Revolver, Nr. 3 (Winter), November 2000, Seite
56 – 59, 126
& Greet: In The Flesh
They’ve created some
of the most profoundly depressing music in the history of rock, but Roger
Waters and Trent Reznor are just tickled pink to shake hands.
Story: Alan di Perna
The dean of dramatic
arena-rock drama meets the dark lord of industrial. As their conversation gains
momentum, one can feel Water’s frosty reserve slowly melting. He and Reznor
really are kindred spirits. They’re both the sort who see the big picture,
albeit a picture painted in somber tones. As the brooding masterminds behind
Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails, respectively, Waters and Reznor hold a special
place in the hearts of rock and roll misfits from ages, oh, 15 through 50. Pink
Floyd’s 1979 opus The Wall and NIN’s
1994 The Downward Spiral each depict
the slow, agonized unravelling of a psyche – Water’s and Reznor’s own, in each
case, although thinly veiled by a plot line. The Wall’s Pink and The
Downward Spiral’s nameless protagonist ultimately lapse into bleak
solipsism – complete isolation from their fellow humans. And that’s how the
public tends to think of both Reznor and Waters: Withdrawn, melancholic, a wee
bit misanthropic. Waters’ acrimony toward his former bandmates in Pink Floyd is
as legendary as Reznor’s contempt for his recod label TVT. At the moment,
they’re also a couple of guys with a bit of product to flog. Both are preparing
DVDs of their recent live tours, both of which were grand rock spectacles.
Waters is also scheduled to release a live album of his In the Flesh 2000 tour, while Reznor is coming out with Things Falling Apart, a CD of remixes
from his most recent Nine Inch Nails album, The
Fragile. Revolver’s motive in
bringing these artists together for the first time was to open a dialog between
two of rock’s major thinkers. Besides, who could pass up the opportunity of
introducing the artist responsible for Animals
to the man who wrote, “I want to fuck you like an animal?”
Roger Waters is waiting for Trent Reznor.
"Presumably, they have to rouse him from a drug-induced coma," Waters
remarks dryly. "These young rock stars..."
Just then Reznor turns up, and, far from being
comatose, he seems well-rested and sharp. In fact, anticipation has driven him
from bed at an hour most unbecoming a rock star. "I woke up at 7:30 this morning," he confides.
"I was going 'God, I'm gonna talk to Roger Waters today!'"
Revolver: Trent, what role has Roger's music played
in your own life and work?
Trent Reznor: I grew up on a farm in the middle
of nowhere in Pennsylvania. Not to sound too kiss-ass, but when The Wall came out, it was a turning
point for me. I was in high school at the time, and I remember that music had
always been my friend- a companion, the brother I didn't have, or whatever. I
came from a broken home. I was alone a lot as a child. And when The Wall came out, that record seemed
very personal to me, even though I was in a completely different lifestyle,
place and situation than Roger would have been in at that time. I'd never heard
music that had that sort of naked, honest emotion. I had that sense of,
"Wow, I'm not the only person who feels this way." When it came to
start writing my own music, after some failed attempts at generic lyrics, I
realized that if I went inward and took journal entries and turned them into
songs, it seemed to strike a chord in others.
And then I made my second album, The Downward Spiral, I aspired to start
with a story. I tried to write songs that fit into the slots in the plot line.
I soon realized how hard that is. I tried to abandon it. But when I got toward
the end of the record, I realized I had kind of done that anyway- what I
thought I couldn't do.
Roger Waters: Forgive me, Trent. I don't know your work. I tend not
to listen to rock and roll very much - if at all. But it sounds to me as if
what you're doing fulfills all the functions that you've described in my work.
So there are still those kids on farms in the middle of Pennsylvania yearning to find some meaning in their
own lives and discovering it - some of them at least - in music that could be described
as underground, or at least not in the mainstream of popular culture.
Revolver: Both of you have adopted the
full-length concept album as your main medium. You tend to make large
statements about the human condition in your work. What is it like to do that
in the current musical climate, so characterized by disposability, one-off hit
singles, and short attention spans?
