"On stage, I'd almost have tears in my
eyes," says Trent Reznor of the cathartic NIN live experience. Giving more
of himself than most, he tells Pete Gabler that he's done a lot of work
repairing himself and has come out the other end feeling incredibly positive.
Trent Reznor. Just let the name hang there in
your mind for a minute. Got a picture? Good. Now what does that name mean to
you? Nine out of ten times, you'll probably get images of a dark, miserable and
extremely angry soul ploughing through personal anguish and torment, living a
life of a tortured genius, full of nightmares and despair.
Funny then, that the man sitting opposite me in
the plush surroundings of London's Metropolitan Hotel seems to be suffering
something far less serious – the poor bloke's gone and got him self a nasty
case of flu. Still, he's over here to promote the long-awaited new Nine Inch
Nails album, 'The Fragile' and he's staying professional 'til the end. After
offering him some advice on how to cure his ailment (a large glass of whiskey –
natch – with a dollop of honey, a few tablespoons of ginger and a drop of
lemon) we get down to brass tacks. "The Fragile" is causing an
almighty ripple around the rock music industry – as indeed do most things that
involve Time Magazine's most influential musician of the '90s – and the rock
press seem generally positive about it. Still, it must have been difficult to
keep perspective on an album that took so long to make, surely?
"Well, the reality of this record was that
it was a two-year process by the time I started it, and I tried to allow myself
to really sit down and start creating," explains Reznor. "It wasn't
me over-analysing or trying to write a certain way, it was mainly me just allowing
myself to go with the flow and see what came out.
"When we started, we just went by what
felt right, and I'd say that for the first eight months of the recording
process some of the tracks were really based on a more experimental
Was it difficult to decipher what was good and
"Yeah, and a lot of the things we'd end up
cutting were the things we liked more – generally the instrumentally weirder
things, and it seemed as though it wasn't a fair representation of the whole album
when we started cutting those things off. We called in [legendary producer] Bob
Ezrin and we just said to him, 'Here's a chunk of 30 songs – tell us what you
think, good or bad'. It was kind of like a report card grading from a
professor, y'know? His comments were very intelligent and pertinent, and in the
most part were very positive. I mean, it is very difficult to be objective when
you've lived, breathed, mixed and fought with, as well as renamed and just
fucked around with it yourself." Does he genuinely worry that his hardcore
following are going to like it, or does Trent Reznor not concern himself with
matters like that?
"Well, not that's out, I'd love for them
to like it. I'm trying to do the necessary stuff to promote it for that reason.
I've stayed honest to what I think is right for me now, and I can only hope
that fans can identify with the honesty. There's an emotional quality there
lyrically, and its expressed in such a sense that maybe they can relate to it
and pick up something that means something to them. That's probably the main
thing I'm concerned about."
As an aside, I ask him how he feels about doing
interviews – 'flu or no 'flu. It must be a bit of a bind to constantly repeat
yourself, particularly when you're considered to be one of the world's biggest
rock stars, and one who seems to be in constant turmoil and self-loathing. The
press generally love a famous rock star in pain.
"I hate it. I hate it because what I've
discovered on this wave of doing them is that part of it revolves around me
having to reveal a bit of my life that I don't feel comfortable talking about,
because it was a very ugly time, but its necessary in the explanation of why
this album is what it is, and why it turned out the way it has."
Don't you find it ever so slightly unnerving
that people are constantly trying to get into the head of Trent Reznor? It must
be hard to cope with the constant speculation on your mind-state and the
intrusion into your personal life.
"It's depressing. It's not anything I'm
proud of, telling people where I am or where I was. It's necessary, I know
that, but I get tired of playing armchair analyst all day long, and wondering
why I feel a certain way. Fuck it! I don't know – sorry! And then I've got them
trying to tell me why they think I am, and sometimes you just feel like saying,
'Fuck you! This is my record.' I just try to treat the whole situation with
respect, but I will admit it does get annoying. I've come back from a pretty
bleak spot where I don't want to go again, and I've repaired my own self to a
degree that I'm a stronger person who can deal with a lot more than I could at
one point. I think I went through a necessary change and evolution in my own
life, and I think I've achieved something that matters."
