When most saw Placebo last June they were playing to an audience who knew little of their work. Their live performances stunned crowds and critics alike. In front man Brian Moloko, Palcebo had a young messiah whose androgynous looks were instantly commented on. With the re-release of the band’s debut album and success of the ‘Nancy Boy’ single, John Paul Green spoke to the band upstairs at Newcastle’s Riverside.
Brian appears five minutes in to the interview looking relaxed and ready to talk. After hearing from bass player Stefan Olsbal and new drummer Steve Hewitt about the more successful tour, it’s time to look at the two sides of Brian and Placebo.
There’s no denying the sudden rise in popularity of the band, were the band annoyed that the album didn’t do so well on it’s initial release?
Brian: “Not really. The re-release helped us a lot. I mean, ‘Nancy Boy’ was doing really well in the charts so to push the album again was a great idea. I’m happy with that.”
Stefan: “Yeah. We can only improve on our fan base. Now our gigs are sold out with people who have come to see us.”
New drummer Steve couldn’t have picked a better moment to join the band, “It’s great walking into such an energetic environment. I can’t wait to begin recording with the guys. We get on very well and the audience are superb. They know all the bloody songs even the new ones.”
Placebo have always been a solid live outfit and Brian plays the crowds very well. Does it come natural to him? “Definitely, I love it. It’s like having sex on a mass scale. For an hour or so these people are giving themselves over to you and the energy is amazing. You’ve got the sweat, the ectasy and the buzz without the mess.”
Presumably then, the crowd represent an androgynous mass, made up of male and female parts. In this day and age of pre millennia tension, do the band see themselves as a millennial band? “Not really. The millennium is such a western idea. What about the Chinese calendar? However when I’m on stage sexuality and gender become one out there and I relate to that.”
Brian: “There you go, that’s your headline – ‘The Genital Erasers’, I’d agree with that. In that respect I suppose we are a millennial band, blurring those lines. Religion has got a lot to answer for. It creates fear amongst people and sets up these taboos to protect itself. When I went to America with my mother I saw first hand the hypocrisies of religion and it’s a subject that has stayed with me.”
No matter how big Placebo get the one thing most people are drawn to is Brian’s look. Last time we met he had little to say on the subject. How does he feel now? “Well I’m very aware of how people perceive you. I got hassle some weeks back from a bouncer who thought I was a girl. That’s what our song ‘Brick Shithouse’ is about. I see myself as a blank tableaux and people can take from me and the music what they want.” Isn’t that what Bowie was doing in the seventies? “He was and I loved him for it. He was one of the first to break down the prejudices. We were so proud to be asked to play his birthday gig. It was our chance to crack America and play to someone we’ve admired for years. I know how I look and I can see how people see two sides to me. I’m not schizophrenic in that I have two lives, but I want people to see that we’re not as clear cut as establishments would have us believe.” We pause a moment while Stefan waltzes off to catch the new Depeche Mode video. “He loves that band.Apparently Dave Gahan was told that he looked like me. A few moths ago it would have been the other way around. People are noticing us”
We still live in a very prejudiced society, is it improving?
Stefan: “Slowly, yes, I think so. People are given more chance to express themselves these days.”
Brian: “I think people listen to our music and look on us and think hey, he’s doing it and look how successful he is. I’d like to think we create a positive energy for self expression. That is the one all important thing as far as myself and the band are concerned. Be yourself. If you can’t be that then you’re going under.”
The album seems a very personal trip through your life. Would you say that it is your autobiographical piece? “Part of it is. You’ll find a bit of me in every song, especially ’36 Degrees’. That’s my personal favourite. It’s about love and being let down. I was hurt a lot in one relationship and it still plagues me. Then of course there’s ‘Nancy Boy’ which is pretty much a subject that revolves around our way of thinking.”
The band seem to be in a very strong position to take the music world by storm and on the way shake up the perception of the self. Brian is a remarkable character. He is a genuine spokesperson for the nineties generation. His androgynous looks and semi-gothic make up give him the image that is sorely lacking in music at the present. One day even Placebo will not hold him and the world will have another Bowie on their hands. I for one can’t wait.