Trent Reznor
Rock Sound Magazine December 1999

It's been a long time since Nine Inch Nails released a record, but the wait has been worth it. As anyone who has heard their new album 'The Fragile' will testify, Trent Reznor has created a masterpiece. Rock Sound met up with him in a hotel room in London to hear what he's been up to, how Marilyn Manson deliberately hurt him and why he wants to put razor blades in apples.

Words: Jude Petit

Trent Reznor is suffering from a cold. For a man who is hardly the most prolific interviewee it just adds insult to injury. He may be, 'One of the Most Influential People in the United States', 'The Most Vital Artist in Music Today' or 'Musician of the Decade' as US magazines such as Time, Spin or Rolling Stone like to christen him, but his sniffly nose and sore throat prove him to be as human as the rest of us. When he walks into the room, the Stanley Kubrick of music proves himself to be less of a titan in the flesh than he appears on record. About 5'7" and clad in jeans that really could do with a bit of a wash, he compulsively bites his nails when nervous. Taking a seat on the white armchair opposite he lays his threadbare leather jacket across his knees and waits patiently to answer yet another set of questions. Surprisingly he has quite a 'full' face, evasive eyes and a tiny mouth. He's polite, excuses himself in advance for his 'bad answers' and smiles shyly before clearing his throat. To be honest, the Trent Reznor in front of me gives no sign of being an unhinged artist, and even less of being wracked with depression. In fact he's the picture of a (nice) monster who has become vulnerable; his arrogance given way to humility.

From Despair To Where

But first the background. Ten years ago NIN's debut album 'Pretty Hate Machine' was released. Immediately recognisable as an industrial record, it also pointed the way forward for a genre that already considered itself futuristic. But where others clung to the beat of a machine and a clinical vision, Reznor injected humanity and warmth into his music. Spawning the worldwide hit 'Head Like A Hole' it proved that NIN were a force to be reckoned with. But it was another five years before a new album appeared, the remarkable 'Downward Spiral'. A scabrous, difficult work full of self-loathing and hatred it confirmed Trent Reznor as the genius he'd been hailed as. It also sold by the bucketload, making hugely powerful within the music industry. His violent misanthropy and suicidal melancholy were pardoned as he passed to the upper echelons and re-wrote the rule book on rock music.

But it would be another four years until he gifted us with this new album. In that time he took a promising wannabe from Florida calling himself Marilyn Manson and helped turn him into the Antichrist Superstar he is today. He also changed the way film soundtracks were constructed with his 'Natural Born Killers' set. And now he's back in the more familiar guise of Nine Inch Nails with 'The Fragile', an album of quite incredible scope and vision. However, as always he refuses to play by the rules.

In a time when the pop single reigns supreme, Trent Reznor brings out a double album that is not only over 100 minutes long but includes no less than six instrumental tracks. Typically he's unconcerned about any perceptions of being deliberately un-commercial.

"My aim was to ensure that the tracks linked up correctly!" he says, smiling. "If this album is so long and in effect, rather heavy to manage, it's because each piece was constructed with a great unique instrumental as a base. If we had removed all the flannel once the piece was finished then we would have had one album instead of two. But I don't see it like that. Each element has its fundamental place. When I decided to do two albums I wanted it to be seen as A and B which would give life to one entity and not as an asphyxiating punishment."

Friends And Family

It's definitely no punishment for Nine Inch Nails fans but with all the turmoil Trent's been through, particularly certain friendships imploding distastrously, he's used 'The Fragile' to deliver some scathing ripostes to former associates, namely Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson.

The most obvious example is 'Starfuckers Inc', inspired by the salacious rumours that Ms. Love spread, and some sulphurous lines in Marilyn Manson's autobiography. In fact Manson's betrayal is something that Trent can't excuse.

"He's one of the few people that I let back into my life but then he associated me with things that I always condemned coming from him and he knew it. Those written allegations had no other aim than to hurt me. I don't know why."

In addition to seeing his relationships crumble he also had to cope with the fact that his grandmother who had brought him up, died whilst he was recording 'The Fragile'. It was a blow to Trent found almost impossible to recover from.

"I wasn't able to get better and I think that I still have a problem with the whole thing," he says, avoiding eye contact. "I spent time working on parallel production plans, original versions of films. But what I really wanted to do was to get down to my next album because I knew that my music, like my last album, had therapeutic value. I knew that I had to get over this period of reflecting and looking inward to find out who I really was. I don't think I was strong enough to do it, and consequently I touched the bottom. I pushed things as far as they would go and when I had the heart to accept that I had problems I managed to sit in front of a piano and feel creative again… I gave myself the right to do it. What came out of it I found really good and soon enough I felt better. The creative process brought about my recovery and my personal search."

Heart And Soul

Although he's dealing with difficult subjects, Trent is remarkably open and talks without hesitation about his depression and his therapy.

"It allowed me at least to look at myself in a less critical way and to accept that some people in my life did me good while others were bad for me," he reflects, gnawing on a worrisome nail. "'The Downward Spiral' was a hard and violent record from someone unable to stand back from things and people. 'The Fragile' is a tolerant record, which forgives the mistakes and flaws of others as I accepted mine."

So… the fans who love only Trent Reznor, the backstage wrecker (as in the video 'Closure'), the black and destructive individual he became during his last tour, will have to perhaps rethink their membership of the NIN fanclub.

"Yeah, I often asked myself that question when I was composing," Trent laughs quietly. "I felt how my music was taking shape and I wondered how the public or the critics would perceive this transformation. To tell the truth I didn't ask myself for a long time because I quickly realised that my first worry was to stay true and honest. This record comes from the heart and soul. It's too bad if there isn't a 'radio track' or if the fans air their disappointment on the net. Now that the record has been released I am serene and I can read all the articles and commentaries written about me without any problems. I knew that this album was different to 'Downward Spiral' but I also knew it was the exact reflection of what I became. The Trent Reznor of that famous video doesn't exist anymore. I lost a lot of people during this transformation and this album will make me lose more. Now I sleep well during the night and I can look at myself in the mirror every morning without disgust and that's all that counts."

His faith in the record is vindicated. Not only did it enter the British Top 10, but crashed into the US Billboard charts at number one, trouncing the Backstreet Boys which is a fact worth celebrating.

Trent allows himself a quick grin.

"It's not an album that I would even have imagined would compete on that level. It's quite flattering," he says with disarming humility. "I'm finally happy but I still want to be the man who offers people an apple that when they bite into they discover a razor blade".

There's more than razorblades at the heart of Trent's new offering and it's well worth having a taste to discover that for yourself. Just beware, it could change your life, as a friend of mine who e-mailed me a few days ago can testify: "I got the new NIN CD yesterday. God, I just cried listening to it. It feels like home and like someone has so beautifully, painfully, creatively and deftly recreated my life into sound." And that's the power of Trent Reznor. He touches people with his music in ways that no-one else can. And before you make assumptions about my friend, she's the happy mother of three kids. Truly something for everyone.

© Freeway Press Ltd