Prince of Darkness....
Trent Reznor invented Marilyn Manson, revolutionised movie soundtracks and single-handedly made industrial rock cool. And now, in his first interview with the UK press in three years, the NIN mainman explains exactly how he did it....
"Tour guide parties walk past my house and (horror novelist) Anne Rice's house every day. It's like, 'that's where the woman who wrote Interview With The Vampire lives, and that's where the Satan-worshipping rock star lives'!"
NIN mastermind Trent Reznor is at home in New Orleans, recovering from a mild bout of Pringles-induced sickness. His dog Daisy occasionally provides a background chorus. "I've got this seat here in my living room where I'm pretty sure they can't see me," Reznor reveals. "I'm in my
underpants right now, so I hope that theory's correct..."
NIN, one of "the" most important bands of our time, have just broken an extended silence with the release of a new EP, The Perfect Drug. It was originally written for the soundtrack to David Lynch's latest movie, Lost Highway. And yes, a new NIN album is in the works. Right now, Reznor is
working on remixes for a David Bowie EP, but once he has "flushed that out of my system" he will press on with the third full-length NIN record. When it emerges in "the very first half of next year - hopefully", it will have been four years since the magnificent 'The Downward Spiral' was released.
"That's because touring turns you into a retard," sighs Reznor. "You're bombarded with input - whether it be drugs or women, stimulus or ego gratification, playing or exhaustion or bad food. You get little time to think. Every record I've done, I've put on the cerebral professor hat and asked, 'Is this an important thing to say?'." He pauses. As he does a lot. "I know that sounds pretentious and dumb..."
Even while touring Europe for '...Spiral', Reznor worked in hotel rooms, creating perhaps the best film soundtrack of the '90s, 'Natural Born Killers'. "the cool thing about the film was the collage of pop imagery," he says. "So I said, 'Let's make a collage with a hundred songs in it - some for 10 seconds, some with dialogue over them. When you play the CD, you'll think of the movie'."
'Natural Born Killers', the movie, remains unavailable on video in the UK, having been predictably smeared with 'copycat' incidents in America and Paris. "This can relate to Judas Priest, MM and other issues," says Reznor. "Ultimately, the individual has to assume complete responsibility. Art has always been a reflection of culture and society. If you listen to a fucking rap record and go shoot a cop, maybe the record was the final catalyst that made you do it, but you had problems to start with."
He notes that his work on 'Lost Highway' was less intensive. "The sheer volume of 'NBK' involved sorting through thousands of megabytes of songs," he recalls. "For 'Lost Highway' that wasn't so appropriate, because the movie has a different feel to it. Within the limits of what David Lynch would allow, I tried to make it representative of the film. That whole 'Mortal Kombat' idea of 'let's just throw every bullshit thing you can in there' doesn't appeal to me."
'Lost Highway' is hypnotically surreal and disturbing. Does Reznor have any clue what it's about? "Does anybody?" he darkly chuckles. "I don't know. But David Lynch and David Cronenberg are my favourite film-makers, along with Ken Russell. Lynch is charming and puts you at ease. But the
level I worked with him was the highest pressure period I've ever worked in."
"He talked really loudly, like the guy in 'Twin Peaks' who's hard of hearing," laughs Reznor. "He'd say, 'I've got a chase scene, and I'm picturing insects swarming around'. Then he'd scribble on pieces of paper and say, 'This is what I want it to sound like'.
"I went up to his house in LA a couple of times. One of the houses he owns is in 'Lost Highway'. He said, 'Let me show you this', and walked up the side of a hill. He showed me a trail of ants crawling over a piece of rotting meat on a canvas, and told me that was his latest project. That might make him sound like a pretentious cock, but he's not at all. He's like your uncle. I found myself looking at him, going, 'Jesus Christ, David Lynch!'. I've probably seen 'Blue Velvet' about 50 times, y'know?!
It was like, 'He's talking to me! He created Frank Booth!'."
The 'Lost Highway' soundtrack song 'Driver Down' is credited to Trent Reznor. Given that the man always writes NIN songs, why make that distinction? "It was a transition, because members of my band had left," he replies, before taking a deep breath and broadening the subject. "Here's the problem I've had with my band. I started by myself, living in Cleveland, enginerring in a studio, recording bad rhythm 'n' blues acts by day.
"If there was a few minutes at the end of the night, I could do my own stuff - which pretty much ended up being 'Pretty Hate Machine'. I couldn't find anybody that would join me. Everybody was like, 'How much are you paying?'. But I was getting $200 a month and eating peanut butter
sandwiches every day! I didn't find anybody so I did it myself, adopting the attitude of, 'Well, fuck, Prince did it - I can do it!'."
