woke up today in a chemical fog. The night before, he had taken a few Tylenol-PMm
which, with 25 milligrams of diphenhydramine per capsule, helps you sleep-in
the way that a billy club to the base of you skull helps you sleep. It's
not as if he has to drive a tractor today, but for some reason he has consented
to an interview.
takes another approach at describing his frame of mind. "I always thought
that music and being a rock star would save me. Provide some sort of..."
Reznor speaks, his voice is deliberate and gentle, and he sounds uncannily
like Donald Sutherland in the Volvo commercials. It's a quiet Sunday afternoon
in New Orleans, and he's taking the day off from recording the new Nine
Inch Nails record. he has decided that he will be interviewed in his living
room while he lies on a leather couch and stares at the ceiling. The therapy
posture is surely not lost on him. Maybe he's manipulating the scene for
its dramatic potential, maybe the diphenhydramine is clouding his sense
of syntax, but you could parallel park a moving van in his conversational
four years have passed since the last full-length album of new material
from Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral was a desperate hymn to
suicide and self-loathing. The music was brutal, textural and not at all
commercial. The only thing likely to get airplay had the chorus: "I want
to fuck you like an animal." And the album was a huge success. At the time,
Reznor said that the making of Spiral "sucked the life out of me."
And now he's in the midst of making another album. The new one will be
out when he's done, he says. His tone of voice suggests that further attempts
to pin him down are not welcome. For now he's calling it The Fragile.
He's hoping for a February release.
think I've done some of my best shit ever, ever, ever," Reznor says calmly.
"And it will be irritating to people 'cause it's not traditional Nine Inch
Nails." He's reluctant to say more than that. And he isn't popping in a
cassette of demos today. "Think of the most ridiculous music you ever could
imagine...with nursery rhymes over top of it," Reznor says. He alludes
to having "80 pieces of music around" but doesn't elaborate. "The inspiration
for this album has been the things... that give the goosebumps, the chills
up the spine," he adds, knowing that description doesn't help much either.
"It's probably the opposite of The Downward Spiral. A bunch of"
-he pauses, not entirely comfortable with defining himself-"pop songs."
Reznor is essentially the only member of Nine Inch Nails, no one is more
aware than he is of just how long things are taking. "I admire those prolific
artists," he says, his voice rising. "And I say that with full fucking
sarcasm." He makes a face of disgust. "Such as..." Reznor spits out the
name of an MTV icon. The name isn't important; it's only a symbol for Reznor
of what he doesn't want for himself. nevertheless, his publicist happens
to have manifested in the doorway. "Anybody need anything?" she queries.
It's no doubt a coincidence that she has appeared just as Reznor is dissing
the pop star. Still, she's got good timing. Reznor is notoriously undiplomatic
in his assessment of his peers. A Nine Inch Nails record is as rare as
a comet, and no publicist wants to be stamping out brush fires before the
thing is even finished. He nods gratefully, indulging her like a favorite
teacher. "We're fine," he says gently. When she heads back towards the
pool, Reznor finishes his thought. "The writing has been a bit more elusive
than it has been in the past for me."
not as if Reznor has spent the past four years hiding out in his mansion,
watching NIN videos on the enormous projection TV that Interscope gave
him. Since The Downward Spiral, Reznor has maintained his profile
by darting from the bulrushes like Zorro-touche!-and delivering
a blistering new song like "The Perfect Drug" before slipping back to his
bayou hideout. He has busied himself producing soundtracks ( Natural
Born Killers and Lost highway ) and other bands ( Marilyn Manson
). His most recent effort is the re-imagining of David Bowie's "I'm Afraid
knows that his association with Bowie is dubious to some of his fans. When
Nine Inch nails toured with Bowie in 1995, Reznor was accused of letting
his image be co-opted by a has-been. But it was farsighted of Reznor to
align Nine Inch Nails with a legend, further distancing himself from the
cliche that industrial rock had become. Even better, Reznor got to observe
the master changeling from backstage every night.
got a lot of shit for doing a tour with him. The thing is, Bowie mattered
to me. he reinvented himself so many times- it must have been a daring
statement to do that, risking failure. And hanging out with him and seeing
him like that- he's my dad's age, born in the same month- when you find
someone who's been through a really dark period, which most of his music
I care about is from, Low, Lodger, "Heroes" era.... But he came
out of it and made something that mattered."
was in New York to shoot the video for "I'm Afraid Of Americans." He spent
two days running around the Lower East Side, being menacing for the camera.
he's the American Bowie is afraid of. He says it was good to be in Manhattan;
he's debating getting a place there. But for now, New Orleans is his home.
