Itís been six years
since Trent Reznor released The Fragile, and more than four years since Nine
Inch Nails last toured, A lot has changed in Reznorís world, and nowhere is
that more present than in new release With Teeth. Less epic in its structure
than The Fragile double-disk, Teeth is Reznor refined to a songwriting sheen,
rather than navigating a colossal musical landscape.
The songs still radiate
with the thrust and tenacity inherent in Nine Inch Nails, but they do so with a
bounce and vibrancy that breathes new life into the band, now featuring former
Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White, Icarus line guitarist Aaron North,
returning drummer Jerome Dillon, and keyboardist Alessandro Cortini. At their
heaviest, theyíre industrial-fueled with a metallic surge, but thereís also an
adherence to structural simplicity that harkens back to Reznorís Pretty Hate
Machine. With Teeth isnít as pissed off and dark as The Downward Spiral, or as
emotionally bogged down and cumbersome as The Fragile. And rightfully so--
Neither is Reznor.
Metal Edge sat down with
the Nine Inch Nails mastermind to discuss the changes in the new album, as well
as the changes in his lifeÖ
Was With Teeth
approached with a different direction in mind than previous albums?
Well, I went about writing in a different way. The
last couple records, Downward Spiral and The Fragile, I realized I had written
in the studio - being that I donít have a band to rehearse songs with, the
studio becomes my instrument, and I had finally gotten a really nice place with
everything I needed in it. I was realizing that the writing process was
starting to become the same as the arranging and production process. It was all
happening at the same time, there werenít and demos anymore - Iíd just go in
the studio and come out with the songs finished, pretty much. This time around
for whatever reason, I wanted to get back to doing demos and start from a
Instead of starting with sounds and textures and
that sort of thing, I started with words and melodies. So I moved out to L.A. and set up a place that
purposely didnít have much in it, just a piano and a drum machine, and a
computer to record into. I set an every-week-and-a-half kind of deadline that
didnít allow me any time to really go off on a tangent, and let me just focus
on the core of the song, then go back later and flush things out. And I think
working that way made the record turn out more song-based, and less sounds
cape. I donít think thatís better or worse, itís just a different way of
working that seemed like the right thing to do.
Was this influenced by
what youíve done in the past? This album seems like the antithesis of the
It very much is the complete opposite way of working
than that. Iím really happy with the way that The Fragile came out, and the way
that we did it was insane, but my headís in a completely different space now
than it was when I did that record. It seemed like I had a different set of
tools available this time, in my own brain, and it made more sense to try and
go at it this way. And when I started it, it just kind of fell out of my head
immediately. It was a pleasant experience. I didnít start it until January of
last year, and it was done being written by May, with another almost ten songs
left over. I recorded it last summer and mixed it last fall - in terms of the
actual working time of the record, itís pretty short I thinkÖ although it took
me a few years to get started.
Thatís got to be a first
- a ďpleasant experienceĒ with a Nine Inch Nails record?
Well, working on the records is always in the vein
of being genuinely challenging, but pleasant and fun to do. Itís the hardest
thing in the word, but I donít hate doing it. Itís usually something I look
forward to getting into. Along the way, if I look back at every record, thereís
always been a song or two, or three, that becomes an immensely difficult
challenge and fights you from the beginning to the end. This time around, plans
pretty much worked, strategies come together, the overall way we went about
doing it worked, and nothing was a real problem.
This album strikes me as
a cross between the first couple of records-- Really different than The
Fragile. Does it take getting something as epic as that out of your system, to
go back to something this song-oriented again?
I think a change has been, Iím sober now. Thatís
also what took so long for this record to come out. I was just at a point were
I wasnít functional anymore. I was going to either seriously die, or I had to
get better. Right after that last tour is when I decided it was time to get my
shit together. The time between that, and when I started - it amounted to a
couple of years - I decided to take off just to feel comfortable in my own
skin. Iíd really reached a bottom where I hated myself, and I didnít think I
could write or do anything. And I couldnít, at that point. I wanted to get back
to just feeling like I was on Earth, and feeling okay about myself before I
jumped into doing a record.
For the first time since Iíd gotten a record deal, I
thought it might be a good idea to spend some time on me the person, instead of
just rushing into the next thing that Iím gonna get done in time, chasing after
working music, whatever it is, career kind of shit. So I took some time,
started to feel better, and worked on myself quite a bit. I messed around in
the studio on a number of different things, and when I started on this record,
I had my confidence back as a person and was in a much clearer headspace. I
opened a notebook to see what was in there, in my head, and a lot of stuff was
bottled up that I couldnít get out before. I know thatís why I work on this
record this way. The Fragile, I was on a slippery slope of lying to myself
about what condition I was really in, I couldnít think very clearly. What I
could do in the studio was improvise, creating these insane, soundscape-type
things that kind of turn into songs, turn on each other, and go off on
tangents. Thatís why The Fragile sounded the way that it did. I couldnít have
answered this question then, because I couldnít see where I really was then.
But in hindsight, I can see that I was working the
only way that I could at the time. I was trying to overcompensate for what I
think I knew inside - that I was fucking up. I do think that this record does
sound different. I think itís much more song-based. Again the reason I go into
that story is, itís not at all that The Fragile didnít sell so great, so Iím
gonna make a song record. That didnít cross my mind. The fragile come out the
way it did because it was the only record I could make then. This record the
idea of putting as much time and madness into it, I didnít imagine doing it
that way, this time.
So the Fragile is
definitely indicative of your headspace at that time...
As far as inspiration
for the songs go, and the physical writing process, was this one of the easier
albums for you to make?
Getting from point A in my brain to point B on a
computer somewhere was a much easier process. I was fearing it would be the
opposite of that, and being fucked up was an inspiration, or some kind of tool.
Iím glad to discover that it was just the opposite of that. By the end, when I
was high all the time, I couldnít think, and I didnít want to think, if I canít
think, and I canít write, well, I might as well just get fucked up, because
what else am I gonna do?
Does the industry build
into that a lot? Does it strip the artist from their art, really beating you
down, in a sense?
Addiction, or the industry?
The industry. Not trying
to make excuses, but does the industry play a role in the process that leads to
Well, I learned a lot about addiction that I didnít
know until I discovered that ďWow, Iím an addict.Ē I didnít really have that in
the cards, I didnít plan that out - that happened to other people, but not me.
For a long time, I thought it was about being weak, and weak-willed. But when
you learn about what the disease of addiction is, you learn that you are that,
and if I was a used car salesman, Iíd still be that. Maybe the business of
being in the industry might be a faster track of getting from the beginning to
the end, because you get in less trouble -if youíre a doctor and youíre fucked
up, youíre not going to have a job, but if youíre a rock star and youíre fucked
up, itís pretty much encouraged, almost.
But, I think you find a lot of addicts are creative
people - the chemistry of their brain, sometimes, might work that way? I donít
know if that has something to do with it. I do know that, for me, personally, I
wasnít equipped to deal with fame, the aspects of stardom, suddenly getting a
lot of money, suddenly everybody wants to be your friends, itís a party for you
every night, and everybody wants to sleep with you and give you stuff. You
think thatís a cool thing - and there are cool things about that - but thatís
not why I got into playing music. When I found myself caught up in this kind of
whirlwind, my method of dealing with it, as an addict, was to just tune out.
That made it okay, and for a while that worked. But it doesnít work, and I
It seems really easy to
notice those patterns when theyíre happening to other people, but you donít see
people in the industry doing a lot to help prevent that kind of behavior. Do
you think itís a control issue? Are artists easier to ďcontrolĒ when theyíre
Itís an interesting point that you raise, and there
could be some validity to it, but I think itís important not to get confused -
an addict's an addict. I would have wound up in the same place, regardless of
whether I had a record contract or not. But, you look at tragic figures in
music, you see that. Kurt Cobain - didnít anybody come in and try and stop him?
He killed himself because he was a drug addict, and he was depressed. I donít
know the guy, so Iím not speaking with any kind of authority here, but it seems
like the tragedy of that situation is, wasnít there anyone that could intervene
in some capacity? All the warning signs were there, it wasnít big surprise.
Itís the Elvis situation - itís somebody rich, who everybodyís afraid to say no
to, so you just watch them die. Itís happening to Michael Jackson right now.
Heís obviously still high, you know?
Itís much easier to look
at an artist thatís not part of the mainstream and blame addiction on their
lifestyle, than it is to do the same to someone in a more commercial avenue,
whether it be pop music, the movies, whateverÖ
And, right down the street at your clinics, with
nurses, doctors, judges, lawyers and even the street bums. Itís not
particularly selective when it comes to who becomes an addict. Having this job,
Iíve got a job where I can get away with drinking beer all day long, itís
expected, and that certainly sped the process up. People handing me bags of
cocaine all day long eliminated the hassle of going out and acquiring it. So it
may have put the foot on the gas peddle, but it didnít create the problem.
