Interview with Trent Reznor

By Gazzaleano for Rip It Up Magazine on December 1, 1999

G. So how is the tour going so far, its getting glowing reviews.

T. So far its going pretty good, we�ve spent a lot of time preparing for this and its been quite a while since I played live. I wanted a band that when presented live to be like a real band and not just a studio band thrown together at the last minute. We have spent a good couple of months just learning about each other, and I think its turned out really well.

G. Everyone here in New Zealand is really excited that you guys are playing at the big day out, we all missed out on TDS tour due to injuries (Drummer Chris Vrenna was concussed accidentally by a flying mike stand that Trent threw and Robin Fink nearly sliced off a thumb while demolishing a guitar.)

T. (Trent laughs) We are very excited about NZ, I think one of the main focuses of the touring for this record is taking into consideration that we are disproportionably big in America versus the rest of the world. I think the reason for this is we never had the resources for it before. We�re really focused on bringing everyone up to speed and doing the work that needs to be done to get everyone on board.

G. The Fragile is selling really well here, how are you feeling in the wake of it�s release and how does it feel to have it finally finished?

T. I went through a period where I didn�t know whether I would get it finished or whether I even wanted to put anything out. It was a mental situation I had to get through upon completion of the record, I felt really proud, I felt great about it and I�m happy to see the positive response I�ve had. It took me two years to make that record, everyday working in the studio. The mindset I was in was that I was only concerned about art and music not about how to sell it to people or whether it was commercial or not. I tried to make it accessible but at the same time I was just trying to please myself and make the best piece of music I could at the time. The tension now skips into touring and trying to support it. I believe in this record enough that I am willing to do what it takes within reason and within the boundaries of what I think is appropriate to make this record get through to people.

G. In some of the reviews I have read for The Fragile, people are calling it a dark album but I disagree. I would certainly say that about TDS, but I think The Fragile has its dark moments but there are also a lot of light moments too.

T. I would agree that TDS was a dark record, a real journey to the bottom. What happened after that was that we toured it for two years and I did wind up at the bottom. The fragile was about repair and it has an optimism about it although I don�t think it winds up in any glorious resolution.

G. Like a shedding skin.

T. Yeah its a direct reflection of the last couple of years of my life and where I�m at with my state of maturity, my mentality and everything else. I am in a much better place now than where I was after TDS.

G. I guess a lot of people ask you to analyse or explain your lyrics but to me all the answers are there in the records, it�s all there for the world to see. I think it takes a lot more courage to be vulnerable, to be fragile.

T. Yes I was thinking the same thing myself, its vulnerable on a number of levels. To me one of the breakthroughs on this record was having the courage to musically and lyrically display something that wasn�t tough or hard. It�s easy to dismiss from a frail point of view and I wasn�t sure if I wanted to open myself up that way but I realised that was the strongest statement I could make, the most true.

G. I can still vividly remember when PHM came out. It was a revelation and it shocked a lot of people. I was listening to stuff like Coil, Neubauten, Foetus etc. but that album really broke through and made, for want of a better word, industrial music more accessible.

T. I went through a stage of feeling really bad and guilty for being successful because all I wanted to be was unknown. I had been touring with Revolting Cocks and playing guitar for them and then suddenly I�m a pop star, I felt like I had somehow betrayed myself. But I think what it came down to was that I grew up in a pretty rural and remote part of Pennsylvania. I didn�t really have any input that was obscure until I went to college, that was when I realised there was a whole other world of music out there beyond the 18 years of AM radio I�d pumped into my head. When I started to write music I synthesised lots of stuff both consciously and subconsciously and what came out had choruses, hooks and pop song structures. In some ways I felt we kinda fucked up a great movement because when we got big all the major labels in America were like "Who can we sign up that sounds like NIN?". Ministry, Front 242, Skinny Puppy all got lucrative deals that placed them in the position of an artist whose got a lot of money to make a record. You�re obliged to make it commercially viable and it fucked a lot of bands up. It�s weird for me to think about that.

G. Is that why you started the nothing label, it just gets better and better and I see you recently signed The The. You seem to be supporting a lot of bands that maybe don�t wanna deal with a major label.

