Trent Reznor appearance on the Gonzo Show
By Zane Lowe for MTV2 Gonzo Show on April 6, 2005
TR: You may.
ZL: Good to see you!
TR: Good to see you too.
ZL: Right on man. You’re back with us, with this band of yours. You’ve got a few new players hanging out with you, doing some shows, and more importantly you’ve got this album now, you’ve got ‘With Teeth’, which you’re playing live and you’re representing, and obviously you’re very proud of otherwise you wouldn’t have attached your name to it and put it on the shelf. How does it feel now thinking about the record, you know, getting close for people to interpret it and listen to it?
TR: It feels pretty good. I mean, this whole, the whole setup, really from when I started working on this, ‘til up to this exact moment, everything is really falling into place. It feels strange. It feels right for a change, you know. And who know what will happen as far as public response, but um, and that moment is coming - judgement day – but it feels good. I feel like I’ve put my best foot forward and I’m proud of what’s there, and that’s all I can do.
ZL: You mentioned before that, you know, for once it feels like things have actually fallen into place. I mean, was there a time in your life that you were like ‘God, I think I’m actually born with this dysfunction surrounding my creative pursuit’?
TR: Pretty much all of my life, yea *laughs* I’ve had a lot of that... feeling, but things at the moment…
TR: I’ve got very little to bitch about.
ZL: Things are rockin’ man. You’re looking well as well.
TR: Thank you.
ZL: We’re getting a lot of questions from the planet, MTV2europe.com. We’ve got a veritable bible here from people who want to ask you, and a lot of them focus on the fact that you’re looking pretty buff. I think a lot of people want to know what you’re bench-pressing at the moment actually, cause you’re looking in shape!
TR: Yea, I don’t put a number... I don’t attach a number to things like that.
ZL: *laughs* right, but you look like you’re definitely having maximum weight and minimum repetition cause you’ve got some muscles going on there!
TR: Well.., you know, it’s a long tour ahead of us, I'm afraid I’m going to have to kick some ass, and hey if I’m going to talk shit about people, I’m going to have to defend myself. *laughs*
ZL: *laughs* we wondered whether those days were gone, but you know, we pray that they haven’t. We pray that there’s still a little bile in the system.
TR: *laugh* don’t worry, don’t worry.
ZL: *laugh* Let’s get straight into it right now, with one of these questions. Tea or coffee? Let’s start with a nice simple one from Miss Morbid Desire. Do you drink tea or coffee or both?
ZL: Right, and how do you have it?
ZL: Straight black?
TR: I could make a smart quip right now, but I’ll just say ‘black’.
ZL: Yea I know, all coffee gags have been done a billion times before...
TR: That’s true.
ZL: ...and they’ve been out-ruled on this show. What music is kind of inspiring you at the moment? Now your album is done, I guess you’re in a position to listen to a lot more records without feeling torn between your own creative pursuit and kinda listening to what other people are doing, other ideas. It must be kind of nice.
TR: Um, it is... I mean... yea... I have paid attention to kinda what’s going on, and occasionally a thing comes up that I think is pretty inspiring. I like, I like DFA productions... have stood out to me.
ZL: Well you’ve asked them, you’ve got them to remix, to have a crack at ‘The Hand That Feeds’.
TR: We did... yea, I really liked the LCD Soundsystem record. Just the occasional thing that pops up that I think is pretty good.
ZL: Right, okay. Well, there you go, that’s the first couple of questions from the planet out of the way. We’re going to come back after this and we’re going to talk in detail about the making of ‘With Teeth’ with Trent Reznor.
ZL: Ah, Trent Reznor is hanging out with us today on the brown couch. Comfy, ain’t she?
TR: It’s nice.
ZL: Eh, makes you feel good! Right on! Back with a new album called ‘With Teeth’. A whole bunch of songs that feature together in one consistent listen, and is that difficult for you to achieve? You know, when your making a record, just think how it’s going – the first song is so important when people hear that first track, and then you know, track three tends to be the single, if you’re looking throughout history...
ZL: ...and do you look on it on those terms?
