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Secret Web Sites, Coded Messages: The New World of Immersive Games.
Wired contributing editor Frank Rose
interviewed Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor at his house in Beverly Hills on October
Rose: So, as you know, I'm doing a piece on ARGs and focusing on 42
[Entertainment] and Year Zero. And I've spent most of the last day and a
half with the Year Zero people going over that, and sort of
Reznor: The 42 guys?
Rose: Yeah, I'm sorry, with the 42 guys, right, right. In fact
Reznor: (You met) Susan and Alex?
Rose: Yeah, exactly. In fact, this morning Susan took me to the place where you
did the sort of secret concert. [laughs] That was a pretty great location. And
so anyway, I just wanted to, you know, first off get a sense of how you got
started. What was the impetus for you in terms of doing this? I gather you
Reznor: Yeah, on my end what had happened was I was on tour from 2005ish-toured
for about a year and a half, almost two years for the With Teeth album.
And while on tour I realized OK, I'm bored. You know, it's fun to play that two
hours a day, but the rest of the time is (kind of wasted). And I started
messing about on-I'd never had any luck writing music on tour because I never
had the kind of attention span. And this time I opened up laptops and, you
know, everything had advanced so much that you actually get a very nice
recording experience now contained
Rose: Right, right.
Reznor: So, I started working (about) some music and ideas, and that led to quite
a bit of ideas. It ended up being-when the tour was finished last a year ago
just now I had more than an album's worth of musical ideas that seemed fertile
and interesting. And lyrically I'd been toying around with the idea of taking
Nine Inch Nails out of being just a narrative about my own head and addressing
something that had gotten higher up on the list of importance to me over the
years, which has just been kind of what's happening in America and the
direction we've taken as a country. And it felt kind of dangerous to expand
Nine Inch Nails into that, and risky, and that seemed like at this point in my
life a good thing. And so I worked from the idea that I was going to set this
record 15 or so years into the future. And I was going to write it from various
points of view of people in that world and have no real narrative that went
from point A to B, but just glimpses, snapshots, Polaroids going by. And it
started as an experiment of just seeing how that would work, and within the
month the album was pretty much written, which is extremely fast for me. And I
knew, OK, I'm four-fifths of the way there, I'm committed to this idea. And it
still feels good and it still feels like when I first started I didn't know
if it would just be terrible or if it might be all right, you know. And as it
started going it "feeled" itself and it turned into something that
really felt strong to me. But I wound up with a problem at the end. And the
problem was: I now had a collection of songs that made sense to me because I
knew what the backstory was. And I should interject then that right at the
beginning of this phase of getting off tour, about a year ago I came back to
LA, had the music, a lot of the music, had ideas. And before I started writing
the songs, I spent maybe a week really writing out kind of what the
sociopolitical vibe would be like in this climate, what would it be like from a
spiritual tone, events that may have happened leading up to this, you know, if
I was going to forward-write history leading up to this day 15 years from now.
I had a good working kind of knowledge of what things were going to be like and
events that would have triggered that led us to this place. And then chose
people that would be in these various different places to write these songs.
That was the idea. Wrote this music. And had kind of been toying around with
the question of how I was going to tell the backstory and make the record make
sense to other people. And, at first, it went through a few iterations of the
best media and ways to do that. It could have been liner notes, if there were
such a thing these days, you know. A cryptic tale that kind of set the story
that if you bought a Who album would be written on the inside or the inside
sleeve. Showing my age, because that's still how I look at records. I still
think A and B sides and still kind of work in that format. So, that kind of
lost its steam, and I couldn't find the right way to do that. And then I
thought maybe it could be a Web site that kind of explains it. But what I
realized was, the for example the idea that, let's say, one of the ideas in Year
Zero is that a faction of American citizens who have lost their right to
vote and their freedom of speech and their voice isn't heard and their
government isn't allowing them any way to express themselves and their art is
suppressed, a more radical faction of Americans feel that, well, they've
learned what does work is forms of terrorism. It does get attention. So, maybe
they, in a homegrown way, lash out and try to blow up a senator's family to get
their voice heard. So, domestic terrorism that was an idea that came up as a
valid means of questionable morality of what someone might resort to to get the
message across when their own government's holding them down. And me telling
you what I just told you in a form of an essay or Web site or paragraph is one
thing. But actually finding a Web site that probably isn't real, but, God, what
if that hoaxish feeling, like War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells kind of
thing, seemed like a much more effective way for the audience to experience it
rather than be told a little fictional thing. "Oh, that explains why this
song's kind of ..." So that led my creative partner Rob Sheridan who's
our art director as well, has been for a few years, we kind of share the same
brain. He's coming at it from a 15 years younger than me perspective, but we
have similar taste, and we flush out the generation gap it's covered up
pretty well. And we started talking about, how the hell can we do this in a way
that how can we tell this story? How do we find we want to make the world's
most elaborate album cover, you know, using the media of today instead of
making people buy a vinyl record, which they're not going to do, or a CD or an
MP3, which has no artwork, no so that led to us remembering really the whole
thing that happened with why am I drawing a complete blank right now?
Rose: Oh, and A.I.? Right, uh-huh.
Reznor: We remembered, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Remember when and neither of
us had played that game, but we both, we both were aware of it. And I remember
hearing about it after it kind of got off the ground, something about the
(credit and the postman), if you Googled that it came up with this and that led
to this crazy person. What appealed to me was the incredible detail and thought
that went into it. I thought, what an interesting way to kind of make it I
mean ultimately, in that case, you're marketing a movie. You're trying to
garner interest among a pretty specialized group of people, you know,
demographic, that would be interested enough to find that and research it. But
I really loved the way that it utilized these new forms of communication and
medium that were emerging. Internet and bulletin boards, et cetera. And so we
did a little research and found that. That was really the main thing I was even
aware of in the ARG world. I was aware of like I'm a big fan of Lost,
you know, and that type of I've seen those little magazine ads that that's
from the airline that's in or something like. And it intrigues me, for
whatever reason that is, an interest in puzzle solving, a mystery, taboo, you
know, finding something new you weren't supposed to. The joy of researching
something that's not too hard to do but yields a result. It feels like you
uncovered something. So, anyway, we set up a meeting with these guys. And right
off the bat [I] was really impressed with them in terms of intellect and
Rose: Can I interrupt for a second? How did you get in touch with them? Did you
just like send them an email or ...?
Reznor: We found 42 Entertainment. I said, "Can you track these guys down?
It's something I have an interest in." Because I didn't know, frankly, if
they would want to do something like this, which seemed different to me than
and I'll get into specifically what it is, and what I've known that they've
done. And secondly, can we afford it? Because I know I couldn't go to the
record label and say well, I could ask. But that has its own set of problems
that I'll get into in a second. So, regardless, a meeting was set up. And
initially it was a couple phone calls and me kind of explaining what I wanted
to do. And where I think it differed from what they've done in the past and
this is what we kind of got we didn't get into an argument with, just this is
what I needed to make clear, was that I don't first thing I did was tell them
what we had. And it kind of came back [with the approach to] 42
Entertainment-fy it, which was create a narrative that kind of ran alongside of
this that added a kind of starting point and endpoint in terms of a narrative
that could be understood and put together over time. And I sat with that for a
while and then I came back, and I said, "No, that shouldn't be it. And
here's why." Because the Lost Experience, and I don't know who even
did that one, but as a fan of Lost, when I found out about it, and
followed a few breadcrumbs it felt like the equivalent of the Star Wars books
that are in the grocery store. It's set in the same world, and it has some of
the elements I like. But I know Darth Vader's not going to be in it. It doesn't
feel like the A team is working on this. It's just something and then my mind
puts it in the category of oh, it's marketing. You know. I'm not going to find
any real gems here, it's just a marketing thing. So, I said I want to make sure
the focus on this project stays on the music, and I want this to all be the
same. You're not marketing my record, the record is as much marketing this
project. I want it to be a kind of just experiment. This is where the flaky
artist guy comes out, you know. But I think what needed to be pure about it was
it wasn't ever considered marketing. And we never tried to monetize anything,
unless there's some way that it doesn't in any way make you feel like you're
being hustled by something. Which is why I didn't tell the record company about
it. Because the very first thing any record company would do would be: alright,
how are we going to tie this in with K-Rock, giveaways. And how do we get them
to buy ringtones and Verizon will give them you know. If it goes that way
if it happens to spring up where there's some interesting way that somehow that
can be monetized and it doesn't impinge on, great. But we're not letting that
drive how we do this thing is that you have sell ring tones so we're going to
this has to be a giveaway to give concert tickets to fuck all that. It's not
what this is. So, anyway, the plan got a bit modified with 42 where I said I
don't want to introduce a narrative of characters that have nothing to do with
the music to kind of give your story legs and a game plan. Let's make it all
puzzle pieces that by the end of I gave them my Wiki that I'd written, Rob
and I had written that had all the whole background of Year Zero. And
Rose: You had already sort of put that online or
Reznor: Not just internally. Rob and I use that as a kind of working template to
put our ideas together, because it was easy to branch off into the different
and it was also easy to see, hey, we need to for example, let's get more into
the India-Pakistan dispute and what caused that and the repercussions. You
could go into elaborate detail or not kind of was tangible and made more
sense to us. So, we gave them that. And I just kind of said why don't we just
pick bits of this that we can flesh out into things that become breadcrumbs or
Web sites or whatever they might be. But let's not add into it Character X who
we find out goes from this to that. Let's make this just a snapshot of
something. And they came up with the mechanism, the fiction of a 20th of a
second of the Internet got sent back in time and landed on our Internet. And
what was nice about that was it eliminated progression of story. It eliminated
the narrative. Now it was what
Rose: Slices, yeah.
