Nine Inch Nails Frontman Trent Reznor opens up
for a look inside the mind of the God of industrial grind!!!
By Martin Popoff
Trent Reznor seems
calm, resolute, bent on reflexively riding out the work, as Nine Inch Nails,
the gleaming metallic, cyborgian futuro-entourage that is his bigger self,
sodbusts through North American concert venues in support of the man’s itchy
new masterlab The Downward Spiral,
NIN’s flame-roasted wigging-out party, follow-up to a duo of stage-setting
releases, Pretty Hate Machine and the breakthrough Broken EP from ’92. We spoke in hushed, serious and deliberate
tones to Trent, who despite his former rep as a difficult, crazy nugget, comes
across as earnestly concerned with the thorny creative trip he has set upon.
For Trent, it is all about the work, something he sees as a make or break on why
anybody would ever ask him el grande queries.
There‘s no surprise really, that the stress point
for The Downward Spiral is
depression, in all its gray-black permutations, Trent digging deep within a
do-it yourself solitude made possible by an intelligence and sensitivity colliding
with disgust at humanity.
“Lyrically, the record‘s pretty well all
autobiographical, basically me expending an emotion, letting it go. I wasn‘t
trying to make a record that depresses people, although most of the inspiration
was depression. For me it’ll be therapeutic. I relate the lyrics to situations
in my youth. When I was feeling depressed, certain records made me feel better,
stuff like Pink Floyd and old Cure. It was good knowing that someone else was
feeling the same way I did” He offers somewhat apologetically that his influences
might seem a bit irrelevant these days, adding that his tastes were constrained
by what he had access to growing up in a small town.
The Downward Spiral is probably one of the most difficult
releases of the decade thus far, truly repelling its three-legged rhythms and poisoned,
sonically sabotaged layers.
It is long, and it demands headphones. Selecting
time and place for a downward spin is a challenge in itself but rewards can by
scraped and foraged from the record‘s bewildering smorg of sounds. Surprisingly
enough, the album finds its self-lacerated legs within its second half which
many may never have had the patience to reach.“
Nine Inch Nails was starting to box itself into
a corner, having to be harder and faster and noisier all the time, which, when
I sit down to write, is not always the way I’m feeling. I’m trying to go more
full-range. My main criteria is to make it as challenging to me as I can and to
live up the standards I set for myself without repeating things I’ve done
With Trent, one gets a sense of his contempt for
the whole circus ride that is his life. His remarks point to a mixture of
exuberant participation and dreams of escape. But overall, one gets a sense he’s
master of his chaos, calculating every move with a sound realization that all
is fleeting and bound to fade.
“The main goals I have set for my life, which I
foolishly thought would bring me some sort of satisfaction, I have achieved -
being where I never thought I would be. I have to remind myself when I am
sitting around depressed or when I don‘t feel like writing that I am fortunate
to be able to make a living doing this. Five years ago I was literally cleaning
toilets. I much prefer working in a studio! It‘s cool to be grinding away, knowing
that someone out there has an interest in what I come out with. That usually
makes me feel that much worse.”
Trent finds it fairly difficult squeezing
these records out of himself.
“Sure, I guess creativity is my highest ideal.
I mean, I play music because I have to, but the writing process is not something
I do for fun. I’m not one to say I can‘t wait to sit down and write. I find it
painful and I don’t exactly know why. I need to find the self-discipline to
make myself find time when I can inspire myself, also making sure I have the
tools around me to get my ideas down. I have a short temper and I tend to get
frustrated a lot. When I’m stuck, I have little tricks like just stopping and
doing something else that usually gets me going again. Sometimes ten minutes of
just walking up the street clears my mind.”
In terms of process, Trent works on music and lyrics “… separately
but simultaneously. I have a bunch of ideas in both departments, then at some
point I’ll editorially decide which fit to which, try to make some make sense
and try to make some not make sense. In terms of maybe being satisfied with my
body of work, so far I feel I can write much better stuff than I’ve done
before. Give me a couple mare years, then I’ll start dancing in traffic.“
I asked Trent about other stuff he’s listening to
currently or has admired in the past.
biggest hero is Bowie. He’s been a huge influence both musically and lyrically. I also like Morrissey’s
act of all time?
