I'M THE ANTI -EMINEM!
[Melody Maker - Oct 20th 2000]
LIKE MARSHALL MATHERS, HIS SONGS ARE LACED WITH VOYEURISM, BESTIALITY, DEATH, LUST AND DRUGS. BUT, UNLIKE HIM, PLACEBO'S BRIAN MOLKO LOVES HIS MOM, AS HE TELLS US IN THE MELODY MAKER INTERVIEW.
You expect many things from Brian Molko, the androgynous alien sex fiend who fronts Placebo. Arrogance and sleaze. Paranoia and perversion. Mouthy soundbites and tales of hedonism strewn with the "blood and spunk" of his conquests. What you aren't quite prepared for, however, is his laugh. Half gleeful cackle and half evil snigger, it sounds like Carry On's Sid James reincarnated as a mischievous gothic imp. It sounds like a man having fun.
Lost in a big black sofa, in an East London recording studio, The Notorious Walking Tantrum Known As Brian Molko actually turns out to be engaging, intelligent company. Point out an instance of perverse nonsense in the lyrics on Placebo's new album, "Black Market Music", and, rather than spit molten venom, he smiles knowingly, raises an eyebrow, and talks about "adding to the rock myth". And then he laughs. The gleeful, contagious laugh of a man who thoroughly enjoys winding people up for a living and doesn't take himself too seriously at all.
HAPPY WITH YOUR NEW RECORD?
I'm very happy, it's the most accomplished record that we've done so far. It feels like a much more complex and sophisticated album musically and it's like a distillation of everything we've attempted to do in the past. As a band, we were conscious that we really wanted to make a bigger-sounding rock record and maybe have a few less slow tracks on it. More upbeat and more accessible.
YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT THE CHARACTER WHO FEATURES ON THE SINGLE "TASTE IN MEN".
DO YOU CREATE CHARACTERS NOW, RATHER THAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?
Well, my lyrics are definitely getting less and less autobiographical, less like a diary and more like stories. But at the same time, I identify with all of the characters within the stories. It's just that the narrator's voice isn't always mine. I try to make the characters sympathetic and put in as much of me as possible in order to make them personal. I'm interested more in writing stories now about strange people with intense emotions.
WHAT CHARACTERS ARE YOU DRAWN TO?
"Peeping Tom" is interesting. That's about voyeurism. Again, I try to place the listener inside the emotions of the voyeur himself and try to portray this character in a sympathetic manner. To show the love that he has for the person he spies on. The fact that this person is the only ray of light that exists in the voyeur's life. "Peeping Tom" is like "Burger Queen" pushed one step further. And it's quite beautiful and it's packed full of pathos and it's quite touching. It's trying to show the sympathetic side of the pervert. Because I don't believe everything is black and white when it comes to human emotion.
YOU HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING A PERVERT.
A pervert perhaps, but like the Momus record, a tender pervert. Hahahahaha! In every reputation, there's a grain of truth, but often it's a case of your reputation preceding you, and the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Which is funny. It's all part of the rock myth, so it's OK.
"TASTE IN MEN" AND "PEEPING TOM" BOTH FEATURE ONE PERSON OBSESSING OVER ANOTHER.
Yeah, I think on the album as well, "Special K" compares the rush of falling in love with the rush of coming up on drugs. There's a theme that runs through the album and that's that what people get addicted to most in life is love and drugs. And that they are often the same. People have the same reactions to both. That theme runs though our work. This idea of addiction, whether it be to people, emotions, substances or situations.
WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THE DARKER, VIOLENT SIDE OF LOVE?
Well, take a song like "Haemoglobin". That's our version of [legendary chanteuse] Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit", but where Billie's walking around observing fruit [dead slaves] hanging from the trees, we've actually placed you inside the man's head. It starts off with him hanging from a tree - he's in a state of resignation. In the second verse, he gets cut down and that resignation turns into confusion. And by the third verse, that confusion has turned into anger and a lust for revenge. It's a simple moral thing, prejudice breeds prejudice and violence breeds violence. We started this band in our early 20s and now we're getting towards our 30s and you look at the world around you a bit more. And it touches you, what people are prepared to do to each other for religion, for land. Violence still exists. There's a war every day, people getting murdered every day. If you watch the news, you get affected by that.
ISN'T IT A BOLD, ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE, MOVE TO TRY AND UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS ENDURED BY A BLACK SLAVE FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SOCIETY AND ERA?
