He's back - unhappily reaping the whirlwind of the Colorado
high school shootings while trying to forge ahead
with his first new album for four years. Marilyn Manson
betrayed him, his oddball friends depraved him - but
Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has cleaned up. No, really….
Trent Reznor still remembers when is all got out of
hand. It all happened one night in '95, in the gothic
surrounds of New Orleans' Nothing Studios, a one-time funeral
parlor in which Reznor had recorded 1994's "The
Downward Spiral". He was there with a little known support
act called Marilyn Manson and a group [of extremist
"entertainers" called the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, locked in
the dead end of Nine Inch Nail's "Self Destruct"
Given that it was the first tour that introduced
Marilyn Manson to cocaine, things had already been eventful.
For instance, there was Jim Rose's beauty contests in which
naked groupies competed to see who could hold an
enema in the longest before evacuating into a bowl of
breakfast cereal that was consumed by the Circus's penis
strongman, Mr. Lifto.
Reznor finally knew that the tour had crossed over when
Rose's tattooed sideshow gimp Enigma talked the
Nine Inch Nails frontman into performing a trepanation on
him. You know, bore a hole directly into his skull. For
kicks Reznor thought, "Now way! I'm not having a dead
tattooed guy with a hole in his head and his rain fluid all
over the studio". But that's the level it was getting to. The
only thing he could liken it to was Vietnam -
something so de -sensitizing that evil becomes acceptable.
"I didn't think about it then," says Trent Reznor, "but
we were living that album. We wound up pretty far
down the spiral."
Four years on and Trent Reznor is surprisingly well.
He's been away so long you still expect to see the
long-haired, pale-skinned praying mantis-man from 1995, the
computer geek in the industrial boots and ridiculous
leather tunic who smeared himself with mud and blood, sang
about how he wanted to "fuck you like an animal"
and turned every live NIN show into an atrocity exhibition of
pain rage and excess.
Instead you get some Calvin Klein model. The 1995 tour
scars are still on the arms of a man who's been
spending time in the gym. Rumors that Reznor had become fat,
bald and mad have clearly been circulated by
jealous industry types miffed at the fact that Mr. Self
Destruct now looks like Mr. Self Improvement.
His dyed black hair is cut into a neat, unassuming
fringe and he wears a pair of frayed combat trousers, some
old black boots and a ripped black T-shirt.
Taking an hour out from rehearsals for MTV's 1999 Music
and Video Awards in the modest red and black
lounge of New York's Time Hotel, he's funny, polite,
soft-spoken ("Black coffee, please") and not a little wary,
his piercing green eyes fixating on you with a hard stare
when straying too far from the path of acceptable
Then again, he's got a right to be wary. A lot has
happened since Trent Reznor last appeared in public. In
1995, he worked with hid hen friend Marilyn Manson, producing
his multi-platinum "Antichrist Superstar" and
crafting the brutal, relentless, militaristic sound that
would strike fear into the heart of the moral majority. Then,
as if employing a controversy divining-rod, he produced the
multi-layered rock'n'roll collage soundtrack for
Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers". He also created the
soundtrack to David Lynch's Hallucinatory "Lost
Highway", wrote the music for the doom-sodden computer game
"Quake" and pretty much did anything to delay
work on the follow-up to "The Downward Spiral".
The longer he left it, the more important it became. In
1997 "Time" magazine called Reznor one of the 25 most
influential people in America. "Spin" magazine called him the
most influential man in music, while h fourth
coming album, "The Fragile", has been hailed by the American
media as the most anticipator album of the
decade. But this year Trent Reznor as the folk devil was
reincarnated when two depressed school-kids - Eric
Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebolb, 17 - who listened to Nine Inch
Nails along with a lot of other industrial rock
records, turned up at Columbine High School in Colorado armed
with guns and bombs and executed 14 fellow
students and one teacher.
So it's not surprising that Reznor's a little less then
comfortable with "The Fragile" being hailed as the most
important and eagerly awaited album in America today.
"I see that I'm saving rock'n'roll," he says
sarcastically. "Billy Coragan failed, now it's up to me."
He says he had a problem starting "The Fragile" because
he was in "a state of transition". He'd been fooled
into thinking every day was a party for him. It wasn't just
about drugs, it was the seductiveness of being seen as
"I looked at some shit I'd done," says Reznor, "the way
I'd treated people and I thought, 'How did I turn into
this fucking guy?' Then I worked on 'Antichrist' and watched
Marilyn Manson go back out on tour while I sit
here by myself. Plus I'm a procrastinator, plus my heart
wasn't in it. My Grandmother had just died and everyone
was going, "Where's your record, you're important now…"
For Trent Reznor, 1997 meant a new life of ascetic
discipline. The year went like this: wake up at 10am,
shower, leave the house, drive to the studio, work until 3am.
Repeat every single day.
"The only variation would be 'What are we eating
today?'" says Reznor, smiling. "There's something that's
subversively fun about that. It's hiding from the real world.
Now I've got to get back to being a human being. Go
film a video in Mexico, go to the Bahamas. My routine's all
fucked up. Groundhog Day's been disrupted."
