The British band was founded when former Luxembourg schoolmates Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal - who never actually spoke to each other - met by accident at South Kensington, London, United Kingdom tube station in 1994. Molko invited Olsdal to one of his gigs and Olsdal was impressed by Molko’s vocals so they agreed on forming a band. While briefly known as Ashtray Heart, the band quickly settled on the name Placebo, after the drug that has no active ingredient but works because the patient believes it does. Placebo also means “I shall please” in Latin. The band could not decide on a drummer at first with Steve Hewitt (drums) and Robert Schultzberg alternating on the spot. While Hewitt was the preferred choice, he also had other commitments as drummer for London band Breed, leading to Schultzberg being the drummer when the band signed its contract with Caroline Records. As the other band members were having difficulty getting on with Robert Schultzberg, they persuaded Hewitt to rejoin the band in 1996.
The singles “Nancy Boy”, from Placebo (1996), and “Pure Morning”, from Without You I’m Nothing (1998), were the peak of their British success, both charting in the top ten. Since Without You I’m Nothing the band have fallen out of fashion particularly with the British music press, who regularly mock the personality and pretensions of its lead member, Brian Molko. However, the band retained a huge popular and critical following in continental Europe. Their style altered little from Placebo through Black Market Music (2000), based around fairly straightforward guitar playing, often influenced by the style of 1970s British and American rock, and Molko’s high-pitched, nasal vocals. Sleeping With Ghosts (2003) brought more adventurous sound, experimenting with dance tunes, electronic music and a less polished rocky guitar sound. But the traditional sound was kept for several songs especially the first single “The Bitter End”.
The band was asked to play at David Bowie’s fiftieth birthday party at Madison Square Garden. The band’s glam connections continued in 1998 when it recorded a version of “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. Members of the band also appear in the movie.
The band gained somewhat of a following among skateboarders when the song “Every You Every Me” (also used on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack) was used by Mark Appleyard for his part in the skate video ‘Sorry’.
The debut album Placebo was recorded in 1996 and they went on to tour Europe with David Bowie that same year. Their breakthrough came with the single Nancy Boy.
The second album Without You I’m Nothing was released in 1998. David Bowie lent his vocals to the title track of the album and fourth single from it Without You I’m Nothing.
Placebo returned in 2000 with their third album called Black Market Music.
Two years of silence followed but that was shattered in 2003 when Placebo came back with a new album Sleeping With Ghosts.
In 2004 they released a live DVD called “Soulmates Never Die”. It was recorded in Paris on their Sleeping With Ghosts tour. This was followed by a singles collection Once More With Feeling, which included two new tracks I Do and Twenty Years. Twenty Years was the single and a DVD including all their videos and an exclusive documentary interview with the band members was released in conjunction.
Meds was released on 03.03.06 (04.04.06 in the United States).
The band once again toured nearly all year and travelled Worldwide to promote the album. In late 2006, a live, Internet-only EP, ‘Live at La Cigale’ was released, containing six songs from Meds and two songs from previous albums.
The band also reissued their original self-titled album with extra DVD content in late 2006 to celebrate its tenth birthday. “The 10 Year Anniversary Collectors Edition” was released on 25.09.06, complete with two B-Sides (‘Drowning by Numbers’ and ‘Slackerbitch’) and two rare demos (‘Paycheck’ and ‘Flesh Mechanic’). The DVD contains performances by the band and the official videos for the singles from the ‘Placebo’ album.
It was reported in October 2007 on Placebo’s website that Steve Hewitt had left the band. The split was considered amicable by Molko, and that both sides, although disappointed, understood the decison. Nonetheless, Molko and Olsdal plan on entering the studio in the spring; to date no replacement for a drummer has been named.
As of August 2008 Placebo are in the studio again, working on their new album. The album will be produced by David Bottrill with whom they have already worked on their album ‘Meds’.
They have also decided on a new drummer: Steve Forrest - former drummer of the band Evaline, which had supported Placebo on their October 2006 US tour
Their latest album, Battle for the sun, was released on the 8th of June 2009.
Placebo are set to play the Reading and Leeds festival, August bank-holiday of 2009.