Reznor: You'd put together a piece of a newspaper that you found and got bits of
this. And I've got to say, like, it was the most collaborative rewarding
experience I've had, counting music, that I've ever had.
Rose: Really, uh-huh.
Reznor: Just working with a team of people that I innately trusted and respected
and was regularly amazed by the ideas they'd come up with. And also I sensed
mutual respect to where I didn't feel like they thought I was just being
stubborn about things. We all had a good kind of taste barometer, you know.
We'd run it by and someone would say, "Oh, this could be" "You
know what, you're right." It was never an antagonistic thing, and I think
the result we ended up with was something I'm very proud of.
Rose: Yeah, it's pretty amazing, yeah, right.
Reznor: It was a fun process. I'm not sure ... you know it did more than I ever
thought it would do. And, you know, it was just an interesting way to get that
story out, and I think it really made the record sound better to me, in a way.
Rose: Right. [laughs]
Reznor: You know, but it did require me, in a number of places, kind of explaining
to the public [that] it's not fucking marketing. You know, because immediate
that was the one that hurt me the most. The second that the whiff came out that
this was coming out, and they had no idea how deep it went. And I think a lot
of my music fans have never experienced what happens in an ARG or what it was
fun watching it unravel. But right off the bat someone goes, "Oh, it's 42
Entertainment. They've been hired to market this record." It's not fucking
marketing, you know. I'm not trying to sell you anything. Anyway.
Rose: Huh. So, who how did you come up with the idea of, you know, leaving USB
drives in bathrooms with songs on them?
Reznor: Well, I think that came from their side of things. What we were trying to
do was what were we trying to do? I think what was unique to them was because
this was a music project, it gave them some new opportunities that they didn't
normally have. Like lots of clues in audio that we collaborated on how to
hide stuff in the actual sound of the record in places. And we also had this
thing that was, I think, unique to them, which was a live tour starting up.
Which is, events that people will be interested in going to. How can we make it
something that feels like not everything is something found on the Internet so
everybody I'll back up one step too and say they probably got into this,
but I remember right at the kind of phase of debating whether we were going to
work together, the initial kind of courtship, there was this kind of sense of
it would be cool if we could make a difference in the world feeling, you know
with the subject of what we're dealing with. And that was a new thing for me
with Nine Inch Nails as well. The thought of I've been asked this,
"Well, why'd you do it anyway?" So one reason was what was good about
the format of an ARG which forces people to form communities and discuss
things, and then watching the debate, or I'd see them find a clue about
something. And I could see that they're hitting around what we mean. And then
someone would hit it right on the head and they'll get dismissed, and then
they'll go back way off track. And then it winds up, usually, nine times out of
10, right back [at] what you wanted them talking about. And then you see people
discussing what that means, you know, and where this isn't just although it's
fictional it's all based on things that are happening right now, which most
everything that was dealt with in the world of Year Zero is based on
policies or things in motion at the present. And the whole point of it was to
get people to pay a little bit more attention. And when asked, "Well how
do you prevent do you think that's how the world's going to really be?"
I hope not. But I think the key to it not being turning into that is more
people paying more attention to what is happening right now. And seeing some
people online, even if it's a handful of people that's questioned the next
little thing that happens to slide by in the guise of the Patriot Act or we're
protecting your freedom and think to question it, I think that's certainly a
step in the right direction of youth today or anybody for that matter.
Rose: So, you followed the progress online, I mean the players' progress?
Reznor: Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun for us. We were in Europe when this thing
started. What we did then was we worked backwards from if it's around the
record, now we have a solid kind of the release date of the record was I think
May or April. The record will leak by the fact that they all do a couple weeks
before then when it goes to manufacturing somebody leaks it. So, we have that
window of time when that's going to happen, between a month and two weeks it
will for sure leak.
Rose: So, you mean somebody will post it on one of the
Rose: (one of the nets) yeah.
Reznor: Yeah, what's ludicrous about being a musician today, and this is a whole
other hundred hour conversation I can have, is because any record label still
meat and potatoes come from retail brick and mortar sales, they can't offer
anything for sale until it can show up in the store. They're going to piss off
Wal-Mart or Best Buy or whoever it may be. Meanwhile, avid fans who you want
are monitoring the Torrent sites and the PtP sites for that first you know,
as I do as a fan of bands. Do I want to hear it now or do I want to wait a
month, go to the store and then put it back on my computer, or just get it on
the computer? So, you have to work around that leak date, which always at the
latest happens when it goes to manufacturing. There's people there that just
upload it. And as you know one copy means every copy. So, working around those
dates, and then utilizing what we had happening at the time, which was (we're)
starting before that, I think it was their idea, let's come up with ways to
maybe have actual music as clues. What if someone found yeah! Now I didn't
get permission to do that from the record label, because they wouldn't have.
So, I don't know who did it but it seemed to wind up in the that was one
thing, that was one of a bunch of things that we did do that seemed to resonate
and got picked up on. They also had things did they tell you about this
where we had speakers, directionalized speakers where we could pump sound into
people's heads from quite a ways away.
Rose: Oh no, no, I (don't know) about that.
Reznor: It sounded better on paper than it actually did in the execution. But we
had I forget what they actually call them, but it's basically a focused cone
of sound from these amusement parks and things so you could hear something in
one corner but you don't and if you get out of that very fine if you were
30 feet away from here I could aim it at you and you'd hear it. If I aim it that
way it disappears. So, we were trying to pump messages into people's heads at
the show between acts. You'd be sitting back with this thing, aiming it, with
an iPod with some scary message that we'd computer voiced
Rose: So like you aim it at specific people or it's just like a small group of
Reznor: We'd look at people that we thought would be the kind of people we
expected were probably online, you know, and try to target them. But we could
never tell if they were really hearing it or not. Then I went out and hotrodded
one up and put a bigger power amp on it. I was walking the line between I was
ready for smoke to come out of somebody's head. So, that was an idea that
really didn't work as well as we thought. But we put a lot of effort into little
things like that, to try to really make an experience that broke down the idea
that you come and see concerts, two bands play, you drink a beer, you go to the
bathroom, you go home. And ideally in the future the plan is to work with them
again. It's something that's probably less classic ARGish and more about
breaking that audience performer barrier down into something that we haven't
figured it out yet. But something that you know will never be a mainstream
thing, but to the people that are into it. I think why this idea worked for
Nine Inch Nails is I know that there's a faction of my fans that would be into
this sort of thing. It was a real treat to be able to watch them uncover it. We
couldn't wait after the show to get online and try to get Internet in
Barcelona, watching seeing if "Did they find it, did they find it? One
guy found it on IRC." We'd be monitoring all these things.
Rose: Monitoring the chatrooms?
Reznor: The chatrooms and IRC chats and the fastest information would be there. Then
you could kind of watch there was one exciting one where there was a mural,
that was actually the one in Brixton.
Rose: Right, uh-huh, yeah.
