Interview with Trent Reznor
By Paul Rees for Kerrang! on December 1, 1999
Drummer. Spent four years in alternative rockers Howlin' Maggie before moving to LA to work with soundtrack composers. Looks like actor Crispin Glover's less eccentric younger brother.
How did you come to join NIN?
"I went down to New Orleans in March to audition and I've been with the guys ever since. Doing movie soundtrack stuff helped when it came to working with Trent, because a lot of what he does is actually very cinematic."
What were your fist impressions of Trent?
"I didn't have any preconceived notions of what he was going to be like. But it was surprising that he was as approachable as he is - a regular-guy type. Very, very funny. He had me laughing within the first 10 minutes of meeting him. He's very gregarious. And I felt very comfortable working with him musically. "I was most impressed by how quickly he works in the studio. He's extremely prolific and he works at a blisteringly fast pace. The record is definately art, and a certain amount of pain goes into creating any form of art. I think for Trent it was an ecercise in seeing how far he could push himself. That's pretty inspiring."
NIN drummers suffer at least one painful injury onstage per tour. Any worries?
"The last drummer (Chris Vrenna) got craned upside the head with a mike-stand in San Francisco. So I was planning on showing up in a football helmet. But my drum tech is taking good care of me so far - there's been a couple of projectiles that he's batted out of the way. And I tend not to take my eyes off Trent very often.
"People may get the wrong impression that it's totally for show and calculated. The bottom line is: Trent expects the musicians he plays with to convey emotion behind the song more than he expects them to play the notes perfectly. Everybody in this band makes a commitment to do that, and sometimes you literally have to throw yourself into it."
Guitarist. Met Trent Reznor in 1993 and joined Nine Inch Nails for the lengthy "Mr Self Destruct" tour. Left to become musical director of touring circus Cirque Du Soleil and then spent two years working with Guns N' Roses on their "The Chinese Democracy" album. Rejoined NIN in the summer. Offstage attire consists of a bandanna, tracksuit trousers with elasticated bottoms, and dogs.
How does it feel to be back in the band?
"The first day, when we started going back through some of those older songs - 'Terrible Lie', 'Wish' - we broke quite a sweat and it felt f**king great. Better than any of us felt it would. And then getting to know the new material has been inspiring and challenging. So far, so good."
What did you think when you heard 'The Fragile' for the first time?
"I expected to be floored and I was. Mostly with the hint of optimism in some of the tracks. I feared that Trent was never going to get to that place, so when I heard songs like 'The Fragile' that were a little bit more hopeful, it felt really good. And, of course, sonically and intelligently, technically and dynamically, there's nothing like it around.
"I'd made the decision to come back before I'd heard the record, which is something I did intentionally. I'd been in contact loosely with mostly Danny through the past couple of years, so I knew what stage they were at and that they'd never replaced me - they'd never needed to for a live situation.
"It was a difficult decision to make because I was so wrapped up in what I was doing at the time and I was proud of the work I'd done. But when it came down to it, I couldn't imagine NIN going out without me or with somebody else. I'm in a good place right now."
It's taken you four shows to injure yourself...
"Unfortunately, Trent and I were dancing, he dipped me and we both fell down. I got six stitches above my left eye. Usually, it's bruises and stuff that goes away.
"It was really quite alarming - only the second song into that set and I was pretty much maimed for the rest of the show. It was a long hour-and-a-half. But that kind of comes with what we're doing. Anything goes."
How bad did things get at the end of the last tour?
"It was difficult for me. The Manson crew and the Jim Rose Circus were with us for most of a year and it got pretty stupid. Then coming off the road and landing in New Orleans - that's a tough place to try and re-collect yourself, because it's a city built on night-life and alcohol. I had to do something that was the complete polar opposite to Nine Inch Nails. So I joined the circus! Then Axl Rose called me up.
