Jahr 2005


New Musical Express


30. April 2005


 It was time to decide whether

I wanted to live or die


  Autor: Ian Winwood in London

Photo: Andrea Giacobbe




After “accidentally” OD-ing on heroin and spending five years making a new album, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor is back from the dead

Words: Ian Winwood in London

Photographs: Andrea Giacobbe/Art Department in NYC

Trent Reznor knew he‘d fucked things up when the doors of the psychiatric hospital he was being held in locked shut. They were, he noticed, the kind of doors that could be opened from the outside but not from within. All around him ere characters at the heavy end of the disorder industry: junkies, alcoholics, co-dependents, people in the throes of fits from delirium tremors. The hospital was called River Oaks, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Reznor‘s ticket in was an addiction to alcohol. His side dish was cocaine. He hated the stuff, but he didn‘t half like the smell.

A couple of days previous to this, Reznor‘s friend had been shot in the face and killed. His name was Rodney Robertson, “a product of the (housing) projects of New Orleans.“ Robertson worked in Reznor‘s studio and would look after his house when he was away on tour. In return, Trent Reznor would bail Rodney Robertson out of jail on “at least ten occasions‘ One day his mum called, crying, wondering if the singer had seen her son. As luck wouldn‘t have it, Reznor turned on the television and saw a shot of Robertson‘s truck, beneath a photo of Robertson‘s face; he turned up the sound and found that his employee and friend had been murdered. An African-American male in his mid-20s from the harshest projects in one of America‘s most dangerous cities, “the police just chalked him up as a number.“

“That event just triggered something in me,“ says Trent Reznor today. I just hoisted up the white flag and said, ‘OK, I can‘t do this anymore‘ So I decided to check myself into the psych‘ ward. At this point there were two ways I could have gone: I could have died or I could have tried to get better. There was no question that that was the state I was in, and that those were the two choices facing me.“

For certain people Trent Reznor — who to all intents and purposes is Nine Inch Nails — may as well be called Morrissey for the devotion he commands. Despite releasing just four ‘proper‘ albums in a 16-year span (‘Pretty Hate Machine‘, ‘The Downward Spiral ‘The Fragile‘ and now the new ‘With Teeth‘) the man‘s music, a sometimes pulverising, sometimes mesmerising psycho-electronic sulk, has attracted at least two million fans who only seem to wake up when it‘s Nine... o‘clock. Their two shows at the London Astoria in March sold out in an hour, with tickets fetching upwards of £250 on eBay. The band‘s UK tour in July (four nights at Brixton Academy included) sold out within the day. Elsewhere, Trent Reznor has been responsible for introducing the world to Marilyn Manson (for his work on that man‘s breakthrough Antichrist Superstar‘ album), for producing the groundbreaking ‘Natural Born Killers‘ soundtrack disc and for giving the late Johnny Cash his final moment of greatness, with The Man In Black‘s inspired cover version of NIN‘s ‘Hurt.

He‘s sat today in the near palatial surroundings of an apartment in London‘s Hertford Street, W1, owned by the fantastically exclusive Metropolitan Hotel. With a voice that makes Barry White sound like SpongeBob Squarepants, he‘s dressed in a black T-shirt, green combats and black army boots. His hair is centre-parted, expensively dyed (black — must you ask?). He‘s looking you straight in the eye and telling you all this intimate stuff. The original question was simple enough: how come it‘s taken him more than five years to release a new album? The response is a little more complex, and it takes him 25 minutes to answer, but booze‘n‘toot would be the basic synopsis.

