Nine Inch Nails
Translated by Svenke with help from Anonymoose and siNNer.
By Martin Carisson for Close-Up Magazine on April 20, 2005
Every record release becomes an event. It's so easy when you've waited for more than half a decade. When NINE INCH NAILS now reveals itself again there are many questions. Close-Up got the first and only Swedish interview with Trent Reznor since 1999.
Text: Martin Carlsson
Foto: Rob Sheridan/Chap Baehler(Live)
"Why are you so surprised?" Trent Reznor asks.
Because this isn't what I had expected. OK, I'm suffering from jetlag and woke up at 5AM to later get to the luxury hotel Mondrian in West Hollywood at ten to 8, long before record company representatives and other press. But that Trent Reznor finishes his interview sessions at half past 2 in the afternoon, which started at exactly 10AM, doesn't seem like him. The man who is synonymous with Nine Inch Nails and who dresses in black from head to toe shouldn't be up so early. He should be isolated in a murky studio all night long avoiding the light as the plague.
That's the way it's always been.
"For some reason fate played a prank on me and now I wake up at dawn and sleep in the evening."
Aren't you a night person?
"Not anymore. I've actually been awake during the day the last couple of years."
Why is that?
"Well, after I turned sixty I discovered that I woke up a lot earlier and that I was more productive during the day than I was at night," smiles Michael Trent Reznor who turns forty on May 17.
Have you become more disciplined?
"Yes, I used to have a completely different sleep pattern (diurnal rhythm). The phone used to stop ringing at nine in the evening, which gave me a good six hours of work. You know, space for my time. In a way I like the thought of that the world around me is my slave and that I can do what I want to. The last couple of years I've noticed that I get up frighteningly early though and now that time is in morning. Mentally I get more done before the stress of the day takes it's toll. It's weird how I've changed. I don't know if it has something to do with getting older."
"I've been sober for a few years and that has probably something to do with it also. Today when I wake up and have a bunch of ideas and thoughts I'm disciplined and write everything down. The catch is that I'm ready to hit the sack at midnight, which isn't regarded as very cool, but it's working for me."
Disciplined? The years 1989, 1994, 1999 and 2005 witness of something else. About five and a half year has passed between each album release. The whole truth can't be found between these numbers. After the debut 'Pretty Hate Machine' slowly became a million seller in the states the record company TVT started to use creative control over Trent who wanted something else. A long legal dispute left him tied up until 1992, when Interscope came into the picture and let the artist create his own sub-label, Nothing. The same year the hyperangry mini-album 'Broken' was fired off, like spitting in the face of TVT.
Between 'The Downward Spiral' (1994) and the double album 'The Fragile' (1999) Trent manged to finish series of projects. Among them the remix album 'Further Down The Spiral'(1995) and the soundtracks to 'Natural Born Killers'(1994) and 'Lost Highway'(1997). To that he produced and put his touch on his recruit Marilyn Manson's breakthrough album 'Antichrist Superstar'(1996). At the time for 'The Fragile' Trent explained that he was afraid to take on Nine Inch Nails again. It had grown into a monster and both the surroundings and his own expectations became a creative block. But, he emphasised, the next album wouldn't take as long. Now we are writing 2005 and the follow-up 'With Teeth' (Interscope) arrives – after about five years and seven months.
Trent Reznor leans back in the couch and takes a deep breath. I find myself trapped in a corner. Do I want to talk about things I'd rather not proclaim to the world? Should I try to avoid the questions that I really can't avoid, becasue they will be asked? Or should I just tell the truth straight up?
He chooses the latter alternative.
"The sad truth is that I was about to die and that I had to get sober and drugfree. It took a while." Trent starts his long and revealing account of his fall and finally his rise.
”I can't remember how this got started But I can tell you – exactly how it will end Every day is exactly the same (Every day is exactly the same)"
"In the middle of the 90s I started to drink too much, which then led to drug abuse. Towards the end of the last tour I did, I hated myself and I was going die. I hated everything about myself, I was a hopeless drug addict and I couldn't stop. I tried to kill myself this way. Some terrible things happend, which finally made me make a decision: 'I can't continue like this. Either I'll die or I will feel better.' I chose to feel better.