Does sobriety change the
way that you can view your catalog? Does The Downward Spiral mean something
different to you now?
I can look back - from The Downward Spiral on - and
it was during that tour that problems started to arise. Prior to that I would
have considered myself pretty normal. With The Downward Spiral, I can remember
where I was in my head, what I was thinking, and I can remember writing that
record, and the mindset. This record that was about an extension of me, became
the truth fulfilling itself. With The Fragile, I can see how I was writing the
record with a clarity that I certainly didnít have then. It makes a lot more
sense that it is what it is now, and thatís interesting. When I sit down and
write, the number one priority is that I always try and be as honest as I can
with myself when I do it.
Looking at Pretty Hate Machine, Iím not the same guy
now. I wouldnít write that album again. But Iím not embarrassed by it. I donít
cringe when I hear it, because I know that guy. I remember what he was going
through, and it was fifteen years ago that wrote that record. And itís the same
with Downward Spiral. But The Fragile is hard for me to listen to right now. I
just did for the first time about a month ago, for the first time since Iíve
been clean, which is over four years now. It struck me how scared I was when I
wrote that record, because I couldnít think. I felt like I had maybe destroyed
my brain, and was being boxed into a corner. I wanted to make a record, and I
was trying the best I could to do whatever I could to do it. What I was doing
felt good to me, in terms of musical output, but it was from a place that was a
different part of my brain.
How long did you go without
music? You said you started the album last January.
In June 2001, I got clean, and I was as scared as I
ever want to be, to be honest with you. I said I would do anything, whatever I
was told to do--I had tried to get clean earlier, and I listened, and I thought
I bought into it, but in my heart I really didnít believe that I really had a
problem. When I tested it every which way, and discovered I did have a problem,
I would do anything that was told to me to fix myself, and one of those things
was just to take it easy. At that point, I didnít care if I had a career
anymore. I just wanted to be alive. I wanted to like myself again. I took some
time off, and I took it easy on myself for a change. For the next couple of
years, I was working on stuff.
I worked on some demos with Maynard [Keenan] from
Tool that didnít work out very well, and I did some tracks with Zach [de la
Rocha] from Rage Against The Machine, and theyíll probably never see the light
of day. I produced an album for a band that was on my label, 12 Rounds, but the
label then took a shit, and that record will probably never come outÖ they
werenít any stellar projects, but I wasnít avoiding music. I was a bit reticent
to open the notebook and test myself, because I didnít want to discover that,
ďWow, I really canít write.Ē Or that I really did fuck myself up, or whatever
it might be.
It was too early in sobriety. I just wanted to get
back to gravity pulling me down, the sun rising in the east, and living on
Earth. In that time there wasnít any record label telling me I had to do
anything, because they know better than to attempt to talk to me about any of
that shit. Iíd also assumed that it was probably the end of my career, because
itís not realistic to think you could vanish off the face of the earth for five
years and still have people be interested in what youíre doing. I would have
done things differently if I could have controlled them, but I couldnít.
Anyway, when I started working on the record, it just started to fall into place.
Everything started to feel good about myself, and I felt the music was vital. I
felt like I had bottled up a lot of ideas that I couldnít fit on one record,
even, and now Iím doing interviews about it.
Was it intimidating
working with artists of that stature, so early in your sobriety, and not having
it work? I can see where that might have been a setback.
Of those three things, I thought the 12 rounds stuff
was good, it was just out of my hands why it didnít happen. The Zack stuff, I
like what we did, but - without getting too far into detail - I donít think
Zack was ready to make a record. I see a lot of my fear-based traits in him. I
think he will, eventually, make a great record, but heís going to have to have
the balls to do it, which he didnít at the time. He was trapped in a corner
that he placed himself in - ĒI donít want to do anything that sounds like Rage
Against The Machine.Ē Okay, then try thisÖ ďI canít do that, it doesnít sound
like Rage Against The Machine.Ē Okay, thatís something youíve gotta figure out!
