Interview with Trent Reznor
By Kristina Estlund for RIP Magazine on November 1, 1994
RIP:What possessed you to get into the mud at Woodstock?
TR: We were right out by the big mud pit and watchin' everybody, I thought, well, this looks like a lot of fun. At that time there wasn't that many people that were muddy, but the people that were in the mud looked like they were having a great time and we thought 'Fuck, y'know we kinda can't actually do that.' But we didn't have showers backstage at the time either, so we went back and hung out backstage, and it was just a real nervous day. Then on the way to stage I pushed Danny, our guitar played, and he just fell face-first into the mud. Then he tackled me and it turned into a kind of all-male mud wrestling thing. It was actually really funny. After we did that, all nervousness kind of subsided.
RIP: And now you've become the talk of Woodstock.
TR: Yeah, I can't tell you why that is. I guess we're lucky.
RIP: And you're selling more records now. Does that alleviate some of the pressures from the record company?
TR: Well, we've never really had any pressure from the record company. I mean, with the downward spiral, when I delivered that record, it was the record I wanted to make and I felt It was artistically where I was at the time and still pretty much am right now. I did have a bit of reservation, just because I thought it was commercially limited and I thought there wasn't many singled on there, if any. I obviously didn't care, 'cause I released it anyway. But at the end of the day I'll put the marketing-guy hat on and say 'okay, now if I was going to try to sell this to people, what would I pick as a single? Or what would I make a video for?' I realize in the marketplace now, it's dominated with bands like Soundgarden and with the ready-made singles and Pearl Jams and. . . The nature of the music business is competitive. You're trying to make your product succeed in ways that other's people's don't. In some ways, I found myself getting caught up in that and then I thought, 'what the fuck? This is the record that I like and I wanted to make. I've made it, here it is.' And it debuted that high on the charts and took everybbody by surprise. And then you find yourself getting sucked back into that game of 'okay, what's the next single going to be? Is MTV going to play the video for this?'
RIP: But MTV's finally playing the video (for 'closer'). Do you think they're catching on or just succumbing to the public's desires?
TR: I don't think there's much of a danger in playing a NIN video right now. I think that we've been branded safe and acceptable and I don't think any programmer's gonna get fired for playing a NIN song-especially after the Woodstock thing. So, I mean, when we did Woodstock, I thought we would be, y'know, number 25 in the list of 50 bands that were playing there. When it kinda worked out that we've been getting a lot of attention from it, I never expected that. I don't exactly know why, 'cause I thought our performance was shitty.
RIP: Do you take the same philosophy as you do with your music for your label and your acts?
TR: I play music, I'm in the music business because I like music and I love music, it's my life. And yeah, it is nice to not worry about paying a gas bill at the end of the day, I'm not complaining about that. But that's not my reason for being in it. With the label, it's not looked at at all from a monetary game-point, as much as it is. . . I feel that NIN is in a pretty fortunate position with Interscope. They have enough faith in me as an artist, that if I say 'Hey, I wanna do this video, and I wanna do this, and I wanna make a record, go on tour and lose money'. . . They think 'there must be some reason to this, okay, we don't understand it, but we'll let you do it.' And they do, and then I think at the end of the day they realize what the master-plan was. I like working that way because if I get an idea, I can execute it. I don't have it approved by 15 people whose opinions I don't respect anyway. To be able to offer a version of that type of situation to other bands, that makes me feel good.
RIP: Are you the A&R guy for your own label?
TR: Yeah. Well, it's John Malm, my manager, and myself. We work close to the scene together. And we haven't gone out actively pursuing, trying to sign up everything in the world. When this idea of a label came around, honestly, I ha d been wanting to help out Marilyn Manson in some way - who I always thought wa s a good band. Maybe they could be a band on my label, so I talked to them abo ut it-a couple of major labels had been dragging their feet with them- and I th ought of them as a perfect example of a band that I thought really had a good v ision. They had a unique stance - something to say, good songs to back it up w ith, and they were good musicians. In the wrong hands, that could be shaped in to something that was very mediocre. In the wrong hands with the wrong pressure, it could shape into something that's not true to what it should be, and what it is. If they smooth off a rough edge here, take that lyric out of here and d on't do that on stage there, pretty soon it's not the true thing anymore. I ju st wanted to provide them with an avenue to just do what you wanna do. Then th at even ran into trouble above me, when Interscope said 'well, I don't think we can release this 'cause it's offensive to us. Would you consider. . . ' 'No. i will not change a fucking thing on that record. If you don't wanna put it ou t, then we'll shop it for someone else.' Then they realized it was kinda silly . I personally don't find it offensive at all. I don't think rock should be s afe anyway. If there's something offensive about it, then good, there's not en ough of that today, in my opinion.
RIP: At the end of this tour are you going to go into your own self-imposed hiatus-seclusion-or are you too much of a work aholic?
TR: I've become a workaholic just because I have nothing else to do, really. As long as I keep working I don't have to deal with every other aspect of my life. Besides that I just feel, like, a burst of creativity that I wanna make a record that's going to be oppisite of Downward Spiral. That's not as isolating a process and perhaps a lot more collaborative.
RIP: Have you already started writing for the next record?
