Australian Rolling Stone Magazine January 2000

Trent Reznor - Sydney - 27 Jan 2000

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

Blake: Letís 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 weíd just chip away and chip away at it. Then all of a sudden, just as it gets its hardest and most frantic, itís 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 didnít 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 wasnít a thug. He wasnít 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 Iíve got this new band, and weíre 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 ďDown In ItĒ 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 wasnít the case. The tracks we decided to play all sounded fresh and exciting. I canít 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 Iím in the studio I donít put any thought whatsoever on how itís 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 itís 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 didnít want to do was make it sound like the album. I wanted to not just paint by numbers, and just say ďLetís try to recreate the album,Ē 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 wouldnít expect to sound good, sounded better than you think and the ones that you really would expect to sound good . . . something didnít translate right, I didnít 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 wasnít going to be all focused on the album, itís 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 weíre 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, itís 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 weíre doing now is a little bit on the safe side or itís on the ďwhat you expect sideĒ. So I want to challenge people through a variety of what weíre playing, how weíre presenting it, and the production and presentation Iím very involved in.

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

No itís not all planned out. Thereís some vague ideas. Weíve got a new lighting director who was Pink Floydís lighting designer. And weíve had several meeting in terms of what heís 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 couldnít see anything, you couldnít see what we looked like and it added a kind of confrontation to the show. Thatís 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, weíd project some films that we made and if you lit the band up weíd 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 itís not as I had feared it might. I didnít really know what the Big Day Out was. I didnít know what we were getting into. Itís one thing to say, ďItís a festival. Yeah we can do thatĒ. Itís 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. Itís not a very intimate environment to play because people are so far away, and theyíve been bludgeoned all day with music. But Iíve been very pleased with the response. I though it might be the time to go get a hotdog. I didnít know. I wasnít sure of our popularity down here.

Are you getting a clearer idea of that now?

Iím shocked. I was aware that when I took five years between albums to come out that it was career damaging. It wasnít the careerist in me that made that decision, it was the artist in me that wasnít able to make a record until then. But when the artist comes out of the stereo, itís time to put on the hat of the marketing guy, or the Ďhow am I going to get this record out personí. I really assumed Iíd be starting at square one. I didnít 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 thatís 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 doesnít 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 itís a little different, it might be that Iím 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 Iím going to be on the road.

I think thereís 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. Iíve got a lot of that satisfied now. Iím 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 canít really explain it, it just kind of evolved that way. Itís not, go on stage and act like youíre mad. Itís not that, something takes over. Itís sort of the antithesis of sitting in my room with a notebook writing words of anger and fury. Itís time to present this little chunk of anger. Something takes over. But when you get offstage you feel that the pressure has been released. Itís thrown out of your system.

Do you feel like youíre 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 Iím fully emerged in it and thereís 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 thatís not feeding people, spoon-feeding people what they want or what theyíre told to consume, or if you draw out of the lines a little bit and you put something out thatís a little challenging to people or a little difficult or doesnít sound exactly like it does on the radio or if itís not funny or youíre not in your underpants in a video, itís tougher.

Itís much harder than it was five years ago. It seems the climate has shifted a bit towards lack of substance. Iím 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 itís a good record but I believe itís a difficult one to get people, in todayís 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 Iím not up to the challenge but Iím seeing more of that than I was aware was going on. Sitting in the studio with the door closed . . . I wasnít 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.

Youíre kidding.

Theyíve also voted for you as Ďbiggest suffer for their artí. Thatís 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: Iím incredibly flattered by that. Iíd like to say I didnít know anyone cared that much here.

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

Thatís incredibly flattering. As far as biggest sufferer for their art, I donít know what to say about that. Thatís probably true.

Do you feel that thatís a perception of you that youíre 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: ĎAm I miserable all the time?í No. Iím not miserable all the time. But I have a streak of anger and depression. Yes. A pretty wide streak, but thatís not all thatís in there. As far as another aspect of that, Iím working on it. I wouldnít say that Iím 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 artistís career. What theyíre worth has any real pertinence. Itís a pretty finite amount of time. I want to get as much in and work as hard as I can during that time. Iíve got the rest of my life to be normal. Iíve sacrificed a lot in terms of just hobbies and time and well roundedness. I think that some musicians think that you donít have to balance everything. When I start something thatís what I do. All I do until Iím done with it. Iím not very good at multi tasking it creatively.

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

I donít know. I hope because Iím stretching out records that it lasts a lot longer. I donít know. When the day comes that I feel like Iíve 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 elseís band that maybe had a female singer?

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

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

Um, yeah, to some degree. Iím around people now, but youíre not amongst them. Youíre around them; theyíre around you. Sometimes on days it gets strange and lonely. You look out and see everybody with their friends and doing their thing and theyíre there right now, and theyíre 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 donít really know, or you donít know at all. You communicate with them in a strange way. And they know all kind of things about you, but you donít 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 Ďcause theyíre going ďTrent Trent Trent!Ē during the Foo Fighters and I like those guys. But when we played I could see in a bunch of peopleís eyes that there was a weird connection. Itís 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 Iíd 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 itís a strange way to communicate with people, but if you put something out that youíve poured your heart and soul into, or cried and agonized 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 ďHead Like A HoleĒ, playing it for the four thousandth time and not being able to be home with my dog, makes it worth it, you know?

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

Iím glad you say that, because I was pretty hardcore. Just to clear my mind out Iíve kind of focused on working out, you know, Iíve got a one-track kinda mind. I was pretty rigid until the tour started and then it was like, ďah I could sleep another two hours, or I could go to the gym. Ooh, two hours have gone!Ē But in the studio back in New Orleans we had a self-contained biosphere, we should just put a dome on it. Everyoneís 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 Iíve realized when Iím working is once you hit the wall you canít get Ďround, the idea that just wonít come, you canít just keep writing, thereís no way you get through it. But if you walk upstairs and go on the treadmill for an hour and come back down, ďah,Ē suddenly itís there. You get around it. Our studioís pretty ridiculous, it has everything.

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

Iím in a state of flux with my shoes. My favourite pair of shoes just died recently. These are my German combat boots. But theyíre not my favourite pair of shoes. Those were my mini-ganglies and theyíve 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 Ďgangliesí. I bought the same pair but only ankle-high so I called them my Ďmini-gangliesí. I wore them for six years. They were so heavy that on stage I felt like I could really kick someoneís ass if I needed to. Not that I ever kicked anyoneís ass. But they wore out recently and I had to put them out to retirement. So Iím between shoes right now.

Well I think that theory holds up a little bit.

Yeah it may. That could be whatís been troubling me.

You just need the right shoes.

Iím going to go shoe shopping tomorrow with my drummer.

© Blake/ Rolling Stone Australia, 2000