Trent Reznor : The Voice of Reason.

By Moon Unit Zappa for Raygun Magazine on June 1, 1994

It seems to me that the process and the product are Trent's precious gifts to himself and therefore to us. Mr. Reznor is as textured and multi-layered as the music he assembles. Musically, I am aware of his relentlessness in terms of getting to the underbelly of an experience or feeling and digesting it fully - even if it poisons him. This is a slightly edited version of a conversation we had one night in April,just before Nine Inch Nails hit the road to bring you The Downward Spiral. Don't read on if you want to hold on to illusion.

Trent hums...

M: Oh, you're gonna hum for me. This is good. So, tell me, what kind of gum are you chewing?

T: It's my favorite, uh, Extra...blue...whatever flavor that is.

M: Is it sugar free?

T: It's sugar free and the flavor does last.

M: Please tell us where we are.

T: Physical location would be the Record Plant,cool cool LA studio where all the women that they hire have gigantic breasts. Observation.

M: It's not something you requested?

T: No. I mean, you notice, though,'cause when you're in the studio it's kinda like being out at sea for five horny guys sitting around looking at computers. You notice those things.

M: Can you please describe for our audience what you're wearing?

T: Well, these pants, there was a time for about a year, these were kind of like a brown. At one time, they were more brown than they are now. Brown hides the dirt well. I think I wore them every single day during the recording of the album. Kind of a thing. And when the record got done, I kinda put 'em away, and then today for some reason, they just happened to be the only thing that wasn't moving on it's own, 'cause I'm kind of in a laundry crisis situation right now.

M: What are you working on here?

T: Uh, what are we doing? We're just getting some studio stuff out of the way, some re-mixes for Nine Inch Nails,and, uh, gearing up for a video. We were supposed to be in Australia, but about a week ago we realized that there wasn't enough time to get everything done we needed to get done, and we're making the excuse that our drummer has a hernia so we can't go, which he does, but...

M: Taking advantage of his hernia...

T: Exactly. Plus, we figure it's a good way for him to meet girls, too. Sympathy thing [laughs]. I better get more in the death mode or I'm gonna blow my whole career..

M: [laughing] What is your never list?

T: Never...

M: Yeah, it could be for other humans.

T: Never...hmmmm...can't think of any good, witty things to say to that, uh...

M: [laughing] I'm trying to stump you, Trent.

T: You did. You're supposed to ask, you know, what was it like living in the Sharon Tate house and I just start talking, the same answer I've told everybody. And then where'd the name Nine Inch Nails come from? Are you really depressed? Boy, you're record's sad! What was it like working with Adrian Belew?

M: I'm sorry, but none of those questions are here on any of these cards...

T: I don't know the answers to any other ones, so you'll get a lot of umm...uhh...

M: Well, would you like to answer any of those questions or should we -

T: No, I don't really want to.

M: You don't have things you always say yes or no to?

T: I probably do. I hadn't really thought about that, though.

M: What will you never turn down?

T: What will I never turn down?

M: Yeah.

T: [shooting a dead-pan look] Um, well, I mean, it was nice living there. I didn't realize that Sharon Tate, that it was the "Tate" house, when we chose it. It was a cool place...

M: [laughing] Do you meditate?

T: No.

M: What's your favorite home remedy?

T: I got this one off my doctor friend. Uh, it applies to a lot of things, but in the context it was described to me was...I have a problem with my ears when I fly, something 'bout my I've got Eustachian tube trouble, you know? I dont' brag about that to a lot of people, but I do, and I said, "What can I do so that my head doesn't explode when I go in an airplane." He said,"Well, the best thing to do would be to put your thumb up your butt, and then blow." I found that it works for lots of things,like I was having trouble getting a good kick drum sound the other day...[the "look"]

M: How much money did you pay for that advice?

T: Uh, I think that was free. The best advice always is. [laughs]

M: How did you choose the director for the "March of the Pigs" video and what was the process like?