Then I realized that I had neglected myself as an individual as long as I can remember, definitely as long as I've had a career. My way of dealing with things was to run away from the and avoiding them. I knew that if I was working with music, did a tour or wrote a song everything felt better. That's how I dealt with everything. It worked for a little while.
Then I realized that drugs also helped. They also worked for a little while and helped me through things that I thought that I couldn't handle and seemingly impossible situations. But they aren't the answer to all solutions after a while they turned against me, which left me with nothing."
”I tried to patch up the cracks and the holes that I have to hide For a little bit of time even made it work okay When they figured me out and it all just rotted away Don't you fucking know what you are (You know what you are?)"
"When I made the decision to get clean I decided to also put energy on finding out who I was, what I was and what I wanted to do. If I was going to be able to stand being sober, if I was going to be able to stand myslef and finally if I want to continue creating music and if I wanted to have a career. The demands, all the nonsense – it wasn't fun anymore.
That's why I took a couple of years off and did was I was told. Just for once I listened to others and I realized that I didn't know everything, that I wans't the smartest guy in the world, that rules also applied to me and that my way lead directly to the gutter. I learned humility, I learned a lot.
At one point it was time to ask myself another question and find out if I even could create: 'I don't know if I can write sober, I can't remember if I've ever done it. I don't know if I've snorted my brain to pieces. I don't know anything more to say or if my brain still works.'
It wasn't something I was ready to find out three days after I stopped drinking. I wanted to put down the foundation for a fairly stable life situation before I took that step and started to put pressure on myself."
Last time we met, in London october 1999, we discussed the misery that Trent had been wallowing in during the time leading up to the release of ”The fragile”. He had recently gone to therapy for the first time. When I asked if he had learned anything about himself I got an answer which sounded frank.
"Yes, above all that if you are depressed you don't deal with things and you have to accept that for yourself. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, but when I had accepted it, it made me feel better. Everything isn't my fault, I feel that I can love myself."
With the answers in hand it sounds like one big lie.
”Hey, the closer we think we are Well it only got us so far Now you got anything left to show? No, no, I didn't think so Hey, the sooner we realize We cover ourselves with lies But underneath we're not so tough An love is not enough (Love is not enough)"
Wasn't it really pure self-fraud you were doing when you did press for 'The Fragile'? The answer is so complex that Trent feels the need to tell his story again, in more detail.
"To put everything in perspective...to be an addict I though I was a pretty normal person up to 'The Downward Spiral' tour. It lasted for two and a half year and halfway in I re-discovered my love for cocaine. Towards the end of the tour we wrote ”The Antichrist Superstar”, which was a really insane period, and then we recorded it.
Then it had become pretty clear for me: 'It's gone so far that I'm not really normal, I'm more damaged than most people.' Things started to become really bad and got in the way of what I wanted to do in life. It started to become a problem... No, it was a problem. The situation became really bad and I put myself in a detox-centre.
I can't remember how much I told you then, but it wasn't anything I was proud over and I didn't really know what I was putting myself into. I didn't know anything about addictions or what an alcoholic was. I just knew that I drank too much 'but I'm not an alcoholic, I'm the guy on the street with a rotten nose who vomits all the time'. I fought my way through my thirty days in detox, somewhere halfway into the recording of 'The Fragile'.
"I'm getting smaller and smaller and smaller And I have nothing to say It's all been taken away I just behave and obey (Getting smaller)"
"I sat and nodded a lot, 'I get it, I understand', and went to a lot of meetings. When that month was over I realized that I had learned a lot of smart stuff, but in my heart I wasn't convinced that I was an addict: 'I have suffered through a bad period and been through a lot of crap, I never want to return and become that person again. But I know that I will drink again, there's no doubt at all that I'll be able to do it again'.