This is a bold move for Reznor, who in the past decade hasn't lived in
one place for longer than six months. For the first time in his 32 years,
he isn't renting.
mansion is two miles upriver from the French Quarter. His neighbor is a
longtime fixture on the New Orleans city council; goth novelist Anne Rice
lives a few blocks over. When the Garden District tours stop in front of
Reznor's place, as they always do, the guide will not the architectural
style (Greek Revival) and the year of its construction (around 1860). The
gaslights of Reznor's house are always burning, even at 2:30 on a Sunday
is a huge house for one person. Whoever built it had a big family in mind,
as well as servants. When Reznor bought it, the place was in "a horrible
state of disrepair" and had been turned into a duplex. He had the dividing
walls demolished. In difference to the councilwoman next door, he installed
soundproofing and double-paned windows. As for the gaslights, Reznor likes
them, but he has no idea why they don't burn the place down.
he claims the new album won't even allude to the Cresent City-nozydeco,
no blues and no washboard- it's obvious the environment is influencing
him. Reznor is talking about goose bumps. He's looking for a vibe.
saw Erykah Badu here in concert. And it was a kick in the ass," he says.
he props himself on an elbow. "One-hundred-percent black crowd; I was the
only white male there. And every single person in the room was spellbound,
singing every lyric. And I haven't seen that... probably ever."
has a spirituality, a kind of integrity that- as I incoherently talk about
it- I am trying to shoot for. It's one of those things that's not easily
identifiable as a thing that is good."
it's difficult for him to say what he's after, it has been no less frustrating
for him to chase it down. On the advice of producer Rick Rubin, Reznor
packed off to Big Sur, California, for a month. "Another thing that's probably
slowed the procedure down
whole idea of going up to Big Sur was to try writing songs on a piano versus
the way I'd always done it in the past, which was to start with a loop
or a bass line - and also to avoid becoming a parody of myself."
was a noble idea, but Reznor quickly labels it a disaster.
was fucking hellacious being up there," he says of some of the most beautiful
coastline in the world. "What creeps up on you is the feeling that it would
be great if you were here with your girlfriend for a weekend. But when
the element of complete and utter isolation creeps in... it'd be nice to
stare at the 5000 stars in the sky with someone. That- on top of
the fact that it was about a 300-foot cliff at the end of the front yard."
ideas may have come out of the month at Big Sur, he figures. But most important
is that he has stuck with the resolve to avoid writing with a computer.
I'm working on now was played on guitar or on a keyboard that doesn't work
right," he says. "It gets to that elusive... vibe. It's more me as a musician
learning about the subtleties of what makes something feel right.
I always thought everything was X plus Y plus Z equals..." Reznor holds
up whatever finished, quantified musical product would result from X-plus-Y-plus-Z.
It's about the size of a drum machine.
maybe it's the quasi-psychoanalyst's couch, but now he isn't really talking
to anybody but himself, as if he were listing his shortcomings under his
when I look back at my lyrics, I realize every song starts with
'I.'" He is silent for some time.
he warily continues, "I went through a hard process recently," After some
prodding, Reznor reveals that his grandmother, who raised him, died at
85. "I got to watch her die," he says with grim sarcasm. He stares at the
ceiling for nearly a minute and then says, "That sucked."
draws his arms across his chest. His chin quivers. The only sound in the
room is the sound of him sucking back his own saliva. It is a tense moment.
of the criticisms Reznor has endured as a public figure is that he's faking
it. When you're known as a tortured soul, there will always be those who
doubt your integrity. The assumption is that it's a scheme to get attention.
In fact, Reznor was asked in interviews after Woodstock II whether Nine
Inch Nails' appearing onstage smeared in mud was calculated. Calculated?
What kind of mind do people think Reznor has? That he could see a patch
of mud and in an instant understand that smearing it on himself translates
as triple-platinum record sales?
in New Orleans- did his chin really quiver? Yes. Did he seem to be on the
verge of tears? Yes. Can that be faked? Is he really that miserable? Instead
of answering that, ask yourself this; If, for the past decade, Trent Reznor
has consistently and constantly faked his angst- every time he has appeared
onstage, on television, in a video, in an interview, as well as in every
lyric he has ever written- if he has so completely hidden what a shrewd
and happy chap he really is, then, well, wouldn't that be a miserable existence,
stares glassily at a middle ground, unshaven and wan.
somebody die sometime," he says. "And it's not the perfect, fucking"- he
closes his eyes in a peaceful gesture- "thing you're told it would be.
fair to wonder whether Reznor feels isolated in New Orleans. Unlike Los
Angeles or Cleveland, recent way stations on Reznor's journey to find a
home, he has invested in his new city. In addition to his house, he has
built a state-of-the-art studio here. He has sunk more than a million dollars
into a place he moved to because he liked it when Nine Inch Nails came
through the city on tour. Of course, he's kind of an adopted local hero:
The Sunday edition of the local paper printed a page-one photo of Reznor's
mansion the day he moved in.
city in America has at least one Gothic club. In New Orleans, it's the
Blue Crystal. When a band like the Cure is in town, the Blue Crystal throws
a party after the show. The club called Reznor, the closest thing they
have to a local dignitary, to invite him to the Cure after-show party.