T: Well, we did two videos for that song. The first one failed miserably and we spent a lot of money on it, and the second one was just a desperate...uh...we've got no money left, so let's just use one camera. We did do the video the first time with Peter Christopherson, who directed a couple of videos we'd done in the past, and I like Peter and we came up with this idea,filmed it and a few things didn't quite turn out the way we wanted to. At the end of the day, when we looked at the footage, it looked kind of average. I was having a heart-to-heart talk with Rick Rubin one night and he said,"How's your new video?" I said,"Uh, it's pretty good." "It's not great?" I said,"Well, it's not great; you wouldn't see it and say it's great." "Throw it out and do another one." "Well, we just spent a lot of money and..." "Nah, I mean, you wouldn't put music out that you felt was just pretty good, right?" I said, "No" "Well, a lot more people are gonna see your video than are gonna buy your record, so..."It got me thinking about the twisted state of music today. How many homes does MTV go into,and by chance, the few that might be up at 4:30 in the morning on a Sunday night and catch the Nine Inch Nails video is gonna outnumber the amount of people that are gonna buy the record. We tried re-editing - I thought that the performance that we did in the original video was good, but it was so much bullshit going on with cuts and stuff, that it could've been any band in there. So we just decided to do it live with live audio and just try one camera shot. We played the song about 15 times and picked the one that was the least embarrassing,just to make a kind of an anti-video statement. I thought this will either be cool or it'll suck, you know, and I'm not really sure yet.

M: You don't know?

T: Someone told me it was cool, once. "Yeah, yeah it is cool..."

M: A reliable source?

T: Well...I...I...I mean, I trust my mom's judgement.

M: I agree with your mother. I like it. I think it's funny. I especially like your sideways...

T: It's not supposed to be funny. [laughs]

M: I'm sorry.

T: [laughs] It's supposed to be, you know, scary and intense.

M: Yeah, it was...

T: You like my what,my thing where I'm tripping and I try to make it look like I meant to do that?

M: No, your sideways crotch grabbing or scratching dance. That thing.

T: Oh, that thing, yeah. Well, you know, Axl's got his shuffle and...

M: I haven't seen you live, so I didn't know if that was your signature move or...

T: Something just came over me that day. I don't think it is.

M: Now, I noticed that the look that you guys put together is very interesting. Is that intentional? Or is that sort of like everyone's personality? It seems that the Pearl Jams of the universe don't really care about what they're saying with their wardrobe.

T: I think it relies on their confidence. I like to be entertained, and I lean towards more theatrical type things,as long as there's an amount of sincerity and it's not totally cheesy. I think when the grunge scene took over, which to me was a kind of culmination of all the bad, not necessarily bad,but jangly college rock bands who just look like normal guys that I guess the statement was, "Look, this is honest; we don't need to pretend we're rock stars and all this shit." I think that mindset is a good one, and it brought a breath of fresh air; it killed off the Bon Jovis and those type of bands with our new earnest attitude. But that's become contrived now. It all made sense one day when I was drug out to the...what's that shitty bar on Sunset that has a bunch of local bands play all the time? Linger is it? Lingerie?

M: Yeah, Club Lingerie.

T: Some reason I ended up there and it's local band night, and this band comes on stage, singer's got a flannel shirt on, bass player no shirt on, someone else with a gas station attendant one-piece blue Sears thing with someone else's name patch on it, and I listened to a couple songs, and, uh, sounds kinda like Nirvana, not bad. Have a beer, turn around, next band's on stage, this singer doesn't have his shirt on, and the bass player's got the flannel shirt, you know? On the fifth band, they're all interchangeable, this one a little more Pearl Jam. I mean, when I see a show, I want to be entertained. I'd rather see David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust on stage than that guy that just pumped gas for me down the street.That in itself is a fairly unfashionable thing to say, but I'm bored with all that shit. In the past,I think Nine Inch Nails would just be kind of afraid of that element of things because you do walk that line. You're setting yourself up to be ridiculed if you don't look safe.