'The Fragile' was summed up by our own Dan
Silver, thus: "…one of the releases of the decade. But at half the length
it could have been the one."
So what's with the double set, Trent? Is there a traditional beginning,
middle and end type structure? Why are things the way they are on there? The
record buying public wants answers.
"From a listener's point of view, the two
CDs are broken up in areas where it wasn't logical for a starting and finishing
point. I think it's a linear journey; the first CD makes a lot more sense after
you've heard the second one, and the second one doesn't sound as important if
you don't know the first one. The first one I feel is a more intimate journey.
The second one's a bit more esoteric and a bit more flighty at times. In a sense
they complement each other. I don't expect everybody to sit down and listen to
both CDs every time they listen to the record, but I think it works well
listening to one and then the other."
Listening to the album, I'm struck with the
thought that you're going to have one hell of a challenge getting the
complexity of the album into a live environment. How are you going to make the
"I'm actually in the process of seeing if
I can right now. We're rehearsing and I've got a new challenge in trying to
play live material that's substantially more complex than in the past. When we
played the MTV awards I needed two cellists and four backing vocalists on the
stage, and I don't know if I want to go that way. I'm trying to find ways to
execute them with integrity, but not turn into a bloated rock band. When was
the last time you saw a rock band with backing singers that was cool?
Time Magazine voted Mr Reznor as the most
influential musician of the '90s, a tag which surely must have embarrassed the
man a little bit. After all, he's just mentioned that he's uncomfortable about
interviews, never mind having that label hanging around his neck.
"I have a hard time reading interviews I
do. Reviews I'll read. Is it flattering to be called a genius? Yes. Do I
believe it? No. Here's my take on the Time magazine thing. It's surprising and
flattering, but I don't take it to heart because who is Time to say who's the
most influential? Things like being the number one Billboard album the first
week out. Now that meant an awful lot more to me, because it was people that
did matter, namely, the fans, that surprisingly were still out there. Winning a
Grammy in America – or two, I guess – so what? I
mean, it's nice, it's flattering, but who the fuck are these Grammy people to
pick it? Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about it but I think I have a
pretty healthy perspective on what that really means. It doesn't make me think
my shit doesn't stink and therefore everything I do now is great now."
It must also be hard to keep on justifying the
pain on your records…
"Yeah it is. I don't particularly like
being a poster boy, feeling the need to constantly talk about it and then have
someone give me their opinion on it. It's like, I'm dealing with it yet I feel
like I'm needing to tell you about it to try and sell this record. In the
press, I hear it took me five years to make a record, it took me three years to
avoid making a record, and two years to sit down and get it done. We tried to
make an original sounding record that's honest, that sounds distressed, that
sounds interesting at every level. We really went to the fucking limit on this
one, as far as trying to get the most deep think we could get across out."
Some people say that your pain and honesty is
purely for effect, though.
"I get that more over here than I do in America. 'Is it just cashing in on a market
place?', 'Is it drama for drama's sake?' It's hard to be put in a position
where I try to say, 'No it's not, that's how I feel.' But the reality of the
situation is that it's come from a true place of unpleasantness, and it's been
a weight for me to get it out of my system and feel better about myself in the
process. I try to turn it into something that has an element of beauty, and then
maybe some other fans or listeners may pick up on that and relate to it. That
to me is the complete circle, and if anyone gets what I'm on about, then
they're getting the same feeling that I had growing up, when there were certain
songs which gave me a sense that, 'Whoah, someone else feels this way, and I
get it'. Even though I couldn't know what they were really feeling, and maybe
they didn't mean what I felt, but it seemed like they meant it to be me. That I
think is a pretty unique way to make art: the idea that maybe you've taken
something that could kill you and turned it into something good, in which
others can find some beauty as well. You wouldn't put the album on and say it's
a happy record, but it is about trying to find some sense of reason for where
you're at, and that too was a lot more positive than [the previous NIN album]
'The Downward Spiral' which was about getting to the bottom of whatever means
possible. I found that to be a much bleaker album. Not that this is a party
It's genuinely pleasing to see the guy laugh.
