INTERVIEW: Trent Reznor On NIN Tour
, March 5th, 2014 05:24
"I feel some responsibility to the audience, I want them to leave feeling that they’ve had some kind of experience that was satisfying. But at the same time, as the guy onstage, I feel some responsibility to making myself feel like there’s no safety net." Trent Reznor talks to John Doran. Photo by Kate Beard.
This May sees Nine Inch Nails setting out on their first European tour in six years, taking in large venues in England, Scotland and Wales along the way.
Speaking in an exclusive online interview with The Quietus, Trent Reznor has promised the band will be plundering their whole back catalogue as well as playing tracks from their recent Hesitation Marks album during the visit.
Reznor also explained his anger and frustration at the way his performance - alongside Josh Homme, Lindsey Buckingham and Dave Grohl - was cut short to show a series of ads for airlines and CBS shows.
It’s six years since your last full UK tour and five years since you played your UK farewell shows. At that time were you expecting never to be playing Europe again at that scale?
Trent Reznor: At the time I really felt that I had done what I could do in the format of Nine Inch Nails as a rock band - and done it well. I wanted to get to that list of things that I always said I was going to do but had never gotten round to. It was a list of things I was never going to tackle while I was ‘doing my job’ or listening to a manager who was telling me what I needed to do. I just felt like I had to have the courage to shut the band down while it still felt vital. And I thought, ‘That’s it.’ I thought, ‘If I return to the stage it won’t be as Nine Inch Nails.’
But then if you jump ahead a few years I was working with How To Destroy Angels and had stumbled into doing film work which, regardless of any accolades, was really stimulating, engaging and educational experience; collaborating at that level with other smart people was very stimulating. So after that I started thinking about writing songs with me at the centre again: with me on the stage. There was no pressure or expectations but a couple of experiments really revitalised my excitement for making music that would fit under the umbrella of Nine Inch Nails. Inevitably that led to talk of a full album and that led to someone saying, ‘Would you ever consider touring?’ And the music felt exciting to me, so I said, ‘Yeah, I would like to tour.’ Even though that completely contradicted what I’d said a few years earlier… And here we are.
So bearing in mind the fact you’re coming back after a break, are you going to construct the set lists mainly from Hesitation Marks or are you going to plunder your entire back catalogue?
TR: The thing I always run into is that, given the length of tour we have to undertake for it to make economic sense, it ends up being a lot longer than if I were just ensuring things were artistically right. The problem emerges where I have a difficult time not getting bored. It gets compounded by the fact we build a pretty elaborate production and as a consequence of that the set list becomes pretty rigid because we’re almost directing a movie on stage. There are ebbs and flows and plotlines to it. So just coming out of the Tension tour in 2013, it feels like, ‘OK, we’ve checked that box.’ That tour was very focused, we had an eight piece band, I got to work with some heroes of mine - Pino Palladino [Welsh fretless bass wizard, Ed] was in the band. We were able to explore the new material in depth and produce some older material to fit that ensemble of people. At the end of that period I was like, ‘OK, we’ve done that. I’m sick of that.’ We whittled the band down to a four piece and so for the next few months of touring… I don’t know if ‘loose’ is the right word… but it’s going to be more malleable. The band is more nimble. The focus of the band is a lot more deconstructed. So we’re focussing on more of the more electronic material. We’re not going to go as deep into the new album. We’re touching on it but not going so far into it which is interesting for us. There’s always a balance. I feel some responsibility to the audience, I want them to leave feeling that they’ve had some kind of experience that was satisfying. But at the same time, as the guy onstage, I feel some responsibility to making myself feel like there’s no safety net.
Talking of which, I’ve been to see Nine Inch Nails more times than I can remember and 99 times out of 100 it’s always a very taut, energetic show. Now I know you’re a fit guy and clean living and the rest of it but is there a sense in which you slump inwardly when you see these dates and think, ‘I’m really going to be pushing myself physically to the extreme for the next few months to come.’