M: Who is your audience?

T: At one time, I could've maybe told you, but now I don't know.

M: What kind of relationship do you want to have with your audience?

T: I'm appreciative and I try to treat people cool if they get to me somewhere.I realize very much that if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be doing this, but it's too weird to try to understand what they think you are, like in the media. I think the way most media tries to portray me is not entirely accurate as to who I think I am, if I know that anymore,but I don't. I realize it's just a game. I'm not gonna know any of these peole that are reading about me, and if I can amplify that into something that's more entertaining to them, I don't care.I read some shit that pisses me off about me that I know isn't true, but who cares, you know? I say you know a lot. Normally, I don't say that. You know?

M: I can edit those out, but I think I do know.

T: I'm gonna try and answer the next question all in a belch.

M: How did you know that you had a voice?

T: An artistic voice, you mean?

M: Both.

T: Well, I could talk and sound came out, you know? [laughs] No, I was good at playing an instrument and I was good at...music was something that came easier to me than other things,so I knew that's what I wanted to do and wanted to be at the position I am now, but I didn't know how to get there, and, uh...I did know how to get there, but I was afraid to try it in case I failed miserably. It's easier to talk about what you want to do and then not do it than to try it and possibly be awful at it and then have to face the reality.I didn't want to just pretend. I was objected to know if I suck. I'm not going to pretend I'm good and just suck. You know what I mean? It wasn't until I was like 23 before I ever wrote a song. It sounds stupid, but the first songs I wrote were my first album because I was afraid of sucking. So I'd play in other people's bands and arrange music and be the keyboard player and stuff, but I came to a point where I realized I was just a fuck-up and, okay, I'm a college drop-out,I could have a drug problem if I let myself to it,I'm working in a fucking studio cleaning toilets,I've got a bright future ahead of me [we both laugh]. So I just stopped my life and decided I"m going to try this 100 percent and see what happens.

M: What do you hear when you are listening to music?

T: I think the thing I like about music is that it can communicate on a bunch of different levels, to me anyway. When I hear, not all music, but a good portion of it, instantly it brings visuals to mind of where I was when I heard it, or some mood. It is not totally literal, it's not like, um, what am I trying to say? It's almost like snapshots,but it's not just places and times, it's feelings and moods. I think it's a cool way to communicate,and I know when I was growing up there's certain things that totally affected me and things I could relate to,and if I was bummed out, certain records that can be a very personal cool soundtrack to life. That's a pretty pretentious thing to say, but...

M: Then do you choose your moods? Do you choose music to try to put yourself in a particular mood?

T: I should consciously do that more, but usually it's...to change the CD,I have to go in the trunk, so whatever's stocked. I've been in the same mood for three months.

M: On this album, it's a concept album, as I understand, correct? Theese are not personal experiences, or are they?

T: No, it is personal experiences, but it's wrapped up in the highly pretentious idea of a record with some sort of theme or flow to 'em, and it was meant to be. I just tried to make a record as a big hourlong chunk of music rather than a bunch of three minute popsongs that just happened to be on the same record. I don't think many people are doing them that much these days. It's become a kind of a dated Seventies concept, but some of the records that influenced me a lot on this album, like Low and even The Wall - I'm sure I'm ripping off Pink Floyd, in fact, I know I am ripping them off. There's records, although they may appear dated today, that try to do things that are more exciting to me than,"Here's my video track and here's my dance song and here's my power ballad." All that kind of disposability. It was just me bored, trying to come up with something that I kind of wanted to set the pararmeters to work within,to focus more... This flash cards idea is kind of nice.

M: Actually, you can interview yourself.I can leave and you can just flip through these, say the questions and than answer them. So, do you believe in God?

