Words by Anthony Thomas
With a career spanning close to two decades, Placebo is a band that needs no introduction. Their music could be likened to sonic medicine, though its effects far removed from the band’s name. As any die-hard fan would tell you, Placebo promises dizzying heights of catharsis to those who can relate to the recurring themes of addiction, angst, heartbreak and self-loathing. Loud Like Love is on the brink of release and stands proudly as an ode to a revitalised and mature Placebo. The man behind the kit, Steve Forrest, chats to No Cure about what went into making album number seven.
I saw you Tweeted the other day, “Sex and marijuana can help prevent migraines.” Was the recording of Loud Like Love headache free?
[laughs] For me it was! Brian and Stef don’t really smoke anything like that but it was very, very, very far away from headaches.
Brian has described writing Placebo songs like emotional jigsaw puzzles. What were you piecing together this time around?
Well done, Brian! He comes up with those lines and they’re a really good way of putting it. This time around we had broken up the recording process. A little bit here, a little there because we were interrupted by touring at the time. It created this diversity within the songs. When we put them all up next to each other, we weren’t surprised, we were delighted. We kind of said, “Shit, we have a really diverse and cool record on our hands.” Our blood, sweat and tears went into this record man. It took the better part of a year to make and there were a lot of emotional roller coasters. You can hear it in some of the songs big time. It really was an emotional jigsaw. Some bits came together more easily and others we really had to cut out a bit of this and a bit of that to make it part. It was very give and take, but that’s like making any record.
There were no curve balls like Space Monkey this time around. Was that deliberate?
I can’t say what was going through Brian’s head when he wrote that, but I think all these songs are very much from the heart. Musically, when we were writing them, everything just really clicked between the three of us. Making this record was very much a musical free-for-all. We wrote a lot of songs. From them we took the strongest, heavy hitting, not in a heavy rock song way but the ones we woke up the next day singing, the ones that gave us chills when we played them. So there was no need for the curve balls. Any oddities that came out of jamming are going to be put on the B-side. That’s why it’s only ten tracks. We didn’t want to fuck around with this one. It’s all business. We wanted to come back with this record and make a statement.
When I first gave the album a listen and I jotted down some things I heard; more harmonic, pressures of fame, fear of obsolescence, longing and rebirth. Were any of those themes you dealt with?
Lyrically, that’s something Brian will have to talk to you about. Saying that, I think it’s the most honest recording we’ve ever done and, yeah, some of those things might have been in there. Musically? Naaa. We’re just doing what we always do – sitting down together coming up with cool melodies, picking out the things we like the best, developing that and having fun while we’re doing it. Even on the more beautiful, melancholy tracks, we were just getting lost and swimming in the music.
Too Many Friends is the first single. People are going to have a field day with the opening line. Was it critiquing anything in particular?
You’re not going to love every lyric that comes out of Brian’s mouth, that’s inevitable. Brian’s computer kept throwing all these gay adverts like it thought he was gay, I think that’s what that line started from. It’s hard because we’re seeing some of the responses and that one line doesn’t define the whole track. Unfortunately, a lot of people will hear that line, think it’s rubbish and turn it off. I know some that have but I really hope those that don’t enjoy that line will keep listening and see the song’s actually quite beautiful.
Will this album see audiences change for you?
I think so, yeah man. I’ve noticed a big change since I joined in January 2008. They really vary age wise, you have the fifteen years old in front and you’ve got the fifty years olds up the back. I think this record is the most accessible record that the band’s ever done, if I’m honest. Especially, for places like America where we don’t really go that often. It’s already made a huge splash just with the label and media people over there. I really think this record’s going to open a lot of doors. It’s definitely going to bring a lot of people who didn’t know or like the band around. We’re going to be seeing a lot of new Placebo fans.
There are a couple of songs on the record (Too Many Friends, Scene of the Crime and Hold On To Me) that almost form a trilogy within the album. I feel like they were about dealing with the pressures of fame. Was that something you had to deal with as a band?
