Jahr 2007


Big Cheese





His Dark Materials


Autor: Johnny K.




Having fought off his demons in one sense, Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails are set to open Pandora’s Box with their new album. You’ve been warned…

IT‘S DECEMBER 2006. Most major cities are lit up by decorations that hang like cobwebs above the streets, and crowds of kids are lining up to meet Santa Claus. We, on the other hand, are about to catch up with Trent Reznor. He’s a good man, but Father Christmas he ain’t.

Indeed, if it’s ever Christmas in Trent Reznor‘s world, we don’t think it’s a Christmas we would recognise. Not at first anyway. This doesn’t put us off though - we know to keep looking. All Nine Inch Nails creations seem intimidating at first but get deep enough inside them and you‘ll be able to identify a place you do actually recognise. Indeed, look closely enough, turn the light on or open a window, and you‘ll see that you’re home after all. The realisation will send shivers down your spine.

This is the magic of listening to Nine Inch Nails. At first, each of their records can seem so dark as to be almost impenetrable, and it‘s only natural to question your desire to get entangled with anything that appears so bleak. “What if everything around you isn’t quite as it seems?/What if all the world you used to know is an elaborate dream?“ Reznor asks us on ‘Right Where It Belongs‘ from previous album ‘With Teeth’ and quite rightly we wonder if we really want to think about that kind of philosophy.

To enter into a relationship with a Nine Inch Nails record, however, is an ultimately fulfilling experience. There is so much evidence of why that is the case in the band‘s back catalogue. From the moment debut album ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘ takes off we‘re thrust forward on a disorientating journey that has spun way out of Reznor‘s control. “Hey God, can this world really be as sad as it seems,“ he wants to know just a few minutes into that 1989 debut. We ask him if he‘s found an answer yet. He nods his head. He is neither obviously sad or happy. “I’m afraid it is as sad as it seems, yes,“ he says. We are not surprised.

Not that being involved in a Nine Inch Nails record is a miserable experience. Quite the opposite. It is exhilarating. In 1989 we’d never heard anything like the stark ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘ before. It fused the dance and rock worlds with a laudable disregard for genre, and concerned itself as much with production and programming as it did with songwriting. In fact the disciplines were so intertwined that it proved futile to even try and distinguish them from each other. Each record since that debut has proved a valid extension of that initial statement of ambition, and so its with good reason that we‘re looking forward to the new material which will see the light of day in a few months. In turn, however, we‘re frustrated by the fact that we’ re given nothing of that new work (to be titled Year Zero‘ we‘re told) to listen to today. We hope it‘s not being hidden away from us because it‘s failed to take up where the staggering ‘With Teeth‘ left off.

Trent assures us this is not the case. But he would. We know he’ll say it‘s good too. But we ask him anyway, and encourage him to put ‘Year Zero‘ in context so that we can get some kind of handle on what we‘re dealing with. “I think looking at how this record has developed, and where it‘s come from,“ he explains: ‘it feels like a very different place certainly than the last record. I think it’s a much more confident place and I’m very much more focused on what I’m doing and what it sounds like. ‘With Teeth‘, and particularly ‘The Fragile‘, were both written from different states of mind, were mainly me just feeling around and seeing what happened, getting a collection of songs that kind of felt like an album and then they became the record. Both of those two albums were different in style but they both came about by focusing on the different songs and seeing what happened.“

Reznor pauses and thinks. It is a rare silence. He looks different  with his close cropped hair, but is as easy to talk to as ever- as slick at the interview process as one would imagine an artist who has been asked to explain himself a million times could be. He starts up again on the forthcoming record.

“The new album is more of a cousin to ‘The Downward Spiral‘ in terms of its structure,“ he says: ‘it was written with the focus in mind and then a bunch of songs were written to fill that purpose. It doesn’t sound like ‘The Downward Spiral‘, but the overall approach to it - I mean I knew it was an album, and it had x amount of songs on it, and it was about these things, and then it was a matter of executing it - was similar. So it feels very focused and it’s exciting to me. It doesn’t Sound like ‘With Teeth‘ to me and it’s not a reaction against ‘With Teeth‘. My head‘s in a different space.”

