Nine Inch Nails: the last Canadian show ever?

This weekend’s Virgin Festival gig could be Nine Inch Nails' last Canadian show ever. In an exclusive interview, Trent Reznor gives the pigs their marching orders.

By Liisa Ladouceur for Eye Weekly on August 26, 2009

You can’t say he didn’t warn you.

When Trent Reznor walks off the Molson Amphitheatre stage this Sunday night he won’t just be closing the Virgin Festival, but also powering down his entire Nine Inch Nails juggernaut for good. He’s been careful not to call it the end, a split or even a hiatus. But when he announced this past February, via a post on nin.com, that, after 20 years, “it’s time to make NIN disappear for a while,” you could hear the sucking chest-wound sound caused by all those plugs being simultaneously pulled from the black hearts of those who’ve faithfully followed him long before you could do it on Twitter. Lucky for them, (and by “them,” I truly mean “us”) there’s been plenty of chance to bust out the combat boots and give the band a proper farewell salute.

First there was a tour of Australia and New Zealand, followed by the summer NIN/JA tour opening for Jane’s Addiction, billed as the last go-round for North America. Then, an extensive tour of European and Asian festivals. And then, just five weeks after what was supposed to be his final Toronto appearance with NIN/JA (and after telling crowds at Bonnaroo they were witnessing the band’s “last show ever” in the United States) Trent revealed yet another tour, dubbed Wave Goodbye. So what gives? Is Trent the new Cher?

“What happened was that when we finished the NIN/JA tour, my own personal feelings were, ‘Well, that’s it.’ I was happy,” says Trent, calling from his L.A. home on one of his few days off the road. “But for winding up NIN, it kind of felt it would be nice to have a few shows that could be a little freer, and not so constricted with time.”

NIN’s headlining spot at Virgin Fest is the only goodbye gig you can still get tickets for, after all eight club/theatre shows in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles sold out in moments. Trent admits the V-Fest paycheque will help fund the other shows, which will lose money, but that it wasn’t the only reason to come back. “There is a bit of a mercenary aspect to it, but at the same time I do truly enjoy playing the Toronto area.”

Toronto seems to enjoy hosting him: from club shows, like opening for Peter Murphy at RPM (now the Guvernment) in 1994, through Lollapalooza at the CNE and big arena/stadiums tours with Bowie, Manson, A Perfect Circle, plus two sweaty sold-out gigs at the Kool Haus for his With Teeth comeback in 2005, and the technical spectacle that was last year’s Lights in the Sky tour.

Asked for his favourite Toronto-area show memory, Trent picks out NIN’s 1994 visit to Molson Park in Barrie, which also featured Pop Will Eat Itself, the local live debut of Marilyn Manson and reigning alt.rock gods Soundgarden, all of whom were upstaged by the sonic trauma, digital theatrics and Grand Guignol chaos that was NIN in its post-Woodstock ’94, drug-fuelled heyday.
“The one that sticks in my mind is that festival we played with Soundgarden,” he says. “We had a chip on our shoulder about Soundgarden because their record [Superunknown] came out the same day Downward Spiral came out, and they beat us to No. 1 on Billboard. That became a kind of professional showdown. And we did show them.”

Before agreeing to this interview, Trent’s management requested that I not ask about “the state of the industry.” But after I follow his Soundgarden story with a quip about his heavily publicized Twitter feud with Chris Cornell earlier this year, Reznor sounds off all on his own.

“I really have no personal issue with Chris at all,” he begins. “The thing I said on Twitter… it goes deeper than what have may appeared on the surface. We were on [Interscope]. And I have had Jimmy Iovine, the president of that label, come up to me on every record from With Teeth onwards saying I should do some sort of urban thing — it was Timbaland for a while, then it was Pharrell for a while — because ‘that’s how you sell records.’ The idea seemed so preposterous and insulting.

"I’m not talking about ‘let’s go make a record with Dr. Dre,’ because that would be kind of cool. What he’s talking about is making your record sound like what’s on the radio, whether it’s appropriate or not. And that’s what Chris did. I think that when somebody who is respected like he is goes that route, it sends the message that it’s OK to give up any kind of core values you had to be the fashion of the moment. I don’t think that’s OK. I think it’s harmful. If I have one major fight in the world of the music business, it’s trying to keep art first and commerce second.”

Viewed in this light, Reznor’s decision to retire his band as a touring entity can be seen as an act of rebellion against the wheels of industry. After celebrating his independence from recording contracts by giving away MP3 copies of his last two albums, Ghosts I-IV and The Slip, for free (Ghosts became the first Creative Commons album to be nominated for a Grammy and made over .6 million in paid downloads and physical copies), he’s turning away from the one thing that still makes money for the music business.

“I got into this because I felt that I had something to say; it wasn’t to get rich and it wasn’t to get famous,” he says. “But in the climate today, there are people nudging me towards, ‘OK, you’ve made some money, let’s make more money.’ And you make money touring. But I find that, as a 44-year-old man, that’s not really what I want to do all the time. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy playing shows, but I don’t need to do it for a year, living the same day over and over again. My time would be much better spent creatively, rather than sitting on a tour bus because it’s a money-making machine.”

He’s not saying exactly what’s next (“I know better than to be specific because then I’ll get harassed by my fans”) but reiterates his interest in software development and says the idea for a Year Zero TV series is “still alive.” He also admits two things he won’t do: write an autobiography or take time off.

First, though, there will be just a few more nights at the mic, spewing out angry rhyming couplets, torturing his gear, his techs and his guitarist, Robin Finck. And when they inevitably close their set with 1989’s underground smash “Head Like a Hole,” those watching for the last time might find comfort that 20 years on, Trent is still making good on his mantra: “I’d rather die, than give you control.”

“I don’t ever want Nine Inch Nails to be a responsibility,” he says firmly. “Well, it is, I guess. It’s my whole life. But I don’t want it to be something that feels like a job, or an obligation that punishes me. I don’t feel that Nine Inch Nails is out of ideas. But it is starting to feel comfortable. And I want to throw myself into something that feels uncomfortable and risky and see what happens.”

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