Only after Reznor signed a record deal did he assemble a group of hired hands. "They played the parts I wrote and I was the guy lying on my back under the computer, basically doing everything. That established a premise where the band never was a band. I thought it was a good live band, but not a band that went into the studio and recorded together." NIN musicians have been numerous, including Filter's Richard Patrick, ex-Filter man Brian Liesegang, and guitarist Jeff Ward, who died
a heroin addict ("I never knew how bad he was - he kept hiding," laments Reznor). Of the line-up that toured with '...Spiral', only guitarist Danny Lohner is still a NIN member. The 'band' is now completed by keyboardist/programmer Charlie Clouser and programmer Keith Hillebrandt. Both glam-freak guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Chris Vrenna have been jettisoned. Reznor stresses that Vrenna "will never be in the band ever again". "I don't know how much I wanna talk about this," he considers. "I've written every note of every song that NIN has done at this point. Every idea, every stage design, every outfit. Sometimes people that are close to you discover they hate you, because you can buy a car and they can't. But they don't see the effort that goes into all the other aspects of it. They ride on the fucking bus for three years, which I paid for, playing the songs I wrote," he sighs. "It's like, 'Sorry I can pay the electric bill!'. There's been a few elements like that.
"Manson and I aren't as close as we were," he casually adds. Really? Tell us more.... "Well, you have to deal with the reality. Being around a few more years than he has, I've seen my own personality distort and the personalities of the band around me distort. Now, I've watched his
personality distort. A bit of fame, and you change..."
Marilyn Manson are signed to Reznor's label, Nothing Records. Reznor admits that they've made the label "a legitimate entity", and that Manson himself "will always be a dear friend". Yet it appears that Reznor's involvment on the 'Antichrist Superstar' album may have set the two friends adrift. Reznor claims that production work on ACS "stopped my life for quite some time, and took five times as long as I wanted it to". Three of the album's songs are credited to him. "I tried to help their
songwriting," he explains. "Like, 'Let's get a chorus where it kicks in and you can pump it in your fucking car!'. That radically changed the record. I wanted to elevate Manson from being something that could be dismissed as a statement. They needed a really good record - and not for my personal benefit."
Reznor and Manson met years ago, when the latter's band opened for NIN in a small club. "It was a joke," recalls Reznor. "He said, 'I only have a band so I can sell T-shirts!'. That was pretty cool, because it was a counterpart to me. Not to sound high and mighty, but if no-one ever recognized me and no supermodel ever dated me - which they haven't! - I wouldn't care. That's not why I'm doing it. Manson had a different approach to celebrity. His attitude was, 'I wanna be a star and I'm
gonna be a fucking star'."
Reznor describes the tensions between Manson and the band's now ex-guitarist Daisy Berkowitz as "so un-fucking-productive" during initial 'Antichrist...' sessions. "When Daisy went, Twiggy came forward with a bunch of songs. At their best, they could be what they are and at their worst they could be Lunachicks-style, one-riff crap rock that you've heard a million times before. I'm pleased with 80% of that record. If I completely had my way, I would have taken it 10 notches more extreme. But it worked."
NIN set the stage for MM by touring with a bombastic, spectacular show, and promoting a somewhat androgynous image. "I remember seeing Kiss as a kid," enthuses Reznor. "I want rock stars to be larger than life. I don't want to see a fucking gas station attendant. I want fucking blood
and fire and explosions, naked tits and all that stuff!
"In a small way, we did that. Manson took that to extremes. And good for them. Sadly, now you'll see a million bands like them. Imagine the old fart musicians who are now coming out of their stupor going, 'Fuck, we can do this!'. King Diamond's gonna try again..."
But while Manson is seen as a great cartoon character, Reznor is genuinly respected. One of America's most highly esteemed journals, 'Time', has just hailed him as the 'Most Influential Musician of The '90s'. "It's extremely flattering," he says, "but what the fuck does it mean? You
don't wanna think about that too much, or you'd fuck yourself up. I have!" Unsurprisingly, given NIN's traditional position a step ahead of the pack, Reznor is well aware of his musical influence on others. "When I finsihed the Manson record, I found myself personally not wanting to hear bands like Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward," he admits. "Danzig's made a fucking 'industrial' record now! Not that there aren't good elements in those things - but it's dead, it's tired, it's done."
"Someone obviously decided to say, 'Hey! If we put a frontman in there and give him a silly fucking haircut, or someone sings...'," he laughs. And the Chemical Brothers? "Again, I like them, but 'Block Rockin' Beats' has the stiffest groove I've ever heard in my life!" he exclaims. "It screams to me, 'We're English, we're white and we're playing a funk song!'."