Saying that, though, your attitude still seems to be informed by the problems you faced with addiction? “I think I suffer from a mild case of depression. That’s kind of always lingering around and think on top of that I have some social anxiety issues and I always kind of feel like I don’t fit in. I’m just awkward socially generally. Then you become a big rock star and how are you supposed to act? Am I supposed to act like the other people that seem to know how to act like rock stars?”

So the drug addiction stemmed from a desire to fit in? “I learned that if I added some alcohol into the mix or some cocaine or whatever, suddenly I was cured, and I had a hell of a lot of fun doing that a lot of limes. But that wasn’t the solution. It seemed like a solution and then the next thing you know, you never planned on it. but one day you start to realise life is getting pretty shitty and its getting out of control. When I first picked up on that, I thought I’m going to deal with this right now, but that turned info several years of lying to myself and proving to myself that I’m lying, cheating addict. That was never a part of my plan. I didn‘t think that would happen. It‘s a cliché but I was going to be smarter than that.”

And now that you‘re not involved with drugs any longer, does that mean the record‘s going to feel quite insular and misanthropic? “This time it‘s not about me. This is a different record for me. I know in the past I would write about my perspective on life, but this time I‘ve got out of my own head and tried writing from some different perspectives. So it‘s not all Trent Reznor singing to you about how Trent Reznor feels about this thing that Trent Reznor thinks about.“

Does that mean you‘ve constructed an alter-ego? “It‘s not Ziggy Stardust! I’m not a character, its just different points of view.“ It will be interesting to see how Trent sees things through other people‘s eyes. His music seems to define him as an artist who, although desperately unhappy and discouraged at times, will defend his right to live (out of principle as much as desire maybe) to the bitter end. The mechanical noise that backdrops much of his narrative brings to mind a cornered or caged animal, rather than a creature ort the attack. “It picks up feelings for me to feed upon“, he sings on ‘The Collector‘, and we wonder if he thinks other people have thoughts like this it will be interesting to see Reznor‘s perspective on how other men or women think. The songwriter‘s world is as grizzly as it is melancholy, as grimy as it can be cathartic, and we hope we don‘t lose that incredible dichotomy by looking into other people‘s less extreme imaginations. “It feels exciting,“ he says assuredly. “It feels risky and it feels like it might be a terrible mistake and I think that‘s a good thing!“

Are you, then, enjoying making music as much as you ever have? “I‘ve never fell more passionate about music. I think this record reflects that I’m pushing myself again and it feels like I‘ve even further to go. It feels refreshing that I’m not twenty anymore. People can think I should be kicking back into recycling shit mode, but it feels to me that I’m more energised now in terms of appreciating music and wanting to make great music and challenge myself and the audience. It‘s not the best time from a music company point of view, I mean no record labels are looking forward to experimental records, they‘re trying to keep their heads above water. But fuck it. I never take the easy way and I’m not going to start now.“

That’s an attitude you’ve had since day one. But do you find you‘ve been through too much to relate to the person you were when you first signed a record deal? “I think as an artist it‘s tough to be objective about where you are at the moment, but I can see with some clarity where I have been, and I think, looking back to the beginning I thought ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘

was pretty bold and daring. I haven’t sat down and studied it recently, but some of the songs we play live and they still feel like a chunk of me. It doesn’t feel like I’m just going through the motions. It may not mean the same thing to me as it did then, but the sentiment was pretty elemental and pretty primal so I can still tune into it. I’m just going through some archival footage and video stuff (for the forthcoming live DVD ‘Beside you in time’) that has been floating around. I generally avoid looking at that because it usually makes me cringe or want to jump out of the window, but I had to go and clean some audio up so I was listening to my own voice saying a bunch of shit that you’d say when you’re twenty-four years old and you’re a smart ass. An it’s like I know that guy, he’s a friend to me, but it’s not me anymore. I can see the guy that’s scared, the guy that’s unsure of what he’s doing, and the guy that has confidence and thinks he’s pretty good but is intimidated by the whole process., and I hear that in the songs. I see the guy that’s headed for a terrible mistake in life of falling into drugs and alcohol.”

