Trent Reznor invented Marilyn Manson,
revolutionised movie soundtracks and single-handedly made industrial rock cool.
And now, in his first interview with the UK press in three years, the NIN
mainman explains exactly how he did it....
"Tour guide parties walk past my house and
(horror novelist) Anne Rice's house every day. It's like, 'that's where the
woman who wrote Interview With The Vampire lives, and that's where the
Satan-worshipping rock star lives'!"
NIN mastermind Trent Reznor is at home in New Orleans, recovering from a mild bout of
Pringles-induced sickness. His dog Daisy occasionally provides a background
chorus. "I've got this seat here in my living room where I'm pretty sure
they can't see me," Reznor reveals. "I'm in my underpants right now,
so I hope that theory's correct..."
NIN, one of "the" most important
bands of our time, have just broken an extended silence with the release of a
new EP, The Perfect Drug. It was originally written for the soundtrack to David
Lynch's latest movie, Lost Highway. And yes, a new NIN album is in the
works. Right now, Reznor is working on remixes for a David Bowie EP, but once
he has "flushed that out of my system" he will press on with the
third full-length NIN record. When it emerges in "the very first half of
next year - hopefully", it will have been four years since the magnificent
'The Downward Spiral' was released.
"That's because touring turns you into a
retard," sighs Reznor. "You're bombarded with input - whether it be
drugs or women, stimulus or ego gratification, playing or exhaustion or bad
food. You get little time to think. Every record I've done, I've put on the
cerebral professor hat and asked, 'Is this an important thing to say?'."
He pauses. As he does a lot. "I know that sounds pretentious and
Even while touring Europe for '...Spiral', Reznor worked in
hotel rooms, creating perhaps the best film soundtrack of the '90s, 'Natural
Born Killers'. "the cool thing about the film was the collage of pop
imagery," he says. "So I said, 'Let's make a collage with a hundred
songs in it - some for 10 seconds, some with dialogue over them. When you play
the CD, you'll think of the movie'."
'Natural Born Killers', the movie, remains
unavailable on video in the UK, having been predictably smeared
with 'copycat' incidents in America and Paris. "This can relate to Judas
Priest, MM and other issues," says Reznor. "Ultimately, the individual
has to assume complete responsibility. Art has always been a reflection of
culture and society. If you listen to a fucking rap record and go shoot a cop,
maybe the record was the final catalyst that made you do it, but you had
problems to start with."
He notes that his work on 'Lost Highway' was less intensive. "The
sheer volume of 'NBK' involved sorting through thousands of megabytes of
songs," he recalls. "For 'Lost Highway' that wasn't so appropriate,
because the movie has a different feel to it. Within the limits of what David
Lynch would allow, I tried to make it representative of the film. That whole
'Mortal Kombat' idea of 'let's just throw every bullshit thing you can in
there' doesn't appeal to me."
'Lost Highway' is hypnotically surreal and
disturbing. Does Reznor have any clue what it's about? "Does
anybody?" he darkly chuckles. "I don't know. But David Lynch and
David Cronenberg are my favourite film-makers, along with Ken Russell. Lynch is
charming and puts you at ease. But the level I worked with him was the highest
pressure period I've ever worked in."
"He talked really loudly, like the guy in
'Twin Peaks' who's hard of hearing,"
laughs Reznor. "He'd say, 'I've got a chase scene, and I'm picturing
insects swarming around'. Then he'd scribble on pieces of paper and say, 'This
is what I want it to sound like'.
"I went up to his house in LA a couple of
times. One of the houses he owns is in 'Lost Highway'. He said, 'Let me show you this',
and walked up the side of a hill. He showed me a trail of ants crawling over a
piece of rotting meat on a canvas, and told me that was his latest project.
That might make him sound like a pretentious cock, but he's not at all. He's
like your uncle. I found myself looking at him, going, 'Jesus Christ, David
Lynch!'. I've probably seen 'Blue Velvet' about 50 times, y'know?! It was like,
'He's talking to me! He created Frank Booth!'."
The 'Lost Highway' soundtrack song 'Driver Down' is
credited to Trent Reznor. Given that the man always writes NIN songs, why make
that distinction? "It was a transition, because members of my band had
left," he replies, before taking a deep breath and broadening the subject.
"Here's the problem I've had with my band. I started by myself, living in Cleveland, enginerring in a studio, recording
bad rhythm 'n' blues acts by day.