After witnessing only the recorded or reported Trent Reznor before now – where
what you get seems to be a fucked-up individual constantly torturing himself –
it's good to see that the bloke can be as positive as the next man when he
"I'd say that I've recently allowed myself
to become more positive. The very dangerous, self-destructive side of me I've
now learned to keep in check. I've understood what he's about. I think I
crippled him in a way because I know him, his strategies, and I see him creep
up every once in a while now in ways of sabotage, in ways of the 'fuck it' guy
– 'Just fuck it! Treat someone this way or that, just fuck it!' That guy I've
identified with more because he's been around n my life a lot – not to sound
like Mr Split Personality, but there's been an element that I let get out of
control for a while, and I found out he was on his way to killing me. He was
leading me down the sometimes romantic path of self-destruction. I was afraid
to work and I didn't have any friends, and it was just – pleurrrgh! A place
that you don't want to be. I acknowledge that I just have to be aware of, and
deal with, my own pain."
There's also a certain amount of catharsis for
the people who listen to you, surely.
"Onstage, I'd almost have tears in my eyes
because I mean what I'm singing so much, and this thing hurts. And I'd look
back and there's hundreds of people singing back at me, and they're fucking
teared-up and screaming and there's this weird release. The sacrifices, flaying
your soul open every so often, spreading it out on paper, and then, not only
that but explaining in a situation like this why I did it. Then sometimes
defending myself about its honesty because it's easy for someone to dismiss it
saying, 'He couldn't feel that way!'… well I did, and I had to tell you that I
fucking felt this miserable. The end result for me is a positive one, yeah, and
I think for some listeners it is as well. Not for everybody, I acknowledge that,
but for some I think it can be."
As I'm sure most of you are aware, Trent has
also kept busy working on other people's projects, most notably, of course,
Marilyn Manson who, it has to be said, went on to pretty big things after a bit
of tweaking from Trent. However, it's pretty much common knowledge now that the
pair of them don't exactly see eye to eye, so does he see the time spent with
Marilyn Manson as being time he wasted in retrospect?
"I've always respected Manson as an
artist, and I continue to. I'm very proud of the work that we've done together
and it saddens me that we're not friends now. There has been a personality
change in both of us, and I don't feel particularly good about him as a person
anymore. I was at a low point and I got kicked a few times and in places that I
didn't feel was necessary within the level of decency, and I got insulted in
ways that made me really question the incredible amount of maliciousness that
went into doing it. A simple, 'Hey, everything's going to be okay', 'Yeah, I'm
fine'… I don't think that's right. Someday maybe things will work out, but it's
the kind of thing where, when you've really been offended on several serious
levels… I don't feel good about it."
You don't seem to get a lot of credit for the
work that you did with Manson.
"It's issues of ego. The guy that I was
good friends with, I don't think he's around anymore. I was about to start
NIN's new record but I wasn't quite ready mentally, so I stopped what I was
doing to work on their album ['Antichrist Superstar']. And when that was
completed, that's when our friendship went sour, and that's also when I had to
deal with some crises in my own life – losing someone very close to me – and it
all just accumulated into one big pile. It wasn't his fault any more than it
was anything else. I did give up some time from NIN to work on his record, but
that was my choice to do that, and it's also a time that I'm very proud of,
because I like that record a lot and I'm very proud that I was involved in it.
I think I helped make it a lot better."
Not that he actually needs to worry anyway.
Nine Inch Nails are still about as big as any name you can think of in the
world of rock music, and the commotion that the release of 'The Fragile' caused
was a good indication of where the name Trent Reznor stands in the scheme of
things. Will Nine Inch Nails still be around as an entity in another two or
three years time, though?
"I think I'm over a necessary hump in my
own creative development that I would hope doesn't stall me out for another
several years. I've gained a lot of confidence in the studio and a lot of
self-respect, and I sincerely don't believe that I'm on the verge of another
travel down that horrible road, which would prevent me from doing anything. I
feel very optimistic right now."
That's the spirit.