New Musical Express
NME.com Magazine October 1999

The Prince Of Pain has a severe case of the sniffles. Imprisoned in a swanky London hotel, Trent Reznor has been laid low by a bad flu bug. The tormented mastermind behind Wagnerian hate-pop gothcore titans Nine Inch Nails has cancelled two days of interviews, loaded up on Lemsip and retired to his chambers.

Reznor's ill-fated moonlight flit to London has coincided with an impressive comeback. Despite Nine Inch Nails lying virtually dormant for five years, immediately rocketed to Number One in the US charts and Number Ten in Britain. Next month's Brixton Academy show sold out in a matter of hours. Half of London wants to interview Trent, but he's barely seen daylight since his arrival.

But NME, after much frantic negotiation, finally manages to drag the reluctant Dark Lord from his sick bed just hours before his return flight to New Orleans. Believe us, we feel terrible about this – if not quite awful as the croaky, crestfallen Reznor himself. Worse still, he's putting himself out for the sarcastic British press who always ridicule his pain-wracked public persona.

Still, we didn't come here to mock Trent. Oh alright, maybe just a little. But we mainly want to discuss his frightfully atmospheric new double album, 'The Fragile', plus many other fearsome things. And with Halloween approaching, we come to play verbal Trick or Treat with the multimillion-selling merchant of menace.

Happy Halloween Trent. So tell us, what scares the scariest Man in Rock? "The Bottom" he growls. "I saw The Bottom when I started this record and I don't want to go back there. It's a place where I couldn't imagine having any worth and I couldn't imagine trying to make music. It's a place of loneliness and utter worthlessness. I remind myself of where that is and I don't want to visit there anymore. That scares me."

Righty ho. And will Trent be celebrating Halloween this year?

"I don't have any specific plans, nor do I know if I'll even be in America. We may be over here rehearsing. But I used to go Trick or Treating, because where I grew up we didn't have drugs and there was very little trouble you could get into. We had a great gang of terrorists that would go around pissing people's gas tanks, just idiotic shit. We felt it was our mission to create havoc, but to a mild degree."

Trent, who co-ordinated the scarifying soundtracks to Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway, recently caught hair-raising punker snuff movie The Blair Witch Project. Did he shit himself?

"I was really excited because I'd heard about it from the website and was convinced it was real by somebody who didn't quite know", he says. "So I went to a midnight screening in LA on a Tuesday night and it wasn't what I was expecting, but the spectacle of seeing it in a completely packed house full of psyched-up people made it pretty entertaining. Did it scare me that much? No, but I appreciated the unrelenting tension".

Hey! That sounds like an advertising slogan for Nine Inch Nails – Appreciate The Unrelenting Tension. Has Trent ever had sex with a corpse?

"Oh yeah. Huh huh! No, I've gone out with a couple of girls who may have qualified as that, but I can't say that legally I've accomplished that task."

Take note. Trent Reznor just cracked a joke. Keep your eyes peeled for more as the interview progresses and the unrelenting tension increases. Because now Trent is going to talk about really scary things, like the chronic depression which led him to writing 'The Fragile'. And his feuds with Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love. And what it's like at The Bottom. Superstar bitching? Here we go…

Rewind to 1994. Reznor is alone in the notorious Hollywood Hills house where Charles Manson's sicko disciples slaughtered five people in August 1969. He is reading a book of prison interviews with the jailed cult leader in which Manson describes his secret nocturnal to the crime scene after the murders took place. Torrential rain hammers down outside and Trent, for the first time, is having second thoughts about his choice of recording venue for what would become one of the decade's most remorselessly dark and aggressive albums, 'The Downward Spiral'.

"That scared the shit out of me," nods the Prince Of Pain. "But with the exception of that, I didn't have a bad situation in that house. And when we left the place they tore it down. I guess two tragedies up there was too much."

Did you spot it? That's the second Reznor joke in less than half an hour. But some people, this writer included, would argue that recording an album at the site of an infamous murder by racist psychopaths was a sick joke too far.

If juvenile shock-rock statements are your trade, why not go the whole hog and record in Aushwitz?

"It wasn't meant to be a statement," sighs Trent. "I've said this before and it has been ignored, but we didn't know that was the house when we picked it that day. There were ten others to choose from but that was the best house for our needs. In my stupidity I didn't realise it was something I'd be answering questions about for ten years."

But it was only after the album came out that Reznor's true descent into the downward spiral began. And his problems began with another Manson – superfreak glamcore Marilyn. After Trent produced the 'Antichrist Superstar' album for his former prot?g?, he saw their friendship "dissipate" into bitterness.

"That was the result of some personalities changing," he says. "They were getting much more famous, and I wasn't the most stable at that point either so I'm not pointing any fingers and saying it was all them. I believe there's blame on both sides, but there's certainly more malice on their side – and when I say 'them' I mean him, not the band."

At the same time, relations also soured between Reznor and ex-lover Courtney Love. Competition fuelled this three-way feud – while Reznor dropped off the radar, both Manson and Love became superstars. But this imbalance is redressed on 'The Fragile' with the scouring drum'n'hate polemic called 'Starfuckers Inc'.

Is it about Mazzer and Cozzer?

