Raygun Magazine

February 1997

Nine Inch Nails

"Iím willing to acknowledge that I have changed as a result of my success, my financial status, my everything else. The fact that I can afford this house. I can pay my gas bill Iím a f**kiní poor son of a bitch from white trash nowhere. I know Iím not that same person, and Iím not trying to pretend I am, but Iím also. Iím probably more sad right now than Iíve ever been, because I have the added baggage ofthis didnít fix it, you know? Like I always thought, ĎMan, if I could ever be a rock starÖ.í"

A New Orleans tour group stands in front of the rather ominous two-story 132-year-old Greek Revival mansion in rapt silence. Who amongst the innocent tourists dares to wonder aloud just what evils lurk beyond the ancient ironwork fence, past the flickering gas lanterns, on the other side of that dark door where, unbeknownst to them, the walls of the eerie foyer are spattered with drips of a deep, bloody red. A few whisper of a bizarre murder that took place here, and that the present owner not only works in a disreputable funeral home nearby, but also once occupied a house where one of the most grizzly slayings of the century occurred.

And something very strange is beginning to happen within. The entire front room of the house begins to vibrate violently, yet beyond the closed drapes the onlookers cannot detect a rnurmur, they cannot see the pictures literally failing off the walls, they cannot hear the deep, booming, evil voice that suddenly shakes the entire darkened den- What madman doth reside in this dwelling?

Well, it's just Trent Reznor, who, along with his trusty dog Daisy, has just finished watching a laserdisc of Barton Fink on the large, retractable movie screen in his ultra-soundproof den. Now he's laughingly showing off the tester film for his high-wattage THX sound system, a ridiculously loud gift from the at Interscope Records. "YOU UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE FORCELI!- booms Darth Vader, as two framed pictures are shaken off the wall by the throaty vibration. Reznor grins as the short compilation of blaring sound-effects-laden clips plays on.

Nothing wicked this way comes, except for an ale or two and numerous shots of some sweet elixir. It turns out that the rumored murder did not take place here, as far as Reznor knows, though it's true that this former resident of the site of the Manson killings does work in a funeral home - albeit an abandoned one, which he has converted into a high-tech recording studio.

"We hear stories about how that place got shut down for, like, 'Improper disposal of bodily fluids," Reznor laughs. 'I don't know if that's true though. It has a pretty good vibe.

"The singer did import to New Orleans more than a touch of necessary evil, however, as the studio boasts a souvenir of sorts - the actual door of the Tate mansion on which the Manson family once scrawled the word "PIG" in blood. This city of dark magic has welcomed Reznor with open arms, even being so kind as to print a photo of his house, address included, on the front page of the paper the very day he moved in.

"And here's where the rock star Trent Reznor of the band nine inch nails lives," announces yet another tour guide.

"They come by the front every day," says Reznor. "I'll be opening the window In my underpants and It's like whoa!"

But Reznor's been almost too busy to notice these days, as he's been working on a variety of projects, including the soundtrack to David Lynch's new movie Lost Highway, a new band called Tapeworm, and long-awaited new work from nine inch nails.


Raygun: How did this Lost Highway project come about?

Trent Reznor: I had tried to track David Lynch down years ago, just to see if he was a fan and if he'd ever be into doing a video or anything like that. And then one day I got a call through lnterscope saying that he was doing a new movie and, much like the Oliver Stone Natural Born Killers thing, "Would you be interested in doing a soundtrack on [Reznor's label] Nothing?" I said "Well what is it?" and "I'm a big fan so, yeah, I'm interested." So I talked to David on the phone and he said, "Would you be into me coming to New Orleans and maybe we could sit down and try to score some bits of the movie?" So I said, "Sure." I didn't expect that. And he ended up coming to New Orleans and I had one of the most nerve racking situations I've ever been in. He comes in the studio and it's David Lynch, right, my hero. And he's bigger than I thought, he's exactly that character on Twin Peaks, the hard-of-hearing FBI agent. (booming voice) "Trent! Well, whaddaya say we get started?!" And I'm sitting there nervous out of my mind. I'd gotten the script and I'd read it. And he goes, "Okay! Here's the scene. The guy's being pursued in a car by the police and I want this sound of chaos." And he's talking real loud, he's real animated. I say, "Did you bring any footage?" (loudly) "Nah! I didn't bring any footage. Okay! See what you can come up with!" And he just sits back on the couch. And I thought, "Oh my God."

RG: "This isn't exactly how I work."