Reznor: And somebody got I forget how we put that clue, I think on a flyer, an
actual flyer gave an address that they had to figure out was an address. And
somebody was driving to go there, and everyone online's like, "They've got
to be there by now. I mean it's not that far to get there." And then the
guy that's there presents a whole onslaught of pictures and all this (you know)
try to solve part of it before he put the pictures up, because he knew people
would see the mural, and there's a bunch of clues in there. It was exciting. I
sound very nerdy I guess right now. But it was very rewarding
Rose: You're talking to the right magazine, it's OK.
Rose: [laughs] Right.
Reznor: The other guys in the band are out, you know, having drinks and having
fun. And Rob and I, you know, we're iChatting each other trying to monitor how
people are picking up on this stuff. It was interesting.
Rose: So, is this back in your hotel room? Backstage? Sort of right
Reznor: Hotel room. Because we had to leave the venue, which always had terrible
Internet. And then get to the hotel which just had very bad Internet.
Rose: Right, right. So, and you also posted songs online that you could download
from BitTorrent. I mean they're still there, in fact, some of them.
Reznor: Yeah, the way we did that was that was another thing that we started
doing, we experimented with on With Teeth, which was it dawned on me
another bored day in the hotel doing press for the album. And I didn't have
anything with me except my Mac. And I booted up Garage Band, and I'd never
really paid any attention to it because you know it's not a real application
(an artist) snobby music programmer. And I was amazed how powerful it actually
is as a multitrack editor and time stretching device. And how fun it is with
all their built in loops to just very simply create something that was interesting.
It was intelligent enough to know what key things were in, and it was drag and
drop simplicity that you don't get in the Pro Tools world. So, as an
experiment, I happened to have multitracks of a couple of the songs with me for
some reason. And I wondered if I could streamline them enough to fit into that
program, and load with a rewarding experience. And it did. And then I sent it
out to the crew and I said just mess around with this and see what you know,
and it was a really positive experience of, you know, I've got a
country-western version of "The Hand That Feeds." And I thought, you
know, this would be cool to just get out to people. Based on the premise that
you know the software's pretty powerful now. And I know I would download a song
by a band I didn't even like if I could mess around with it and have fun and
feel like I'm, whatever. So, then it was a matter of talking the record label
into giving away master multitrack tapes. And I think their lack of knowledge
about what that was aided my cause on that. And there seems to be this
preciousness about your master tapes. Why the hell can't we let them out? You
know, I'm done with them. The record's out. People can have fun, mess around.
So, we did that, ended up doing that with two songs off of that album, and it
spurred a whole community of people doing remixes because now they have the key
to get into the track, and dissect it. And so, one of the ones we put up or
we offered them for download in Mac format, Garage Band. But in a frustrating
way the second (that the disc) come out everybody's hacking into them to try to
get them to be something on PC. And, "I listened to it in iTunes and it's
just the vocal." Just, arr. So, we sprayed them all out as just wav files,
you could load into any program. But rather than eating the cost of the
bandwidth, they just posted them on (pirate bay), let the ISPs eat the cost.
Rose: I'm sorry, you posted them on?
Reznor: We put them up on Pirate Bay I think is where we posted the Torrents,
because anyone who was doing all that stuff knows how to use a Torrent anyway.
And rather than pay whatever it is to give stuff away, just get them there. I
didn't really think that would cause any controversy, to be honest with you,
but I did notice that we're in bed with the pirates. I'm just looking for free
bandwidth, you know. That's all it was. And it was easier than (send space),
Rose: So did you you got flack from the RIAA I heard.
Reznor: Well, I did read a little bit of a
little grumbling from them. But I'm not on their side. And they're not on my
side. And that's what I wish the public knew more about where the RIAA really
stands. And they're just a lobbyist group for the record labels. They do not
have the artists' best interests in mind. And as proof of that in the last few
years, a couple examples that are ridiculous in terms of things that there's no
way they can misconstrue that as being for the artists' rights, you know. And I
think what they're doing now as far as going after the housewife, you know, is
ludicrous. This is your fans and your audience that you're attacking
Rose: The housewife in Minnesota?
Reznor: Yeah. I mean ... I'm strongly against that. Which brings me to this point,
which is you know I had a real awakening when I was living in New Orleans,
which is where I lived from '91 until just a couple years ago. I started
getting out of touch with what's happening. You know, I was in the studio
locked in there and getting older and not paying attention to what's going on
(and really). And I remember going to somehow I wound up at some college kid's
dorm. And this would have been I'd say '96, '97. Ten years ago. And it was
like, oh, everybody listens to their music on computers now.
Rose: [laughs] Right, right, yeah.
Reznor: You know, I didn't really think anyone really did that. But that is
everybody's stereo, back then. And everyone had stolen everything. I was never
a Lime Wire guy because it's too much hassle to find the song. It just seemed
(seemed shitty to me). But you know it dawned on me, when iPods first came out
I was very skeptical. And it's not the music experience I want. You know, I'm
still back in the world of I don't know what it was. Head in my ass
basically. I didn't see how radically that was going to transform not only the
business. But now that I have a thousand albums in my car all the time, I
listen to more music. I was too lazy, I always had the same five discs in
there. I'd never think to change it.
Rose: Yeah, right, sure.
Reznor: But then went through a phase of feeling very bad and violated by the fact
that people felt it was their right to steal your art. It's like I'd like to be
compensated for the hard, hard work I put into this. And just because you're
able to steal it doesn't mean it's OK to steal it. I used to stand behind this
kind of bullshit line of do you think it's OK to steal Photoshop? I did it, but
that feels like I shouldn't have done that.
Rose: To steal the program you mean? Photoshop?
Reznor: Yeah, I mean somehow that seemed different than a song, you know. But what
I've come to realize, you know, since it can't be stopped and I blame that on
an outdated concept of what copyright law is in the way of ownership. Primarily
the greed of the record industries have not their own greed has prevented
them from adopting any solution that would give people what they want. People
want to listen to a lot of music and do whatever they want with it. They don't
want DRM, they don't want subscriptions. They don't want a player that only can
do this but can't do that and you only have one copy. They don't want that. You
know? I don't want that. And they're so rooted in this outdated business model
that they're not willing to give up their CEO salaries or their Lear jets or
their ridiculous overdone staff or their lion's share of the cut of records
that get sold. And so, a couple years ago I kind of realized that music
essentially is free now. I'd prefer if it wasn't. But it is. And being on the
other side of that argument is a losing battle. And once you kind of get your
head around it's not a flawless thing, because I think the songwriter he's
more fucked in this scenario. But applying it to my own life, hey I've had a
pretty good run. I can still make a living with touring. And maybe you buy a
t-shirt. And I would rather 10 million people get my record and listen to it
for free than 500,000 that I coerced to pay $15 for it, you know? And I think
given the state of the way the industry is right now, the only way to look at
it is I think what Prince is doing. I think Radiohead if they would have
executed it better could have you know the idea is right. Eliminate this
dinosaur in the corner that's primarily taking all your money, based on a
thieving business model, and are making enemies out of the people that they're
customers. You know, that's ridiculous. I mean if you're going to go after
someone go after ISPs. Don't go after somebody that what good is that going
Rose: Yeah, right. So, what would you have done differently from what Radiohead
Reznor: Well, I'm a big Radiohead fan, and I applaud their what seemed like
courage. But I felt a little funny after X amount of people have signed up to
pay for a download to then find out the day before or the day you're going to
get it, oh it's a 160K MP3, which is MySpace streaming quality, which is not
good. And what if you just paid $20 for that because you want to support your
favorite band, and find out oh I just paid for something that sucks? And then
hearing some inane idiotic comments from their managers saying, "Well, the
real way to hear Radiohead is on a CD." Oh, so this is all just a bait and
switch to get us to buy something that we thought was the real product that
wasn't after we paid for it. And then to get us to rebuy it as a CD because it
has extra tracks because you want to make sure you have your brick and mortar
traditional record deal in place feels that feels like I've been had, as a
Rose: That's interesting, I didn't realize that that's how it worked in fact.
Reznor: Yeah. And then the band even, one of the guys in the band, well it's
higher rate than iTunes, which is 128. No, it's not. Because iTunes is in AAC
files, not mp3. Not to split hairs.
Rose: Yeah, well no, AAC is much better.