"But I had to rein back from the way things were at the end of the last tour, because after a while you get pretty warped. I couldn't do 'Mr Self Destruct' again, so this has to be different."
Guitarist/bassist/keyboardist. Has been in NIN for six years. Like Clouser, he worked on 'The Fragile' for two years and also played with Rob Zombie. Looks like Ryan Giggs going to a fancy dress party as a New York gangster. Talks very quickly.
Describe Trent Reznor.
"Really cool, mellow and calm. Not at all like a rock star. When he's working, he's really hard on himself. Before, he used to not ever want to work - it was always a pain in the ass. These days he can just churn it out." Tell us one thing about 'The Fragile' sessions. "We used to joke about what the tour shirts would say. To start with it was '1998/99'. Everybody really laughed when '1999/2000' was suggested. I didn't know when it was going to be over. But there's a lot of material for the next record already recorded - there's at least 30 songs."
What's the best thing about being in NIN?
"Trent's vision is a lot more exiting than most of the other stuff out there. Obviously, we're part of something really good. Even if it doesn't sell the same as some other heavy metal bands or something, who cares? I'm a big fan of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and that whole era, and NIN continually touch on that.
"It's trying on your patience and spirit at times to be involved with someone as talented as Trent is because it's hard to bring something to the table that's good enough too be used. But it's a great opportunity."
"I've got tons of material that I submitted for 'The Fragile' that I could use elsewhere. Me and Charlie both worked with Rob Zombie, and I'm sure we'd do that again if he asked us. And if you know anybody, give them my number."
Keyboardist/theramin weilder. Joined NIN for 1994's 'Mr Self Destruct' tour and spent two years working on 'The Fragile'. Has also played on Rob Zombie's 'Hellbilly Delux' album and remixed tracks for NIN, Zombie and Deftones. Looks like Ginger after several decent meals.
Where did you first meet Trent?
"I was in LA doing a lot of drum and synth programming on Marilyn Manson's first record, which brought me into his world. Right from the beginning I was extremely impressed by the amount of care that the guy puts into stuff. He's never one to rubber-stamp something and say it's good enough. I know that contributes to the slowness of our operation, but it's good in the long run because the fans know that they're getting something that's been sweated over."
Did you ever think 'The Fragile' would never get finished?
"I thought we could see an end in sight when we had enough material to fill one disc. But Trent's quality control being what it is resulted in additional months fleshing it out to two discs. It didn't start to seem like a long time until the very last few months."
How different is this tour to the last one?
j "We're all a bit older and a little calmer, at least in terms of before- and after-show activities. This may change as the months go on, because I think the way we were behaving at the end of the last tour was a result of it being so long. Hopefully, we won't get bored out of our skulls and go quite so crazy and indulge in so much hazardous behaviour.
000000 "But onstage we're starting off with as much carnage as we had at the height of the last tour - in terms of smashed equipment, band members flying into the audience and that kind of hockey game violence. I'm very glad to see that it's every bit as violent and choatic."
FOUR-FIFTHS of Nine Inch Nails are rolling on the floor in the dressing room, their faces and hands covered in talcum powder. Sadly, this isn't a homo-erotic ritual but Robin Fink, Danny Lohner, Charlie Clouser and Jerome Dillon's idea of entertaining the Kerrang! Photographer. Trent Reznor isn't around to join in the fun.
Welcome to the fifth date of Nine Inch Nails' first tour in four-and-a-half years. We've been waiting in Copenhagen's K B Halle (a modern, 2,500-capacity sports hall which Type O Negative have sold out later this month and NIN haven't tonight) for two hours, but we've yet to catch a sight or sound of Trent Reznor. In that time two Danish journalists have been led up to his first floor dressing room for their appointed interviews (neither lasting more than 15 minutes); three others have had their slots cancelled. It is now 7.30pm, and according to those in the know Trent Reznor doesn't talk to anyone after 8pm on show days.
