Trent Reznor finds his happy place

Nine Inch Nails are coming to New Zealand for the first time in nine years. Front man Trent Reznor tells Chris Schulz he's trying to make up for years of addiction and depression.

By Chris Schulz for Stuff.co.nz on December 3, 2008

Nine Inch Nails are coming to New Zealand for the first time in nine years. Front man Trent Reznor tells Chris Schulz he's trying to make up for years of addiction and depression.

It's been nine long, lonely years for Kiwi fans of Nine Inch Nails.

That's how long it's been since the industrial metal act last toured here, playing a typically rowdy main stage slot at the 2000 Big Day Out.

For anyone complaining about the delay between tours, Reznor - speaking to Stuff.co.nz exclusively during a rare day off from the band's North American tour - said he had something "exciting" planned for the band's show at Vector Arena on February 17.

"We've been discussing the best way to move forward," he said about the show, which will be among the first to feature new drummer Ilan Rubin.

"Do we try and recreate what we're doing right now or burn it to the ground and try something new?

"We're leaning towards getting our matches out. I can't tell you with any certainty what that means but something exciting is going to happen."

Despite the lack of live action, there's been plenty else happening to keep Nine Inch Nails fans happy. 

It's fair to say Reznor - who spent five years recording the follow-up to 1994's The Downward Spiral, one of the '90's best, but bleakest, albums - has been in prolific form.

Recently, the 43-year-old has released four Nine Inch Nails albums - 2007's Year Zero and an accompanying remix album, instrumental double CD Ghosts I-IV, and this year's free download The Slip - as well as producing hip-hop poet Saul Williams' second album.

Reznor, who cleaned himself up before releasing 2005's With Teeth after years spent abusing drugs and alcohol, said he had replaced his addictions with healthier habits.

"You have to replace something with something. I think being sober has made me more appreciative of being fortunate enough to do this.

"Part of me feels like I've squandered and wasted a lot of time that could have been spent being creative.

"I woke up one day in a stupor and thought, 'How did I get to be this old?'"

While his is hardly a vision filled with milk maids skipping across flower beds, Reznor said he had found his "happy place".

"I'm in a happier place but I can say I still draw inspiration from a lot of the same sources - anger, sadness, frustration, not fitting in (and) loneliness. Those are still things that inspire me to want to make art more so than feeling incredibly happy.

"Rarely if I feel great do I feel like going into a dark room and writing music. I want to enjoy those rare minutes while they last."


Reznor said he used his depression and drug use as inspiration, worrying that cleaning up would see him lose enthusiasm for music.

"I was afraid (being sober) would kill off whatever I'm drawing creativity from. I really found that it was quite the opposite.

"Getting high or drinking hurt me a lot more than it helped anything creatively. I did some of the worst stuff I've ever done in a state when I couldn't think anymore."

There was nothing romantic about depression, Reznor said.

"People talk about addiction or depression in a way that fondly recalls writers or poets or musicians or artists. That can look like a romantic notion.

"But there is nothing charming or romantic or pleasant about depression - real depression - or addiction.

"It's a hellish, soul-crushing place that certainly by the end there was no inspiration coming from that except to end my life, or end that portion of it.

"I feel like I've got super powers now. I can think straight. I can execute ideas. I can think clearly. I like myself again. I lost that in that process."

Reznor says performing songs recorded during his addiction is akin to flicking through a scrapbook.

"It feels funny. I feel like I know the person who wrote those songs but I don’t feel I’m that person any more. Sometimes it creeps in, and it feels a bit scary.

"It's kind of like revisiting and looking through an old scrapbook. I see some versions of me that I miss. I see some versions that I wish I could give a hug to.

"Probably in a real life situation where I wasn't on stage I wouldn't choose to go back and revisit those places.

"But I don’t feel that harm is coming from doing that right now."


Reznor said he admired Radiohead's approach to giving away the album In Rainbows for free so much he stole the idea to release Ghosts and The Slip.

"I think the lesson Radiohead taught us is that they could reclaim the excitement of a release date. And that's what we were able to reclaim. 

"I don’t think music should be free. I think artists should be compensated for what they do. But I also understand why a lot of artists think things should be free now.

"I think labels, during their quest to sell you plastic discs, forget the reason a lot of people steal music is because it's available (online) before it's available legally.

"If people are excited about your new thing, isn’t that a good thing?"

Reznor said he put effort into building an online network, creating internet treasure hunts and performing memorable live shows - with some of the best visuals in the business - was to keep fans excited about the band's music.

"The puzzle I find myself in right now is trying to respect the fan ... trying to build excitement through release dates, and trying to respect myself as an artist.

"I don’t want to be on a cellphone commercial. I’d rather not have some corporate logo on the ticket to allow me to play shows for you.

"The whole corporate tie-in, sell your soul to make money mindset has spilled over (and) now it’s okay to do those things. I don’t agree, I don’t think it is okay to do these things.

"I think at the end of the day, music should be treated as what it is: It's art. It should be a timeless thing that stays as pure as it can be."

Transcribed by Lt. Randazzo

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