It all started to happen on the tour to promote ‘The Downward Spiral‘ (1994), when Nine Inch Nails “went from a big band to a huge band.“ Until this point Trent Reznor, with one or two periods of exception, had foresworn cocaine as something he‘d understood to be “intrinsically evil‘. But on this tour he was drinking a lot, and soon enough the process of leaning forward and breathing in became second nature. He would be drinking every day, lots and lots of booze, and looking forward to the end of the show “so I could have a line, at least‘. He discovered that almost every one of the 30 people on the crew were holding and felt as if he “had suddenly gained the keys to some kind of secret club‘. Then, rather than resting when he finally finished touring he went straight into the studio to produce ‘Antichrist Superstar‘, a time he describes as “like being on the road, only waking up in the same place every day. Again he would be drinking every day in large quantities; every other day he would be scoring an ‘eight ball‘ — three and a half grammes of cocaine that would keep him awake for hours. At the end of this period, “with everyone gone and me realising that things were not OK‘ Trent Reznor finally admitted defeat and decided to check himself into rehab. It didn‘t work.

“I was telling myself that I was not the same as other people who were addicted,“ he says. “It was all about me lying to myself, about me making excuses for myself. I‘d have special moments, such as waking up in the hospital, finding out that I’d overdosed on heroin. I‘ve never done heroin...“

Hang on, I’m confused.

“So was I. I‘d wake up with a tube in my mouth thinking, ‘Where the fuck am I‘? Well, you know that coke you got from that cab driver last night? Well, it wasn‘t coke. We found you upstairs and we couldn‘t wake you up, so here you are in the hospital:‘


“Like I said, it was time to decide whether I wanted to live or die.”

Finally clean, ‘With Teeth‘ is the sound of Trent Reznor deciding that he wishes to live after all. With all this time elapsed, it‘s strangely easy to take a stab at the significance of this man‘s work over the past decade and a half. It might be that he sails his ship alone, it might be that he hasn‘t, for whatever reason, succumbed to the record industry routine of an album every other year. But with a catalogue that can be viewed in terms of quality over quantity the man‘s purity remains unsullied. It‘s almost as if the creative freedom found in 1992, the time when Nine Inch Nails, along with Nirvana, Jane‘s Addiction, Soundgarden and Tool proved to the world that rock music didn‘t have to be stupid in order to be successful.

Trent Reznor doesn‘t agree: “Things have gone back to exactly where they were (in the ‘8os). And it seems as if music is as bad now as it ever was. The people who actually make music are the janitors of the business. I‘m a janitor. Whatever power we may have had back in the early ‘90s has been taken back.“ But still, ‘With Teeth‘ is the kind of album made by a man who is unlikely to be forced to discuss the subject of ‘creative freedom‘ at record company planning meetings. Its release was shrouded in secrecy to an almost laughable degree: no preview copies were allowed out, and anyone attending a listening party was forced to hand in their mobile phone before entering the room. The wait, though, was certainly worth it. With a range that extends from pummelling disdain to hypnotic melody, it is the work of a man who rarely speaks. But when he dons it‘s always compelling.

Just ask the 3,400 people who piled into the Astoria over two nights in the last week of March. Backlit in typically elusive light, it was an almost humble Trent Reznor who stood before the adoring crowd and thanked them “for coming out tonight‘ And a word about that crowd: then noise they make when in the presence of their idol is comparable to someone letting off fireworks inside a Boeing jet engine. There is no released song that Reznor could play that these people would not recognise every note and every word of. And bad he chosen to return five years after this, or even a decade later, these people would surely have still been here. After all, all you need is love.

“I guess it is something, yeah,“ he concedes, on the subject of the unreserved adoration he appears to receive from people he‘s never met. “It‘s quite a strange thing to think about. I‘m a very insular person so I tend not to ponder the effect the music I make might have on other people, or on how the effect it has on them might impact on me. I understand I‘m fortunate to be able to do this for a living, but my creative process is very self-contained. I don‘t think about why it is that people might like what I do, if that‘s what you mean. I make music for myself it really is as simple as that. As to why it seems to have such an impact on some of the people who hear it, I couldn‘t exactly say...“

If you had to guess?

“I‘d guess that these people really like music,“ comes the answer, with a smile.