When Trent Reznor moved to New
Orleans a few years ago, it was a case of
the Big Easy being joined by the Big
Uneasy. m"I' m not good with people in
general. So living in New Orleans is a way
to not deal with that many people," said
Reznor, the leader and driving force of top
industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails.
"I think New Orleans helps you because it'
s a town that doesn' t give a (expletive)
who you are," continued the 35-year-old
musician, who performs with his four-man group Saturday at SDSU' s Cox
Finding out who he is -- and why -- has been a constant theme in
often combustible music, which explores the existential Angst of
with unusually harrowing results.
Few artists in any idiom have been able to transform anger, alienation
self-loathing into such provocative songs. Even fewer have made songs
cathartic as those on such albums as 1989' s "Pretty Hate Machine,"
"The Downward Spiral" and last year' s alternately bruising and
The title of "The Downward Spiral" proved uncomfortably apt for Reznor,
whose personal life was in a prolonged free fall, fueled by his rage,
and soul-crushing emotional pain.
"I kind of had an identity crisis," recalled the Pennsylvania native,
from a recent concert stop in Florida. "I got on a tour bus in 1990,
and got off
at the end of the ' Downward Spiral' tour (in late 1995). And I
realized I was
a totally different person, because I didn' t have time (before that)
what was going on. I went from: ' Am I going to pay the electric bill
or am I going to buy a loaf of bread?' to a whole different lifestyle.
"I' d like to think the person I used to be that I liked is still in
there, and that
the distorting personalities are now in check. I also like the fact
Orleans is not Los Angeles, and that it' s much more difficult to
the trappings of fame and fortune in New Orleans. You' re less likely
into one of those (show-biz) people, which I' ve seen happen to a lot
friends. I lived in L.A. for a few years when I was doing the ' Spiral'
and I just don' t like the value system there.
"Another way to look at it is that, by being in New Orleans, I' m just
from situations, and from people," he said.
But New Orleans has been more than just a convenient hideaway for
who has lived there since the mid-1990s. He spent two of the past three
making "The Fragile" at his recording studio, Hot Snakes, which is
housed in a
former funeral home. And while his music doesn' t contain even a hint
second-line rhythms or brass-band vamps, Louisiana' s most colorful and
musically rich city has had an indelible effect on him and his work.
"I' d say that in an obvious musical way, I don' t interact much with
town is known for," he said of New Orleans. "But I think the sense of
that city has, and the sense of everything being old and distressed and
-- there' s something raw there that greatly affected the sound of '
A sprawling double album that clocks in at just over 100 minutes, "The
Fragile" provides a frequently intense, sometimes brutal listening
But it also features Reznor' s most understated and atypically delicate
and lyrics ever, making "The Fragile" the cautiously optimistic yin to
Downward Spiral' s" yang of alienation, hatred and self-destruction.
"With ' The Downward Spiral,' I was concerned with making a rigid,
impenetrable machine," noted Reznor, who has a degree in computer
engineering. "And with this album, I really wanted it to feel like it
apart, like it was held together loosely ... and was inherently
A sense of unease has been a musical constant of Nine Inch Nails, whose
albums are usually one-man affairs by Reznor. Does he believe personal
is a necessity for the creative process?
"I' ve thought long and hard about that," replied Reznor, who began a
flirtation with anti-depressants after his grandmother (who raised him
age of 5) died in 1997. "And, luckily I still tend to be a very upset
very angry and unsatisfied. But the thing I' ve realized, the biggest
thing, is that
I reached a real bottom at the end of the ' Spiral' tour, emotionally
and on a
lot of levels. There were a number of issues in my personal life I had
"The Fragile" vividly chronicles Reznor' s confrontation of his demons
subsequent realization that there is a ray of hope ahead of him. But he
acknowledges that there are still unresolved issues for him to address.
"The thing nagging at me," Reznor said, "is that I' ve gotten
everything I' ve
dreamed of: success; respect in my field; as much money as I need. I
get into it for the money, but it' s nice to not worry about that. And
I guess I
thought if I achieved success, it would be all right -- in some way --
and that I'
d wake up and it would be Christmas morning every day.
"What I didn' t realize, which seems obvious now, is that I neglected
human-being part of my life. I did it my way, and (thought): ' I don' t
friends or companions, or their help, because they' ve always let me
the past.' That' s a stupid (expletive) way to think.
"' The Fragile' wasn' t based on anger, or the deconstruction of
tearing the house down. It was based more on a process of healing. And
two years it took to make were the best I' ve lived, in terms of
spirituality, fitting into the scheme of things and attempting to be a
well-rounded as a person. And also in terms of (realizing) that I am
and that it' s OK to ask for help and for people, when you need people.
"Those were the issues around ' The Fragile.' ' The Downward Spiral'
about self-destruction, and about assessing everything around me and
systematically destroying it. And then I basically lived that, and
found that I
don' t want to be down there. There is still some fire in my blood, but
about finding a way to be better. It was an overwhelmingly positive
couldn' t have been more different than ' The Downward Spiral' "
Older and wiser, Reznor welcomes his newfound clarity and improved
prospects for peace of mind.
Yet, while he readily admits his previous penchant for inward and
destruction, he has no regrets.
"If I could do things over, as of today, I would do it the same," he
"Because I feel like I had to go through it; it was a maturity thing, a
And scraping around the bottom makes me appreciate more where I am now.
It' s funny; as you get older, your attitude changes about things. I' m
respecting my talent for music more than in the past. And I feel lucky
-- that' s
not to sound egotistical -- that I can do something pretty well.
"I try to treat that with as much respect as I can, and take it as far
as I can.
And, at the same time, to take a day off sometime. Someone asked me: '
What are your hobbies?' And I couldn' t think of anything. Everything
done for the past 10 to 12 years has something to do with Nine Inch
whether it was that we had a new effects processor, or writing a song,
"And I thought: ' How one-dimensional am I? How did that happen?' I' m
a very well-rounded person. I' m attempting to change that -- very
Reznor also wants to continue making exciting music that pushes the
envelope. But he is finding that increasingly difficult in a music
dominated by superficial teen-pop stars.
"It' s aggravating," said Reznor, lamenting record-company
music-industry big-wigs whose appreciation of music starts and ends
"Record companies are owned by major corporations, who have lots of
accountants with quarterly profit margins. So who do you think gets
on the back burner? Britney Spears, who' s pop (expletive)? Or somebody
like me, who puts out a bloated double CD, and is cranky and is
about the quality of the packaging, and who is desperately trying to
that it' s art, and not just a plastic project?
"And that' s been a tough battle to fight. It' s depressing when you
everything has become image, and everyone is a clone of everyone else
realize I' m in business to sell records. But I approach it from the
point that I
want to make music that challenges the world -- and changes me.
"And my famous last words are: ' I' m dropped' (from my record
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.