AS a constant visitor to Australian shores over the past 20 years with English glam-rock kings Placebo, Stefan Olsdal has only ever felt embraced and welcomed.
That’s why the openly-gay guitarist-bassist is baffled by the Turnbull Government’s unwillingness to allow a conscience vote in parliament to legalise same-sex marriage.
Olsdal’s native Sweden legalised same-sex marriage in 2009 and his adopted home of Britain followed suit in 2014.
“I think it’s a curious case in Australia because I think the majority of people there are very open and it’s a very accepting country,” Olsdal tells Weekender from London where he’s just returned from dropping his and partner David Amen’s son at school.
“For me it’s just a question of time before the government will do what the majority want.
“In how many years into the future people will we look back and say, ‘what the hell were we thinking?’ It’s the same thing with women’s right to vote. Of course everyone is equal and they should have the same rights.”
When Placebo burst onto the scene in 1996 with their self-titled debut with its sexually-charged hit Nancy Boy, society wasn’t quite as open.
Frontman Brian Molko presented a contrasting image to the typical ‘90s rock star. Sexually-fluid and androgynous, Molko and Placebo spoke directly to millions, who struggled with their sexuality and identity.
More directly, Olsdal has protested against homosexual discrimination in Russia and Morocco by performing with a rainbow guitar. He also once appeared on stage with “489” crossed out on his torso, in opposition to Article 489 of the Moroccan Criminal Code that punishes homosexuality with imprisonment.
Seven studio albums and 11 million record sales later, Olsdal remains fiercely proud of Placebo’s legacy.
“Placebo as a band have always advocated for tolerance and respect for the individual and how they express themselves,” he says.
“It’s something we stand for. If we were political that’s our political side.
“We firmly believe in freedom and rights, whatever your orientation is.
“If Placebo has helped someone, then great. I personally will continue to be very open and stand behind what I think is a basic human right.”
Olsdal has done ample reflecting lately. Placebo are more than halfway through their mammoth 20-year anniversary world tour, which has focused on celebrating the band’s most successful moments.
Some of their most beloved songs like Nancy Boy and Pure Morning, are viewed like embarrassing ex-lovers by Molko and Olsdal. In the past decade Placebo have rarely performed the songs until their latest world tour.
“We just had to take an objective look at what made the band get to where it is today,” Olsdal says.
“That includes songs we wrote that we don’t consider to be our best songs. But they actually propelled us to where we are today.”
How Placebo formed in 1994 is one of rock’s sliding doors moments. Molko and Olsdal had both been students of the American International School of Luxembourg, but amazingly never met.
However, several years later they met in a London tube station and bonded over similar tastes in music and politics.
Molko and Olsdal would form a fruitful songwriting partnership that spawned numerous classics like Pure Morning, Every You Every Me, The Bitter End and Special K.
“I guess in some ways I could look at it as fate,” Olsdal says. “There were controlling destinies that day.
“Some times when I’m thinking what the hell I’m doing with my life that’s a pretty powerful moment.”
However, there’s been plenty of dark moments in Placebo’s history. Three permanent drummers - Robert Schultzberg (1994-96), Steve Hewitt (1996-2007) and Steve Forrest (2008-2015) – have come and gone and Molko has endured well-documented battles with depression and drug addiction.
Olsdal says there’s no plans to hang up the guitar and eye-liner. In fact, he hopes to begin work on album No.8 in 2018.
“I’ve been in Placebo for more than half my life and I’ve been with Brian longer than I’ve been with anyone,” he says.
“It’s a relationship that changes. At its core is this insecure little musician who wants to do better. If anything it gets harder to progress, it becomes more challenging. You realise you’re not superman and everything you do isn’t amazing, like you think when you’re 20.
“It has become more critical over the years and more discerning. The future is daunting, but at the same time it’s impossible to stop. I can’t stop being a musician, I’ll be one until the day I die.
“Placebo is in my blood, it’s a bigger component than haemoglobin. I can’t stop it.”