Placebo are an English alternative rock band from London. They were formed in 1992 by singer-guitarist Brian Molko and bass guitarist Stefan Olsdal. The band was soon joined by drummer Robert Schultzberg, who was later replaced by Steve Hewitt after conflicts with Molko. Hewitt left the band in October 2007 and was replaced by Steve Forrest in 2008. They are known for their androgynous image and angst-fueled musical content. To date, they have released six studio albums, all of which have reached the top 20 in the UK, and have sold over ten million records worldwide.
Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal had both attended the American International School of Luxembourg, but didn't cross paths 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 bar. On the strength of Molko's performance, Olsdal decided that they should start a band. The two formed Ashtray Heart, a lo-fi duo, playing mostly on toy instruments. They wrote four songs, but decided to try out as a serious band and started to scout for a drummer.
Originally, the two were unable to decide on a drummer. Molko had some experience playing with Steve Hewitt, making him the ideal choice. However, Hewitt had prior commitments to the London band Breed, and only had time to play on occasional demos with Molko and Olsdal. This led Robert Schultzberg to assume the position of drummer when the band signed its contract with Caroline Records. Schultzberg had known Olsdal from boarding school in Sigtuna, Sweden as well as from an earlier Swedish band, Elevating Addiction, which they had both been members of.
The name "Placebo", Olsdal remarked in an MTV interview, was chosen because of its Latin origins; "placebo" literally translates from Latin as "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, though Olsdal claims this was not the original motivation for naming the band "Placebo". When asked about naming a band, Molko said:
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, lineup change, and glam connection (1996-1998):
Placebo's self titled debut album was released 16 July 1996 and was a major success, peaking at No. 5 on the UK Albums Chartat the height of the Britpop era. The album featured ten tracks (eleven including the hidden bonus track "Hong Kong Farewell"), their most popular being "Nancy Boy". In 1998, Q Magazine readers voted Placebo No. 87 in the "Q Readers All Time Top 100 Albums" list. The band remastered and reissued the album on 18 September 2006 for its tenth anniversary.
Tension with Schultzberg began to rise. The band initially let him go in September 1995, but he was rehired to record the first seven inch single "Bruise Pristine". After an argument in August 1996, right before doing their first TV show, Molko decided that it would be best for the band if Schultzberg left. But Schultzberg suggested playing together until they finished the promotion of their first album, Placebo, and the band accepted.
Eventually, Schultzberg did indeed leave the band in September 1996, on a United States tour. Before going on stage for their first show in New York state, 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 at "Nulle Part Aillleurs". Molko has said that he was "tired of being the focus of Robert's rages against the world." 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. His departure left many fans disappointed, because the band switched to a softer sound in the following albums. In the same year, however, they were able to convince Hewitt to return to Placebo as their full-time drummer. Molko remembers: "Even at the beginning, Robert and I couldn't be in the same room with each other without wanting to be violent."
In early 1996, Placebo opened several concerts for David Bowie in Italy, France, and Switzerland as part of his Outside Tour after he had only heard one of their demos. Bowie also invited the trio to play at his 50th birthday at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1997. The party also included luminaries such as 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. The band also had minor roles in the film. Bowie made a special appearance on-stage with Placebo during a tour stop in New York. A version of the song "Without You I'm Nothing", which originally appeared on the album with the same name, featured a duet containing both 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 album Without You I'm Nothing in November. It was another large seller in the UK and initially appeared to be the group's breakthrough in the US market, where MTV embraced the album's lead single "Pure Morning", but subsequent singles and videos failed to match the success of its predecessor.
The first two singles from Without You I'm Nothing, "You Don't Care About Us" and "Pure Morning", were the peak of their British success, both charting in the top ten. Since Without You I'm Nothing, the band have received less positive coverage from the British music press, who, on occasion, have mocked the perceived pretension of frontman Molko. However, the band has retained a huge popular and critical following in continental Europe. By way of their English-accented fluent French frontman, France has become their first target market in Europe, which has led to them gaining a huge popularity there, even in excess of their British fan base.
The band's third album, Black Market Music, released in October 2000, further experimented with genres outside of their tense rock sound. A re-sequenced version released in the United States 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 spawned additional UK hits such as "Taste in Men" and "Slave to the Wage".
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 in Australia as a single before eventually being made available in the UK as an EP featuring the B-sides and remixes that would have filled out a conventional two-disc single release. At the time 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 two-CD formats accompanied by a 7" vinyl.
Their style altered little from Without You I'm Nothing to Black Market Music, based around fairly straightforward guitar playing, often influenced by the style of 1970s British and American rock, and Molko's high-pitched vocals. The first single for the album, "Taste in Men", was one of their most popular, with a trancy synthesiser in the background and wailing distorted guitars. Black Market Music did not receive the same level of long term recognition and media hype as Without You I'm Nothing did, but its peak sales outperformed those of its predecessor in both the UK and France.
Sleeping with Ghosts and Once More with Feeling: Singles 1996-2004 (2003-2005):
In spring 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. Sleeping with Ghosts was more adventurous than Black Market Music because it experimented with dance tunes, electronic music, and a more polished guitar sound.
In spring of 2004, the band released their first live concert DVD, Soulmates Never Die (Live in Paris 2003). The footage was recorded in October 2003 during a concert performed in Paris, France. The DVD also includes a 25-minute documentary.
In autumn of 2004, Placebo's 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 their biggest UK hits and two new tracks, "I Do" and the single "Twenty Years".
