Placebo – "We appeal to the square pegs in the round holes"

Placebo band

Having exploded intothe mid-90s as an ambitious, androgynous antidote to the laddish Britpop, Placebo honed their glam-infused craft while supporting Bowie on his Outside, Earthling and Reality arena tours. Two decades and seven hit albums on from Nancy Boy, and they’re set to release their Life’s What You Make It EP, and tour behind double-disc career retrospective A Place For Us To Dream. Guitarist, vocalist and frontman Brian Molko talks us through the album and tour, as well as revealing why he will never grow a beard.

You’re celebrating twenty years of Placebo with a two-disc compilation album.

Record companies love an excuse to mark the passing of time. For Stefan [Olsdal, bass] and I it brings feelings of gratitude. We’re grateful to have a cross-generational audience and to have been able do this for the entirety of our adult lives. I don’t have many other skills, so it’s important I continue to do this to survive, both physically, to house and feed myself and my family, and mentally, to have a conduit to express myself artistically. It’s a ridiculously fortunate position to be in.

Your career retrospective is called A Place For Us To Dream – a fair definition of Placebo for yourself and your audience?

I’ve known for almost two decades that we appeal to outsiders, to the square pegs in the round holes. Which is only natural because both Stefan and I grew up feeling that way. We found each other, and the music we make appeals to people who also felt like outsiders growing up.

You’re now on your fourth drummer, so is Placebo technically a duo?

Yes, it’s a duo. We joke that we’re the goth Pet Shop Boys. The creative process now is very similar to when we first started. Then, it would be me and Stefan, a four-track recording machine and a cassette; now Stefan has a digital home studio. So it’s just like in 1994, except now we’ve got more toys and they’re more expensive [laughs]. And after years of butting heads with drummers, I’m enjoying the innocence and simplicity of the process.

You toured extensively with David Bowie and he featured on the single version of Without You I’m Nothing.

We became his go-to support band for five years and it was one of the best periods of my life. We met him as extremely green kids who hadn’t even released an album. Morrissey walked out of Bowie’s tour, leaving him without a support band. And fortuitously he’d just heard our demo. Being in David’s orbit was a wonderful experience. We spoke about existence more than music; getting through this crazy jungle. I was on a self-destructive path at that time and David recognised that as something he’d dealt with himself. That empathy brought a father figure/mentor element to our relationship and it’s a time I’ll cherish forever.

As a man with his finger on the stylistic pulse, have you succumbed to the beard?

I can’t have a beard. I can grow one, but if I do, it’s grey. In the early noughties, before I had to dye my hair, the Dave Gahan goatee and moustache was fashionable, so I tried it, but it was ginger.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.