“I‘m not the messenger
of hope, by any means, but....“ the none-more-black Trent Reznor - named best
artist in A.P.‘s readers poll awards - lets a little sunshine in while blasting
the industry of music, revealing his ambitious plans for 2001 and arguing that
fans deserve more from today‘s music.
New Orleans. An Old Testament-style rain has
been steadily beating the Crescent City‘s voodoo-loving ass for 48 hours and
has only now slowed to a drizzle. Few of the City‘s inhabitants and visitors
are pleased with the punishing treatment from elements, and most have responded
by staying indoors. Trent Reznor is no exception. Inside the office of his
converted-mortuary studio, however, the contrary dark prince of rock is - you
guessed it -smiling and admitting he‘s in an “unusually pleasant mood.“ Is he
always so happy when it rains? Probably only as much as the rest of us
appreciate a good excuse to remain at home and getting things done.
But Trent needs no excuse. He reveals that
he‘s been in “hermit mode“ since completing the Fragility tour this summer and
that he rarely leaves nothing studios, where he‘s currently editing down hours
of live footage and mixing the audio for a DVD and live album, scheduled for
release early this year. He‘s also in “no-partying mode,“ which means iced tea
and coffee have replaced his usual rock poison of Budweiser and Tequila. That‘s
not to say he isn‘t having fun. As he readily admits, working in the studio is
his form of fun, although the room full of arcade games on the studio‘s second
floor, the two game-dedicated PCs in his office and the jet skis parked in the
studio garage reveal that Reznor has at least some time for un-NIN-like
There is also reason to believe that a more
positive outlook for this self-admitted “moody tucker“ is not just a temporary
thing. After some pundits - including his label, Interscope, according to Trent
- tagged his ambitious, years-in-the making double disc The Fragile a commercial bomb, Trent has reassessed the reasons
he‘s making music and seems comfortable with the conclusion. And it it‘s not
much of a stretch to say that nothing studios is Trent Reznor, it‘s worth noting that the main room has recently
been completely rewired so that every piece of equipment - ranging from state-of-the-art
effects processors to vintage keyboards; a techhead‘s cream dream, really - is
readily available for action. It‘s not a bad metaphor for Reznor and his brain.
Though he responds to questions using what English professors call
circumlocution, he always comes back around to the answer, no matter how many
entertaining detours he takes to explain himself (his dry wit is also in especially
With Trent currently toying with concepts for
several projects he‘d like to pursue in 2001 - a new direction for Nine Inch
Nails, a female-fronted collaboration, a “democratic“ band and the anticipated
Tapeworm project - it seemed like a good time to catch up with him. Since his
promotional duties for The Fragile
have long ended, this conversation also gave him a chance to verbalize what‘s
been running through his head lately. In one of his most candid interviews in
years, Trent - who works best when he‘s at odds with the establishment,
remember - proves he‘s far from ready to slip into the void.
recently completed a world tour and earned a vacation, what made you want to
come back to the studio and immediately begin work on the live album when you
could‘ve hired the job out to somebody?
I‘ve found that when you work in a studio all
the time, it becomes one big instrument: it‘s like practicing. When you‘re out
of that environment for quite a while, it‘s like, “Am I getting older and
dumber because I‘ve forgotten how to do this?“ It takes a while to get back in
practice, like with an instrument. So this was a good catalyst to get us back
up to speed in the studio. Also, when you‘re working with synths and computers
and digital stuff, [the technology] is moving forward so quickly that it you‘re
out of the loop for a year, you‘re way behind. Not that any of that really
matters, because it all comes down to having an idea and executing it.
I take it you feel
more comfortable these days being the guy in the studio rather than the persona
you‘ve created for the stage.
It‘s strange, because in the Pretty Hate
Machine era, the studio was a tearful place. I really didn‘t know what I was
doing, and it‘s a lot of mental pressure to come up with good ideas and innovations.