TR: Well, this record started off as more of a... I started off doing it kind of like I did ‘The Downward Spiral’. I had an idea for kind of an arc of the story and a concept, and a title and a number of song titles, and a starting point, an ending point, a resolution and all the trimmings. And when I started actually writing the songs to fill in the blanks, I found that for a number of reasons, maybe just being in a clear head space, maybe having more confidence as I started writing – I realised what I was doing was good, it could have been the way I wrote the record – I started with words, and did it, did demos on a piano, instead of writing in the studio. There wasn’t any real reason I chose to do it that way, other than that it felt like the right thing to do, but as I was working on the record, the songs started to stand on their own, and I thought they were… I allowed myself to think that they are good on their own and trying to jam them into this vehicle, this kinda construct of a story, felt, felt like I was forcing the issue. It started to feel a little pretentious.
ZL: It must have been a relief to be able let go of that in a way – to be able to say ‘You know what, this is... that’s served its purpose’, got that experience...
TR: Yea, a lot of rules I’ll come up with serve their purpose to get things going. I know they might change, but sometimes having regulations and restrictions help me focus on what needs to get done.
TR: I don’t have a band that sounds a certain way. I don’t have… I’m not being dictated to by others what I need to be like, so I’ll start with kind of general rules, and sometimes they change, but I think, as I’ve had some time to think about how this record has progressed, and had to look back at it, the main thing that seems different is I’ve had an unusual confidence that would allow me to throw those rules out, or allow me to say at some point, ‘You know, it doesn’t need all this crap on it. I think it’s good the way it is.’ And that also happened when it came time to arrange the songs from taking it from demo to final version. I went from Los Angeles, where I now live, to New Orleans where my studio is, and the plan was to flesh them out, and fill all the cracks with lots of stuff, little secrets and backwards this and that and you know, there’s the obligatory satanic messages that have to go in. Part of my deal with Satan is to put those in.
ZL: Of course, of course. Represent!
TR: Hey I got eternal youth out of the deal so, you know…
ZL: Right, that’s fine!
TR: *laughs* but as I started trying to do it, I realised that it didn’t really need that stuff. It might be confidence, or it could be laziness, you know, but if felt like I was okay letting some things go, and that even carried through to, say a song like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ or the last track on the record ‘Right Where It Belongs’ – both of those, when I was writing them, the first voice that pops up in my head says, ‘I can’t do this – too accessible, too pop, too catchy, too...’. That was, you know it would be safe for me to make a 14 minute art epic, because I’ve kind of done it, and no one’s going to make fun of you for doing that.
ZL: And you’ve got the fans in place who will appreciate it and buy it.
TR: Maybe, but I wrote some songs that felt like ‘Well these are pretty catchy!’ I didn’t write them to buy a new pool, you know, I wrote them because they just, they sounded good to me, and at the end of the day, I felt like it’s a strong, it’s a strong song. Like a track like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ kind of jumps out of the speakers after first listen.
ZL: It sounds like classic Nine Inch Nails to me, and I mean I know you’ve said this before about how accessible that song is, and absolutely there are hooks all over that track, and it’s great – it sounds great on the radio, the video looks great on MTV, you know, but it’s certainly not overly accessible – it sounds like you’ve made a pop song, it sounds like a Nine Inch Nails hit.
TR: Well, looking at the collection of things, I think it’s on one end of the spectrum, and that always brings up a ‘uh-oh’, and really that ‘uh-oh’ feeling is me worried about what people will think, and that’s not really being honest with myself.
ZL: I mean this, obviously, with utmost respect, that as well as the world has changed, so perhaps your platform isn’t as vast anymore to be able to say, ‘I’m going to really push the boat out. I’m going to challenge people as much as I could.’ But ultimately, with this record, maybe you need to be more direct. You need to remind people that this is exactly what I do and this is who I am and this is how *bleep* straight ahead I can be.
TR: I know what you’re saying there, and I’m not taking offence to it, but it really wasn’t why this came out the way it did – this record. I think that the record as a whole is more accessible, certainly than The Fragile. It wasn’t... it really wasn’t ‘uh-oh, I’ve been away being an addict somewhere. I’ve got to put out a record and I’ve got to…’ You know, career has always come second to trying to make the best record I can make, you know, and it’s... it might sound pretentious to say, but I feel good about everything I’ve put out I really believe in, and I think I’ve done the best I can do at the time, and been as honest with myself as I can be, and I sleep good at night knowing that, you know, and when this record was being written, it was kind of under the assumption, you know I got into this story with you elsewhere, but getting clean and getting your life in order, which is where I’ve been in the last several years, teaches you humility, and a humble nature that I’ve never really known before, and in the context of all that, the idea of still having a career was something that would be nice, but it could be gone, and if it is gone it’s okay, you know, I can still try to make the best music that I can, and this record came out the way it did and then it’s interesting and it’s kind of exciting to see that it is being received as well as it is, so far. But that’s a by-product of the record, not so much the plan to get that by making a record like that, and it wasn’t... I didn’t make this record to be the opposite of ‘The Fragile’, it just, when I started to work on it, this is what felt good to me, felt like the right way to do it.
