January 30, 2010

All my Christmases came at once, and so very nearly did I, when confirmation of my interview with Placebo’s bass player Stefan Oldstal dropped into my work email. A fan of the group since their Nancy Boyed hey day, I had reached my journalistic Mecca and could hang up my poisoned pen knowing I had completed all that was required of me by the journalistic gods. Back in Dublin for their first studio gig since the start of the decade how have the intervening years been for the band who started it as critical whipping boys and ended it as commercial darlings.

The last time you played the Olympia Theatre the ceiling caved in on top of you. Any other fond memories of Dublin?

We recorded our first album here and Brian and I were tracing it back yesterday, getting a bit nostalgic, walking through Temple Bar where the studio was, stepping over drunk people and puddles of puke.

You’ve been going 15 years now. What’s it like to be still around when other groups from that time, like The Verve and Skunk Anansie, are beginning to crawl back out onto the live circuit?

It’s one of those things where we still do what we want to do. We still want to be writing together and still want to improve. We haven’t found any other calling that is as appealing or as satisfying as this so I don’t spare much thought for those artists who weren’t as fortunate as us.

On Battle For The Sun, and Meds before it, you seem to have changed your influences from acts like The Cure and The Smiths to QOTSA and Smashing Pumpkins. Was this a conscious decision to widen your audience or just a natural expansion of your sound?

We tried for two or three albums to fuse rock with electronic elements from Black Market Music to Meds. But by Meds we felt we had pushed it about as far as a band with our identity could. With BFTS it was like the strings came a-calling. It was a new sonic palette to try out and the more timeless acoustic instruments like piano, brass and strings started to creep in, in place of loops, synths, and electronica.

I’ve noticed you’ve gotten tighter as a live act since you’ve started. Is that something you think about when you go into record an album or do you see them as two seperate entities?

What we found happening in the past was that when we got on the road the song was still developing. So with this record we spent a lot more time prepping it before we went into the studio, where we worked on the arrangements a lot more and we let our producer David Botrill (Tool, Muse) in a much earlier stage in the life of the album than previous producers. So some of the songs were more complete before we went into the studio than tracks that ended up on our previous albums.

You’re 6 albums in now. How do you go about compiling a set list for your live shows?

It was great here last night because this is one of the smallest shows we have done in the whole tour and we love this venue. So we changed the set list because this was a more intimate and a more relaxed vibe. It looks so small now. Ten years ago it looked so big. I mean what’s happened, have our heads grown? [laughs]

You’ve said in the past that playing tracks off of your earlier albums was a bit like being a karaoke band. I can understand that when it comes to your singles but can you ever see yourself playing tracks like Brick Shithouse or Luxembourger Queen with more recent tracks?

Very possibly. For the lounge tour when we are all being pushed around in wheelchairs. I think Brian wants to do a show that’s like the Ike & Tina Revue, with loads of outfits and dancers. I’m kind off in the same mindset, but it would have to be stripped down, along the lines of the Angkor Watt tour.

You have done some amazing cover versions. Have you gotten any feedback -positive or otherwise, from the artists you have covered?

I know Johnny Marr liked our version of Bigmouth Strikes Again but Robert Palmer (RIP.) thought our version of Johnny and Mary was a bit too rock for him. Kate Bush, Brian and I actually got to meet, hands trembling. She was really sweet and really liked our version of Running Up The Hill.

If you could get any artist to cover any Placebo song, what artist would it be and what track?

Some Dub artist. Sly & Robbie doing Devil in The Details would be great. We are actually thinking of doing something in the Dub direction. It’s good for the digestion. Good for the mornings.


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