Then the performance side of it‘s like the reward. Every night you get the
instant gratification. That was then. I really enjoyed touring and preferred it
to sitting in the studio with a blank piece of paper and a pencil and the clocks
ticking and - “Where‘s that lyric?“ But when you get some degree of fame, it
changes things - expectations change; privacy gets invaded. I‘m not an
incredibly outgoing person to start with and when you add to that - if you go
out to eat and you see people staring at you, it makes you wanna stay inside
more. And that‘s not something I’m proud of; I don‘t think that‘s the answer to
anything. And coming oft this last tour, I was really looking forward to coming
back and doing something that I think is ultimately more important, which is
creating rather than executing. Not that shows aren‘t fun; I really enjoy
playing. And I was actually out an unprecedented two times this week seeing
Who‘d you see?
The Dandy Warhols, who were excellent. And I
liked them to start with - they‘re friends of mine. They played a 300-seat club
above House Of Blues, and I was thinking, “That‘s what I miss about playing.“ I’m
not saying I miss the shithole bars, but a club where you can see the band and
there aren‘t 100 security guys with walkie-talkies and laminates and all the
bullshit that comes with arena-sized sports venues. And it is a novelty for a
while, but it becomes less real and more sterile. The last few tours we‘ve done
have been arenas, and you could be anywhere - it‘s cement, you‘ve got blue
curtains blocking oft some area that‘s a dressing room with the same wilted
lunchmeat and stale carrot sticks on a tray.
So the ‘70s cliché of
the isolated rock star portrayed in Pink Floyd‘s The Wall still holds true?
It seems that way. When I spoke with [former Pink
Floyd leader] Roger Waters, there were some parallels [between us], but the difference is
he‘s had huge-selling records and I haven‘t. His attitude is “Do what you want;
fuck anything else. Honestly, I‘d rather be out fishing than be in the studio.“
But he‘s got the luxury of financial security and he‘s made a name for himself.
I don‘t feel like I’m anywhere near... not the money side of it, that‘s not
what concerns me, just... I want that fire, getting in there and fighting to
get out what I want out.
Did it surprise you that
he was so complacent?
When you consider his age - and I had the same
kind of conversation with David Bowie when we were out with him... I mean, I’m
35 right now, and I feel different than I did five years ago, definitely.
Things I‘d never consider then - now I can entertain the idea of a family or
some degree of commitment to somebody or stability. Where before it was like,
“No fucking way.“ I can see how priorities might change. When I was out with Bowie, he seemed like a genuinely happy,
content guy. He came out of his period that I think I was in—and kind of still
am—of mental chaos.
Would you trade the
chaos that feeds your work for that kind of happiness?
No, I wouldn‘t.
That seems to be the
big difference. Roger Waters has done great work In the past, but he seems to
have lost the fire.
I’m at a serious crossroads right now, a lot of
which has to do with the climate of the record industry; a lot of which has to
do with the record label we‘re on and the treatment we received from them - and
trying to put things in perspective of what‘s happened in the past few years,
reassessing why I’m doing this. When I started, I never really cared about
money as long as the gas bill got paid. I’d like to have it, but it‘s not why I’m
doing what I do. And [Nine Inch Nails manager/nothing co-owner John Malm] and I
had the goal of - “ Hey, if we could get a label like Nettwerk to finance a
12-inch... Okay, that‘s the start. We‘ll see what happens.“ We weren‘t trying
to get a major-label deal; we weren‘t ready; we didn‘t know what we wanted.
And the climate of the
music Industry was shit back then as well, as far as the mainstream...
It was pre-Alternative-music explosion; it was
boiling under. Guns N‘ Roses still ruled the world. But back then there was a
healthy amount of independent labels that had cool niches before the major
labels bought them up and before the big corporations bought the major labels.
Anyway, when we unexpectedly got popular, it‘s strange how priorities can - “Well,
we really do need a single on this record…” Things I’d never even thought about
before. And when I did The Fragile, I
purposely tried to get all of that out of my head and say, I just want to make
a record from my subconscious that feels like the right thing to do. I’m not
concerned if radio will play it because I don‘t listen to radio. MTV‘s
unbearable... I’m just gonna make a record that I want to make.“ Now there are
so many things through that Universal pipeline that it‘s like shooting a
shitgun at the wall - “One piece sticks? Okay, well follow that. The others
fall down? Forget lt.“ It‘s a little disheartening, ‘cause you realize you‘re
involved with a corporation that just wants to move product. Period.
