Trent Reznor took time off from completing NIN's new album, The Fragile, to discuss the
personal renaissance that occurred during the making of The Downward Spiral.
AP - How did the concept for the album come about?
TR - I'd come up with a good idea during the end of the Pretty Hate Machine tour when
things got kind of bad - personalities were conflicting, and I was on a kind of self-destruct
mission. I let many areas of my life get out of hand and started being an asshole around
people. And I felt this frustration that I've worked my whole life to get to this point and
now I can't do it anymore. [Reznor was feuding with his label TVT at the time.] There's
always something holding you back and something fucking up what could be a good
situation. And from that I kind of plotted out what I thought Downward Spiral would be.
Musically, I thought it was going to be a real heavy guitar record, and when I started
working on music, I found synthesizers and samplers a lot more interesting.
AP - In retrospect, was recording in L.A. good for the creative process?
TR - I kind of had a fascination with L.A. 'cause I'd never spent much time there and it
seemed so ridiculous that there must be something interesting about it, or else there
wouldn't be so many people there. It seemed like a good way to try the city out. Going
there definitely changed the course of the record. It wasn't so much being in the Tate
house [where actress Sharon Tate and freinds had been murdered by Charles Manson's
Family], but being in this place that was like on the side of a mountain above Beverly
Hills. You could look down on this alien-landscape kind of vibe but feel really detached
from everything. And I found that I didn't fit in with people there. It resulted in a lot of
time spent by ourselves.
Looking back at that now, I tend to over-romanticize it for the sense of excitement and
innovation and rediscovery of why I wanted to make music in the first place. For me it
was convincing myself not to be afraid to try things, even if they're not the safe thing to
try. Lyrically, I liked the way I said it, but I wasn't proud of the motions I felt on there.
The things I was expressing felt a little too close to the bone for me. And at one point I
looked at myself and said, well, at least it's honest, and that I think has a power of its own.
AP - Did you have any fun whatsoever?
TR - It wasn't all miserable. It was fun because [former drummer/programmer] Chris
Vrenna and I were tight at that time, and it was like a little team going out on a new secret
mission to try to rediscover the world and figure out how to do this. Aside from
loneliness, there were no real bottom-outs through that whole time. I also discovered
Timothy Leary lived right in front of me. We made friends, and then that was an excuse
to do psychedelics, you know? [Laughs.] I figured, "I should; it must be meanth to
happen!" Overall I look back on it as wholly positive, to the point where I go back to
L.A., which I grew to hate, and I think, "It kind of feels like home here a little bit." But
then I come to my senses.