So far; so true to expectations. Reznor is, after all, the dark lord of doom and better that he be locked in a pitch-black room brooding than be caught pedalling merrily away on an exercise bike. I retire downstairs to wait in the catering area ? a room filled with tea urns, formica tables and laptop computers which would be anonymous were it not for its deeply bizarre floor to ceiling murals of naked men and women playing tennis. A matter of minutes later, I'm joined at my table by a pale gentleman dressed head to toe in black who looks like the result of a genetic splicing experiment between Robert De Niro and Tim Wheeler. He extends a hand, smiling.
"Hello. How are you?" he says in a soft voice which carries the trace of a lisp.
Hello, Trent Reznor. And how are you?
SINCE WE ask, Trent Reznor is feeling better than he has for a long time. After two years of living by fluorescent light in his Nothing Studios in New Orleans making 'The Fragile', he took NIN to the Bahamas for the month of September. Here, besides rehearsing for this tour, Reznor and his cohorts indulged in such unlikely pursuits as scuba diving and swimming with sharks. He doesn't appear to have tanned.
Kerrang!: How does it feel to be back on the road?
Trent Reznor: "Good. At first I wasn't sure if it would. I kind of fell back into being in the studio: the seclusion and the lack of people intruding on you and working at your own pace. I got real comfortable with that, so when it got time to be in this environment ? with every minute taken up and no time to be by yourself ? it was a little awkward. But the shows I really look forward to. The training wheels are coming off and we're remembering how to ride the bike."
Kerrang!: You have to surrender total control of NIN on tour. Is that difficult?
Reznor: "No. Because when we started off NIN in 1990, it was an experiment in taking music that was done on a computer in the studio and seeing how you could present it live. It didn't need to sound the same. And when we got done with 'Pretty Hate Machine' it was way better live than on record. The instrumentation ? a guitarist, drummer, keyboard player and myself ? was meant to add aggression and make a show that people could see and go, 'F**k! I didn't expect that!'. The last thing I wanted to do was to have two guys with a drum pad and a tape.
"The musicianship of the band now is such that I don't have to ride people as I did way back. The drummer's excellent, Charlie's being utilised a lot more than he ever has ? it makes for a lot less work for me. There's respect there ? both ways, I think. Some things sound like the records, some don't. What I'm looking forward to on the next phase of this tour is getting deeper into the new record. A number of the tracks had a lot of arms to them and paths that we turned down to make them sit on the record right. That really could open itself up to being interpreted live. And we're a good enough band to do it."
Kerrang!: How do you go about integrating a work as complex as 'The Fragile' into a live set?
Reznor: "There's a lot of experimentation. The main thing that's changed is that the new record has a lot of mid-tempo and slower songs. Too many of them in a set, it gets a bit redundant. The life band used to be based on aggression, and it's tough to fit in six Cure-like, droning song and keep people interested. There was a lot of questioning about pacing.
"We learned 12 or 15 songs off the album. And the ones that you think are going to go over really well live don't come off so good, and some of the ones you didn't think come off so good are a lot better. We spent a lot of time on the set-list to see what made sense. There was a lot of hair-pulling and re-working."
SOME THINGS you notice about Trent Reznor: he is smaller than you expect ? five feet 10 or so. He smiles more than he's supposed to, but rarely makes eye contact and is good-natured but firm about dismissing questions he feels are too personal. Contrary to recent rumour, his hair is his own ? he tugs at it or his sleeves throughout the interview. When the other band members are being interviewed, the catering staff clatter cutlery, mobile phones constantly ring and techno blares out of a stereo in the corner. All of this stops the second Reznor starts to speak. Lately, he hasn't seen or heard much new music that's excited him. Apart from Atari Teenage Riot, who are supporting NIN on this trek at his invitation and one of whose T-shirts he frequently wears.
Kerrang!: Did you check out the competition before this tour? Filter; for instance?