Reznor: It's very difficult, as I've discovered
with my most recent record, The Fragile.
It's a double album, and its pretty dense. It takes about five or ten
listenings to really get into it. As a fan, that's what I want when I buy a
record- to dig in and go several layers deep. That's the thing about your work,
Roger. If you look deeper you find things.
Waters: But not everybody wants to go that
Reznor: I fully understand that, too. And I
think there's something to be said for a nice, appealing surface. But when you
want to go looking for a deeper meaning, it out to be there too. But nobody
seems to have the time for that anymore. I guess from hiding in my studio for
the past five years, making The Fragile,
I wasn't quite aware of how disposable the scene had become. It's a tough blow
to withstand - just the way commercialism has turned music into more of a
product than art. You're judged immediately by the first three weeks of your
sales. And if it isn't what somebody at the record label said it would be, then
its a failure.
Waters: But don't you think it was always that
way? All record companies are profit-oriented. The holy grail for them is to
discover the motherlode of popular taste, in order that they should move hugh
numbers of the product. And they were always that way, in my view. Ahmet Ertgen
(Co-founder and current chairman of Atlantic Records) or anybody else. You
know, there are these mystic kind of figures from the early days, like Sam
Phillips. But Sam Phillips wouldn't have stuck with Elvis if people hadn't
bought the records!
Reznor: But are the record companies really
catering to what the public taste is? Or do they, to a degree dictate that
taste to the public? MTV pumps out their boy bands and generic blonde teenage
icons to the masses. And I wonder how much of that public is saying, "What
are we supposed to be like?" And they're bombarded by that.
Waters: I'm sure you're right. MTV is pure Big
Brother. It's pure Brave New World.
And there's no question but that those who make decisions about the way society
works become the arbiters of the quality of human life. In North America, the general trend has been this:
You find a piece of wilderness. If there are people or animals living on it,
you kill them. Then you build a strip mall that contains a number of the most
obviously successful and recognizable icons of the culture you're trying to
spread over the land. So, inevitably, there’s a McDonald's, Sam Goody and all
those other things. I assume the reason for this is that it's convenient for
the policy makers. It provides them with a system where there’s plenty of cream
floating around the top to be skimmed off. And I suppose the reason the human
race goes along with it is that, as yet, we don't know any better. That seems
to be enough for most human beings. Although, if you ask most people, they
don't actually feel a great sense of satisfaction in their lives, buying that
It's interesting, Trent, that you should be voicing these
concerns about this kind of stuff. I find myself not caring about that, really,
or about the way the record industry is or what's going to happen to it. Maybe
that's very selfish of me. But it may be that that wall of unconcern is almost
necessary to some of the rest of us, in order that we should have a reference
point to develop against.
Revolver: Speaking of the demands of the
marketplace, you are both in the midst of preparing DVDs of your recent tours.
What is it like to encapsulate something like a rock and roll tour in this new
Reznor: Roger, is your DVD basically your live
Waters: Yeah, it’s the live show - and a
documentary, if we can get it all on. Well, actually, we can't get it all on.
So I'm trying at the moment to persuade the record company to give the
documentary away with the rest of the stuff. This particular DVD can only be
two and a half hours long, and our show is two and a half hours long. So I'm
under a lot of pressure to edit it, take stuff out.
Reznor: Make your product more appealing to the
Waters: Yeah, exactly. We were under the
pressure with the live album of the shows, as well. "You should really put
this out as a single CD, because it's more marketable." And I confess I
did have a look at editing. I wrote a few song lists and thought, "I can't
do this, this is ridiculous." So we persuaded the record company to sell a
double CD at a reasonable price. I think the live albums should be much less
expensive than studio albums. The costs of making a live album are minimal
compared to a studio album. You just take a mobile or two three gigs, record
them, than choose the best bits.
Revolver: Are you taking the same approach to
your DVD, Trent - a straight document of the show itself?
