"asshole" and "drug addict" Trent Reznor has a new purpose
in life: to destroy stupid music. We join him in Texas to find out exactly
what he, his band NINE INCH NAILS and his reinstated bosom buddy Marilyn Manson
have against "Fat" Freddy Durst, Kid Rock and Courtney Love.
Houston's 17,500-capacity Compaq
Center is home to the Rockets basketball
team and the rock bands of the last 10 years.
Three boxes of corn starch powder sit alongside
the table-top mirrors in the Away Team dressing room, which tonight is serving
as a makeshift wardrobe room. The Cure's latest album 'Bloodflowers' is in the
stereo's multi-CD tray, alongside Portishead's darkly atmospheric debut
'Dummy'. Five sturdy black flight cases of stage clothes clutter up the room;
pastel shades are conspicuous by their absence, but there's no shortage of
black combat trousers, 'para' boots and no-nonsense black sleeveless jackets.
An Abs Crunch fitness trainer in the corner adds to the stark, utilitarian
ambience of the room, the only personal touch in sight being a Kiss lava lamp
in a flight case bearing the stencilled letters 'TR'.
At nine o'clock tonight, 20 minutes before
show-time, TR will call his bandmates around him for a pre-show group
photograph. As Kerrang! Photographer Scarlet Page raises her camera, he will
issue one simple, stern instruction to the lanky musicians flanking him.
"Don't smile," he snaps. "Don't
Trent Reznor is ready to go to work. Twenty six
dates into 'Fragility V2.0', Nine Inch Nails' first US tour for five years, the band are
"pretty much up to speed" according to keyboardist Charlie Clouser.
We arrive at the Compaq Center as the band are finishing their
soundcheck. The relaxed air surrounding the hulking crew members wandering
backstage suggests that everything is proceeding smoothly.
At 5:45pm, with the band and their soundman
satisfied, Trent Reznor strolls into the 'wardrobe room' and greets us with a
quiet "Hello", before sitting down at the make-up table to have a bit
of 'slap' applied for our photo session. Charlie Clouser, Robin Finck and
Jerome Dillon wander back into their black curtain-draped dressing room. The
only missing-in-action Nails man is native Texan Danny Lohner, who has just
popped across the road to meet his mum and dad who're in town tonight for the
It's a pretty safe bet that the members'
parents weren't in the habit of dropping in on NIN's last American tour. Joined
on the road by Marilyn Manson and the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, that tour has
passed into rock history as one of the most excessive, out of control tours
since the 'glory' days of Guns N'Roses and Mötley Crüe. I can't imagine that Ma
and Pa Lohner would be overly impressed at seeing musicians spitting on naked
girls and hosting backstage enema contests, episodes chronicled in Marilyn
Manson's autobiography 'Long Hard Road Out Of Hell'.
When I join Clouser, Finck and Dillon in the
dressing room, I casually put it to them that they've had a bit of a reputation
for indulging in on-the-road debauchery. "Did we?" Charlie Clouser
says with a smile, feigning surprise as he raises his head from a copy of gadget-mag
'Stuff'. "Er, you can answer that Robin."
"We're doing different things now,"
Finck says slowly and deliberately. "Last time out I personally visited a
lot of places I don't want to go back to."
Mr Manson has been very vocal in re-telling the
story of one particular incident from that NIN/Manson tour - when Manson
allegedly gave Robin Finck a blow job onstage in Florida.
"Oh, Manson's quite a
sensationalist," Robin sighs, the mildest hint of colour reddening his
pallid complexion. "I wouldn't believe everything he says."
"But Manson does suck men's dicks,"
smiles Danny Lohner, as he enters the room and slumps down on the sofa beside
me. "He's gay."
You think so?
"Oh yeah," he grins. "He would
say something terrible about us, so we should make up something first as a
"This tour is more like a bit slumber
party," Robin smiles. "We just watch movies on the bus all night and
we're like, 'Is this one ok with you honey?'."
"There's no drunken brawls anymore,"
sighs Charlie. "It's pretty sad."
So if your debauched days are behind you why do
you need that box of Trojan Ultra Pleasure condoms on the table in front of us?
"That box hasn't even been opened to put a
condom on a banana for a joke," Danny laughs. "No one here's getting
I know the story about one British band in the
mid '90s who resolved that issue by sucking each other's dicks. Apparently,
when the road crew caught them in the act, they said they were 'bored'.
"Our boredom," says Danny solemnly,
"has never come to that."