Do you feel that there was a sense of inevitability about the young man you were becoming embroiled in the lifestyle that you did? “The world of addiction will tell you what you’re disposed to that and it’s a disease, and the seed has been in you. Perhaps the lifestyle, or perhaps the career, or the situation, may have accelerated it, but that time bomb has been in you waiting to happen. I don’t really question that, but the result regardless of where it came from, was pretty clear that things were terrible. Regardless of whether depression fuelled addiction or addiction fuelled depression, or both fuelled each other I know where the end was, and it was a place that cost me time and it cost me a lot of faith in myself. I lost my desire to make music and I lost my desire to live, and that’s where it wound up at.”

It must have been strange feeling that way when, professionally at least, you were successful?

“My whole life I knew what I wanted to do and it was this. Then that dream started to come true, through a lot of hard work, and luck, and being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of opportunities when they cropped up. I was the happiest guy in the world and I just felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world. I loved it but over time things started to erode and that makes you feel more fucked up, like ‘Okay, I was miserable, but I got everything I wanted and I’m still miserable, what the fuck’s wrong with me?’ I didn’t know.”

Have you figured it out since?

“Looking back, a lot of my life was not balanced very well. Once I had the opportunity to get a record deal, I didn’t have to clean toilets to make a living. I could do so by making music, and put all my effort into that. I didn’t spend any time on things like girlfriends or relationships. That all seemed secondary, like ‘Anyone can do that’. I put all my effort into this and it seems pretty obvious now that a one-sided life doesn’t necessarily equate to any kind of fulfilled happiness or contentment, or peace, or serenity of any kind. I’m not saying my actions right now are any better that that but at least I think II know where I fucked up before!”

This knowledge, Reznor thinks, will be enough to keep him in a settled stat of mind, and means he really is in a “different space” to the one he was in when telling us about ‘With Teeth’ for the first time. Sometimes, he can seem to reiterate feelings he voiced during the press for that album, but when he does, it only serves to emphasise the subtleties of the process he’s going through. The issues still seem very current to him, and although Reznor is candid, and we’re sure he’s intelligent enough to know that drug addictions sell records, we don’t pick up on anything cynical in his attitude toward once more confirming his problems as public knowledge.

Musically, it should be easy to pick up on the progression from ‘With Teeth’. Nine Inch Nails have, says Trent, shifted back away from the use of live instruments. “I think I might be a little de-sensitized by what we’ve done here,” he laughs: “I’ve played the record to one person outside Alan (Moulder, producer), myself and Atticus Ross (producer/programmer). I didn’t hear anything about it from that person, so I wrote and mentioned that it was a little on the dense side, but you will here songs emerge from it. His comment was: ‘A little on the dense side… Jesus Christ’ There’s very little guitar, there aren’t any drums, it’s all a collage of sound. I’m not saying there aren’t things that sound like drums, but there’s o Dave Grohl sitting down and playing drums on this record, it’s not a guitar based record. I don’t know what it is! The sound came out and it felt like the right thing to do. That’s one way that it’s very different from ‘With teeth’. ‘With Teeth’ was written imaging real drums and then having real drums, real bass, real guitar, and primarily pretty straight ahead musical arrangement. This record is kind of the opposite of that.”

Expect some changes from the last album, then, but don’t expect a wholesale shift in perspective. Reznor may be a long way from the craziness that surrounded his epic ‘Fragile’ album and, before that, the recording of ‘Antichrist Superstar’ with Marilyn Manson. And we do expect to be stunned by the forthcoming ‘Year Zero’, but we don’t suppose, despite Trent’s more grounded emotional state, that it will stray too far from the boggy, treacherous terrain of his previous releases. ‘The Downward Spiral’ (the violent 1994 horror which artists such as Chimaria’s Mark Hunter and LostProphets’ Ian Watkins count amongst their favourite albums of all time) may have been recorded in the house where Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate, but the recent disaster in New Orleans would have resonated with Reznor on a deeper level, and had more definite impact on his mood. It wasn’t long ago that he had his Nothing Studios out there, and living in New Orleans, he said affectionately, was like being on a different planet.

It would have been an appropriate place for Reznor to work, then, seeing as with each new release he offers us a different planet of his own. Father Christmas may not live there. But strange and interesting things happen all the time. In the weirdest way, it’s a very wonderful world.

Words Johnny K