Sure. That's true. But I was trying to make a bit more of a universal point. The things that happened in the American South, from slavery onwards, we're still feeling the repercussions of them today. The L.A. riots. There was something recently in America that made the Rodney King incident seem like "The Simpsons". So, it's just placing it in a historical context to make people think about whether or not it's still around today. And it is.
"SPITE AND MALICE" WAS INSPIRED BY THE MAY DAY RIOTS. WERE YOU SYMPATHETIC TO THE PROTESTERS?
Absolutely. Churchill's mohican was one of the funniest things we've seen in a long time. Opening up the paper and seeing such an inventive disrespect for tradition and for the establishment was quite inspiring. I started running around and shouting, "Dope, guns, and fucking in the streets" and that made its way on to the record. I actually put the picture of Churchill's mohican in front of me when I was doing some of the recording of the lyrics.
YOU TEAM UP WITH RAPPER JUSTIN WARFIELD FOR "SPITE AND MALICE". A NOD TO KORN/LIMP BIZKIT'S "ALL IN THE FAMILY"?
We're not very fond of that and we were aware of that when we were doing "Spite and Malice". I guess in the back of our minds we wanted to do something that was quite anti that. I find that kind of music extremely negative, homophobic and chauvinistic. We've dealt with difficult emotional issues and intense emotions, but there's always been a strain of positively and optimism within that. Which those bands lack, really. And also our music has a variation, whereas Korn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock are extremely repetitive. I find it gets a bit boring after two songs.
THERE ARE SOME MORE INDUSTRIAL MOMENTS ON THE ALBUM. WAS MARILYN MANSON AN INFLUENCE?
Not really. More of a drinking partner, hahahahaha, than an influence, hahahahaha! And I haven't seen him in a while. A song called "Wish" off the "Broken EP" by NIN was a bit of an influence. We listened to that while we were doing "Taste in Men", going, "Let's make itthat nasty, let's make it that unlistenable".
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THERE'S A LOT OF DEATH ON THIS RECORD?
Probably, yeah. "Haemoglobin" deals with death and lynching. "Salve to the Wage" is a song about not working yourself into an early grave. The day I recorded the vocals to that track was the day that I found out that Scott Piering, the legendary plugger and our friend, had died and I was thinking about him that morning. There was a cloud that was hanging over us that day.
I strangely felt his presence.
"COMMERCIAL FOR LEVI" AS WELL.
Yeah, yeah. That's a song about grabbing your mate by the scruff of the neck and telling him that he's walking down a rocky road to ruin. It's basically, "You're my mate and I love you, but if you don't watch out you're going to fuck up pretty bad." It's autobiographical in the sense that there have been certain points in my life where the band or other friends have had to do that to me. Which was very beneficial. I love that song because musically it's like a really sweet lullaby and lyrically it's quite a filthy number. It puts a smile on your face.
WHAT POINT WERE YOU AT WHEN SOMEONE SAID THAT TO YOU?
Times on the second album. It was a place when I was emotionally... personally I had quite a lot of... sometimes you search for solace in the wrong places. It was a schizophrenic time and a time of identity crisis for me. That was a tough one. But I feel better now, thank you.
WHAT WAS YOUR CRISIS?
Like, just not recognizing yourself in interviews. The extreme side of your personality which I chose to sort of display was snowballing and getting a life of its own. It was like looking in a mirror and not recognizing myself, looking in magazines and not recognizing myself.
YOU SAY YOU WERE LOOKING FOR SOLACE IN THE WRONG PLACES, BUT ISN'T THERE A
REFERENCE IN THAT SONG TO BESTIALITY?
[Pause] Hahahahahahahaha! Yeah, sure, certainly there is. Yeah, yeah. That's just, that's a bit of artistic licence, you know? Hahahahahahaha! It's just a... yeah, yeah, how filthy can you get? Hahahahahahahaha! But for the record, I've never indulged in it myself. I've seen a couple of movies.
YOU'RE PLAYING UP TO YOUR IMAGE, THEN?
Yeah, there's definetely a certain amount of irony in "Commercial for Levi", especially if it's directed towards me. I'm smiling wryly at people's opinions of me and what they imagine my lifestyle is like or what I must get up to.
IT'S OBVIOUSLY 24-HOUR BESTIALITY.
Yeah. And bingeing. Yeah. Hahahahaha!
IS THERE A SIMILAR THEME RUNNING THROUGH "NARCOLEPTIC"?
When I first wrote down the tracklisting of the album, I wrote underneath each track a second title. They didn't make their way on to the album, but they were a summing up in one phrase of what those songs represent to me. And the one I wrote for "Narcoleptic" was "Love And Drugs Are One Big Pillow". Again, like "Special K", it explores the link between drugs and love. "SpecialK" is uppers and the rush of falling in love. "Narcoleptic" is more like downers and more like relationships, relationships that reach that point of familiarity breeding contempt.
