MTV Online

October 1997

Trent Reznor & David Bowie

Nine Inch Nail Trent Reznor left his recording studio in New Orleans last week to join friend and mentor David Bowie in New York City on the set of Bowie's next video, "I'm Afraid Of Americans" (Click Here for images from that video shoot). Reznor, who produced several remixes of the track for an upcoming EP, plays the "ugly American" to Bowie's British gent. Was truth stranger than fiction? MTV News' Abbie Kearse was there to find out...

ABBIE KEARSE: The first thing we want to talk to you about is we got to witness a little bit of the shooting of the video. So all I got to see it Trent, you were chasing David down the street - what was that about?

TRENT: Um...

DAVID: But did you see any of the video?

ABBIE: All I saw was the running down the street. I don't know why...

TRENT: That wasn't the video.

DAVID: That wasn't the video. It was just an argument over the food.

TRENT: The idea of "I'm Afraid of Americans"... I did a re-mix for David and... 'cause I thought the track was a really strong track, tried to make it a bit darker and Dom & Nick, the directors, came up with this idea of I'm the kind of evil American persona. He's the English guy in America with guns abound.

ABBIE: Are you saying then Trent's the American you're afraid of?

DAVID: I think the choice was to either go with an American sensibility to shoot it, or a British one seeing as how it came from a, a sort of a British perspective. And Dom & Nick, they're making very interesting, quite hard-edged British videos at the moment. So I kind of felt it was important that it retained that outsiders' perspective of America, ya' know? And yeah, Trent, really, I think for a lot of people -- what do you personify Trent?

TRENT: What are you saying?

DAVID: I think there's uh, from our perspective in Europe for instance, that on the outside of the rich social fabric which is America, there are people like Trent. But, and I think I'm perceived as much the same thing, but on the European side of things. And so the chemistry, it just sort of works for this particular song anyway.

ABBIE: Why the decision to shoot here in Manhattan?

DAVID: You either go middle America, you go L.A. or you go New York. And New York is cool.

ABBIE: You didn't want to do this in a cornfield?

DAVID: Didn't even occur to us, I must admit.

TRENT: It struck me when the directors said they'd never been to America -- to New York City before. I drove around, riding in my car in New Orleans where I live filming New Orleans which I think is probably the most decadent, decayed, ridiculous situation in America.

ABBIE: Outside the French Quarter?

TRENT: The whole city is ridiculous in a way, but I love it, I guess. That's why I'm there. But they wanted a kind of a "Taxi Driver" feel to the whole thing. That's kind of what it's based on.

ABBIE: Ok. I see that's why you have the army jacket on?

TRENT: That's why I'm in my Travis Pickle outfit. I almost got talked into doing a Mohawk right as we were starting to film.

ABBIE: I want to ask you also about the song and the remixes of the song that you did -- at least the five tracks. I want to talk about the concept of taking one song and making an EP out of, you know, one song being remixed in quite different ways. So how did that come about?

DAVID: Well, the actual working side of it, you'd have to ask Trent and the other guys of Nine Inch Nails did all the work other than the Photek mix on it. Trent's own generosity in terms of what he wanted to do with the actual song itself, it was...he really reached out a long way on the mixes. I mean, I kind of expected we'd just get the one mix, and it turned into this extraordinary piece of work which is nearly album length.

ABBIE: So this wasn't planned?

DAVID: I guess it happened. I don't know.

TRENT: I'd mentioned that I thought the song was a good track and it'd be a good song to be a single. And...as my band's kind of expanded into a bunch of programmers that I respect I took it upon...I've always thought in my world to do an EP or a remix kind of EP where you mix something and you can put it on and listen to it the whole way through. Right? It might be a 15 minute, it might be an hour, it might be ten minutes, but it has a listenability factor. So, I kind of took the ball and ran with it, but didn't know that Virgin was really into doing that. So I just said to everybody: remix this. You do that. You do that. You do that. You do that. And created piece of work that I thought would be a listenable thing.

DAVID: I mean, I should have guessed after hearing -- have you heard the remixes on "Spiral"? I should have almost have guessed that where Trent would take it would be it becomes its own piece of work. It's not just a remix. It almost becomes an album piece in itself. So I was absolutely uh, I was really knocked out when I heard what he had done. It was great.