Reznor: Yeah, but I couldn't ... I was like, "All right." And the thing that impressed me was in a way he knew he was putting me on the spot. But he was really cool about it. It wasn't like in a s**tty way at all. Super nice guy. And it was like three days ... we did some good things. It was definitely one of those cool experiences like, "Wow, I think I held my own with someone who was my hero." After that it turned into, "Okay, do you want to do a nine inch nails song for the record?" and "Can you coordinate this bulk of music?" which was partially Angelo Badalamenti, which is like prog-orchestral-dissonant, and some, like, pop songs. Smashing Pumpkins has a now song, our new song, Marilyn Manson did a new song, "Apple Of Sodom," Barry Adamson did new stuff. Trying to make a record that was palatable and lived up to what the movie was about.

I'm not a big fan of soundtracks. On one hand, if it's Mortal Combat, pop songs with no relevance to the movie, obviously I want nothing to do with that. And David's not about that either. On the other hand, I have a responsibility to sell ... there had to be some commercial sense about it. And I hate wearing that hat. It's like I'm concerned that a fan of nine inch nails that might buy it 'cause there's one now song or a David Lynch fan ... satisfying everyone's needs. I hate kind of being....

RG: Balancing everything.

Reznor: Yeah. When I do a nine inch nails record I'm responsible to satisfy only my own "this is what it is." A thing like this needs to be representative of someone else's thing and I want them to feel good about it.

RG: So you wrote the new nine inch nails song especially for the movie?

Reznor: "The Perfect Drug" lyrically and thematically was inspired by the film, but musically the way it happened to come out.... It was one of those: One week. Write a song. Mix it. Done. I don't like to work that way. But I reached the stage where I was excited about it, yet it wasn't necessarily appropriate for the movie. And at the end of the day I am nine inch nails and I have to do what's right for me. So I gave it to him and said, "I don't know if this is the right thing for your film sonically, but this Is the song I had to write right now and I had to be true to myself."

RG: "This is where I am."

Reznor: Yeah. And it's not in the film worth a s**t. There's ten seconds of a bit of it buried somewhere, but it was just ... I don't like being put in that "make a record commercial, add this nine inch nails bulls**t thing to it." Musically, I was on a whim going way out and it doesn't sound like nine inch nails, I don't think. But it was what I had to do.

RG: Are you happy with how the whole project came out?

Reznor: Yeah. I am. For me it's a minor thing, I like it for what it is, but it's not my next major statement. I realize, like in the last year, my detractors will say, 'Where's the new nine inch nails record?" I don't really write when I'm on the road and I've always felt shifty about that. And I made a point when I started the last tour that I'm not gonna do what I did before: just f**k off. But then I got done with the two year tour and what did I do? I f**ked off. But the way I write is when I have clear head space and time to think and really be myself. On tour you don't have that time.

RG: Is it difficult to switch gears and get back into writing?

Reznor: Very much so. When you get off the road ... I'm not particularly inspired about anything. And that's when the idea of the Marilyn Manson record came up and the Quake video game soundtrack and minor things we've been doing. Distractions for me, where I could get outside the pressure of nine inch nails. With nine inch nails I really feel like everything I do has to really be important. And the chance to work with Manson in the producer capacity was a challenge I hadn't really had before and it was really rewarding. I came up with s**t and we got along great and they were my best friends and that was fun.

RG: But it all sort of kept you from nine inch nails.

Reznor: What I thought would take two months ended up taking seven months, which further delayed things. And then the soundtrack to Quake, which was fun in a different capacity. Maybe my time could be spent better writing nine inch nails songs from a sensible career point of view. It would be better if a nine inch nails record came out every year instead of every three or four years, but I really didn't have it in me to climb back into the hole and start working, 'cause I wasn't motivated. Now I am. I'm in the trenches working on it and I feel good about it.

RG: So where are you now?

Reznor: Now there's two main things. One is Tapeworm, which is this other band I'm working on, and there's nine inch nails. Tapeworm, the idea behind it was - a couple of members of my band, Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser - it started as kind of a dumping ground for ideas they might have that weren't right for nine inch nails, and it's kind of evolved into having its own identity where tentatively I'm more the singer/producer and they're writing the music- It's more of a collaborative thing.

RG: How does it differ from the nails stuff?

Reznor: I want those guys to contribute things and once in a while I'll come up with something that I think is cool, but it's not the giant leap.... Like, if I think the nine inch nails record has to be all dobro and Jew's harp, then it has to be that. But maybe I'll write a cool f**kin' riff that isn't right for whatever new artistic plateau I'm hoping for nine inch nails, and if I establish this other ground as a place to relax and have fun and maybe make even better music, that's what Tapeworm initially was.