"It's about everybody that thought I was full of shit at that time," nods Trent. "There's bits of those guys in there, of course, but it wasn't solely meant to be a 'Fuck you Manson' kind of song. It was also meant to be tongue-in-cheek and ridiculous and have a sense of humour."

How is the feud with Manson now?

"Its not a feud, it's just not anything."

And Courtney?

"Thank Christ I haven't heard a word from her in a long time, nor would I ever wish to again."

Crikey. She called you a farmboy staring into the abyss. What does that mean?

"I couldn't care less what she has to say about me."

So there'll be no seasonal goodwill card for Ms Love this Christmas then?

"Fuck no."

But celebrity bitching was the least of Trent's worries as he faced the daunting task of following up his two-million-selling-alterna-smash 'The Downward Spiral'. Sudden superstardom was surreal and disorienting enough – Time magazine voted Reznor one of America's 25 "most influential" people in 1997 – but it was his grandmother's death which tipped him into the debilitating depression of self-loathing and creative stasis. He saw The Bottom.

"The woman that raised me died and I just got into a fucking slump," Trent says bluntly. "Where maybe it was alright to flirt with the idea of depression before, it now developed into a black hole I couldn't get out of. I had to face myself and get to the heart of the matter, which was that I was depressed and I needed help."

Anyone who heard Trent's doom-laden albums could have tipped him off that he was a tad miserable – or was it merely theatrical posturing?

"It was never theatrical, but it always came from me getting it out of my system. Expressing myself about being angry or distressed was a way I then could feel better in the process. But this time it prevented me from allowing myself to do that so it really got to be a struggle."

So Trent tried therapy, grief counselling, chemical medication…

"I went on a brief stint of antidepressants, which taught me a lot about how little they really know what they do to you. But really the act of discovering there is something wrong with me, even though I didn't want to hear it, was some sort of comfort in the bigger picture because it provided an explanation for the way I felt. Somehow that gave me the power to feel like it wasn't completely my fault and I could try to understand it better. I really feel like I've come out of this a stronger person."

Hence 'The Fragile', Trent's most textured and multi-faceted album yet. A vast, bruise-coloured canvas of slithering ambient glamcore and orchestral doom symphonies. Trent wanted to record sound "inherently flawed", like himself.

"Coming from a somewhat damaged viewpoint, I was more intrigued by the record having a distressed quality about it – something that sounded a bit old or was starting to decay. There was no agenda when we started, but in the end I felt there was a story there. The story was about my own self-repair."

Of course, comments like these open Trent to charges of humourless self-pity and grinding pomposity. This argument really gets his goat. Reznor recently dissed "the English press" in an American magazine for questioning the honesty of his tortured soul. But objectively, surely he can see that the relentless negativity of his music might seem a touch overblown? Can a millionaire rock star really be that miserable all the time?

"I understand that there is an element of drama to the music," nods Trent Reasonable. "But I know I really felt that way. I've seen the fucking blackest part of The Bottom, so when it's easily dismissed by somebody as a gimmick to try to appeal to a certain audience – that was one of the few comments that really agitated me."

But public angst has become the most hackneyed marketing tool in white male alterna-rock since Kurt Cobain blew his top. How do we know Trent's suffering is anymore 'real' than Dobbin McPoser of Limp Bizkit or Lord Gavin Phake-Payne from Bush?

"I understand your point, but I would hope that in some cases integrity shines through," he shrugs. "Again there's only so many soapboxes I can jump on and say, 'I mean it, I mean it!' I'm not out to convince you that much. It's there and it stands for something, and it's not laced with ridiculous posturing or trend-following like a lot of other shit. And maybe the guy in Bush does mean it, but it just doesn't seem like it to me."

The root of this perception problem probably lies less in whether Reznor 'means it' than in cultural differences between Europe and America. Over here we distrust cathartic displays of existential despair. Tut tut. Very un-British. Tsk. We tend to turn out angst into humour, sarcasm, arty pathos. Which is why Jarvis Cocker kicks Henry Rollin' iron pumping ass in rock's premiere league of emotional heavyweights every time. No contest.

"It is a different perspective, that's fair enough," Trent concedes. "But it doesn't make it any easier to defend my position."

Do you lack a sense of humour?

"I don't at all, but I just don't think it comes out in this music. I think 'Starfuckers Inc' is funny in a ridiculous way. We've done some music that was meant to be funny, like Queen covers. But I have a very awkward sense of knowing how to place that in the context of music – maybe that is the cultural difference. In real life we fuck around a lot. We're not hanging upside down in out closets and sleeping in fresh earth or being generally morose all the time. Sometimes, of course, but not all the time…"

Woah! Three jokes in one interview! Nobody can call Reznor a humourless, self-absorbed misery merchant now. Deep down he's jovial, jocular and japeworthy. Why, in the right mood he's downright avuncular. Which is why, as our stolen hour with rock's most troubled soul ends, we leave him a gift which symbolises our shared cultural riches – the latest issue of Viz comic. Trent's crash course in British humour starts here.

"Um, OK, I appreciate that," he smiles nervously.

And then the Prince Of Pain is whisked away, lost once more to the night's velvet embrace. As his raven-hued chariot speeds him back towards his subterranean catabomb of eternal despair, we sincerely hope that Trent Reznor is laughing his bollocks off.

Text - Stephen Dalton
Transcribed for The NIN Hotline by node_girl.