Placebo have revealed the unusual writing process behind their upcoming new album, explaining how they chose to work “backwards” this time around to beat “boredom”.
Speaking to Matt Everitt on BBC 6 Music, frontman Brian Molko discussed the making of the album and explained how it was finished in early 2020 before the pandemic struck.
“We were basically ready to go on tour: the album was already finished and we spent 2019 in our home studio working on it,” he said. “We’d sort of decided already that ‘Beautiful James’ would be the first single, so we had a lot of confidence. We had a lot of get-up-and-go, and then everything that happened, happened, so everything is sort of delayed by about two years now.
“I know it was frustrating for the fans. It was certainly very frustrating for us as well, the interminable wait to put out new music, but at least it was there. We knew we had it.”
As for the writing process behind their next album, Molko explained that Placebo made efforts to challenge and “not make it easy on ourselves”.
“I have what I would describe as a boredom problem,” he explained. “Stefan [Olsdal, bassist and guitarist] has often said that he’s never met anyone with a lower boredom threshold than myself – and that really influences and informs the way that we work.”
He continued: “This time I came to Stefan with images first. I wanted to do everything backwards, so I said: ‘Let’s choose an album cover before we write any music, here’s a list of song titles which I’ve been writing over the past five years, let’s start with these song titles rather than starting with the music – let’s do everything that we do backwards. Let’s do this whole album without a drummer…’
“In the end, we ended up using two drummers. Of course this backwards way of working kind of floated away as the process started, but it very much informed this break from the process and the way we would normally approach everything. I needed to do it backwards at the beginning to feel like I was doing something different.”
Speaking about the meaning of ‘Beautiful James’, Molko said that he wants “each person who cares enough to listen to the record to find their own story,” adding: “Who is James to you? And is James even a man? These are questions I’m not going to answer, these are questions I want people to ask themselves.”
The mysterious nature of the track also emerged from sleepless nights, Molko explained.
“I had this list of sing titles and that was one of them, and for some reason it jumped out of the page at me and made itself known,” he said. “It started during a period of major insomnia for me in 2019. This was a particularly bad couple of weeks, but in my stupor, I don’t know where from, I was getting melodies, and phrases were coming into my head.
“It was like I was delirious from lack of sleep, and therefore connected to something which I didn’t really know what it was. I remember having to get out of bed five or six times a night even though I wasn’t sleeping, and just go over to the piano to record a melody onto my phone. One of those melodies was called ‘Bad Piano’ because I’d recorded it at five in the morning, just to get the notes down.”
He added: “So for a long time ‘Beautiful James’ was called ‘Bad Piano’ because the main hook melody was written by me at five o’clock in the morning in the middle of a major bout of insomnia. Then Stefan had to take it and make some sense out of it. It became the keyboard riff, the main riff, of ‘Beautiful James’.”
Brian Molko previously shared sentiments with NME that their next record would take a more ‘experimental turn’ and compared it to ‘career suicide’ following on from their latter-day more pop-leaning output, while Olsdal told us that the album would show them as “experimentalists at heart“.
Placebo’s next album is expected in early 2022. They also recently announced that their only UK festival show of next year will be at Bearded Theory’s Spring Gathering.