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Reznor's Edge

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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.

It seems to make sense to respond to that directly.

I've been thinking about that. The tricky thing for me as an artist is to make sure that the message gets across in the best way. With Teeth really is about different degrees of finding out who you are in a new world, which is a big analogy about getting sober. Nobody wants to hear someone talk about getting sober, nobody wants to hear the "sober guy" record. But in my life, there's been nothing that's been more important or life-changing to me. I don't think With Teeth sounds like the 12-step album, but that was a giant inspiration behind the upheaval in my own life. When something is as outrageous as the behavior of Bush, I can't pretend it doesn't offend me, and I'm sad to see the direction our country has taken, and I'm greatly opposed to his agenda. Finding the right way to articulate that that doesn't become chest-pounding or getting on a soapbox — that's the key to having it be effective. I don't claim to have the finesse the Clash had or even Zack from Rage Against the Machine. That's not really how my brain works. If I find the right way to get the message across — the most eloquent, powerful way — I'll do that. That's something I'm thinking about working on.

You know, you were instrumental in putting Fort Lauderdale on the rock 'n' roll map.

How on Earth did I do that?

Two words: Marilyn Manson. Any memories of those times and this place?

Most of them are, you know, tainted by Manson. Not in a bad way, in that that was his backyard and his scene, and I remember all the good times going out and being around those guys, and it seemed like a fertile scene and one filled with people that loved music but kind of foreign to me, its set of parameters. But interesting. It's cool to look back and think, "Wow, the landscape has changed, and there's cause and effect."

We just played Cleveland, which is where I was living when we got signed, and you look back and think, man, it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was looking at that same bridge wondering what the other side of a record contract would look like. But you can't get there, man. You play shitty bars and get caught in that rut and break out, then seeing the same thing happen with Manson [whom Reznor signed to his Nothing Records label in 1993] and having a hand in it from a different side. And then seeing what a monster you've created in the process [laughs].

You were responsible for shepherding industrial music into the mainstream. How do you feel about that influence? There's been a lot of good stuff and a lot of shit.

Yeah, I mean, I never sat down and said, here's the game plan: My mission is to take industrial music and make it something that works its way into Hot Topic. It came down to what I was inspired by and how I felt like I was part of the scene, certainly as a fan of the Wax Trax stuff and Ministry and Skinny Puppy and all the classics. And that was the music that I related to on a number of levels — I liked the sound of it, I like the way it was made, I liked the message, which seemed fresh at the time. I hadn't heard anything like that. It was as powerful as metal without all the silly metal stuff I understood or got into. But equally silly in its own way, for sure, especially looking back now. And when I started making music, I thought I was making music kind of in that genre because I loved it, but it started to come out like pop songs, with choruses and hooks and a lyrical element that I don't think had been in that type of music before. It wasn't any kind of master plan, but it just worked out in a way that... When you start to create, you draw from your influences and synthesize them into something else. It just worked out that the media kind of labeled us as industrial, and that pissed off a lot of the purists, quote-unquote industrial people, and I've always said, hey, man, point the finger at them; I'm not wearing a T-shirt that says Call Me Industrial. But at the same time, there's been a lot of effect from that cause that went down. You see, Skinny Puppy died because they got a big record contract and then imploded, and they got offered that contract because, when we got big, record labels, in their infinite wisdom, [said], OK, who sounds like these guys? Get Skinny Puppy, get Ministry, get Front 242. And a lot of those guys are used to having a budget of $50,000 to do a record; now they have several million and buy a lot of drugs and that's the end.

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Jonathan Zwickel

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