Jahr 2001



Danke, Nils!

Alternative Press,


Februar 2001



Photography by Myriam Santos-Kayda

Story by Robert Cherry


“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 pastimes.

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 sharp form).

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.

Considering you 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 other bands.

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 those?

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 Interscope.

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 integrity.

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 intriguing idea.

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 that‘s interesting.

And have you found that person?

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 scenario?

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 this point?

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 all.“

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 defines it.

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, here‘s a...

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 wanna do.

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 games.

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.

Oh, God....

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 talented?”

[Mock, 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.

 At least five of them.

Anything else you want to add?

[Pauses to take stock] I’m in an unusually calm, pleasant mood right now.

That could change though...

Oh, by the end of the day....