T. Well the theory behind Nothing Records is a simple one, we started off signing to TVT Records which was a terrible label that had no respect or understanding of the artist. These guys were like "why are you so depressed, why don�t you write music that gets on the radio?" and I was like "don�t mess with my art, don�t fuck with me". I finally got to a point with Broken where I had recorded it before I was done with TVT, I said I�ll never make another record for you because you�re trying to turn Nine Inch Nails into dishwashing liquid, when it should be about art and Interscope records came along and bought us out of that. I didn�t know who Interscope were at the time and I kinda felt like a slave who�d just been sold to the highest bidder. I said "OK I�ll make you a record but here�s the conditions; give me a sum of money and I�ll give you a finished record, a video, artwork, magazine ads - everything. I don�t want any input from you at all - leave me alone". I also said I wanted to be able to sign bands I like, they said OK and that�s how Nothing Records was born. We only want to work with artists that have an idea in their own heads of what they think is right and they need a place that nurtures and understands them. They have to realise that there is a really uncomfortable balance between commerce and art, we�ll allow you to do music you want to do but be aware of it, like if you want to spend half a million dollars on a video and it�s someone getting their balls ground up in a meat grinder, nobody is ever going to see it and it�s your money. Simple things like that, basically creating a barrier between the bad guys and the artist and I think it really worked in the cas of Marilyn Manson because the band needed a place where they could gestate and become what they should be without some shiny suited record exec. asshole telling them you can�t say that or whatever.

G. The stuff you�ve done with Bowie is great, what�s it like to not only meet one of your mentors but also inspire them.

T. I grew up in a world where the people on the TV were on a different planet. You couldn�t get there, you don�t know anybody in the world, it was like an impassable barrier to get to celebrity or whatever.

G. A different planet.

T. A different universe. As Nine Inch Nails took off I got to meet a lot of the people I really respected. When you meet them you suddenly realise that what was really good about them was what you yourself as a fan filled in and you made them up to be something they could never be in real life. I was on an incredible Bowie fixation on TDS tour and I got a call from him on my answering machine. "Hi Trent it�s David Bowie", I played it to everybody I knew and I was like, "Oh my God, David Bowie called - David Bowie!". I was a little afraid to meet him because I thought if he sucks then I�m really gonna be disillusioned. I met him and much to my surprise, he was everything I thought he would be and much much more, almost in a mentor kinda way he said, "I know where you�re at right now, because I�ve been there, you can get through it and there�s a positive side you know". It was very inspirational, and although I�m not into ass-kissing, I thought he seemed really together and at peace with himself and his career - a very grounded guy.

G. What are you listening to musically right now, what do you find fresh and original?

T. I�m not really into anything right now, I went through a phase of listening to Drum and Bass, Jungle and stuff but I got sick of that. Most rock music to me is so incredibly boring right now that it�s ridiculous. I think that any time humour becomes a major factor of rock music then something�s really wrong. I was watching TV today and I saw Beck, Foo fighters, and a host of other bands all with funny videos, it�s not my cup of tea. Bands like Blink 182 and all that kinda shit, I don�t find it offensive, I�m just glad that I�m not in that band you know! Like how could I feel good about singing "Pretty Fly For A White Guy" every night? I want meaning out of music and depth and integrity and sincerity, I aspire to put that in my own music and I demand it from bands I listen to.

G. You have done some amazing soundtrack work, Is that an area you would like to pursue more?

T. On the Fragile I realised that when I work on tracks I automatically create a visual scene or image in my head and then just dress the set with music, I try really hard to work on the mood and flavour. What I would probably find the most artistically satisfying right now if David Cronenburg called me up and said "score a film, don�t put pop music in it, actually score it." I would drop what I�m doing and see if I could do it. ID software, the guys I did Quake for asked me to work on Quake 3 but it was kinda like rock songs and it didn�t interest me, I told them if you�re ever going to do something that�s interactive and dark and you need a real soundtrack then let me know. I would not do another lost highway, I�m tired of that. There�s a whorish nature to putting pop music on a soundtrack, just to make a compilation record to sell. With Natural Born Killers, the use of music as a collage really intrigued me, it was a lot of work and I�m really proud of that one.

G. What are your plans after the tour, chill out and relax, recovery?

T. We have another band that is made up of the guys in NIN and it�s called tapeworm. We�re going to finish that record and I really want to start another project with a female vocalist. I�ve got a lot of extra material left over from The Fragile which I really like but I won�t find myself motivated to go and write lyrics for it, I would like to juxtapose it with a very soulful type of vocalist, without being safe, a real collision of genres and sounds.

G. Last question Trent, do you miss your dogs when you�re on tour (Trent has two dogs, a golden lab called Emmy Lou, and a Weimaraner called Daisy).

T. I was just thinking about that an hour ago today, yes terribly.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index