WOULD IT BE RIGHT TO ASSUME THAT YOU MUST HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE IN ORDER TO
MAKE THIS RECORD?
Fallen in love, fallen out of love, fallen in love, fallen out of love,
Hahahahaha. Etc. Ad infinitum. Or ad nauseam. Whichever you prefer.
"COMMERCIAL FOR LEVI": WHAT IF LEVI'S SUE?
Levi's our sound man. There was this one time in Milan when I got a bit too drunk at dinner and left the restaurant which was right opposite the venue and there were some fans waiting outside, and I climbed on top of this Fiat Uno, and started screaming "Nancy Boy", doing a performance for the fans. And Levi dragged me off the Fiat Uno, as the owner was approaching and waving the keys. I thought I was going to cross this road in between the two parked tour buses and took off, and Levi just grabbed me as a car zoomed by. So it's quite possible that he did save my life. If I was a Samurai, I would have to follow him around for the rest of my life and take care of him until I saved his life. But my little payback for that is to put his name in a song.
YOU MENTIONED BEFORE THAT YOU'RE APPROACHING YOUR 30S. IS THAT SOMETHING
WHICH CREEPS INTO YOUR MIND?
I've always been conscious of mortality. Who isn't? It can happen any time. I don't really like flying and if I refused to fly, I wouldn't have a career, so every time I get on a plane I think about death. Fucking stewardess on Air Portugal said to me, "Would you like Time magazine, sir?, and on the cover was the Concorde crash! I went, "Are you nuts? Get that thing away from me!" And she took it back and just started laughing. So every time I get on an airplane, I feel like it's a confrontation with mortality. But we enjoy ourselves and enjoy life and have a lust for life and certainly we're having a good time being in Placebo at the moment. Maybe being conscious of your mortality makes you live your life to the full a bit more. On a daily basis.
WHAT ABOUT "BLUE AMERICAN" - WHAT'S THAT ABOUT?
It's a kind of self-disgust. Three and a half minutes of pure self-disgust, American style. The person in the song is at such a low point in his life emotionally that he's started to hit out at everything that is a part of him. He's attacking his parents, his culture, his culture's history, self-help, psychiatry. It was written when I wasn't in a particularly good mood.
WHAT INSPIRED THAT?
The strangest things can inspire lyrics. I was watching a documentary on TV about novelists trying to get their first novel published and how difficult it was and I often sit and play acoustic guitar when I watch TV. And I thought of "I wrote this novel just for you/It sounds pretentious but it's true". There's a little, I would say self-deprecation in that lyric but I often try and get to a place before my detractors. Hence the "I'm so pretentious, yes it's true" line that comes at the end of the song. It's just saying, "I know exactly what you think about me".
ISN'T THERE A REFERENCE TO YOUR MOTHER IN THERE?
Yeah. I wanted to say hi to my mum. I'm the anti-Eminem! Hahahahahaha!
That's really genuine, you know. Hi, Mom. It's so American. And, you know, I still love my mother. And it just fitted. When it came out, I thought it would be really nice to make her quite happy. Because I'm sure most of the subject matter of our songs doesn't make her very happy. So, at one point, maybe for one verse at least, she might think, "Oh, that's nice. My son still loves me."
HAS SHE HEARD THE SONG?
Not yet, she hasn't, no. So journalists get to hear it before parents.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR BIGGEST FEAR FOR THE FUTURE OF PLACEBO?
Plane crash. For us to lose our spark and to lose our spontaneity. But I think a lot of it comes from the fact that we're still incredibly good mates. And that will help to sustain that. I think what we enjoy most is playing music with each other. It's the most satisfying thing.
COULD YOU BE LIKE ROBERT SMITH, STILL KNOCKING OUT GOTH POP IN YOUR 40S?
I don't know. I hope we'd be more like Bowie, more like several processes of reinvention along the way. Keep a healthy desire for change in our music and a healthy contempt for formula. And to not self-censor yourself, in the way you say, "This is not a Placebo sound." We don't really have that kind of attitude. We're very open. If it comes out of us, then it's Placebo.
Banish all thoughts of a twisted, one-dimensional, ultra-paranoid Brian Molko from your mind, dear reader. Mr Placebo 2000 is an emotionally stable, creatively virile individual and his new album is a worthy reflection.
No wonder he's laughing like a man possessed.