RG: Is this your first real collaborative "band" thing?

Reznor: On this level, absolutely. My first true collaboration musically was the Manson record, where I helped write some of the songs. Twiggy and Manson would come in with a song that wasn't fully a song yet and I'd say, "Okay how can we get a bridge?' or "How can we make the chorus kick a**?" The band kind of became us. It was a cool open thing and a cool vibe. I told those guys at the time. "I envy you guys, you've got a band." But with Tapeworm, I see that side of it.

RG: And you're doing nine inch nails at the same time?

Reznor: Some of the Tapeworm stuff may end up being nine inch nails stuff, but in my head right now I'm looking at nine inch nails as something that comes more out me directly- But it's also more of a thematic thing. That's another reason the nine inch nails record didn't start up right away. I need a blueprint before I start building the house and I don't just write a bunch of songs and say, "Okay, I have a record."

RG: What's the blueprint looking like so far?

Reznor: If this makes sense, it's more song oriented. Less dense, more about the song, and less about ten songs that are all about this thing. That may change, but the way it's going right now it's more minimal and more organic, but more electronic at the same time. But less parts, and each part is more important than on, like, Broken, where there's a million parts on top of each other. I'd like to mw have a good melody, and that doesn't necessarily mean more accessible or commercial. I'm more into studying the art form of writing a good song.---

RG: What's an example of a "good song" that you've done in that sense?

Reznor: Probably like "Hurt." But I don't mean it has to be quiet and small like that. I'm working with Rick Rubin on the new record and I've told him I need someone outside my head to oversee ideas. Working with Manson, I realized I could see where they were blind. I was outside them. On my own stuff, sometimes I don't have that sounding board I need. With Rick at this initial stage I've been like, "Give me short term goals as to what to do." One of my first things now is I'm gonna rent a house on the ocean somewhere ... by myself with my dog, a notebook, and a piano. And write songs with no electronic equipment, no synthesizers, nothing. Just try it and see what comes out.

RG: Have you ever done that before?

Reznor: No. The only song I wrote unlike I normally do was "Hurt," at a piano. I normally get some kind of a groove or a drumbeat or a bass line and fit it around that. And when I say I'm more interested in the structure of what I think is a good song, I'm not saying Gang of Four doesn't write a good song in a groove kind of way, but I'm also interested in the way Tom Petty writes good songs or XTC or White Album Beatles. Not that it has to be retro- I really hate the idea of retro and a song that you've gotta it. be able to play on acoustic guitar. F**k that. But I'd never thought about a melody, ever. I just write lyrics and music and I go sing it and randomly something comes out and it's the melody. I'm just trying to milk something out of myself. I don't want to do another record the way I've done it. I'd like to think I could stumble upon something really great.

RG: What has inspired you lately, musically?

Reznor: I look at what I listen to now, which is almost entirely ambient or jungle or hip-hop music. No rock at all. Some of the shit that has meant the most to me lately is going back and discovering old Iggy Pop records and stuff I didn't know at the time, like Rick turned me on to the White Album. I'd always hated the Beatles 'cause I hated the people that liked the Beatles when I grew up and I was tired of "Love Me Do" and all that s**t. But I'm completely bored by rock music now. I'm sick to f**kin' death of it. I got turned on to jungle and drum 'n' bass stuff and it's the only s**t I've heard lately that sounded like, "I've never heard music done like this." "The Perfect Drug" song was a direct result of listening to drum 'n' bass stuff. I didn't want to be a white guy trying to sound like drum 'n' bass, but I tried to incorporate what I liked about that into what I do. And it's jungle influenced but not imitating it. it a through a distortion pedal and f**ked-up ... and we did an EP; Goldie is doing a remix, Aphrodite, Meat Beat did one, and Orb's doing one. It's kind of interesting. The only records I've liked lately have been the Fugees, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and shit like that. Then Wagon Christ, Aphex Twin, shit like that really hit me, like, there's some f**kin' cool shit going on and it's not in the pop music arena, really. Just the idea of cross-pollinization ethnically has been real interesting to me.

RG: Anything is good these days that seems to have some new idea, or where at least somebody's trying....

Reznor: Yeah, trying something. Bush. Go away, man. Go the f**k away- And it's so disheartening to see. This is what people like. Safe crap. Even Bush write good songs for what they do, but what they're doing is so soulless and so fucking ... I couldn't sleep at night.

RG: Bush was brilliant to come along when they did from a commercial standpoint. They hit the nail on the head.

Reznor: Well, you hit the nail on the head. "From a commercial standpoint." And that breaks down to, "Why are you doing it?"

