Taken from the September issue of Dazed & Confused:
Trent Reznor wrote his latest record in his bedroom at night, just enjoying the process. The casual and unplanned genesis of Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails’ first album in five years, just “felt right” for Reznor, who has never had any qualms about doing whatever the fuck he wants. Since NIN’s last record, The Slip, he’s started a new band, How to Destroy Angels, won an Oscar for his score for David Fincher’s TheSocial Network (2010) and teamed up with Dr. Dre to create a soon-to-be-launched online music subscription service called Beats Electronics. Then one night Reznor fired up his laptop, launched Pro Tools and let his fingers do the talking. His only thought was to keep it simple. He broke down the music in his head into its basic components, and reconstructed it with the smooth obsessiveness of a Bauhaus architect. The result is one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of 2013. David Lynch directed the video to the first release off the album, “Came Back Haunted”, and in July NIN kicked off The Tension tour with a live show that raises the bar even higher than their mind-rumbling Lights in the Sky tour of 2008.
DD: What’s the theme of the new album?
Trent Reznor: This record was an exploration of sparseness and minimalism, which for me is difficult. Sometimes, before I start an album, I’ll come up with an elaborate set of rules, because if I have too many options I can spin around in a corner and make bullshit. Like I might say, ‘For the next couple of weeks I am not going to plug anything in.’ Or, ‘I am only going to use this laptop and see what I can make it do.’ Which is what happened this time. I need boundaries. In the modern studio there are a bunch of instruments around me and I can simulate anything I can’t play, so sometimes the palette feels too big. I had been away from the concept of writing for NIN for several years. I wasn’t sure what I felt like doing, so I started noodling around on laptops. Pretty much the whole record was written in my bedroom, on a laptop. It felt more exciting to me that way.
DD: A lot of lonely bedroom musicians will be very inspired to hear that.
Trent Reznor: But once I took it out of the bedroom, finishing it was a real challenge. It’s so much easier to put 30 things in a song than three. We asked ourselves, how can we take everything out except what has to be there? (Co-producers) Alan Moulder, Atticus Ross and I spent a lot of time looking at each other, going, ‘Did this get harder, or are we just getting worse?’ We learned some tricky things. And we never gave up.
A festival is a distraction-filled place, a fucking field with shitty sound and another band playing at the other end
DD: So you’re currently rehearsing the festival show. Is that a stripped-down version of the arena show?
Trent Reznor: In a festival usually we’re toward the top of the bill, so for fans there’s that fatigue of having seen other bands, having been high and sober already ten times that day, and their ears are ringing. A festival is a distraction-filled place, a fucking field with shitty sound and another band playing at the other end, so it’s like, how can we turn that into an experience, on top of what I think is great music played well? How can we suck you in a bit more? We’re working on that today here in Los Angeles.
DD: how will the arena show compare?
Trent Reznor: The audiences are usually willing to go on more of a journey, so you make an artier, more immersive show.
The best tour we ever did was Lights in the Sky, which involved some very cool video technology. The end result was a bit disorienting, where you could start the show looking like a rock band, but then make it feel like the stage had transformed into something else. But my goal is not to be like, ‘Look at all the gadgets I’ve found, look at how big this robot is.’ I want it to be like a great film or book, something that holds your interest and surprises you.
Do you see much live music?
Trent Reznor: I don’t see that many bands these days because by the third song I kind of know what’s going to happen. Maybe I’m just old. If I go to a venue and it sounds kind of shitty, which it always does, and there’s 50 assholes with their phones up in front of me, and on the third song the band have turned the lights on and played one song I like and now they’re deep in to the new album which I don’t know that well yet, I’m thinking, ‘God I’d rather be home right now.’ Is that a familiar feeling at all, for you?
DD: Absolutely. it helps to be a bit drunk on those occasions.
Trent Reznor: I can’t even do that any more! So now I’m completely sober, tuned in, and I can’t escape.
The last thing you need to do is make another great Queens record that sounds like a great Queens record
DD: You collaborated with Josh Homme on the latest Queens of the Stone Age record, what role did you play?
Trent Reznor: I went up to the studio and we talked for a long time. I could sense he wanted to do something different, but felt unsure. Yet doing the same thing didn’t feel like the right move. Of course there was fear of trying to write in a different way, and feeling vulnerable. I said, ‘Hey, these are the best feelings. This is the best time to start writing. The last thing you need to do is make another great Queens record that sounds like a great Queens record. See what happens, and if it sucks, no one needs to hear it. Let’s just try some shit.’ I heard some demos and I knew he was on to something. Injecting his vulnerability into it was the key to making that record. It’s still Queens, but it’s not middle-aged Queens, it’s not beach-chair fucking Queens.