That same year, they 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). Their 2006 tour of the UK sold out in one weekend.
There was a bit of controversy while the band was on their promotional South American tour. As revealed on the Once More with Feeling DVD extras, whilst on tour in South America, Placebo and Limp Bizkit played on the same evening. Trouble occurred when Placebo's manager would not let Fred Durst on stage as he did not recognise him and thought he was simply a fan trying to get an autograph. After eventually getting on stage, Durst began to chant "Placebo sucks". Later, Placebo's roadie Adam Okrasinski was charged with aggravated battery when he allegedly punched a member of Durst's entourage in an altercation that took place after the show between members of both band's camps. Charges were later dropped in lieu of community service.
Meds and lineup change (2006-2009):
In September 2005 the band 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 first single on the new album to be released in the UK was "Because I Want You". "Song to Say Goodbye" was the first international single (released simultaneously with "Because I Want You"). The album was remastered from October 2005 to January 2006. Two songs, recorded on the album, feature duets with American singers: "Meds" with Alison Mosshart of The Kills and "Broken Promise" with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Frenchman Dimitri Tikovoi who mixed select songs on Once More with Feeling produced Placebo's fifth effort. The band has stated that the album is an attempt to capture the feel of a first album, though the album has not forgotten many of the techniques used in their previous ones.
Meds was leaked to the internet on 17 January 2006. The official release date of Meds was 13 March 2006, making the leak almost two months early. It was projected by the band's record label to potentially cause a very dangerous loss of profit upon the album's release. Nevertheless, in most countries the album debuted relatively well, at No. 4 in Australia and No. 7 in the UK. The second single from Meds was "Infra-Red". It was released on 19 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 "Running Up that Hill" were added to the US version of Meds (and the song "In the Cold Light of Morning" was taken off of the album due to profanity).
Placebo joined Linkin Park and various other acts for 2007's Projekt: Revolution tour. The tour is an annual event and, in 2007, Linkin Park donated $1 of every ticket to American Forests through their charity Music for Relief.
In 2007, after the Projekt: Revolution tour had been scheduled, 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 the cover Kate Bush's "Running Up that Hill".
On 1 October 2007 Steve Hewitt left Placebo. Brian 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." In August 2008 the band acquired new drummer Steve Forrest. Hewitt went on to form his own band, Love Amongst Ruin, switching to guitar and singing lead vocals.
Molko gave two performances in 2008. The first was in late October, when he performed on the Serge Gainsbourg tribute show that was recorded and posted on the Internet; this was the only video of any Placebo member since Projekt Revolution ended in 2007. The second was with the rest of the band, when they gave one live performance in 2008, as part of an MTV Europe Foundation event, a campaign against human trafficking held in Angkor Wat in December 2008.
Placebo left EMI in 2008, but the label released the complete Placebo recordings on 8 June 2009, including all the studio albums, DVDs, and B-sides. It holds ten discs.
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.
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, 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. There are also string arrangements 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 on 21 April 2009, 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 went on to perform three concerts in the United Kingdom at relatively intimate venues in Sheffield, Bournemouth, and London, before departing to the 2009 summer festival season in Europe and Asia. Unveiling the new album with a full track-by-track rundown, Molko told the Scottish News of the World's A-Listed magazine: "It feels like a new beginning...we're reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to take on the world."
On 13 May 2009, the band's official website, www.placeboworld.co.uk, was launched in a revamped version with more interactive features and an online shop. From 29 to 31 May 2009, Placebo streamed the new album on their official website. Fans signed up for the official mailing list received a unique code for logging in to 5 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. It is only currently available through the iTunes Store.
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 which was Placebo's largest gig ever in the United Kingdom. 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. All Placebo concerts have not been hugely successful, though; in Thessaloniki, Greece, in September 2010 the band performed a mere 50 minutes show, sparking boos from a crowd of thousands. 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.
We Come in Pieces, Live at Angkor Wat, and 7th studio album (2011-present):
On 31 October 2011 the band announced the release of their second live video album, We Come in Pieces, documenting a live performance at the Brixton Academy on 28 September 2010. Also released, on the 12th of December, was the iTunes exclusive live album Live At Angkor Wat.
Molko and Olsdal both stated on various occasions that they are working on material for the next studio album. On 23 November 2011 the band announced via their Facebook page and official website that they will be returning to the studio in 2012 to record their seventh studio album. On 29 November they also 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 at Veltins Arena, Germany, along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Placebo's music contains many references to drugs. Molko has been open about his use of recreational drugs: in a 1997 interview with Kerrang! magazine, he admitted at one point that heroin was "probably the only drug on this planet I haven't tried." However, he later admitted to experimenting with heroin as well.
Brian Molko - lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards (1994-present),
Stefan Olsdal - bass guitar, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1994-present),
Steve Forrest - drums, percussion, backing vocals (2008-present),
Current live members
Bill Lloyd - bass guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, piano (1998-present),
Fiona Brice - violin, keyboards, piano, theremin, percussion, backing vocals (2008-present),
Nick Gavrilovic - guitar, lap steel guitar, keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals (2009-present),
Steve Hewitt - drums, percussion (1996-2007; session musician for early demos),
Robert Schultzberg - drums, percussion, didgeridoo (1994-1996),
Former live members
Xavior Roide - keyboards, synthesizer, piano, backing vocals (2003-2005),
Alex Lee - guitar, keyboards, piano, backing vocals (2006-2007)