TR: [laughs] Yeah, it’s not necessarily by design but when we play those songs I start sweating and it becomes this visceral, cathartic thing. The last tour we just did in the States here, it felt quite a bit different to me. I was surprised when I saw the feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive because it felt to me like we’d broken that mold a bit. Extended sections of the show are now downtempo and atmospheric instead of just being about punching people in the face continuously. And it felt interesting. And I was proud to be able to get away with that. It may be a compromise but I’ve always felt that if you’re coming out to see the band - if you’ve invested in the price of a ticket - I do feel some responsibility to the people in the audience. I want them to leave there feeling satisfied. So I think we got away with a variation on the formula in 2013 in North America. This tour I suspect will be a bit more aggressive, stripped of the trimmings - there are no backing singers on stage - it’s not about proving that point, it’s about inhabiting these songs until something happens. And yes, it’s exhausting and right now I’m realising that I’ve sat stationary for the last two months and I’m about to pay the price for that.
Did you learn anything else on the Tension tour of North America - things that you’re going to apply on this European tour?
TR: What we do on the European tour will be a reaction to what we did in America. That tour having an elaborate amount of production. I felt a great amount of pride as we were about to go onstage every night thinking, ‘If everything works and nobody kicks the plug out of the wall...’ A lot of thought and preparation went into it and it framed the music in an interesting way. It was a great way to represent the music and where we were at that point but again you start to get tired of that as a performer and musician. It feels like you’re trapped into this construct you’ve made and it lacks in spontaneity. You start to feel, ‘Right, I know exactly where I’m going to be in 82 minutes’ time from now.’ My reaction coming out of that is to do the exact opposite and feel much more alive again and to stay in the moment. As I’ve gotten older I have a tougher time trying to stay in the moment and to not rest on my laurels and to keep it challenging for myself.
Were you given any kind official apology or explanation over what happened with the Grammys?
TR: No. I’ve only really spent any considerable time thinking about what happened in the last 24 hours. I was pissed off when it happened and then I made a decision to not speak about it or even think about it ever again because I was so fucking irritated by what happened. However… We were offered that slot and it appeals to the ego when someone says to you, ‘Do you not only want to perform at the Grammys but do you want to close the show? You can do whatever you want.’ My gut reaction was, ‘No, I don’t want to.’ I was tired at the time and I don’t even like the Grammys. I’ve never watched the whole show in my life, so why would I want to affiliate myself with that? Then Josh Homme and I started a dialogue about it. Josh and I are friends and that process brought us even closer because we could have an in depth debate about the pros and cons and we both ended up at the same place which was saying, ‘It would be much easier not to do it than to take it on.’ So we ended up saying, ‘If we were to take it on… what if we could do something with integrity?’ It’s a seductive concept, the idea of doing something that doesn’t suck in front of an audience that large. No robots, no explosion, no gymnasts - just an integrity filled performance. So I started thinking, ‘I’d love to invite Lindsey Buckingham out - he played on the album and it would be a cool platform to integrate him into. Josh agreed. Dave [Grohl] agreed to play with us. And I started thinking, ‘This could be pretty good!’ So we spent a month rehearsing and figuring it out. We sat through the day of being at the Grammys and immersed in that world of shit. We had to stay ‘til the end because that’s when we were playing and afterwards I remember walking off stage thinking, ‘I think that went pretty well.’ [laughs] And I saw my friend at the side of the stage and he was like, ‘Oh my God man. You’re not going to believe what happened… They ran a fucking Delta ad in the middle of your performance.’ And I have to say I didn’t expect that one. That was the one thing I hadn’t expected to happen. In hindsight it’s easy to say that I should have trusted my gut instinct but the truth of the matter is that if we hadn’t done it, I would be wondering now… ‘What if...’ It’s the way I’m wired. If I could do it again, I’d do it again but I will never play the Grammys again, if you see what I mean. I’ll never work with the Grammys again but our intentions were good. Hey, one day we’ll look back and laugh. [dry laugh]
UK TOUR MAY 2014
Sun 18 Birmingham LG Arena
Tue 20 Glasgow Hydro Arena
Wed 21 Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
Fri 23 London The O2
Sat 24 Nottingham Capital FM Arena
Sun 25 Manchester Phones 4u Arena