'The Fragile' took a couple of years to do. The part of the recording that took place after the treatment was made in a sober or partly sober state. There where times though when the panic took control. I needed to come up with ideas and any bottle of wine was sufficient. In the morning I discovered three empty bottles of wine on the floor and wondered 'how did that happen?'
The album was done and went straight to number one in America and the same night I thought: 'Everything is OK, I can go and and drink socially with others.' It went great and a couple of days later I thought: 'Oh, it was just a bad dream and now everything is OK again.' After a a couple of days I went out and got a couple of drinks and it went well. Anoter couple of days later it became sixty drinks, which wasn't so well.
Then I started to tour and I was sick from the first day to the last. It was overdoses, missed concerts, constant vomiting. A terrible, terrible, terrible time.
Now I've lost my soul with it, I feel like a big asshole and I don't know what to do. I know better, but I can't stop myself. I thought I thought I was smarter than it appeared I was. I thought it was a struggle that I could win by thinking my way through it."
After 'Fragility v1.0' and 'Fragility v2.0', as the tours for 'The Fragile' was called, Trent returned to New Orleans in the summer of 2000. Five years earlier he had moved there and bought an old from 1850 in gothic/Victorian style. Nothing Studios was built in a nearby building which used to be a funeral home.
A corpse now worked there, cut off from the world living a almost hermitical life , surrounded by only a few friends. The self chosen isolation made his condition even more precarious. The turning point came in 2001.
"My best friend in New Orleans was shot in the head and died. It was a guy whose whole life had been a a tragedy, born in the slum. I think that it in a way was the pointlessness in his death and that no one cared, neither the police nor his family, that made me gather strength for a while and say to myself: 'If not for my own sake then I must try and fix myself for his.' This led me to path which would be the hardest I ever walked. At the same time the result was surprising since I in some way got it this time."
”My life it seems has taken a turn Why in the name of God would I ever want to return? Peel off your skin We're gonna burn what we were to the ground Fuck in the fire And we'll spread all the ashes around” (Sunspots)
"You can hear this from any addict but it really is so that you have to sinks so deep you can to be able to say: 'I've had enough'. I really hope I've been there because I never want to become that person again.
This time my attitude was: 'Tell me what to do, I'll do anything. If I have to go to a meeting every five miute I'll do it. My way isn't working. I've tried it, I have bent the rules, I've made exceptions and it only lead to that I felt a thousand times worse than before. I don't think I can keep on going like this without losing my life and I'm not interested in fooling around.'"
Do you think that you started to belive in the myth about Trent Reznor...
... all the self destruct and chaos you wrote about and acted out on stage?
"I don't know if one thing lead to the other or the other way around, if you know what I mean. I worte about it and what the happened...I know that I at one point felt lost and started to define myself from what I read about myself. I didn't really know who I was anymore."
”You can live this illusion You can choose to belive You keep looking but you can't find the woods While you're hiding in the tree What if everything isn't quite as it seems (Right where it belongs)"
"In the mid 90s there was nothing that made me stand down. When we went out on the road none us had a place to live, we left our belongings in a storage room and disappear for a couple of years. When the tour bus at the end stopped there was another zero at the end of the sum on my bank account, I had a whole new group of friends and all of a sudden everyone wanted to hang with me.
I had a very twisted look on...everything. I didn't have the faintest idea of who I was any more. There's where the drugs comes into the picture. To get high is way to try and deal with the situation. It's a regularly occuring phenomenon, but I happen to have that addict gene in me that couldn't wait to be watered."
Year 1994: ”Nothing can stop me now cause I don't care anymore”('Piggy').
Year 2005: ”Nothing can stop me now and there is nothing to fear”('Sunspots').
"An obvious self-reference," Trent states.
Do you look back on who you were and who you are today on 'With Teeth'? The theme on 'The Downward Spiral' wasn't really about you though...
"But it will be about me in the end," he smiles and thinks for a couple of seconds. "When I wrote 'The Downward Spiral' it was about someone who I hoped was a caricature of myself. It was thoughts that I had, but who in the story took maybe three steps further than where I was at the time. Then everything became reality in some odd way.