RG: Is there anything wrong with just purely trying to sell a ton of records?

Reznor: Not at all. But I think of it as art, as life, and as something that needs to make a statement. I don't have a problem - well I do have a problem - with crass commercialism bulls**t. I'm not trying to be s**tty, but there's a degree of ripoffness where if you can't see it, either you're a dumba** or you're lying to yourself and you can't sleep at night. If I sound like a snotty nosed art rock critic turd ... it's just, if it's been done, why the f**k do it? Though there's nothing wrong with borrowing. I've borrowed out the a**.

RG: It's the "nice guy" syndrome with Bush, though- Nice guys- Talk to 'am and they'll tell you their hearts are totally into it.

Reznor: Yeah, they're the guys that probably think they're changing the world, but I could tell him he's just written a Pixies song- I'd have more respect for them if they were calculated careerists that knew, "Yeah we're ripping them off. We're rich," than dummies who don't realize the obvious. Not to sound harsh, I don't hate them, and I hope that's not the big bolded sentence of your f**kin' article. But I see the band that's number one and go (makes cringing face). One of two things. First: What a sad situation. And secondly: Are people really that dumb?

RG: The top of the charts....

Reznor: Alanis Morissette. I remember exactly the first time I heard that "You Oughta Know" song. I was finishing Smells Like Children with Manson- I didn't have my studio yet, so we were about an hour and a half north. It was dawn, we'd been up all night, we'd just finished the last mix. There's a 30-mile bridge that goes across the lake right above us. Everyone's in the van, I'm in the front seat. I'm almost asleep, sun's up, seven in the morning, driving across this bridge. And that song comes on and it woke me up because I couldn't believe how bad the lyrics were. Like, "Did she just say, 'I'll go down on you in a theatre?"' (laughs) And everyone woke up and was like, "Oh my God, this is the worst f**kin' thing I've ever heard!" And in the back of my mind I'm going, "This is gonna be the biggest f**kiní single of the summer.

RG: That's so weird, because I remember exactly where I was, too. I was driving down an offramp onto the 10. And I was thinking, "Oh, man, this is gonna be the biggest song......

Reznor: What a terrible thing! (laughing) People go, "I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot." Well, uh, we remember where we were when we first heard "You Oughta Know!" (laughing) Oh! Here's a chick that got dumped! She's bitchin' at you, "I'm not ganna just leave!"

RG: And we both remember when we first heard it- That's pathetic.

Reznor: It's true though! (laughing) There's other things like that. When I heard (sings) "She Drives Me Crazy," I was thinking, "That's a big hit," but I liked it in a guilty kind of pleasure way. Same with (sings) "Groove Is In the Heart." That was the best single of whenever the fuck that came out, as a guilty pleasure. But goddamn this Alanis Morissette.

RG: If you can hear a hook on the radio and know it's a smash hit, do you ever hear that in your own head? Something so stupid and commercial that you might not, or might, use it?

Reznor: When I'm writing my own stuff?

RG: Yeah.

Reznor: Not really. What I do think about when I'm writing a song, like "Perfect Drug" - probably unlike a Skinny Puppy or a Neubauten - I am involved with reeling the listener in and keeping enough --- it's like sugar and it's something to cling on to. This song was almost a study in tolerance, where there was basically no melody at all and right when you're about to give up (snaps) - probably the poppest chorus I've ever written in my life. I think in those terms, but it's hard for me to tell when I'm writing a great song. When downward spiral was finished and I played it for the record label I said, "Look, I have to apologize, not for the content, because this is what I have to do, but I don't think there's anything radio is gonna play, there's no 'Head Like A Hole."' And they said, "'Closer.' Big hit." And I said, "You're kidding me." For me, that was the scariest song I had ever written at that point 'cause it was so obvious in a silly disco way with like the Prince harmonies like help me, and all that s**t. I thought, "Man, people are gonna think I'm a pussy if I put this out."

RG: Really?

Reznor: Yeah. But that's what I should feel. I could make a million "Happiness in Slavery" screaming, snarly --- that's what people would expect and that's what fishnet-wearing men, skirt-wearing Propaganda readers would expect, but to do something that really opens me up for attack....

RG: Do you feel you could easily get pigeonholed?

Reznor: Absolutely.

RG: RAYGUN did an interview with David Bowie recently where he said something like that about you. That he really admired what you did, but that you could easily back yourself into a corner with the "bummed out" heavy type subject matter you usually deal with. At some point might you have the need or desire to project some sort of brighter side?

