Trent Reznor's Return From Self-Destruction
Written by Pete Gabler Metal Hammer
Trent Reznor. Just let the name hang there in your mind for a minute. Got a picture? Good. Now what does the name mean to you? Nine out of 10 times, you'll probably get
images of a dark, miserable and extremely angry soul ploughing throught personnal
anguish and torment, living a life of tortured genius, full of nightmares and despair.
Funny then, that the man sitting opposite me in the plush surroundings of London's
Metropolitan Hotel semms to be suffeing from something far less serious-the poor guy's
gone and got himself a naty case of the flu. Still, he's in Europe to promote the
long-awaited Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile and he's staying professional til the end.
After offering him some advices on how to cure his ailment (a largish glass of whisky-a
natch-with a drowlop of honey , few tablespoons of ginger and a drop of lemon), we get
down to brass tracks. The Fragile is causing an almighty ripple around the rock music
industry- as indeed do most things that involve Time's magazine most influential
musician of the 90's- and the rock press seem generally positive about it. Still, it must
have been difficult to keep perspective on an album that took so long to make, surely?
"Well, the reality of this record was that it was a two-year process by the time I started it,
and I tried to allow myself to really sit down and start creating," explain Reznor. "It
wasn't me overanalyzing or trying to write a certain way; it was mainly me just allowing
myself to go with a flow and see what came out."
"When we started, we just went by what felt right, and I'd say that for the first eight
months of the recording process some of the tracks were really based on a more
Was it difficult to decipher what was good and what was not?
"Yeah, and a lot of the things we'd end up cutting were the things we liked more,
generally the instrumentally weirder things, and i seems as though is wasn't a faire
representation of the whole album when we started cutting those things off. We called in
[legendary producer] Bob Ezrin and we just said to him, 'Here's a chunk of 30 songs-tell
us what you think, good or bad.'It was a kind of like a report card grading from a
professor,y'know? His comments wew very intelligent and pertinet, and in the most part
were really positive. I mean, it is very difficult to be objective when you've mixed, and
fought with, as well as renamed and just fucked around it yourself."
Does he genuinely worry that his hardcore following is going to like it, or does Trent
Reznor not concern himself with matters like that?
"Well, now that it's out, I'd love for them to like it. I'm trying to do the necessary stuff to
promote it for that reason. I've stayed honest to what I think is right for me now, and I can
only hope that fans can identify it with honesty. There's an emotional there lyrically, and
it's expressed in such a sense that maybe they can relate to it and pick up something that
means something to them. That's probably the main thing I'm concerned about."
And as aside, I ask him how he feels about doing interviews-flu or not flu. It must be a bit a bind to constantly repeat yourself, particularly when you're considered to be one of the
world's biggest rock stars, and one who seems constant turmoil and self-loathing. The
press generally love a famous rock star in pain.
"I hate it. I hate it because what I've discovered on this wave of doing them is that part of
it revolves around me having to reveal a bit of my life I don't feel comfortable talking
about, because it was a very ugly time, but it's necessary in the explanation of why this
album is what it is, and why it turned out the way it has."
Don't you find it ever so slightly unnerving that people are constantly trying to get into the
head of Trent Reznor? It must be hat to cope with the constant speculation on your
mind-state and the intrusion into your personal life.
"It's depressing. It's not anything I'm proud of, telling people where I am or was. It's
necessary, I know that, but I get tired of playing armchair analyst all day long, and
wondering why I feel a certain way. Fuck it! I don't know-sorry! And I've got them trying
to tell my why they think I am, and sometimes you feel like saying, 'Fuck you! This is my
record. I just try to treat the whole situation with respect, but I will admit it does get
annoying. I've come back from a pretty bleak spot where I don't want to go again, and I've
reparired my own self to a degree that I'm a stronger person who can deal with a lot more
than I could at one point. I think I went through a necessary change and evolution in my
own life, nd I think I've achieved something that matters."
