Placebo: The Sunny Side Of Meds

For the past 15 years, Placebo has challenged the masculine music industry norms with their furious gender bending rock music. Selling over 12 million albums worldwide and playing over 900 live shows, the band most recently became the 1st rock act to have performed in front of the ancient Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But like the old rock n roll cliché goes, the higher you are the greater the fall. Their last album Meds (2005) took a toll on the band which resulted in their drummer calling it quits. However, instead of taking a long hiatus, Placebo has risen like a phoenix to hit us back with Battle For The Sun. JUICE gets out the long distance dialer and talks to bassist Stefan Olsdal about the happiest Placebo record ever.

Tell us a bit about the new album.
It’s our 6th record and it’s called Battle for the Sun. We usually make records in reaction to our previous record. And to us, Meds is a kind of a dark record. Meds is short for medication. We were a band that had quite a lot of pain at that time, and I think Battle for the Sun, is more hopeful. There’s fresh blood in the band. We’re out of a contract with a major label and we’re kind of doing things by ourselves now. We recorded the album in North America, we made 5 records in Europe with 5 European producers, so with this record we tried to go somewhere else, to get away from our comfort zone. So all these things are like a new beginning.

So it’s a very positive album…
We’re not really known for writing happy songs. This record is more colourful, more hopeful.

Since you’re no longer on a major label, what do you think of bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails who are practically giving their albums away for free?
Times are changing, technology is changing. I’d like to look at it in a positive sense. Now with the internet, it’s much more democratic in terms of what exposure bands get. Kids out there can find whatever they want to listen to now and I think that’s a more positive thing because they can make up their own minds on what they want to listen to… rather than being fed with what the corporations want them to listen to.

Do you feel that music should be free?
Absolutely not! It’s still painful to see what’s going on. It’s becoming hard for new bands to emerge as well. And also what’s going to happen is people’s favourite bands are going to charge more for concert tickets.

Steve Forrest’s band opened for you guys during your US tour in 2007. How did he get from there to be your new drummer?
We were quite impressed by his playing. We didn’t think at that time at all that he was gonna be part of Placebo. But then after the Meds tour, me and Brian weren’t really active in looking for a drummer. A couple of months later, Steve found out that we were short of a drummer, so he got in touch with us. And we were like, “Oh yeah! I remember that guy.” We knew he was a good player, so the only thing we had to find out was if we could spend the next 2 or 10 years together. For us, it was important that we got along as people. So we flew him over to London and hung out for a while, and we saw potential for this to work out.

Was there any point, before Steve entered the band, where you thought that it’d be better to keep Placebo as a 2-piece?
As a gothic Pet Shop Boys?! (Laughs) Not really. We’re a rock band really, and I think that’s sort of intrinsically the way that Placebo is made up. Yeah, there’s still something about having a live drummer that adds another dimension to it.

You guys played recently at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. How did it go?
Oh, it was pretty amazing for a lot of reasons! The timing was really bad because we hadn’t finished the record and hadn’t done any gigs. But it was too good an opportunity to say no to. We’re asked by a charity called MTV Exit, which raises awareness for human trafficking. With Placebo, in our little universe that we inhabit, we try to do what we can. And also, hopefully, spreading acceptance and respect between people, gender and sexuality. I think we’re also the 1st rock band to play in front of this old Buddhist temple! With Placebo, in our little universe that we inhabit, we try to do what we can. And also, hopefully, spreading acceptance and respect between people, genders and sexuality.

Your music has constantly evolved over the course of your career. Do you feel that issues of sexuality issues are less explored now compared to when you guys first started making music?
That was something we enjoyed doing in the early years, like cross dressing. There’s a freedom there and Brian was often confused as a girl. It was fun to play with that. We’ve kind of been there and done that. But saying that, we’ve played in quite a few cities and countries where there’s still a lot of work to be done, like discrimination against homosexuals and women, gender issues. In cases like that we say what we think and try to raise awareness.

Having been together for 15 years. Placebo is a band that has truly stood the test of time. What keeps you guys together?
Well, we wouldn’t know what else to do if we didn’t have Placebo. We’re fortunate enough to be able to have had a hobby and passion that has turned into our life and career. In some ways, we’re slowly coming to realise how fortunate we are to have Placebo and it’s becoming more valuable with every record.

What were you doing before Placebo?
I was in school! I had to leave class and tell my teacher, “Sir, I gotta go on tour!” I was 19.

A lot of your songs have references to drugs. Has drugs ever gotten in the way of the band?
That bit of rock n roll lifestyle, we’ve been there and we’ve lived it. I think there’s a certain romantic emotion attached to the rock n roll lifestyle. But there’s only so long you can have a romantic relationship with it before it turns ugly. The world doesn’t need anymore rock n roll deaths, or casualties. I think we’re in a better place now compared to when we were recording Meds, which is short for medication.

Did you guys hit a low point during Meds?
The recording and touring of Meds probably spelt the end of Placebo mark 3, you know that line-up. During the tour, it got quite difficult. There was no communication between 3 of us. Relationships were breaking down and we weren’t a creative band anymore. And me and Brian realised that, so we had to make some decisions for the band to continue… and we did!

In the last 10 years you’ve been together, what have you learned that you can tell our readers?
Well basically, Placebo as a band has been uncool in a lot of places for a very long time. But what I want to say, it’s okay to be uncool, you know? As long as it’s you… then it’s okay. And if people don’t think you’re cool, that’s cool too. I think if you try to fit in and be like other people, then it’s not going to help you evolve as a person. It’s not going to help you fulfill your dreams. Just stick to your own guns, stay true to yourself and keep your head up. Life will be better.