Obviously thats what Cindy Crawfords been doing all these years Yeah, breathes Brian impishly. Apart from being unfaithful to Richard Gere with me.
Alleged rumpo with supermodels aside, Brian Molko is fast becoming one of the most exciting new stars to emerge in years. Looking like a prettier version of Victoria Posh Spice Adams, the diminutive frontman was always going to attract attention. But, fortunately for Placebo, the bands music provides adequate back-up for the near-criminal good looks. Stefan Olsdal is an inspired and distinctive bassist, drummer Steve Hewitt is aggressive and unyielding, while Molko himself makes his guitar sound like a mountain being sawn in half. Basically, theyre good. When Nancy Boy skewered the charts earlier this year, it was the most sensational classic pouting frontman/riff interface since Rebel Rebel. Two sold-out UK tours swiftly followed, while last years debut album, Placebo was rapidly reappraised as a sinister gem.
Enthroned in his dressing room at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Molko is animated and articulate. Having grown up in Luxembourg, Lebanon, Liberia and London, and possessing an unbelievably complex genetic composition, hes not, to paraphrase Shane McGowan, a man you meet every day. Hes pleased to meet Guitarist, however, because, after all the media hoo-ha about his sexuality, he welcomes the opportunity to talk freely about music.
Im possibly one of the most un-guitary guitarists youll ever meet, smiles Brian Molko. I dont know the names of the strings, and thank God for techs, because Im not very good at tuning.
It was in his troubled teenage years that Brian treated his guitar as a means of escape from boredom, as well as perhaps his most potent tool of expression. Brian was 16 when he started playing, inspired by alternative rock bands like Sonic Youth and The Pixies. By his early twenties he finally felt that he too could play and write songs worthy of being listened to. After moving to London to study at Goldsmiths College, Brian spent two and a half years on the dole in Deptford, playing constantly.
After signing his record deal, the first thing Brian did was to go out and buy a Fender Jaguar. I always wanted one, he says. Because they were Sonic Youth guitars. He finds Jags particularly suited to the Placebo penchant for playing below the bridge and wresting out the atonal dissonance beloved of Sonic Youth fans everywhere.
Molko readily owns up to making plenty of mistakes at gigs and deploying distortion as a cover-up technique. While the Molko musical manifesto aims to perfect the art of a lot of noise crammed into a classic pop structure, the darkly dinky one is on a mission to harness the roaring electrical beast that is feedback.
I had this crappy old, short-scale Telstar guitar which I bought for about 40 quid, he smiles. We bought it to put underwater in a video. I got a mini Marshall and found that by changing the tone button and the pickup selects, Id get different notes of feedback. Moving the Marshall around the body of the guitar, and running it up and down the fretboard, Id get crazy feedback sculptures.
Theres no proper way to play, Brian insists. I never had a lesson in my life. If you dont learn to play the blues, you wont play the blues. Many great songwriters are born of complete ineptitude.
Attempting to put his finger on the Placebo sound, Brian singles out a number of factors
I have a toy guitar, he says. And we love mini Fenders and mini Marshalls theyve got such a transistory kind of sound.
Brians toy guitar is a Fisher Price device called a Keytar, with a memory bank of tunes like London Bridge Is Falling Down. Its built-in karaoke mic gives great vocal distortion as well as the seagull-like guitar feedback effect that Brian uses on Hug Bubble.
These instruments communicate such innocence and naivety, Brian explains. You havent heard those sounds since you were a child, so they trigger responses in your emotional memory. They can be quite disturbing, and Im interested in loss of innocence.
The lyric to Teenage Angst springs to mind: Since I was born, I started to decay A grotesquely bleak image.
But its true. As soon as you pop out of the womb, you start to die. Its the paradox that you begin life, but you also begin death. The use of toy instruments enables us to communicate that on a sonic level.
And therein lies a key to Placebos appeal. While lesser bands splash out on orchestras and horn sections to bolster their sound, the Molkster and his black-clad cohorts ransack Woolies for plastic megaphones and cut-price melodicas. And why? To sonically communicate the loss of innocence, of course.