The Fragile was summed up by our own Dan Silver, thus: "... one of the releases of the
decadde. But at half the lenght, it could have been the one. "
So what with the double set Trent? Is there a traditional beginning , middle, and end-type
structure? Why are the things the wat they are on there? The record buying public wants
"From a listener's point of view, the two CDs are broken up in areas where it wasn't
logical for a starting and finishing point. I think it's a linear journey; the first CD makes a
lot more sense after you heard the second one, and the second doesn't sound as important
if you don't know the first one. The first one I feel is a more intimate journey. The second
one is a but more esoteric and a bit more flighty at times. In a sense they complement
each other. I don't expect everybody to site down and listen to both CDs everytime they
listen to the record, but I think it works well listening to one and then the other.
Listening to the album, I'm stuck with the thought you're going to have one helle of a
challenge geting the complexity of the album into a live environment. How are you going
to make that transistion?
"I'm actually in the process of seeing if I can right now. We're rehearsing and I've got a
new challenge in trying to play live material that's substantially more complex than the
past. When we played the MTV awards I needed two cellist and four backing vocals on
the stage, and I don't know if I want to go that way. I'm trying to find ways to execute
them with integrity, but not turn into a bloated rock band. When was the last time you
saw a rock band with backing singers that was cool? " Fair point.
Time magazine voted Mr. Reznor as the most influential musician of the 90's, a tag which
surely must have embarrassed the man a little bit. After all, he's just mentioned that he's
uncomfortable about interviews, never mind having that label hanging around his neck.
"I have a hard time reading interviews I do. Reviews. I'll read. Is it flattering to be called a
genius? Yes. Do I believe it? No. Here's my take on Time magazine thing. It's surprising
and flattering, but I don't take it to heart because who is Time to say who's most
influential? Things like being the number one Billboard album the first week out. Now I
meant an waful lot more to me, because it was people that did matter, namely, the fansm
that surprisingly were still out there. Winning a grammy award in America -or two, I
guess- so what? I mean it's nice, it's flattering, but who the fuck are these Grammy people
to pick it? Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about it but I think U have a pretty
healthy perspective on twhat that really means. It doesn't make me think my shit doesn't
stink and therefore everything I do is great now."
It must also be hard to keep on justifying the pain on your records...
"Yeah, it is. I don't particularly like being a poster boy, feeling the need to constantly talk
about it and then have someone give me their opinion on it. It's like, I'm dealing with it
yet I feel like I'm needing to tell you about it to try and sell this record. In the press, I hear
it took me 'five years to make a record . 'It didn't take me five years to make a record -- it
took me three years to avoid making a record, and two years to sit down and get it done.
We tried to make an original sounding record that's honestm that sounds distressed, that
sounds interesting at every level. We really went to the fucking limit on this one, as far as
trying to get the most deep thing we could get across out."
Some people say that your pain and honesty is purely for effect, though.
"I get that more [in England] than I do in America. 'It is just cashing in on a market
place?', 'Is it drama for drama's sake? It's har to be put in a position where I try to say, 'No
it's not, that's how I feel. 'But the reality of the situation is that it's come from a true place
of unpleasantness, and it's been a weight for me to get it out of my system and feel better
about myself in the process. I try to turn it into something that has an element of beauty,
and then maybe some other fans or listeners may pick up on that and relate to it. That to
me is the complete circle, and if anyone gets what I'm [going] on about, then they're
getting the same feeling that I had growing up, when there were certain songs which gave
me a sense that, 'Whoah, someone else feels this way, and I get it. 'Even though I couldn't
know what they were really feeling, and maybe they didn't mean what I felt, but it seemed
like they meant it to me. That I think is a pretty unique way to make art: the idea that
maybe you've taken something that could kill you and turned it into something good, in
which others can find some beauty as well. You wouldn't put the album on and say it's a
happy record, but it is about trying to find some sense of reason for where you're at, and
that too was a lot more positive than [the previous NIN album] The Downward Spiral,
which was about getting to the bottom by whatever means possible. I found that to be a
much bleaker album. Not that this is a party album. (laughs)
It's genuinely pleasing to see the guy laugh. After witnessing only the recorded or
reported Trent Reznor before now - where what you get seems fucked-up individual
constantly torturing himself- it's good to see that the guy can be positive as the next man
when he allows himself.