TR: No. What I have done is I've started coming up with sets of rules to work with it. I've got about four different little game plans, I'm gonna try to find out which one makes the most sense. I need to do that. And then I write within those guidelines.Which might sound silly, but. . . For exa mple, with the Downward Spiral, I constructed a big theme through the whole thing and kind of an, ah, almost storyline. Then wrote out a list of things I wanted to address thematically. Then I tried to write songs which fit the guidelines and in a roundabout way, kinda succeeded, although I didn't think I could do that. This time, I'm in the process of formulating how I want to approach this. Whether it might be a complete collaborative thing with three other people, or it might be getting rhythm ideas from different people and then constructing them into something and then farming it out to somebody else, while I'm not involved, see what comes back. Right now, if you ask me this second, I'm more into the idea of collaborating-you never know, I'm a moody guy.
RIP: The mainstream media is finally showing their support for NIN, but something's still holding you back from blowing completely open like a Pearl Jam or someone.
TR: It's as simple as this. NIN doesn't have the mechanical structure, or isn't the kind of band that can ever be a Pearl Jam. It's appealing to a limited cross-section of people. Pearl Jam, to me, are a good band at what they are and they're also all things to all people. They've managed to be labeled alternative, their songs are already on classic rock stations, there's not one element or anything that they've ever done that would offend your grandmother, there's a cute guy in the band, it's teen-throb, it's alternative rock in theory, it's corporate rock. They're on every chart. They're everything to all people. And they're politically-fuckin' correct. They're standing up for the rights of the concertgoer-fighting some silly fight about ticket prices-which I don't think that many people give a shit about. And NIN is not that and never will be that, and it was never meant to be that. It's bigger now than I ever dreamed it would be and I went through a phase of really hating that fact. It is easier to go on tour in a van and play clubs opening for some band with no expectations and if you do good, then people go 'why, man, these guys are really great. You blew the headliner off stage.' It's cool to be in Alternative Press, and it's cool to be in Option magazine- they think you're cool 'cause nobody's ever heard of you. It's comfortable, it's nice to have that kind of support from the truly alternative fans who I think do have a bit more integrity than the people who are spoon-fed MTV videos all day. However, if it happens that you do start to sell more records, whether you've done anything consciously to sell out, or ppeople just started to listen to you, there's nothing you can do to stop that. I could say 'I'm never gonna make another video again, and I'm never gonna make an album, I'm gonna make an album of sheer noise, just to bum everybody out."But that's not being anymore true than if I sat down and said 'I'm gonna write 15 'Head Like A Hole's' so that I can be Eddie Vedder.' I'm not saying Eddie Vedder does that either.
RIP: No, but you've got it straight at least, most artists don't. You've got it right. You're just right now-and this is no offense to you-but for the moment you're flavor of the month, and next record you may not be.
TR: Well I don't think this record was (flavor), and then through a series of whatever it is-'Closer' gets added on MTV and somehow people at Woodstock think we did good, somehow the timing of Rolling Stone finally offering us a cover-seeming like it was all perfect-planned, which it's not. It seems like 'hey, flavor-of-the-moment,' and then there's a danger in that where you also become yesterday's news the next moment. I've been aware of that and I've never had any desire to be 'heavy-rotation-MTV-boy' or anything else. Iknow when I go to sleep at night, I've made the record I wanna make, without any compromise. If that is a sellout, then I'm a hundred-percent sellou! 'Cause it also means I made a record I wanted to make, and a lot of people like it. Then great. I'm not going to go up to somebody and say, 'You live in Ohio, you shop in a mall, hey fuck you, you're not cool enough to listen to my music.' That's fuckin' facism. That's more fucked up than anything else. I was one of those kids. If peoplelike it great, if you don't like it, it's my fault too.
RIP: At what point does demystifying yourself become detrimental? I didn't like the MTV interview, it made you seem so simple and it broke down the 'wall.'
TR: I don't. . . I'm uncomfortable enough reading anything that comes out of my mouth-other than my own lyrics-as in doing interviews-that, I feel like enoughhas been said now, time to go away for a while. At the same time, there's a side of me that. . . I'm into confusing people and I'm into right when you think you've got it figured out. . . 'Cause I've read so many interviews where I'm about to kill myself. Where I'm this fucking thing. That sometimes if I'm caught in the wrong mood or if I'm just in a different mood. . . We talked to Woodstock live right after we got offstage-I almost fell asleep. Because I finally felt like all this weight and pressure had been removed. They were talking and we ended up joking around a little bit and. . . I know what you're saying . . .I don't have any kind of cohesive answer for that. I agree with you to a certain point. It's just a matter of being truthful, where do I wanna allow people to know what I'm like?
RIP: But everybody's going misinterpret anyhow, it's better for me to read youin print even though a lot of times it's misleading, because there's still a wall, cause, 'cause you don't know the real Trent. It's much funner watching you in a video and trying to figure you out.
TR: You're making good sense and I think I've always opted to have that there because I don't want people to know. . . your point about videos is good, because it does remove a layer of interpretation from the journalists point of view. But anytime I do do things in press, regardless of how I act, they're usuallylooking for something and they find it whether it was there or not. If it was to portray me as X, Y, or Z, if it was to portray me as king of the vampires, or, in Option's case, 'king of the pretentious assholes' or whatever it might be, it doesn't really matter what I'm saying other than some facts.]
Transcribed by Keith Duemling