again -- if there is one place to vent life's frustrations and disappointments, a record is the place to do it.
Molko, much to the dismay of his conservative parents, wears makeup, paints his fingernails, and can pass for a girl at any given moment. He swings both ways sexually, although most of the fodder for Without You I'm Nothing, their equally impressive sophomore effort (released on Tuesday [Nov. 3] on Virgin Records), stems from relationships with women. Swedish bassist Stefan Olsdal is openly gay ("a tall, sexy, Swedish bastard," Molko once said) and Hewitt, well... he's just a straight white boy with an insatiable thirst for black women. Together, the combo comes together like yin and yang, creating one of the most interesting and explosive pop trios since sliced bread.
"It's almost bordering on cliche but [Hewitt and Olsdal] are my best friends in the world," says Molko. "They are like my two husbands. I've never felt more at home anywhere. I love them more than I have loved any other men on this planet in my life. They are both very beautiful people, as fucked up as I am -- true. Acts of God aside, this is why this band will be here for quite some time." Nothing was recorded over a four-month period at Peter Gabriel's studio in Bath, a peaceful town of Roman ancestry in the north of England. "We needed to get out and avoid distraction," recalls Molko. "We also needed to detox for awhile. It's a good place to get a lot of shit done."
The peace and tranquility offered by the ducks and rivers that wind through the autonomous complex gave Molko time to clear his head. Nothing reflects the serenity of the time. "We're much more comfortable with ourselves than we were before," he says. "I got a lot off my chest on this record and in a way, exorcised demons in the fact that I could look at these emotions objectively because I'd written songs about them. And I was able to almost have a relationship with these emotions because they weren't inside me any more. So there is definitely a therapeutic aspect to what's going on."
The therapy has paid off. "Pure Morning," the first single off of Nothing, can be heard popping up everywhere from a plethora of alternative radio stations nationwide to the closing segments of CBS' Sports Final in Los Angeles. For Molko and Hewitt, this means one big monetary kiss-off to their parents, whom they both already make more money than. Olsdal, the son of an aircraft financier, still has a ways to go. Then again, his parents aren't on his case about his chosen profession anyway. "We've got a B-side to "Pure Morning' which has got some very rude French lyrics on it," says Olsdal, referring to the "Kiss me, put your finger up my ass" line on "Mars Landing Party." "My whole family was singing that over the dinner table!"
-- Kevin Raub