Trent Reznor talks to Ian Camfield

By Botley (transcription) for XFM radio on July 22, 2005

XFM: Good evening.
TR: How are you?
XFM: I'm alright, how are you?
TR: I'm doing... pretty good.
XFM: It's quite a long stint in Europe for you, this one. How's it been going? It's been seven weeks travelling around, doing festivals...
TR: Yeah, it's been a workout. We came over here to do a bunch of European festivals and a few shows of our own in between and... I'm ready to go back home for a while.
XFM: (laughs) Are you not a big fan of Europe? Or is getting near to two months kind of... your fill of being here?
TR: Well, I think your experience is based on... you know, my take on Europe has been around touring, and it's much more difficult to tour than, say, the States for example.
XFM: Is that because of language barriers? Or just bad food? Or bad service? Or, what?
TR: It's a collection of all those things, and... also, playing festivals is a strange experience. It's just a lot of... it's been a humbling experience, let's put it that way.
XFM: Obviously, you've been doing loads of shows so far for the current album. I was wondering, after you spent so much time in the studio working on an album, and then you have to transfer those songs to the stage... is that a difficult thing to do? When you've spent so much time in an enclosed space working out how they're going to fit in with the back catalogue and how it's going to project itself into the live arena?
TR: That's a good question. Really, the hardest part of this process this time has been getting a band back together... getting the right people, finding the right people.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: That was a fairly tough job, and it took some time to get the right chemistry. Once those people were chosen though... we started just by working on new material. Once that felt good, and we felt kind of like a band, playing that, then we introduced older stuff to see what worked with the new stuff... that process was fairly effortless. I look at it as a totally different thing and the studio as a very meticulous...
XFM: Mmm.
TR: ...a lot of thought, a lot of time to think, a lot of revisions. With... live, I'm not concerned about trying to make it sound like the record. I'm just trying to make it...
XFM: Mmm.
TR: ...adopt it to a new environment and see if the songs can translate the best way they can. Whether they sound "record-like" or not, that's no concern to me.
XFM: Do you think that the songs from With Teeth translate into the live environment easier, maybe than the stuff from The Fragile because you have got... separate songs, as you've said yourself, more than kind of, big musical landscapes like some of the Nine Inch Nails back catalogue has been?
TR: Yeah, I assumed the songs off the new record would work pretty easily live, because they're not real... fleshed out with millions of tracks. They were kind of, made as live performance-type songs.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: So there wasn't a real shock there. Then it comes into a situation where... you can play stuff from your older catalogue that people are more familiar with, and you get a better response than the new songs... than the new album, which people aren't quite sure about yet.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: So we've just been dealing with... reactions, and things like that.
XFM: But that kind of... level of response must grow over time. I mean, people have had time to adjust to the album now and buy... it's been out for a while, so I guess that the response to the newer stuff is growing and getting more positive as you do more shows.
TR: Yeah. It has. That's kind of, come into effect now. The tour that we've just completed here - which is the culmination of what we did in the States, in smaller venues and then over here in Europe and UK - was kind of a mish-mash of all the different records and felt, at the end, kind of like a... was an introductory, "here's a bit of everything..."
XFM: Mmm.
TR: ...done with little production. Really, it was just the band, playing. So when I got back home... we're starting a series of... bigger venue, arena tours in the States... that's going to be more focused on the experimental, and newer stuff, so...
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: I'm looking forward to breaking it up a bit, because we're going to be on tour for another... almost another year, so...
XFM: Okay. So you're going out everywhere.
TR: Basically.
XFM: It must be good for you... I mean, everybody talks about Trent Reznor as being this kind of, insular person. But when you've worked for so long in the studio - as you say, meticulously - on new material, to actually bring it to the crowd and get the crowd response, that must kind of be rewarding. I guess more so than watching the album sales or switching on the radio and listening to... if you're getting radio play on KROQ or XFM here or whatever it happens to be.
TR: Yeah it's weird. I mean, I used to really... once we started touring after Pretty Hate Machine, you know, it was so nice to get feedback and find out: wow, people actually like you, it's an immediate response... that I didn't want to go back in the studio, I just wanted to stay on tour forever.