Reznor: That's the focus of this one. And I'm
taking a very hands-on approach. In the past I've made the mistake of hiring
"the guys who really know how to do this." What happens is your
concert footage ends up looking just like everyone else's. So for this one, we
just got seven good digital cameras and filmed the last 10 shows of the tour
from seven different perspectives - some locked-off shots, some hand-held, a
lot from the audience - to give a sense of what it was like to be there, in a
non-professional kind of way. We adopted that same kind of attitude in
post-production too. We thought we would edit it here in my studio on a Mac in
Final Cut Pro. That led to, "Maybe we could adapt our studio for 5.1
surround sound," which we ended up doing. There have been a lot of
hassles, but it's also been very educational.
Waters: You're lucky enough to be in a position
where you can make those choices, which is great.
Reznor: Well, the timeline might be running out
on that, given the sales of my last record. But I'm trying to keep as much
in-house as possible. You see, I had a really bad experience with my first
record label I was signed to. And when I finally got out of that situation and
onto a new label, I said "Here's the deal. You give me a chunk of money
and I'll give you a record. I don't want A&R. I don't want any of your
interference. I'll give you magazine ads. I'll give you a video. I don't want
your help." So that provided me with an in-house situation where I could
do what I want without meddling fingers from record label strangers.
And now I'm trying to get this DVD done to meet
what is a pretty unrealistic deadline. And trying to get my head around the
fact that almost nobody is ever going to listen to this with the right setup.
Most people can't set a stereo up, let alone six speakers with the right level
balance and the right distance between speakers.
Waters: I actually think you're fighting a
losing battle, trying to recreate anything like the experience of being at a
rock and roll show with a DVD. Basically, they're home movies. I regret not
having made home movies of the Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Radio KAOS
tours. And so I'm glad I will have a home movie of 2000 In The Flesh tour. I
want to have it to put in a cupboard somewhere and maybe show it to my
grandchildren. But I don't know if it's something that interests me that much,
I have to say. I don't really care about it. Frankly, I'd rather be fishing. Or
reading. But you know, I'm 56 years old. How old are you?
Waters: So it's kind of relative. There's 21
years' difference. I might have cared more when I was 35. Not that I'm saying
you will eventually achieve fishing.
Reznor: I'm looking forward to it, actually.
Waters: But from the tenor of this
conversation, it sounds like you're more involved with this stuff than I am.
Reznor: I suppose I can't help it. My first
record came out 10 years ago. It unexpectedly touched a nerve. The second
record got 10 times bigger than we ever expected it. We just happened to be in
the right place at the right time. It propelled us 20 levels higher than we
should have been, really.
Waters: You mean 20 levels more popular.
Reznor: Yeah. You find yourself being
referenced by popular culture now.
Waters: Well, you do. But you can either choose
to reference yourself like that, or not. And we all chose to do that, to a
certain extent. If you're in rock and roll, you have to accept that part of the
reason why you're there is because you like being patted on the back. Probably
didn't get enough of it when you were a kid. That's certainly true of me. If we
didn't have those needs we couldn't be in rock and roll anyway.
Reznor: That's true. But I disappeared for five
years to get my brain straightened out. I came back with a really dense double
album that I think is the best I can do. But it's substantially different from
what I've done in the past. It's not as obvious. And it sold well, but it
didn't sell great. So now I'm settling into this... When I first started out,
I'd ride around the country in a van 10 times if I needed to. I'd do interviews
all day if I needed to...
Waters: But you sound confused by this,
Reznor: Well, I'm getting over the hump of
realizing that I'm settling into what is right for me, artistically. But I
might not be as accessible for mass consumption.
Waters: Well, okay. So it's not. So you've
recognized that. All you need to do is recognize that and then forget about it.
Because it's controllable. I think the one thing you have to understand is that
you can't go chasing the audience. That would be a living death for anyone who
is serious about what they do. It sounds like you're agonizing about this
stuff. And this is now me being wise after the event. I've been through the
same agonies but at the end of the day, I've had to understand that all you can
do is your work. Maybe nobody will buy any of it. That could happen. You might
make a record five years down the road and four people will buy it, you know?