Despite the occasional scary sample, Placebos live sound is actually as clean as a mortuary slab. The arsenal of pedal-borne effects, or the craven cop-out of saturation feedback, isnt for them. Instead, their sonic onslaught is pure, relentless and relatively gimmick-free. To subvert the classic rock sound, Molko will play the guitar as if its a bass, while Stefan plays bass as if its a guitar.
Thats why Stef bought the Fender VI agrees Brian. Its in between a bass and a guitar. It looks like a Jag, basically, it has Jag pickups on it. Were trying to find ways to turn him into a bass player and a lead guitarist at the same time.
At the bands recent Newport Centre performance, the uberbass assault of their closing number, Evil Dildo, shook the venues seating like an earthquake. The effect was bloody scary, actually.
says Brian, visibly pleased. Some frequencies can
make you physically ill or make your bowels
The Swans [intimidating New York art rock
ensemble] used to do it. By the end of the gigs people
would vomit because the frequencies were so nasty.
Clearly Placebo are engaged in covert government research
into crowd control.
Were as obsessed with melody as we are with sonic overload, Brian counters. Your physical response to music translates itself into an emotion.
For a man who claims to be an untalented musician, Molko talks about his equipment with a real passion.
I play three pre-CBS Fender Jags, through a Fender Twin and a Marshall three-channel LN Anniversary Head. I use the three channels for different states of overdrive on the Marshall and on the Fender, I use a Sovtek Big Muff, which a gives a classic sound for the distortion. That way, I manage to balance out the different qualities of the two amps, to get a fuller sound. I used to use a Boss DD-3 delay with a master supply power switch to turn it on and off between songs. Ive got into using the tremolo arm on the old Jags. If you watch Bruise Pristine, Im going crazy with the old whammy bar
A teenage fan of seminal post-punk pre-grungers, The Pixies, Brian was given a Sonic Youth album on his sixteenth birthday and was immediately smitten. Previously, hed been heavily into the politicised punkery of Dead Kennedys, but he also loved the melancholy songs of Leonard Cohen and the gut-wrenching emotions of Janis Joplin. Add the shimmering, one-chord soundscapes of Galaxie 500 and the voodoo grungefunk of Janes Addiction and you have a recipe for Placebo.
It all kind of fits if you think about it , Brian reckons, which is why we can be quite musically schizophrenic. A song like Burger Queen is just so quiet and tender and sad, and its followed with something as atonal and rib-shaking as Evil Dildo.
Our band attracts outsiders; people who feel theyre square pegs in round holes, he says. There needs to be bands like that.
The devotion can be intense, frightening even. Two German girls have taken to following the band from gig to gig. Brian admits hes received letters from kids who are suicidal.
You cant be responsible, he says. All youre doing is expressing yourself because you need to, in order to live, to survive. Its more a responsibility to yourself not to become a maniac or a depressive or a drug addict. People choose to attach so much to you
Brians games with gender roles have caused controversy. But then, he does seem obsessed with the idea of changing his sex.
Maybe, he muses. I wonder what it is thats so shocking about a boy wearing make-up? Its no big deal for me.
Molko reckons that his desire to challenge conventional notions of masculinity stems in part from negative male role models.
A lot of masculinity that Ive been surrounded by has been very macho and quite violent. And unfortunately, you see these things in yourself and that causes a kind of malaise within yourself.
Its an appropriate moment to point out the attendant irony of Brian making a living with the phallic accessory of the guitar.
Most teenage boys pick up guitars to be attractive to the opposite sex. In a certain way, its a penis extension. The duality and dichotomy of that interest me. My appearance can be very feminine, and the subject matter of what were doing is wrapped up in a lot of ambiguity. But then, when you see us play live on stage, we rock. It can be quite testosterone-fuelled.
As the interview draws to an end, Brian frames a parting shot.
I have a problem with music thats disposable and which doesnt provoke he states, vehemently. Like who? The Spice Girls. But I have to like them really, because theyve made so much money for Virgin that they can spend on us
Abba and Blondie are two of the most perfect pop bands that ever existed, smiles Brian. His voice drops to the level of a conspiratorial whisper. Sometimes, at two in the morning round at Stefs flat, we put on Abba, when were a bit pissed and stoned, and we start dancing round the kitchen to it. Brian Molko lights a cigarette, fumbles for his mascara. Which is good for the soul. he smiles, exhaling smoke, looking like a star.