XFM: Right.
TR: Because it was great. Now things have pretty much reversed, to where I prefer being in the studio because it is, I think... it really is much more challenging work, you know. It's the act of creativity, which is really where the most... the greatest reward comes from. You know, playing... it's great to play and I think it's interesting to play but you can fall into a trap, where you're on tour for a long time and you're basically repeating the same thing over and over and over...
XFM: So you're... resting on your laurels, almost?
TR: It becomes more about the execution which, once you can master the execution then it's just... executing it, you know.
XFM: Is it a feeling of not testing yourself enough? Or maybe not pushing yourself forward if you're just doing that on a long tour?
TR: Well, nothing's harder than trying to write a song, or coming up with a great idea, or the right lyric, or that... breaking through, or tapping into your muse or whatever you want to call it, when you really feel divine, like you're tuned into something and you're creating something that you can't wait for people to hear. Playing live in my band, maybe not in a jam band or whatever, but in this band it's really just about executing it and capturing the moment. But it... I'm not saying it's not good, but it's not as rewarding to me now as it used to be. What you asked about hearing it on the radio... I really don't even care about that. It's nice to know that it's being played on the radio, but to me, once the mix goes down that's kind of when it's... that's the moment when you feel like...
XFM: Right.
TR: Okay, I did this thing, now let's... do it again, let's make another!
XFM: (laughing) On the latest album, there's a far greater lyrical content. I mean, if you were to add it up, there are more words on this one than there were on The Fragile. I think you probably paid more time and attention to the lyrics that you wrote this time around. Is that kind of... as a result of, if you like, your improved state of mind? Or your change in lifestyle... that made you be more prolific when you were applying words to the music that you'd written for this release?
TR: Yeah. I think that has a-- I mean, I'm sure that has a direct... there's a direct correlation between those... that fact. I remember, when I was working on The Fragile, it was like my brain was in a state of... confusion. I think the sound of that fear comes through on that record, and the record became much more of an instrumental, kind of experimental, improvisational thing.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: That was what part still worked in my head.
XFM: Right.
TR: Now it feels like I'm fully in control of what's happening, and I have a new brain in my head. When it came time to do this record, there was much more focus and there was an agenda to... work in the context of concise songs and see what happens that way. I believe that trend will continue into the next thing I'm working on right now. I'm much more focussed on words than anything else.
XFM: So it was more the case of... having a clear vision. What was in your head you could kind of, transfer down to paper and then work it into the music, whereas... I guess you were in such a state of confusion around the time of The Fragile, you just couldn't... did you even try to do that? Were there lots of discarded lyrics for The Fragile? Or were you just, like, "no, I don't even want to challenge this... at this point in time"?
TR: Well, I've always tried to approach a record coming from a very instinctual place.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: ...just what feels like the right thing to do. And with The Fragile, I couldn't identify that at the time... but what felt like the right thing to do at the time was to create soundscapes, and create moods that way. Use that as the main way to get the message across. As I was searching for lyrics, and how to accompany it, I found... it just felt like my head was filled with cotton, you know?
XFM: Mmm.
TR: I was so afraid of what was happening to me. On a subconscious level and later on a conscious level, I just used what resources I had available at the time, which was... more musical than from a conscious, cerebral place, really. This time around, when it came time to get down to business, you know, what instinctually was coming out of me was what led to this record. So much more focus and clear-cut idea of what I wanted to say and the ability to say it.
XFM: Mmmhm. Well, that's the lyrical side of With Teeth. In terms of the musical side, there've been personel changes in the band. Were those changes made for musical reasons, or... I mean, you've changed a lot of things. You've moved to Los Angeles, you've changed managers. So it seems like you've changed a lot of the people around you. What were the reasons, actually, for changing the members of the band this time around?
TR: Well, the band has never been really that involved in the record-making process.
XFM: Right.