"I'd say that I've recently allowed myself to become more positive. The very dangerous
self-destructive side of me I've now learned to keep in check. I've understood what he's
about. I think I crippled him in a way because I know him, his strategies, and I see him
creep up every once in a while now in ways of sabotage, in ways of the "fuck-it" guy, 'Just
fuck it! Treat someone this way or that, just fuck it! 'That guy I've identified with more
because he's been around in my life a lot- not to sound like Mr. Split Personality but there's been a element that I let get out of control for a while, and I found out he was on
his way to killing me. He was leading me down the sometimes romantic path of
self-destruction. I was afraid to work and I didn't have any friends, and it was just-
pleurrrgh! A place that you don't want to be I acknowleged that I just have to be aware of
deal with, my own pain."
There's also a certain amount of catharis for the people who listen to you, surely.
"Onstage, I'd almost have tears in my eyes because I mean what I'm singing so mush, and
this hing hurts. And I'd look back and there's hundred people singing back to me, and
they're fucking teared-up and screaming and the're this weird release. The sacrifices,
flaying your soul ever so often, spreading it out on paper, and then, not only that but
explaining in a situation like this why I did it. Then sometimes defending myself about its
honesty because it's easy for someone to dismiss it sayin, 'He couldn't feel that way!.. well
I did, and I had to tell you that I fucking felt this miserable. The end result for me is a
positive one, yeah, and I think for some listeners it is as well. Not for everybody, I
acknowledge that, but for some I think it can be."
As I'm sure most of you are aware, Trent haso kept busy working on other people's
projects, most notably, of course, Marilyn Manson who, it has to be said, went on to
pretty big things after a bit of tweaking from Trent. However, it's pretty much common
knowlege now that the pair of them don't exactly see eye on eye. So does he see the time
spent with Marilyn Manson as being time he wasted in retrospect?
"I've always repect Manson as an artist, and I continue to. I'm very proud if the work that
we've done together and it saddens me that we're not friends now. There has been a
personality change in both of us, and I don't feel particularly good about him as a person
anymore. I was at a low point and I got kicked few times and in places that I didn't feel
was necessary within the level of decency, and I got insulted in ways that made me really
question the incredible amout of maliciousness that went into doing it. A simple, 'Hey
everything's going to be OK, 'Yeah, I'm fine'... I don't think that's right. Someday maybe
things will work out, but it's the kind of thing where, when you've really been offended on
several serious leveles.. I don't feel good about it."
You don't seem to get a lot of credit for the work that you did with Manson.
"It's issues of ego. The guy that I was good friends with, I don't think he's around any
more. I was about to start NIN's new record but I wasn't quite ready mentally, so I stopped
what I was doing to work ont their album ['Antichrist Superstar']. And when that was
completed, that's when our friendship went sour, and that's also when I had to deal with
some crises in my own life- losing somebody very close to me- and it all just accumulated
into one big pile. It wasn't his fault anymore that it was anything elseI did give yo some
time from NIN to work on his record, but that was my choice to do that, and it's also a
time that I'm very proud of, because I like that record a lot and I'm very proud that I was
involved in it. I think I helped make it a lot better."
Not that he actually needs to worry anyway. Nine Inch Nails are still about as big as any
name you can think of in the world of rock music, and the commotion that the release of
'The Fragile' caused was a good indication of where the name Trent Reznor stands in the
scheme of things. Will Nine Inch Nails still be around as an entity in another two or three
years time, though?
"I think I'm over a necessary hump in my own creative development that I would hope doesn't stall me out for another several years. I've gained a lot of confidence in the studio
and a lot of self-respect, and I sincerely don't believe that I'm on the verge of another
travel down that horrible road, which would prevent me from doing anything. I feel very
optimistic right now."