Rock Sound

March 2002

Nine Inch Nails: The Upward Spiral

As NIN prepare to release the comprehensive collection live: And All That Could Have Been, Trent Reznor talks to Rock Sound about hells, highs and his path to eventual happiness...

Words: Robyn Derision

TRENT REZNOR arrived at the idea of filming Nine Inch Nails live during the Fragility v2.0 tour 2000. It was in the midst of that outing that he became aware of the high calibre of the bands performance and wanted to document it. Consequently during the 43-city U2 jaunt, members of the band and road crew captured the NIN live performance with mini DV cameras.

The aim was to use the camera as simply an observer to the bands mesmerising visual assault: recording, but not altering what was saw in any way.

After sifting through hundreds of hours of footage, Reznor took charge of the sound production. He enlisted the nin.com website guru, Rob Sheridan, with whom he shares a similar work ethic and degree of perfectionism, to take on the role of editor.

The result is Nine Inch Nails live: And All That Could Have Been. A package consisting of a DVD/VHS containing 18 live songs, a 16 track CD, and a special 9 song companion disc. The companion disc contains four seminal NIN songs recorded live in a deconstructed fashion, one new vocal track ‘and all that could have been’, and four new instrumentals which were destined for ‘The Fragile’ but didn’t quite make it.

Having emerged from a period of mental chaos where he worked 16 hour days for two years straight on ‘The Fragile’, toured intensively, experienced the death of his grandmother, who raised him since he was five years old, and experienced drug addiction, 2002 finds Trent Reznor in a much more positive headspace.

Rock Sound talks music, art, drugs and life with the articulate, introspective songwriter.

How did you feel watching massive quantities of footage of yourself?

"I was filled with the usual neurosis. It’s like when you look at a photo of yourself and all you can see are the flaws. I could hear all the mistakes and know how it could have turned out, but no one else sees what I see on that level. I made myself not watch it for a couple of months just to get away from it.

It was refreshing when I did watch it again with other people who hadn’t seen it, as when you see other people who had not seen it, as when you see others getting excited about it, it makes you realise that a lot of your concerns are ridiculous."

Do you still recognise the person that wrote ‘Mr. Self Destruct’?

"Yeah he is still around, but I don’t let him out of his cage that much. With all the albums I have put out and all that music I have written, the main criteria was that it had to be very true and honest to who I was at the time. I wasn’t trying to cater to my audience. I wasn’t trying to pretend I was something I wasn’t.

When I was listen back to songs – and even stranger when I play them live – the only ones I still perform from that era are the ones that are still pertinent to me."

Where was your head at when you wrote ‘The Fragile’?

"I had came off The Downward Spiral tour, which was two-and-a-half-years long, and it left me in a state of disrepair. I was very unhappy and my world had become an unfriendly place to be. I was sick of a lot of things about my career and my grandmother who raised me had died, so I was in a very bad space.

The act of writing ‘The Fragile’ was one of self-analysis, but also self-repair for a change instead of self-destruction. I not saying it is a shiny, happy album but it’s a general outlook is more uplifting than others.

That period for me was about taking my time to see how I felt about things – about putting the pieces back together and trying to come out of a very dark and unpleasant time."

How did you do that?

"A lot of it has been through self-examination. I came off tour and realised I hated my record label and it was making me hate my job, which made the idea of working on music and touring not much fun. I sat down with myself and had a long look in the mirror and took some time to think about what I really wanted to do. I even considered not doing this anymore, getting rid of the studio and stopping doing NIN for awhile and doing something completely different, or even nothing for awhile.

I realised that I wouldn’t be happy doing that, as I have a lot more I want to say. I went back and listened to old albums I had done, and remembered how exciting it was to do those. It was a matter of just blowing some cobwebs out and putting the bigger picture into perspective of what I wanted to accomplish – and what would make me happy in the process of doing it.

It is easy to get of track, especially when you come off tour, and you get disorientated as your life has changed. You are not the same person at the end as when you started, particularly if it is a multi-year situation."

It must have been difficult coming home to nothing after all that chaos.

"You get on a tour bus, come back in a year-and-a-half later to the house you haven’t been in and its like, ‘Oh, I guess I am home now’. But you feel like a bull in a china shop and stuff breaks as you move too fast and knock lamps over, and there is no one to pick them up. It is a strange process of reassimilation back into the real world of the tour world."