TR: That's never really been a conscious decision, it's just when it comes time to do it, they're either not around, or I don't need whoever it might be, whatever it is. But it'd been such a long time since the last record, those people weren't around me. I didn't feel I really needed anybody, I just went in and got the job done. When it was time to re-assemble a band, I tried to get people that were... the best people that could articulate and convey this message and this state of mind that I'm in. Jerome Dillon, the drummer from the last incarnation, came through. But...
XFM: He's still your live drummer now, right?
TR: Yeah.
XFM: Yup.
TR: Everybody else, I just felt like I wanted people that was... a fresh start, you know? Because you'd wind up... it wasn't really about personalities or anybody clashing, it just... I wanted to get some new people... that felt hungry. That weren't walking into a situation as a rock star, necessarily. Just, "let's go out and do this thing and try to get along," and... most importantly, convey the emotional content of this music that's been made.
XFM: Mmm. You got Dave Grohl in to do quite a bit of drumming on the album. Now I guess Nine Inch Nails have always been kind of, influenced by Killing Joke. I've read a lot of stuff in interviews... you say this specific album has got a lot of Killing Joke influence. Was Dave Grohl picked, in any way, because of his work on the last Killing Joke album? Because, obviously, he was the drummer on that.
TR: I thought his drumming on that record was spectacular, you know?
XFM: Mmm.
TR: I've always thought Dave is a great drummer. From... when I listen to a record from other bands - just as a fan or a listener - I rarely listen to something with a musician's ear. "Excellent drum sounds! Magnificent guitar playing!" I don't care. Just, "does this song affect me?"
XFM: Right.
TR: Does it jar something...
XFM: Is it a good song, basically.
TR: Is it a good song, or, do I have an emotional reaction to it? Do I believe what the guy is saying? Or whoever.
XFM: Mmm-hm.
TR: For some reason, a number of the records that Dave's played on... the drums stand out to me.
XFM: Yep.
TR: As... not so much unbelievably complex drum beats, but just something that really fits the song, and takes the music up a notch, and calls attention to itself. Not in a showy way, necess-- sometimes showy, but not defined by that. The Nirvana stuff, the Queens of the Stone Age record he played on, and the Killing Joke record all kind of... were reasons that his style really stuck out with me.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: When I wrote the songs, I had in mind that I wanted real drums. It wasn't until the songs were all written, and I'd heard myself in the studio saying "Sounds like Dave Grohl would," you know... "Let's get it to sound 'Grohl-esque'."
XFM: (laughter)
TR: Or whatever, you know. Finally I felt, why don't we just call Dave Grohl?
XFM: Get the real thing!
TR: Yeah. If I'd known it was that easy, I would have done that months earlier, but...
XFM: Did you know one another from before? Are you old friends? Or is he, kind of, a musical acquaintence that you could phone up?
TR: Acquaintence. And we toured together on some tour in Australia. Might have been Big Day Out, I think. We'd run into each other and it was always pleasant... but weren't really friends, necessarily.
XFM: Mmm-hm.
TR: Now... we are. It was a simple matter of just making contact. He was free, and I was free, and we just... really effortlessly hooked up and in a few days he'd played everything. It was: "wow, I didn't know I could do that so easily!"
XFM: (laughing) Pick a track from the album that you think particularly shows off Dave Grohl's drumming skill...
TR: I would say, "The Line Begins To Blur." (The Line Begins To Blur played)
XFM: ...let's go back in time. We've spoken a lot about... this particular album. When you came off the tour for The Fragile, you obviously toured that for a long time. Lots of people have spoken about the amount of time between The Fragile and With Teeth, but you only actually worked on With Teeth for a couple of years, right? What was your state of mind, what was your lifestyle like... way before you started this latest album, when you actually did come off the Fragile tour?
TR: Well, the end of the Fragile tour, which would take us up to the end of 2001... I got off that tour in a state of complete disarray. I'd been battling alcoholism, addiction for a while. It had completely won the battle at that point. After a few months of trying to kid myself that I could keep it together, I finally just gave up and decided to get my life in order. In a moment of... clarity, that said: "you're either going to have to die, or you're... gonna have to get better." I knew that wouldn't be easy. So I decided to attack the problem with every resource I could find around me. Some advice I was getting at the time was also, you know... "take some time off and get your head straight, and get your life in order before you try to keep chasing this idea of a career, or trying to write a better song." I had used success - or my career, or whatever you want to call Nine Inch Nails as being - as a way to kind of hide from life, and just... immersing myself in work that could never be completed.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: So I'd always... never have time to deal with the things I didn't want to deal with, like my life.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: I could have things that made me feel like I was okay, like degrees of success, or this and that... it was just a pretty hollow way of existing.