[Laughing] The Maynard stuff was just a matter of
experimenting in a world of democracy. The problem Iíve learned about democracy
is, four people means two on one side, and two on the other, I think what that
came down to, to be quite frank, was that I wanted to make something
experimental and challenging, and interesting to me, and another faction in the
band wanted to make something that the radio would play - and I couldnít give a
fuck less what radio would play. I donít listen to the radio, and itís not like
what we were coming up withÖ it wasnít this, it wasnít that, and it was kind
of, ďehhhÖĒ Thereís no way I would be involved in something, myself, that
invokes that reaction, and I wasnít up to the fight on that one. That was
disappointing, but it was the right thing to do. If you think something sucks
that Iíve done, blame me, because I did it, and I did like it, There are some
things that Iím not crazy about now, in hindsight, but everything, at the time,
felt like the right thing to do. I canít think of anything that made me go,
ďWell, fuck, that was kind of shitty, but I got paid a lot for itÖ
You may have doubted it
would be here, but there is a lot of anticipation for this record. Did it
surprise you that people have missed Nine Inch Nails?
Iím humbled, and Iím totally surprised. One thing I
have learned in the past five years is humility. I have learned that Iím not
right all the time, and I donít know everything. Iíve learned that I can learn
from other people that have other things to say, and I need other people. These
are all new concepts to me. And, Iím just grateful to be alive, and not hate
myself, and not have to lie to myself, to be honest with you. I faced a big
challenge a year-and-a-half ago and started working on a record, and I think it
really turned out great. Then much to my surprise, the record label thinks itís
great - thatís weird.
Then, we start selling shows out, and it seems like
more people like us now than five years ago, and I canít explain that. Iím not
trying to figure it out. It can all change tomorrow, but right now I really
donít have much to complain about. I just played five shows sober, and that was
a challenge for me. Not that I wanted to go out and get fucked up, but the last
year-and-a-half of my life touring, an 2000, every show, before weíd go on, Iíd
get sick. Iíd have a panic attack, and if I didnít have a drink, Iíd literally
be vomiting backstage, because my body was addicted to alcohol. Thatís how the
tour started. There was that memory, and when these shows were coming up, I
wondered - ďWhat happens if, twenty minutes before the show, I start shacking?Ē
I have to admit, that morning of the first show, it felt funny. But I got
onstage, played a great show, and I havenít thought about it since then. Iíve
replaced that bad memory with a good one.
The times Iíve been
around you in a backstage setting, youíve been out of control, even a bit
destructive. In the midst of it, it plays into the myth of Nine Inch Nails - is
it a completely different approach to touring now?
In that context, yes. Itís changed every part of my
life. Not to sound like an AA handbook or anything, but it truly has changed
everything - my friends, what Iím into, what interests me, my way of
interacting with people in lifeÖ Iím not out preaching or scolding, and if
people in the band drink, itís not that big of a deal to me. But Iím older,
too. I donít regret whatís happened to me. If I could have saved a few years in
there, Iíd have liked to. If I could have skipped some of the worst times, Iíd
have liked to have done that. But the end result is, I feel like, right now,
Iím in a good place. Whatever it took to get me here, I like where Iím at now.
Iím not carrying a big bag of shit around with me; and Iím not hiding a world
of lies and trouble that I felt like I had with me in the pastÖ
With Teeth makes a lot
more sense know what went into it. I got the impression that itís a more
optimistic record - even innocent, in a way.
My headspace is different. It wasnít written over a
period of five years, it was written starting last year, two years clean at
that point. Thatís a tough one for me to answerÖ I donít think itís a happy
record, but I do agree that itís not as filled with despair as the other stuff
has been. As I havenít been.
Where does the album
title tie in?
A lot of whatís on the record is about my feelings
with life right now, and trying to find my role in it. When I came up with
that, I just thought it was something interesting, Plus, itíll tie in nicely
with my Polident sponsorship. [Laughing]
A lot of the songs seem
like they could be written about your past. Songs like ďThe Hand That Feeds,Ē
ďThe Line Begins To BlurĒÖ
No, most of itís written from the present tense.
This record started as a conceptual thing with a long story I was trying to
tell, and I had it all planned out before I went in and started writing. When I
started writing, and the songs started coming out, I thought they were good
songs, and I didnít think I had to try and be heavy-handed and try and wedge
them into a bigger concept, and tie them together. It wasnít out of laziness,
it was because I was able to subjectively look at the stuff and know that it
would be stronger as a collection of thirteen songs, rather than an epic
concept album. At that point, I was a few songs into it, and I thought Iíd just
go with what feels right to me, instinctually, and not get bogged down in this
pretentious concept. Part of the concept was waking up in what might be a
dream, but not being able to wake up from it. It seems like a life you think
you had, but thereís some profoundly different aspects to it. Maybe youíre on a
different planet. Maybe fate has sent you different things that donít make
sense. Am I going crazy? A lot of it was analogies for getting sober, but I was
trying to keep it creative enough where it wasnít this boring ďrock star gets
sober: record that was incredibly tedious to even think about.
tends to happen a lot when artists sober, especially in the world of hard rock
and heavy metal. Excuse the pun, but their music loses its teeth. That
definitely didnít happen with this album.