Reznor: I think as a musician right now, and one that cares about perception of
integrity above making every last cent and every opportunity to monetize
everything, it's a very slippery slope now. Because basically people if you're
moderately technologically aware music is free to you. And I had said before
Radiohead did their thing that if I had an album ready to go right now I would
offer it, PayPal button, download it for free if you want, if you want to
support the artist here's four or five bucks. Click here and it goes to the
artist. If that option was available across the board I'd pay for every record
I come across. And I would believe that putting it back in the hands of the
fans in terms of honor and respect, that yields results. Not everybody,
certainly not everybody's going to do that. But I think giving people (an
opportunity) to feel good about, I think people do want to support the music
that they like, I think that and Radiohead did do that. I think that's good.
However, it felt like there's a catch on that. Because I was the guy that paid
for the $80 physical thing that's coming out, because I'm a fan and I wanted to
see what it was like. But I do know a lot of people that felt like, "I
don't want that, but I'm going to pay for this record." And then got a cassette
copy of it, you know.
Rose: [laughs] Right.
Reznor: That felt like a it felt weird to me.
Rose: How did you deal with you were talking a few moments ago about you know
like two weeks or so before the album comes out, you know, it gets uploaded.
How did you deal with that in terms of the game or in terms of, you know, I
Reznor: Right. For a band like Nine Inch Nails, and I would also add the
Radioheads of the world in that camp, as opposed to the Gwen Stefanis and the
Fergies, we genuinely have one spike of interest now. Two spikes of interest.
And that would be when the record leaks, and when the retail release comes out.
And the first one in my case is a ten out of ten. And the second one is a seven
and a half out of ten, because the fans already have it. And then it's just
their moral remembrance to go and actually and pay for one now. After that,
it's consumed and passed along, discussed furiously and then it's forgotten.
And then the next level of spike comes if we tour. It used to be you had the
advance single that would get some kind of bit of interest, the release date
would be a ten out of ten, and then the single that comes out, the second
single with a video with it. Now it doesn't make any sense monetarily to really
make videos unless you can do them cheaply, because there are no outlets for
them any more, because MTV's too concerned about lifestyle reality programming.
There is a reason to do it on YouTube. And I found out throughout Europe they
still play videos a fair amount. But where that differs from say the Fergie
Gwen Stefani model, they still have those videos and they have an audience that
might be technically less on top of it, maybe. But they still get dictated what
to listen to, and radio still plays those things and they do what they're told
in that camp. In our camp it comes out, it goes through channels, and that's
where it stays. So, my theory was, after the record leaks I don't have any
surprises left in terms of the music for the record. But before it leaks I've
got 15 surprises. How can I seed them out in the way that I would like people
to hear it? Like as an artist in a perfect world everyone would get the record
at the same time, and everyone would stop what they're doing and go into a
place that sounds nice, take the phone off, listen to it from start to finish,
think about it, listen to it again from start to finish, go to bed that night.
In the real world now its' terrible quality bootlegs file shared, I've got the
third song, you've got the second song and it's jumbled around and it's
because music is primarily free I think people just want to get more and more
and more. Compared to when I was growing up, I had $10 to spend on a record, I
listened to that record, and I got my $10 worth, even if I may not have liked
it. I fucking bought it, let me now you just have all the stuff. I've got a
lot of shit on my iPod I haven't listened to yet, you know. And it does have
less value because it's free. So, what we did was strategically linked out songs
ahead of time via methods we could use in the game and the story that would
direct people and (taint) them what I wanted them to think about the record
before the bulk of it came out. And generally it would be this is not what the
rest of it sounds like, get them scratching their beards for a minute. A couple
weeks later, here's something else that doesn't even sound like it's even the
same band. Oh, throw them for a loop. And then punch them when the whole thing
Rose: So, that's what the USBs were about.
Reznor: That was the method we used to get those out. There's another one that you
could hear snippets of a song if you found a clue that was a phone number that
had a bit of it in the background. But the other factor we had to consider was
several of kind of the bigger clues were in the actual audio of the album. And
we had to factor in, in this very carefully orchestrated reveal of all the
parts, this might happen two weeks before the record's out or it might happen a
month before if somebody's careless. This window's shifting. We made it pretty
far further than we thought, closer to the release date before it leaked. And
the last set of clues would be on the actual physical jacket sleeve, that no
one would really get until much closer to the deadline, because for some reason
that seems to be you'd see scans of some stuff, but that generally is right
up to the release date before people get that and can scan it. Then everyone's
trying to look for clues. You know, I found during the course of this ARG that
as much as I loved watching people do it, I would get super frustrated when
they're ruining the game, sometimes, by their over eagerness, you know what I
mean? You put these and I'm sure these guys told you the same thing. You'd
put in clues that you thought nobody's going to figure this out. I mean I would
never ever come up with how you do that. And in ten minutes they've got it. And
other things that feel like it's almost too easy, never solved. You know. So,
it's interesting watching everybody else. But I do admit getting frustrated at
times where there'd be this kind of race to spoil, just not even enjoying the
process, just racing to the end of it, you know. But it was a fun experience.
Rose: Yeah. Huh. So, you've said that you're not going to release on major
labels anymore, except I think you have what one more due on (Interscope)?
Reznor: I'm done with Interscope. There is the remix record coming out that's
still going to come out. And they have the right to release a greatest hits record
at some point, which there's no animosity between myself and the main guys at
the label. And I think they understand that a lot of what I'm saying that's
been against labels is just from a hey, the ship's going down and I disagree
with most of what you guys are doing. And I'm not going down with you just
because you guys are greedy. And I'm going to call you on it. But, will I ever
be on a major label? I mean right now I can tell you what we're not doing is
meeting with all the labels to find out what kind of deal we can get, because
quite frankly there's nothing really that we need them for today. I think I
really feel that the next few years the business is in a between phase. And the
right model hasn't revealed itself yet. And I don't think it's the Radiohead
model, which what we would do is similar to that. I don't think that's the end
all thing, and it certainly doesn't work for new bands. You know if nobody
knows who you are nobody's going to buy your record. I know I've been meeting
with a lot of technological companies that are trying to fill that void of
being your store for you. But there's always an agenda there. And most of these
companies won't be here certainly within the year, maybe six months. You know
Snowcap is a good example of something that I just just feels wrong to me,
doesn't feel like the right thing. Add into it some of the things they can't
do, sell outside the States, (so 30%). Give you fucking 30% to do what?
Rose: [laughs] That's right. Might as well be at a label, right.
Reznor: I finally got 100% back. I'm not really you know up from 20% that I had.
But it certainly would be nice if there was a toolkit that was out there. You
know if I was what's his name from Microsoft, Allen that's got more money than
he knows what to do with he's got five huge yachts with recording studios and
all that bullshit in there that makes me sick when I think about it how about
if you're into music how about creating or funding someone creating a toolkit
that's free, that would give musicians the power to house their own music and
sell it from storefronts that don't take the lion's share of that? Give them
some tools that musicians can make their own music and not be now beholden to
some other hustling company that's trying to
Rose: Right, right.
Reznor: And put some respect back into the process. We have a little Rob and I,
the aforementioned art director we'll e-mail back and forth any time we see
things that are like we're hoping somebody makes a kind of archival Web site
of in the major label music business's last days, some of the desperate things
they're doing to try to sell music. There's just some sickening things.
Rose: What do you have in mind?
Reznor: Well one of them was some rapper, write lyrics to my new song and win, you
know, something to do with Doritos. Something just ridiculous. And then we were
talking about the company that has something to do with Blackeyed Peas, this,
that and the other thing. You go to their site and there's Google ads all over
their official sites and sign up here to get put this on your site and if
anyone buys it you'll get a percentage of the sale of my record.
Rose: [laughs] Sounds like a pyramid scheme.
Reznor: Yeah. I mean for some artists that may not be something that seems in
appropriate, you know, and I'm not here to judge them. I am here to judge them,
actually. But you know, can't it be about the music? Can't it be about have
some dignity and just be about the experience? You know I'm the guy that fights
to have better quality sleeve and printing job on the CD, because I think it
matters. To me it matters, you know. When I'm sitting next to the marketing guy
at the record label trying to explain why that matters. "No it does matter
if it's a matte finish versus (only) because it feels better." "Yes,
but it's seven cents more. That means you're going to lose..." "But
it feels better." It makes it a better experience to me. It's not just
about it's about the whole thing. And that usually falls on deaf ears these
days. Because everything's about when musicians started bragging about what
great businessmen and how much money they have, so when did that start
Rose: [laughs] Yeah, right, probably, yeah.