XFM: Do you think part of the problem, over a long period of time, was the fact that you could get wasted but still function? Because you were still functioning you, kind of, never addressed the problem that was becoming a bigger thing and sort of taking over. Because that can be dangerous, if you can take drugs and you can drink but you can still make great music and tour, and so on and so forth. You obviously had that ability, over a period of time.
TR: Kinda.
XFM: Right.
TR: I probably would have got caught quicker if I'd had to punch a time clock every day. I've come to believe that I have a disease. It's in me, if I was a used car salesman or a rock star... maybe this lifestyle was a catalyst for kind of, resolving it quicker.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: But nonetheless, that's the way the cards were delt, and it was time for me to deal with it. It really came up to a point where the few things left that I loved about myself... I started to not love anymore. I lost my ability to make music, or even play music, or even like music. When I finally got to that point, I had no purpose. I had no point... I hated myself. It was time to correct the situation. So, that led to me... really, just deciding to formally take a couple years and not... push myself to write more music and keep this thing going. See if I could feel more comfortable in my own skin... sit down for a minute, take a look in the mirror, figure out who I am, how old I am, what's happening, if I even want to keep doing this, what matters to me at the age I was at at the time.
XFM: Was there really a time that you considered giving up music...?
TR: Sure!
XFM: Did you become that deep with self-loathing, of everything about yourself?
TR: Yeah. I didn't know if I could even do it anymore. I was aware I was getting older, nothing seemed to be making me happy anymore. Really... huge turning point in my life. Hardest thing, for sure, that I've ever had to do. Really just address... open up the closet, shine the light in there. Start cleaning things out, start addressing issues, start to deal with life on life's terms instead of... numbing myself out. The result that came from that was, well, I started to like myself again. I started to feel okay about myself, and I started to realize that I can do things without being drunk. I can function and I can... feel alright being human. I can actually be happy, you know, and I can start to have mature relationships with people. Then, finally... I had toyed around in the studio with some... side-project things. I had been working on some music informally, just to keep my hand in it. But in the beginning of 2004... I also decided to change my surroundings. I moved out of... I rented a house out in L.A. just to see if I liked it. Set up a small studio, and decided to answer the next question... which was to see if I could still write, or if I had anything relevant or pertinent to say, or if I had any eloquence. That was one of the nicest surprises... I found that I could think again, you know? Once I started, then I enjoyed the process. It was... the whole record was written in a few months, recorded it that summer, mixed it that fall. It never had gone that quickly before!
XFM: What kind of outside help did you have during this period? Did you go to rehab? Were there other types of therapy that you had? Because you didn't just sit at home and do it all yourself and come out the other side. It was a very long, probably nasty process for you to go through, I would guess, to get to this point.
TR: Yeah, I couldn't have done this on my own.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: That was another thing I had to realize. I tried to... I had a life where I ran everything, you know?
XFM: Yeah.
TR: I don't need a band, I can do it myself. I don't need a studio, I've got my own. I've got my own record label, just leave me alone!
XFM: Right! (laughs)
TR: I don't need friends, I don't need you, I can do... you know? To hell with the world. That was a, kind of, immature outlook on life that might have got me through some times... but it wasn't any kind of way to base the rest of your life on.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: So to answer your question, the first thing I had to do was go into psych ward and detox for a week.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: Then I got involved in an outpatient program because I had gone into rehab in '97. I knew the lessons and I... chose not to pay attention to them. But I knew I had the knowledge. So I went into this... basically it was a group therapy-type outpatient situation. It lasted for several months, and then continued on for a year afterwards... in an aftercare thing, and it completely changed my life. Then I decided, "you know what... tell me what to do, because my way does not work. I've bent every rule, I tried everything, and it led me to complete and utter dispair." You know, learning to listen was a big lesson in that. It's changed a lot of things. I realize I'm not the smartest guy in the world. The world doesn't revolve around me, necessarily. Sometimes!
