Trent Reznor on 40 unreleased demos, NZ tour, Gone Girl, Grammys

  • 18/02/2014

Trent Reznor isn't slowing with age. If anything, the musician and composer is speeding up.

With the release of last year's Hesitation Marks, the 48-year-old took Nine Inch Nails back on the road.

This sees him returning to New Zealand, a country he last played in 2009. Since then, he's launched and toured with his new band How To Destroy Angels, scored multiple films, won an Oscar and just this year launched new music service, Beats Music.

Today I caught up with Reznor over the phone to discuss the New Zealand tour, The Fragile reissue, the recent Grammys performance and working with David Fincher again, this time on Gone Girl.

Hi Trent, how are you?
I'm good, how are you?

Good. Hey, thanks for taking the time, I really appreciate it.
No problem, thank you.

There's a lot of excitement about you coming down here to do three dates in New Zealand. I saw your show at the Staples Centre late last year, and obviously it was a huge production that looked amazing and sounded amazing. I'm just wondering - are you guys looking forward to letting loose, being freed up from a lot of the technical stuff, and being able to just rock out a bit more?
Yeah, that's a great observation actually. You know, the by-product of doing a show like the one you happened to see, and that was following another one that was designed for festivals, was they become very kind of rigid, and you kind of have to perform in a certain order and a certain - there's a plot that has to be followed. The end result is after you do that for several months, you know - I'm not saying it's not great to be on stage - but you can start to battle boredom. It just starts to get into a routine.

We knew that we'd be ready for a change at the end of that. So what we've got for the next few months is the band has changed from an eight-piece lineup to a four-piece lineup, and that frees us up to explore a lot more of the aggressive and electronic music that we haven't played for a while. And it feels fresh again. We just spent a couple of weeks rehearsing and you know, there's a level of being unsure that's actually exciting.

That is exciting.
We're very present and it's much more interactive. It's easy - more nimble, because there's less people to try and lead down the path. So 'yes' is the answer. We're excited to start this new phase, really.

Obviously the set with Hesitation Marks was pretty heavy over in LA, and all those songs sound great live, are there any other albums or tracks you are looking forward to? You mentioned getting stuck into some other stuff. Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to delving into?
Well the band I put together that we just had with Pino [Palladino] and our background singers and whatnot...

...Those background singers were amazing by the way, beautiful.
Well, thank you. It was really an honour to work with them. It was fun having a new weapon in the arsenal that I hadn't had access to before. That did naturally lend itself for that band to be new-album focused, and also exploring the new funk, or deeper groove elements of older material.

But now we're excited about being able to get into more Fragile and Year Zero stuff, more electronic, deconstructing some things that felt a little inappropriate for that band. It also allows us to get, as I mentioned, some of the more aggressive material that didn't need eight people on stage to execute. There was a burden that came with that many people, which was, 'OK, what are you going to do in this song? Ah, well...' The new material is pretty easy to fit new people into, having all that extra horsepower. But to answer your question, yeah, there's a lot of Year Zero material we hadn't been able to play, and again a deconstruction of some of the older material with a different set of criteria. It's a lot more electronic / aggressive this time.

Well that Year Zero stuff works well live. 'In this Twilight', it was a pleasure to hear that stuff [in LA during the Tension tour]. It just translates so well. Something else I was curious about - I've been doing some stories around The Raid 2; I know you lent some music to that particular film, and obviously you're back with Fincher again for Gone Girl. Is that stuff floating around in your head now, or are you just going to do this tour, and then get your head into a different space for when that film comes around?
Well, uh, the timing isn't ideal this time.

Yes, you're f**king busy!
Well I booked this tour when David [Fincher] was going to do a different film, he was going to do 20 Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, which would start fall of 2014. So that worked out perfectly. Then things changed, and Gone Girl came up, and it happened to land right in the middle of the touring cycle that I'd already committed to. So Atticus [Ross] and I have been working - we essentially had the month of January off, so we spent that whole month together working on Gone Girl stuff, which was a shift - you know it always takes me a bit to shift from 'playing live mode' to the kind of quiet, different part of your brain that's used sitting in a quiet studio, trying to think more, ah, compositionally.

