Why is Nine Inch
Nails’ mainman Trent Reznor wearing a blonde wig? Has he finally ditched his
miserable man of pop persona? Sharon O’Connell finds out when she meets the Monroe of Industrial Noise.
Blonde ambition: Lilli Wilde.
Trent Reznor has never been entirely comfortable
and probably never will be. He has spent so long expressing that discomfort
through Nine Inch Nails that he admits his life has grown lopsided, that he now
finds it hard to negotiate the minefield of social intercourse across which
most of us tramp so easily, and that the communication skills he once did have,
have may be rusted up to such a degree that he can never use them again.
But that‘s what happen when you lock yourself in
a studio 18 hours a day to produce your meisterwerk,
when your self-expression is so personal that only isolation properly feeds it,
yet suddenly you find yourself sharing it with millions of total strangers. And
that‘s what happens when the most extreme
artistic statement you‘ve ever made enters die American charts at Number Two. Everyone
wants a piece of your ass.
“It’s hard for me to be talking to you right now,“
Reznor confesses, sitting cross-legged on the couch of his hotel room with his
heavy boots tucked under, picking nervously at the piping an the cushions. “I
still haven‘t normalled out yet. It‘s hard to be on tour a again and have people
suddenly be around me, because literally for two years it was me and an
engineer and maybe a producer in a room und that was it. That leads me to have
clarity of thought, but it also starts to
socially retard you in the sense that when you‘re around someone, know you‘re acting
kinda stupid, but you don‘t know how to relate to anyone any more.
“I was never Mr Socialite “he goes on, “but
when you add to that the fact that now you‘re not dealing with people as a regular
person any more and you enter into a relationship with a different status, that makes me uncomfortable.“
Despite the phenomenal success of NIN, Reznor
is at least still a long way from being recognised every time he visits a
supermarket. Fame hasn‘t yet got him by the balls.
“That would freak me out,‘ he admits, “if it
ever got to that point, which I don‘t expect it will, but who knows? It‘s
ultimately flattering that someone cares enough, and I have been a music fan so
I know what it‘s like to really respect someone and look up to them, and it feel responsibility in that sense. When
I do meet people try to be cool to them. You know, nothing‘s shiftier than meeting
your idol and realising that he’s an asshole. It‘s happened to me, I‘m sure it‘s
happened to you, I‘m sure it‘s happened to people that did meet me, sometimes. I
do miss interaction, though. Often you meet someone and you think, this
person‘s kinda cool, but they’re just not ready to talk to you as a person yet.“
How does he deal with the kind of
responsibility that comes from people telling him his music is the only thing
that keeps them alive?
“Well, how do
you deal with that?“ he asks, genuinely perturbe by the idea. “If you respond
and make yourself available, you’re gonna let them down at some point That‘s difficult.
I went through a spree at one time where everyday there would be some new, heavy,
sad situation where you wished you could do something, but I’m not a f***ing
psychiatrist, you know. I don‘t even have my own shit together… ‘ he trails off.
Reznor never met Kurt Cobain and doesn‘t pretend
to know the reasons behind his suicide, but he does understand how the
intolerable pressures of such a public life could tip the balance of anyone‘s
“I can see that very clearly,” he nods. “One of
the most alienating things in the world is writing something that is very intimate
and then, all of a sudden, you‘re in live situation and a million people are yelling
it back at you. That‘s more lonely than you could ever believe. In one way you‘ve
connected with them, but they‘re not giving you anything back.“
The sweet irony of the NIN story is the fact
the more brutally uncompromising each successive record has been, the more
successful they have become. It‘s like Reznor has conducted his whole career in
reverse beginning with the superheavy but accessible pop of “Pretty Hate
Machine” in 1991 and moving onto this year’s “The Downward Spiral.
Just when you thought he was surely more likely
to top himself than top the outpouring of rage and alienation that was 1 992‘s
“Broken‘ mini-album (and its twin, Fixed“), Reznor released “The Downward Spiral“,
a record that seems ruthlessly determined to snuff out even the faintest light
of hope in the tunnel of existence and makes Ministry sound like Madonna. It
has sold shitloads.
Reznor’s over all message seems cruelly hopeless:
you can rely of nothing. Even Rollins
provides a get-out-clause – your faith in others let you down, he reckons, but
if you truly believe in yourself, then you’ll be okay.
fairly unpopular theme in today‘s music, I see that,” he jokes. “But what happens
when you don‘t have faith in yourself?
What happens if you aren‘t a muscle bound, tattooed freak who can kick people‘s
ass? What happens when you have to acknowledge that part of you is weak? Do you
just feel shitty about it, or do you beat that part up, or pretend that part doesn‘t
exist? Or do you try to come to terms with, that? Looking back at the past and
the stuff I‘ve done, at the time that’s where I was at in my head.”
“I hope I don‘t get any bleaker than that one,“
says Reznor of “The Downward Spiral.“
“I out-bleaked myself there!“ he laughs gently. “But I went into that with an
agenda because I was going through that at the time, but I didn‘t know where it
would go or how it would end until I was actually doing it.
“I was at a point where everything was kinda
going down the toilet, in the sense of all my illusions being shattered about what
I wanted to do with my life,” he explains. “It‘s seeing that this is not just about
making music, It‘s also about being a sort of media figure; it‘s about tabloid journalism;
it‘s about the record business itself, which is one of the worst things I‘ve ever experienced—the level of f***ing
deceit and corruption - and how oppressive it is and how stifling to
“I wanted to make o record about just throwing
everything away,“ he continues. “Even sonically I tried to do that and destroy things
I‘d worked on before. As the record goes on, the structure of the songs gets worse
and less predictable. At one point I realised every song I‘d ever written was a
pop song and I wanted to destroy that, destroy everything, destroy my career
and destroy myself in the process, maybe. But I think—and I‘m not trying to cover
my ass here—the fact of doing that is a positive one, and although the act of
self-examination is a painful one, there‘s a reason to do that, versus just
letting things go.
“So,“ Reznor smiles, suddenly getting up, “is
it all just throw your hands up in the air and shoot yourself? No, it‘s almost do it but...” He stops. Reznor
thinks the reasons why not are obvious. Absolutely.