TR: I sat down to write this record with a new set of tools and abilities than I had when I did ‘The Fragile’. ‘The Fragile’ – I was… I can see now clearly I was on a slippery slope headed to disaster, and I couldn’t think and I was terrified, and I couldn’t think clearly enough to write lyrics really, and I didn’t have great lyrical concepts, but I could improvise in the studio indefinitely, and that record grew into this big blob of what it is, because that’s what I could do at that time, that’s the best thing I could do. I listen to it now – ‘The Fragile’ – and I feel that um...
ZL: Yea, how do you feel…
TR: I’m proud of that record, but it feels really weird to be, because it’s like… I know I’m about to walk off a cliff after I finished that record, and I can now hear insights…
ZL: Can you take yourself out of that and hear that within the music as well, and hear…
TR: I can hear what’s coming, but I couldn’t see at the time, you know when I did ‘The Downward Spiral’, I thought I was writing a kind of amplification or projection of me. I didn’t know that I was predicting the future, you know, I didn’t know I was writing a script that I was about to then execute.
ZL: And why would you? You know, when you listen to ‘The Downward Spiral’, you think ‘God, it can’t get much worse than this’, you know ‘I’ve been through the worst of it surely at this point’.
TR: Yea but it did, and it does *laughs*, you know.
ZL: What freaks me out, and I tried to touch on this before when we spoke, but what really freaks me out is when you talk about this era of your life, and I met you for 45 minutes once and had a proper sit-down one-on-one with you about ‘The Fragile’ in the time you were doing all the press and promo… it really didn’t strike me that you were in that state. Now, most people who are in bands, who are struggling with drugs, or with whatever – addictions, it could be addictions to drama, anything – it’s a lot more obvious with them and if anything, they use it to promote their records or they use it to sort of say ‘Hey I’m a *bleep* out of control here’, you know, they make the most of that time in their life, and then they let it go. It seems like you kept this very much within.
TR: Well, because you were seeing me at a phase where you missed the part where I was bragging about it. I’d already learned that’s big trouble, now I’ve got to pretend everything’s okay, and that’s the time you caught me, at that phase, and, yea I don’t even like thinking about that time, so thanks for bringing that up, man…
ZL: Yea, you’re welcome man.
ZL: Right, this from Jay Hybrid, how did you discover the visual artist or graphic designer to do the artwork for your record? How do you go about making that decision? It’s got a uniformity to it?
TR: On this record? This time around, Rob Sheridan is the guy that’s done all the graphics for us, and I found him before ‘The Fragile’ came out, and he just had a fan website, and we hired him to do a website for us, and kind of go on the road with us and document what was going on and, his work led to the ‘And All That Could Have Been’ DVD – he filmed that, and we just immediately hit it off and have the same sensibilities, so when things came around this time, the typical procedure would be to find a fine artist and collaborate with them, and have another art director that puts it together, and Rob’s ideas are really good, and we just said ‘Let’s just do this thing,’ and he also directed ‘The Hand That Feeds’ video, and…
ZL: Which is good, a good solid performance video, I think, that one.
TR: I thought so too. You know, to me it was like, being in a band and it’s time to do videos - and I don’t do videos myself - you kind of get thrust into this position of, you know, if you’re an arty cool band, pick from one of five directors and you can think off the top of your head who they are, you know, and hope they come up with a clever idea that gets you on MTV and everyone is happy ever after, but it doesn’t feel sincere to me, it feels… you know, I think Spike Jones is a great director…
ZL: Michel Gondry’s a great director...
TR: Michel Gondry yea, Chris Cunningham, Romanek, you know, down the line, you know the ??? ones because they always have the best videos. So you end up either taking a chance on somebody that’s unknown, that you’re... that has it’s own set of problems, or you’re playing it as safe as you can be by hiring one of the few guys to hopefully make something that attaches itself to your song…
ZL: Well it certainly did that, you know…
TR: This time around it just felt like it’s not the right thing to do. Let’s just - the song is good, I think the band is good - let’s just have the band play the song and hopefully do it in a way that’s not too…
ZL: Corny or?