Reznor: You've got a good point. That's one of the things that Rick Ruben brought up. 'You've gotta realize the danger is that you paint yourself in that corner." And I realize that. My last record was probably the most extreme I could do of that. But I've also entered a new level of maturity where, like --- I never thought I could be married before. And it's not like I'm ready to do that, but it doesn't seem as foreign to me- I'd like to have a kid someday. I never thought I'd ever .. again, I'm not set up to do that....

RG: I'd imagine this house would be pretty foreign to you a couple of years ago.

Reznor: Absolutely. So I'm also willing to acknowledge that I have changed as a result of my success, my financial status, my everything else. The fact that I can afford this house, I can pay my gas bill...I'm a f**kin' poor son of a bitch from white trash nowhere....

RG: It would be difficult to sit here and put yourself in the same mind state you put yourself into a few years ago.

Reznor: I know I'm not that same person, and I'm not trying to pretend I am, but I'm also.... (long pause) I'm probably more sad right now than I've ever been, because I have the added baggage of ... this didn't fix it, you know? Like I always thought, "Man, if I could ever be a rock star..... Some stupid f**kin' naive dream, and then you get it and ... I've been at the lowest point, and I'm not just saying this; it didn't work, man. I mean, my job Is ... I wake up and make music and work with people I respect, and David Bowie will take my call, so why .. do I want to kill myself, you know? It sucks.

RG: No matter how good things get around you, what's in your head is still what's in your head.

Reznor: See, artistically I've got so many more things I've gotta do. It's not like I feel I've done anything real. I've made a couple of decent records and that's it. I've got a million more things I wanna do, but just as a f**kin' human that wakes up every day I realize that I hate people. I don't got along, I don't like people, they don't like me, I've.... (sighs) I'm tired of living here alone with the dog. It's shifty. And on top of that I'm attacked by every f**kin' level.... I mean, off the record....

RG: (Reznor tells the story of how some people screwed him over recently, then a while later we move on to happier relationships, such as his possible collaboration with Dr. Dre.)

Reznor: Dre's a f**king genius. Rick Rubin and I met him in the valley like two weeks ago ... he's expressed interest in working with me in some capacity and, like, the same day Ice Cube sent me a fax sayt . ng, "I want to work with you," and Ice Cube, I think, is the best rapper I've ever heard ever.

RG: So are they gonna remix stuff or .. ?

Reznor: No, that's our whole thing. Not to make it a remix situation where it's like white boy remixed by so and so or me singing on a Dre track or Ice Cube singing on a nine inch nails track. The idea is to have it become the impetus to make some new kind of music. When I talked to Dre it was like, "Let's change music."

RG: So it won't be like Anthrax playing on a Public Enemy song.

Reznor: Exactly. That for me is what's inspiring about the idea of true collaboration, cross culturally, where I could say to Dre, "Don't think I can only do this one thing. I'm gonna give you something that will blow your mind. Let's try it. Maybe it sucks and we don't put it out, maybe it's great. We could change the f**kin' world."

RG: As you've broadened the thing you started out with and it has gotten more popular, do you worry about people....

Reznor: I've commercialized a respected form of music and....

RG: That wasn't what I was gonna ask, but....

Reznor: I'm very proud of what I've done. I sleep well at night knowing that, but at the same time another part of me knows that I kind of cannibalized a couple of forms of music that I was very much a fan of and synthesized 'am into something. But that's the art part of me saying that. The other part of me says, "All you did was bastardize this into this." And I don't fully believe either one of those. It's kind of both. I do think that I've done something really good.

RG: You can't worry about the "underground" people who might say you "sold out."

Reznor: I can't dictate what's cool and what's not cool. I got over that whole thing about that elitist underground: "Okay, you're unknown so you're cool, now you're known so you're not cool." F**k you- But that's where / was once, so it was difficult to divorce myself from that- I was the guy that had that Psychic TV import and paid 15 bucks for it and it was s**tty but no one else heard it so it was cool. I understand that.

RG: But it all sort of kept you from nine inch nails.

Reznor: What I thought would take two months ended up taking seven months, which further delayed things. And then the soundtrack to Quake, which was fun in a different capacity. Maybe my time could be spent better writing nine inch nails songs from a sensible career point of view. It would be better if a nine inch nails record came out every year instead of every three or four years, but I really didn't have it in me to climb back into the hole and start working, 'cause I wasn't motivated. Now I am. I'm in the trenches working on it and I feel good about it.

RG: So where are you now?

Reznor: Now there's two main things. One is Tapeworm, which is this other band I'm working on, and there's nine inch nails. Tapeworm, the idea behind it was - a couple of members of my band, Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser - it started as kind of a dumping ground for ideas they might have that weren't right for nine inch nails, and it's kind of evolved into having its own identity where tentatively I'm more the singer/producer and they're writing the music- It's more of a collaborative thing.