Plus with this one, always the first part of any work we do on a film isn't so much traditional composing as it is trying to decide what instruments to use, what kind of sonic power to dive into. Is it more organic? Is it more electronic? Is it clean and crisp, is it decayed and rotting? Is it happy or sad, or what degree of tension is it? How prominent a role is the music going to play in the film?

So a lot of that time was spent trying to answer those questions. We've written a pretty good sized first batch of stuff that we've turned over that they're excited about. But we're very early in the proceedings. You know, just as my mind was getting into that and excited... time to go on tour.

Yeah, right. It must be a crazy shift, mentally and everything - geographically, the whole thing.
Yeah, it's a little disruptive, but I'm trying to spin it as a positive, where I think inspiration can come from different places and being thrown into different situations. And now it's just up to the discipline of me to take that extra hour or two that I might have off, and putting it into setting up a rig in a hotel room and working on an idea. We'll see how it goes; it might end up with great results or it might be a failed experiment, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with David [Fincher] again, so.

You probably can't even say, but is it mellow stuff you're making for that, is it noisy?
So far it's a little bit of both. You know the film - I've seen bits of it - bits of what's been filmed, um - and it's - it won't disappoint. It's David, who brings an intensity to the material, and a conviction and integrity that is always exciting to work with, so it's kind of going in two directions right now, at the same time, both, in terms of the music, and I think it's going to be great, we'll see how it goes.

I'm curious, do you ever find that you're just too busy? I mean obviously - you do things in sections: You take time to do the How To Destroy Angels stuff, then you're touring, then you're writing, then this album came out, you're doing all sorts of TV show performances, you've got a family! Do you ever wake up and just go, "God, I wish I had a day off!"
Yeah, I mean lately it's felt like too much. It's felt like I've bitten off a bit more than I can chew, and I think it's a combination of really wanting to be as present as I can for my family, and at the same time - the other thing you didn't mention which has consumed a lot of time - I've been the chief architect of Beats Music which has launched in the States here, which has been two years of effort.

Of course, you did all the user interface and everything for that right?
I actually designed how it is, and oversaw the user interface, and oversaw the hirings and made sure that the tone of it is right, and the spirit of it is right. And an enormous amount of effort went into that, in an interesting way. It's something that feels outside of what I would have done in my normal Nine Inch Nails life, and composer life. And it's been creative in different ways.

It's been exciting to take an idea and then see it through to execution, and the pain of actually building it and finding the right team and managing people and governing it, and keeping the feel and tone of it right, and then launching it out into the world. And realising that, okay, this is step one of a thousand! This is an evolving thing.

But it's been very well received here in the States, and I think what we've come up with is something that needs to be out there, it's not just a 'me too!' music streaming service or marketing plan, it feels different. It's from people who love music and want to turn you on to great music, and it thinks about the concept of streaming in a different way. Rather than just about access, it's about the quality of what you're getting, and a trusted voice, and blah blah blah. But anyway, the launch happened to land right in the midst of this tour, and the album cycle, and when I'm starting a film...

Oh god!
... and collectively it's been a lot of stuff happening at the same time.

Well it's great, from the perspective of someone who likes your work, there's nothing better. But make sure you get a few days off. I hope at least in New Zealand you get a day off to relax.
I can't wait to go on tour so I can relax!

I was over in Los Angeles covering the Grammys, because one of our musicians, Lorde, was over there up for some awards. And I saw you had the launch party - very hip-hop orientated - for Beats. And that looked like an amazing place to be.
Oh the party, oh yeah that was amazing.

I just saw vicariously on Twitter that was going on, and thought of any of the parties to be at, that would have been a good one!
It actually was pretty fantastic, you know I wish I had more to do with it, I sat with my mouth open, one [performer] after another... fantastic.

Well it probably was great that you could just sit back and relax, you'd worked on it for a couple of years, so it was probably nice to just have some time out and just enjoy something to do with it. Now, my Grammys night was incredibly stressful, I was working the whole thing...
Really? Me too!

Yeah, you too, man!

