Originally published in Raygun Magazine on August 1, 1998
At the end of the day, nobody frets about the validity and merit of Nine Inch Nails' output-and the creatively lethal trappings of the record industry machine-more than Reznor himself. Reznor is a thought-provoking artist who has also establishe his own label, Nothing Records, for, as he puts it, "bands who want an environment where they're artistically free to do whatever they want to do and who should be educated as to how the sleazy record business can work." Currently, he's in the studio working on his own record, the follow-up to Nine Inch Nails' last full length album, 1994's The Downward Spiral. Here he provides a glimpse into the nature of his newest beast.
Ray Gun: What can you say about the new record right now?
Trent Reznor: Well, everything I say will be used against me at some point....but we've been working pretty steadily the past year on it. I went into it kind of blindly, but with the intention of reinvention, which is a semi-pretentious thing to say. But I kind of came to the end of what I thought the first phase of Nine Inch Nails is or was, and it just seems like its time to close that chapter and move on.
RG: When we did the Ray Gun cover story about a year and a half ago, you had just finished "The Perfect Drug" and the Lost Highway soundtrack and you were planning to rent a place up in Big Sur to be alone and write the record.
Trent: What basically happened from then was I went up to Big Sur and the frame of mind I was in....I look back now and it was somewhat unstable, kind of unfocused, and I was a bit disenchanted with...the industry element of the music.
RG: Which has always been a concern of yours.
Trent: Yeah, I don't know if my skin softened up a bit, but things started to bother me more.
Trent: Just the whole picture of being the popstar. I honestly got into this to make music and try to make a difference that way. But you watch your personality distort and you see people around you distort....the corporate side of it, the selling of you as merchandise....
RG: You have to somehow work within that.
Trent: Well, if you're a musician making music which has a degree of accessibility, you are, at the bottom line, selling some sort of product. And I embrace that to a degree because I think you can do it. The challenge is to have some degree of accessibility, but make it interesting and expand the art form. You're selling a CD in a store, but it can be a piece of art-something that challenges people and challenges yourself. The great thing about popular music-I don't mean "pop" music necessarily, but music of the time-is the way people of that time can relate to it. But I just went through a phase....I didn't really know what I wanted to do. Going up to Big Sur was interesting and disastrous at the same time, being totally alone on the side of a mountain an hour away from the nearest grocery store with just your dogs and a violent, loud ocean. And it turned into that crashing rocks isolation chamber with started to drive me insane.
RG: Not to generalize what your music's all about, but it seems like that would fuel you. That madness and isolation kind of thing.
Trent: It did and it didn't. It accentuated all those things, but it also almost drove me crazy. I realized I needed to be around more people. So I came out of that, then we started about a year ago, and I approached things a bit differently than in the past. It was not planned out. It was open for mutation. Right now, I'm looking at 45 songs and trying to work my way through-and that's after weeding through to the ones where "That HAS to be on the record." Pretty soon it was "It has to be double CD now." Then it gets into pretension land, but what's happened is that there's enough broad ranging stuff here that if we take one of each type of element or different style then it doesn't make as much sense than if they're in the company of similar elements. The songs need to be supported by the other songs. It's aspirations are enormous...and its completely set up to fail miserably right now.
RG: So does that mean you think its really great?
Trent: I think it's....I know it's the best stuff I've ever done. I don't know how fashionable the record will be, but it's really exciting to me right now.
RG: It's definitely going to be a double record?
Trent: At this stage right now, I'd say yes. That's not gonna make the label happy, but I think it makes sense. The key is not to make it a pondering thing "Look what I can do, check it out. I can do 15 minute drony crap."
RG: Is there any way to describe the general feeling of the record?
Trent: It's a lot slower. And sparser. And that doesn't mean happier or full of ballads, because it certainly isn't that. But there's a lot of organic instruments, there's a lot of...my guitar playing came into it's own doing this. There's a lot of real instruments, like strings and stuff we experimented with. Its not a cold sounding record necessarily.
RG: Basically, the last song from Nine Inch Nails was "The Perfect Drug." Does any of the stuff have that kind of feel?
Trent: Its nothing like that. In the context of doing a song for a movie that was just kind of thrown together in two weeks experiment. I was listening to a lot of drum 'n' bass then, and it just soaked its way through.
RG: Did any of that element, or the newer "electronica" type stuff seep into this record?
Trent: I listen to a fair amount of that, but I really don't think that in any obvious way it has. I'd say that an old Tom Walts album sounds more like some of this. It's sort of odd. This past Christmas, we all took a break for a month, and when we got back and listened we all said it sounded more like Nine Inch Nails than we thought it did before.
RG: When you say "we"....The last time we talked you said you'd maybe like to record this next record with more of a band unit instead of just yourself.
Trent: Well, one of the ideas I had for this wave of recording was to get more of a playing band together, but that's been put on the back burner. I have a great team of collaborators here now, but I basically just did this myself again. I have no idea how we're gonna play it live. I put no effort into that in the recording of it. I don't mean from a lazy point of view, but in the studio if I think "It would sound good if we had an upright bass here," we'll try it. I'd need at least six different complete bands and an orchestra to get through some of this, but live we'll just have to reinterpret and rethink it.
RG: You also mentioned a number of possible collaborations. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Rick Rubin as producer.
Trent: Dre and I are still in the works. We've almost gotten together several times, but both of our schedules fucked it up. Cube and I worked on a Bowie remix a bit, but I'm planning on having him involved on at least one thing on this record and possibly another thing for Nothing Records, a compilation we're going to put out. And Rick Rubin...there may be some degree of consultation/collaboration, but I started doing this myself and realized I needed a kind of undiluted amount of time to splatter my brains all over a piece of paper. I keep getting flak that this record's taking a long time. It's not that there's no ideas and I'm grasping at straws. There are too many ideas right now and.....I'll put it out when it's ready. It'll probably be done by the end of the summer and come out sometime in the fall.
RG: So did the process wind up being enjoyable?
Trent: It's been fun. It got me back on track because I'd do something and I'd realize, "I do enjoy this." That's why I was in it in the first place-not to get into and arguing match with some guy in another band or to be sad because I was number two instead of number one and shit like that. Though you can't help but let it effect you.
RG: No matter how thick-skinned you are.
Trent: It started wearing me down and I realized this whole career just hadn't really filled that hole that I've always had to some degree. So it's been an awakening process. It's like I've come out of a cloud of depression and aimlessness-and once again music has come through to guide me along and save me.
RG: Again, not to generalize what you're all about...but did that translate into the record having any of that "emerging out of the darkness" kind of vibe?
Trent: There's quite an element of darkness but...I'd say it's a David Cronenberg movie instead of Tetsuo the Iron Man. This one's much less of a baseball bat in the head.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling