Trent Reznor - Sydney - 27 Jan 2000

By Elissa Blake for Australian Rolling Stone Magazine on January 1, 2000

The following is a full transcipt of Rolling Stone Editor Elissa Blake's interview with Trent Reznor, which appeared in an edited version in RS 573.

Blake: Let?s start at the beginning. How did you prepare for this tour and how is that process going?

Reznor: I was going through a real adjustment phase from being in the studio for so long and being away from people for so long to suddenly being out in the world, the unstructured world with an unstructured environment and timetable. As unhealthy as I think it can be sitting in a room for two years, there is something I really miss about it now - just being in the company of [co-producer] Alan Moulder and just the gang and the camaraderie and the spirit of just attacking this thing. Every day we?d just chip away and chip away at it. Then all of a sudden, just as it gets its hardest and most frantic, it?s done.

And that sets up a whole new set of obstacles to overcome. One of which was getting the band back together. Then we went to the Bahamas, that was kind of my idea. That was my big vacation. But we were rehearsing every day. So we kind of set up some rooms there to rehearse to feel out who the band was or what the band was and how were we going to present the new material. Did we want to use any old material? Are we a new band? Are we an evolution of the old band? Are we the same band?

I didn?t take anything for granted since it had been four years to the date since we last played as a band. So I know I had changed quite a bit as a person and musically. And I think the record is quite a lot different than the past material. So first of all we were in the process of getting the personnel back together. We had a hellish procedure of finding a drummer. We looked at a bunch of guys and the most unlikely guy, I think the guy that no one else felt was the right guy, Jerome Dillon, who is in the band now, he was the guy I chose because musically I felt he wasn?t a thug. He wasn?t a basher, a real aggressive drummer. Which I think everyone in their mind thinks of: some tattooed muscle man behind the drum kit. And when he played the music, everything sounded sexier. He had a musicality about him that I saw and convinced everybody else.

So now I?ve got this new band, and we?re in the Bahamas and we set up to play some of the old material and much to my amazement, it sounded fresh again. The song ?Down In It? which was off the first album, the first single we put out in 1989 sounded pertinent to the current and exciting and I wanted to play it. Part of me was dreading listening to some of the old things and finding out its yesteryear. But it really wasn?t the case. The tracks we decided to play all sounded fresh and exciting. I can?t put that completely on Jerome but I know he contributed a lot to that.

Then it came down to really figuring out how to play the songs on the new album because when I?m in the studio I don?t put any thought whatsoever on how it?s going to come across live or what the arrangements are going to be like live. On some songs there would be 30 tracks of guitars layered on top of each other and no drums. On the next song there might be no guitars, all keyboards and three drummers at the same time. So it?s a hard task to take song by song. We took one song a day, listened to it, and split up who would play what or what made the most sense and the best way to arrange it.

The other thing I didn?t want to do was make it sound like the album. I wanted to not just paint by numbers, and just say ?Let?s try to recreate the album,? but see if the songs could just take on a life of their own. And it was hard going, we worked on half the songs on that album in that phase and some that you wouldn?t expect to sound good, sounded better than you think and the ones that you really would expect to sound good . . . something didn?t translate right, I didn?t do it right.

So we were preparing for the Europe, Japan, Australia tour, where we knew that the format would be a little bit greatest hits package oriented. It wasn?t going to be all focused on the album, it?s going to be very well rounded from our whole career. I think in hindsight that was a good move for us because we got to Europe, and we?re getting back in the groove of things and how things were. The plan now is as soon as we finish with the Big Day Out to go back to the States and go into production rehearsals for three weeks for an entirely different show that is in the States and is pretty large in terms of length, it?s an arena tour. My hope is for it to be a lot more new album-oriented and to get people a chance to get more familiar with the new record. And a bit more experimental, I think that the show we?re doing now is a little bit on the safe side or it?s on the ?what you expect side?. So I want to challenge people through a variety of what we?re playing, how we?re presenting it, and the production and presentation I?m very involved in.

So you?ve got all that planned out already or are you still thinking about how that?s going to be?

No it?s not all planned out. There?s some vague ideas. We?ve got a new lighting director who was Pink Floyd?s lighting designer. And we?ve had several meeting in terms of what he?s to present in terms of material. On the first Nine Inch Nails tour we had just white lights sitting on the floor behind us and you couldn?t see anything, you couldn?t see what we looked like and it added a kind of confrontation to the show. That?s what that show was all about. At one point there was almost a cage in front of us. It was all about trying to present a rock band in a slightly different way. Or trying to have the production provide a different framework for the music.

When we did the European tour and we did the Downward Spiral tour, at one point we had a screen come down in front of us. It was opaque and for three songs in the middle of the set they cut and broke it up. Through the slow songs, we?d project some films that we made and if you lit the band up we?d show up and you could see us. It was interesting but a pain in the ass to do. But I put myself into the head of the guys who came to see the show and I wanted them to have a challenging and rewarding experience.