RG: How does it differ from the nails stuff?

Reznor: I want those guys to contribute things and once in a while I'll come up with something that I think is cool, but it's not the giant leap.... Like, if I think the nine inch nails record has to be all dobro and Jew's harp, then it has to be that. But maybe I'll write a cool f**kin' riff that isn't right for whatever new artistic plateau I'm hoping for nine inch nails, and if I establish this other ground as a place to relax and have fun and maybe make even better music, that's what Tapeworm initially was.

RG: Is this your first real collaborative "band" thing?

Reznor: On this level, absolutely. My first true collaboration musically was the Manson record, where I helped write some of the songs. Twiggy and Manson would come in with a song that wasn't fully a song yet and I'd say, "Okay how can we get a bridge?' or "How can we make the chorus kick a**?" The band kind of became us. It was a cool open thing and a cool vibe. I told those guys at the time. "I envy you guys, you've got a band." But with Tapeworm, I see that side of it.

RG: And you're doing nine inch nails at the same time?

Reznor: Some of the Tapeworm stuff may end up being nine inch nails stuff, but in my head right now I'm looking at nine inch nails as something that comes more out me directly- But it's also more of a thematic thing. That's another reason the nine inch nails record didn't start up right away. I need a blueprint before I start building the house and I don't just write a bunch of songs and say, "Okay, I have a record."

RG: What's the blueprint looking like so far?

Reznor: If this makes sense, it's more song oriented. Less dense, more about the song, and less about ten songs that are all about this thing. That may change, but the way it's going right now it's more minimal and more organic, but more electronic at the same time. But less parts, and each part is more important than on, like, Broken, where there's a million parts on top of each other. I'd like to mw have a good melody, and that doesn't necessarily mean more accessible or commercial. I'm more into studying the art form of writing a good song.---

RG: What's an example of a "good song" that you've done in that sense?

Reznor: Probably like "Hurt." But I don't mean it has to be quiet and small like that. I'm working with Rick Rubin on the new record and I've told him I need someone outside my head to oversee ideas. Working with Manson, I realized I could see where they were blind. I was outside them. On my own stuff, sometimes I don't have that sounding board I need. With Rick at this initial stage I've been like, "Give me short term goals as to what to do." One of my first things now is I'm gonna rent a house on the ocean somewhere ... by myself with my dog, a notebook, and a piano. And write songs with no electronic equipment, no synthesizers, nothing. Just try it and see what comes out.

RG: Have you ever done that before?

Reznor: No. The only song I wrote unlike I normally do was "Hurt," at a piano. I normally get some kind of a groove or a drumbeat or a bass line and fit it around that. And when I say I'm more interested in the structure of what I think is a good song, I'm not saying Gang of Four doesn't write a good song in a groove kind of way, but I'm also interested in the way Tom Petty writes good songs or XTC or White Album Beatles. Not that it has to be retro- I really hate the idea of retro and a song that you've gotta it. be able to play on acoustic guitar. F**k that. But I'd never thought about a melody, ever. I just write lyrics and music and I go sing it and randomly something comes out and it's the melody. I'm just trying to milk something out of myself. I don't want to do another record the way I've done it. I'd like to think I could stumble upon something really great.

RG: What has inspired you lately, musically?

Reznor: I look at what I listen to now, which is almost entirely ambient or jungle or hip-hop music. No rock at all. Some of the shit that has meant the most to me lately is going back and discovering old Iggy Pop records and stuff I didn't know at the time, like Rick turned me on to the White Album. I'd always hated the Beatles 'cause I hated the people that liked the Beatles when I grew up and I was tired of "Love Me Do" and all that s**t. But I'm completely bored by rock music now. I'm sick to f**kin' death of it. I got turned on to jungle and drum 'n' bass stuff and it's the only s**t I've heard lately that sounded like, "I've never heard music done like this." "The Perfect Drug" song was a direct result of listening to drum 'n' bass stuff. I didn't want to be a white guy trying to sound like drum 'n' bass, but I tried to incorporate what I liked about that into what I do. And it's jungle influenced but not imitating it. it a through a distortion pedal and f**ked-up ... and we did an EP; Goldie is doing a remix, Aphrodite, Meat Beat did one, and Orb's doing one. It's kind of interesting. The only records I've liked lately have been the Fugees, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and shit like that. Then Wagon Christ, Aphex Twin, shit like that really hit me, like, there's some f**kin' cool shit going on and it's not in the pop music arena, really. Just the idea of cross-pollinization ethnically has been real interesting to me.