“KISS“, he answers followed by a barely detectable
heard the new Kyuss record, but I liked the last one, and definitely Pantera.
Amazing guitar sound.”
In general however, Trents cynicism at the whole biz seems to
grow with every jaded day.
“I think rock ‘n roll is in bad shape. That’s a
very global statement, but it seems to me rock has became very homogenized, so
incredibly safe and politically correct for the most part. Whatever danger
might have existed at its inception has been packaged, labeled, marketed, and
sold as product. And I blame that on MTV for pumping rock ‘n roll into
everybody‘s house twenty-four hours a day. I think it’s demystified music. I
also blame the birth of the compact disc, the corporate nature of record labels
and small-mindedness of music programmers who work at radio or MTV. It’s all
led to a very safe, very conservative climate. Nowadays, you‘re a star if you
have one song with a hit video. It seems to be crushing or overturning our
so-called new wave of alternative music. I mean, what’s alternative about Pear Jam:
they‘re a ‘70s rock band. REM. is now considered alternative. To what? I want
to see if they somehow work Aerosmith into the alternative.”
“As I become more and more disgusted with, the music
industry side of things and how silly the foundation of the whole thing is, I’d
like to move ahead into something else. But I haven‘t had much time to explore
what that might be. Four years ago, the tour bus started rolling, and I haven’t
had an extended period of time off where I can clearly assess the situation. In
that time, pretty well every aspect of my life has changed, and I’m not yet fully
aware of all the resources I have
available. I’d like to get more into production and soundtracks. I’d like to do
a Nine Inch Nails project that is just guitar, bass, and drums, with no obvious
electronics other than treatment. I think I could make that sound unique. And my
lyrics I think are going to change a fair bit, based on what I’m putting into
my notebook these days. There‘s a million things I want to do.“
So is it all moving too fast?
“In a way yes, I wish I had more time to devote
to different things that come up. For example, in between tours we had five
weeks off, and in that time I finished editing a whole soundtrack did a Nine Inch
Nails song, remixed another song, worked on three new videos and all at the same
time. I don’t think your best work can come from that forced situation. You
need a little more time to allow creativity to happen naturally. If I could
change anything?... On the one hand, I really want to do a long tour, and on
another, I really want to be in the studio for some insane reason.“
One gets the feeling that The Downward Spiral’s blood, guts, body parts, mental torture, and
twisted sex are like a detachable set of sorry circumstances from the functioning
whirlwind of work that is Trent Reznor, finding in the man no apology or even recognition
about the horrific qualities of the record. Again, it comes down to a guy using
die absolutely newest tools of the trade to expunge the demons that are crowding
his cranial ranch. It‘s a lonely pursuit and Trent is not all that concerned
about what his fans get cut of it. Although he feels cognizant of the public
when writing, he just hopes they have the same urges he does. If they don’t
there‘s nothing he can do to accommodate them. He remains focused on riding out
the tasks at hand, playing the role of control freak and, as much as he likes
to downplay his skills, media manipulator. And in the spirit of good central
planning, the tour is a balls out spectacle, lots of people, lots of effects,
lots of attention paid to reproducing the Spiral
scratch with human hands versus silicon chips.
Finally, Trent offers these thoughts on the
anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, measuring his words with a true empathy which
kind of took me by surprise.
“I didn’t know Kurt. It a real shame… I started
thinking about it, and really couldn’t think of anybody else in his position
who really took their life willingly, except maybe Ian Curtis from Joy
Division. Mostly, I just felt sad. I wasn‘t t’ sure his addictions had a lot to
do with his lack of clarity, but if he hated rock ‘n roll, he shouldn’t have
done it. People need to realize that suicide is definitely not the answer. I’ve
felt that way. I’ve thought about suicide and I’ve been close to it, but at the
end of the day there are always alternatives.”
There’s that word again.