THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . OUT NOW . . . THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . CLICK HERE . . .

CURRENT : FOLKLORE TALK & STORYTELLING & BOOK SIGNING : Oriel Ty Meirion Gallery : Dyffryn Ardudwy : Now Booking for 21 November 2019
FOLKLORE & FAIRY TALES of NORTH WALES : Mixed Exhibition at Oriel Ty Meirion Gallery, Dyffryn Ardudwy : until 5 January 2020
THIS (parts 1 & 2) : OUT NOW from The Red Sparrow Press : paperback & e-book editions

FUTURE : THIS (Kindle Editions parts 3 & 4 of THIS, THAT & the OTHER Book 1) : Publication Dates TBA
THAT (THIS, THAT & the OTHER Book 2) : Coming 2020

Friday, 21 July 2017

Getting To The Point - an interview with Trent Reznor


With Trent Reznor making a guest appearance in the new Twin Peaks series, and a new Nine Inch Nails album recently announced, I am reminded about meeting him for an interview, early in both our careers… So here it is, dug out from my clippings archive - a snapshot of music history from 26 years ago! The music scene back then seemed very vital and there were always interesting and surprising stories behind the bands… this interview is no exception. [NOT edited for language.]


Nine Inch Nails are surprising, deceptive and dangerous. The image evoked by the name comes pretty close to summing up their sound: hard, metallic and with a point. They have already caused quite a stir with the alternative charts, heavy metal audiences, MTv, the FBI, and whilst on their debut tour over here, the British police. Why?

Musically, main man Trent Reznor has used his Nine Inch Nails to knock together industrial dancecore, traditional pop and metal in such a vital manner that the barrier between the usual cult status afforded such bands and the mainstream has been punctured. The debut LP, Pretty Hate Machine, broke the ground and achieved major crossover success, but rather than planting easy-grow pop seeds and waiting for commercial chart success to blossom, the follow-up album, Fixed, is a much harder, uglier and intense crop of songs, exploring the darker corners of sound and self. When asked of his major influences, he has an off-pat reply: "Ministry for aggression, XTC for song writing, Severed Heads for production... and I like Prince a lot."

Pretty Hate Machine sold something like 500,000 copies and spawned three top-five alternative-chart singles in the USA. Their live debut in the UK was before an audience of 85,000 at Wembley, and the first single, Head Like A Hole, got quite a grip on the mainstream charts here.

The Nine Inch Nails live phenomena is intimate, aggressive and often truly dangerous. More than once, the shows have ended with injury to the band, the audience, and most certainly the hardware. As I am shown up to Mr Reznor's hotel suite, I hear that another journalist has cancelled as he is considering pressing assault charges against Trent for injuries sustained at the gig the night before ... What have I got myself into?

Today, however, Trent Reznor is in apathy mode, stretched out on the sofa, yawning...

So, what's all this about assaulting my fellow journalists?

"He was very upset, and considering pressing charges, because he got hit in the head with a bottle of water and got a black eye… which is bullshit because we don't throw bottles of water on stage.

"Our live show has gotten a lot more aggressive than the records. My whole idea of a performance is to take it beyond just being a band on stage... We try to be more interactive. I've noticed in our shows, when they get more chaotic, people like it. And the more element of danger to the audience - not that we're gonna attack them or kill them - then there's real interest being inspired and their attention is focussed. The music excites them and the energy released is not as safe as being in your seat 500 yards away. It’s interaction. That's why we like playing clubs."

So, what was it like opening for Guns'n'Roses to a stadium audience?

"It was what I'd expected, and worse. Axl's a friend of mine, we met in LA when he came to the show and asked if we wanted to open for them on some dates in America... we couldn't do it, but as we were planning on coming over here, we thought what better and stranger way to do it than supporting the biggest rock band in the world?"

Was there any worry about the somewhat dubious, even juvenile, image of Guns'n'Roses rubbing off - onto NIN?

"They are that and more. They're a big fucking dangerous live rock band! That's what they do and they do it well, with all the trappings right down to the drum solo. For what it is, they do it better than anyone else.

"I don't care if people want to think we’re cock rock... and another reason for doing it was the strangeness of a synth act being on that bill."

We know NIN aren't cock rock. What does Trent think they are about?

"When I wrote the record, Pretty Hate Machine, I thought, 'What would be my reason for having a band? What can I say musically or lyrically?' I was looking inward and made some very personal songs that were about how I felt about certain things. The motivation was more dissatisfaction rather than, 'I'm the happiest guy in the world, let's write an album!'

"The theme of the record revealed itself to be things that were really bothering me: not having my religious outlook together, not being able to fit neatly into a little hole in society, trouble dealing with people on a one-to-one basis. Nothing staggeringly new, teenage angst, but trying to do it with some sincerity - a kind of questioning examination.

"I'd like to break down all these stereotypes and ideas that if you're in a band, you put out a record, hopefully once a year, and then you go on tour, and then do an album, make a video and repeat the process until you have nothing else to say and die out."

Videos for Nine Inch Nails have already stirred strong reactions. How far do they represent the NIN vibe?

"I don't like videos, really... what could have been a cool art form turned out to be nothing but corporate commercials for a record, and it's to the point now where a lot of bands, us included, have to justify spending quite a sizable amount of money to make a video. To make it the way you want to make it, you get such strict censorship problems...