RG: Anything is good these days that seems to have some new idea, or where at least somebody's trying....

Reznor: Yeah, trying something. Bush. Go away, man. Go the f**k away- And it's so disheartening to see. This is what people like. Safe crap. Even Bush write good songs for what they do, but what they're doing is so soulless and so fucking ... I couldn't sleep at night.

RG: Bush was brilliant to come along when they did from a commercial standpoint. They hit the nail on the head.

Reznor: Well, you hit the nail on the head. "From a commercial standpoint." And that breaks down to, "Why are you doing it?"

RG: Is there anything wrong with just purely trying to sell a ton of records?

Reznor: Not at all. But I think of it as art, as life, and as something that needs to make a statement. I don't have a problem - well I do have a problem - with crass commercialism bulls**t. I'm not trying to be s**tty, but there's a degree of ripoffness where if you can't see it, either you're a dumba** or you're lying to yourself and you can't sleep at night. If I sound like a snotty nosed art rock critic turd ... it's just, if it's been done, why the f**k do it? Though there's nothing wrong with borrowing. I've borrowed out the a**.

RG: It's the "nice guy" syndrome with Bush, though- Nice guys- Talk to 'am and they'll tell you their hearts are totally into it.

Reznor: Yeah, they're the guys that probably think they're changing the world, but I could tell him he's just written a Pixies song- I'd have more respect for them if they were calculated careerists that knew, "Yeah we're ripping them off. We're rich," than dummies who don't realize the obvious. Not to sound harsh, I don't hate them, and I hope that's not the big bolded sentence of your f**kin' article. But I see the band that's number one and go (makes cringing face). One of two things. First: What a sad situation. And secondly: Are people really that dumb?

RG: The top of the charts....

Reznor: Alanis Morissette. I remember exactly the first time I heard that "You Oughta Know" song. I was finishing Smells Like Children with Manson- I didn't have my studio yet, so we were about an hour and a half north. It was dawn, we'd been up all night, we'd just finished the last mix. There's a 30-mile bridge that goes across the lake right above us. Everyone's in the van, I'm in the front seat. I'm almost asleep, sun's up, seven in the morning, driving across this bridge. And that song comes on and it woke me up because I couldn't believe how bad the lyrics were. Like, "Did she just say, 'I'll go down on you in a theatre?"' (laughs) And everyone woke up and was like, "Oh my God, this is the worst f**kin' thing I've ever heard!" And in the back of my mind I'm going, "This is gonna be the biggest f**kiní single of the summer.

RG: That's so weird, because I remember exactly where I was, too. I was driving down an offramp onto the 10. And I was thinking, "Oh, man, this is gonna be the biggest song......

Reznor: What a terrible thing! (laughing) People go, "I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot." Well, uh, we remember where we were when we first heard "You Oughta Know!" (laughing) Oh! Here's a chick that got dumped! She's bitchin' at you, "I'm not ganna just leave!"

RG: And we both remember when we first heard it- That's pathetic.

Reznor: It's true though! (laughing) There's other things like that. When I heard (sings) "She Drives Me Crazy," I was thinking, "That's a big hit," but I liked it in a guilty kind of pleasure way. Same with (sings) "Groove Is In the Heart." That was the best single of whenever the fuck that came out, as a guilty pleasure. But goddamn this Alanis Morissette.

RG: If you can hear a hook on the radio and know it's a smash hit, do you ever hear that in your own head? Something so stupid and commercial that you might not, or might, use it?

Reznor: When I'm writing my own stuff?

RG: Yeah.

Reznor: Not really. What I do think about when I'm writing a song, like "Perfect Drug" - probably unlike a Skinny Puppy or a Neubauten - I am involved with reeling the listener in and keeping enough --- it's like sugar and it's something to cling on to. This song was almost a study in tolerance, where there was basically no melody at all and right when you're about to give up (snaps) - probably the poppest chorus I've ever written in my life. I think in those terms, but it's hard for me to tell when I'm writing a great song. When downward spiral was finished and I played it for the record label I said, "Look, I have to apologize, not for the content, because this is what I have to do, but I don't think there's anything radio is gonna play, there's no 'Head Like A Hole."' And they said, "'Closer.' Big hit." And I said, "You're kidding me." For me, that was the scariest song I had ever written at that point 'cause it was so obvious in a silly disco way with like the Prince harmonies like help me, and all that s**t. I thought, "Man, people are gonna think I'm a pussy if I put this out."

RG: Really?