Further conversation revealed that the only way the Cure would show is
if Reznor is there, too. You can't hear it anywhere in Nine Inch Nails,
but Reznor is a Cure fan from way back. He considers the Cure's The
Head On The Door" one of the best records ever." His favorite description
of himself: "Robert Smith with a head cold."
end up going to the club, and surprisingly, everyone from the Cure is there.
And the bartender calls me over and says, 'Robert really wants to talk
to you.'" Reznor smiles, makes a face that says: You mean I have to
meet one of my teen idols in a goth club in Louisiana? Now? In front of
all these people?
ends up," Reznor says, "me and him, hugging on the dance floor. He's like,
'I love you, dude,' and I'm like, 'I love you too, man.'" The Cure fans
formed a loose circle around the pair while New Order's "Blue Monday" pumped
out of the speakers. "It was the greatest scene," Reznor says.
were both fairly incoherent," he feels compelled to add.
Orleans is so decadent and ridiculous- and that's what drew me here in
the first place. And it was so unlike Pennsylvania, which is what I so
desperately wanted to get away from."
New Orleans is as culturally distant as possible from the Deer Hunter
landscape in which Reznor was raised. (Mercer, Pennsylvania, is notable
chiefly as the intersection of Interstates 79 and 80.) And maybe that's
exactly what he needs. But when he observes that his "whole process has
been eliminating people from interfering with my art, reducing... down
to on person" -if he can find a place like Big Sur "hellacious," how long
can he last in a swamp?
isolation is not purely geographic. Although Nine Inch Nails was always
Reznor's project, many of his longtime associates have left the fold. And
although he has left once before, Chris Vrenna, who was with Reznor when
he learned how to use a sampler back in Cleveland, is no longer in the
NIN camp. Reznor only alludes to Vrenna's departure.
gave up the notion that Nine Inch Nails was a collaborative project," he
says. He deliberates for a moment. "And, recently, with the departure of
some friends and the inspiration of the new music, I feel good about it."
publicist makes another appearance. She's trying to guage Trent. Almost
done? Everything okay? Okay, says Reznor.
are we talking about?" she asks, and then recites a list of verboten
subjects: "Bush, R.E.M. and Prince?" Convinced of Trent's safety, she exits.
Reznor rights himself and in a stage voice says, "So, anyway, about
publicist wheels and bolts back into the room. "Did you see her on the
cover of Us? For the first time all day Reznor raises his voice.
"What the fuck was that?" he demands. A brief off-the-record discussion
about Courtney Love and her new California look ensues. Reznor insists
that whatever Poppy Z. Brite wrote about him in her Courtney bio is "1000
percent untrue." The publicist says she just thinks it's sad and takes
her leave. She pauses at the door. "Anyway," she concludes, "those names
we just mentioned? We didn't mention them."
rises to give a quick tour of the house. The interior is pretty much what
one would expect of an industrial-rock millionaire bachelor with a taste
for self-destruction. A bust of Mephistopheles stands in the foyer; Reznor's
Grammy hangs on a ribbon around its neck. A chandelier has goldfish swimming
in its base.
many rooms? "Good question," Reznor replies. At the top of the stairs is
a useless nook that is bathed in sunlight. "Here's where the harpsicord
will go," he says. His bedroom is dark and imposing, dominated by a Medieval-looking
four-poster bed. The windows are hung with thick velvet drapes, blocking
out the afternoon sun. The woman in his bed waves sheepishly. He saunters
through an empty little space off the bedroom. "This will be the baby room,"
he says. Wait. Is he serious? But he's off and standing at the entrance
to the bathroom. "Okay. This is decadent, I realize," he says. "But we
had to put in a whole new bathroom, so why not?" He opens the door. There
is a jacuzzi. And there is also a shower. It is without question the best
shower in Louisiana. Reznor opens the glass door and turns a faucet, and
a torrent is released. The shower head is the size of a Frisbee. There
are side jets. It's a great shower.
Reznor had apologized for being "so depressed." Yet it seems funny that
he can be so transfixed by something as homely as plumbing. I can't help
but wonder if it isn't the music that is making him miserable- if that's
the right word. So here's the Faustian bargain: If Trent Reznor knew that
he could be happy only if he quit music forever, would he?
never been happy," he says. "So I don't know." ALT
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