Placebo’s frontman balances bisexuality, parenthood and maturing out of his brooding-young-man stage
Given the clever, literate tone of his lyrics, it’s not surprising that Brian Molko is a world-class namedropper. Only minutes into a brief phone call about his band’s upcoming Dallas show, the flamboyant Placebo singer begins by channeling Andy Warhol.
“When it comes to our press, I don’t read it, I just weigh it,” he says.
Then Molko brings up everyone from Willem De Kooning to Mark Rothko to Charles Baudelaire as he discusses his band’s decade-long reign as Britain’s rock depressives.
“We have an inside joke in the band,” Molko says. “We refer to ourselves as melancholists. We’re actually really upbeat people. It’s really a saving grace to be able to deal with all this darkness in our music. It scares me to think what I’d be like without this outlet.”
In spite of the emotional weight of his songs, Molko is even-keeled, even when it comes to receiving less-than-favorable reviews.
“You need to be able to put yourself on the line when you’re experiencing art. If you’re standing in front of a painting, you need to make that step toward it, to make that effort to fully experience it,” he explains. “If you insist on standing back and not involving yourself, you won’t feel things the same way. We’re not a band that’s just about plugging in, making noise, and doing a bunch of screaming. It’s got to be about more than that.”
In the U.K. press, the 34-year old Brit has a reputation as an equal opportunity sexpot. Are there any stars on this side of the Atlantic that Molko would enjoy seducing?
“Is it cheesy to say Angelina Jolie?” he asks.
Prompted for a male conquest worth pursuing, Molko thinks for a second before saying, “I’d probably do Stipe. Just for the hell of it.”
Michael Stipe, of course the R.E.M.er who lent a guest spot to Placebo’s 2006 effort “Meds.” Molko refers to the pairing as “a series of accidents,” but he’s pleased with Stipe’s effort on the track “Follow the Cops Back Home.”
“I had this song about adultery that was written as a duet. At some point, it occurred to me that it could be sung by two men,” Molko recalls. “It’s a subject that’s been written about a lot, but I don’t think there’s another time when two men have sung it to each other. It’s just so much more 21st century.”
In spite of sordid tales of sex and drugs on the road, Placebo have noticeably matured since the group first started 11 years ago. Today, Molko is the father of a two-year-old boy named Cody, whom he is raising with longtime girlfriend Helena Berg. How will the notorious libertine explain the worlds of sex and drugs to his son when the time comes?
“I really haven’t thought about it,” he says. “It’s still a few years in the future for me.” Still, Molko says that the discussions will be handled openly, honestly and calmly.
“I believe in personal freedom,” he continues. “And I don’t believe that prohibition works.”
“It’s important to not just put some weird value system on your kids’ heads.”
Openly bisexual since he was a teen, Molko has heard all the trash talk from both gay and straight corners regarding the legitimacy of bi leanings.
“I’ve certainly experienced that kind of prejudice,” he says. “People think you’re just trying to get laid, or that I’m trying to steal their girlfriend. I think it’s a very natural state to be, though.”
Discussing the evolution of his longtime penchant for makeup on and offstage, Molko touches on the essential change that has transformed him from an angry young artist to a more introspective, more mature songwriter.
“I’m more into subtlety now,” he says. “I used to be very garish. I think I’m much more chic now. Wearing light makeup with a suit can be so much more interesting than walking down the street in a cheap dress. Androgyny isn’t drag: It’s about blurring the lines, about the grey areas in between.”
For a star that has gotten more than his share of attention for his drunken, wanton, gender-bending behavior, the last reply seems downright modest. Has the bisexual bad-boy become more complex as he’s aged?
“I think you do as you get older,” he says. “Isn’t that the point? That’s why you lose so much bravado in your 30s. I was so full of punch in my 20s, but now that I’m older, I’ve calmed down.”
PLACEBO PLAY DALLAS
Projekt Revolution tour, Smirnoff Music Center,
1818 First Ave.
Aug. 4 at 12:45 p.m., $30.50-$70.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2007