I think it’s more of a personal battle or internal struggle of real life compared to life on the road. You’re out there for so long and you miss out on a lot of the normal ways of living. You have to reenter society in a sense, there is a lot of pressure and anxiety that comes with that. The post-tour blues in the first six months where you don’t know what you’re doing with yourself. A lot of those things are in those songs. Especially with relationships, you miss out on so many things with the people you care about. I spend more time with the guys than I do anybody in my life. I mean, we were together for two years touring and before that every day for a year and a half making the record. We’ve spent a hell of a lot of time together.
Is that where the line, “making it is overrated” came from?
I’m not sure where Brian came up with that but as soon as he said I loved it. I don’t really think too much about the lyrics. Most of the time he’ll explain it to me but I won’t understand. He’s very intelligent and I’m not saying I’m not but I don’t really question that shit most of the time.
Musically, was making this album purifying for the three of you then?
You know? This one was the biggest free for all. All of us play a number of instruments and we had this room full of keyboards, pianos, drums, guitars and bass’. It was really fun. We were in there for weeks and weeks just picking up a keyboard, piano, even a fucking harmonica, just jamming and making little melodies. There were no rules. If it sounded good then we went with it.
I know you don’t have much to do with lyrics but I wanted to talk about one more line, “Whenever I feel wrong I used to go and write a song from my heart and think now I feel I’ve lost that spark.” Was there a point during recording where the album might not have happened?
There were definitely moments, a lot of days where we had to give each other a kick up the ass. It’s tough. You’re banging your head against the wall, day-in day-out for months and months and after a while things can start to sound the same or nothing at all. There were times when you can easily lose a week or so just sitting around feeling bored or whatever. If we saw one of us going down, the other two of us had to motivate them to push through. It ain’t always fun. When you’re writing an album, there’s great times and there’s times where you have to put some proper work in and spend six hours pushing through. When you finally do, something magical always happens that’s worth it.
Is this record the one the three of you felt closest together?
Absolutely. I’ve been in the band for six years now and even though musically we immediately clicked, it took a couple of tours, an album and an EP to get used to how each other work in the studio. Now after all we’ve been through, the highest of highs, the lowest of low and everything you could imagine in between, this record is the most unified thing that we’ve done since I’ve been with the boys. I couldn’t be more proud of it.
Introspection is Placebo hallmark but it’s a little less explicit on this album. Do you think fans will understand that the band is in a different place than other albums?
There’s no need to go out of your way to be explicit about things. Brian was very honest with his writing and lyrics. You get to a point where you don’t need to prove yourself to anybody anymore, you just write music you want to write. You’re not an angsty twenty-three who’s trying to stand out. We’ve been through the fire and came out the other side still loving each other. That’s what was on our minds when we were making this record. There was no need to be sad anymore. There will be some fans that want another Nancy Boy or Brick Shithouse but I think, and hope, a majority of the fans will love and adopt this grown up Placebo. It’s much healthier that’s for sure.
Is that what Loud Like Love is, the grown up Placebo?
It’s not the grown up Placebo, it’s a more grown up Placebo. We’ve been through years and years of different experiences. Loud Like Love means loud like love. Love can be an orgasm, love can be somebody crying. It can be someone broken, that first kiss, a new-born baby crying. All aspects of love is loud, it’s a powerful thing.
You’ll love this one. Brian once said Placebo had gotten better at telling stories. Is this Placebo’s best story yet?
If I’m honest, yeah, I really, really do. All the stories we’ve told are necessary. This one is really honest and really bare-bones. It’s really hard to do that and feel confident about it. You’re scared that it’s going to be too much or not enough. For that reason, yeah man, when we stepped back and looked at everything we realised how good a job we did.
You’re hitting the road later in the year. Are you guys ready to get back into it?
Shit yeah man! I can’t wait! Jesus, it’s been like a year since we toured and it’s like, “ahhhhhhhhhh”. I just want to get back behind the kit and fucking jam for two years.
Published in No Cure #2: The Gender Issue. Available on newsstands and online now.