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Juli 2005

 

 Fighting Tooth And Nail

 

  Words: John Doran

 

 

 

 

 

After finally admitting to himself that he was in the merciless grip of alcohol and drug addiction, Trent Reznor (aka Nine Inch Nails) got himself clean four years ago. The only question was: could he cut it as an artist while sober?

The road to success and happiness as a rock star is littered with hellish mistakes, misfortune and bad intentions. For Trent Reznor, the only ‘industrial rock Star of the 90s to successfully make the transition to the top flight, those things included becoming addicted to booze and cocaine; a public nervous breakdown Nine Inch Nails‘ — ie. his —1999 album The Fragile); his best friend being murdered; even a very ill-advised dalliance with that walking advertisement for pregnancy being legally intelligence-tested, Courtney Love.

But now that Reznor has dealt with the worst of those problems (and got over his friend‘s untimely death, and kicked coke and booze), he‘s ready to release With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails‘ new album and greatest artistic statement since NIN‘s 1994 album The Downward Spiral.

But now that his days consist of orange juice and early nights, can he still cut the angst-ridden and hellishly programmed mustard?

With Teeth is markedly different from The Fragile and even The Downward Spiral. Do you think that‘s in any way down to lifestyle changes you‘ve gone through?

For sure. I don‘t even know where to Start. With The Fragile, it was the first album I’d recorded from start to finish in my own studio. And this time I just got back to demo-ing things again, like I did with Pretty Hate Machine a million years ago. I moved up to Los Angeles with a bunch of chord changes, for a change of scenery, and said I‘ll finish a song every two days — done and playable. And at the end I had 30 songs that I was happy with. As for lifestyle changes, I was finally coming to terms with being an addict.

This was alcohol and cocaine?

Yeah. But it could have been anything. It could have been floor cleaner if it would have gotten me high. Without wanting to sound like I’m at an AA meeting, it is impossible to underestimate the changes that quitting has had on mc on all levels. The reason the record took a while to get going was I just wanted to take some time to come to terms with what was going on.

My troubles began around the time of The Downward Spiral. It seemed like the sudden explosion of fame, money and tension, set against the background of being on tour forever... I didn‘t really know who I was, and I was defining myself by what I read about myself. And discovering during that tour that I loved cocaine. As soon as you realise that and you‘re on tour, you also realise that everyone you know on tour has always got drugs all of the time.

When did you kick it properly?

In 2001 my best friend at the time was this black guy from the projects [ low-income housing areas] who worked for me. I trusted him with my life; he had keys to my house and everything. He got murdered. Someone shot him in the face. And that was what it took for me to take my situation seriously. I suddenly thought that I would be next. I might not turn up with a bulletin the face, but I could see that I was going in end up killing myself in a car or falling out of a window or something stupid like that.

There are some positively upbeat moments on the new album. Is that down to the  ‘new you‘?

I agree, but I don‘t think the record is cheery overall. But I have new things to think about. And I‘ve found I can think again and I can concentrate a thousand times better. Also, it is less internalised and more about external concerns. All of these songs were written a couple of years into being clean.

It was odd, because when I would work on songs like Only and All The Love In The World and realise how they were coming out, a voice would pop up and say: “Oh, that‘s not right for Nine Inch Nails“, or ‘You do this as an experiment, but you can‘t release it“. But I had more courage to say in the voices in my head: ‘It‘s up to me what‘s right and what isn‘t right for NIN“. I like it. Maybe it isn‘t the ‘right‘ thing to do, but it was what I wanted to do.

How did Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl end up being involved?

One thing that I wanted to employ on this record was live drums. What I wanted was music that supported the message. And the message wasn‘t real secure. On a few of the tracks I wanted this real ‘bashing‘ element, and one of the phrases that would come up was Dave Grohl-esque drumming. And we all knew what that meant. Not just in Nirvana, but in Queens Of The Stone Age, Probot and Killing Joke as well, the drums stood out as an exciting element. And after a while I just thought: “Why don‘t I call Dave Grohl?“ And he said he‘d love to work on the album, and within a few days he was at the studio recording. I‘d met him a few times socially, but he wasn‘t a friend or anything. It was a great experience. He understood immediately what we wanted.

How did you feel when you heard .Johnny Cash‘s cover of your song Hurt?

I‘d been friends with [ record producer] Rick Rubin for a long time, and he called me and said: “How do you feel about Johnny Cash covering it?“ And I just said okay and that was it. To be frank, I thought the work that Rick did with Johnny was really good, but there was the occasional song that felt forced, a cover that felt a little bit gimmicky, and I hoped that it didn‘t fall into that category.

The [Johnny Cash] CD turned up when I was in my studio, and I wasn‘t really in the right frame of mind, and to be honest it just felt wrong. It was a tasteful rendition, but hearing his voice on my song... I didn‘t know about that. I was like: “This isn‘t your fucking song, this is my fucking song“.

A little bit of time later I saw the video, and that‘s when it grabbed my attention and I really started thinking about it. And by the end I had goosebumps and I was welling up with tears. I couldn‘t believe how powerful it was. Suddenly the song made complete sense. And I said goodbye to my song because it wasn‘t mine any more.

When Courtney Love took up with Kurt Cobain, Julian Cope took out a full-page ad in the NME saying: Free us from Nancy Spungen-fixated heroin a-holes who cling to our greatest rock groups and suck out their brains‘. Do you wish you‘d seen that advert?

Did he really do that? Oh, that‘s right, he got ‘targeted‘ for a while didn‘t he? The poor guy. I like Julian Cope. Yeah, I wish I bad seen that advert.

NIN‘s With Teeth is released out now on Universal Music.

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