DD: Is that ever a fear – that you’ll turn into a lawnchair Nine Inch Nails?
Trent Reznor: When the joys of yachting start to tire, you mean?
DD: How is your golfing game?
Trent Reznor: I have never golfed. Actually, I golfed one time and was filled with resentment. Just the fucking people. I didn’t get past that. The outfits.
DD: It’s an older, preppier crowd, for sure.
Trent Reznor: As you get older, it’s a weird puzzle – you try to look at yourself objectively and imagine what people think. When we play a show I look at the audience and it generally looks the same as it did in 1990. It’s not the same people, of course, but it doesn’t look like The Eagles when I look down there. It doesn’t look like people my own age.
DD: That will be a trippy day, when you look out at the audience and see a sea of walkers.
Trent Reznor: I like that we’ve found new generations who like the music. The moment it feels like it has become nostalgia, then I don’t know if I would want to do it any more. Right now, it still feels vital to me. And when I’m writing music,I’m not playing a character. I’m not Alice Cooper or Gene Simmons or someone like that, who has acknowledged that they are writing music for a character.
DD: Is it hard to remain original within the confines of a brand like Nine INch nails?
Trent Reznor: I acknowledge that NIN is a brand – Dazed & Confused is a brand. But you can still be rooted in honesty and integrity. There can still be evolution.
They’re not stealing shit out of my house and making money from it – they’re excited about the music we did
DD: You’re back on a major label again after being independent for a few years. Why?
Trent Reznor: We left Interscope because we were high and mighty and thought filesharing had destroyed the record business and damaged the relationship between fans and artists. I remember the day I woke up years ago, furious at fans, because our record had leaked and now everyone was talking about the album a month before it was supposed to come out. Later I relaxed. ‘They’re not stealing shit out of my house and making money from it – they’re excited about the music we did. Why am I mad at them? I would do it too. In fact, I do do that.’ It got me thinking about this broken relationship that led to the file sharing, the notion of selling people a plastic disc they don’t want in a store that’s disappearing. There’s got to be a better relationship that can be established.
DD: Where did that revelation take you?
Trent Reznor: I spent a long time experimenting, saying, ‘Here’s a record that’s free, or $5 if you want a nice version or $250 if you’d like a really nice coffee-table thing.’ Everything felt like the right thing to do at the time and then six months later would feel tired. And I would feel tired. So that’s one reason for returning to a major label. I don’t need to be the publicist. I’d much rather be worrying about playing that note in tune, and picking out the best way to arrange the song. Rather than thinking about pricing for the download. It’s not art. I was wasting a lot of time on that shit rather than the thing I’d like to be thinking about. Which is making music. That’s all.
HESITATION MARKS is out on September 3 on Columbia
Three Trent-pole Moments
"The Perfect Drug" video
(dir Mark Romanek, 1997)
Made in the days when bloated million-dollar music-video budgets meant even the runners got their own trailers, Mark Romanek and Reznor’s epic vision was inspired by the gothic aesthetic of Edward Gorey and featured Reznor in Edwardian garb sipping absinthe.
The song was written for David Lynch’s cult neo-noir Lost Highway.
"The Fragile cover"
(by David Carson, 1999)
Hugely influential graphic designer and “godfather of grunge” David Carson created this cover for Nine Inch Nails’ third album. “Trent said it was kinda irritating yet there was something about it we liked,” Carson says.
“The image is a waterfall in Iceland and a seashell in the West Indies. The one-hour place called and said they’d used the wrong chemicals and the film was ruined. I said, ‘Lemme see ‘em anyway.’ This is how it came out.”
(dir Marilyn Manson, Robert Hale, 2000)
Marilyn Manson co-directed the video to Reznor’s acerbic meditation on fame after their much-publicised feud. At a deserted carnival, Reznor hurls baseballs at the faces of David Lee Roth, Billy Corgan and Mariah Carey, dunks an obese Courtney Love lookalike into a tank and frisbees Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson CDs into a toilet. “When we play a show I look at the audience and it looks the same as it did in 1990. It’s not the same people, but it doesn’t look like The Eagles”