different about Trent Reznor. As James Gill discovers, not only is the dour
mastermind back with his most swiftly-produced Inch Nails album to date, he‘s
actually sounding… upbeat. Be afraid.
It‘s impossible to tell if anyone‘s on stage.
The Glasgow Academy is dense with smoke, and you can
just make out a silhouette clutching the mic stand: “Hello pigs,“ comes a voice from the fog. Lights flash, the music
starts, and the dark spectres slowly emerge from the smoke to reveal the cast
of this theatre macabre before they throw themselves soul-first into a two hour
flight of blackened, angst-ridden fancy. Nine Inch Nails‘ great architect,
Trent Reznor, throws his guitar and the mic stand around and spits his
despondent lyrics into the microphone. But there‘s something wrong and I
worryingly alien to the spectacle. He smiles, jokes with his bandmates, and
banters with the crowd. He‘s famously misanthropic, but tonight he seems
friendly — as if the dark cloud that has for so long hung over his head has gone.
It‘s worrying. “Manchester sucked last night, but you guys are fucking
awesome!“ he says with a grin. ‘Show me you‘re better than those fuckers!“ Has the
voice of a disillusioned-generation undergone a permanent misery-bypass?
The next morning Trent is holed-up at his hotel
to talk about the new album, ‘Year Zero’ it‘s there that our worst fears are confirmed.
Trent is happy. It usually takes over
half a decade for a new Nine Inch Nails album to surface. Not this time. May
2005 saw the release of ‘With Teeth‘, the long-awaited follow up to 1999’s
helplessness and despair of drug addiction committed to tape, ‘The Fragile’.
Now, both clean and sober, Reznor is on a roll. Having woken up from a deep
dependency, he has found that the creative juices are still flowing, and in
under two years, ‘With Teeth‘s successor, ‘Year Zero‘ is ready to hit the
Two years ago when Hammer spoke to the newly
drug-free Trent, he was in good health, but his manner still painted a picture of an
anxious sociophobe. Conversation carne uneasily with little eye-contact. Today the
classically-trained musician is the relaxed and sunny antithesis of his former
Explaining when and how he started this new
album, Trent admits that it had a lot to do with boredom. That while, “It‘s fun to
play the show the rest of the day is just waiting around. So he started working
with the ‘limitation‘ that all he had was a laptop, and so, “some cool stuff started
After the With Teeth tour, he decided against
taking a break. He started expanding the ideas he‘d created using only his
laptop, and the lyrical concept was born. Trent had just moved to Los Angeles - an incongruous choice for the
renowned antisocial - from where he‘d previously moved to isolate himself, New Orleans.
“I didn‘t go to LA for the culture,“ he says
smiling a wry smile. “I moved there to be around my peers. The fake tits and
celebrity bullshit is all there, but it‘s not all that’s there. You don‘t see me out, or see pictures of me
shopping - I’m repulsed by it to be quite frank - but I needed to be around
people who do what I do, to make the whole ‘Year Zero‘ thing happen.“
With everything going so swimmingly, Trent
moved from his new home to a remote and “creepy“ house in the Californian hills
to write and build lyrics out of his concept.
Disappearing into the woodwork for a while, the
isolation allowed him to escape the usual urban distractions, and Trent centred himself. After three months
on the far side of nowhere, all that remained was the odd nip and tuck, and
‘Year Zero‘ was road-ready. The new record was not to be simply another album
of gloomy introspection, but the first of two albums: a big picture political
narrative about a dystopian very near future in which a selfish people abuse their
world and have to suffer the consequences, and an elusive force called, The
“Oh hey, we can talk about that“, Trent says
before addressing the label person charged with keeping his schedule running on
time, “Give me five more minutes, OK?“ Reaching the end of our allotted
interview time, we mention something that he‘s keen to talk about, and he
extends our interview. Shocked that the socially anxious recluse would want to
spend more time being probed, we sit
The dark singer explains that the main purpose
of the record was to call attention to the totalitarian political climate and
how we are destroying ourselves and our planet.
“It was an epiphany of sorts. And it revolves
around sobriety,“ he explains with detachment. “When you‘re an addict you feel
like your problems are the biggest problems in the world. I’m not saying I can
change the world, but now I feel like it’s my duty as a human to do try and do
Trent has admitted that when he quit
drugs he was worried that he wouldn‘t be able to write again, but that ‘With
Teeth‘ proved he could. Does his lyrical choice of a fictional concept suggest
he no longer has personal demons to confront?