T: Um, I believe in, you know, some sort of a God.I don't really know what I believe in right now. It's been something that's been plaguing me for, I won't say plaguing me,but there's a desire for me to get myself this spiritually.I wanna start by learning more about some Eastern mentalities that I don't know that much about. I know what I don't believe in and just through, I think, the inevitable process of maturity and trying to keep and open mind, and trying to analyze why I feel a certain way, sorta, in things, make sense to me, like karma. Certain things don'tmake that much sense to me,like organized western religion.I understand why people need religion and don't think it's wrong for people that are into it at all, but it didn't work for me.I don't want to sit and pretend that it did because I'm afraid that I might get punished for not believing in some fairy tale.

I have concepts I feel pretty strongly about, but I haven't done my disertation on it and created my own religion. Certain things make sense to me - I innately feel them versus being taught them. You know what I mean? I believe that there is a connection between everybody and nature in partiuclar and that rather than overly concern yourself,"Why are we here? What is our purpose? What are we supposed to do?" I don't think we're meant to know that, you know? Every philosopher in the history of time's come to the same conclusion. At the end of the day, I've proven that that's a bottle of beer, and that I'm going to die and , you know, that's it.

M: What do you wish for other humans?

T: Well, I mean, for my own perspective, I'm just searching for some amount of enlightenment, or self-examination to figure out why I feel the way I do about things. And I find that I'm not there yet, but I think that would be the key for me-being fulfilled as a person or as a human being. If I don't reach a point later in my life where I go,"Well there's a lot of elements in my life I've never really considered. I don't really know who I am." I haven't really explored the options and dared to ask myself things that I'm not comfortable with that are not pleasant to examine. And what would I wish upon people? That's what I'm wishing for myself, is that some day I'll come to some point where I feel a degree of contentment, you know, "contentment," and whatever it is in me that's making me want to do what I'm doing. I feel like I've done something, you know? If not for anybody else, for myself. But I'm generally not happy. I'm glad I'm doing these things.I feel like I mad a decision a few years ago to really try to work at something, and it's paying off, but, um, it'd be nice to be able to live in the same place for more than three days. I don't have an address right now. I'm looking, which is another long story, but my home is the tour bus till we get off.I don't have anyplace I can go home to right now. It'd be nice to have a relationship with somebody where you're not constantly somewhere else and to have some degree of normality. That I had, and hated, now I don't have. I just want to rent a movie someday.

M: What would you rent?

T: What would I rent? If it was today, right now, I would rent Steve Martin's The Jerk. I'm in that kind of mood right now. Normally, real depressing, sad, violent kind of movies, you know?

M: Do you like David Lean's films? Do you know who he is?

T: Um...

M: He did Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago...

T: Not very well versed in that...

M: You would like his work, I think. That'd be my recommendation, but you know, I don't work in a video store. What was your favorite toy as a child?

T: Um...dont' know that it was my favorite, but do you remember...how old are you?

M: 26.

T: You're old, so you know. Do you remember whirly birds?

M: Are they those things where you go like this [rubs palms together]?

T: No.

M: Oh.

T: An amazing helicopter toy that, there's two little controls,it was on an arm, so it would fly around in circles.

M: Oh, yeah, sure.

T: You could make it pick up shit, little houses and stuff. That was up there. That was one of my favoirites. And the Six Million Dollar Man doll. I had the fucking spaceship and the control center and I would daydream about being bionic and kicking people's ass at school, you know? [whispers] "I'll show them, I'm bionic" That was pretty fancy, but I was a little concerned about potentially developing into being a homosexual because it was a doll.Back then, guys with dolls, it was a new thing. Parents weren't sure what was gonna happen, you know?

M: You questioned your sexuality that early on?

T: Nah, nah, yeah, it's a doll, but it's like Planet of the Apes. Man, it's cool, uh, that's really cool, G.I.Joe, but if you had a Ken, that was your first step.

M: Were you a Monopoly person or a Clue person?