So how is that person responding to this tour, the Big Day Out series?

So far it?s not as I had feared it might. I didn?t really know what the Big Day Out was. I didn?t know what we were getting into. It?s one thing to say, ?It?s a festival. Yeah we can do that?. It?s not our venue of choice to be sandwiched in between rock bands but when we put some thought into it we have geared this set up to be something that could be fit between Foo Fighters and Chili Peppers. It?s not a very intimate environment to play because people are so far away, and they?ve been bludgeoned all day with music. But I?ve been very pleased with the response. I though it might be the time to go get a hotdog. I didn?t know. I wasn?t sure of our popularity down here.

Are you getting a clearer idea of that now?

I?m shocked. I was aware that when I took five years between albums to come out that it was career damaging. It wasn?t the careerist in me that made that decision, it was the artist in me that wasn?t able to make a record until then. But when the artist comes out of the stereo, it?s time to put on the hat of the marketing guy, or the ?how am I going to get this record out person?. I really assumed I?d be starting at square one. I didn?t expect it to be that everyone was still holding their breath. I assumed that we had a long road ahead of us and now I see that we do. It has been better than I feared it might be but the reason we have to tour is that?s the only real avenue of promotion we have that I can control and I think really matters.

Occasionally MTV likes us but then they forget about us. Radio, I have no idea what happens with the radio but it doesn?t seem to do that much for us. Nor do I ever listen to the radio. But it seems like the lesson we learned the first time out was to tour around the country in America in small clubs opening for somebody, come back, open for somebody else, then we come back again, headline, then we come back again and those people every time kind of doubled and doubled. I used to love, love, love touring. That was my life. And I think that this time out it?s a little different, it might be that I?m older. I still enjoy it very much but I prefer to be starting the next album right now and for the next eight or nine months I?m going to be on the road.

I think there?s one part of me that needed to know that people liked me. I got pushed into lockers in high school. I needed to be King for a little while. I?ve got a lot of that satisfied now. I?m looking forward to the challenge of working on new material.

What do you think about on stage?

When we get on stage, everything gets a little more primal, a bit cathartic, and a bit more amplified. I can?t really explain it, it just kind of evolved that way. It?s not, go on stage and act like you?re mad. It?s not that, something takes over. It?s sort of the antithesis of sitting in my room with a notebook writing words of anger and fury. It?s time to present this little chunk of anger. Something takes over. But when you get offstage you feel that the pressure has been released. It?s thrown out of your system.

Do you feel like you?re getting to understand a little more where that anger is coming from?

I thought I did. I had a real sense of completion when I finished The Fragile. A looking forward to the next step without being really too involved in it. Now I?m fully emerged in it and there?s a lot more to go. The climate of music in America right now is very bad. Bad in the sense that, if you are a rock band that?s not feeding people, spoon-feeding people what they want or what they?re told to consume, or if you draw out of the lines a little bit and you put something out that?s a little challenging to people or a little difficult or doesn?t sound exactly like it does on the radio or if it?s not funny or you?re not in your underpants in a video, it?s tougher.

It?s much harder than it was five years ago. It seems the climate has shifted a bit towards lack of substance. I?m not saying that when I put The Fragile out that it would fly out the window and fly to the top of the charts. I still believe it?s a good record but I believe it?s a difficult one to get people, in today?s climate, to know about or give it a chance or in the short attention span world that we seem to be in now, especially kids, our record is asking a lot. That makes my mission a little more difficult and the tour a little longer, and it means a few more hours to edit that video to get it right. Not that I?m not up to the challenge but I?m seeing more of that than I was aware was going on. Sitting in the studio with the door closed . . . I wasn?t quite as aware of the climate of commerce.

So you missed the rise of the Backstreet Boys?

They took over while I was gone. I let down the guard and look what happens.

Our Readers have voted The Fragile, best album.

You?re kidding.

They?ve also voted for you as ?biggest suffer for their art?. That?s a bit of a backhanded one from the same people who voted for best album. Do you want to address the readers in either of those...

Best album: I?m incredibly flattered by that. I?d like to say I didn?t know anyone cared that much here.

It hasn?t really been out that long here and the readers have got onto it very fast.

That?s incredibly flattering. As far as biggest sufferer for their art, I don?t know what to say about that. That?s probably true.

Do you feel that that?s a perception of you that you?re sick of or is it unfair? Or is it fair?

Probably two things. One, subject matter of NIN has to do with some degree of anger or suffering. Uglier subjects than the average band out there. Secondly: ?Am I miserable all the time?? No. I?m not miserable all the time. But I have a streak of anger and depression. Yes. A pretty wide streak, but that?s not all that?s in there. As far as another aspect of that, I?m working on it. I wouldn?t say that I?m a perfectionist but I care more about NIN than anything. Probably more than myself. I want that to be as good as can be. I think there are only a few years in any rock artist?s career. What they?re worth has any real pertinence. It?s a pretty finite amount of time. I want to get as much in and work as hard as I can during that time. I?ve got the rest of my life to be normal. I?ve sacrificed a lot in terms of just hobbies and time and well roundedness. I think that some musicians think that you don?t have to balance everything. When I start something that?s what I do. All I do until I?m done with it. I?m not very good at multi tasking it creatively.