"If there was a few minutes at the end of
the night, I could do my own stuff - which pretty much ended up being 'Pretty
Hate Machine'. I couldn't find anybody that would join me. Everybody was like,
'How much are you paying?'. But I was getting $200 a month and eating peanut
butter sandwiches every day! I didn't find anybody so I did it myself, adopting
the attitude of, 'Well, fuck, Prince did it - I can do it!'."
Only after Reznor signed a record deal did he
assemble a group of hired hands. "They played the parts I wrote and I was
the guy lying on my back under the computer, basically doing everything. That
established a premise where the band never was a band. I thought it was a good
live band, but not a band that went into the studio and recorded
together." NIN musicians have been numerous, including Filter's Richard
Patrick, ex-Filter man Brian Liesegang, and guitarist Jeff Ward, who died a
heroin addict ("I never knew how bad he was - he kept hiding,"
laments Reznor). Of the line-up that toured with '...Spiral', only guitarist
Danny Lohner is still a NIN member. The 'band' is now completed by
keyboardist/programmer Charlie Clouser and programmer Keith Hillebrandt. Both
glam-freak guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Chris Vrenna have been jettisoned.
Reznor stresses that Vrenna "will never be in the band ever again".
"I don't know how much I wanna talk about this," he considers.
"I've written every note of every song that NIN has done at this point.
Every idea, every stage design, every outfit. Sometimes people that are close
to you discover they hate you, because you can buy a car and they can't. But
they don't see the effort that goes into all the other aspects of it. They ride
on the fucking bus for three years, which I paid for, playing the songs I
wrote," he sighs. "It's like, 'Sorry I can pay the electric bill!'.
There's been a few elements like that.
"Manson and I aren't as close as we
were," he casually adds. Really? Tell us more.... "Well, you have to
deal with the reality. Being around a few more years than he has, I've seen my
own personality distort and the personalities of the band around me distort.
Now, I've watched his personality distort. A bit of fame, and you
Marilyn Manson are signed to Reznor's label,
Nothing Records. Reznor admits that they've made the label "a legitimate
entity", and that Manson himself "will always be a dear friend".
Yet it appears that Reznor's involvment on the 'Antichrist Superstar' album may
have set the two friends adrift. Reznor claims that production work on ACS
"stopped my life for quite some time, and took five times as long as I
wanted it to". Three of the album's songs are credited to him. "I
tried to help their songwriting," he explains. "Like, 'Let's get a
chorus where it kicks in and you can pump it in your fucking car!'. That
radically changed the record. I wanted to elevate Manson from being something
that could be dismissed as a statement. They needed a really good record - and
not for my personal benefit."
Reznor and Manson met years ago, when the
latter's band opened for NIN in a small club. "It was a joke,"
recalls Reznor. "He said, 'I only have a band so I can sell T-shirts!'.
That was pretty cool, because it was a counterpart to me. Not to sound high and
mighty, but if no-one ever recognized me and no supermodel ever dated me -
which they haven't! - I wouldn't care. That's not why I'm doing it. Manson had
a different approach to celebrity. His attitude was, 'I wanna be a star and I'm
gonna be a fucking star'."
Reznor describes the tensions between Manson
and the band's now ex-guitarist Daisy Berkowitz as "so
un-fucking-productive" during initial 'Antichrist...' sessions. "When
Daisy went, Twiggy came forward with a bunch of songs. At their best, they
could be what they are and at their worst they could be Lunachicks-style,
one-riff crap rock that you've heard a million times before. I'm pleased with
80% of that record. If I completely had my way, I would have taken it 10
notches more extreme. But it worked."
NIN set the stage for MM by touring with a
bombastic, spectacular show, and promoting a somewhat androgynous image.
"I remember seeing Kiss as a kid," enthuses Reznor. "I want rock
stars to be larger than life. I don't want to see a fucking gas station
attendant. I want fucking blood and fire and explosions, naked tits and all
"In a small way, we did that. Manson took
that to extremes. And good for them. Sadly, now you'll see a million bands like
them. Imagine the old fart musicians who are now coming out of their stupor
going, 'Fuck, we can do this!'. King Diamond's gonna try again..."
But while Manson is seen as a great cartoon
character, Reznor is genuinly respected. One of America's most highly esteemed
journals, 'Time', has just hailed him as the 'Most Influential Musician of The
'90s'. "It's extremely flattering," he says, "but what the fuck
does it mean? You don't wanna think about that too much, or you'd fuck yourself
up. I have!" Unsurprisingly, given NIN's traditional position a step ahead
of the pack, Reznor is well aware of his musical influence on others.