How different was the Fragility v2.0 tour from The Downward Spiral Tour?
"It was mature in terms of musically, and it was much more about what was happening on stage. With The Downward Spiral tour, I thought the band was really good at that time, but we were completely out of control. A lot of the show was just to kill time to get to what was happening backstage, to what illegal activities were happening at any number of locations around us at all times. It became very selfdestructive at the end."

How did taking lots of drugs fit in with your personality?
"I wouldn’t say we took lots of drugs, but we took drugs. This is not a sob story, but becoming successful in a rock band and going on tour, you live in a very unreal environment. It is like a big party every night and it really starts to warp your personality.

At some points when you had enough and don’t want to deal with it, the easy option is just numb yourself out to what is going on. I think you can lose yourself in the process and I certainly did at one point."

Did you turn into an asshole?
"I think I have been an asshole, I think I have been too sensitive people’s feelings, completely insensitive to people’s feelings; I have used people, I think I have been used – I have been trustworthy and foolhardy with that, and in other ways I don’t trust anyone. It’s been a forced course of self-awareness.

It was the best times I have ever had in my life and it was the worst. I am glad I am alive right now and I think I have a much healthier, more rounded and certainly more educated outlook then I had five years ago."

Would you describe yourself as a workaholic?
"Probably, and not necessarily in a good way. A lot of times my incentive to work had been because working gave me a reward. Not just a financial reward, but it gave me a sense that I could create something that made me feel good. It gave me the gratification, so I would want to do it more – and if I kept doing that, I wouldn’t have to deal with my life. I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I didn’t have any friends, or that I am not in a relationship. I could just sit in a studio and get on with stuff. I have defiantly done those things in the past, but I am trying to become more balanced in my life."

Do you consider yourself as a success in relationships?
"On no, I am miserable at it. (Laughing) But I am getting better. I have always taken pride in the fact that I could dedicate every waking minute to music. I took pride in the fact that I could be on a plane that day as I didn’t have a family, I don’t have anything holding me back as the only thing in my life was music. But then you realise that eventually your music suffers because you are not connecting with life. It has always been hard for me to have a serious relationship, as I have something that takes up a lot of my time and a lot of mental energy. Music is my passion."

Do you have any issues around the fact that 'The Fragile' was not the massive commercial success the record label had hoped?
"The only issues I have with that is that I feel some resentment with Interscope records for their lack of understanding. That album is something that I laboured over, and the label claimed to love and said it was great. They then took this square peg and pushed it through a round hole – the same round hole that Eminem goes though, Britney Spears goes through, only mine didn’t fit. So rather than bore another hole for it to go through, they just let it die and went onto the next Eminem record, or whatever disposable, easy-to-sell generic album they were working on.

It is tough when the people who are the link between you and the fans have no idea what the fuck they are selling, as to them it is just plastic units to a demographic.

The people who suffer most in that world are the people who are trying to put art out – artists who are trying to make a difference or not sound like everyone else, trying to make something of quality in a world of imitation."

You seem to be old-schooled in your attitude to music.

"It is strange to be perceived like this, because I always felt like I was on the cutting edge, and I am totally protechnology. I have realised in the past few years that when I make a record I hold it up to the mirror and ask myself if it something that I would like.

The way I look at things in an old-school fashion is that I still like the format of an album – a piece of work that is 15 or 16 tracks long. I also miss the days of album artwork and care about things like covers, liner notes and presentation. I care about when you go to see a show that it is a live visual experience.

I also care as an artist, being able to say no sometimes. Being able to say ‘No – I don’t want to be in a Microsoft commercial.'

I don’t care what Moby says – I am not going to be in an IBM commercial. It is not some postmodern statement of art. It is bullshit! I don’t buy it and you don’t even buy it, and now I am not going to buy your music because you did that. Those things are important to me.

I think there needs to be a rebelliousness in rock in a noncorporate way. It should be offensive to people. It should raise your eyebrows and your parents should hate it.

A lot of that spirit has been absorbed into the corporate infrastructure of what is acceptable to be put out and what is not."

You’re lucky to have the cushion of money that success has rewarded you with so that you can do what you want. It is very hard for people struggling against the corporate system.

"Yes, I am lucky. I don’t know if a band like Tool, for example would exist if they just got signed today. NIN and Tool got in at the tail end of record labels’ longterm commitment to bands. If you look at the Billboard chart today, I doubt whether many of those acts will be around in five years’ time. It just seems like everything is disposable right now. The era of the band that has something to say over time had better prove it immediately or they will be disregarded with the rest of them.

Bring a little bit of artistry to music and remember that it isn’t just about how many zeros are after your sales figures. It can matter, and it is an art form."

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