Clawing Deeper

Trent Reznor talks exclusively to Debra Reynolds

By Debra Reynolds for Drum Media (AU) on April 26, 2005

As Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor puts it; “There’s nothing glamorous about spending time in a psych ward, throwing up all over yourself.” Apt words, because now is the perfect time for the newly sober Reznor to come clean about life, music and his view of the world as a recovering addict. Armed with a new album and newly sober, he’s definitely in a reflective mood. “It’s tough to feel cool in a situation when your shivering, not being able to sleep and feeling like your skin is on fire,” he says. “And that was how I used to live my life.”

Sitting in the vacuous, total-white, Mondrian hotel on the famed Sunset Strip in West Hollywood – a place to people watch if you’re into gawking at pretentious models, up and coming actors, or Paris Hilton – Reznor's gritty presence is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Promoting his new album, With Teeth – the long awaited follow up to the 1999 album – The Fragile, Reznor looks the same as he always has; the familiar badly-dyed black hair, black jeans, and black t-shirt. However it’s his demeanor that belies his appearance’ he is focused, calm and although this new attitude can be heard on the album – confident that With Teeth still retains the band’s trademark sound, frenzies and full of street credibility. However With Teeth also sounds decidedly more accessible for mainstream audiences (perhaps due to the help of wiz producer Rick Rubin), which explains the wide airplay of single, The Hand That Feeds.

Like many musicians who eventually take to the straight and narrow after a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, Reznor (understandably) was scared out of his mind when it came to recording straight. The 39 year old singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist had built a career on creating some highly original, gut wrenching sounds after (and during) consuming and inhaling various illegal substances. Like many others before him – including Aerosmith and Metallica – Reznor was unsure whether he could make it in a sober world.

“Although I’ve performed sober in the past I was scared about recording clean,” he admits. “And is staying sober a fear of mine? Yeah of course it is – but I feel like I am on pretty solid ground right now.”

Still, amid the AA speak Reznor is sincere. Now in his sobriety, Reznor is enjoying the process of self discovery.

“I’m not white knuckling it and I have no desire to return to that life,” he smiles, before pausing “But I can honestly say that I had a lot of good times high.”

“(But) I’ve learned about humility and I’ve learned to be humble. I’ve learned to listen and I’ve learned that I don’t know everything. I’ve learned that I was a very selfish, very self important, very immature person and that my way didn’t work very well. I have the seed of being an addict in me that was going to come out in one way or another. Whether I was selling cars or being a rock star it would be there. While I was using there were a lot of things I hadn’t dealt with in my life. Once I got a record deal all I wanted to do was run away from life and work harder. It meant that I didn’t necessarily deal with my problems. In my case it meant it was writing music or playing music and I was rewarded for that. I felt adoration and I felt like I was doing something worthwhile, so I tended to not have real relationships with people or deal with people because I didn’t know how to do that. I knew how to make music so I kept turning to that. That can work for a short amount of time – but not the long run.

Presumably, day one of recording straight must have been stressful. “The funny thing is that With Teeth is the fastest, least stressful record I’ve ever made – but I didn’t know that on day one,” he shrugs. “I was worried that I would discover, ’Wow I fucked myself.’ I didn’t want to figure that out three days into no drinking I wouldn’t be able to do this anymore, but I found that giving up wasn’t a chore. It didn’t feel like I was living a life of denial or feeling sorry for myself about what I couldn’t do anymore.”

Reznor was born in the small town of Mercer, Pennsylvania. His parents divorced when he was five and he was raised, for the most part, by his maternal grandparents. At the same time he began playing piano and also studied classical music. At nineteen he moved to Cleveland and joined ‘The Innocent’ before creating the industrial alternative sound that is Nine Inch Nails.

“On this album I feel that I addressed the issue of being an addict, and stepping out of denial which I’d been in since 1997,” Reznor says. “I went into rehab secretly years ago, but in my head I thought it was a bunch of crap. When The Fragile came out, it debuted at Number One. I thought I was cured and it was a time to celebrate, but that started me on a roller coaster of terrible things that started on that tour. I was vomiting in hotel rooms and feeling like a piece of shit. The turning point was when my best friend in New Orleans got shot and killed – somehow that was enough. I was at the bottom. I really wanted to die.” It’s at this point that Reznor stops for what seems to be an unbearably long pause. “I felt like I owed (my friend) something, so I got help. This time I listened and a strange thing took place – it worked. In the past I’d always embraced the dark side, flirted with drugs, getting sucked into this romantic notion that there’s something intriguing about that lifestyle, (but) once I got straight I also found out that [Reznor’s former manager] - the guy I had trusted with my life and all of my money – was all gone. That was nice to find out. While I was drunk, someone – that I trusted – was bullshitting me, but it’s not his fault. It’s my fault for not paying attention.”

And like many creative artists, Reznor made a career out of his depression.

“I’ve always battled depression but it was motivational,” he decides. “I could take feeling bummed out and write a good song. I related more to a rainy day and staying inside than the other side of life…as the icon of me became present I was losing myself. I started feeling like I had to be this ‘thing’. I lost track of what was going on – the blur of fame and money.” He leans forward. “And I can tell you that arriving at the point where you’re done with that lifestyle is not a place I ever want to revisit.”

However, life isn’t a shiny new penny every day for Reznor now either. He is, though, philosophical with his hopes for With Teeth. “I have some real issues of feeling worthless that I’ve carried around with me forever,” he discloses. “But now I feel like everything has turned around.”

Like what?

“Well, the last record didn’t sell that great and it’s been a long time in between it. I’m 39 years old, alright? I’m in this ‘I-just-came-out-of-it-I-just-got-my-ass-kicked phase’ of my life. I’m trying to figure out what the world is and how my role is in it. I’m not entering into this world with any expectations of superstardom, but I’ve regained my love of making music. I remembered why I got into this in the first place, which got lost in the shuffle of all the other crap. As for now, who knows what will happen in the future. All I can do is be the best version of myself that I can be.”

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