Die Rueckkehr: Teil 2

By Kym Gnuch for Sonic Seducer on April 20, 2005

Why not start with a historical retrospect? Some things just fade over the years. Just in time for the decade switch between the eighties and the nineties, a brutally innovative phenomenon entered the stage of rock history, which was absolutely legitimate one of the few real revolvers of this epoch and which to it's credit invented a unique “sound-speech”. Such a shape of industrial rock like that created by nine inch nails couldn't be found in earlier times. Skinny Puppy covered the electronic area and Ministry slowly moved to metal. In contrast to them, NIN gave frailty, intimacy and vulnerability to the genre, which made the aggressive passages of their songs come across as even more violent. Borrowings from blues-rock flashed through and fit themselves sleek to the general sound, what probably no one before guessed to be possible. Every time NIN gave birth to a new album, the world stopped in awe, and rightly so. In our last release we already covered the long awaited return of those industrial-icons, who will be back in spring with their brand new album “With Teeth”. On tour with a renewed live crew soon, joined by ex-Marilyn Manson comrade Twiggy Ramirez, as always Nine Inch Nails admittedly consist (concerning song writing, production and direction) of no one else but one: Trent Reznor. Trent already explained in the first part of our interview why it took a full half decade this time to let fans enjoy some real new material. Blatantly open he told us about his addictions, which he felt needed to be addressed first.

“The eventually successful undertaking to ban drugs and alcohol from my life gave new light to my life and was a great turning point for me. Finally i was eager to continue again and i could literally feel how i grew [spiritually]. All those Changes in my life influenced my song-writing in a positive way.”

This statement as well as others, mentioned in part 1 (like the one where Trent snidely talks about “The Downward Spiral”) all seem like Trent is quarrelling with himself about his lifestyle and also his previous musical output – but he he clearly sets boundaries:

“No, i wouldn't go that far. I'm more or less proud of what I've done. “The Fragile” [1999] still sounds interesting to me. But the album was made at a time in which i was thoroughly ruled by fear, where i awoke to the fact that i had a real problem. And believe it or not, i decided to go to rehab to finally get rid of drugs and alcohol. But it didn't help me much. I already knew what they told me about myself and my drug abusing behaviour. So i cancelled that attempt – and I still felt like being on the verge of falling on a slippery hillside. I sensed very clearly how my brain was paralysed; and what happened to me frightened me very much but still, i couldn't get away from my addictions. And so i immersed myself in work without a meticulous schedule, which resulted in “The Fragile”. I improvised in the studio, played around with my ideas, let my intuition run free. And this strange, epic botch came out, which I'm still proud of. One thing i was sure about was that I didn't want to repeat myself. Therefore it's only consequential that my new album differs clearly from “The Fragile”. But I don't think that it has to be seen as reaction to some sort of discontent to my previous creativity. It's much easier: The last album reflected as much of myself at that time as the new one presents my current Self.”

Trent pauses for a long moment which makes me fear that the line was cut again, like in the beginning of our interview – it's striking that he's talking slowly, considered, letting his thoughts evolve very impressively and his voice is resembling what i always imagined: quit, thoughtful, accentuated. Finally he continues:

“Only recently, while driving i listened to “The Fragile” for the first time in four years and it really took quite some time until i got access to it again. It seemed to me as if a completely insane person had made it and the unbelievable degree of effort and exertion which i applied to it seemed like pure madness. I believe that a big part of this overwhelming effort resulted from the fact that i feared i couldn't stand up to my own expectations: and that's why i didn't stop adding more and more details. It was by all means an interesting artistic experience and somehow it really is a little masterpiece in itself...”

at this point, i just can't prevent myself from saying that i feel that such a statement is too modest, with what i want to tell you: it's a great masterpiece.

Whatever – and while i reached the first enthusiasm, I mention the new track “Right Where It Belongs” without hesitation, which really got me with its delicate intensity, with its productional gimmick to lead the listener through various acoustic environments. Particularly the melancholy transported by the song is what can almost make you cry. And at this point of our conversation we both start to laugh, because of my adoration I forgot the real question I wanted to ask. And Trent underlines that especially those quiet songs round out the picture of a whole album:

“Many people claim that albums don't make any sense, and they ask me who wants to listen to a whole album any more. On which i can only reply: Me for example! Albums have their own highlights and my perception on that matter didn't change over the years. This media should never be reduced to a minimum, instead its broad spectrum should always be used.”

Another very eye-catching track is “Only”, on which the strange feeling creeps over me Trent wants to destroy the musical anticipation, to deliver something unexpected, maybe to shock: “Only” is driven by a possibly overwhelming Disco-Funk-Beat and the featured rap-image makes one think of anything but NIN: A new nuance in the artists style is in there for sure. And the industrial deity answers: “To a degree, that's absolutely true. This song is also a result of my grown self-confidence. There have been plenty of times when i was working and a new window opened up, a new concept popped up and suddenly my inner voice whispered to me: 'You can't do that! Cut it out!' And I asked 'Why can't I do it?' and the answer was: 'Because it isn't what NIN stands for... That one's too easy, or too disco-like, it's too pop-rock or whatever. And now, always when i notice I'm starting those monologues i decide to leave that song in the pool, no matter what. Maybe just because I'm a little afraid of it. Later when we're sifting through the whole material and a little time passed by and the distance to the whole situation of composing increased there's still plenty of time to decide whether or not it's a good idea or not. That's all that should matter. But first, and that's my new maxim, i try to complete that special song. Therefore there are some ideas and passages that didn't make it to the album and in the case of “Right Where It Belongs” [probably “Only”] i had scruples because i thought that song wasn't a real NIN song, that it's somehow too experimental.”