"When I finsihed the Manson record, I found myself personally not wanting
to hear bands like Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward," he admits.
"Danzig's made a fucking 'industrial' record now! Not that there aren't
good elements in those things - but it's dead, it's tired, it's done."
"Someone obviously decided to say, 'Hey!
If we put a frontman in there and give him a silly fucking haircut, or someone sings...',"
he laughs. And the Chemical Brothers? "Again, I like them, but 'Block
Rockin' Beats' has the stiffest groove I've ever heard in my life!" he
exclaims. "It screams to me, 'We're English, we're white and we're playing
a funk song!'."
The new NIN record will not be titled
'Dissonance', as has recently been reported elsewhere. "That was just the
name of the tour we did with Bowie," scoffs Reznor. "The beauty of
the Internet converted that into our album title. The working title right now
is 'The Fragile', although I'll probably hate that in a couple of weeks."
What will it sound like? "I really don't listen to rock music
anymore," he states, up-front. "The new record is focused on taking
an element of rhythm 'n' blues and funk - in the Prince sense, not the Red Hot
Chili Peppers sense - and juxtaposong it radically with an Aphex Twin-ish
approach. It has the feel of something you might understand, but the sound of a
stereo exploding. With a nice melodic song on top."
No guitars? "Pretty much all I've been
playing with lately is guitar, and I'm finally getting to the point where I
think I'm okay at it, but it's not gonna be a guitar-sounding record. It'll be
very electronic and deconstructed."
Lyrically, Reznor wants to say something new.
"I mean, I don't fucking know how to write songs," he mutters with
ludicrous modesty. "I opened my journal up, wrote things I could never let
anybody hear, and it turned out people liked them. I was embarrassed, because
it was like telling people your most naked thoughts. Each new song probably
won't start with the word 'I'," he laughs. "If you add up the number
of 'I's' I've used in my life, it comes to...quite a lot! There's also a real
element of boxing yourself into a corner. How much more dead can you be? How much
closer to suicide can you get?!" Reznor admits he would eventually like to
work on soundtracks and "give NIN a respectful burial".
Could 'The Fragile' be NIN's swansong? "I
don't know. I'd like to say no. At the same time, I have a level of unhappiness
that NIN hasn't really fixed. I've still got fuck-loads I gotta do... Nah,
y'know what?! NIN is gonna be The Rolling Stones! I'll be 60, with a fucking
colostomy bag. No-one might be there at the shows, apart from the Vietnam vet reunion in Pennsylvania or somewhere. The advert would be
'Featuring No Original Members!'. Actually, I can't say that - I already don't
have any original members!"
Reznor claims to be "happily
inspired" right now, despite recent events. An unknown musician, Mark
Nicholas Onofrio, has filed a lawsuit against him, claiming that certain songs
from 'The Downward Spiral' are "strikingly similar" to his own, which
he alleges he sent Reznor in '93. "If I could name the Number One thing on
my list that pisses me off right now," seethes Reznor, "it would be
that piece of fucking human cunt garbage. I've never met him or heard his
fucking tape. I don't even want to acknowledge his existence. You'll read about
it when it gets thrown out of court."
On a more personal level, Reznor has recently
lost his grandmother, who raised him in Pennsylvania. "No-one close around me has
ever died - it's a small family. So that was a weird..." he trails off.
"I just got back from that. It was awful, watching her in the hospital
room. I don't recommend it."
Is there an after-life? "I think I believe
in reincarnation," he considers. "There's some kind of God, but
certainly not the kind of God that the preacher at our funeral was talking
about. I almost walked up and hit him on the way out. It just confirmed to me
that I'm not wrong in my thinking."
When it comes to relationships, Reznor insists
his are confined to "my kick-ass dog". "See, I was so desperate
to get out of Pennsylvania where I grew up that I decided I'd never let
anything hold me back," he admits. "When I started working on my
stuff in Cleveland, it was so time-consuming that I lost all my
friends. I'd sleep for two hours, and start to see bugs on the wall and shit
"From the moment I got signed until right
now, every second has been so consumed with shit that it's hard to come across
somebody who understands a lifestyle where it's like, 'Well, for the next eight
months I'm gonna be in the studio for 15 hours a day. Then I'll be on tour for
"Lots of people can have girlfriends," he
chuckles. "But I can throw around guitars onstage! That'll be my epitaph:
'He never had a girlfriend, but you should've seen him smash a Les