T: I think I would have been a Clue person, but we always had Monopoly around,so I became the master of cheating that game. And my grandpa would always let me play...

M: So you were the banker?

T: He knew I was cheating and let me in my own home. [grandpa voice] "Did someone take that 0," accidentally scooping hotels on to Boardwalk, that kind of thing. But I got into Clue late. The problem with Clue were there was never enough people around to play it, 'cause it was just me and my grandparents where I grew up, and they learned quickly the art of not getting board games so that they didn't have to play!

M: Do you have any regrets?

T: Oh, I"ve got tons of regrets, you know?

M: Really?

T: I mean, various degrees of regrets, some professional, many personal. I went through an ego phase, treating people shitty phase, and I'm not proud of those times. People start to get power, they go in with noble aspirations, but start to abuse it, realizing they can abuse it, and I had done that. There's times when I, not willingly, but have probably, um, treated people differently that I would now becaue of some scenario, some trip I was caught up in at the time. I'm not proud of that. I'm not making excuses, except that it was a total, it still is, total lifestyle changes. I don't have to worry about paying the gas bill anymore. It seems silly to even think that way, but to never have thought about those things, and suddenly it was like,"I can buy a bed." I've never even had a bed, you know?

M: What's been your greatest artistic accomplishment?

T: Well, at the end of this record, there's one last song that'd been kinda floatin' around that I ended up recording, kinda not knowing if it was too naked to go on that record. It's the last song, this sounds totally cheesy, but it was so fucking heavy when we were in the studio doing it that, it was intense. [tough-guy voice] I'm not gonna say I was crying, but it was, I was there. I knew it meant a lot to me to write that 'cause I was sorta excited and I had goose bumps. So I just put it on the record and I thought it made a nice ending to a gloomy little song before I kill myself, so I figured, "Well, this'll be my kind of regret song." When it got done, I really was proud of it - it's probably one that I'm most proud of on that record. Last week, here's where the artistic achievement comes in, I'm supposed to meet this friend of mine who's an engineer, he works for A & M studios all the time,to talk about doing a remix for something. It was about midnight, and he's like, "Do me a favor, just meet me across the street, the bar across the street, okay?" My engineer and I drive there and park and the bar across the street is, of course, a strip club. So I walk in there and I'm sitting down talkin' to the guy, and I'm not really paying attention to anything that's going on - it's not typically where I go to hang out - and what comes on the PA system for the girl to dance to but that song [laughs]! I just...just...my jaw dropped open to see like a woman in her underpants, dancing to this fucking song that was totally out of place anyway in that kind of environment. It's just a dirge, it has no drums, no beat or anything, and I just started laughing. "Fuck, this is, uh...I can't believe how out of context...this is not supposed to be here!" So that's when I knew I had made it. Now, that's not a very good answer. No, I'll give you a good answer. It was kind of funny in a sad way, to be honest with that question, when I finished this record, I was afraid because I try to look at it like I'm making art. The bottom line is, it is a product for sale in a store and I thought, "I've made something that I really feel I'm proud of, but I don't think it's a very commercial type record." But I was and am still proud of this record, for me, it's the best thing I've done.I did some things I didn't know if I could do or not, and I don't mean for that to sound egotistical, but I think you have to believe in your own stuff if you're gonna put it out. Ask me after my next record and I'll probably , I hope, say the same thing.

M: What part of yourself did you kill off with this album?

T: On one level, I was afraid of the studio and I was afraid of the creative process. I was afraid of interacting with other people in that process. I got over that, I'm not as apprehensive to be around people. I used to just be mortally afraid of other respected musicians.

M: What is beauty to you?

