Let The Goth Times Roll
playboy.com - feb. 2002

New Orleans halts Trent Reznorís downward spiral
by Rob. Walton

With Anne Rice, Britney Spears and Emeril Lagasse, Nine Inch Nails' enigmatic frontman Trent Reznor is New Orleans' most famous resident. The hermetic industrial rock visionary -- who's both a role model for every aspiring techno-rocker and an object of desire for every goth girl who hit puberty since Ziggy Stardust retired -- relocated to the Crescent City eight years ago. He lives in a mansion in the historic Garden District, one block over from fellow dark artist Anne Rice.

Reznor, 36, who also produces albums for Marilyn Manson, soundtracks for David Lynch and Oliver Stone and scores for videogames, also was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in America alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Colin Powell and John McCain in 1997. The laissez-faire lifestyle in the Big Easy allows Reznor to maintain a low profile, however. In an interview from Nothing Studios -- his music outfit located in a rehabbed, turn-of-the-century funeral home -- the writer of the first Grammy-winning song containing the words "fist fuck" talks to Playboy.com about wearing blackface, his Mardi Gras misadventures with Ministry and French Quarter debauchery with Marilyn Manson.

Playboy.com: You once said, "New Orleans was as foreign from Pennsylvania as I could get -- Mardi Gras couldn't exist in Pennsylvania. It still has a small town feel to it, which I like, but it seems a lot more open." How is New Orleans more open than Pennsylvania?

Trent Reznor: It's certainly more morally relaxed. After you get over the initial shock of the lax attitude toward alcohol consumption, it's less uptight. Growing up, Pennsylvania always seemed to be a maximum-security state. Whatever the highest drinking age and stiffest penalties and the slowest speed limit...whatever they could shove at you. It is refreshing to be in a different place.

PB: What's the most out-of-control thing you've done at Mardi Gras?

TR: I made the mistake the first year I was down here -- and I do mean MISTAKE with capital letters -- of inviting the band Ministry to stay in my house. I didn't understand the epic scale of Mardi Gras at the time, nor the epic scale of what the guys were capable of in that band. I don't know how the house didn't burn down and/or everything get stolen out of it. It starts with five people, and it ends with 40 people you've never seen before at six in the morning, standing on your couch, going through your records, laying on the floor naked. It was an interesting experience that I've learned not to repeat: Don't invite rock bands to stay at your house at Mardi Gras.

PB: You said, "New Orleans is a great place to bottom out and stay up all night drinking every night. I went through my decadent phase; I explored the dark alleys, and that's fun for what it is. But I'm not in that phase now." Before we get to your current phase, what are the dark alleys you explored?

TR: When I did the Antichrist Superstar record with Marilyn Manson, it was at the end of the Downward Spiral tour. We had toured together a long time and it was like New Year's Eve every night of that tour. When we did that album, we didn't physically move, but we remained on tour in our heads. We knew everybody on Decatur Street, and we'd end up down there at all hours of the night, and a number of compromising situations rose out of that.

PB: Like what?

TR: If you ask around, I'm sure there's plenty of stories. Lots of piss-covered bathroom floors, illegal activities and near-death experiences that somehow we emerged out the other end of.... I'm glad I went through that phase, but at the same time, if you're going to stay alive or continue to try to use your brain for anything, you need to put everything in perspective, which is what I've done.

PB: So now you're notorious for biking through the Garden District and Audubon Park.

TR: Yeah, I was about to today. If I don't discipline myself -- because I don't have to answer to anybody, necessarily -- I don't get anything done.

PB: Don't you run the risk of goth girls waiting in the park and trying to chase you down?

TR: Yeah, we have a gothic mountain biking club. It's tough when those fishnet stockings get caught in the chain. [Laughs] No, it's pretty low-key.

PB: You've also taken up jet-skiing in the canals and spillways, which can be kind of treacherous in New Orleans.

TR: There are millions of miles of bizarre waterways through here and lakes and stuff. It's just a great way to let off steam and it doesn't hurt as bad as a motorcycle if you fall off going 65 mph. Then it became pretty apparent that we're in filthy water that's filled with alligators and snakes. But that gives it a new edge.

PB: New Orleans is steeped in voodoo culture and it's the home for the Vampire Lestat. Is there a supernatural spirit in New Orleans that influenced your decision to move here?

TR: I think there is a pervasive spiritual vibe here, and there is a kind of darkness that probably to some degree influenced my decision to come down here, the seductive nature of that. I'd read the Anne Rice books before I'd ever been here, and it obviously colored my opinion of the city a bit. And voodoo isn't a shop on Bourbon Street. Outside the mainstream there is an active vibe going on.

I can't say how much it's influenced my music. When you're recording an album or writing an album, the inside of a studio is the same wherever you go. It's a dark room with machines in it.

PB: Maybe, but your studio is a dark room with machines in it, in a 100-year-old funeral home.

TR: This used to be a funeral home at one time. I don't think you'd pick up on that if you didn't know that. [When I was first looking for a studio,] there were a number of funeral homes that have big rooms in them obviously, that were for sale. Oddly enough, they're zoned the same as commercial recording studios; I don't know why that is. This place was perfect. It was gigantic and it hadn't been used as a funeral home for 10 years or so before I got in there. It wasn't like we were pushing coffins out of the way or anything, as great a story as that makes.

It's not creepy in here. I'm here at night alone all the time, and I don't get weirded out.

PB: You've had the rare honor (for a non-native) of riding in the prestigious, Mardi Gras-morning Zulu parade. How did you come to ride in Zulu, which is an exclusive and closed krewe?

TR: The first year I was down here, a friend asked me if I'd like to ride on it. I didn't really understand what Zulu was or why it was different or anything. I didn't know the history or the culture of the krewe at that time. It's predominately black and Mardi Gras Indian, and everyone's in blackface with the grass skirts.... It couldn't really exist outside this city. It could be considered, outside of this city, possibly disrespectful, which it isn't at all if you're a part of this thing.

To be on a parade is a totally bizarre, unique and fantastic experience that is indescribable until you're doing it. It breaks down barriers. You're driving through all kinds of neighborhoods. Everybody's so thrilled. You have masks on, so you're anonymous. You can make eye contact with people and try to throw 'em a bead and see them catch it. You feel pretty good at the end of it and you feel tired at the end of it, but it's a cool experience.

PB: You live in a Garden District mansion a block from Anne Rice. I imagine you're close friends and she picks up your mail when you're on tour.

TR: To be honest with you, I've never met her. But we're aware of each other's dark presences. Our dark energies are feeding off each other.