Trent Reznor's bandmates seem like a laid back,
easygoing bunch. Everyone has lap-top computers and portable studios on the
road with them so that they can work on new music whenever or wherever the
inspiration strikes. Charlie Clouser spent the morning beavering away on his
semi-legendary Tapeworm side project - slated to feature appearances from Phil
Anselmo, 'Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Trent Reznor; "an ongoing thorn
in my side" according to Clouser - he's currently trying to "chisel more
of Maynard's Brazilian vocal overdubs into a song he's singing with
When I mention that there's little visible
indication of pre-show nerves in the dressing room, Danny Lohner laughs and
"If I was Trent I might get nervous but nobody's looking
Despite Lohner and Clouser's integral roles in
Nine Inch Nails the pair have a very low public profile. They insist they're
happy with the situation.
"I prefer it this way," Lohner
smiles. "It's difficult for Trent to roll down the street in any town
we're playing because he gets recognised. God bless the fans, but I'm sure it
gets hard for him."
A lot of people in bands today crave celebrity
"Like him?" Danny smiles, opening a
magazine featuring a picture of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst.
"Fat Freddy?" Charlie chips in.
"No, I'm happiest when I'm sitting behind a computer listening to a
half-finished mix rather than holding court behind a velvet rope at a
It's time for the band's pre-show dinner. And
I've an imminent appointment with Mr Reznor. We shake hands and go our separate
"I haven't broken a keyboard in six
shows," Clouser mutters as he exits the room. "My tech is looking
"I see (ex-Eagles frontman) Don Henley was
playing here last night," Trent Reznor notes. "The first concert I
ever saw was The Eagles in 1976. The excitement of the night struck a chord
with me and I remember thinking, 'Some day I'd love to be up on that
We're back in the NIN dressing room. Casually
dressed in a black army surplus shirt and blue jeans, Trent Reznor is sitting
on a blue sofa with his beautiful dog Daisy May by his side. With 90 minutes to
show time, Reznor appears relaxed and happy.
For some reason I never thought of Trent Reznor
as the chatty type. But in truth he's an engaging conversationalist, prone to
rambling somewhat. A simple question about his memories of that first concert
sends him off reminiscing about taking his first drag of a joint, passed to him
by his dad - "not to promote my dad as someone who was forcing drugs down
my throat", he smiles - and five minutes later he's still talking.
"In some ways I feel quite odd about the
idea of 'The Dark Lord' rocking out with Kiss, but the ageing rockers still
have a special place in Trent Reznor's heart. There's that lava lamp in his
flight case for starters, and earlier his bandmates were groaning recalling
that recently their frontman has taken to listening to Paul Stanley's solo
album - an album Clouser rates as "wretched".
Presuming that Reznor was a rather introverted
teenager I ask if, when he first got into music, he felt that he had the
personality to be a Paul Stanley-style star.
"I always liked larger than life,
superhuman rock stars, but I never thought I was that," he smiles.
"When NIN came out it was very anti-image, I just wanted to be part of a
rock band that was very violent and passionate. I've never thought I'm David
Bowie and can command an audience, and that's still what I'm least confident
about today. But I don't feel inadequate onstage."
So how comfortable are you with the idea of
being a rock star?
"When somebody first called me a rock star
it was like a dream come true," Reznor smirks. "And my ego reflected
that. I went through a phase where I was an asshole, and I treated some people
In what way?
"Oh, by believing that my shit didn't
stink and that that gave me the right to be mean to people," he sighs.
"I'd be throwing tantrums like, 'I said 10 black towels, not eight!'. It
was pure Spinal Tap stuff.
"As we got bigger I started getting real
uncomfortable with that 'rock star' tag," he continues. "When 'The
Downward Spiral' came out I tried to kill myself on the road and basically
self-destructed, because I couldn't deal with being so big.
"And now?" he smiles, stroking Daisy
May's sleek coat. "Well, now I feel, not comfortable with it exactly, but
a lot more at ease. I've realised that there's a me and a public me, where
before there was no distinction."
So right now Trent Reznor is a happy man?
"Compared to where I had been, yeah, definitely," he says slowly,
"but there's still a big hole in my fulfilment level. After 'The Downward
Spiral' I realised that I basically have everything I want, but I'd neglected
everything about being a person in the process.
"People would ask, 'What do you do for
hobbies?' and I'd be like, 'Er (long pause)… go and sit in the studio?' I
realised I didn't have a life - it stopped right before I got signed. I'm in a
better head space now, but I wouldn't say I'm overly happy. Thre's always another
good label to fight to keep me miserable.