Reznor: I mean I'm sure it had something to do with hip hop's emergence as a
superforce. But I remember you know early '90s if your music was on a
commercial, you were kicked out. That was
Rose: Yeah totally. But now it's the opposite.
Reznor: Suddenly it's like that's a great way to break a band. Get on an iPod
commercial. You know it's like, oh, we've come to that now. You know, I guess
it's better than American Express. Or is it? You know? It's sad that it has to
rely on those achieving things to survive these days. But I don't think you do.
Rose: So, you said you were going to work with 42 again. Is this going to be on
the remix album do you think or like the next project you do?
Reznor: No, the remix record is just what it is. It's a remix record and the kind
of thing we've added to that. I think it's the best remix record I've done,
which is that's what does that mean? But it also comes with a data DVD, if
you buy the physical that has every track on this new album, Year Zero,
as multitracks in its generic WAV file format to work with anything, or as
Garage Band or as (abelton live) which is Mac (and PC). And that will coincide
with the release of a new version, the first component of the new Nine Inch
Nails website. Which will be built around remix type site where you can upload
your mixes, rate others, listen to theirs, download them, whatever you want to
go. Just kind of a hopefully elegant place to put stuff based on discussion. No
fee, you know just a place to see what's up.
Rose: That's an interesting idea.
Reznor: Interesting graphs to see data in new ways. And just see how it goes, you
know. No real agenda there other than I thought it would be something cool to
do. Interscope went along with it. So. And I don't know of anyone that's done
that. I'm sure someone may have done it, but. That's the remix record. And then
I'm just working on some new music now that I don't I'm finding that it's
starting off with a different vibe, I've just started working on, because and
this may be famous last words but because I know this project won't end up on
probably any label, I don't feel any need to cater it to any format. And it
feels kind of freeing right now. It may be unlistenable at the end of the day,
I don't know. But I'm not worried about that time I bring the record in and
say, "Here's my new album. Sorry guys. No hit singles again." You
know? That's gone. So, it's really do whatever I want to do. Not that I
couldn't in the past. But somehow you're aware that there's the thing I felt
on the label that I've been on is they're really good at getting the record out
there. And there's certain types of records that are unmatched at marketing.
But when it's not one of those records then they're like a big machine knows
how to do this thing. But if you give them this thing, they're not sure what to
do with that thing. And they look at it as a failure if it doesn't perform like
that thing. And that's a frustrating entity to deal with sometimes. Where and
you always at least I do feel like well I failed them in some capacity.
These are my business partners, I've given them something that didn't wasn't
a sleek model that did what that one did. You catch yourself but that's ... I
don't want to be that model. I never was that model, I'm not trying to be that
model. You're trying to make me that model, just let it do its thing. So, it's
an interesting time in the music business. You know it's scary, it's also
it's change that's needed to take place. I remember when I first got a record
deal in '89, and I actually saw the numbers on a record deal. And you realize
how little you do all the work, they lend you some money to record an album,
you pay them back every penny. Then they own it, and they give you this much,
15 percent or, on the upside, 20 percent of wholesale, after they've
overcharged you for manufacturing, which they own so who knows how much that
really costs. And then they don't pay you until you audit them. And that's OK
somehow. And there's no penalty for that. You know this kind of sucks, you
know? How did this get started? Who allowed this kind of format to be the norm?
And if what's happening now puts an end to all that, it's 30 years too late,
you know. Not saying there won't be something else equally as thieving that can
prey upon musicians and artists. But hopefully they'll be more educated, the
young kid coming into it doesn't make the mistakes that I made (in my
Rose: So, how do you think you will release your new album? Or will it be an
Reznor: I mean what we're thinking of right now is less of a long album like thing
and more frequent EP type things that come out rather than every couple of
years, maybe every few months. Because there's something about the idea that I
can go downstairs and work on something and then that night it can be out in
the world, ooh. And, you know, there are things that there are issues we need
to think about that I find myself embroiled in right now, because I spent the
last few months I should say I spent the last few years, couple years, same
time I worked on Year Zero I was working on (Solium's) new album,
writing and producing that. And we just finished that a couple months ago. And
found that, wow, major labels are afraid of signing new artists that don't
sound like the Black Eyed Peas. And this is something that's pretty volatile
and interesting, and has something to say and doesn't sound like everything
else. And I'd just gotten into it with (soulabap) which, "I can't in good
conscience let you go sign with a major label, you know. I wouldn't do it.
We're not on the same footing right now, but let's see how we can apply what's
happening today in the world to your record and see how we can make it
interesting." And unlike, say, what Radiohead, which is very pull. You
just go there if you know who they are and you're interested in them or you
seek it out, it's the only place you can get it and find it. That works I think
fine for them. What I would be thinking about for Nine Inch Nails or certainly
for (Saul) is a way to get out to more people that doesn't feel too pushy,
doesn't feel to spammy or
Rose: Right, right.
Reznor: Or in any way feels compromising in terms of its association with who your
guy funding it might be. In other words, any corporate affiliations that might
help get the word out. It's interesting what Prince did with his record in
England about giving it away with the newspaper. You know, and it angered
retail, brick-and-mortar retail, people because they're selling the same record
that's for free in the newspaper. And I understand that, and I have sympathy
for them. That they're another casualty of the record business just like the
artist is. But from Prince's point of view, you can sell a handful or you can
give away a truckload. And then he plays 20 some shows at the big arena over
there and who's laughing at the end of the day? Now, I don't know that that's
the right model, I don't necessarily think it is. But the idea of making music
something that you're not under the illusion that you're going to coerce people
into not stealing and paying for, but getting it out to a shitload more people,
that's exciting. And maybe you can monetize it another way through what I
mentioned, (merchant it off) or maybe not. But at the moment I don't see any
real alternatives. And I'd much rather have a lot of people hear what (I love
to do) or discover (Saul), you know. We're working on a plan where you can get
his record for free, or you can support and pay what I consider a reasonable
amount, and I think anyone would consider. Valet parking or an hour's worth of
entertainment that we've worked our asses off, you know?
Rose: [laughs] Right, right.
Reznor: Big Mac, not even supersized, just regular sized meal or you know. And
it's a challenge right now just trying to find the thing that feels, feels the
best, that doesn't feel like it's some kind of hustle.
Rose: The sort of store mechanism to how exactly you would release it or make it
Reznor: Yeah, I mean if I think the purest way is to build your own store, then
your bandwidth costs are on your back on the downside. But when you take an
artist like (Saul) that doesn't have a big pot of money to start digging into
develop that, test it and then house it and then have support for it, it starts
looking a lot more appealing to look at other options and people who have
already built that. But then it's what do they want from it? Payment is one
thing. But affiliation I think is another important one. Because you know like
something I just was thinking about is when you visit some of these sites that
you can buy people's music, it feels like this will sound snobby but it's
just being truthful it seems like the people that are on those sites are not
there because they want to be there. They're there because that's the only
place they can be. You know? And it feels sometimes like a lot of it's made for
the bedroom techno artist, nothing against that guy. But it has a kind of
perception of value is a bit lower. It's K-Mart versus (Amoeba), you know. It
feels cooler getting it there. Versus is this defective? You know what I mean?
I don't know why that is, and maybe it's just me and Rob that feel that way.
But just some of the miscellaneous bullshit, just thinking about it in terms of
how do I get my music out to people the most bulletproof way that satisfies all
our needs. They get it for free or whatever they want to pay for it, X amount,
and I do it in a way that I'm not losing money hand over fist to give you my
album away for free to pay for bandwidth to get it into your iPod, you know
what I mean? That doesn't make any sense to me.
Rose: Yeah, right.
Reznor: And it's an interesting time, just trying to weigh everything out. So, I
don't know if that answered your question or not but
Reznor: I can't tell you definitely I would do it this way. But you know if I was
putting an album out tomorrow I would do it where you have a choice of paying
nothing or I would say a fixed amount, this much, your choice. And if you get
it as a fixed amount, here's the bonus. We'll give it to you as a FLAC file if
you want or the mp3 high, or medium (or low). If it's free, it's a good quality
MP3. But I can't justify enormous bandwidth costs to give you something
completely for free. If you can get it for free, great. Or just steal it
somewhere, if you're going to do that anyway. But I think the important part of
that is giving people a legitimate option to support art and music they love. I
think inherently people that are into it don't feel bad about that. At the
moment what you're fighting is a perception that, oh, it's the record label,
and they're greedy fuckers, and they're overcharging anyway. That's how I feel,
Rose: [laughs] Right.