That ended in an insane way for you guys. Do you feel any differently about that - would you ever go back to this ceremony? I mean I was in the middle of it working and didn't enjoy myself very much... how was it for you on reflection?
No, it was an utter waste of time. And I'll speak for a second on this. When this came up as an option, 'Hey, the Grammys would like you to play,' you know, quite frankly it was flattering. I'm not a fan of the Grammys, as I've vocally expressed in the past, I don't think I've ever sat through an entire broadcast. I know I've never attended one.

But the way my head works is, to try to approach it from, 'Okay, if we did do it, what could be the upside?' And Josh [Homme, Queens of The Stone Age] and I spent a long time talking about the pros and cons. You know, 'Do we want to be on a shit show on TV? No, not really. Do we want to be affiliated with the Grammys? No, not really. Would we like to reach a large audience and actually do something with integrity on our terms? Well, yeah. Let's roll the dice and go into it with the best intentions, with a performance we think is worthy and might - you know - stand out from the crowd. Or it might not!'

But what we weren't expecting was that level of insult [laughter]. In fact we walked off stage and I thought, 'Hey, that actually went pretty well', and I look at my collaborator Rob Sheridan, who I run into, and he's like, 'Oh my god man, you won't believe what they just did,' and... 'What?' 'They cut this thing off in the middle and put a Delta commercial on.' 'What?' We had no idea.

You know, and it was just... I can look now and say I should have expected something like that, you know? But, more than anything it was just insulting. I invite my friend Lindsey Buckingham to come up on stage and it's just 'You know what, you've invited me into this place, f**k you. F**k you guys,' you know? So, lesson learned. And the other thing is if we hadn't have done it, I'd be thinking, 'Well, what would have happened it we would have done it?' You know. So I don't regret that we did it, but would I ever - in any situation - ever consider possibly patronising that event in any form? Absolutely not.

Well - what aired and stuff - looked and sounded great - but, yeah...
It was an amazing minute and a half, wasn't it?

Oh god. Look, thanks for talking on that. After this tour - I am wondering what other projects you are waiting to get your teeth sunk into. I know there was talk of a The Fragile re-issue at some point - is that still on the cards?
Yeah, we've done a lot of the work for that. Really what it's come down to is with all the other stuff going on, the Fragile thing in particular, I want to make sure I get it right. You know, we've mixed everything in surround, it sounds amazing, we have a great package ready to go. I just stumbled across 40-or-so demos that are from that era that didn't turn into songs, that range from sound effects to full-fledge pieces of music, and I kind of feel like - something should happen with that.

And I think it has something to do with that package, and I just need the bandwidth to kind of calmly think about it, and decide how much effort I want to devote into that and what to do with it. I have a lot of ideas that could eat up immense amounts of time and I'm trying to weigh out - just think it through. I don't want to pull the trigger on something and go, 'Man, I should have done it in this way.' And I just haven't had a chance to be in a calm place where I can think it through completely and make that decision.

Fair call. That's exciting. Just finally Trent, there's a New Zealand guy, Simon Maxwell, he directed I believe the 'Hurt' video, he's coming along to one of the shows in New Zealand...
Oh great, great, great! It will be good to see him.

Do you remember him or the experience of that pretty iconic video, whose visuals you're still using?
I do remember him and I remember fondly, I just remember the experience with warm colour around it. I watch the videos and I don't always feel that way, it's a very rare occasion. So it must have gone well.

Well look, I appreciate your time, I hope the flight to New Zealand is good. There's a great New Zealand filmed called Boy, if that's on the flight, I'd recommend it to you.
Alright, I'll look for it. Thank you.


Nine Inch Nails tour dates with Queens of the Stone Age in New Zealand are as follows:

  • Wednesday, March 19 - Vector Arena, Auckland
  • Thursday, March 20 - TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
  • Friday, March 22 - CBS Canterbury Arena, Christchurch

I have a double pass to each of Nine Inch Nails' New Zealand shows. To be in to win, please leave a comment below with which of the three cities you'd like to see them in, your Twitter handle and why you should win.

Please only enter if you live in New Zealand! I'll pick the best answer for each city.

I'll be going to all three shows and hope to see you there.

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