[ s e v e n m a g : p l a c e b o . t e x t . o n l y ]
 



[ w i t h o u t . y o u . i ' m . n o t h i n g ]

[ t e x t . o n l y . v e r s i o n ]

[ b y . r a m o n . l o b a t o ]

Music does not exist in a vacuum. Today, what constitutes a good band is just as much about what it has to say about the world we live in and the strange creatures we share it with, as how well the boys play their axes. When it comes down to giving us a sense of the way things are in the dying moments of the twentieth century, few do it better than the genre-bending gender-fuck that is Placebo. Bassist Stefan Olsdal tells it like it is; Sevenmag listens.

Have you heard the one about the Swede, the Brit and the Yank who walk into a Luxembourg college and come out neo-glam artistes? Equal parts Euro art-rock troupe and DIY-styled indie 3-piece, Placebo's origins were surprisingly humble for a band who went from zero to international superstardom on the strength of one album. A string of singles on cred-heavy UK labels like The Hut, Fierce Panda and Deceptive, including the huge alterna-hit Nancy Boy, was followed by the release of the band's seminal eponymous debut. Add some once in a lifetime gigs (Bowie's 50th at Madison Square Gardens, support slot on U2's Popmart tour), a year or so on the road and a liberal dose of Todd Haynes, and it's time for "Without You I'm Nothing", their considerably less angsty second LP.

For Stefan Olsdal, Placebo's first year was baptism by fire. 'This is mine and Brian's first band, so everything was new to us,' he explains over our scratchy transcontinental phone line. 'It was a very fast-paced, vigorous and lustful period. I think that comes through on the first album: the energy, the lyrics focussing on sex and basically how we got thrown into this whole rock 'n' roll rollercoaster. We did go and leave a trail of disaster behind us [the band are infamous for their on-tour antics]. We got a lot of that out of our systems.' To define their oeuvre in suitably sexual terms, Placebo was the frantic climax of a mad few years of foreplay, while "Without You I'm Nothing" represents the post-coital come-down -- or, as Olsdal describes it, 'the morning after the night out'. Explains Stefan, 'When we went in to record the second album we had to stand there and think about what the real focus of the band was. It ["Without You ... "] is certainly more melancholic on an emotional level.'

Written shortly after the Popmart experience, "Without You I'm Nothing" was recorded, largely in Peter Gabriel's Real World studios in Bath, England. According to Olsdal, the album is 'something we simply weren't capable of writing a couple of years ago'. Along with the nihilistic wonderstuff of "Pure Morning" and sexy pearlers like "Every You Every Me", "Without You ... " is also a showcase for some perfectly executed rock-noir moments. Take epic closer "Burger Queen", for instance, or the touching "My Sweet Prince", a song Stefan describes as being 'about a relationship between a substance and a person, a friend, that ended in near tragedy ... something we all felt very deeply.'

Says Olsdal, 'The band is very much a three-way unit. Everything is shared three ways. All the music is written by all three of us and, come different times, we do take care of each other in different ways.' While the British press would have us believe Placebo consists of Brian Molko with two backing musicians, Stefan insists this is far from the truth, telling me the band have even nixed Brian-only photoshoots. 'The reason Brian's been getting all the press is that, first of all, he's got a bigger mouth than me for example. He likes to be heard, wherever he is, while I don't feel I need to to that extent. He was mistaken for a girl even before the band started -- he'd go down to the local cornershop for a pound of milk, and the cashier would go, "Here you go, love".' The notoriously cruel UK media, after an initial period of infatuation, have not been kind to the band. Olsdal is philosophical. 'It's the nature of the beast,' he sighs. 'They like to bring you up and then cut you down. I think we're basically a bit too popular these days to be cool. And there's such a quick turnover of music here, with the amount of singles that are released, the journalists just want to find the new thing; the new movement being a glam revival now. I think it's quite a British thing.'

Placebo are now synonymous with kinky sexuality, yet to the band's credit this is not the result of any high-profile affairs or cleverly stageplanned indiscretions -- in fact, Molko and drummer Steve Hewitt have been conspicuously quiet about their, well, orientation. Olsdal on the other hand has recently come out, and is proud to see Placebo as being amongst UK bands like Suede who have openly queer members yet aren't part of the established gay music scene. 'I got a couple of letters from gay guys in bands who've said they've found great strength in me coming out in the press. We're not an overly political band in that way, but we do not hide anything either. We're very open and very honest about it,' he explains. The band have always been highly critical of the 'lad'' movement in Britpop, and indeed of Britpop in general -- a scene which has essentially glorified a retrogressive, all-male, all-white hetero musical culture immune from the influence of multiculturalism, technology and most other factors which have shaped today's world. 'I think they [the lads] are very much stuck in the musical heritage of this country, be it The Jam or The Stones or The Beatles or The Smiths for example,' says Stefan. 'All these bands basically have clones today, be they Oasis or Gene, so I'm very glad that that's over as well. It is also very scared to embrace something that's new, that's looking forward ... it's quite retro in a way, very safe, and lacking in depth and glamour and a bit of edge, really.'

Perhaps this is why Placebo are so interesting, for they are so completely the antithesis of this. A band who are passionate, open, intelligent, carnal. A band who have chosen to look forward rather than into their increasingly dog-eared Beatles collections. A band whose very existence simultaneously vindicates and laughs in the face of the mass music machine. Quite simply, quite honestly, a band who represent hope for the future of music.