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Placebo’s first album was recorded in 1996 in Dublin-Westland Studios. Could you tell us more about the recording, which memories do you keep about it?
The recording of the album was a fairly rushed job, and it would have been better to spend a little bit more time getting certain things right (I think the drums should have been played better!) but that’s what most bands say anyway. I was sharing a flat in Dublin with Brad Wood the producer whom I got on well with, whilst Stefan and Brian shared another place together. We spent two weeks recording and then went back to London to mix for two weeks. We took off halfway through the recording to go to Austin to play South by South West out of which we managed to get our publishing deal. It was non-stop.
More specifically, what are your best and worst memories as a member of Placebo?
My best memories include the initial sense of disbelief when things started taking off. It happened so quickly: We recorded our first demo in April 95 (seven months after forming) and were picked up by our managers in June 95. We hadn’t even recorded our debut album and were invited by Bowie to do four dates with him in Italy in February 96. All he had heard was our demo, which he loved. So we basically went from playing small places in the UK, to playing arenas, literally overnight. I guess there was a sense of having a world of opportunity at our feet. A lot of people, notably our managers and the record company, seemed determined to make Placebo successful. However, this was all very stressful at the same time because the relationship between Brian and me was never easy and it led to there being a tense atmosphere a lot of the time. We were both proud and opinionated and seemed to lock horns over most issues. I always knew my time in the band was going to be limited.
In 2006, the first album was re-released with additional B-sides and rarities. How did you feel when you first heard about this project?
Alex, their manager first told me about this at a Young Gods gig I went to in June 2006. I was delighted to hear about it as it seemed to me the record company thought it was the band’s best piece of work and that it needed to be reappraised. However, I’m aware that the re-release coincided with the end of Placebo’s five album deal with Virgin, so there was an obvious marketing motive on behalf of the record company, but it certainly didn’t bother me.
What are your favourite songs on the album?
My favourite song has always been Swallow. The first version of this Brian and Stefan recorded on acid when I was in Germany for a month in September ’94 visiting an ex-girlfriend of mine. When I heard it, I thought it was amazing: it really did something for me. The vocal sounding genuinely fucked up repeated over that eery bass motif and cool harmonics on the guitar (there were no drums on it). I believe Brian played bass on that, and Stefan the guitar. We never played it live because we could never really replicate the vibe of the original recording, even though I’m happy with the album version.
Out of the faster tracks I suppose Bruise Pristine was my favourite to play, along with Come Home.
According to some rumours you left after having repeated rows with Brian. Could you tell us what exactly happened?
I was fired. I left initially in September 95, but just around then we were offered to record our first single (Bruise Pristine) so I felt I needed to at least have accomplished one release with the band. Upon rejoining (after having left for two weeks) things really started taking off. Unfortunately, we had a big argument in August 1996 just before going to record our first TV show (the White Room). Brian said he couldn’t stand to play with me anymore and I said more or less, that the band was not solely his to decide what to do with. Incredibly, I volunteered to get therapy in order to be able to deal with the ‘situation’ (him) better to which he replied he “did not have time for me to sort my head out”, clearly taking no responsibility for his own behaviour/actions. I suggested (and we ‘agreed’) that we carry on playing together until December 96 and complete the promotion of the album and see if things could improve by then.
In September 96 we had our first US tour for two weeks and the first date was in New York. The atmosphere was super tense and I could tell something was up as Brian was no longer making the slightest effort to be agreeable. I asked Stefan what was going on and if I would be doing the German tour (after the US tour) just before going on stage, and he just said ‘no, you’re not’. I did two more shows with the band in Paris after the US tour at the manager’s request, the last one being a performance on “Nulle Part Aillleurs”. Brian has said that he was “tired of being the focus of Robert’s rages against the world” and quite frankly, I was tired of being his!
If you’re wondering where Stefan stood in all of this, he was tired of being piggy in the middle.
The group carried on for 10 years with Steve Hewitt, had you ever expected the band would become so successful?
There was a lot of good will behind Placebo. A lot people were determined to make a success of it, including the band obviously, so it was hardly surprising. And they have written some good pop songs after all!
Since the first album, Placebo’s sound evolved a lot and some fans who knew the band from the very beginning have felt increasingly disappointed. Have you met a lot of people who share this point of view?
I have met many, though I guess the fans who talk to me are more likely to say that kind of thing (rather than saying the band are way better now). However, it has been a great source of comfort and vindication for me to meet people who share this point of view.
What is your personal opinion about the band’s evolution?
Some good stuff, some not so good.
Nowadays, more and more people tend to consider that rock is dead. The “Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’roll” motto is not as influential as it used to be in the 70s and 80s. What do you think about new bands, about the way they deal with this heritage?
I’m not sure about sex drugs and rock’n’roll not being as influential as it used to be. Being in a band will always attract the other two, whether or not those are your reasons for starting a band in the first place. I think the motto gained its notoriety back in the 70’s because it was happening on uncharted territory, and has since become a tired cliché that I guess most bands are aware of. There is no point trying to be crazier than Keith Moon, it’s already been done.
Are there any bands or artists you really like and would like to tell us about?
There is a French band based over here in London called John and Jehn who I think are great who have a cool dark poppy sound. Worth checking out.
Apart from being a professional drummer and playing the didgeridoo (when can hear it in I Know) do you play any other instruments?
I play the guitar as well. In fact I tend to play more guitar than drums, though the drums are where I feel most comfortable. I’m unlikely to perform live on the guitar but enjoy plucking away most days.
What other ventures have you undertaken after your collaboration with Placebo? We heard that you played with the band Lomax and that an album was released in 2003…
Could you tell us more about your ambitions and projects?
Lomax was a great band to play in as we had a lot of fun, but it couldn’t last as Paul Epworth’s (singer/guitarist) production career took off with him producing Bloc Party, Futureheads, the Rakes, etc. I’m now playing in a new band with Jon the bass player from Lomax and a guitarist called Mike who used to be in Hope of the States, though we are still nameless. The stuff we’re doing is quite experimental with the use of loops and effect pedals to create soundscapes whilst we thrash about over the top. We are making steady progress and plan to be playing live soon.
I’m also playing in an electro-rock project called Cristine (ndPlacebocity : MySpace Cristine) with a French friend of mine. We’ve got two singles being released through new label Mute Irregulars (subsidiary of Mute records). The sound is a Velvetsey/Jesus and Mary chain vibe over an electro backdrop.
Steve Hewitt left Placebo during the summer. If Brian and Stef offered you the job, would you accept? Why?
If there was a musical chemistry there, and if our demons could be restrained, it would be great, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
Great thanks to Robert Schultzberg for being so nice and available
Thanks too to Gary, Nathy, tite placébienne, EVERYME, Zoé.