once again does battle with the Dark Lord of Rock, Trent Reznor
The Prince Of Pain has
a severe case of the sniffles. Imprisoned in a swanky London hotel, Trent Reznor
has been laid low by a bad flu bug. The tormented mastermind behind Wagnerian
hate-pop gothcore titans Nine Inch Nails has cancelled two days of Interviews, loaded
up on Lemsip and retired to his chambers.
Reznor‘s ill-fated moonlight flit to London has
coincided with an impressive comeback. Despite Nine Inch Nails lying virtually
dormant for five years, their latest album, The Fragile‘, immediately rocketed
to Number One in the US charts and Number Ten in Britain. Next month’s Brixton Academy shows sold out in a matter of
hours. Half of London wants to interview Trent, but he‘s barely seen daylight
since his arrival.
But NME, after much frantic negotiation, finally
manages to drag the reluctant Dark Lord from his sick bed just hours before his
return flight to New Orleans. Believe us, we feel terrible about this — not
quite as awful as the croaky, crestfallen Reznor himself. Worse still, he‘s
putting himself out for the sarcastic British press who always ridicule his pain-wracked
Still, we didn‘t come here to mock Trent. Oh alright, maybe just a little.
But we mainly want to discuss his frightfully atmospheric new double album,
‘The Fragile‘, plus many other fearsome things. And with Halloween approaching,
we come to play verbal Trick Or Treat with the multimillion-selling merchant of
Happy Halloween, Trent. So tell us, what scares the
Scariest Man In Rock?
“The Bottom,“ he growls. ‘I saw The Bottom when
I started this record and I don‘t want to go back there. It‘s a place where I
couldn‘t imagine having any worth and I couldn‘t imagine trying to make music. It‘s
a place of loneliness and utter worthlessness. I remind myself of where that is
and I don‘t want to visit there any more. That
Righty ho. And will Trent be celebrating Halloween this year?
‘I don‘t have any specific plans, nor do I know
if I‘ll even be in America. We may be over here rehearsing.
But I used to go Trick Or Treating, because where I grew up we didn‘t have drugs
and there was very little trouble you could get into. We had a great gang of
terrorists that would go around pissing in people‘s gas tanks, just idiotic
shit. We felt it was our mission to create havoc, but to a mild degree.“
Trent, who co-ordinated the scarifying soundtracks
to Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway, recently caught
hair-raising punker snuff movie The Blair
Witch Project. Did he shit himself?
“I was really excited because I’d heard about
it from the website and was convinced it was real by somebody who didn‘t quite
know,“ he says. “So I went to a idnight screening in LA on a Tuesday night
and it wasn‘t what I was expecting, but the spectacle of seeing it in a
completely packed house full of psyched up people made it pretty entertaining.
Did it scare me that much? No, but I appreciated the unrelenting tension.“
Hey! That sounds like an advertising slogan for
Nine Inch Nails — Appreciate The Unrelenting Tension. Has Trent ever had sex with a corpse?
“Oh yeah. Huh huh! No, I‘ve gone out with a
couple of girls who may have qualified as that, but I can‘t say that legally I‘ve
accomplished that task.“
Take note. Trent Reznor just cracked a joke.
Keep your eyes peeled for more as the interview progresses and the unrelenting
tension increases. Because now Trent is going to talk about really scary
things, like the chronic depression which led to him writing ‘The Fragile‘. And
his feuds with Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love. And what it‘s like at The
Superstar bitching? Here ware go...
Rewind to 1994. Reznor is alone in the
notorious Hollywood Hills house where Charles Manson‘s sicko disciples
slaughtered five people in August 1969. He is reading a book of prison
interviews with the jailed cult leader in which Manson describes his secret nocturnal
visits to the crime scene after the murders took place. Torrential ram hammers
down outside and Trent, for the first time, is suddenly having second thoughts
about his choice of recording venue for what would become one of the decade‘s
most remorselessly dark and aggressive albums, ‘The Downward Spiral‘.
“That scared the shit out of me,“ nods the
Prince Of Pain. “But with the exception of that, I didn‘t have a bad situation
in that house. And when we left the place they tore it down. I guess two
tragedies up there was too much.“
Did you spot it? That‘s the second Reznor joke
in less than half an hour. But some people, this writer included, would argue
that recording an album at the site of an infamous murder by racist psychopaths
was a sick joke too far.
If juvenile shock-rock statements are your
trade, why not go the whole hog and record in Auschwitz?
“It wasn‘t meant to be a statement,“ sighs Trent. “I‘ve said this before and it has
been ignored, but we didn‘t know that was the house when we picked it that day.
There were ten others to choose from but that was the best house for our needs.
In my stupidity I didn‘t realise it was something I’d be answering questions
about for ten years.“
But it was only after the album came out that
Reznor‘s true descent into the downward spiral began. And his problems began
with another Manson — superfreak glamcore monster Marilyn. After Trent produced the ‘Antichrist Superstar‘
album for his former protege, he saw their friendship “dissipate“ into
“That was the result of some personalities
changing,“ he says. “They were getting much more famous, and I wasn‘t the most
stable at that point either so I’m not pointing fingers and saying it was all
them. I believe there‘s blame on both sides, but there‘s certainly more malice
on their side — and when I say ‘them‘ I mean him, not the band.“
At the same time, relations also soured between
Reznor and ex-lover Courtney Love. Competition fuelled this three-way feud —
while Reznor dropped off the radar, both Manson and Love became superstars. But
this imbalance is redressed on ‘The Fragile‘ with a scouring drum‘n‘hate
polemic called ‘Starfuckers Inc‘.
Is it about Mazzar and Cozzer?