XFM: Mmmhm. (laughing) Do you think maybe, because a lot of people talk about you as being a bit of a control freak and, like you say, at some point in time you didn't need anyone else around - you could do the whole band thing and the production thing yourself and so on and so forth - but, do you think maybe part of that side of your personality helped you get this far? Because you realized that by being on your own and doing everything independently you were losing control to drink and drugs, and maybe the control freak in you was like, "well, there's an area here that I'm not controlling so I do need to ask for outside help to kind of, get over this point in my life"?
TR: Yeah, I thought about that myself, too. You start tricking yourself into... the other problem I had was, you know, coming from "recently sober" into "learning to listen" and, you know, "don't listen to the voice in your head. Listen to someone else, take some guidance from people." It's hard sometimes... and it was scary to make a transition into writing, where you need to have an ego, and you need to take chances, and you need to fail, and you need to try things that don't work, and you need to feel like you're the greatest thing in the world. Otherwise you're never going to put your pen on the paper and write those words down.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: ...or come up with that idea, and try those things. But it's a matter of learning what's safe and what's healthy and what isn't.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: (cough) I mean, it's really been an interesting process that... I am grateful to have gone through, you know? Because it's clear I've got a lot of other aspects of my life that I didn't realize were so off track, you know?
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: I'd rather have skipped it if I could, you know what I mean?
XFM: Yeah. (laugh)
TR: But I like where I'm at now. If that's what it took to get me here, then that's what it took.
XFM: The move from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I found that a bit surprising. You can't really imagine Trent Reznor sort of, living by the Sunset Strip, and enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle as, I guess we view it in the UK... maybe if you're actually there, living it, it's a different reality.
TR: Well, the reason really was... I realized a lot of the reason that I went to New Orleans in the first place was to isolate, and hide. It's a good place to do that, because there's not any... you can hide from the industry there, because there isn't any industry there.
XFM: Right.
TR: It was something that was ultimately pretty unhealthy for me to do. I wanted to be in the thick of things, and around my peers, and... all the friends that I have live there.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: So, I was not... Los Angeles' biggest fan, ever.
XFM: Mmm.
TR: I lived out there when I did The Downward Spiral, and I didn't really apply myself... but I just saw a plastic world, much like probably what people over here look at a Los Angeles as.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: Fake boobs and caps on your teeth and... jive people, you know?
XFM: Yeah!
TR: And they're there. They're certainly there, but there's a lot of other things there too... that are pretty cool. I think, for me, it wasn't necessarily Los Angeles so much as someplace different.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: When I look out the window, it's a different scene. Air feels different, you know. It's kind of a new start, it's a new thing. So I'm not saying I'm going to be there forever. I really don't know.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: At the moment... it's been alright.
XFM: Do you think... you're more into being part of a more social environment, now? I mean, we're meeting for the first time today, but I know you're doing more interviews than you used to do. We ran a competition on this radio station last week for you to do, like a meet-and-greet thing with fans at gigs. Obviously, you're saying you've got a lot of friends and you're now living in Los Angeles, in that environment. Is this sort of, like the new Trent Reznor that's kind of, getting up and going out and being a lot more sociable than the old Trent Reznor that we knew?
TR: Well, let's not... push things.
XFM: (laughs)
TR: No, I've had to deal with some social anxiety issues... and I don't feel as crippled as I used to.
XFM: Right.
TR: Again, I've just realized that it's not a bad thing to have some people in your life, and friends and whatever.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: For me, it's been tough to kind of separate... as I look back over the years, what you mentioned about drive and what might have gotten you a degree of success... I think drive is an important thing. But it can be consuming and maddening at the same time. As I search for balance, it's like... professionally, I expect excellence, you know?
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: Ask my crew! They're afraid of me right now.
