By Lauren Zoric for Drum Media on January 1, 2000

Its the day after the final night of NINs six week European tour, and there are some shabby figures milling around the lobby of the deeply hip blonde wood and cream leather appointed Metropolitan Hotel in Central London. Interviews are running two hours late. But, we're here to see Trent reznor, a man who spent two years working 16 hour days to create his magnificent double album opus the Fragile, a man who gave the world Marilyn Manson and then lived to regret it and who Courtney Love charmingly refers to as "a farmboy staring into the abyss".

After the Downward Spiral epic tour, Reznor dived into producing Mansons Antichrist Superstar and the soundtrack to David Lynch's Lost Highway. Then there was a year of looking around going, what the hell happened? Reznor subsequently spent two years of 16 hour days toiling in Nothing Studios in New Orleans with co-producer, engineer and mixer Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine) creating the 23 song sonic and emotional journey through decay, loss and survival of The Fragile.

Eventually Reznor is presented, pale and bed-dishevelled, shaking hands with an almost feminine gentleness and reeking faintly of last night's drinking. Fragility is clearly a state of mind with which he is intimately acquainted. His voice is a cracked, thick tongue whisper. Actual speech appears to be a painful activity. His responses are disarmingly sincere. I ask him about sacrifice, because he seems like the kind of guy for whom the old adage "suffering for one's art" is perfect.

"I guess I realise the only things I have to say that matter are things that require a degree of sacrifice," he explains in a slow, deliberate murmur. "I sometimes feel very naked because I think I've given up too much of myself that I'm not sure that I wanted to give up. But the decision to give it up was one based on the fact that it made the music and the art better to do it".

What is it with these loner artists who feel like they've got something to prove over and over again? I feel like his mother when I ask if he took a break after recording?

"No, I started rehearsing. I should have, but I didn't," he says almost apologetically. And then the band went straight into touring. The pressure is something Reznor accepts as part of the responsibility he feels as an artist. "There's always so much to do."

Why? Why is there so much to do? He takes a deep breath. "What it is is, I made a record I believe in, and people won't get it unless I explain it to 'em, and if it means I have to tour for a year to show you, I believe in it enough to do it. I hoped I woudn't be in this situation but I think that music sucks right now, I think most bands out right now are terrible. I can bitch about it or make music that is better. But if I do that then I have to try to bend everybody's ears to acknowledge that. It's a hard path," he admits, a little truefully, "and would I rather be at home with my dog and my friends in New Orleans? Yes, but I believe in the record I put out enough to give that up and hopefully persuade people to pay attention to what I'm doing. It may be stupid, but..."

Last night's gig at Brixton Academy was the second of two sold out shows. You can imagine the crowd - black clad, pancake faces in big boots and nose rings. Reznor is not so much a lightning rod for the energy generated as a desperate void, sucking in all the emotion and rage, working him into a hoarse frenzy of mania and self-obsession. Self indulgence definitely plays a part, as does humourlessness. The band play with heads down, a force unto themselves, illuminated in dreched storms of moody blue and purple colour, interspersed with stark, epilepsy-inducing strobe lighting from five very gothic, pronged industrial chandeliers that look like junkyard bric-a-brac sculptures. Relying on electro-keyboard sounds and distorted detuned guitars, with Reznor occasionally standing alone playing haunting piano-keyboard codas, the show moves through the more aggresive rock styles and into the atmospheric ambience of the Fragile. A massive screen comes down halfway through the set, seperating the band from the crowd, projecting black and white images of the sea, roaming creatures and swirling internal organs and cells. There is much interplay between dark and light textures and violent musical dynamics, but it is all contained on stage, Reznor is one of the last great tortured auteurs: writer, producer, musician and all-round creative nazi, and for that he must be respected.

"The studio role that I've been in for a long time, that's the main creative role, and that's the one I really demands the most attention and the one that is the most challenging and intriguing. When it comes time to play it live," he explains, "it's almost like it's cheaper, in a way, it's more immediate and instantly gratifying. It was a big challenge for us to try and interpret the new album live, because it was a lot more mood oriented. It was a lot more moments of space. It was hard to imagine whether people wanted to hear that or not. The band we used to be was a lot more aggressive, in your face kind of band. And the new material requires your attention. It was hard to see how that might incorporate into a live set.

"I think there's an emphasis in the show now of having the ability to try to do softer thing, or more tense things, and I wouldn;t have had the courage to do that in the past. And now I feel like NIN is a new thing and it could be about that. We could be kinda like The Cure sometimes, where there's a lengthy segment of the set that's about mood and atmosphere and not about nodding your head up and down."

The Downward Spiral tour, which came to Australia on the ill-fated Alternative Nation shows in 1995, played many hick US towns over and over, and by the time Reznor stepped off the tour bus, he was a big deal rock star, toting a multi-platinum album, trading insults with ex-lover Courtney Love, shepherding musical protegee Marilyn Manson through the music industry (only for that relationship to sour dramatically) and woke up to realise he had fallen into the abyss he thought he was only playing at.

"The tour was a manifestation of the album and the concept behind that record, which was self destruction," he says looking at me squarely with his startlingly green eyes, "and I found myself very mush living that role. I write a record which was very much a fairy tale, then I lived it. At the end of that tour, which was way too long, I believed the hype. I turned into that person I've read about in the media. Which surprised me. And I have no desire to go back to that situation."

Some people leave their legacy to the world through a family, and others strive to make a mark through the work they leave as a testament to their mortal years. Reznor says he now understands the two are not necessarily going to intersect.

"I realised in the process of making this record, I turned a corner of maturity where I realised I've stopped my life to do NIN and that's not entirely healthy to do that. I've given up a lot of things that matter to me to do NIN and..." he grows quiet, "I've realised... some day I'd like to have family and I'd like to have friends and I'd like to have what normal people have. And I can't have that because I've given up everything to do this thing and my brain works on a kind of one track mind. I like to wake up and devote every ounce of energy to being in the studio or working on a song, coming up with a new idea - at the expense of normality, if that makes sense."

How long can you sustain it?

I've done it for ten years now, and it hasn't really worked out well," he grimaces. "I realise there is a balance that I aspire to achieve and not be completely one sided like I am now."

Can you have everything?

"I don't think I can," he admits emphasizing the pronoun, "but again, I aspire to find some sense of balance."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index