He's back - unhappily reaping the whirlwind of
the Colorado high school shootings while trying to forge
ahead with his first new album for four years. Marilyn Manson betrayed him, his
oddball friends depraved him - but Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has cleaned
up. No, really…
Trent Reznor still remembers when is all got
out of hand. It all happened one night in '95, in the gothic surrounds of New
Orleans' Nothing Studios, a one-time funeral parlor in which Reznor had
recorded 1994's "The Downward Spiral". He was there with a little
known support act called Marilyn Manson and a group [of extremist
"entertainers" called the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, locked in the
dead end of Nine Inch Nail's "Self Destruct" tour.
Given that it was the first tour that
introduced Marilyn Manson to cocaine, things had already been eventful. For
instance, there was Jim Rose's beauty contests in which naked groupies competed
to see who could hold an enema in the longest before evacuating into a bowl of
breakfast cereal that was consumed by the Circus's penis strongman, Mr. Lifto.
Reznor finally knew that the tour had crossed
over when Rose's tattooed sideshow gimp Enigma talked the Nine Inch Nails
frontman into performing a trepanation on him. You know, bore a hole directly
into his skull. For kicks Reznor thought, "Now way! I'm not having a dead
tattooed guy with a hole in his head and his rain fluid all over the
studio". But that's the level it was getting to. The only thing he could
liken it to was Vietnam - something so de -sensitizing that evil becomes
"I didn't think about it then," says
Trent Reznor, "but we were living that album. We wound up pretty far down
Four years on and Trent Reznor is surprisingly
well. He's been away so long you still expect to see the long-haired,
pale-skinned praying mantis-man from 1995, the computer geek in the industrial
boots and ridiculous leather tunic who smeared himself with mud and blood, sang
about how he wanted to "fuck you like an animal" and turned every
live NIN show into an atrocity exhibition of pain rage and excess.
Instead you get some Calvin Klein model. The
1995 tour scars are still on the arms of a man who's been spending time in the
gym. Rumors that Reznor had become fat, bald and mad have clearly been
circulated by jealous industry types miffed at the fact that Mr. Self Destruct
now looks like Mr. Self Improvement.
His dyed black hair is cut into a neat,
unassuming fringe and he wears a pair of frayed combat trousers, some old black
boots and a ripped black T-shirt.
Taking an hour out from rehearsals for MTV's
1999 Music and Video Awards in the modest red and black lounge of New York's
Time Hotel, he's funny, polite, soft-spoken ("Black coffee, please")
and not a little wary, his piercing green eyes fixating on you with a hard
stare when straying too far from the path of acceptable questioning.
Then again, he's got a right to be wary. A lot
has happened since Trent Reznor last appeared in public. In 1995, he worked
with hid hen friend Marilyn Manson, producing his multi-platinum
"Antichrist Superstar" and crafting the brutal, relentless,
militaristic sound that would strike fear into the heart of the moral majority.
Then, as if employing a controversy divining-rod, he produced the multi-layered
rock'n'roll collage soundtrack for Oliver Stone's "Natural Born
Killers". He also created the soundtrack to David Lynch's Hallucinatory
"Lost Highway", wrote the music for the doom-sodden computer game
"Quake" and pretty much did anything to delay work on the follow-up
to "The Downward Spiral".
The longer he left it, the more important it
became. In 1997 "Time" magazine called Reznor one of the 25 most
influential people in America. "Spin" magazine called him the most
influential man in music, while h fourth coming album, "The Fragile",
has been hailed by the American media as the most anticipator album of the
decade. But this year Trent Reznor as the folk devil was reincarnated when two
depressed school-kids - Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebolb, 17 - who listened
to Nine Inch Nails along with a lot of other industrial rock records, turned up
at Columbine High School in Colorado armed with guns and bombs and executed 14
fellow students and one teacher.
So it's not surprising that Reznor's a little
less then comfortable with "The Fragile" being hailed as the most
important and eagerly awaited album in America today.
"I see that I'm saving rock'n'roll,"
he says sarcastically. "Billy Coragan failed, now it's up to me."
He says he had a problem starting "The
Fragile" because he was in "a state of transition". He'd been
fooled into thinking every day was a party for him. It wasn't just about drugs,
it was the seductiveness of being seen as a "star".
"I looked at some shit I'd done,"
says Reznor, "the way I'd treated people and I thought, 'How did I turn
into this fucking guy?' Then I worked on 'Antichrist' and watched Marilyn
Manson go back out on tour while I sit here by myself. Plus I'm a
procrastinator, plus my heart wasn't in it. My Grandmother had just died and
everyone was going, "Where's your record, you're important now…"
For Trent Reznor, 1997 meant a new life of
ascetic discipline. The year went like this: wake up at 10am, shower, leave the house, drive to
the studio, work until 3am. Repeat every single day.
"The only variation would be 'What are we
eating today?'" says Reznor, smiling. "There's something that's
subversively fun about that. It's hiding from the real world. Now I've got to
get back to being a human being. Go film a video in Mexico, go to the Bahamas.
My routine's all fucked up. Groundhog Day's been disrupted."