I want to emphasize that those scruples were put into perspective soon, though, and Trents concerns fortunately disappeared. And he continues: “I'm always fighting with myself concerning what i expect from me, what others might expect, what might fit under the label NIN and what might not. I try to be open minded, yet NINs spectrum has to be coherent and arrangeable; and the original identity should hold up. But my new ego, which i simply didn't have in its whole strength for some years, allowed me to try things i never would have done. Even with prospect of failure and that really can happen! To cut it short: it feels right and real.”

It's strange that i would have thought of Trent as a different person, in peace with himself, confident, certain about every part of his work, not even caring about what people might think of him and being without self-doubt. And It almost feels alleviating that he's just made of flesh and blood. “I wish i could tell you I am the way you're imagining me. But in reality I'm hanging in between every once in a while: On the one hand I hope that my music will please the listener, but in the same moment I know I have to what I think is right – no matter what the reactions might be. That can be a really tough endeavour! The following is an old cliché, but there's some truth to it: Many musicians get told that their first album is their true album, because there's no expectation towards the artist and therefore they can do what they please. When i released “Pretty Hate Machine” [1989], I wasn't the least intrigued what people might think, because there obviously wasn't any anticipation towards my name at all. And the album hit the market – and it was a success! And because it went that well, my whole life changed: I could buy a car, food, didn't have to clean toilets any more...” At this point I have to reply “Wait a tic, you didn't have to clean toilets...” to which Trent clearly states: “You bet, I cleaned them! Later, in the big studios i enjoyed messing them up. Now others had to take care about that... I was good at that too!” He's laughing and I'll never be sure if he really meant it. He continues: ”The point is, you got a reward for the success of your album, but when you turn to your second album there's this anticipation in your brain and you can't do nothing about it. If I was to suddenly want to make a Bluegrass-Album, a part of me would remind me 'Hey, no one who liked your last album will like that one!' Those are actually things that creep through your conscience. And without thinking too long there are a lot of bands who had a sudden success and then deliver what's expected from them so they can pay off their house or want to buy new estate. Without trying to get on a high horse: i always thought about what would be best for Nine Inch Nails and i believed to be able to risk to alienate people – preferably not too fierce, if possible. The really important thing was to put my own imagination on top of everything, no matter if one's gonna be played on radio or not, no matter if one comes up to the expectations or not. Simply trust the my artistic intuition. That was the reason why it always took that long to come up with a new album. I never wanted to release something I didn't like from the bottom of my heart and simply put together to improve my career.”

Granted, this balancing act always worked out outstandingly. He wasn't even influenced by temporary trends. Does he watch todays scene? Is he analysing his rivals? “I keep in touch with what's going on. But I hardly listen to anything which I'd say will help on the genre. And I practically never listen to something that has as much influence on me like Skinny Puppys “Vivisect” [1988] or “The Land of Rape And Honey” [1998] by Ministry had. Those albums where ground-braking, innovative and prospective! Never before did I listen to something that inspiring. They affected me very much, just like Front 242.”

Does he believe that over the years and through all his success his Ego changed? Another long pause, then: “Interesting question. I definitely changed outwards. The perception of myself definitely changed. But I'm thinking of a lot of things I could see in myself twenty years ago, that gives me the impression to be the same person still. Yet I feel like a completely different person sometimes. But concerning commitment and devotion towards the stuff that really matters to me I feel exactly the same as I used to be. Maybe it's most notably the ability to really enjoy the music i designed for some time.”

And while we are speaking of commitment and devotion, i decide to try something: Trents songs recur to be about violability, a nearly unbearable sadness, gripping agony; and often he's singing to some invisible counterpart and I always had the feeling it's about... love. What's hurting that much?

But Trent's laughing and i feared it: He doesn't say anything about this admittedly very intimate topic. Which other phenomenon might be part of it then?

“On the long process of analysing myself and the attempts to sort out what's going on in my head, I think I detected one reoccurring wish: The longing to be part of someone. I'm punishing myself with this desire. The yearning to belong to somewhere, to someone. Be it a love affair or group of friends or maybe a musical genre. Maybe it's just a longing i sometimes find more as a burden which let me to concentrate some more on myself as a person and to get a grip on my life: Which let me to realize that I'm not a robot who produces things when you press a button and then goes on tour. Finally I supplied my needs which I felt I neglected for years. I started to solve problems, from which i flew from in the past. Because it's necessary to address them.

And when I say good bye he says: “It's been a pleasure to talk to you.” A sentence you never care about, expect one of your idols says it. In that case you're asking yourself if he really meant it. Or was it just a flowery phrase?

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