It wasn‘t that way
when you first signed on?
Not at all. They sold out to cash in. Now the
excuse is, “We‘ve got people above us that are going for those quarterly profit
margins.“ A lot of times, a band like us, when you look at the numbers on paper
and the amount of effort put info it versus a disposable hip-hop act that
markets itself or a boy band or a cloned Britney Spears type - it‘s the fad of
the moment and tomorrow when it‘s over, who cares? We‘re on to the next thing -
it‘s tough. It‘s a tough climate when you‘re on a major label trying to do any
thing that requires a little attention. Now, a good exception to that is - I
think the new Radiohead record is really good. And I was never a Radiohead fan,
because with “Creep“ I lumped them into gimmicky, slacker crap rock. But I
think [ Kid A] is a daring record; it‘s interesting to me.
What‘s the next step
for you, then? Do you want to continue the trend toward autonomy with nothing,
as you have with your studio, Web site and merchandising?
We‘re looking into our options for nothing.
John and I have old-school ideals. We love music. We‘d also like to have people
involved with us who love music - and let‘s put out stuff we believe is good
and try to create the best environment to nurture that. And the best
environment is not taking a record like Autechre to lnterscope and saying,
“Here‘s the new thing.“ And they‘re like [ imitates a baffled executive], “What
is this? Is this finished? Did you somehow send us a data CD?“ They don‘t understand
how to promote something like that. We just need to find the right place for
that - if there is a right place.
But as far as my general thoughts on the state
of the music industry - it has to be nearing critical mass of that same thing
that happened when punk destroyed the ELOs of the world, or when whatever
happened in the early ‘90s wiped out hair metal. I would think people are
getting to the saturation point with the everything‘s-okay teenage-pop world.
But that doesn‘t even bother me; it serves its purpose. The most insincere form
of music now is the false-angst rap-rock crap.
Speaking of which,
what‘s the deal with the song on the new Limp Bizkit album where Fred Durst tries
to diss you using your own lyrics? Didn‘t he have to get your permission to use
There‘s a place for stupid music; sometimes
dumb rock is a good thing. But when it‘s at the level of retardation, it‘s just
offensive to me. And wrapped in this pseudo look-how-credible-we-are,
prey-upon-black-culture offensiveness.... Anyway, I‘ve said some shit... With
that particular incident, I kept hearing rumors that, “Oooo, big Fred‘s writing
a song about you it‘s like, “Okay. Bring it on.“ And then - I don‘t know lt lt
was an oversight or what - but most of my lyrics are the chorus of the song, so
he had to ask my permission as the record‘s going to print and it‘s the title
track of the album.... [laughs] It‘s like, “Did you not think?“ Then when I heard it, I thought the best thing to do was to
say, “Take lt. The proof is in your song.“
So in a weird turn of
events, you‘re actually making money from Limp Bizkit album sales?
I’ll get a fair amount. I didn‘t take him to
the cleaners; I wasn‘t going to hold up the record. Where does [stooping to
that level] get you? I‘ve had Courtney Love make up stories before.... It‘s
frustrating to just bite your lip and let it go, but....
It seems like you have
at least one thing in common with Courtney Love now, as far as your gripe with
I realize it‘s been a long time since I‘ve
spoken to anyone in the record business who has a passion for music. Isn‘t that
why you‘re in it? And I think the global answer now is, “No, it‘s because I can
make a shitload of money moving units to a demographic.“ If you‘re an artist
like Britney Spears, that‘s what you do - you‘re just a puppet who does her
thing. But if you‘re trying to make art - to sound pretentious - if you‘re
trying to make something that might have some lasting credibility or beauty or
that makes a statement, It‘s like trying to sell fine art at Wal-Mart.