“It‘s about everybody that I thought was full
of shit at that time,“ nods Trent. ‘There‘s bits of those guys in there, of
course, but it wasn‘t solely meant to be a Fuck you, Manson‘ kind of song. It
was also meant to be tongue-in-cheek and ridiculous and have a sense of
How is the feud with Manson now?
“It‘s not a feud, it‘s just not anything.“
“Thank Christ I haven‘t heard a word from her
in a long time, nor would I ever wish to again.“
Crikey. She called you a farmboy staring into
the abyss. What does that mean?
“I couldn‘t care less what she has to say about
So there‘ll be no seasonal goodwill card for Ms
Love this Christmas then?
But celebrity bitching was the least of Trent‘s
worries as he faced the daunting task of following up his two-million-selling
alterna-smash ‘The Downward Spiral‘. Sudden superstardom was surreal and disorienting
enough — Time magazine voted Reznor one of America‘s 25 “most influential“
people in 1997— but it was his grandmother‘s death which tipped him into a
debilitating depression of self-loathing and creative stasis. He saw The
“The woman that raised me died and I just got
into a fucking slump,“ Trent says bluntly. “Where maybe it was
alright to flirt with the idea of depression before, it now developed into a
black hole I couldn‘t get out of. I had to face myself and get to the heart of
the matter, which was that I was depressed and I needed help.“
Anyone who heard Trent‘s doom-laden albums
could have tipped him off that he was a tad miserable — or was that merely theatrical
“It was never theatrical, but it always came
from me getting it out of my System. Expressing myself about being angry or
distressed was a way I than could feel better in the process. But this time it
prevented me from allowing myself to do that so it really got to be a
So Trent tried therapy, grief counselling,
“I went on a brief stint of antidepressants,
which taught me a lot about how little they really know what they do to you.
But really the act of discovering there is something wrong with me, even though
I didn‘t want to hear it, was some sort of comfort in the bigger picture
because it provided an explanation for the way I felt. Somehow that gave me the
power to feel like it wasn‘t completely my fault and I could try to understand it
better. I really feel like I‘ve come out of this a stronger person.“
Hence ‘The Fragile‘, Trent‘s most textured and
multi-faceted album yet. A vast, bruise-coloured canvas of slithering ambient
gloomcore and orchestral doom symphonies. Trent anted the record to sound “inherently flawed“,
“Coming from a somewhat damaged viewpoint, I
was more intrigued by the record having a distressed quality about it —
something that sounded a bit old or was starting to decay. There was no agenda
when we started, but in the end I felt there was a story there. The story was
about my own self-repair.“
Of course, comments like these open Trent to charges of humourless self-pity
and grinding pomposity. This argument really gets his goat. Reznor recently
dissed “the English press“ in an American magazine for questioning the honesty
of his tortured soul. But objectively, surely he can see that the relentless
negativity of his music might seem a touch overblown? Can a millionaire rock
star really be that miserable all the time?
“I understand that there is an element of drama
to the music,“ nods Trent Reasonable. “But I know I really felt that way. I‘ve
seen the fucking blackest part of The Bottom, so when it‘s easily dismissed by
somebody as a gimmick to try to appeal to a certain audience — that was one of
the few comments that really agitated me.“
But public angst has become the most hackneyed
marketing tool in white male alterna-rock since Kurt Cobain blew his top. How
do we know Trent‘s suffering is any more ‘real‘ than Dobbin McPoser of Limp
Bizkit or Lord Gavin Phake-Payne from Bush?
“I understand your point, but I would hope that
in some cases integrity shines through,“ he shrugs. “Again there‘s only so many
soapboxes I can jump on and say, ‘I mean it, I mean it!‘ I’m not out to
convince you that much. It‘s there and it stands for something, and it‘s not
laced with ridiculous posturing or trend-following like lot of other shit. And
maybe the guy in Bush does mean it, but it just doesn‘t seem like it to me.“
The root of this perception problem probably
lies less in whether Reznor ‘means it‘ than in cultural differences between Europe and America. Over here we distrust cathartic
displays of existential despair. Tut tut. Very un-British. Tsk. We tend to turn
our angst into humour, sarcasm, arty pathos. Which is why Jarvis Cocker kicks
Henry Rollins‘ iron-pumping ass in rock‘s premiere league of emotional heavyweights
every time. No contest.
“It is a different perspective, that‘s fair enough,“
Trent concedes. “But it doesn’t make it any easier to defend my position.“
Do you lack a sense of humour?
“I don‘t at all, but I just don‘t think it comes
out in this music. I think ‘Starfuckers Inc is funny in a ridiculous way. We‘ve
done some music that was meant to be funny, like Queen covers. But I have a
very awkward sense of knowing how to place that in the context of music — maybe
that is the cultural difference. In real life we fuck around a lot. We‘re not
hanging upside down in our closets and sleeping in fresh earth and being generally
morose all the time. Sometimes, of course, but not all the time...“
Woah! Three jokes in one interview! Nobody can
call Reznor a humourless, self absorbed misery merchant now. Deep down he‘s
jovial, jocular and japeworthy. Why, in the right mood he’s downright
avuncular. Which is why, as our stolen hour with rock‘s most troubled soul ends,
we leave him a gift which symbolises our shared cultural riches — the latest
issue of Viz comic. Trent‘s crash
course in British humour starts here.
“Um, OK, I appreciate that,“ he smiles
And than the Prince Of Pain is whisked away,
lost once more to the night‘s velvet embrace. As his raven-huad chariot speeds
him back towards his subterranean catacomb of eternal despair, we sincerely
hope that Trent Reznor is 1aughing his bollocks off.