Trent hasn't listened to "The Downward
Spiral" in a long time. He did, however, catch the track "Reptile"
on the radio recently and was struck by how primitive it sounded. He thought
maybe he'd lost his mind with this new album, where everything had to be
over-complicated and it all sounds like My Bloody Valentine meets Tom Waits
"I could have just put out another cold,
angry, machine-like record," he says. "It would have been safe and
no-one would have made fun of me."
"The Fragile", however, is not a safe
alum. The relentless combative techno metal of "The Downward Spiral"
has been demolished and rebuilt as a circuitous 23-track, double-CD journey of
pain, anger and surprising vulnerability. It's an album that reveals an oddly
human emotional side to Nine Inch Nails. From weird classical instruments to
fucked-up chaotic songs of emotional damage (you know for the fans) there''
everything on here you could possibly want from Nine Inch Nails and more -
which isn't really surprising, given the albums ridiculous length. After all,
shouldn't every album restrict itself to 40 minutes? Twelve songs?
"I agree with you." Admits Reznor.
"I'm sick of the 20-song, two-good-ones-and-a-bunch-of-shit CD, but when
we tried cutting things out they didn't support each other as well, but I'm
pleasantly surprised by this album, people are already arguing over which CD
Like Guns N' Roses' "Use Your
Trent Reznor does not find this funny.
For as long as he can remember, Trent Reznor
has always wanted to make music. His most vivid memory is of looking in the
reflection of his parents' TV, holding a broom stick and pretending to be The
Born in the one-horse, one McDonald's farming
town of Mercer, Pennsylvania on 17 May 1965, Michael Trent Reznor trained as a
classical pianist from the age of five, practicing ten hours a day. But then he
discovered Kiss and he realized he wasn't going to get laid studding piano with
As he got older, Reznor discovered horror
films. After he watched "The Omen" he became convinced he was the
antichrist, searching his scalp for three '6's. By the time he was 23, working
as a studio technician in Cleveland, he was so immersed in this world of music
and horror that, when he started writing his debut album "Pretty Hate
Machine", he just took his journal and started writing songs directly out
"I didn't create a Bowie-esque persona as
a shield," he says, "or to exaggerator the truth to make myself
cooler. I wasn't' a male prostitute from the ghetto. I grew up on a
Pennsylvania cornfield with my grand parents."
Because of Reznor's upbringing he's often asked
where the rage comes from. Surely you can't have that much anger growing up on
a farm with your grandparents? It's a question that rankles.
"Well," he says, tersely, "you
can. They say, 'He doesn't mean this'. Yes, I do. All I ever wanted to write
about was a way out."
This is perhaps the main reason why the music
of Nine Inch Nails touches a never with American youth. Despite an outwardly
"normal" upbringing he still felt angry enough at the world to scream
"Lose me/hate me/smash me/erase me". It's a self-hatred and vacuity
that every miserable American teenage kid can relate to. Of course such a
stance begs the chare that presenting such negative images of murder, suicide
and hate to impressionable teenage children, especially in the light of recent
events, is completely irresponsible.
"Well, I would argue with that," says
Reznor. "I'd like to have some faith in people. Society can't treat people
like sheep. They need to make up their own minds. I don't feel that I'm
irresponsible. But if I wrote a song that directly said 'kill yourself, kill
your friends" and someone had killed them selves listening to it, I would
That should no longer be a worry. "The
Fragile" represents a significant shift away from the relentless rage of
"The Downward Spiral". This is Reznor divesting himself of his armor
to reveal a lonely damaged individual.
In fact, a number of songs on the album -
particularly the monolithic "Starfuckers Inc." which includes the
"you're so vain" refrain "I bet you think this song is about
you" - appear to be directed at two celebrities who've wronged Reznor in
the past: Marilyn Manson and Courtney: Love.
While Courtney Love's Trent Reznor slurs are in
the past (she implied that they'd had a sexual relationship and said things
like: "Nine Inch Nails? More like three-inch nails"), Manson's
slagging of Reznor in his autobiography "The Long Hard Road Out of
Hell" is more recent and still rankles.
"I felt let down, betrayed," he says.
"I still do. He was my best friend. I think both of us were in strange
personality transitions and it just happened to spin out of control. I haven't
talked to him in a while but, at the moment - hurt? Yes. Betrayed? Yes. Is it
all his fault? No."
Trent Reznor will tell you that he doesn't have
many friends. He's always wished for a big circle of friends but, ironically,
doesn't allow people to get close to him.
"I remember once I met somebody in another
band. He was cool and we exchanged phone numbers," explains Reznor.
"Later, my old girlfriend dais, 'Give him a call'. I said 'I'm not going
to call him, he's not going to call me, what's the fucking point?' She said,
'that's why you have no fucking friends.' I have no people to…" He trails
off. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
Trent Reznor is 34. He hears maturity in
"The Fragile" that reflects where his head's at right now. However,
he certainly isn't looking forward to getting older.
"Not at all," her says. "I just
hope that when the excuse of Nine Inch Nails is over, I'm not as unbalanced and
incomplete as I've felt in the last ten years."
Is that what scares you most"
"No. I'm scared of being alone. But," he
says draining the last of his black coffee, "I am alone."