I think a lot of times, as people get older - and I
see this in myself - priorities shift, and commitment to music shifts. In my
own case - which is the only thing I can talk with any authority - when I was
at the end of being fucked up, playing music was just a job and an irritant,
and it didnít bring me happiness. It didnít bring me anything but more
pressure, more people, more things and more misery. Iíd somehow forgotten that
I loved music. In the midst of me fighting everything in the world, Iíd also
turned on myself and - this might sound cheesy - Iíd forgotten the magic of
music, the beauty of it, and the importance of it. Itís not about record sales,
MP3s and marketing plans, itís about music, and the way it affects you
emotionally, the way that you can communicate with people through it, and the
way that you can relate to people through art. Iíd forgotten that. Getting
clean re-energized my commitment to that, and made me think about it in a
totally different way. It made me appreciate it a lot more, and made me more
committed to the right things. Iíll sit and do interviews, and Iíll do a tour,
and Iíll do this and that, for now. But the part that means the most, is the
way the person experiences it, and the way they get the experience through the
music. Right now, in my life, staying alive is number one, and music is number
You said you didnít want
to do an epic, sweeping concept album, even though you had planned on it. Once
you got started, did the response to The Fragile come into play?
What it was, was, when the songs started to come
out, I had the courage to say to myself, ďThese are good songsÖĒ In the
arrangement process, a lot of those stripped-down demoís turned into the final
versions. Again, itís not out of laziness. When I took the song to the studio,
re-recorded stuff and tried to do it ďright,Ē trying to sing the vocals fifty
different ways, the one that I did quickly, the first time, was the best,
because it sounds real. It doesnít need a thousand layers around it, because it
sounds good the way it is. I wouldnít have had the courage to say that in the
past. That was just one more way that it felt free to me. I wasnít living in a
world of being afraid of things like I was in the past. There was a lot of fear
involved in past record making. It wasnít good enough for me, and I had to keep
adding stuff. Sometimes I think that worked out great, and sometimes it was
like an obsessive compulsive disorder in the ways it manifested itself.
computers, and their importance to you. What is you songwriting process like?
Iíve always had a computer as a writing tool, but
generally write - and this record was written--on the piano. What was different
about this than the last two records was that it started with just chord
accompaniments, and vocals and lyrics. That was usually the last thing that
went into the songs the last time out. Not because that was the strategy, but
the result of being in the studio and having lots of cool things to fuck around
with that were more interesting than a piano. Iím not saying one wayís right and
one wayís wrong, but this time around I felt like approaching from the
different direction, and it turned out different. It might have regressed in a
way, but it felt like the right thing to do.
Youíve only done five
shows at this point, but how does it feel live?
I couldnít ask for it to be any better. Itís been a
long time since Iíve been onstage, and Iíve been wondering if it was going to
feel pertinent and vital. Weíve spent a lot of time working on the new music,
and everything older that we play, we wanted to make sure we all felt good
about them. Maybe itís rearranged, or maybe, if they donít sound vital, we just
donít play them anymore. I look at the set list now, and for the first time
ever, Iím not dreading playing any song. Iím excited about everything.
Youíve got a theatre
tour that will lead into the release of the album. What are your plans beyond
that, touring wise?
Theatres, then we go to Europe in the summer and do festivals,
and weíre going to do arenaís in the fall.
Dolls are opening for you now. Any plans on openers for the other tours yet?
Saul Williams is going to open for us in Europe, heís from LA, and weíre just
going to break it up so it sounds different every time we go out. With The Dresden
Dolls, I wanted to step away from a traditional rock band, and I thought their
record was interesting. I though lyrically it was really good, and weird, and
if you donít know who they were, and you came in, theyíd be interesting enough
to put up with for a half hour. My goal is, if the showís from eight-to-eleven,
you want to be there at eight. I canít say Iíve always succeeded in doing that,
but thatís the thought that goes into it. Make it an event, and maybe open
peopleís eyes up, one way or another.