Interview with Trent Reznor
Visions mag - jan. 2002
translated by veronika


[translator's note: I'm skipping most of the introduction here, because (other than the interview itself) much of it is neither new nor of much interest as it deals mostly with some (now dated) info on aatchb, a description of nothing studios & Trent's clothes, the weather in New Orleans being nice & a guy called Tim saying Trent is a good boss....whatever.]

However here's the interviewer's comment after being shown the DVD: ''I'm seeing one and a half-hours of rage, madness, orgiastic light-experiences. A Trent Reznor who seems to be losing control. And a fantastic band, that is even more impressive due to the opulent 5.1 surround sound. One must say it: This is bombastic.'' He also gets to listen to some outtakes from the 'Still' CD: ''Some well known songs like 'Hurt' or 'A warm place' completely stripped down to the melody and some piano fragments. And a new, great song, the name of which I forget to note down''

visions: Are you working alone here most of the time?

trent: Not completely alone. As a rule there's another engineer here who takes care of the whole computer stuff and wiring.

visions: But no other musicians, right?
trent: Right.

visions: So you're quite the studio hermit you're often said to be?

trent: Probably. Initially the reason for that was that I simply couldn't find anyone who wanted to make music with me. That used to be hard for me earlier, because I'd always wanted to have a real band. But I simply didn't get on with the musicians I knew.

visions: Or the other way round.

trent: Yes, or that. But with time that turned out rather positive anyway, because I realised I could work more efficiently and precisely on my own. When I go into the studio I always have a heap of ideas I want to start working on simultaneously, and it simply works out faster if I'm playing everything myself, than if I have to explain to everyone at length what they're supposed to play.

visions: But you have to do that anyway, before a tour at the latest.

trent: Yes, but then the music already exists, they only have to perform it. [translator's note: I've no idea what word exactly Trent might have used here: what comes across in the German translation however, implies a mere repetition, no involvement at all in the process of creation, it's even somewhat harsher than the 'perform' I finally decided upon.]

visions: So the live band Nine Inch Nails is nothing more than a band performing your studio recordings?

trent: Well, now that maybe would be a bit harsh. After all we did arrange the transformation of the studio recordings for live performance together, and besides the guys are really good. But basically you're not totally wrong: I wanted Nine Inch Nails to look like a real band live, which in fact we are not in the studio.

visions: Why do you release a live record like 'And All that Could Have Been' now?

trent: When we started compiling the setlist for the 'Fragile' tour, I wanted it to be like a retrospective, the best from each record in a way. At the same time it was supposed to sound very compact and in tune, as if all songs were from one and the same record, which they absolutely don't sound like in their studio versions. So I thought that this idea was really worth being preserved, especially since many songs have changed a lot over the time. I also wanted to give my band the chance to prove how good they are on a record for a change.

visions: Are you a hundred percent at ease on stage?

trent: Definitely not. And personally I know hardly anyone who is. And I don't believe that my music is very self-confident in the sense that it requires a real stage performance. Like Tom Jones, for example - that guy and his music belong on a stage, in front of an audience. I don't, really. That's why I almost never talk to the audience - I don't have anything to say to them, that I'm not already saying with my music. It's about a special kind of tension, which I want to create, nothing else. And I don't have to be the performer type for that.

visions: I've read that tours are such a problem for you because you're afraid of loosing all intimacy and privacy through the intensity of your musical performance.

trent: You're just scaring me a bit, because you're approaching topics that make me think about things I rather avoid otherwise. Who knows what there's going to come up.

visions: Are we seeing the real, in a way the emotionally stripped Trent Reznor on stage, or rather a stage version of him?

trent: A really interesting question. Let's see: When I started taking the stage with my music, at that time I found it very exciting, and sometimes it's still like that today. The fact that I suddenly shared with so many people the music I'd written in extremely private, vulnerable moments at home on my note book, and that this worked nevertheless, was truly amazing. My songs were nothing less than my insides turned into music, with all my uncertainties, doubts, depressions. And suddenly I saw people who screamed my lyrics back at me, and I realised that they meant something to others, too. I don't know what, but that doesn't matter, either.

visions: Do you think they know what they mean to you? trent: No, and there's no way I'm going tell you what they mean to me. But as I said, that doesn't matter. All that mattered was that people would actually feel something through my music. When I saw that the first time it was a real detonation of shivers. As a result for a long time I'd totally spend myself to get this kind of feedback again and again. But with time I realised that there was an imbalance between giving and taking, because half an hour after the show I'd be sitting alone in a room backstage feeling naked to the bones, while all the others were back at home again in their small and tidy lives, and had had a good time with me, nothing more. I felt like being the only one feeling totally alone after this exchange of energies. I had to do something about that, and that's why I prefer hiding behind a little masquerade now.

visions: In such situations many people resort to drugs to recapture this moment of high.

trent: I've done that too, for a long time, frequently, and plenty. But this is nothing but dragging out the problem. But: I'm saying this now that I'm clean. That has once been different, too.

visions: Taking a lot of drugs for a period of time somehow seems to be a part of becoming famous.

trent: Yes, it seems to be that way. At least it was like that with me. There are many things from that period of my life, which I regret; it was a very self-destructive life style. But at the same time I'm glad to have gone through that, because it makes you stronger to end things. It shows you your true nature, if you succeed in resisting the temptation.