Reznor: "Some things I do. There hasn't been much that's really blown me away. The Filter record I've got and I like. Richard (Patrick, Filter mainman and ex-NIN guitarist) is still a really good friend of mine, so I don't look at that as the competition so much as a contemporary doing his thing. What he's doing is good. "The immersion of hip-hop and rap is cool right now, so everybody is going, 'Let's get a DJ in the band'. That's real tired to me. It's suburban mall culture ? white trash, in my humble opinion."
Kerrang!: The lowest common denominator?
Reznor: "Of course it is."
Kerrang!: How would you feel about playing to 14-year-old Korn and Limp Bizkit fans?
Reznor: "The show is catered towards doing the best show we can and not towards fitting on MTV's 'Total Request'. I think some of mine and Korn's messages occupy similar emotional territories, but I've not had to cater ? nor will I ? to things I don't understand.
"I'm not sure how's out there now, but there does seem to be a wider age bracket than there's ever been. I'm just trying to do what's true to me, and when I get into making music I don't believe in because 'the kids' want to hear it, the I'm f**ked. I haven't done that yet ? and if I ever do, call me on it."
Kerrang!: Have you thought about how much longer you could and/or should do this for?
Reznor: "Yeah. When it doesn't seem real to me any more and it doesn't seem truthful. I honestly feel that I've made music that is where I am spiritually and mentally at the time I've done it. If I didn't feel I had anything to say, or the next NIN record was more of a departure and it wouldn't work in a live environment, then that's it for that.
"Then there's other things I want to do ? different bands, different concepts and production of other bands that I can fill my time up with. Because I really don't want to outstay my welcome. You see that so much; there's many people to point the finger at who're guilty of that. But I still feel we're pertinent enough at this point in time. At least, that's my perspective of things."
Kerrang!: To what extent is making a record like 'The Fragile' an enjoyable experience?
Reznor: "There's times when it's enjoyable. With every record I've made, but with 'The Fragile' in particular, the team I had was a very enjoyable and supportive one. But we knew we were in it for the long haul, and it goes from being the greatest time ever to the worst. It's frustrating, maddening and defeating. Then you get it right and everyone's excited. It's a rollercoaster, and the weight of it is on my head ? coming up with the idea and executing it.
"You wouldn't want to be in the same studio when I'm doing vocals. That's never the time for anyone to be around me or make my acquaintance. Finishing the mix, yeah, then I'm a nice guy. But when I'm doing vocals, every inadequacy I have is on display for anyone to critique ? including myself. That's also when you can really tell if it's shitty or not, and if you've been lying to yourself all along. It's a plethora of emotions that you give yourself over to in the studio. I don't by any means think I know how to write completely effectively yet. I'm still working on how to express myself differently and better."
NINE INCH Nails prepared for this tour, says Reznor, by "eating unnaturally healthy things and spending time outside". Reznor himself has stopped drinking. The tail-end of the two-year 'Mr Self Destruct' tour was a different story. By then, Reznor was telling people about the backstage enema contests that he, Marilyn Manson and Jim Rose would supervise with a retinue of willing groupies. Robin Fink visibly shudders at the mere mention of that tour. It was, he notes wearily, "stupid".
It took Reznor two years to recover. Principally because, straight after coming off the road, he spent 12 months producing Manson's 'Antichrist Superstar' album and then months going mad in isolation writing the 'Quake' soundtrack. Around this time, an infamous photo of him on a David Bowie video set appeared in various magazines: he looked fat and f**ked.
Kerrang!: What did you think when you saw that picture?
Reznor: "I didn't see that one. But I remember where I was then. Take two-and-a-half years of touring and then do a record with Manson and you wind up at a certain place in life. And it's a place to move away from.
Kerrang!: How did you move away from it?
Reznor: "I kind of went through an overhaul in my life when I started working on this record. It was realising that I was on a path of self-destruction that was leading nowhere but to ruination. Sitting down and working on this record turned everything into a place of repair. And maturity has crept in. I don't think it's overwhelmed the tone of NIN, but it's definitely added a different texture and outlook. I feel differently mentally.