Reznor: And I know that, you know.
Rose: Huh. So, to get back to the ARG question, do you know do you have any idea
what you want to do with them next? Or is that sort of like
Reznor: Well, I left that experience of working with them feeling like I wished I
worked for them, you know what I mean? I have more fun doing that than a lot of
what I end up doing in my own career. And I sensed a real respect and
admiration mutually from them as well, and it was fun because I think this is
my own possibly warped perception, but we both had a good time doing it, and it
felt kind of not as rigid as maybe some things they worked on. And for me it
was interesting because I wasn't working with the marketing company, I was
working with artists who happened to work in that world. And that's what I
think resonated between both camps. Alex and I still stay in touch, as do Susan
and I. And we've talked about we've just planted the seeds of let's say like
initially the next thing I was going to do is the final portion of Year Zero
record, and a tour that supported both things. And the idea then was that we
wouldn't repeat another ARG like we just did. But something that broke into
that boundary with the concert experiences and maybe each concert is unique and
ties in with your presence there. A lot of long discussions over a lot of
coffee and idea back and forth with them, now that I know that they're a
resource in terms of what is possible, you know. So, there is no concrete idea,
and what's shifted in my world is now not being on Interscope. And also the
kind of unpredictable how do I feel creatively. I don't particularly feel like right
now I want to sit down and go back in Year Zero and open up that world.
I want to work in terms of some shorter bursts of music that are just coming
out of subconscious. And we are planning on doing some live shows in the near
future with a new band and new way of presenting Nine Inch Nails. And that may
or may not involve some element of 42 for that. You know, when the record label
when we did the ARG, they were amazed at did they tell you about our meetings
we had with them?
Rose: No. With the label?
Reznor: With the record label. Yeah, I funded it myself so I could call the shots
basically. But it came a point when it was about to come to life, work was
being done, they had been hired, and I wanted to involve the label, explain to
them what was going to happen, so that they basically didn't mess it up. Just
let it do its thing, but warning them what might start happening. And there was
some of the most absurd conversations I would have, where I'm trying to explain
something that's if you try to explain what an ARG is to somebody, it's a
Rose: Yeah, yeah it is, it is, right, right.
Reznor: I can tell you another tough conversations. Calling my manager and saying,
"Listen, here's what I want to do. I'm going to hire these guys "
"How much?" "Yeah, but here's what's going to happen. People are
just going to start sensing this thing's going on. And it's going to be this
rabid kind of excitement about this story that ties into the record."
"Well, how are they going to find out about it?" "Well, first on
a T-shirt, you notice a letter's a little bit different. And someone's going to
put that together, and someone's going to think what if I type that in a
browser? And it's going to take them to a site. And that's going to talk and
they're going to put that online." I could hear myself saying it, and I
thought goddamn I sound like a crazy person, you know. And I'm saying,
"Look how much money I'm going to spend to do this." It sounds crazy,
you know. But to their credit they trusted me. And they understood what they
kind of picked up on what would be cool about it.
Rose: The label you mean?
Reznor: No my management.
Rose: Your management, right, (Jim).
Reznor: "I'm going to do it anyway, you know what I mean. But I wanted to let
you know I want them on board." So then we're all on board and it's in
motion, and the money's being spent, and now I'm talking to the label and I'm
saying, "Here's what I'm doing." And I could see that same what's
going to happen now? "There's a few things that for sure are going to
happen, but I can't tell you what they are. No offense, but if I tell you what
they are and someone finds out before it happens, it ruins what it is. So, it's
for your own protection." Really, it's because I don't want you to know
because you'd fuck it up somehow. In this form, "Hey K-Rock, check out
this billboard down the street next week. You're going to see this thing blow
up." And a minute later, "Hey, check out the billboard down on"
you know. Story blown.
Rose: Yeah, got it, absolutely.
Reznor: So, then we had a meeting where I brought them in, because I figured
they're smart. And they have impressive credentials. Let's put them in front of
the record, it will sell. We had a little music listening party at a recording
studio, and I brought Susan and Alex in. And I said, "Now it's the guys
from 42 Entertainment, and they're going to explain what they did for Vista and
for some other bullshit." And then I left [laughs]. They were nervous,
talking to these people. And I couldn't stand to bet here and watch them (in
fire). It all worked out well.
Rose: Yeah, yeah, right. How did you I know they came to you with the idea of
the sort of secret concert. How did you
Reznor: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That was something that never could have happened
without those guys on board. Because we were on tour, I remember we were in
London and they came over for something, a mural went up.
Rose: Yeah, the Brixton thing, yeah.
Reznor: And then we started talking about it was getting to the phase where not
everything was planned out from the very beginning. Certainly the skeletal
ideas. But then some things were left to mutate depending on how it went. And
at that meeting it was like, "OK, we should think about the end and we
should think about how to wrap it up and make it feel like this phase of it has
a conclusion to give people a sense of accomplishment, and to keep them from
being frustrated looking for something that isn't there anymore." And then
there was the idea of "What about this idea? Susan, you're going to kill
me." It was (Alonna) saying this. "And what about this, we're in
Cleveland. You guys play a secret show. As soon as everyone leaves the building
they're across the street from the building, boom, detonates, implodes."
Reznor: You know, and I'm like these are my kind of people. How the fuck can we do
that? Yes, you know. Anyway, that mutated into I came up with the idea of
it was their idea to have a show. The problem I had with that was it can't be a
full show, it needs to maintain a level of excitement where people feel like
they're getting a treat, that something happens. It can't just be a show,
because then it becomes a show. So, I kind of wrote up a synopsis of what I
thought would be a cool thing to happen, including primarily what happened, you
know. And I thought for sure there'd be some liability (of us) being able to do
that. And what if someone gets hurt, and you know. But then I kind of
rationalized it, like OK, when you to a haunted house somebody's coming at you
with a chainsaw and a strobe light in the dark, you know. Those somehow nobody
goes to jail for that usually. And so they really just started working on the
idea. And I knew that the people they would get to execute it would be I'm
not just kissing ass when I'm talking to you. But by that time they'd really
proven themselves as they don't disappoint. It's an A list its what I would
do if I was in that job. I'm a guy that overthinks things and you know gets
but it was the same, I knew they could pull it off. And we talked about it, and
we decided to use that place you saw. It's where we filmed the
("Survivalism") video a while earlier. And much to my amazement, that
went off without a hitch, you know. Without a hitch,. and there were so many
things that could have just made us look stupid, you know. And to my surprise,
you know, watching all I could see, because we were in the building. I could
see the bus pulling up and we were all looking out the window and seeing people
walk out and guys on the roof. It looked great, you know. And I couldn't tell
what was happening in the actual meeting until I saw we edited it right after
the film, watched the video tape. And it was I was surprised that it was what
I hoped would happen. It was that suspension of disbelief, worked it out so
where it would feel like, hey everybody thought this was (entertaining news)
but now we tie Nine Inch Nails and fiction into this and now you realize, oh
I'm at the first resistance meeting. And this is the guy oh, I'm in the
movie. You know. And the whole idea of it being broadcast, Webcast, and then it
cuts off right when you don't know what happened. And those people that we
carefully selected would be the ones that tell the story. I thought it was
genius. All those flourishes were there (and doing). And what was great about
it was the next day, people had so the story ended with the SWAT team coming
in, tear gas and sirens, people getting rushed out to the bus, were bound up
against the wall, and you know, people running out, freaked out. And then
people filled in the story with they went to jail. Which I don't think they
did, you know what I mean. I couldn't tell what was real myself. My manager Jim
called me up and he's like, "What the hell happened last night?" I'm
like, "It went off without a hitch." "No one was in jail?"