visions: Which aspects of your personality do you believe you still need to work on?

trent: I hope to be a person who feels at ease in every situation of his life at some point. I'm still very far away from that and I envy people who give the impression of always doing the right thing and feeling at ease with that. I'm getting along much better with myself in the meantime, but I have a long way to go before I can say that I'm a self-confident, convincing, likeable human being.

visions: Once again back to the stage masquerade: There's a scene on the DVD where you're smashing a keyboard with the mikestand. This is, to put it cautiously, very rock star-like. What makes you do something like that? Is it all only show, after all?

trent: No it isn't: Even today there are still moments at concerts where the intensity explodes in such a way as to leave you without control. You just switch over to autopilot. Sure, I'd be lying if I claimed not to notice how you can attract people's attention with that. If you're on tour for two years, there just are evenings when you don't feel like going through that adrenaline hell again and again, emotionally, mentally and physically. And then you're realising that sometimes you've really become the person you never wanted to be: the guy who plays the role. I hate to say it.

visions: Lets talk about the second part of the double CD, the 'Still'-CD. How did that happen?

trent: Well, at first there was the idea for the DVD, it was only later that I thought about releasing it on CD, too. But to merely put the concert on CD didn't seem sufficient to me. At the time we'd just done a radio show in Chicago, very acoustic, very laid back, with songs like 'Hurt' or 'The Fragile', which I like very much, but didn't fit into our set. We recorded some of those songs, and I thought they would make a good complement to the live CD. After all they're based on live recordings, only I'd edited them a bit afterwards. [translator's note: it's not entirely clear to me from the German text if that's supposed to mean that the tracks on 'Still' are indeed an edited versions of the crc sessions, or that they were just inspired by them - sorry to be so vague on such a crucial point.]

visions: The beauty of silence - is this something that could have an influence on your future projects, too?

trent: The things I work on at the moment are something completely different again, though I don't even know if they're going to be NIN, tapeworm, or something else altogether. I haven't been listening to my old records for more than half a year now, because I needed a distance from this higher, faster, wider; because I knew there had to come something new. Recently I re-listened to some of the older things again, and in direct comparison the new tracks are much darker, more open. It's a bit like the old Jesus and Mary Chain meet Bauhaus meet Joy Division. Open minimalism, one maybe could say, the opposite of those immense textures like on 'The Fragile'. To me at the moment it's not so much about bringing many things together on one right path, rather I want to clear the path from all superfluous clutter.

visions: Trent Reznor - the artist who has to re-define himself from record to record?

trent: Yes, this is indeed so. It was odd: When I sat in the studio for the first time after the last tour, I intended to start by finishing a few songs left over from the 'Fragile'-phase, because I liked them very much. I'd barely put on the tapes with the raw versions, and at once I was back again in the musical stage I'd been in at the time of their creation. That didn't seem right to me, so I put them away, and started all over again from the beginning.

visions: How do you do this? Starting all over again?

trent: Because I'm working alone and don't have a band that pre-sets a certain frame of sound, I always impose new rules and precepts on myself, and stick to them while making music. For example I forbid myself to touch the keyboards on the next song, or to use only a certain guitar in order to see what will happen. Or I force myself to just play chords on the piano for some days, to achieve new compositions that way. I'm making up such rules all the time, and only a few of them are really good. But through them I'm learning to be myself on a musical level, regardless of how I sound.

visions: Does a musical genius like you really need such regulations to be creative?

trent: Absolutely. I need them not to loose myself in the tangled mass of possibilities, to make music a challenge. And to force myself not to remain stuck in a well functioning frame of sound. I simply want to improve as a songwriter, musician, producer. As an artist.

visions: Are there any musicians whose development serves as an inspiration to you?

trent: Radiohead are a good example. I never was their greatest fan, till I listened to 'Kid A' for the first time. They proved courage. They gave up something that wasn't bad at all, in order to make something completely different, which could put off many people. I find that admirable. Or David Bowie. He always did what he wanted to do.

visions: Let's sum up your current mood. Your exalted Ziggy Stardust phase is over, we have to be prepared for everything.

trent: It certainly looks like that. And I believe it's been about time to start something completely new, I'm not that young any longer. And to be honest I'm also asking myself if I shouldn't have let go of some things much earlier. This is hard - I liked that era, and I still like most of the songs. But now I'm glad to begin something new.

visions: What does Trent Reznor do in his free time?

trent: I'm very interested in light design. I find it incredible what one can create with light. And I write a lot - short stories, scripts, all kinds of things.

visions: Other interests?

trent: I like all kinds of water sports. Water-ski, Jetski, Kitesurfing. It's good to be on the water. But don't repeat that. [translator's note: huh... now I'm probably in trouble too...*g*]

visions: Why not? Afraid for your image?

trent: Well, I'd find a photomontaged picture of myself on a surfboard somewhat inappropriate.

visions: Are you vain?

trent: What gave you that idea?

visions: Well, on some photos, like the last VISIONS cover story you come across like a male model. Very sensual, if I may say so.

trent: Let's see (studies the photos) Yes, I'm vain. No question about that.