For the most part, producers are pretty odd people
A lot of producers spend a lot of time by themselves with computers and machinery that normal, everyday earthlings don’t understand. So often, their people skills aren’t really that developed, and in the past we’ve had fractured relationships with producers.
I remember on the first day of recording ‘Meds’, the producer Dimitri [Tikovoi] – who is also my best friend – stopped treating me like a best friend so I threw a diva fit and walked out of the studio. Dave Bottrill [who produced Placebo’s latest album ‘Battle For The Sun’] isn’t like that so much. He’s one of those people who does have a lot of people skills and makes you think that everything you do is worthwhile. Working with him is the best experience we’ve had in a studio.
You can only live the rock'n'roll lifestyle for so long.
There was a point in Placebo where myself and Stefan [Olsdal, bass] made a real concerted effort to leave the concerns of young men behind. It was as though Steve [Hewitt, Placebo drummer from 1996-2007] was still concerned with holding on to the lifestyle that’s associated with being in a band.
We felt we’d invested too much to walk away from it, but it was also clear that Placebo couldn’t continue in its current form so, for the future of the band and Steve’s health and happiness, we decided that parting ways was the best decision for everyone. With our new drummer [Steve Forrest], we’re allowing him a pretty free reign, but we have imposed certain limits. For example, there are no class As because they eat you up. Trust me, I’ve been there…
If you're going to stand out, be prepared for the backlash.
We were making quite a political statement in the context of that macho Britpop world during the mid-1990s by doing things like appearing on Top Of The Pops wearing dresses. We wanted to stand out like a sore thumb. But what it did was create a caricature of the band – like I’d see cartoons of me wearing a dress and having hairy legs.
When you see that, you know you’re a caricature. I regret being so frank about mine and Stefan’s sexuality because it freaked people out so much but, then again, it was important for us to stand up and be counted. It was about freedom and tolerance and acceptance in a prejudiced world.
It was something that people related to and things aren’t that bad any more. We played with Gossip at a festival recently and you can see that Beth Ditto is an icon. The music world is a lot more accepting now and I think we played our own little part in that.
That David Bowie fella knows a thing or two.
I learned a great deal from David. We really built a relationship because
we were his favourite support band early on, so we ended up supporting
him on two albums’ worth of tours. There is a certain amount of magic surrounding people like that – they have been through everything and so, just through spending time with them, you glean little bits of wisdom almost through osmosis.
I remember him saying to me and Stefan, ‘Never, ever, ever lose your spontaneity. If it’s getting a bit old, you need to start looking for something else. Oh, and read as many books as possible!’ It was a very educational experience. He’s a good laugh too, is David.
If you're a bit of a horndog, music is the medium for you.
Music is about expressing things you can’t in everyday life. A lot of what has pushed me forward is desire and I have expressed that in my songwriting – perhaps because it’s safer! I’ve always found music that is carnal very attractive but not in the most obvious way.
I remember the first song I ever heard by the Pixies was ‘Bone Machine’ and, in the first verse of that, Black Francis talks about being molested by a priest. That to me was completely eye-opening. A lot of Polly Harvey’s early work was tapped into a sense of yearning and desire which I understood.
The one thing I will undoubtedly tell my kids about is playing in Cambodia.
We played at Angkor Wat last year, which is a 12th-century Buddhist temple, to raise awareness about human trafficking. At any point in time, there are around 2.5 million people being trafficked against their will – they’re kidnapped, beaten into submission and sold like livestock. So we wanted to highlight the pitfalls for young people in Cambodia and make them aware that it was something to watch out for.
We thought it was one of the most important things we could do with our careers. We visited shelters for people who have been rescued and it was incredibly moving and humbling. It would have been a shame to go there and just play to expats so we made sure the ticket prices were really low so Cambodians could come.
It was mostly Cambodians in the audience actually. We played a semi-acoustic set and you could really tell that people were listening rather than screaming and jumping around. I think it was quite an exciting thing for them to have a rock band play there rather than say [opera legend] José Carreras – who was the last person to play there before us.