TRENT REZNOR gets to the point about Nine Inch Nails' long-awaited new album

By ROB BRUNNER for Entertainment Weekly on September 1, 1999

Though Barbra Streisand fans might disagree, one of the fall's most anticipated albums has got to be -The Fragile- (Nothing/Interscope), Nine Inch Nails' first full-length recording in five years. Early word and the initial single, "The Day The World Went Away", suggest a departure from the band's trademark aggressive pounding toward subtler moods and textures. What's behind head Trent Reznor's follow-up to the masterful -The Downward Spiral- ? We chatted with him to find out.

Brunner: Okay, enough with the mystery: What does -The Fragile- sound like?

Reznor: It's hard for me to be objective. At one point I thought it was radically different from stuff I've done. I approached it with a completely different attitude. It seems to be a little more musically adept.

At the end of the last wave of Nine Inch Nails stuff (-The Downward Spiral- and David Bowie tours) I was a bit disinterested in the musical situation I was in. I felt that the last interpretation of NIN had come to it's completion, so I wanted to reassess everything and make it as challenging and interesting for me as it had been in the past.

B: How did you go about doing that?

R: It was a matter of starting over, relearning how to write songs, reapproaching arranging music, trying to really get to the core of what excited me. I came to the conclusion that the emotional content was the most important thing. I messed around trying different traditional ways of songwriting. I realised that the Beatles' songwriting formula is a standard in terms of chorus, melody, structure. I appreciate that a lot. But I also want to try to make interesting songs that aren't traditional in that sense.

B: So what ARE they?

R: They're NOT trying to be harder, faster, meaner, tougher. I had to come to terms with where I'm at in my own life. I'm a different person than I was when I wrote -Pretty Hate Machine- . I'm ten years older and I've had a world of different experiences. My life at that time was a lot less complex. Musically, there's more effort [on my part]. I think -The Fragile- is a much more organic record. I don't think it necessarily sounds like a real band because I pretty much played everything myself.

And it's kind of a claustrophobic-sounding record. It's about things breaking. There's always a sense that things might implode, in the sound and also in the lyrics. It's not a muscle-flexing record. You don't listen to it real loud in a car on a sunny day with the top down. Not that I've ever made music like that.

B: What kind of response are you expecting?

R: I'm not that excited about a lot of popular music that's out now, and I wonder how this album fits in. It doesn't cater to what's going on right now. Nor is it intended to be the opposite of what's going on right now.

B: So you don't care about commercial success at all?

R: I'd lie if I said I didn't care. That's part of my everyday world now. Success has affected what I do all day. I have a studio. My job is to make music as opposed to cleaning toilets or something. So that's been a result of commercial success. And of course I'd like everyone to think -The Fragile- is the greatest thing in the world. But I remind myself that that's not why I'm doing this. A lot of times when you get caught up in the whole competitive nature of the industry, backstabbing, clamoring over people to get up a notch...I have to get back to why I wanted to do this in the first place: a love of music, trying to make something that will be remembered as important, as having affected people-not just that it had a bunch of singles. I really don't know if I wrote a bunch of singles [on -The Fragile-]. That isn't the point.

B: A lot of people are expecting this to be an "important" album, a masterpiece, even. Was that something that was in your head while you were making it?

R: It's in my head, but that's also the kind of thing that is a recipe for self-imposed pressure that can be stifling.

B: -The Downward Spiral- came out in 1994. Why the long delay between albums?

R: A lot of it was really that I didn't want to make a record for a while. I wanted to get my head around trying to make playing music fun again.

B: What are the risks you're taking with -The Fragile- ?

R: Well, from a career point of view, one risk is that there hasn't been a lot of output from Nine Inch Nails in several years. We're in a climate where bands come and go. I remember when I was growing up, if a band you were interested in put a record out, you would buy the record regardless of whether or not you heard it. I think that in the climate today, with MTV, the one-hit-wonder factor seems to be back. There doesn't seem to be a lot of loyalty fanwise.

Also, -The Fragile- doesn't adhere to any genre that is considered in fashion at the moment. You hear that rock is dead, but who cares? Boring rock should be dead. The biggest risk is when you challenge a listener to get something out of the music that isn't apparent right away. I thought -The Downward Spiral- did that. When I put it out I thought, "Well, this is the end of my career," at least from a commercial [perspective]. I just got a plaque for 4 million records sold in America.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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