'With Teeth' was made after my treatment. A lot of what I've written deals with that process and how I see things with new eyes. So yes, I refer to the picture I had of myself and put it in a new context."
The work on 'With Teeth' officially started in January 2004. Once again the starting point was Los Angeles.
'The Downward Spiral' was made in the Hollywood Hills mansion where director Roman Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson in 1969. Before ”The Fragile” Trent also went to California and the beautiful nature of Big Sur. At the advice from demo producer Rick Rubin he tried to cure his writers block by using a grand piano as his only instrument, something that resulted in ”juicy love ballads” which was quickly scrapped. This time a house in Beverly Hills was rented, where a demo studio was installed.
"When I got here to Los Angeles I had compressed everything to 15 demos with about 45 ideas. It could be a simple groove or a finished structure of verse/chorus/mid-section. There were stuff I hadn't played around with in a long time, even stuff that didn't make it to ”The Fragile”, but none of those ended up on these fifteen tapes."
How did you progress after that?
"I was really disciplined and told myself that I wanted to finish two songs every ten days. It didn't matter what state they where in, they had to be finished in one way or another. Then stuff started to pour out of me rather than that I felt that my work capacity was limited due to that I wasn't high/intoxicated. I felt taht I could work again, that my brain was working.
Instead of being covered in plastic and have a head suffocated by cotton I could think, get ideas in a rational way and be able to make them (?). It was wonderful to discover that I still had assets and resources within me, that I hadn't managed to destroy them."
In May last year Trent had made material enough for two full-length CDs and returned to New Orleans to put it on tape. Song, bass, guitars – for the first time he took care of everything. Jerome Dillon, the only one left from 'The Fragile' era, did some drums. The rest a certain Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, ex-Nirvana) is behind.
"It was a part of my ambition for renewal," Trent explains. "I wanted Dave's powerful sound, it needed to sound alive, like someone was beating the shit out of the drumset."
'With Teeth' is different on several points compared to the predecessors. You have to go back to 'Pretty Hate Machine” to find as conventional songs as these. The early club hit 'Down In It' would fit nicely next to 'Only', which precise drums beat highly untipped brings your thoughts to ZZ Top's 'Gimme all your loving'.
The album starts very careful with the peeled down 'All the love in the world', where the vulnerable singer in his solitude asks the question: 'Why do you get all the love in the world?' A grandiose piano - think Moby but a bit smarter - changed the soundscape and the following crescendo feels like a relieving bearhug.
'You know what you are?' keeps, as the only song, the hard heritage from 'The Downward Spiral' and it's massive pressure stands in contrast with the rest of the records Spartan performance.
Bouncy new wave-flirt 'The Collector', the single 'The Hand That Feeds' (can a "Veckans hitvarning" on ZTV get any more unlikely?), the monotonely chanting title track, the muffled threatening 'Love is not enough'(is it possible not to love such a rhyming chorus?) and crawling 'Sunspots' rests heavy on drums and bass.
In the latter's chorus ('She turns me on/She makes it real/I have to apologise/For the way I way"[sic]) Trent reveals the same Prince-seducing side as in the old track 'Heresy'. The cutting synth here becomes a twisted snakecharmer shriek.
Drums and bass seems to have been a general theme during the songwriting.
"That's actually something I haven't thought of," Trent says, a bit nonplussed. "It was a deliberate attempt to try and not overarrange everything and fill every songs with soundlayer on soundlayer. I used to lack self-esteem and from fear I put on layer after layer because it felt safe. This time I found inspiration in early Killing Joke and Public Image LTD's 'The Flower of Romance' (1981) - minimalistic stuff that seemed interesting without containing a lot of crap. 'Every Day is Exactly the Same' is in other hand also uncomplicated and direct, but rolls out a synthmat that has been kept in safe keeping since the 80s. At the finishing stretch 'With Teeth" takes on an ever nervier shape.
