Placebo are an English alternative rock band, formed in London in 1994 by singer-guitarist Brian Molko and guitarist-bassist Stefan Olsdal. The band were soon joined by drummer Robert Schultzberg, who was replaced in 1996 by Steve Hewitt. Hewitt was fired from the band in 2007 and replaced by Steve Forrest in 2008, who left in 2015.
Placebo are known for their androgynous image and musical content. To date, they have released seven studio albums, all of which have reached the top 20 in the United Kingdom, and have sold around 11 million records worldwide.
Placebo founders Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal had both attended the American International School of Luxembourg, but they didn't meet properly until 1994 in London, England. At the time, Olsdal was taking guitar lessons and was on his way home when he met Molko at the South Kensington tube station. Molko, observing that Olsdal had a guitar strapped to his back, invited Olsdal to watch him perform at a local gig. On the strength of Molko's performance, Olsdal decided that they should start a band. The two formed as Ashtray Heart.
Originally, the two were unable to decide on a drummer. Molko knew a drummer, Steve Hewitt, and asked him to join the band. However, Hewitt had prior commitments to local band Breed and only had time to play on occasional demos with Molko and Olsdal. Robert Schultzberg assumed the position of drummer in late 1994.
Olsdal remarked in an MTV interview that the band's name was chosen because of its Latin origins; when translated, it means "I will please". Frequently in interviews, Molko has stated that the name is a satirical reflection of the 1990s cliche of naming one's band after a drug. In an interview, Molko stated:
It's a complex question to answer, really. As musicians you try to find a name for your band that represents you and you never really do, because, basically, names for bands lose their meaning after a while. They become a series of sounds that you associate with people in music. The most important thing for a name is that you can imagine forty-thousand people screaming it in unison.
Debut album, line-up change and glam connection (1996-1998):
Placebo's self-titled debut album was released on 16 July 1996, peaking at No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart at the height of the Britpop era; their highest-charting album in the country to date. The album spawned several successful singles, most popular being "Nancy Boy".
Tension with Schultzberg and the rest of the group had begun to rise in the previous year. The band initially fired him in September 1995, but he was rehired to record the first seven-inch single "Bruise Pristine". After an argument in August 1996, Molko decided that it would be best for the band if Schultzberg left. The band came to an agreement that Schultzberg would leave once they had finished the promotion of Placebo.
Eventually, Schultzberg did indeed leave the band in September 1996, on a United States tour. Before going on stage for their first show in the state of New York, Olsdal informed Schultzberg that he wasn't going on the tour in Germany that was following the US one. At the manager's request, Schultzberg did two more shows with the band in Paris after the US tour, the last of which was a performance on the French TV series Nulle part ailleurs. According to Schultzberg "Molko 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". While Schultzberg was with the band, several early works were recorded, including their first 7" single "Bruise Pristine", the "Come Home" EP, the single version of "Nancy Boy" (with B-sides "Slackerbitch", "Miss Moneypenny" and the Smiths cover "Bigmouth Strikes Again") and their eponymous debut album. On the track "I Know", Schultzberg played didgeridoo as well as drums. Hewitt eventually joined Placebo as a full-time member.
In early 1996, Placebo had opened several concerts for David Bowie in Italy, France and Switzerland as part of his Outside Tour after he had heard a demo of theirs. In the following January Bowie invited them to play at his 50th birthday celebrations at New York's Madison Square Garden. The party also included Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins, Robert Smith of The Cure and Lou Reed.
The band's glam rock connections continued. In 1998, Placebo recorded a cover of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack and the band appeared in a minor role in the film. Bowie made a special appearance on-stage with Placebo during a tour stop in New York as part of the band's late February tour with Stabbing Westward. The single version of the song "Without You I'm Nothing", which originally appeared on the album with the same name, featured a duet between Molko and Bowie. Placebo played "20th Century Boy" live with David Bowie at the BRIT Awards show in 1999.
Without You I'm Nothing and Black Market Music (1998-2002):
In 1998, Placebo switched to the major label Virgin Records, and issued their follow-up album Without You I'm Nothing in November. It was another large seller in the UK; the US market embraced the album's lead single "Pure Morning", which appeared on MTV and reached number 20 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, but subsequent singles and videos failed to match the success of its predecessor.