Reznor: Yeah. But that's what I should feel. I could make a million "Happiness in Slavery" screaming, snarly --- that's what people would expect and that's what fishnet-wearing men, skirt-wearing Propaganda readers would expect, but to do something that really opens me up for attack....

RG: Do you feel you could easily get pigeonholed?

Reznor: Absolutely.

RG: RAYGUN did an interview with David Bowie recently where he said something like that about you. That he really admired what you did, but that you could easily back yourself into a corner with the "bummed out" heavy type subject matter you usually deal with. At some point might you have the need or desire to project some sort of brighter side?

Reznor: You've got a good point. That's one of the things that Rick Ruben brought up. 'You've gotta realize the danger is that you paint yourself in that corner." And I realize that. My last record was probably the most extreme I could do of that. But I've also entered a new level of maturity where, like --- I never thought I could be married before. And it's not like I'm ready to do that, but it doesn't seem as foreign to me- I'd like to have a kid someday. I never thought I'd ever .. again, I'm not set up to do that....

RG: I'd imagine this house would be pretty foreign to you a couple of years ago.

Reznor: Absolutely. So I'm also willing to acknowledge that I have changed as a result of my success, my financial status, my everything else. The fact that I can afford this house, I can pay my gas bill...I'm a f**kin' poor son of a bitch from white trash nowhere....

RG: It would be difficult to sit here and put yourself in the same mind state you put yourself into a few years ago.

Reznor: I know I'm not that same person, and I'm not trying to pretend I am, but I'm also.... (long pause) I'm probably more sad right now than I've ever been, because I have the added baggage of ... this didn't fix it, you know? Like I always thought, "Man, if I could ever be a rock star..... Some stupid f**kin' naive dream, and then you get it and ... I've been at the lowest point, and I'm not just saying this; it didn't work, man. I mean, my job Is ... I wake up and make music and work with people I respect, and David Bowie will take my call, so why .. do I want to kill myself, you know? It sucks.

RG: No matter how good things get around you, what's in your head is still what's in your head.

Reznor: See, artistically I've got so many more things I've gotta do. It's not like I feel I've done anything real. I've made a couple of decent records and that's it. I've got a million more things I wanna do, but just as a f**kin' human that wakes up every day I realize that I hate people. I don't got along, I don't like people, they don't like me, I've.... (sighs) I'm tired of living here alone with the dog. It's shifty. And on top of that I'm attacked by every f**kin' level.... I mean, off the record....

RG: (Reznor tells the story of how some people screwed him over recently, then a while later we move on to happier relationships, such as his possible collaboration with Dr. Dre.)

Reznor: Dre's a f**king genius. Rick Rubin and I met him in the valley like two weeks ago ... he's expressed interest in working with me in some capacity and, like, the same day Ice Cube sent me a fax sayt . ng, "I want to work with you," and Ice Cube, I think, is the best rapper I've ever heard ever.

RG: So are they gonna remix stuff or .. ?

Reznor: No, that's our whole thing. Not to make it a remix situation where it's like white boy remixed by so and so or me singing on a Dre track or Ice Cube singing on a nine inch nails track. The idea is to have it become the impetus to make some new kind of music. When I talked to Dre it was like, "Let's change music."

RG: So it won't be like Anthrax playing on a Public Enemy song.

Reznor: Exactly. That for me is what's inspiring about the idea of true collaboration, cross culturally, where I could say to Dre, "Don't think I can only do this one thing. I'm gonna give you something that will blow your mind. Let's try it. Maybe it sucks and we don't put it out, maybe it's great. We could change the f**kin' world."

RG: As you've broadened the thing you started out with and it has gotten more popular, do you worry about people....

Reznor: I've commercialized a respected form of music and....

RG: That wasn't what I was gonna ask, but....

Reznor: I'm very proud of what I've done. I sleep well at night knowing that, but at the same time another part of me knows that I kind of cannibalized a couple of forms of music that I was very much a fan of and synthesized 'am into something. But that's the art part of me saying that. The other part of me says, "All you did was bastardize this into this." And I don't fully believe either one of those. It's kind of both. I do think that I've done something really good.

RG: You can't worry about the "underground" people who might say you "sold out."

Reznor: I can't dictate what's cool and what's not cool. I got over that whole thing about that elitist underground: "Okay, you're unknown so you're cool, now you're known so you're not cool." F**k you- But that's where / was once, so it was difficult to divorce myself from that- I was the guy that had that Psychic TV import and paid 15 bucks for it and it was s**tty but no one else heard it so it was cool. I understand that.

February 1997 - By Mark Blackwell  - Raygun Magazine

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