"Not that I know of. I don't know why they would, it wasn't really cops
there, were there?" You know what I mean, like it really got into like I
can't imagine what it would have been like if you had fallen along the line and
got cut off and then the stories popping up. I didn't really hear anybody kind
of pulling the sheet away, showing the guy behind the curtain, you know. It all
felt like it really I don't know how many people in the end really were aware
of what was happening at that time. You know, but in terms of keeping it pure,
and really making that thing feel like it had a cool climax. That was I can't
tell you how much fun it was for me. That's the kind of stuff I love to do, and
be able to pull it off and have the team together to come up with an idea and
say, "Oh yeah, if anyone in the world can do it, these guys can, you
know." And they take pride in making it happen, and it was good. Down to
their well, I better not say. Down to the guy providing the weapons, the real
weapons, the SWAT team trainer, you know, who was terrifying in his own way.
Reznor: Really into, you know, making sure it looked right.
Rose: Right, right.
Reznor: Did they tell you about the girls that were plants too?
Rose: No, no.
Reznor: That's a good detail. Normally when I'm explaining to somebody what
happened, you know, I explain the story of how they get their little kit and
phone rings and they're all excited and they know to meet at this place and
they get put in the van or the bus and don't know where they're going. They get
there and they realize they're a meeting, and then what they probably suspect
comes to life. And the band's going to play, and wow and then bang. Even on
the set list, we had a full 20 song set list including a couple songs we'd
never played live. And I knew someone would see that. And the very first thing
I see, "You know what pissed me off the most is they were going to play
Perfect Drug." You know, but I knew the fifth song it's over. So the sixth
song was, you know. But for that added bit of realism, I said, now imagine
you're one of those guys that you're probably on the nerdy tip if you're the
guy that's at the thing, got the kit, (what's on) the phone call. And at the
place you're going to meet there's kind of a hot chick who's also kind of nerdy
but by herself. And she's sitting next to you on the bus ride there. And she's
you know (roll over) during the meeting that you sit through. And then she stand
next to you when the band's playing. And then when the SWAT team breaks in,
she's the one that gets grabbed by the hair and thrown to the ground and
punched and pulled back. It was a plant the whole time. So, we had a couple of
them in there just to add to the what the fuck factor. And that was the weapons
provider's girlfriend. So, it was fun.
Reznor: It has to be that cross the line a little. It can't be too safe. But so
far no lawsuits, so I think everyone survived.
Rose: So, did the actually one thing I wanted to ask you about, I read about
that you tried to buy 42 at one point?
Reznor: That who did?
Rose: That you did. That you offered to buy them.
Reznor: No, no, it was Jimmy from Interscope.
Rose: Uh-huh, oh Jimmy did.
Reznor: Yeah, what happened was I was never I heard about it third party. When
this started happening on the Internet there was a big buzz. And the label was
looking at, well, everything we don't really know about these guys seem to
Jimmy told me, (hey it's Star Wars on the Internet you did). Now that didn't
relate to Star Wars sales figures for the album, which is what they were hoping
it would be a 2 million sales. "We found the future of the music
business. Do an ARG for every record." So then, unbeknownst to me, then I
heard that Jimmy was talking to what's his name, the name guy.
Rose: (Leo Klein) or
Reznor: No, no, at 42.
Rose: Oh, at 42. Jordan (Likum).
Reznor: Jordan, yeah. And set up a meeting with them, first with my manager there
and then not with my manager there to kind of get involved in seeing, "OK,
you guys know about this mysterious Internet thing and in touch with the people
that use this thing that are stealing our music. Maybe it makes sense for us,
because we have deep pockets, just to buy you and we have you as an
asset." And I even wrote to those guys and said, "Look, this is not
my doing. You know, I didn't even know about this. So, don't blame me or don't
thank me. It's whatever it is." And to be honest with you, what I thought
was if I was just to talk too much here for a minute if I was running the
record label I would buy them. And I would say, "You guys are in charge of
new media now, their blanket term for everything that's not a CD basically. And
educate us how to make the label not the enemy. And what do people want? You
know, because we don't know. How can we get back on people's good side? How can
we give them some service they don't want to buy plastic circles anymore.
What do they want? How does it make sense for us? What do we need to do?"
But I don't think that it was that kind of discussion. "I think it was
more what exactly do you guys do? And how can we apply it to the roster that we
have?" And I think when that became clear that that probably wasn't the
best solution I think the talks just dissipated.
Rose: Yeah. This is Jimmy (Arvin) you're talking about.
Reznor: Yeah, Jimmy's a smart guy. You know, Jimmy if you look back at how he's
navigated Interscope through the waters of the '90s from where it was to what
it is now, that's him. That's his he's the guy that call him any time of the
night and will go to any length to get the artist he wants. He's a smart guy
and will outmaneuver you in a number of ways. I consider him a friend and also
have been outmaneuvered by him, regularly. But I could see where he sees he
smells something that is of quality, of interest. And in this case it was 42.
And the sharks circled the ship there. I'm not saying it would have been a bad
thing for either party. But I was just sitting on the sideline. I think where
you heard me, my name came up, was I heard if he buys them (I'll make) a chunk
of the company. But that was never a discussion with Jim and I or me and them.
And I would have said, "Look, don't. I'm not trying to make this happen,
you know what I mean? I respect you guys and I respect our relationship.
There's no weird."
Rose: I probably read about it on MTV news or something like that, but I was
curious to I thought the coverage of even like Rolling Stone, you know, MTV,
it was always like I mean the coverage of the ARG that you guys were doing
was like what are these wacky rock stars going to think of next? You know, it
was kind of odd.
Reznor: It was more mainstream than I ever thought it was going to be. You know,
to which I'm grateful of that. I mean I did it, so I'd hope people would notice
it was happening.
Rose: Yeah, the ARG was more mainstream you're
Reznor: Yeah. I mean it got picked up in more mainstream journals than I expected.
I think it was again the reason for doing it was to the subject matter of
the album made sense to do it. If I'm singing about [78:44] but that lent
itself to that medium. And I felt that it was the strongest way to convey that
story. And there was a story to convey that made the music make more sense, I
think. And probably as much work went into each side that I really looked at it
as that isn't the art and that isn't the marketing. They're both the same
thing. (If there) was some way to immortalize that as a boxed set explanation
of some sort, or DVD with all the media. We've talked about that even, some way
to kind of get behind the scenes all the details, the original Wiki, just have
access. Because it's interesting.
Rose: Yeah, it is, it is. (I be) explain it myself.
Reznor: To show how many layers of thought and how bulletproof the fiction was and
how many times we went back and forth on, well, once you get time travel
involved then a whole 'nother world of I remember a few times where we all
locked up after four hours of talking about something. Yeah, but if the future
you is that, then how did ... would I have known about getting into that.
Which appeals to me as a fan of science fiction. What's nice about all this is
it whetted my appetite to do some things other than make an album, go on tour,
make an album, go on tour. Talk about where the name came from, you know, over
and over and over and over again. And I felt like, you know, there's no rules
as to what entertainment is. And I think rock concerts are lazy. Shitty band
you don't like plays. Intermission. Band you like plays, it sounds back. Go
home. You know what I mean? Eat a hot dog maybe. Buy shitty t-shirt for too
much money. Just break it all down and say, utilize the medium we have today
and cross kind of collaborations between those things. It just felt like a fun
thing to do, really, was the idea.
Rose: Yeah, right, right.
Reznor: And it wasn't to be weird and it wasn't to confuse people and it wasn't to
get you to sign up for our fan club or any shit like that. It was ... but at
the end of the day I'm also coming at it with the luxury of you know I had a
sizable recording budget from Interscope that I spent most all of it on this.
Rose: Oh really?
Reznor: Yeah, because I don't have tons of money, cash on hand, to frivolously
pursue these things. Just reality comes into play, basic economics come into
play. And with this it was some soul searching when it was like take the whole
burden on and maybe do the coolest thing ever? OK, it's no discussion. I mean
yeah I'm going to do that, you know. If I have the opportunity to, sure.
Rose: So, does that mean you didn't spend as much recording as you might have
Reznor: Well, the deal that I just got out of was one that was, you know, I signed
a recording contract in '89, it got sold from one record label to Interscope.
It got re-upped in '94 or something and the end of it was now. But each record
goes up in money, and it's their option to keep you or not (on all of it). So,
you know, as those numbers went up, cost of recording really has gone down,
because most of it happens in your house. And more money I've spent on the last
couple of records I've put into gear that I can just do it myself. Not
necessarily to save money but just convenience. And people buy less records.