The first two singles from Without You I'm Nothing, "Pure Morning" and "You Don't Care About Us", were similarly successful in the UK and both charted in the top ten. Since Without You I'm Nothing, the band have received less positive coverage from the British music press, which, on occasion, has mocked the perceived pretension of frontman Molko.
The band's third album, Black Market Music, released in October 2000, further experimented with genres outside of regular rock sound. A re-sequenced version released in the US featured a slightly different track listing, adding the aforementioned Bowie version of "Without You I'm Nothing" and the band's cover of Depeche Mode's "I Feel You". The album created additional UK top 20 hits such as "Taste in Men" and "Slave to the Wage", reaching 16 and 19 in the UK Albums Chart, respectively.
Placebo encountered resistance from the British music industry upon release of the single "Special K" due to its reference of a ketamine high as a simile for love. The song was released as an EP, featuring the B-sides and remixes that would have filled out a conventional two-disc single release. The band claimed this was due to dissatisfaction with the two-disc single format, a claim somewhat undermined by their subsequent single releases all being made available in double-CD formats accompanied by a 7" vinyl.
Sleeping with Ghosts and Once More with Feeling (2003-2005):
In April 2003 Placebo released their fourth album, Sleeping with Ghosts. The album went to No. 11 in the UK and sold 1.4 million copies worldwide. Australian tour dates with Elbow and UK shows with Har Mar Superstar followed in 2004.
In early 2004, the band released their first live DVD, Soulmates Never Die (Live in Paris 2003), from footage recorded in October 2003 and also including a 25-minute documentary. In late 2004 a singles collection Once More with Feeling: Singles 1996-2004 was released on both CD and as a DVD featuring the band's videos. The nineteen-song compilation included two new tracks, "I Do" and the single "Twenty Years".
In November Placebo played a one-night-only gig at Wembley Arena in which Robert Smith of The Cure made a guest appearance on two tracks, "Without You I'm Nothing" and a cover of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry". This performance was to be their last UK gig until 2006. After the Wembley gig, Placebo went on a short Once More with Feeling tour in South America. On 2 July 2005 the group performed "Twenty Years" and "The Bitter End" at the Live 8 concert, at the Palais de Versailles in France (see Live 8 concert, Paris).
Meds and lineup change (2006-2009):
In September 2005 Placebo finished the recording phase of their fifth studio album, Meds, which was released on 13 March 2006 (delayed in the US until 4 April). The lead single in the UK market was "Because I Want You". However, "Song to Say Goodbye" was the first single in other markets. The album was remastered from October 2005 to January 2006. Two tracks are duets with US singers: "Meds" with Alison Mosshart of The Kills and "Broken Promise" with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.Dimitri Tikovoi, who had mixed selected tracks on Once More with Feeling, produced Placebo's fifth effort.
Meds was leaked to the internet on 17 January 2006, but the official release date was 13 March 2006, making the leak almost two months early. The leak was projected to cause a serious loss of profit by the band's record label Virgin Records. Nevertheless, in most countries the album charted well, at No. 1 in France, No. 4 in Australia and No. 7 in the UK. The album's second single was "Infra-Red", released in June 2006 in the UK.
In 2006 Placebo switched labels in the US to Astralwerks and re-released several revisions of their earlier works. In October their debut album Placebo was digitally remastered and re-released with the subtitle 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition; the box set also included a DVD containing music videos, concerts and TV performances. Three additional songs, "UNEEDMEMORETHANINEEDU", "Lazarus" and a cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up that Hill", were added to the US version of Meds and the song "In the Cold Light of Morning" was removed.
In 2007 Placebo joined Linkin Park and various other acts for the annual Projekt: Revolution tour. Following the tour, Virgin released the Extended Play '07 EP as a simple introduction for new fans to the band's past decade of music. The compilation featured eight songs: "Nancy Boy", "Every You Every Me", "Taste in Men", "The Bitter End", "Meds", "Pure Morning", "Infra-Red" and "Running Up that Hill".
