It’s always hard to title an album. You try and find a title that captures all the emotions of the songs on the whole album.
Placebo is the essence of rock. Since their debut in 1996, they have had several hit albums, acting gigs, a mainstream radio hit, and duets with glam rock icon David Bowie. Placebo’s music is feral and raw. Their sound is dynamic and often has a great pop hook as they challenge your preconceived notions about gender, homosexuality, love, and pop culture. Their newest album, Sleeping With Ghosts (Astralwerks), is no exception. Although the disc is filled with synthetic beats, it doesn’t take away from their intense sound. In fact, these manufactured sounds add to Placebo’s music. It makes them, if you’ll excuse the phrase, seem especially bruised and broken.
Playback St. Louis talked to Stefan Olsdal, the band’s bass player, before their concert in San Francisco. So sit back, relax, and marvel at my dorkiness as I try to keep my giddy screaming in check.
So, it’s been three years since your last tour. What have you been doing in that time?
We’ve played more dates in Europe and around England. We spent about six months recording this album. We had Christmastime off, but since then, we’ve been working and touring.
Sleeping With Ghosts is an interesting title. What is it in reference to?
It’s always hard to title an album. You try and find a title that captures all the emotions of the songs on the whole album. You don’t really want to fight it. That goes for song titles, too.
We really racked our brains for this one. It came down to Sleeping With Ghosts and another title; Sleeping With Ghosts sounded the best. Also, we sat around with the record company and management and decided it was the best.
It’s basically about the relationship with your memories. How they come back to haunt you and how they change in relationship to how you feel now and how you felt at the time.
Did you expect Sleeping With Ghosts to have an electronic feel?
I think the simple choice of producer Jim Abbiss and who he’s been working with—he works with a lot of electronica [Massive Attack, Unkle, DJ Shadow]. We don’t always do rock music. We do electronica, hip-hop, and so I think that comes a bit from our interest and that of the producers. It definitely ended up more electronic than our previous ones. At the end of the day, it’s still very much a rock album, an album that still sounds like Placebo. It’s not a complete turn, like we’ve become Kraftwerk all of a sudden. We didn’t do a Kid A. It’s an organic rock album, but with touches of electronica.
Are there any other genres of music that you would like to experiment with?
Country Western! [Laughs] We’ve done a bit of dub and jazz, like in “Something Rotten,” for example. We’ve done a bit of hip-hop on the last album, Black Market Music, with Justin Warfield. It’s kinda genres we like that come into the music. As for the future, we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t really censor ourselves when it comes to writing music, either. You can’t censor your emotions. We always try to be as honest as possible. Even with interviews in the past, we’ve always been quite open with people.
This is also your first American tour in three years. How’s everything going?
It’s better attended than the last one. Audiences have been more receptive. It’s very encouraging; we still have a cult status in America. We’re a lot of fans’ best-kept secret. In Europe, it kinda exploded. In Paris, we’re playing a show for 18,000 people. We don’t really mind that. We know that we’re not going to be as big in other countries and around the world. It’s a step back coming here, but we still enjoy it.
How does it feel to have cult status?
In some ways, it’s been more relaxing, playing small clubs. It’s like what we used to do a few years ago. It’s more intimate for the audience, but at the same time it’s also relaxing.
Have you had any strange experiences or stories on tour so far?
We nearly didn’t make it into the States because one of us lost our passport. In this country, you can’t go anywhere without ID, even in bars when you look over 21. You know, we nearly didn’t get into New York. We almost had to cancel that one. At least I haven’t fallen offstage. [Laughs] I did that a couple of tours ago and broke my wrist.
I’ve heard that you like Peaches and At the Drive In. You even do a Pixies cover in concert. What else are you listening to right now?
There’s a lot of stuff. Right now, Joy Division is playing. We play a lot of Har Mar Superstar and Queens of the Stone Age; uh…the new Eels album, Shootenanny! It’s all over the shelf, really.
What would you do if you weren’t a rock star?
I wanted to be a hairdresser when I was twelve. I don’t know; I’d probably be unemployed. [Laughs] The band has become a huge part of our lives. We don’t know what we’d do without music. Well, I might’ve become a music teacher or dress up in a drag show. There’s a bit of transvestite in me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Probably on the road or the studio. We seem to be doing it that way. For the past couple of albums, we’ve been touring and then recording a new album. Yeah, it’s kinda the old-school way, like how U2 and R.E.M. used to do it. I think that’s how the band comes alive.
So there are more Placebo albums in the future?
Yeah, we’re contractually bound to another one. [Laughs] So, at least another one, but there is an album of B-sides and cover versions that we’ve done. That should be out soon. There’s also a DVD of a live gig that is coming out.