But you, like
Radiohead, are one of the few acts who can work within the mainstream - sell records and chart - while maintaining your
See, that‘s another weird thing - I never
thought we‘d be that. When Wax Trax! was ruling the world and its acts were
selling between 50 to 100 thousand records, they could do what you wanted - they
didn‘t have huge expectations, but they consistently got the message out. It‘s
weird when you blow up above that into the next league... I went through a real
phase of hating it, because “Now I’m not cool anymore. Too many people know
about it.“ That snotty-nosed indie mentality: if your kid sister likes it, it
can‘t be cool, so off to the next thing. But then I realized there‘s something
to be said for - I did what I wanted to do and I didn‘t pander to an audience
just to make money. And somehow I touched a nerve with some people.“ And maybe
I‘ve tried to keep pushing [my audience]. I could make an album that‘s
unlistenable and go, “Oh, you don‘t get it. You‘re not smart enough,“ and
Sonic-Youth-out on everybody, but I like the idea of having something that‘s
accessible, but challenging. And again, I think Radiohead are good in that
sense. And I like what Blur are doing.
What‘s next for you musically,
then? You‘ve talked about doing a female-fronted project, which is an
I want to start a new project where I’m doing
music and someone else is doing vocals and lyrics, and base what I do on what
she has, rather than her trying to fit into what I have - find someone who has
not only an interesting voice and sound, but has a statement or a perspective
And have you found
No. There are possibilities, but I haven‘t
kicked into 100-percent dedication to that at the moment. A Lot of stuff I come
up with doesn‘t really fit in with what I think Nine Inch Nails should be, and
rather than just throw it out... Another idea I‘ve been talking about for years
is just getting a band together that is a democracy where I’m not calling all
the shots, unlike Nine Inch Nails.
So a Tin Machine
That‘s not a good example.
Hey, some people like
that first album.
I think I met those two people at a show in Boston. No, something that‘s more
collaborative. I think it will make Nine Inch Nails better because I’m
basically in hiding. I’m living in a City that‘s in the middle of nowhere. And The Fragile was a very insular,
all-done-in-this room type of thing, without much attention to
what was going on outside. That can be good and bad: Good that you might not be
swayed by a trend of the moment; but bad in the sense that you might have
limited input or you‘re just regurgitating the same thing. So I’m trying to
open up a bit and start on different things. And also just reassess... Who
really cares about commercial success, because look at what‘s successful.
That was a bitter pill to swallow with The Fragile, where [producer] Alan
Moulder and I were sitting in here for two years - and rarely was there a day
where we felt like, “Let‘s go get guns and kill ourselves, ‘cause what are we
doing?“ It was also like, “I can‘t wait for people to hear this.“ And knowing
also that it wasn‘t a big commercial record, and yet it comes out and - Wow.
No. 1. Whoa! I never had…” Then next
week: Wow... No. 600... I‘ve set a Billboard record…” Not one I’m necessarily proud of: Biggest Drop
From No. 1 Ever in Billboard‘s history. “Okay... Do I get a plaque for that?“ [laughs] Which I didn‘t. They should give
out awards for the biggest fuck-ups. It sold about 800,000 in America as a
double album, and - “Oh, it‘s a commercial failure because someone at Interscope
thought it should sell 1.5 million“ - defining the difference between a
commercial success and an artistic success.
And it started beating me down a bit, ‘cause we
were on the road and I’m just thinking, “Okay.... Maybe.... Is it over? Do
people not like what we wanna do anymore?“ And then when I got off the road,
the first thing I did was put on the record, because I hadn‘t heard it in quite
a while. And I was reminded of how much I love it. And I don‘t wanna sound like
I’m saying my shit doesn‘t stink. It‘s tough for me to say, “We can‘t wait for
people to hear how great this is.“ But that‘s how we felt in the studio, and
you have to feel that way or why put it out?