On 1 October 2007 it was announced that Hewitt was no longer in Placebo. Molko commented "Being in a band is very much like being in a marriage, and in couples--in this case a triple--people can grow apart over the years. To say that you don't love your partner anymore is inaccurate, considering all that you've been through and achieved together. There simply comes a point when you realise that you want different things from your relationship and that you can no longer live under the same roof, so to speak". Olsdal commented "We couldn't go on with Steve Hewitt. We didn't have the same goals, nor the same vision anymore. We had to separate. It all went wrong during the Meds tour. ... There was no communication between us. Brian and I are one, but at some point we even didn't talk to each other anymore. We realised Placebo was dying. To be able to go on, things had to change." According to Hewitt, "Alex Weston, our manager, ... called me in to the office and said I was not in the band anymore. And that's it. I was thrown out". Hewitt claims that it was "very hurtful" and "disappointing" to have been ejected in this way after being in the band for over a decade. In August 2008, the band announced their new drummer, Steve Forrest of the band Evaline. Early in 2008 Hewitt founded the band Love Amongst Ruin, switching to guitar and singing lead vocals. In August 2012 he became the drummer of the reformed Six by Seven.
Placebo gave one live performance in 2008, as part of an MTV EXIT event, a campaign against human trafficking held in Angkor Wat in December. Placebo left EMI in 2008, but the label released a ten-disc box set of the complete Placebo recordings on 8 June 2009, including all the studio albums and DVDs as well as Placebo - The Hut Recordings, a collection of B-sides.
Battle for the Sun (2009-2011):
In January 2009, Placebo confirmed that they had finished working on the follow-up to 2006's Meds and planned to release it in June 2009. The full track list was announced on the band's website in March 2009. The album, Battle for the Sun, is the first to feature new drummer Steve Forrest. It was released on 8 June 2009 through the PIAS Entertainment Group. The album was recorded in Toronto, Canada with producer David Bottrill, who has worked with artists such as Muse and Silverchair.
The album's title track "Battle for the Sun" debuted on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show on 17 March 2009. Subsequently, it became available for free download on the band's official website. On the same day as the track's debut, they played a secret concert in London, performing some of the material from the album, including the tracks "Ashtray Heart", "Julien", "Kitty Litter", "Speak in Tongues" and "Devil in the Details". In their review for the gig, Rock Sound wrote that "the new album is a heavier-sounding record compared to its predecessor" and recalls the atmosphere of Without You I'm Nothing. String arrangements are also present on the new tracks.
The first single, "For What It's Worth", made its radio debut on 20 April 2009. It became available for download on iTunes and eMusic from 12:00am GMT the following day, and the video for the single premiered on MySpace at the same time. It was physically released on 1 June 2009.
In May 2009, Placebo performed three concerts in the UK at venues in Sheffield, Bournemouth and London before attending the festival season in Europe and Asia. When unveiling the new album with a full track-by-track rundown, Molko told the Scottish edition of News of the World: "It feels like a new beginning... we're reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to take on the world".
From 29 to 31 May 2009 fans who signed up for Placebo's official mailing list received a unique code for logging into five listenings of the album in its entirety.
On 5 November 2009, Placebo won the MTV Europe Music Awards for "Best Alternative". In December 2009, Placebo released iTunes Live: London Festival '09, a live album recorded at the iTunes Festival at The Roundhouse, Camden on 14 July 2009. The album contains nineteen live songs and a digital booklet.
Following the summer festival season (and a cancellation of the American tour), Placebo went on a series of arena-sized concerts across Europe in October-December 2009. That leg of the tour culminated in a concert in London's O2 Arena. In February-April 2010 they toured Southeast Asia, Australia and South America. The final leg of the tour saw Placebo play Israel and Lebanon, before returning to Europe for a series of festivals and featured concerts. A performance in Thessaloniki, Greece in September 2010 was poorly received by the crowd, sparking boos from a crowd of thousands after performing a 50-minute set. The last shows of the tour took place in London's Brixton Academy on 27-28 September 2010, coinciding with the release of the last album's Redux edition.
In August 2011, Placebo went on a mini-tour of two shows in Berlin and Stuttgart. On 31 October 2011 the band released their second live video album, We Come in Pieces, documenting the live performance at the Brixton Academy on 28 September 2010. An iTunes exclusive live album, Live at Angkor Wat, was released on 12 December 2011.