"The chemicals in my brain have changed. Also I never would have considered stability or having kids. Now I'm like, 'Some day I'd like to do that'. I've really stopped my life to do Nine Inch Nails and I let that get to a really unhealthy level. I'd convinced myself that I only had X amount of time before no one was going to care what I had to say, so I'd got the rest of my life to be normal. But you let that go for long enough and pretty soon you need to be human, too. That's what I've been thinking I have to do. I haven't done it yet, but I at least know I have to."
Kerrang!: Are marriage and having a family things that are likely to happen in the near future?
Reznor: "Er, it's possible. It's not as far away as it has been. It's not tomorrow. How's that for a vague answer?"
Kerrang!: You're not the typical celebrity. No one sees you at film premieres or music biz parties. Will that ever change?
Reznor: "I don't know. Sometimes I'd like to feel that I could get sucked into that world someday. But I know I never will. I've tried to make NIN come from an honest place ? a place where I can express how I feel intimately and nakedly. To then counteract that with a personal image of me that undermines everything I'm trying to say: 'I'm full of shit. Here I am kissing everyone's ass and I've started a movie career'. Being around all those people that I've just written about and hate. "I don't really feel connected to people. I know that sometimes I get my ass kissed by people and it's not because I'm me, it's because I'm 'somebody'. It irritates me. You know, 'Just treat me like a normal person. Quit kissing my f**king ass'. And I hate it's 10 people all kissing each other's asses and bullshitting each other."
Kerrang!: By popular perception, you are the dark lord of doom. Discuss.
Reznor: "It comes with the territory. What I've focussed NIN on is an aspect of my head and personality, and it's been more about the negative than the positive. I think that I have a good sense of humour and I'm not always depressed.
"I think it's because you don't see me at the movie premiere. When you see someone in that light too much, they become more human. There's a glaring example that I can come up can come up with here, but I don't want to bring it up now. There's a demystification involved. I've tried to keep a degree of mystique about NIN and myself.
"I've met a lot of guys in band, and I've really liked their music, and when I meet the person they're so full of shit. I realised in my head that I've constructed this magical quality to the music ? I read so much into it and it means so much to me ? and then I see the place it really came from and I can't revisit it knowing it was all a charade. I don't personally feel that I'm full of shit, but I think it's a good thing to keep at arm's length."
THE NEW Nine Inch Nails live experience is as dynamic and draining as it ever was. For 90 minutes, Trent Reznor, his eyes locked in a dead stare, exorcises his personal demons to a soundtrack that stretches from bleak to blistering to coldly beautiful. In the audience tonight is a rotund man in fishnet stockings ad leather mini-skirt, a pair of grubby white Y-fronts poking out between the two. Onstage, a harassed gentleman returns Reznor's mike-stand to an upright position every time he sends it crashing to the floor, which is often. He's been doing the job seven years.
After the show, NIN will drive to Amsterdam. They'll watch 'Braveheart' and 'Heat' on their tour bus' video until the early hours. This time, Trent Reznor will join in the fun.
Kerrang!: Would you describe the band members as friends?
Reznor: "Yeah. But none of us would choose to call each other to go and see a movie. I was thinking about this the other day, because none of us hang out together. I don't really know Jerome that much. But I think Danny an Charlie and myself, from being in close quarters around each other for a while, we know how to co-exist but not get in each others' hair."
Kerrang!: Do you make friends easily?
Reznor: "I'm not very good at friends. And the friends I have are able to? Hey, if it's six months before we're in the same room again, they know what I've been doing. I get on one track with something that I have to do and try to minimise other things. I'm bad at multi-tasking things. I think about things like phoning and writing and then it's, 'F**k, it's been a month'. And then it's six months, I'm bad at shit like that."
Transcribed by Keith Duemling