The new NIN record will not be titled 'Dissonance', as has recently been reported elsewhere. "That was just the name of the tour we did with Bowie," scoffs Reznor. "The beauty of the Internet converted that into our album title. The working title right now is 'The Fragile', although I'll probably hate that in a couple of weeks." What will it sound like? "I really don't listen to rock music anymore," he states, up-front. "The new record is focused on taking an element of rhythm 'n' blues and funk - in the Prince sense, not the Red Hot Chili Peppers sense - and juxtaposong it radically with an Aphex Twin-ish approach. It has the feel of something you might understand, but the sound of a stereo exploding. With a nice melodic song on top."
No guitars? "Pretty much all I've been playing with lately is guitar, and I'm finally getting to the point where I think I'm okay at it, but it's not gonna be a guitar-sounding record. It'll be very electronic and deconstructed."
Lyrically, Reznor wants to say something new. "I mean, I don't fucking know how to write songs," he mutters with ludicrous modesty. "I opened my journal up, wrote things I could never let anybody hear, and it turned out people liked them. I was embarrassed, because it was like telling people your most naked thoughts. Each new song probably won't start with the word 'I'," he laughs. "If you add up the number of 'I's' I've used in my life, it comes to...quite a lot! There's also a real element of
boxing yourself into a corner. How much more dead can you be? How much closer to suicide can you get?!" Reznor admits he would eventually like to work on soundtracks and "give NIN a respectful burial".
Could 'The Fragile' be NIN's swansong? "I don't know. I'd like to say no. At the same time, I have a level of unhappiness that NIN hasn't really fixed. I've still got fuck-loads I gotta do... Nah, y'know what?! NIN is gonna be The Rolling Stones! I'll be 60, with a fucking colostomy bag. No-one might be there at the shows, apart from the Vietnam vet reunion in Pennsylvania or somewhere. The advert would be 'Featuring No Original Members!'. Actually, I can't say that - I already don't have any original members!"
Reznor claims to be "happily inspired" right now, despite recent events. An unknown musician, Mark Nicholas Onofrio, has filed a lawsuit against him, claiming that certain songs from 'The Downward Spiral' are "strikingly similar" to his own, which he alleges he sent Reznor in '93. "If I could name the Number One thing on my list that pisses me off right now," seethes Reznor, "it would be that piece of fucking human cunt garbage. I've never met him or heard his fucking tape. I don't even want to acknowledge his existence. You'll read about it when it gets thrown out of court."
On a more personal level, Reznor has recently lost his grandmother, who raised him in Pennsylvania. "No-one close around me has ever died - it's a small family. So that was a weird..." he trails off. "I just got back from that. It was awful, watching her in the hospital room. I don't recommend it."
Is there an after-life? "I think I believe in reincarnation," he considers. "There's some kind of God, but certainly not the kind of God that the preacher at our funeral was talking about. I almost walked up and hit him on the way out. It just confirmed to me that I'm not wrong in my thinking."
When it comes to relationships, Reznor insists his are confined to "my kick-ass dog". "See, I was so desperate to get out of Pennsylvania where I grew up that I decided I'd never let anything hold me back," he admits. "When I started working on my stuff in Cleveland, it was so time-consuming that I lost all my friends. I'd sleep for two hours, and start to see bugs on the wall and shit like that.
"From the moment I got signed until right now, every second has been so consumed with shit that it's hard to come across somebody who understands a lifestyle where it's like, 'Well, for the next eight months I'm gonna be in the studio for 15 hours a day. Then I'll be on tour for year-and-a-half...'.
"Lots of people can have girlfriends," he chuckles. "But I can throw around guitars onstage! That'll be my epitaph: 'He never had a girlfriend, but you should've seen him smash a Les Paul!'."
Last December, a news piece appeared on the Internet 'revealing' that the new Nine Inch Nails album was to be titled 'Impossible Pain' - and that Trent Reznor had enlisted a tramp to help mix it! Reznor was quoted in the news piece as saying: "I can't wait to see what this fuck-nut comes up with!" Kerrang! and a number of other UK magazines reported this story. We all later learned that it was, in fact, a hoax. And how we laughed. "I heard something about that - where a homeless guy
came into the studio?" guffaws Reznor now. "Where did that come from? Yeah, of course it was real," he adds, tongue wedged in cheek. "Actually," he hoots, "a corpse came in and started mixing the album!... Nah, it's flattering that people are going to the trouble to come up with that shit!"
-by Jason Arnopp
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