So that was all happening around the same time
we‘d run into some difficulties with Interscope and we were deciding where to
take nothing. Nine Inch Nails will still be on Interscope, but other things I
do could be happening else where. And the whole idea of “Why am I doing this?“
1Ithink popular music can be better than it is now. I think there can be more
innovation. People aren‘t that stupid. I’m just trying to figure out what‘s
inspiring me right now.
So as far as the Almost Famous question - what is it you like most about music? Can
you distill that at
I can right now; I couldn‘t six months ago. All
the other things start overshadowing what you got into it for. When I was 23 or
so, I made a conscious decision to stop my life and just pursue music. At that
point, I thought I had some thing in my head I had to get out. I needed to
create, and I was afraid to create because I didn‘t know if my music would suck
or not. And when I got over that hump and sheepishly let people hear what I was
doing and got a good response, that fed itself. And then I felt better about
myself, because I thought I could take this nauseous feeling I had in my head
and turn it into something that might make me feel better in a cathartic kind
of way. But also other people seemed to be able to relate to it. They don‘t
know what I’m talking about, but somehow I’m able to connect with some aspect
of their lives that is troubled about something.
And then the feeling of being in your bed room
with a notebook or in the studio and doing something that you really think is
good. That feeling. The feeling when you think your record is finally done and
it‘s beautiful, it‘s what you - [humbly exultant]
“Yes!“ And the feeling of being onstage and seeing people screaming your lyrics
back at you - some form of connection that I think enriches people‘s Lives, in
a way. Even if you‘re singing about something that‘s terrible, the fact that
you‘re not the only person who has felt that way. I think something good comes
out of that. Not that I’m the messenger of hope, by any means, but....
Those things are why I do it. I could do other
things, but I wouldn‘t have the passion. I dropped out of college for that
reason; I can do calculus, but I realize I’m in a class full of people who love
doing calculus, and I’m just thinking I’d much rather be playing music, so fuck
it. I think my quote at the time was, ‘Id rather be digging ditches when I’m 40
years old and say at least I tried and fucked up, then never to have tried at
I’m a moody fucker, too, and I go through
feelings of ‘I don‘t want to do this anymore.“ The tedious nature of the
business side of music can beat you down. Right now, I really feel positive
about seeing what comes out musically. What I‘ve been doing besides this DVD
thing is going in and noodling around with musical ideas.
I‘ve got about 50 bits of might-be-a-verse,
might-be-a-chorus-basic chunks of things just to see what‘s inspirational. For
example, when thought of this next Nine Inch Nails record, I thought it was
going to be all synth-aggressive, but no guitars. Just so I didn‘t kick back
into The Fragile mode where
everything was, “What real Instrument can we use and process? How ‘bout a
mandolin? How ‘bout a…”
So it‘s a reaction to
the whole drawn-out process of the last album.
Well, I think it‘s healthy to start out with a
new set of parameters to work within so I don‘t just fall back into starting
where left off with The Fragile. And
allowing that to mutate. Because The Fragile
started off as - “It‘s going to be a maximum of eight tracks, and that‘s it.“
think we ended up averaging 95 tracks per song [laughs] That was a matter of just messing around and seeing what
was inspirational at the time. And that time, wanted the idea of a decayed,
organic-sounding record that‘s still fucked-up, but not based on throbbing
disco bass lines. [Pauses for effect]
So now it‘s throbbing disco bass lines.
Have you considered
doing something as simple as a Bowie Pin Ups-style album where
you‘re interpreting your favorite songs using the Nine Inch Nails sound?
The idea has crossed my mind and it would be a
lot easier removing the songwriting process and just arranging stuff, which I
find fun to do and less painful, I suppose. But think the way that will
manifest itself is on the occasional b-side. I think those things are usually
the last resort - “We need a record and we‘re stuck; let‘s pick our favorites
songs.“ Not that there aren‘t good covers albums. I mean Duran Duran‘s [Thank You]
was pretty spectacular. [The band‘s cover of Public Enemy‘s] “911 is A Joke“ is
still a milestone of artistic achievement [laughs]
Don‘t you think someone would‘ve said, “That‘s a bad idea, guys“?