TR: That’s not boring, you know...
ZL: Yea, exactly. It’s also nice at the end, I mean obviously you’ve got like the instruments at the ground, the rock feedback and stuff, which takes you back to ‘March of the Pigs’ and stuff like that. I can’t remember, was ‘March of the Pigs’ actually, was that recorded live music as well?
TR: ‘March of the Pigs’ was everything live.
ZL: That’s what I thought.
TR: We played, literally played the song 15 times and whatever one was the least shitty was the one we ended up using.
ZL: Did you think about doing that with ‘The Hand That Feeds’ as well?
TR: We were going to do it, and then I got beat down by a number of reasons why you weren’t supposed to do that, and I conceded…
ZL: Right, fair enough. Do you have to do that very often nowadays, or are you still in a position to pretty much control your own?
TR: I can do what I wanna do, but often when it’s presented to me in a way that ‘Here’s the upside and the downside’, I weigh it out and then it’s my call as to what I think is right.
ZL: Sure, so you just take it on as advice effectively.
TR: *pauses* It’s advice, no one tells me what to do…
ZL: NO ONE tells Trent what to do!
TR: That’s... remember that.
ZL: We’re running out of time here, we’ve only got a couple more minutes, so I’m going to race through some questions from MTV2Europe.com for our very special guest, Trent. High-fives man, I’m enjoying myself today!
TR: Me too!
ZL: Alright um…
TR: If it was all this easy…
ZL: There you go. Well, you know what, I’m open! I’m ready to go! Take me out on the road. I’ll do all your press. Different territories, I’ll get a linguist, linguistic coach!
ZL: Your recent concerts are both physically and mentally demanding, obviously - here we go - obviously you’ve prepared yourself physically for the rigours involved – everyone’s noticing the physique, you’re looking good! How do you prepare yourself mentally? Wigglebutt wants to know. I mean, are there little rituals you do, without giving too much away, before shows, you know…
TR: Uhh, not really. There used to be a ritual that was, involved copious amounts of Tequila *laughs*
ZL: Those days are done!
TR: No, really right now, it’s just about… often I’ll get really nervous before a show, even now, and so it’s just a matter of me reassuring myself everything’s okay, as kind of stupid as that sounds…
ZL: Yea in 2 hours it’s gonna be done and yea…
TR: As soon as I walk onstage, I’m fine, but it’s that half hour before of… panic. Not really panic, but a mild sense of ‘something’s not right’.
ZL: Without crossing the line of journalistic professionalism, where do you stand in terms of what you entitle yourself to do and don’t do on the road – obviously drugs are out of the question – do you still entitle yourself to have a drink? Do you… are you allowed to have a drink now?
TR: No I don’t drink or do anything like that.
ZL: Right, so you’re pretty much completely clean now?
TR: I am *pauses* 100 percent clean.
ZL: Well you’re looking better for it. Has it been hard though, to find things to replace that aspect of your life though? ‘Cause that’s what people say, is it’s kind of a replacement factor to a certain extent.
TR: Well, one of the reasons that I didn’t jump right back into doing a record and touring immediately after getting clean was I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin before I went into a situation that had prior, previously got me into trouble, you know, and it wasn’t touring that got me into trouble, you know, it was just the fact that *pauses* I’m an addict, and I happen to be in a lifestyle that maybe accelerated it a bit, but it’s not why it happened. So, you know, I enter into this phase of touring and even doing the record with a pretty good, safe ground base of knowing who I am and what I am and feeling good about things. I don’t, I’m not in a white knuckly situation and I’m not uncomfortable with what’s around me and…
ZL: Good. Got a juicer?
TR: I do have a juicer.
ZL: Yea, yea yea, I’m big into juicers right now.
TR: Yea, what’s your flavour?
ZL: Carrot, beetroot and apple mix I think goes down very well.
TR: A little ginger in there? Spice it up?
ZL: That’s what I’m talking about right there! But then after you have the beetroot juice, if then you have a bowel movement and you find it’s slightly… don’t panic!
TR: I thought I lost a kidney once, but… till I learned what was happening.
ZL: It’s the power of the root man, it’s the power of the root!
ZL: It’s good to see you dude.
TR: Good to see you too.
ZL: Thanks for coming in and hanging out. Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails, of course the album ‘With Teeth’ is coming your way, and you’ll get plenty of chances to see them play live, we’ll keep them on the road for as long as we can.
Transcribed by Tallulidal on #ets