An Interview With Trent Reznor
Raygun 07.98

We asked nine inch nails' Trent Reznor to describe his experiences working with David Bowie. here's what he had to say:

"Touring with David bowie, I went from being completely awestruck and seeing him as this idol, to his being a very big inspiration for me. I first stumbled into bowie when Scary Monsters came ut, then just in teh last six or seven years I've gone back and learned a lot more about his earlier work from around the MI.Hunkt Dory-ish era. i went back and really got into it, and that happened to coincide with when we started talking about doing that tour together. I guess what struck me being around him is that he's the same age as my dad, and it was so inspiring to see someone who had gone through a degree of pain and had written about it to be at a state where they seemed content. I don't mean lazy content, because he still has a very, 'Fuck it- I'm gonna try this and it might fail, but I need to do it artistically' attitude. He's very inspirational and I hope I could eventualy get close to that level. I don't mean fame-wise or monetary-wise, but just spiritually. That's the reward I'm looking for.

Bowie's changed music. He's had the balls- not to sound like I'm kissing his ass or anything-but its like every record of his changed. Think of how different it must've been to put out Low after Hunkey Dory or after his Thin White Duke phase to go into electronic and then go into whatever. Sometimes it might've been a very sly recycling of the current trend at the time, but regardless it was done well. To have that sort of musical innovation and then to actually emerge at the other end- that's gotta be a pretty good feeling. And to see him just being happy, to see with his wife-like I'd walk over to his room hungover and he's painting a picture, Iman's calling from the other room-you know, things could be worse.

"He really impressed me, just hearing him sing every night. I'll never be as good of a singer as he is. He's a fucking great singer. You either have that or you don't. And he has it. I've caught a little bit of flak from some of the snotty media, you know. "Washed up David Bowie's trying to reinvent himself by... ' fuck that. Like everybody else, he's had this moments of missing the mark, but for the most part he's been conistently amazing."

Touring and collaborating with the likes of Daivd Bowie, nor setting up a creative shop in a former funeral home in New Orleans to nurtue the careers of other like-minded developing such as Mariyln Manson. Although that would be kind of cool.

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 artists who has established his own lable, nothing records, for, as he puts it. "bands who want an environment where they're artisitcally 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 record, the followup to nine inch nails' last full length, 1994's "The Downward Spiral". Here he provides a glimpse into the nature of his newest beast.

Raygun: 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-prentious thing to say. But I kind of what I thought the first phase of nine inch naills 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.

RG: Things?

Trent: just the whole picture of being the pop star. I honestly got into this to make music and try to make a difference that way. But you watch 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, if you can stretch it into being called an art form. You're selling a CD in a store, but it can be a peice 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 didin'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 violent, loud ocean. And it turned into that crashing rocks isolation chamber which started to drive me insane.

RG: Not to generalize what your music's all about, but it seem like that would fuel you. That madness and isolation kind of thing.

Trent: it did and it didn't. It accentated 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 tring 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 a 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 on of each type of element of 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 it's completely set up to fail miserable right now.

RG: So does that mean you think its really great?

Trent: I think its... I know it's the best stuff I've ever done. I don't know how fasionable the record will be, but that it's really exciting to me right now.

RG: Its deinitely 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 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 gneral feeling of the record?

Trent: It's a lot slower. And sparser. And that doesn't mean happier or full of ballards, because it cetainly 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. 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' base then, and it just soaked its way through.

RG: Did any of that elemnent, or the newer "electronica" type stuff, seep into this record?

Trent: I listen to a fair amount of it, but I really don't think that in any obvious way it has. I'd say that an old Tom Waits album sounds more some of this. Its sort of odd. This past Christmass, we all took a break for a month, and when we got back and listened we all said sounded more like nine inch nails than we though 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 though 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 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 on sonsultation/ 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 peice of paper. I keep getting flak that this record's taking a long time. Its not that there's no ideas and I'm grasping at straws. There are too many right now and... I'll put it out when its 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: Its 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 an arging match with some guy in another band or to be said because I was number two instead of number one and shit like that. Though you can't help but let it affect 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 its been awakening process. It's like I've come out of a cloud of depression and aimlessness- and once again music has come though 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.