Trent hasn't listened to "The Downward Spiral" in a
long time. He did, however, catch the track "Reptile" on
the radio recently and was struck by how primitive it
sounded. He thought maybe he'd lost his mind with this
new album, where everything had to be over-complicated and it
all sounds like My Bloody Valentine meets Tom
Waits meets Queen.
"I could have just put out another cold, angry,
machine-like record," he says. "It would have been safe and
no-one would have made fun of me."
"The Fragile", however, is not a safe alum. The
relentless combative techno metal of "The Downward Spiral"
has been demolished and rebuilt as a circuitous 23-track,
double-CD journey of pain, anger and surprising
vulnerability. It's an album that reveals an oddly human
emotional side to Nine Inch Nails. From weird classical
instruments to fucked-up chaotic songs of emotional damage
(you know for the fans) there'' everything on here
you could possibly want from Nine Inch Nails and more - which
isn't really surprising, given the albums
ridiculous length. After all, shouldn't every album restrict
itself to 40 minutes? Twelve songs?
"I agree with you." Admits Reznor. "I'm sick of the
20-song, two-good-ones-and-a-bunch-of-shit CD, but
when we tried cutting things out they didn't support each
other as well, but I'm pleasantly surprised by this
album, people are already arguing over which CD they prefer."
Like Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion"?
Trent Reznor does not find this funny.
For as long as he can remember, Trent Reznor has always
wanted to make music. His most vivid memory is of
looking in the reflection of his parents' TV, holding a broom
stick and pretending to be The Eagles.
Born in the one-horse, one McDonald's farming town of
Mercer, Pennsylvania on 17 May 1965, Michael
Trent Reznor trained as a classical pianist from the age of
five, practicing ten hours a day. But then he
discovered Kiss and he realized he wasn't going to get laid
studding piano with a nun.
As he got older, Reznor discovered horror films. After
he watched "The Omen" he became convinced he was
the antichrist, searching his scalp for three '6's. By the
time he was 23, working as a studio technician in
Cleveland, he was so immersed in this world of music and
horror that, when he started writing his debut album
"Pretty Hate Machine", he just took his journal and started
writing songs directly out of it.
"I didn't create a Bowie-esque persona as a shield," he
says, "or to exaggerator the truth to make myself
cooler. I wasn't' a male prostitute from the ghetto. I grew
up on a Pennsylvania cornfield with my grand parents."
Because of Reznor's upbringing he's often asked where
the rage comes from. Surely you can't have that much
anger growing up on a farm with your grandparents? It's a
question that rankles.
"Well," he says, tersely, "you can. They say, 'He
doesn't mean this'. Yes, I do. All I ever wanted to write
about was a way out."
This is perhaps the main reason why the music of Nine
Inch Nails touches a never with American youth.
Despite an outwardly "normal" upbringing he still felt angry
enough at the world to scream "Lose me/hate
me/smash me/erase me". It's a self-hatred and vacuity that
every miserable American teenage kid can relate to. Of
course such a stance begs the chare that presenting such
negative images of murder, suicide and hate to
impressionable teenage children, especially in the light of
recent events, is completely irresponsible.
"Well, I would argue with that," says Reznor. "I'd like
to have some faith in people. Society can't treat people
like sheep. They need to make up their own minds. I don't
feel that I'm irresponsible. But if I wrote a song that
directly said 'kill yourself, kill your friends" and someone
had killed them selves listening to it, I would feel
That should no longer be a worry. "The Fragile"
represents a significant shift away from the relentless rage of
"The Downward Spiral". This is Reznor divesting himself of
his armor to reveal a lonely damaged individual.
In fact, a number of songs on the album - particularly
the monolithic "Starfuckers Inc." which includes the
"you're so vain" refrain "I bet you think this song is about
you" - appear to be directed at two celebrities who've
wronged Reznor in the past: Marilyn Manson and Courtney:
While Courtney Love's Trent Reznor slurs are in the
past (she implied that they'd had a sexual relationship
and said things like: "Nine Inch Nails? More like three-inch
nails"), Manson's slagging of Reznor in his
autobiography "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell" is more recent
and still rankles.
"I felt let down, betrayed," he says. "I still do. He
was my best friend. I think both of us were in strange
personality transitions and it just happened to spin out of
control. I haven't talked to him in a while but, at the
moment - hurt? Yes. Betrayed? Yes. Is it all his fault? No."
Trent Reznor will tell you that he doesn't have many
friends. He's always wished for a big circle of friends but,
ironically, doesn't allow people to get close to him.
"I remember once I met somebody in another band. He was
cool and we exchanged phone numbers," explains
Reznor. "Later, my old girlfriend dais, 'Give him a call'. I
said 'I'm not going to call him, he's not going to call me,
what's the fucking point?' She said, 'that's why you have no
fucking friends.' I have no people to…" He trails off.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore."
Trent Reznor is 34. He hears maturity in "The Fragile"
that reflects where his head's at right now. However, he
certainly isn't looking forward to getting older.
"Not at all," her says. "I just hope that when the
excuse of Nine Inch Nails is over, I'm not as unbalanced and
incomplete as I've felt in the last ten years."
Is that what scares you most"
"No. I'm scared of being alone. But," he says draining
the last of his black coffee, "I am alone."
By Andrew Male
Retyped by Ca9 for The NIN hotline
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.