ABBIE: How did the collaboration with Ice Cube on this track come about, 'cause I know you were thinking of working with him?

TRENT: He's someone that I really respect a lot. And there was, like Dr. Dre, I have talked about working together on different things. And Cube's been interested in different.. ideas. This is kind of an introductory thing where I thought where I'll farm it out to him, try it out. He was just finishing with a movie he was doing, so I didn't know if he had time to really dedicate to working on this track, but I said "If you can do it, cool. If you can't, that's fine." And we didn't, like, sit together in the studio and work, but he found some time to do his own thing. And again it was an interesting collaboration 'cause I think what would be the most disperate ideas to throw together, to make a cool thing.

DAVID: Working with additions of samples or piecemeal work like that -- working with small pieces -- is starting to become such a way of working. Over the last few years it's become quite possible for a collection of musicians to even be working in different countries and actually assemble something together. Brian and I have talked about doing the next album that we're doing together midway between Russia and England. He's doing his part in Russia and I'm doing mine in England. If Trent and I get together to do work next year it's quite feasible that there are going to be occasions where he's working in the States and I'm working from Europe somewhere. Although I think we'd actually like to initiate the thing by actually working down...I'd love, like the idea of actually doing some work in New Orleans.

ABBIE: When you actually work like that where you're sent a track, get the feedback whether it's by the telephone, by fax, do you lose any of the intimacy that you would if you were working together in person?

DAVID: Well, naturally you don't compromise your own ideas so much. Because if you're working in collaboration with somebody, by virtue of the fact that you're in close quarters with each other, you try to creatively negotiate. But I think that when you're separated from each other you allow more reign to what you perceive the piece as being, which is often good because the collaborator on the other side will receive it and say, "Ah, I know exactly what you mean. I see. I wouldn't have let you go that far."

TRENT: And when you're working on music, it's like the most intimate, close-to-your-heart thing in the world where you're the most naked you could ever be. And a lot of times I've found from a degree of shyness... you're a bit intimidated by it.

ABBIE: So this way you have your privacy. You can actually work with a piece instead of being next to David Bowie saying "All right, I've got to come up with something!"

DAVID: I get very loud.

TRENT: I crawl into a hole and put a blanket over my head and can't deal with things.

ABBIE: I know that on Puff Daddy's album there's a track where he loops "Let's Dance" and there was some talk about maybe you guys working together. Are you actually going to work with Puffy?

DAVID: My schedule is pretty tight. I'm not going to be able to do anything with him. I mean, I never mind those kinds of things. I'm delighted he did something with it, as long as I get paid I never worry. I like sampling. I think both Trent and myself and a number of others in the kind of area we work in, we presume that's what the late 20th century in fact is all about: juxtapositions of different information. And I applaud that way of working.

ABBIE: MTV News recently did an interview with Keith Richards and he was very much against the art of sampling saying it's not original music...

DAVID: He comes from a different place. I mean, there's musicianship as craft and there's musicianship as idea concepts. They're just different ways of working. You know, different strokes.

ABBIE: What's happening with your record with Nine Inch Nails? It's been a while since we've heard something. Have you had some challenges with coming up with new material?

TRENT: It's just been really assessing the whole what-I-want-to-do-with-Nine Inch Nails. I've dedicated a lot of energy into Nothing Records and I've always felt like if I didn't have anything to say, I don't want to say it. And the new record... I've spent a lot of time really assessing musically the way you approach it.

DAVID: From what I've heard -- sorry, I'm gonna' be very pushy -- from what I've heard from their camp is like so many things that he's done. It's actually a question of culling down to what actually they're gonna' work with. He's a very modest guy, this guy.

TRENT: You dig your own hole you know. You get into a thing where you feel like what you have to do is so important that it has to be great, ya' know...

ABBIE: Are you gonna' do any more hip hop flavor? Has working with Ice Cube been an influence on you now?

TRENT: The record will -- I guarantee it will piss everybody off. Yeah, no one will like it and it will be ridiculous. And if it wasn't then I wouldn't do it.

DAVID: That's the territory where we both meet on. (Click Here for a short video clip of this portion of the interview)

TRENT: If you don't then you're not doing your job.

DAVID: It was what initially introduced us to each other. We seem to have got that art down, pretty finally...

TRENT: That's the point. If it's safe, it's ridiculous. It has to be dangerous.

October 1997

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This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.