Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails talks about alienation, Henry Rollins and Axl Rose.
Murray Englehart listens without prejudice.
One leg of Trent Reznor's jeans are inscribed with a small pen drawing of a heart with
two lines crossing diagonally through it, making any rite of passage inside it impossible.
It is an absolute, if low-key, mark of alienation that, along with his ravaged steel-capped
boots, snap-seals Reznor as the '90s embodiment of the world's forgotten boy that Iggy
Pop once claimed to be. We're outside Nine Inch Nails' dressing room at the Sydney leg
of the Alternative Nation rain and mud pile-up, and its as if Reznor's favoured imagery of
mire had risen up to meet him. The day had "changed from a pleasant concert-going
experience into an endurance and survival test," he noted. Five hours later, as a late
evening fog shrouded the stage and its environs, it was patently clear that although the
rain had ceased, endurance and survival were still signposts in Nine Inch Nails black
realm. With Reznor as part intergalactic being, part cro-magnon elf, the American outfit
brought down a veil of sonic violence complete with savage "choreography" that was
closer to an act of aural projectile hurling than rock & roll as we know it. Swaying in the
cold night air as the incredible light show silhouetted the black-clad figures onstage,
approximately 20,000 people joined in with Reznor on "Closer," his harrowing demand
for total faith and control in a relationship: "I wanna fuck you like an animal/I wanna feel
you from the inside/You bring me closer to God..."
ENGLEHART: What's your current view of Nine Inch Nails?
REZNOR: I think at its surface Nine Inch Nails if another entity that puts out product and
hopes to continue to do that. But I like to use the platform to get some subversive
messages out there. I had a problem coming to terms with the fact that we started to sell
more records. I understood the audience up to about 100,000, then we did Lollapalooza
and got real big, then we sold up to gold record status [500,000 copies in America, for
Pretty Hate Machine] and The Downward Spiral has almost gone two million now.
ENGLEHART: What do you see when you look out from the stage onto your audience
REZNOR: You start to look out and you don't recognise those faces. I'm not sure who
they are. It's a mole culture. It's younger people and it's more out-of-touch people, I think.
At first it was kind of difficult, because the first thing that happens is that the people
you've catered to and were part of a scene with start to turn their backs on you because
you've infiltrated a mass arena.
ENGLEHART: But surely that infiltration is the beautiful part?
REZNOR: Yeah, but it can also be a painful thing when your favourite magazine that you
bought as a fan, and which liked you, now thinks you're not so cool because their little
sister likes you, even though I think the integrity of the music that Nine Inch Nails has put
out has stayed or improved, hopefully.
ENGLEHART: Everyone has a different perception of you. For example you've had a
strange relationship with Henry Rollins over the last few years. Has that improved?
REZNOR: He irritated me at the time because he went out of his way to stand on his
soapbox of legitimacy. I don't mean to... I've got no... It was just at the time we irritated
him because there was a buzz about Nine Inch Nails and we were the guys with no
credibility, we were the young guys on Lollapalooza. I think he felt he had the weight of
punk rock on his back and I think a lot of what he does is pretty good. But he irritated me
on a personal level.
ENGLEHART: You did a show with Guns N' Roses at Wembley Stadium in London
several years back, at Axl Rose's instigation. Do you get any feedback from him these
REZNOR: I heard from him right before we started this tour. That was kind of when the
downfall of Guns N' Roses was just reaching bottom. He was just kind of freaked out and
was talking about maybe working on some other kind of project. I said, "Let me know.
I'm into at least listening to ideas." I haven't had any other contact.
ENGLEHART: He's got an interesting mind. I think there's a lot more going on in there
than people give him credit for.
REZNOR: With Axl? Yeah. I feel a certain degree of compassion, just because he was thrust into something that was larger than anything else and then a lot of weight was placed on him to carry the torch. If I had to pick something that I think was wrong with how they were treated it was that no one had the balls to say "No." As in, "No, it's not a good idea to put out two double albums of mediocre material." But if you said that you got fired. I think that's inherently the problem. I think the guy is talented at what he is
ENGLEHART: The images that you conjure up onstage are quite nightmarish. Do you ever freak yourself out?
REZNOR: I've done that more sitting in the studio, thinking of stuff and coming up with ideas and wondering if I should even say that, almost being afraid to explore certain parts of what I'm thinking about. Asking, "Do I really want to go down that path? Do I really want to be the spokesman of saying....?" It's not like a conversation with yourself, it's a conversation with X amount of millions of people that hear that and might relate to it. Is it responsible to do that? I've been more freaked out by that than playing live, where there's times when it will really click and things work. But I can't say that there's any time when I've really... Unless we've been in such an altered state of consciousness [laughs], which does occur occasionally.
ENGLEHART: So how do you see the new album? Will there be a departure from The Downward Spiral?
REZNOR: I'd like to. I'm not far enough into it to have anything concrete to say about it, but I'd like to work on a record that's more song oriented, more collaborative. That's more
interesting to me right now than climbing down another hole for two years-by myself. But it may end up being that.