Reznor's Edge

Nine Inch Nails returns, angry as ever, and With Teeth

Trent Reznor is not unhappy. He's not tortured, distraught, deluded, strung-out, miserable, or bitter. The Nine Inch Nailsauteur is, however, angry. The bile that seethes through With Teeth, his first record in six years, which debuted at number one in May, is the emotional link to his first three, renowned for the bleakness of their man/machine collision. Teeth is also Reznor's first output after a drawn-out dance with heroin; its vicious focus reveals that sobriety has brought a newfound sense of purpose. Industrial music's prime instigator spoke to New Times on a recent morning before heading to his next tour stop in Dallas (Reznor and Nine Inch Nails appear October 24 at the BankAtlantic Center):

New Times:Man, it's pretty early for you guys to be up and out.

Trent Reznor:It's not by choice, but duty calls. Old guys get up early in the morning.

Kind of speaks to this newfound sense of healthy balance you've established. Do you miss the self-destruction, the fucked-up-ness?

You know, I can look back fondly at a lot of that stuff, and I think we felt like we took it to the extreme. I did, at least. I'm sober now, and I can acknowledge that I had a lot of good times. And I had a lot of terrible times. For me personally, I know I can't continue to behave that way. And life doesn't suck now; there's been a lot of things in return for not being that way that I wouldn't trade. It's not like I mope around now missing the way I used to be, because I really feel that's not who I am now anyway, but I can look back now and say that those were good times, certainly.

An interesting thing happened when I started working on With Teeth— that was the beginning of last year. I found that, wow, I've got a lot of ideas and I didn't need to be high or drunk to have ideas, and I didn't destroy my brain in the process of getting high those years, and I can think again and kind of revitalize.

And also, it's just been me fighting myself all this time, because I've been afraid. I'm afraid I suck or I can't write songs anymore or I don't have anything to say or was just lucky that I got this far, [that] I fooled people. I listened too much to that, and I wasn't rational enough to put it in its place, to know what that voice is, what its agenda is. And I just feel free of that. I'm waking up feeling like I don't have to lie to everybody, as an addict, and also waking up like I can sit down and write, and, hey, it might suck. So what? The next one might not suck, and it's not going to be the end of my life if it does.

That must feel really encouraging.

It feels unbelievably good. And when that time does come up that I think, fuck, it would be fun to be out burning someone's house down or whatever, what I've gained in clarity and self-respect and ability so much outweighs that. Life is a series of changes, and I feel glad that I am where I am right now.

I've always seen your music as beyond politics, speaking directly to the root of human behavior. Considering your stance on the Bush administration, have you considered doing something overtly political?

That's an interesting take on it, because my view has been like, the world is outside and I'd like to get to it, but I'm too busy stuck in my own head because I can't get my own shit together. On With Teeth, for the first time with "The Hand that Feeds," which was to me a political song, or certainly motivated by politics, it felt like what I've learned with my own experience in the last several years is that I need help and I need other people, as much as I thought I didn't. And there is strength in a community of people. I think we're all connected. There's a greater power in unity and feeling a part of things, and the whole "giving is better than receiving" thing finally made sense to me. That always seemed like a stupid fucking saying: "What do you mean, 'Giving is better than receiving?'" But I get that now, and now it feels more important to me to be thinking in terms of the greater good. It's just two different ways to look at it, what you said and what I just said. I always used to think a different way. I'm not saying one way is right or wrong; it's just perspective.

How have you reacted to Hurricane Katrina? I know you have a studio and a home in New Orleans.

I haven't been back there yet because of the schedule. [The studio] got water damaged and filled with mold, and all the carpet got ripped out. It got out fairly unscathed, compared to a lot of my friends. But to be honest with you, I haven't really... The first day, when the storm missed it, I was concerned about it and wondering how the studio fared, and I had just sold my house a few months ago. But after seeing what happened to that city, it just doesn't mean that much to me. It's just stuff and just a building and gear, and it's replaceable, and it really doesn't matter. But seeing the scale of tragedy and the repercussions that that had, not only what God or nature's hand had to do with but more the administration's murder of the city... [pause] It's just unbelievable, my feelings of grief the city that I love and really call home still. I lived there for about 14 years. I live in L.A. now, but I have some stuff in L.A.; I don't feel like I belong there yet. To see that place get wiped out and, "You're poor, you're black — well, so what?" That kind of mindset, whatever feelings of mourning or loss quickly get replaced with outrage.

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