How many years do you feel you?ve got left to go in that workload?

I don?t know. I hope because I?m stretching out records that it lasts a lot longer. I don?t know. When the day comes that I feel like I?ve got nothing left to say, if I turn the corner and suddenly everything was okay and I had nothing to write about that was in the world of Nine Inch Nails, I would end Nine Inch Nails and do something else. Either produce or do soundtrack work or start a new band that had a different direction.

Was it in here that you were talking about producing someone else?s band that maybe had a female singer?

What I?d like to do is start a new band that?s me and someone else, and them be the singer. And I?ve got a lot of extra material from The Fragile and a lot of ideas I sometimes think are inappropriate for Nine Inch Nails. I?d like to collaborate in a pretty open and honest and confident way. Sometimes I can be really shy, especially in the studio. I think that?s probably why I work by myself, because I didn?t want anyone hearing me making mistakes.

In some recent interviews you?ve been saying you feel afraid of being alone, or you feel lonely. Is that still a place that you?re at?

Um, yeah, to some degree. I?m around people now, but you?re not amongst them. You?re around them; they?re around you. Sometimes on days it gets strange and lonely. You look out and see everybody with their friends and doing their thing and they?re there right now, and they?re there for you, but they go off to their worlds and their lives and their other interests. You go do the same thing somewhere else for a bunch of other people. You don?t really know, or you don?t know at all. You communicate with them in a strange way. And they know all kind of things about you, but you don?t know anything about them. Sometimes it can feel a little whorish.

When you look out to the crowd like you did yesterday do you feel connected to them, or do you feel like you might know them?

Um, yeah, I do actually. I looked out and I saw a crowd of people and it felt kind of embarrassing ?cause they?re going ?Trent Trent Trent!? during the Foo Fighters and I like those guys. But when we played I could see in a bunch of people?s eyes that there was a weird connection. It?s difficult to describe. In my mind it seemed like they knew what I was saying and could relate to it. That could be bad vision on my part, but it looked as though I?d gotten through to some people, and that I think is the most beautiful thing about art, or what I do.

Because when you do make that connection with somebody, even though it?s a strange way to communicate with people, but if you put something out that you?ve poured your heart and soul into, or cried and agonised over, or held precious in some fashion, you put it on a piece of plastic and someone in another country somewhere or some people get it, puts it on, and finds some way to relate to it, or it means something to them, or it relates to some element in their lives - all that makes staying up all night an programming the lights, and teaching the new drummer ?Head Like A Hole?, playing it for the four thousandth time and not being able to be home with my dog, makes it worth it, you know?

Now I?m going to ask you two light-hearted questions to finish off. First off, you?re looking very fit on stage. Are you feeling fit? Are you working out?

I?m glad you say that, because I was pretty hardcore. Just to clear my mind out I?ve kind of focused on working out, you know, I?ve got a one-track kinda mind. I was pretty rigid until the tour started and then it was like, ?ah I could sleep another two hours, or I could go to the gym. Ooh, two hours have gone!? But in the studio back in New Orleans we had a self-contained biosphere, we should just put a dome on it. Everyone?s a video game fanatic, so we collected a bunch of the old first-generation Space Invaders vintage machines upstairs, and we have a kind of a pretty full sized gym in the front of the studio. What I?ve realised when I?m working is once you hit the wall you can?t get ?round, the idea that just won?t come, you can?t just keep writing, there?s no way you get through it. But if you walk upstairs and go on the treadmill for an hour and come back down, ?ah,? suddenly it?s there. You get around it. Our studio?s pretty ridiculous, it has everything.

My friend has a theory that a person?s favourite pair of shoes says a lot about their personality. What are your favourite pair of shoes?

I?m in a state of flux with my shoes. My favourite pair of shoes just died recently. These are my German combat boots. But they?re not my favourite pair of shoes. Those were my mini-ganglies and they?ve died. My favourite pair of shoes were bought in an army and navy store in Miami. I was shopping with Richard Patrick [of Filter] and he bought these stupid-ass giant knee-high combat boots and called them his ?ganglies?. I bought the same pair but only ankle-high so I called them my ?mini-ganglies?. I wore them for six years. They were so heavy that on stage I felt like I could really kick someone?s ass if I needed to. Not that I ever kicked anyone?s ass. But they wore out recently and I had to put them out to retirement. So I?m between shoes right now.

Well I think that theory holds up a little bit.

Yeah it may. That could be what?s been troubling me.

You just need the right shoes.

I?m going to go shoe shopping tomorrow with my drummer.

� Blake/ Rolling Stone Australia, 2000

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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