"We've really been abandoned by our record
company in the US. It's full of accountants that
don't know music from their asses. And apparently I'm not moving enough units
to MTV 'Total Request Live' demographic, those 12-14-year-old kids. I mean, who
the f**k are they?
"I'm trying to make music that challenges,
and I'm finding fewer and fewer bands with any depth. Music is reaching a level
of stupidity that's stunning to me. There's always a need for dumb music, but
we don't need any more Kid Rocks. Enough. And I believe in 'The Fragile' and I
want to try to get the word out. This band might just make you realise that
Limp Bizkit sucks."
You're not a fan of Fred Durst?
"It's one thing if you know your place,
like, 'Hey, I'm an idiot who plays shitty music, but people buy it, f**k it,
I'm having fun'. But it's another thing when you think you're David Bowie after
you've stayed up all night to write a song called 'Break Stuff'," Reznor
laughs, injecting contempt into every word. "I mean, Fred Durst probably
spelt the word 'break' wrong the first couple of times.
"Fred Durst might be a cool guy, I don't
know him. But his 'art' - in the word's loosest sense - sucks."
Alongside Courtney Love, Billy Corgan and REM's
Micheal Stipe. Fred Durst is one of the celebrities lampooned in Nine Inch
Nails' latest video 'Starsuckers, Inc'. A cleaned-up version of the vicious
'Starf**kers, Inc.' from 'The Fragile', the video was conceived and directed by
Reznor's old sparring partner Marilyn Manson, who also appears in drag in the
clip. It's a remarkable video, all the more so because lyrically 'Starf**kers,
Inc.' is reputed to be Reznor's acerbic dig at Manson - the duo's relationship
having been tempestuous.
"Oh, when I wrote the song he was
definitely one of the people I had in mind," Reznor says trying, and
failing, to suppress a smirk. "So he called me and said, 'You know what,
I'm f**king sick of people asking if this song is about me, so I've got a
really cool idea for a video that'll just f**k with everybody'."
It's a remarkably nasty video.
"You mean, it's weird to see someone with
the balls to say that some people are shit?" he laughs. "We were just
poking fun at that bloated sense of celebrity and inflated ego among this
clique of royalty in America. It's like, 'Who are the people you
always see in that backstage photo or at that film premiere', it's those,
'Look, see, I'm important people'. But I don't have a problem with Billy Corgan
or Stipe or any of the people in the video… with the exception of Courtney
Love. We had a fantastic time with the Courtney thing because Manson and I
share a mutual hatred of her."
So you and Mr Manson are big buddies again now?
"It just felt really good to see the guy
again and hang out," Reznor smiles. "I reluctantly missed him. We
were like brothers and I couldn't even tell you why we fell out. It was
something to do with him getting some fame and both of us being out of our
What are you memories of that tour with Manson?
"On a lot of that tour I don't even
remember playing the shows," Reznor sighs. "I got off the bus after
two years going, 'Who am I?'. That tour was really about excess. I couldn't
physically repeat that without an oxygen tent onstage. We were all drug addicts
and full-on party machines and that was one of the factors that led me to being
in a very depressed state at the end of that tour.
"This tour might read as 'tame' or 'old
guys'," he shrugs, "but I'm not bothered. We've only had one day off
in the past month, and where before that might spell chaos, this time we went
to an amusement park. And you know what, I was like, 'This is the best day of
When you read this, the American leg of
'Fragility V2.0' will be over and Nine Inch Nails will be winding their way
across Europe towards their Lost Weekend gig in London's Dockland Arena. If their gig in Houston is anything to go by, it's going to
Tonight's show is spectacular, by turns
blisteringly intense and genuinely beautiful. With a stunning light show
created by Pink Floyd's lighting designer and gorgeous slo-mo elemental
visuals, the music to which Trent Reznor dedicated five years of his life is
immaculately framed - and dressed in their battle fatigues, Reznor and his (un)merry
men are unrecognisable from the calm characters we saw backstage, throwing
themselves into their performances with a passion bordering on the psychotic.
"Without trying to pat myself on the back
too much, I think the show we're doing now is pretty bold for an arena
show," Reznor says before returning to the 'wardrobe room' to get back
into 'civvies'. "With 'The Fragile' I was trying to get out of the corner
I was boxing myself into in that the music had to be harder and faster and more
desperate. With the show now it's…"
Reznor pauses and thinks for a moment or two.
"Well, you'll see," he smiles.
Indeed we will, Mr Reznor, indeed we will.