Waters: Modigliani never sold any pictures. Van
Gogh peddled his pictures for a bowl of soup. Some of these geniuses never got
any reward at all in their lifetimes. Except the reward that comes from doing
your work and understanding your connection with the mathematics of life, or
God, or whatever you want to call it.
Reznor: That's obvious to me. But it’s really
nice to hear you say that.
Waters: I've been through some of the same
things, clearly. I've had a couple of big hit singles in my life, when I was
with Pink Floyd. And I feel good about the work that I've done since then,
particularly Amused to Death. I've sold a few records. Not big numbers, but
that’s just the way it is. The cool thing in the moment when you put that last
brush stroke to the painting, stand back and go "Ahhh." You know
you've done good work. That's all you can expect.
Revolver: All these concerns about how your
work is received by the public - do they become more acute, more stressful,
when you're touring?
Waters: Not any more for me. On my last tour
the audiences were ages 15 through 50. But more 20 year olds than anything
else, as far as I could see. And they knew the songs. They like them. The songs
have meaning to them. It was kind of a warm, touchy-feely experience for me.
And I'm ashamed to say that I loved it. I'm now in a state emotionally where I
can recognize, absorb, and enjoy that connection with the audience. Whereas
maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn't. Because I was still essentially the tall
guy in black, standing in the corner scowling at everyone: "Stay away. Leave
Reznor: I know that guy.
Waters: And I don‘t feel like that now. So it was
fun. And we have really good relationships within the band, so I wasn‘t going
through all that muck I went through with Pink Floyd.
Reznor: It‘s gotta feel good to look out and
see an audience of some young people who are just discovering your music,
realizing that it has a timeless quality to it.
Waters: It‘s great. We‘re only just beginning
to discover that about rock and roll. It didn‘t really start until the mid-Fifties,
so it‘s still a very young thing. And it may be that some of us will eventually
turn into Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong. The artists involved in rock and
roll only have to get old enough for people to say, “Hey, what a big surprise.
They lasted. It wasn‘t just an overnight teenage rebellion thing. It was jazz!“
So there‘s room for what you and I do, Trent,
and there‘s room for the boy bands and all the soft porn that‘s out there
masquerading as rock and roll. Actually, it doesn‘t masquerade as rock and
roll. It calls itself Pop music. And I guess it was always that way.
Revolver: Do either of you resent being
portrayed in the media as gloomy purveyors of depressing music?
Reznor: When Nine Inch Nails first got big, I
got labeled as the most gloomy person in the world. I realized in time that my own
self image was starting to become what I’d read about rnyself. Or how I was
being treated by people around me, who only knew what they‘d read about me. So
it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because there was no time for rational
thought amidst the madness of touring and not having a home. No time to get a
perspective of how my life was changing from poverty to wealth, from obscurity
to being some sort of icon. In the end, it took some time to say, “Okay, who is
really underneath all these layers of shit that have been built up?“ From that
point on, you realize that the media‘s just a game. The celebrity thing means
nothing to me. It‘s more of an irritant than anything else.
Waters: About the time Pink Floyd really got
popular — which was after Dark Side of
the Moon  and during The Wall
I guess – I just distanced myself from everything. On the Animals tour  and the one before that we had a publicist, and
his job was to say no [i.e. to interview
requests]. Just politely say no to everything. I did that for years and years.
Looking back on those days, I‘m so glad I refused to do The Tonight Show, refused to speak to Barbara Walters or do the
covers of magazines. Particularly the chat show TV thing. I think if you start
doing that stuff, you‘re saying to people, “Okay I‘m yours. Take me.“
But hey, guys, il faut partir. I must go.
Revolver: Thanks for doing this, Roger.
Waters: Hey, it‘s been a pleasure. And nice
talking to you, Trent.
Reznor: Really nice, Roger.
Waters: Now I’m going to have to buy one of
your records to see who you are.
Reznor: Maybe I‘ll even send you one.
Waters: That would be great. Why not all of
them? That would be good. I look forward to hearing them.