So, it's working all against the record label. But with that said I have the
luxury of a large advance that would cover something like the 42 thing. And it
just seemed like justified. As long as I didn't think of it in terms of real world
Reznor: (guitar) or I could do this thing [82:57] my mom a new house, but yeah I
could, you know. If you start that discussion then it usually leads to a bad
place. If you just don't think about it, say I want to make the coolest thing
ever. And I'm glad I did it, I am.
Rose: Great. Well, thank you, thank you, terrific.
Reznor: OK, I love it's nice to talk about one I'm not doing any interviews
now because I'm in a whole working on new stuff. But to be able to talk about
this kind of stuff is so much more interesting to men than the rock music side
Reznor: Tedious stuff, you know. But ...
Rose: Right. Was there ever a time in the middle of it that you thought, like,
it wasn't working or might go awry or something? I mean, when you were, like,
tracking people, you know, sort of, like, watching what they were doing online?
Reznor: Not really. I mean, the biggest debates we had in terms of once we
ironed out the big things, like let's remove the narrative that you're going to
interject into it, and let's just make it about snapshots. Once that, that was
probably the biggest headbutting between Jordan and myself in terms of and I
have to respect they've done this and I haven't. And so I basically said, "Let's
try to do it this way. But if you know it's not going to work, don't let me
you know I don't know it's not going to work." I don't like the idea of
let's come up with sort of comic book characters to feel like it's not this,
it's something parallel to it. And I think they realized as we got going that
that was a better way. It felt good to me. It wasn't when we started
executing it after we kind of worked out the major issues it felt solid to me.
It wasn't any part of it I was edgy about. Other than placing myself in fiction
in it. And that was the thing that you don't want to I didn't want to have to
lie about anything. I think the way we did it was smart. It was a minor thing
that you read into that. Just to elaborate for a minute, the idea that the
first question was if you were trying to rationalize everything out, if this
really has happened and the idea was that I got seeded with some snapshots of
the album cover for example, and some information that some third party sent to
me. And one of the things was a recording of a song that I just started
writing, that were the same words, but I hadn't finished the song yet. But I
could hear a kind of shitty copy, some distorted copy. It sounds like me, and
it's exactly what I'm writing. How? So, I investigate and this person kind of
tells me this farfetched story that he's intercepted some of these things off
the Web that are from the future. And it's kind of your duty to kind of write a
record about this or be inspired by this. I don't know if it's bullshit or not.
So, it fits with the music I'm writing now. Let me inspired by, OK. And I end
up making this record that ends up becoming the record that gets sent back to
myself. And that's how these murals have appeared now. Who this third party
that you don't know is we never got into. 'Cause it had its own if there
wasn't a real third party it had its own set of problems that they run into and
they have a real person in there [86:42] We kept that very nebulous, but that
person also fed some graphic artists things that became these murals that
popped up. And so there's somebody that's intercepted some of these things and
feels it's their moral duty they believe it, kind of a conspiracy theorist
person. They start feeding it out to people they like, artists they like to try
to get the seed in popular culture that this could happen, maybe defuse it from
happening. A lot of debate on how to work that in where it didn't feel oh
there's a lost chapter from this. I probably well, I'll say it. There's a
couple guys who were about to talking about writing a biography about me. And
there's nothing that I'd be less interested in than that. You know that's so
not what even thinking about it makes me feel uneasy. But then I started
thinking, what if it was the first two-thirds of the book were reality, up
until the present, then it goes into the last third of what happens to me? The
book has been sent back or found (as an archive). And then it became
interesting, you know. Not sure when the cross over takes place, it has my
death in the book and where it ends up, (ties in to) what happens in Year
Zero. So, that's something that is kind of on the burner right now, may or
may not be executed depending on when I do the second part of this thing, if
there is a second part of this thing.
Rose: A second part of Year Zero? You mean more songs or?
Reznor: Yeah, the idea was that it would be a two part record. And the second
record is yet to be done. Kind of continues the story into answering the
questions that were not addressed on this. What is (the presence), for example.
We know what that is. We made sure we didn't we left it where it could be a
few things. I know what it is.
Rose: You do. Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Reznor: I knew when I first started it what it is. And it branches off into the
incredibly pretentious world of my own philosophy. But that's why I'm just kind
of letting it sit there for a while. I'm the author I can do these things. But
I knew what it was and we made something that wouldn't break, what it is, but
didn't rely on until I find an elegant way to execute the next part that does
what I want it to do but doesn't end my career instantly. [laughs] Or maybe it
Rose: [laughs] So, is this the material you're working on now?
Reznor: Well, it's not right this second I find myself energized, been in a
different mindset. So what I'm doing is just setting them aside for the time
being. I think we'll do some shows coming up in a new way, and some music will
come out before then that won't be necessarily tied into that. And then I think
when I get that out of my system dig in and really if I feel inspired at that
point. It may be one of those things that the moment in time passes. We'll see.
Rose: If you feel inspired to do the next part of Year Zero
Reznor: Yeah, today I don't feel I feel Year Zero felt although it
was very complex, it was effortless to do. The music fell out of my head. I'm
not saying it wasn't hard work at the time, but it wasn't agonizing over ideas
and how am I just get down and do it and it came out. I must have been
thinking about it subconsciously. The ARG, the background of the story was
literally a week of me by myself and a week of me and Rob helping me bouncing
ideas off stuff. It was the meat and potatoes of 90% of it. Then we gave it to
42 and then they executed its chapters of it essentially. But it wasn't it
was never a time when it felt bogged down and stuck in the mud. And I feel like
the second part's going to get a little my hands are going to get dirtier
because it's less off the cuff, and now it has to it feels like it's going to
be that. And rather than put the breaks on right now I'm just say for the next
year I'm just going to sit and think this out and write an album that really,
you know, I kind of feel like I want to get back out and get some music out
quickly. And I have some other ideas that aren't related to that. Those feel
more exciting at the moment. And I'll either get to it, which I plan to, or it
might be one of those things that's there's always something that's I don't
Rose: So, you know there was some pretty ballsy stuff in that album and in the
ARG in terms of you know like political commentary so to speak. Did you get any
flack from that or did you expect to?
Reznor: I heard some things from I have a friend that works in the government
and it was like, "Watch list, you're definitely on it. You fucked
up." That kind of shit.
Reznor: And I don't know if our relationship is such that I don't know if that was
because she knows how I'd react to hearing that. Or if it's truth, you know, I
don't know. And I was too proud to ask, or even inquire about it because I know
that was just a fishhook waiting to you know. But I've gotten in and out of
the country 50 times and there's no sign of that happening. You know, I think
if it it would be sad if what I said got me in some situation where I'm
just, the things that you claim I have, those rights, I'm exercising them. I
don't agree with what you're doing at all. I'm utilizing my voice to say that
and express it in any way I feel is appropriate. But you know I can't I'm
saying that from a guy that hasn't been cavity searched or can't leave you
know what I mean, I haven't felt the wrath of that. So, I'm sure there's a
whole downside to that. But at the moment I'm functioning on the arrogance of
you know fuck you.
Rose: [laughs] Did you see the letter that came in from the kid in Iran?
Rose: Yeah, wasn't that amazing?
Reznor: Amazing, really amazing. I mean and it's stuff like that that kind of was
like, that's why we're doing it. You know what I mean? It reminds you that it's
the meeting of music and all entertainment for that matter or art for that
matter, you send seeds out and people make it what make it their own. That
just never fails to amaze me how that whether it be like the Johnny Cash
covering my song. That's the weirdest because that was literally just a dark
moment in my bedroom trying to make myself feel better, just write this thing
down, turn it into a song and it felt like a very private moment in my own
life, and felt proud of. Ten years later, the last person on the earth I would
expect to hear from, Johnny Cash, wants to record that song. And then it's kind
of is an epitaph for him. Wow, weird. You know I'm like I never would have
imagined that. Finally got respect in my hometown. "You wrote that Johnny
Cash song, right?" "Yeah, I did. I did write that Johnny ",
Rose: [laughs] Right, right, yeah, exactly.
Reznor: Whatever it takes.
Rose: Uh-huh. Huh. Great, well, thank you, thank you. This is super.
Reznor: Oh, been a pleasure.
Rose: Is Rob here by the way?
Reznor: He is not. He is and he lives on the other side of town.
Rose: I'm sorry? He's
Reznor: He's not here, but he is in town. I'm sure he would be.