XFM: Right. TR: I walk onstage... that's what I'm here to do. When you hand me that guitar, it better be in tune. That's what you're there to do.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: I expect... with other musicians, the same thing. I'm out to change the world. I want to be in the best band, ever. I want to write the best song that's ever been written, some day. I expect that of myself, and if we're going to work together on something, well let's, within reason... let's do that.
XFM: Mmm. Mmmhm.
TR: I think that sometimes can get me called a prick, or unreasonable. But, hey I expect 120%.
XFM: Okay.
TR: But in life... it doesn't quite work that way. I think I'm better at that, when I walk off the stage, than I ever have been.
XFM: Uh-huh. Let's talk a bit about the fans' perspective... of Trent Reznor. Being a very insular person, does it still kind of surprise you, even though you've been doing this for a long time now, about the level of adulation that you do have from certain fans? Not only musically, but as a person as well. There's kind of like almost, I would think, a kind of intrusive interest in you as a person and as... kind of, fascination with your music from certain quarters. There's only certain people in this interest that get that kind of fanatical following, I think.
TR: You know, it's weird. I have a lot of mixed feelings on that... and they've changed radically from the past into the present.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: That might be me getting older, I'm not sure what it is, but... I think the power that you weild as someone that people are interested in, or maybe respect, or you've touched them in some way...
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: ...that that's to be respected. You know, we try to do... what am I trying to say? It's flattering, obviously. But at the same time - I know I can only base this on my own life - I think about the music that really made a difference in me as a person...
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: What I projected onto those people that made that music... it was larger than life. I think it's important that... most of those people, back then I never met. I was living out in the middle of nowhere. Now, a lot of them I have met. When you meet them you're usually disappointed because they're not superhuman.
XFM: Right.
TR: It might not be their best day when you happen to cross paths.
XFM: But you're always going to remember that day because they're kind of, your heroes.
TR: Of course. I've tried to carry that into the concept of Nine Inch Nails where... I try to not let too much get out. Not because I'm hiding anything, just because I think there's a value to mystique and I think... it's better not to let people behind the curtain and see who's pushing or pulling the levers, and all that.
XFM: (laughs) Right.
TR: At the same time, my privacy has been invaded on a personal level. In a sense that... some of it's pretty ignorant and it's maddeningly frustrating.
XFM: Mmmhm.
TR: But it comes with the territory and... whatever. You know, I used to really define myself by what people thought of me. I can see that now.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: Now, even with the reception of this record or whatever... I mean I'm happy that people are interested in it, and I would rather that they do like it than not like it.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: But if they don't like it, they don't like it.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: You know, I can't please everybody, and I'm not... I'll still be me at the end of the day.
XFM: Yeah.
TR: ...whether you think I'm great or not.
XFM: The... liking your music, and knowing everything, having the whole Nine Inch Nails back catalogue, and knowing the songs back to front is one thing... I understand people who are that fascinated with the musical side of it, which is a credit to your creativity and the quality of product that you've put out. But can you put the finger on why people are maybe so interested in you as a person? Because that must be really weird for you. Is there a reason why you think that you as a character are so fascinating to a high percentage of the people that are Nine Inch Nails fans?
TR: I don't... (laugh) I don't know how to answer that question, you know... and I have mixed feelings about it. It's... I can only say maybe that I've tried to stay away from revealing too much, and that makes you more...
XFM: Keeps the mystique, I guess.
TR: Possibly, yeah... and I'm a vampire!
XFM: (laughing) You seem like you're in a much happier place now, and everything's going well with Nine Inch Nails. You say, you know you're going to spend the rest of the year out on the road. Do you think now... it's more likely that we'll get Nine Inch Nails albums with a greater frequency? Because of your new state of mind, and the way you are currently, or is it still going to be a long process where we have to wait 4 or 5 years to get some new material?
TR: No, it's a certainty that the gap between records is going to be... much less.
XFM: Right.
TR: I can, in retrospect, pinpoint why it's taken so long and that problem is out of the equation right now. So... fingers crossed, there'll be records flying out of me.
XFM: Okay, well I hope so. It's been a great pleasure to have you here. Thank you for your time, Trent.
TR: Thank you.