Interview Part One

Trent Reznor on Year Zero

Originally published in Rock Sound on May 1, 2007

You've said that writing Year Zero is an example in what inspiration you followed. Is that
because you feel what's going on in the world right now is too big to ignore?


"Yeah, frankly that's what I think is happening. Any time I start working on a record I realise that the only thing I can talk about with any authority is something that I truly feel. Up until this point my means of doing that was opening up my journal and putting music to it.
But over the last few years, what's happening with the world has become really important to me. I don't know if that's
a product of getting older, or if the world seems a lot less sane than it might have several years ago."

So this was quite a different process to making your last album 'With Teeth'?
"I think I felt strangely at ease with myself and my confidence was back. When I look at how I wrote 'With Teeth' I was pretty afraid because I hadn't written in a long time. I was relatively newly sober, my life seemed weird- good, but different- and I was cautious through that whole process. On this record I felt like I wanted to take a chance.

There's a difference between being an artist with an opinion and being a political artist. To what extent are you wary of crossing that line? "I wanted to flex my fictional muscles a bit with this record and see what happened. I have a love of science fiction, so I set it in fiction and I set it in the future. The ultimate goal was for it to mention some of the characters that may have inspired parts of the story, but not to sound preachy and not time-stamped to be 2007. I wanted to do something that was seductive enough that it could suck people into it, but at the core could get into some issues that need to be thought about. So it's entertainment, but it has a little more depth if you choose to seek that out."

On 'With Teeth' you deliberately went back to writing songs but on 'Year Zero' you've done almost the opposite with collages of sound...
"Yeah, I didn't really care about songs on this one. I wanted to make something that conveys a certain feeling and gets the point across. If it breaks some of the rules, I don't care."

At what point did you realise that 'Year Zero' was going to be a concept album?
"On the last tour I had a nice laptop rig set up with some software that I really felt was inspirational. If I had a spare 20 minutes I could come up with a cool beat or passage or chunk of sound, so I had the time to stumble into the thing that felt good to me musically. That happened to be kind of noisy, sample-based, loop-based collages of sound."

And in terms of the lyrics?
"I started formally writing last summer when I moved out in the woods for three months. I thought I'd see what would happen if I wrote a story about the future and what it could be like if we continue down this path of madness that we, the United States, seem to be on; somewhere everything is based on greed, where human life doesn't mean much, and no one cares about anything except their own preservation. I wrote this full place out before any words or lyrics. Then I thought of writing the songs as if they were from the points of view of people living in this world, and that's how the record came about. It had happened quickly and it happened as an experiment."

Tell us about the campaign around 'Year Zero'....
"I had a problem when I finished the record because it was like I'd written the soundtrack to a movie that wasn't there. But I had written an elaborate backdrop and I wanted to find a way to tell that story where you experience what it's like to be in that world. We decided to do it by trying to make the world real, so people are starting to uncover things. Like there are a lot of websites that seem to have been sent back from the future by this place accidentally. I'm watching it unfold on message boards and fan sites and it's cool to see it happen. The point is that some of the sites you visit and some of the things you discover are pretty disturbing and they induce a sense of paranoid. Shortly after the record is released the community will have pieced together a pretty clear picture of the whole place.

You're referring to 'Year Zero' as part one. Does that mean there's even more to come?
"We're not touring very much with this record but I'm going to go back home and write the conclusion to this, because it doesn't resolve. This record takes place at a pivotal point in mankind's existence and on the next record I'm deciding the fate of the world. So the next plan is to have the next record out around the same time next year, if I can pull it off"