The desperate hymn "The Line Begins to Blur" forces itself dangerously deep into the heartchamber and brings up the most existential questions. It passes over, without stopping, into the mooodpiece "Beside You in Time". It's music that only Trent Reznor can create. So penetrating that you get scared, so hypnotic thah you easily end up in some kind of involuntarily suicidal trance. The tranquil final "Right Where It Belongs" is just as moving. The framing is really effectful; the singer puts on a devoted, almost pleading tone and everything is covered with a damping cover. When it is snatched away the song (as in lyrics) ends up in front of an arrangement that has had the sound of an screaming audience added. It doesn't matter how much acknowledgement he gets from the mass he still stands there lonely in his illusion.
I could talk forever about what an masterpiece Trent Reznor has yet again created.
Instead I manage to pass a judgement that makes him dismayed.
Because "Getting smaller" is an intriguing part of 'With Teeth'; Hives-garage rock in the verses and with a chorus that gets support from an attack guitar that Slash could have played in one of Guns 'n' Roses or Velvet Revolver's faster tracks.
"During the work I didn't know if it was going to end up as a Nine Inch Nails song or an experiment. It doesn't sound like a traditional Nine Inch Nails track."
"Correct. And then I had to argue with myself if saying just that meant that you are full of shit. What does it mean, that you have to sound like something you've done before? When Dave Grohl played on it... It sounded completely different with a drum machine, more Devo and less, like you sadly expressed it, Velvet Revolver!
He lookes really disturbed. I emphasize that it wasn't meant as an insult.
"It's ok, I know what you mean. When Dave added the drums it got more of a "rocker" label. It instantly became more exciting, more free. There were discussions though if it was going to be on the album or not: 'Yes, it's different, but different in a good way?'
When we were going to finalise the track order many of my favourites didn't make it and was left on the pile of material for the next album. I decided to put 'Getting Smaller' on there because it needed and aggressive track and I thought that I needed to make a Velvet Revolver song. Hey, I think I'll go kill myself now!"
Trent laughs, oh how he laughs.
In September 2004 his home in New Orleans was put out for sale. Six months later an anonymous buyer (according to rumours the actor John Goodman) bought it for roughly twelve and a half million kronor (I think the number was converted to SEK and that it should be around 1.5 million dollar).
Now Trent has his base in Los Angeles.
Both Nothing Studios and the record label Nothing is gone. This since he has left John Malm Jr. his manager since the 80s and a part owner of Nothing.
"I fired him, he's a cunt," the singer spits. "He's sued me for something and I've sued him for something and we are fighting."
Several millions are at stake and Malm Jr has managed to stop the release of the DVD-version of "Closure" (1997), a double-VHS with promo videos and a magical portray of the tour chaos 1994-1996.
"Hopefully the conflict will be solved soon. The DVD is finished with an hour of bonus material from that era. It's fucking cool."
Last year marked a time of parting. The legendary project Tapeworm - Trent, the singer Maynard James Keenen (Tool, A Perfect Circle), bass-player Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails 1994-2000) and programmer Atticus Ross (12 Rounds) - was declared dead after it had been talked about since the end of 1996. Not a single note was released. A Perfect Circle performed the track "Vacant" live in 2001 though, and it then ended up as a reworked version as 'Passive' on 'eMOTIVe' (Virgin,2004).
The group that once was an intricate part of the live spectacle Nine Inch Nails since 1994 - guitarist Robin Finch, bass-player Danny Lohner and programmer/keyboard-player Charlie Clouser - has also been passed on to the history books. Early this year Trent made a statement that more or less looked like a miscredit towards this line-up.
Is it important for you and this new version of Nine Inch Nails to put a distance between you and what has been?
"As I see it... I've already described what kind of state I was in. There's another aspect too look at. My understanding of how everything was then was that we weren't as vital as we've been before. The shape of the tour and the stage production felt a bit pompous. The whole thing had developed to something that in my eyes felt too big."
"When I was standing on stage some things worked wonderfully, others were more like a not completely working version of somethign we've done before, on the tour for 'The Downward Spiral'. To be standing on stage under that tour was like being hit by lightning, every night felt like the best moment in history and stars were lit on in the sky.