I think Nick Rhodes
manages the band now, if that tells you anything. So, the Tapeworm project: Do
you now regret admitting it exists since the fans keep asking when it‘ll be released?
No, it does exist. There‘s a bunch of tracks
floating around, but right now we‘re just searching for an identity that
Initially, it was
going to be an album with a revolving cast of singers, right?
Where it stands at the moment is: Danny
Lohner‘s contributed a lot of songs; Charlie Clouser‘s contributed a lot of
songs; I‘ve got leftover songs that are better for that than for Nine Inch
Nails. And the original concept was to have a core of maybe two to three
singers. At one point it was Tool‘s Maynard James Keenan, Pantera‘s Phil
Anselmo and me, and maybe Helmet‘s Page Hamilton. But what it has lacked and
what‘s getting worked out now is, 1 don‘t want it to sound like 10 different
bands, 10 different singers, and here‘s a synth song, here‘s a rock song,
So the music itself is
pretty diverse, too.
Well, it needs someone to come in and give it a
cohesiveness so it sounds like a project rather than b-side Nine Inch Nails
music with different people singing on it. It needs to have an identity. And I‘ve
been so busy with other things that it got back-burnered. Now there‘s an
unbelievable amount of music ready to go. But I want to get my head back in the
studio, allow myself time to think without deadline pressure before I put
something serious into motion that might not be fully thought out, and then I
realize that now I‘ve got a band that sounds just like Nine Inch Nails with
Pantera‘s singer. And if I’m doing some thing else, I want to make sure it‘s
not all inter changeable: ‘Sounds like Trent did lt.“ That‘s the last thing I
Is that why the idea
of a project with a female singer attracted you in the first place, because it
would instantly distinguish it from Nine Inch Nails?
What attracted me was - if you could juxtapose
the soulfulness of an Erykah Badu or Sade or Macy Gray with an alien landscape
- if you put that on Gary Numan‘s Telekon album - it could either be the worst
thing ever created or it might sound like a much more soulful and aggressive
Portishead... that‘s not a great example.... Just something that‘s not going to
be someone like me singing over music I wrote. There aren‘t that many male vocalists
I find exciting right now that aren‘t from the Eddie Vedder school of...
whatever the fuck kind of singing that is. And I just thought it would be
interesting to have a feminine sensibility in here. It‘s at the conceptual
stage right now; it could easily be a disaster and never be heard. I just
thought it would be cool to do a project that was two worlds of music that
haven‘t been together, done well.
So what do you do to
blow off steam after marathon studio sessions? Looks like you play a lot of video
Yeah. I‘ve got a real active social life right
now [laughs] No, I‘ve been in hermit
mode, realty. I‘ve been in no-partying mode just to clear my head up. I‘ve been
keeping pretty low key right now, planning out my next move. And I think we‘ve
got a positive vibe in the studio right now. Everybody‘s got their own little
things they‘re working on. It seemed like in the past when we‘d set up shop,
there was always something - some one‘s disrupting the energy or someone‘s mad
at someone else and there‘s some little Real World - type scenario going on. I
am truly excited about starting on new things. Just approaching it with a fully
open mind. That was dumb. Sorry... [takes a hit off an imaginary joint and
adopts the voice of a bogarting hippie] “...just to have no pressure, you know?
One day at a time, man.“
To wind down the
interview, I brought along a few of the Readers Poll ballots And not to
frighten you, but in addition to Best Artist and Best Live Act, you also won
Artist You‘d Most Like To Stalk if You Were Invisible.
And the reason one
person thought you were stalkable was because “I love his music and he
intrigues me.“ Someone else writes, “Could anyone be more interesting and
outrage] You‘re just making that up! You can‘t print that!
Another person writes,
“He‘s enigmatic, dark, intense and actually sounds like he‘s literate.“
Fooled that person....
So - the fans are
still out there.
five of them.
Anything else you want
[Pauses to take stock] I’m in an unusually
calm, pleasant mood right now.
That could change
Oh, by the end of the day....