The Irony of Trent: you can’t take that away from him
by Ashley Driggs - Jan. 2002

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor talks to dig about his new release, Courtney Love and life in an art-deprived music industry.

It seems like it's been awhile since we've heard anything from Nine Inch Nails, but as Trent Reznor recently told us, he's been anything but idle.

With a new live CD and DVD coming out in January, he's been staying busy shooting, editing and now marketing his latest project in an effort to make sure it's the art he's always intended it to be.

2000 was a busy year for Trent and his band, Nine Inch Nails. The Fragile tour blanketed the U.S. with the industrial rock sound that's become synonymous with Trent Reznor and his Nails. And, at the end of every sold-out show, another night of footage was logged that would become their new CD/DVD venture, Nine Inch Nails Live: And All That Could Have Been. The 16 song live CD, and its mate, the 18 song DVD are the first of their kind for Reznor. "The idea [for] this came about when we were in the midst of the tour. I was reaching a point [where] I felt really proud that the mechanics of the show were finally coming together," he says, almost beaming. "And, the set that I chose to play on that tour was kind of career-spanning - something from all the different records."

Each song on the CD is melded together like a beautiful landscape detailing the musical history of Nine Inch Nails. Leading off with "Terrible Lie" from their 1989 release, Pretty Hate Machine, the album ventures into a swingy version of "Piggy," continues with their groundbreaking, and still most radio-played song, "Closer," and closes with the eerily melodic, "Hurt." And, everything in between makes it the most beautiful live excursion Reznor could have imagined. "We've turned into a pretty interesting rock band from just a guy in his bedroom."

The DVD provided an opportunity for Reznor, by now a music business veteran, to create a visual diary of his career thus far. "I thought it would be nice to have a document of the tour, and it would also kind of encapsulate where we've been and where we are now in a retrospective kind of way." The band and crew loaded up on miniDV cameras to document the tour. Armed with four Sony 3-chip miniDVs and a few Canon XL1s, they captured multiple camera angles of the band, the crowd and everything in between. Once they were off the road, Trent got busy cutting together the footage with Apple's Final Cut Pro on a Macintosh G4. "It's a 733 or something." The package personalizes the tour, complete with audio commentary and still photos. Being the die-hard artist Reznor seems to be, one might think video is a copout compared to film. However, the decision to shoot video over film proved to be a wise, and perhaps the best decision for this project. "I'm just shocked at how good the footage came out. The XL1s seem(ed) to pick up the show much better than the struggle with film [would]." He humbly adds a short time later, "Plus, I don't know anything about film." Since he was feeling truthful, it was time to explore some other topics Reznor's passionate about…

Borrowing some time from Trent Reznor was a lesson in cynicism and an education in the music business, or at least his opinion of it. If you happened to be living under a rock when Reznor first embarked on his music career, then you won't recall the struggle he experienced between himself and the first major label that signed Nine Inch Nails. "With TVT early on, they thought that they signed one thing and [we] were another," he explains. "Every bit of strife I've had with any label revolves around the battle with art and commerce." The misunderstanding with TVT resulted in numerous meetings between Reznor, his manager and longtime friend/business consultant John Malm, and the label execs. As Reznor tells it, in one corner were the label people wanting a marketable product, and in the other corner sat Reznor and Malm saying, "no." "They just wanted to sell product," says Reznor. "It didn't matter if it was bubble gum or dishwashing soap or hubcaps."

Ironically, when we were talking, he was in the midst of working on a project for MTV, a commercial giant he's viciously denounced in the past. How is it that he's now spending his time cutting away footage for an upcoming special to promote And All That Could Have Been? "There's an understanding," defends Reznor. After seeing a parody Bowflex® commercial on David Letterman that seemed to mock the release of Pretty Hate Machine, Reznor began his crusade to be more consciously involved in the marketing of his projects. "I almost died when I saw that," he squirms, referring to the Bowflex® incident. "How much is this cheapening peoples' opinions of what I'm doing?"

Perhaps feeling caught in a trap between the aforementioned "art and commerce" duel, he continued to explain the necessary evil of finding the balance between making art and the need to fund it. "[Take] Woodstock for example. We were asked to do that. I did it because if I played that one show, I could afford to pay for the whole Downward Spiral tour where I didn't go into debt by the end of it. That, to me, was a worthwhile sacrifice."

Nine Inch Nails, particularly known for pioneering the industrial rock revolution and putting on elaborate stage shows complete with strobes, smoke, and light shows that send you swirling into oblivion, is having to stand firm in an industry riddled with teeny bopper jailbait and boy band eye candy. He describes a recent conversation he had with Ian Astbury of the Cult: "I said, `Ian, either I'm getting older and everyone else is, too, but doesn't it seem like the bar has just been lowered to ridiculously low levels of what's considered good?'" The disgust in his voice was almost tangible. In support of his statement, he offers an explanation. "I think that there are no record labels that are run by people that like music anymore. As an artist on one of those labels… we're just one of the heap of bands that are problematic because there's artists involved." He continues in his cynical rant about "idiot A&R people" and "threatening bottomline label people" for a bit longer before turning toward what seemed to be some semblance of positivity. He acknowledges that he's not alone in his concerns for the artistry, or lack thereof, in the music business these days. "I hate Courtney Love - I'll be the first to say that, but I applaud her for turning her venom and her powers of irritation towards the record industry," he says referring to Love's characteristically loud and unending battle over the fairness of artist contracts. "They've been unfair from the start. Somebody ripped off Elvis Presley in the `50s and now everything's based on this unfair contract. But you know, the record industry's all about people taking advantage of musicians, ripping them off one way or another." He puts on his whiny yet incredibly angry voice to imitate a label person: "'Make me a way that we can make more money and screw you over, and good luck in rehab or death.'" Forget what I said about positivity.

The clock was ticking and he had to get back to his MTV project to support the new release being put out on Interscope/nothing records on January 22. Yep, a major label release with supporting coverage to be shown on a major network all of which revolve around marketing a product of the music business that he seems to hate. Perhaps in an attempt to save face, he closed the conversation by professing, "I think the most important thing that I can do is try to make music that I think is the best music that I can make." What more could we ask, Trent?