If it was real or not I don't know, because my condition made me incapable of doing a good judgement of what was happening, but the tour in 1999-2000 didn't feel vital. When I later loooked back at that tour it was the same people who was on 'The Downward Spiral' tour. When we talked about playing live for 'The Fragile' I was put under a lot of pressure: 'You have to go out and play these song and give the audince what it wants.'
"I didn't talk back that much, even though I knew it wasn't the right thing to do. I don't mean that you shouldn't give people what they want, but it should have been 'do what feels fresh for us'. Rather that than living in fear: 'We've built something that works and don't ever tough it.' As I see it we milked the whole thing beyond it's lifelength."
In December 2004 the new mercenaries was announced: guitarist Aaron North (ex-Icarus Line), bass-player Jeordie White (A Perfect Circle, formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez from Marilyn Manson), keyboard player Alessandro Cortini and the drummer Jerome Dillon, still on his spot from 1997.
"I got rid of the old band and started over with some guys that could recreate the new album's instrumentation, that felt hungry and didn't carry a lot of old baggage."
To bring Jeordie White, isn't that to look back at the past since he's been in the picture the whole time?
"That's true, but he is a completely different person today and he is in another phase of his life."
Aaron is described as 'the last piece of the puzzle'.
"We tried out every guitar-player in the world to find the right man for the job. Without really knowing what I was looking for I realized that I was looking for the wrong type. Then Aaron showed up. He looked poorly, the hair was standing up in every direction and he seemd to just have gotten out of bed. The equipment he brought sucked and I muttered 'Damn, this guy...' The same second that he started to play a light went up for me. Aaron was exactly what I wasn't looking for, but he was still perfect. I hired him right there.
We started to rehearse the whole new album. After that we carefully went through older songs that we collectively decided was good or bad. Of the thirty-ish songs we've rehearsed I can honestly say that there isn't one that makes me want to say "I definitely don't feel like playing that song tonight. That's a feat, because there are some which choruses I'd rather not sing for the rest of my life. These we've either skipped or reworked so that they feel vital without being nostalgic.
Marilyn Manson versus Nine Inch Nails, the Hultsfredfestival gives us a match this year between to friends that have become bitter enemies. Trent Reznor discovered Brian "Marilyn Manson" Warner and created a star. Mansons auto-biography 'The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell' (Regan, 1998) lead to schism. Trent was portrayed as the ring leader in the women degrating activities what was going on backstage when Marilyn Manson was touring with Nine Inch Nails.
When we met in the autumn 1999 Trent said:
"Manson's twisted reality and painted an unfair picture of me. I didn't say anything for several years, but it's important that I give my version to explain how I ended up in a depression after being involved with Manson and how that affected me on the new album. But I'll sleep good at night if I never mention his name again.
The retort was called "Starfuckers Inc.' with fierce lines like "My god sists in the back of the limousine/My god comes in a wrapper of cellophane/My god pouts on the cover of the magazine/My Ggd's a shallow little bith trying to make the scene".
A while after that the couple made up/reconciled and Manson even appeared in the video for "Starfuckers Inc.". It didn't take long before the harsh words started to fly again though.
"I can't remember a specific event that caused the discord this time. I thought long and hard on this," admits Trent who never mentions Marilyn Manson by name. "As I see it he has spend an enormous amount of time the being as mean, wily and treacherous as possible. From writing his book to hanging out his last girlfriend - on every level his behaviour is despicable. He isn't on my list of favourite people, I can tell you that."
"At the same time I can see that he is in a period of his life where he's right up in it. I'm not doing any direct parallels to my own life, but I can see some behaviour that reminds me of how I used to be. I'm not putting any energy into wishing him something bad. But I'm not really sure I'm ready to ask him over for dinner, the whole situation has left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth."
A seconds silence, then a question.
"Are we really playing at the same festival?"
Trent leans in over the taperecorder and half whispers with a sharp tongue:
"I hope we go on just before him and blow him off the stage!"
He says thanks and drives off in a brand new BMW 845i, so black that it doesn't even have a number plate.