T: Where did you get these questions? Um, no, it's a good question, actually. I think things that are beautiful, to me, are less obvious. I think, uh, Joel Peter Witkin's photographs are beautiful, although probably most people would say they're grotesquely ugly, but to me that's what makes it more interesting. The music that I like abstractly applies to beauty, generally, like the best stuff, when you hear it at first, I don't know if I like that or not, you know. But you wanna maybe hear it again. By the fifth listen, you understand it and see through, you see into it's beauty. By the tenth listen, its still revealing itself to you, rather than...um, um, somthing that on the surface is very obvious and then lacking. That could apply physically in people, what I find, might find beauty, you know? Very few traditional beautiful types that I think, you know, they aren't beautiful, but I think my idea of what I find beautiful is slightly off-kilter from you average, from what we're told to say is. It's weird when you get asked questions that require you to be eloquent and have something intelligent to say, but you don't really. You're thinking while you're talking.

M: The lightning round.

T: Exactly. (dunce voice) Yeah, uh, uh...it's not just,"Hi." And it's in the context of, it's not, you know, we're not like out on a date just talking, you know? I'm talking to the people who are trying to read the font of Ray Gun... "What the fuck does that say?!!!"

M: Evil?

T: What do I find evil?

M: Yeah.

T: Um, I think LA is evil. I think LA brings out an uglines and evil in people that moved here to be a part of what LA supposedly is. And I'm saying that from just being here a year and a half, realizing I don't really like it here that much, without really trying to fit in.I'm here to work, so that's what I try to do, but I have been around the people that, generally,this is a very general statement, that LA attitude of insincerity and "what can you do for me," that sickening career cutthroat bullshit.

M: What's right in the world? What's good?

T: Now, there's a tough one. There are things that are intersting things to think about. Um, I don't have a totally pessimistic view of people and humanity in general, then you start thinking and turn the news on and people are still blowing each other up in Bosnia and South Africa's killing everybody and 500 people died in the last couple days. I can't understand that perspective-I'm not saying it's wrong-I can't imagine, being from a cushioned American upbringing, being so worked up about that guy who believes in a different god than I do that I've gotta fucking kill im and blow up his house so that I can claim that land seem so silly to me. But you see that and then you see the abuse of ecology and the whole thing really lessens my faith. I don't think we're ever gonna blow ourselves up and don't think that anybody,when it rightly comes down to pushing that button, I have faith that that wouldn't happen. At the same time, I firmly believe that we'll destroy the ozone layer and pollute the world to where we'll kill ourselves anyway because some fucking company doesn't want to lose money by admitting that their chemical pollutes or they'll lose money if they have to switch over to some other fucking thing or thinking that'll happen in 300 years when I"m gone. That kind of shit.

M: Um, how is that what's good in the world?

T: Oh, yeah. I think the ability to love somebody is a good thing.

M: You're rolling your eyes when you say that.

T: Yeah, I just realized that's one of those really stupid things, but I do think that as ridiculous as things can be as a human being, that's what the fuck I am saying. I mean, I feel this way, but I sound, no matter how you say that, it sounds stupid...um, I think being able to care about somebody else and have some sort of camaraderie is, uh, that's good. And puppies, I like puppies a lot. I do like animals. I love animals...

M: That's good.

T: Generally more than people.

M: Are you a cat person or a dog per-

T: Dog. I know that means I'm insecure about-

M: Oh, I've never heard that.

T: Some fucking cat lover said something about that. Cat people are secure, you know, dog people need...

M: Oh, gosh! My interpretation is that dog people don't mind being licked, which I have a problem with. I'm not familiar with that, that cat manual that your friend has...

T: Well, that's anti-dog propaganda.

M: Have you ever been in love?

T: [quiet] Yeah.

M: How'd you know?

T: Have you?

M: No...I don't think so.

T: You'd know [laughs], I think.

M: Okay, I guess the last thing I want to ask you is, um, are you planning on immersing anything in hot beans?

T: [laughs] Is that what he asked you to ask me?

M: He's laughing, Dweezil.

T: [still laughing] That was good. That was good. After reading how I come across in this interview, I might want to whip up a batch.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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