Trent Reznor interview. Yes, Nine Inch Nails still rules!
Originally published in Stereo Warning on April 16, 2007
Trent Reznor is back. After a long break from music, he discovered that his furious industrial rock based on jagged guitars, booming drums, jarring keyboards and desperate vocals is as relevant as ever. The Grammy-winning performer behind Nine Inch Nails conquered depression, alcohol and drug abuse and returned to the spotlight when his 2005 album, “With Teeth,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. He will follow that record up this week in America and Europe with "Year Zero." Japan will see the album in stores April 25. Trent Reznor is currently on tour with NIN -- and we have to congratulate him for hiring our favorite drummer, Josh Freese.
In an interview, the moody but charismatic Reznor revealed his worries about his comeback, his fight with addiction and his philosophy about writing music and playing live.
STEREO WARNING: When you were preparing for your comeback , did you have
a clue whether anybody still had an appetite for you brutal sound and dark lyrics?
TRENT REZNOR: The culture, the times, the people and the business had changed. I had a new excuse to fight: what if I can’t write sober, what if I don’t have anything to say, what if I’m irrelevant, what if I’m just old now, what if it was just an accident that I got popular in the first place? My lack of putting out records and time between records, although not a calculated career move, may have benefited me because it skipped certain whole subgenres of really bad music. But I didn’t go into the record cycle [for "With Teeth"] assuming that I had all the power that I once wielded.
SW: Has the success of “With Teeth” reignited your love for making
music and touring?
TR: Now I have confidence that I’m working with myself instead of against myself. I can’t tell you how inspirational that feels and how in love with music again I am. Somehow I lost that and forgot why I was doing this and it became a job, a hassle.
SW: How tough has it been to remain sober?
TR: My priorities have shifted. I really want to make the two hours on stage the best two hours I have that day. In the past, those were a pretty good two hours, but the three hours after that were going to be even better.
SW: What was going through your head when you came back to New Orleans after
TR: I’ve missed New Orleans since I’ve moved to Los Angeles . It’s a very flawed place, but I spent a lot of time there. I really got to know myself there. It’s been shocking to see what’s happened to it. I’ve been grieving the loss of a place, because it will never be the same.
SW: How do you approach your live shows?
TR: I like the feeling that I’ve got a great show and a great band and an interesting presentation that I think isn’t rock show by numbers. I put a lot of thought and different layers in the presentation to frame the music in an interesting way. It feels good being backstage knowing that you’re about to unleash that on people. What I don’t like about it is the length of time and the tedium that inevitably crops up doing the same thing day in day out, moving around constantly. My routine is messed up.
SW: So how do you combat that boredom?
TR: I designed a show that could use the scale of the venue and reveal itself over time and it doesn't get tedious to watch. I’ve tried to make it something that visually can support the music. I’m using these props as a framework so that I can get across a range of emotions and have a set that starts in one place and winds up in another. It’s like watching a film or a play, that’s the mission. My goal is to make it so you don’t have time to go to the bathroom during the show. Nine Inch Nails has always had a theatrical quality and in the 90’s that wasn’t necessarily looked at as a legitimate thing in the world of blue jeans and flannel shirts. I’ve always felt like a performer should be and could be larger than life without being comical and goofy – it doesn’t have to be Gene Simmons, you know.
SW: What are you most proud of at this point in your career?
TR: I’m proud that this hasn’t devolved into a nostalgia show. It doesn’t feel like I’m playing a role, it feels relevant and true to me, as much as I can tell. Admittedly, I can't be that objective, but one of the big fears putting the tour together was about the older music. Does that mean anything to me anymore? Do I feel comfortable singing some of these songs? We spent a lot of time learning the new record and then moving backwards in time and finding things that felt good. And I can honestly say looking at the set list that I can’t wait to play these songs.
SW: Are you pleased with the response from the audience so far?
TR: The fact that I look in the crowd and I see teenage fans along with older fans that have been with me from the beginning, that feels great. I’m not trying to sound humbled, but when I came back, I didn’t know how much time passed and how much things are different culturally than they were in the 90’s. It’s been a pleasant reception and I’m grateful for that. I felt like Nine Inch Nails got much bigger than I ever dreamed it could get and I told myself that the reason that happened was that at its core it was honest and true and, luckily, it happened to strike a nerve with people. If I ever pandered to that, to the dollar or commercial sales not listening to what the artist in me has to say, I think that's just death. Throughout my career, throughout getting sick and disappearing for a while, I can sleep at night feeling like I’ve always done what I really thought was the best I can do, like it or hate it, but it never was for the wrong reasons.
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Transcribed by JessicaSarahS