"We couldn't show Down In It to begin with because of me laying dead on the ground - that may imply suicide... Head Like A Hole couldn't be shown because it was 'too disturbing' - what the fuck does that mean? So, I spent X amount of money - it cost almost as much to make as my album did - for a video that no-one gets to see because this fucking station won’t play it."

"What I'd like to do is work in a totally different format. So, for the next album, there are no videos - I'll make a film that's 45 minutes or an hour long, and sell that to stores, and that's the visual accompaniment - that's the way you get to see Nine Inch Nails, and it's a little more elite and a little more special."

Like any band that criticises the capitalist commercialism of the record industry, how can Reznor justify his position as a product that has to sell to remain in existence? Surely there must have been many compromises.

"The record business had always been a closed door to me. Now it's open, all the fucking scum has come out and surrounded me, embraced me. I thought, naively, that people put out records because they liked music... but it's not about art, it's not about music, it’s about fucking product, and ripping people off and marketing schemes and formulas. So what I'm trying to do is create an environment where I'm toying with accessibility. I like to hear, ‘Well MTv wants to play it, but you have to edit that second out of the video' - make them squirm a bit. Not that they'd go out of business if they didn't play Nine Inch Nails, but the only way I can change a system I really hate - like MTv's formatting… such as top 40 radio - is not to comply with it.

"They want millions of record sales and I want to put out music that has some integrity to it. Because I tried to do that, I think that's why we got to where we are now, but they don't see it like that. They see it like, 'you sold 480,000 you could sell four million - we’ve gotta smooth things off, and do a video with some girls in, let's get some fucking cars in that video... might as well change the lyrics cos they're a little ugly, let’s take those guitars out of the chorus…' - what’s left? That side has been the most disheartening, seeing the control being taken away."

A knock on the door interrupts us at this point.
Apparently, the police are on their way up and we are advised to hide-out in another suite to complete the interview. I follow the swearing Reznor along the corridor and into his manager's room where he falls back onto another couch...

This is not his first brush with the law. He was once involved in an FBI murder inquiry. Where he was the... victim! …what? So, rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated?

"We were doing a bunch of stuff lowering Super-8 cameras off buildings," he explains, "The theme of the video, very obliquely, was suicide. The track was Down In It - which wasn't about suicide at all, but if you juxtapose that idea onto the song, it makes sense, almost in a crucifixion kinda death scene. That was the idea, but it became so oblique you would never know that, unless I told you.

"There was this scene, where I'm lying on the ground with corn starch on me so I look like I'm dead... and we tied a camera to a weather balloon filled with helium, and attached some strings so you could start the camera, let it go, and then pull it back down. So when the film was reversed, it looked like the camera was dropping down onto my head. But the strings broke and the thing just took off! We were doing some stuff at the top of this building, so we ran up... but by the time we got to the roof, you could just barely see it on the horizon... it was gone! I remember saying, 'Hey, I hope that doesn't fall and hit someone on the head... it could absolutely kill someone…' and never thought any more about it.

"About a year later, John [manager] came and said, 'You will not believe this, but I just got a call from the FBI...' This thing went 200 miles, landed in some farmer's field. He found it and, thinking it was some kind of marijuana surveillance camera - a ridiculous thing to think - took it to the police. The police developed the film and... they saw me laying 'dead'. Also on that reel, there was some stop-frame animation that didn't work very well - it was at night and it turned out really awful-looking, and they thought it was some kind of snuff film with a clue a murder - I was dead and you could see these other people walking away...

"They tracked it down to Chicago. Chicago police went round art schools, then realised it was a video for a rock band... I thought that was funny... It looks like we set up a dumb publicity stunt, but it wasn’t at all. It was just a fuck-up. When I heard what had happened to that camera it was, like Jesus Christ! Couldn't believe it!"

Trent is losing the apathy and getting restless...

There are sounds outside the door. I decide to round off the meeting before a police raid does it for us. So, to what does he attribute the 'surprise' success of that first album?

"I think it's a good album, but didn't realise it had the accessibility it seems to have. That may be attributed to the fact that I am conscious of writing songs in the traditional sense. I am concerned about melody, choruses and hooks, things like that. I think that gives us an edge that the other bands we tend to get lumped-in with don't give as much attention to. Which is not good or bad, just different and maybe gives us more pop appeal. Again, I hope to retain some amount of accessibility, but I wouldn't look for a top 40 single, that's not where we’re heading.

''I'm just concerned with doing the music as well as it can be done. I don't know if we're ever going to go up in mainstream popularity from where we are now, because I know - what my new music sounds like!"

And so, I wish him luck with the law and quickly make my exit.

As it turned out, the charges were dropped and he was able to fly back to his new home in New Orleans, delayed only when the plane he was on made a forced landing because part of the cockpit window blew-in during flight...

Trent Reznor is the kind of guy things happen to ...and Nine Inch Nails are definitely happening.

This interview with Trent Reznor was conducted during the first UK tour for Nine Inch Nails, back in 1991. A snippet first appeared in Outlook Magazine, and Crumblin’ Rock later published the full version you have just read here.

The meeting provided solid grounding for research towards my 1995 book on the origins and influences of Nine Inch Nails (ISBN: 978-1886894259).