B3 and Loud Like Love (2012-present):
On 29 November 2011 Placebo announced they would be headlining the Sundance Film and Music Festival in April 2012. In January 2012 the band were confirmed their inclusion at the Rock im Pott festival to be held on 25 August 2012 at Veltins Arena, Germany along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. From April to September 2012 they played a string of European concerts.
In May 2012 Placebo confirmed that they expected to release some tracks by the end of 2012, as well as that they have been assisted by Adam Noble (Red Hot Chili Peppers, dEUS) on a new album which will be released in 2013. In August 2012, Molko revealed on Italy's Rai Radio 2 that a new single titled "B3" would be released in September. A five-track EP titled B3 was released in October 2012. It was reissued on 10" vinyl for Record Store Day 2013.
During the Battle for the Sun tour, Molko and Olsdal both stated on various occasions that they were working on material for the next studio album. In November 2011 the band announced via their Facebook page and official website that they would be returning to the studio in 2012 to record their seventh studio album.
On 21 May 2013 Placebo announced their seventh studio album, Loud Like Love. Produced by Adam Noble, the album was released on 16 September 2013. The band went on a worldwide tour to promote the album, starting in August 2013. In November-December 2013 they went on an arena tour in Europe and the United Kingdom. During February-April 2014 Placebo toured Australia, Mexico and South America. Beginning in June 2014 they went on a tour of Russia and Europe. In October 2014, they went on their first full tour of the United States and Canada in over seven years. The 2014 tour concluded with five shows in Spain and Portugal.
On 2 February 2015, the band have announced the departure of drummer Steve Forrest. The end of Forrest's career with the band was "very amicable" and occurred due to the drummer's intention to "pursue his own musical ambitions". Placebo have announced that for the planned 2015 gigs, a new sideman, Matt Lunn, formerly of the band Colour of Fire, who supported Placebo on tour in 2004, will take the drummer's seat.
In February-March 2015, Placebo toured Ireland and the United Kingdom, culminating with two shows in London's Hammersmith Apollo. For May-July 2015 they are scheduled to tour Europe, Morocco and Russia.
Musical characteristics and lyrics:
Despite initially being considered a glam rock act, Placebo's music developed throughout their career, adopting diverse elements from other genres. Besides the alternative rock and glam rock classifications, critics have described the band as "goth-rock",Britpop,post-punk revival,electronic rock,experimental rock and industrial rock.Progressive rock elements in the band's earlier works along with grunge and punk rock influences were also noted.
Placebo's influences include David Bowie,Sonic Youth, The Cure, Pixies, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana,The Smiths,Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, PJ Harvey, The Chameleons,Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
Lyrically, Placebo's music contains many references to drugs and LGBT themes. The title of the song "Special K", for instance, is slang for ketamine. Molko has been open about his use of recreational drugs: in a 1997 interview with Kerrang! magazine he admitted that heroin was "probably the only drug on this planet I haven't tried". However, he later admitted to using heroin as well. Pharmaceutical drugs are also referenced, as evidenced by the band's name as well as the album Meds and its title track. Outsider themes are also explored, as evidenced in lyrics such as "the back of the class is where I'm from" on "One of a Kind" and "I'm forever black-eyed/A product of a broken home" on "Black-Eyed". Molko has been quoted as calling the band "for outsiders, by outsiders".
Placebo have been cited as an influence on bands My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco and AFI.
Brian Molko - lead vocals, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards (1994-present),
Stefan Olsdal - bass guitar, guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (1994-present),
Current touring members
Bill Lloyd - bass guitar, keyboards, piano (1996, 1998-present),
Fiona Brice - violin, keyboards, theremin, percussion, backing vocals (2008-present),
Nick Gavrilovic - guitar, lap steel guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (2009-present),
Matt Lunn - drums, percussion (2015-present),
Steve Forrest - drums, percussion, backing vocals (2008-2015),
Steve Hewitt - drums, percussion (1996-2007),
Robert Schultzberg - drums, percussion, didgeridoo (1994-1996),
Former touring members
Xavior Roide - keyboards, backing vocals (2003-2005),
Alex Lee - guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (2006-2007)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license