During our conversation he says, ‘I was writing
fiction for the first time,“ before quickly reassuring us that, “it‘s clearly
fiction. I couldn‘t write another ‘Downward Spiral‘ because that would be
So is ‘the concept‘ a substitute for personal
exorcism? Or are you really just tapping into emotions that are fast fading
into the rear view mirror?
“This is a good question because…” He stops for
a few seconds and averts his eyes.
“Let me just think about this for a sec.“ Again
he pauses. The silence is uncomfortable. “I’ll just keep my mouth shut.“ About
what? “I know you‘re baiting me,“ he says smiling warmly. “When the day comes
that I have to hire the flavour of the day to write my records for me so I can
sound like what my records used to sound like so I can make money... just stick
a fork in me. Honestly. I don‘t mean to sound like I’m on a high horse here but
when it gets to that state, that‘s absolutely not what I’m about. From
principle. I’ll walk the highway before I start doing that shit.“
Trent becomes animated as he asserts that
whether or not you like Nine Inch Nails, loved or hated this or that record, he
made them all for the right reasons, “because it means more to me than anything
else in my life. I can sleep well at night — when I can sleep — knowing that I
have always kept that pure.“
It is hard to believe that Year Zero‘s subject
matter is as separated from real-life as Trent wants not only US, but himself to
believe. It‘s easy to draw parallels between Year Zero‘ and Trent‘s own story:
abuse of body/planet, an ambivalent force against which you have no power, be
it addiction or The Presence, and having to cope with the aftermath. Year Zero‘
is far more autobiographical than Trent admits.
While he says that it was a conscious decision
not to let the words just pour out of him, he also says that he, “didn‘t spend
a whole lot of time thinking, ‘Am I writing as a character?“ adding, “It‘s just
what came out.“
But, whether he agrees or not, nothing is ever truly fictional: you can only write what
“For anything to be believable it has to have
‘you‘ in it,“ he says, indirectly denying the suggestion that ‘Year Zero‘ is as
much about his life as it is a futuristic setting.
Trent is happy in the way that only someone
who has returned from the brink of autoextinction can enjoy.
“And I don‘t have the darkness,“ he says in a
manner that proves his point. “I’m not ready to jump out that window. And a few
years ago I was.“
When he wrote 1994‘s ‘The Downward Spiral‘ the
demons were closing in on him. When he wrote 1992‘s ‘Broken‘ he thought his
musical career was over. During 1999‘s ‘The Fragile‘ he was trying to fight his
way out of addiction.
Each album is an accurate picture of where his
head was at that time. ‘Year Zero‘ is no different.
“I haven‘t found out the answers,“ he says,
“but I’m not at war with myself as much as I was.“
Trent goes on to admit that his troubles
continued into sobriety.
“I was a fuck up, and I had fucked a lot of
shit up — maybe even my career. So I approached ‘With Teeth‘ with kid gloves —
slightly afraid to touch it at all. I look back now and see things I wouldn‘t
do again,“ he says honestly. This lack of confidence meant he allowed too many
people to comment an the album before it was finished. “I wasn‘t in a place to
say, ‘thanks, but I disagree. This time I didn‘t let anybody in.“
Did that make you want to indulge again?
“No,“ he says honestly. “I gotta say, truly
not. When I got clean, I had really had enough. I wasn‘t thinking, ‘maybe I’ll
get clean. Maybe I’ll try out’. I spent several years making sure that I’d had
enough! I reached a point where there was no romance, no illusion of fun, so
even in dark times now, I honestly don‘t look back like, ‘ah, if I could just
he taps his arm and simulates injecting, laughing at the thought. “I’m not
saying that can‘t happen. I could walk out of here, go get a drink and within a
week I could be,“ he looks pensively out the window, “dead, or he pauses again,
“Who knows what? But I’m not interested in doing that. I’m an a path of healthiness.
The process of working on this record has been more rewarding than any other
I fucked up relationships and my health, but I
never wanted to abuse music like that.“
It‘s hard to imagine that only a few years ago
he was knocking at death‘s door. Whatever he sees as the conceptual basis for
‘Year Zero‘, it’s about more than addiction. It‘s about a man catching himself before
going over the edge; the struggle to redefine himself. It‘s a new day for Trent
Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Long may it continue.