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Rock Hard Magazine January 2000

THE PRICE OF FRAGILITY

Who is this Trent Reznor, the man behind Nine Inch Nails, really? An extremely versatile person, who plays almost all instruments himself and composes and produces all the music? A man who writes successful soundtracks and has worked with different musicians such as Marilyn Manson, Rob Halford, Tori Amos and Tom Jones?

Or is Trent Reznor the animal who rampages on stage during his gigs, leaving behind a heap of smashed up instruments and providing scandals in various clubs in L.A.? In any case, his influence on rock music today is enormous. "Time Magazine" named him one of the most influential people in the USA and the respected rock-magazine "Spin" called him the most important artist in today's music scene. His incredibly subtle new double CD "The Fragile" has gotten rave reviews.

So Reznor should be a happy person. Reality seems a little different though: In Hamburg, where the American faces the European press, sits a mentally torn-up doubter, and not some self-confident genius or destructive animal. Somewhat shrunken, he cowers in his chair. He looks pale and tired, which is accentuated even more by his jet-black hair. But depressed or not, Trent shows a friendly and surprisingly openhearted side.

"Every record I've released up Śtil now, has been a true mirror of myself", says the musician. "During the ŚPretty Hate Machine' phase we were a young, pretentious band on our way up. We were untouchable and full of self-confidence ­ and we knew, that soon the world would be lying at our feet. In contrast ŚThe Downward Spiral' describes a fucked up world. The record marks the beginning of one of the blackest periods in my life. The distress I sing about on that CD, later became reality. That's something I still find sinister; ultimately it seems that with this album I'd delivered a concept for the next two years of my life."

What went wrong?

I got entangled in my own downward spiral of drugs, decadence, sex and alcohol. You can read it in Marilyn Manson's autobiography. He was so friendly to put down everything and publish it as a bookŠ I was disfigured by everything that was happening around me; so bad, that I didn't recognize myself when I looked in a mirror. The only thing I saw, was a somber, sad, self-destructive guy, who I could no longer respect. I lost everything during those insane years; not only my self-esteem, but also the respect for everything around me. I had forgotten the reason why I'd become a musician. Was it really out of love to music? I didn't feel like that at all."

How did you manage to get out of that?

"In the beginning I put off every decision. But at some point I managed to confront myself. I realized, that I was stuck in a dead end, that could only result in death. I had to discover myself again and admit, that I'm not infallible, but that I also have weaknesses. I started searching for the person I'd been, before the glamour controlled my life."

Did the music help you with that?

"Sure", confirms the slender multi-talent. "The music used to give my life its meaning, and in the meantime that has come back. The music is my best friend; it inspires and comforts."

"The Downward Spiral" was an almost completely electronic piece of work. On "The Fragile" you often use organic instruments, such as violins, cellos, a slide-guitar or an upright bass.

"That has something to do with the open character, the album was supposed to have", nods Reznor in agreement. "It's easy to hide behind an electronic wall. With a simple guitar in your hands however, you're much more naked and vulnerable."

It's obvious, that "The Fragile" is the result of your search for yourself. You have never sounded so fragile like you do, in the title track for example.

"For years, I've had this idea to record an album that dealt with fragility. At some point I realized that the right time had come to put this plan into action."

Who do you protect in the lyrics to the title track?

"Above all, myself. For a long time, I was known as the asshole of the rock scene, and people went out of my way. They were scared. And rightfully so. I was violent, snapped at everyone and constantly confirmed my image. There were hardly any boundaries. "The Fragile" now transmits a completely different picture of me, and of course that also has its consequences."

Such as?

"People are no longer afraid of me and ask me about personal issues. By doing that, I end up remembering the dismal days before and after ŚThe Downward Spiral'. The old feelings surface again, and I have to answer miscellaneous questions. In these interviews I speak with strangers about topics I wouldn't even discuss with my friends back then. So that's how every day ends in depression, since all of this is still very fresh."

That must be the price you pay, for releasing a personal record.

"Indeed. But meanwhile I'm asking myself, if it was sensible to open up that much."

During the interview, Reznor keeps making short pauses and chooses his words carefully. This time the silence lasts even longer. The former beast seems to be fighting with tears.

"Still, I'm proud of the music", murmurs Trent after a while and clears his throat several times. "'The Fragile' shows how I've changed. The album is a turning point in my life. I've become a better person."

Nevertheless, a lot of the songs on the new record seem quite negative. Do you only reveal your dark emotions in music?

"Yes, because I love raw, intense sounds, and I have more fun screaming than singing. And the only things that animate me to scream, are bad moods and aggression. So maybe I'm not that honest."

Does your childhood play a part in your music?

"I'm afraid it does", sighs Reznor. "Actually my biography isn't extremely spectacular: I had problems in the street and in school, and my parents separated when I was very small. I assume that all of that has left traces. I've buried it deep within me and at some point I will deal with it. Until then, I don't want to talk about it."

The music of Nine Inch Nails isn't very accessible, yet the band sells millions of records, especially in the USA. "The Downward Spiral" alone sold over 5 Million copies. "The Fragile" is also doing really well and entered the Billboard-Charts at #1. How can one explain this success?

Trent Reznor shrugs: "I think that a lot of record companies underestimate the public; the same goes for most of the media like radio or television. They feed people with easily-digestible stuff: soaps, harmless songs and unimportant news. It's just assumed that people can't process any more. I, on the other hand, want to encourage the intelligence of the masses, instead of insulting it. Strangely enough, I seem to be alone in this, although my record sales should inspire other artists to be a little bolder. Another explanation for my success, is that a great deal of people can identify with the misery I describe. Am I the last resort, or do I provide them with comfort? I don't know, but shared pain is only half the painŠ"

Reznor's image isn't only based on his dark music and his scandalous lifestyle, but also on the recording of "The Downward Spiral", which took place in one of the most scandal-filled houses in LA: the villa in Hollywood, where the actress Sharon Tate and some of her friends were brutally murdered by members of the Charles Manson family in 1969.

"At the time, I didn't want to record in a studio, but in a comfortable house. I'd already looked at dozens, until I came across this villa in Cielo Drive. It just looked comfortable and had a breathtaking view of the Hollywood Hills. It was only a few days later, I found out, that the aforementioned murders took place in this house. In the beginning I thought it was cool and watched the videos, in order to reconstruct exactly what had happened back then. I do have to admit though, that at night Id' sometimes shudder. I really didn't pick the house because of its past. Had I known the story would cause such a whirlwind in the USA, I might not have done it. A lot of people found it tasteless."

Reznor is also the discoverer of the phenomenon Marilyn Manson. He signed the shock-rocker to his label Nothing Records, produced Manson's first albums and composed a great deal of the music. Even MM's last CD "Mechanical Animals" appeared on Nothing, but in the credits T.R. is no longer mentioned. How are things with the two of you?

"Our ways have separated", says Reznor. "We were good friends for a while, but I knew that sooner or later Manson would slip out from under my wings. He is incredibly ambitious and we are both strongly distinctive personalities. A relationship like that doesn't work forever. I was prepared that it would end, but didn't expect it to happen in such an unpleasant way. I'm still very hurt because of that, especially since Manson very open-heartedly wrote down everything we'd experienced. It could have turned out a little more civilized. I respect him as an artist, and I guess I'll still have him under contract, but that's about it."

By Robert Haagsma