Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Part II: Trent Reznor Interview-NY Times Art & Leisure Weekend

The crowd's applause slowed and finally halted. Jon Pareles sighed and said "WOW", clearly impressed with the audience's reception. What followed for the next hour and change was an insightful telling of Trent Reznor's thought process on his most recent creative venture, The Social Network, and his history with Nine Inch Nails. Jon Pareles was an excellent interviewer in the sense that he simply pushed Trent on the minute he seemed to slacken in pace. Jon managed to say only a few words the entire time and yet somehow managed to get this elusive man to go on and on about his work.

I picked up on a lot of interesting physical quirks and gestures of Trent's that I wouldn't have had the chance to appreciate had I not been watching this interview. It was fun to observe the basic human nature of someone so admired. It was a metaphorical lowering of the pedestal for me, and it yielded inspiring results. For one, one of Trent's first comment was "I think I'm more nervous doing this than I have been for many other things..." which, for me showed a little more humility and shyness than I would've expected from someone who penned a line like "I wanna fuck you like an animal". Paired with this unexpected shyness was a man who fidgeted a lot when he speaks. Throughout the entire interview I saw Trent crossing and uncrossing his legs, rubbing his palms together in alternating patterns, adjusting his suit jacket- really just doing anything he could possibly do to stay busy while he talked. If you know me, then you already know I like a man who gesticulates when he talks. For me, it's an indicator of creativity and the hallmark signs of a workaholic- two things I respect significantly.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's critical acclaim for the score to the Social Network soundtrack is probably the main reason why the New York Times chose him to be interviewed for their special 10 year Arts & Leisure celebration this year. I liked the movie and enjoyed the score a lot so I was obviously curious to hear Trent's candid take on the project. There were some more in depth points of interest that my ears particularly perked up to that evening and although I've heard Trent say in some other capacity in other forums, it seemed to resonate more for me. I always loved Trent's piano work, and it's exceptionally effective on the Social Network soundtrack. During the interview, he touched on the fact that the piano was intended to become a sort of aural centerpiece to focus on that can take on many qualities, that it can be "frail, bold, & majestic". I found it fascinating that Trent and Atticus used the piano as a means to communicate the personality traits of the film- and not just necessarily Zuckerberg's in particular, but more of the overall mood of the scenery. I was especially intrigued when he would further the emotional effects of the piano by putting that piano "into a sea of electronics or frayed on the edges soundscapes that might be organic but... everything feels a little decayed" and it's effective. The Social Network would've been at best a sarcastic sort of dry comedic film without this score bringing out its baser elements.

It wasn't all dark drama though, in fact there was some surprising little funny bits about Trent's work on this soundtrack that I hadn't expected. One was his referral to the iconic score to John Carpenter's Halloween and that he frankly, had ripped it off a bit. I was also really amused to hear that even Trent, like other artists who try to communicate with their clientele have the same kind of issues. Mainly not getting CONCISE direction. As soon as Trent referred to David Fincher saying "The piano should have a clear ringing... vibrant" to which Trent replied, "Do you mean reverb?" which is of course followed with the infamous inarticulate response "No... it just needs to be, uhhh..." I couldn't stop laughing from my very personal understanding. I've had conversations like this that can go on forever and ever. Luckily somehow it didn't take that much time. In a few short weeks the music was made and the nominations are in. I'm glad that I have followed Trent Reznor's career this closely, because we (his fans) know how much talent and effort he has put forth, and we know just how deserving he is of any accolades he receives.

As Trent's fans, we are also very eager for any new material he and his collaborators might release. So when Trent announced he was teaming up with David Fincher and Atticus Ross again to do the score The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo we were more than excited. However that excitement was immediately extinguished when Trent announced the loss of his mother Nancy, last week. The audible gasp from the audience was lost in the live stream, but the sympathy stayed with the crowd for most of the interview.  My deepest condolences go out to the Reznor family.

There were moments of jovial humor, there was sarcastic banter, there were brief revelations and interludes looking back on the prolific career of Trent, as well as a glance at the direction he's heading in.  He mentioned the new How to Destroy Angels album and explained that it was going to be more rhythm  and beat oriented and that it wasn't going to sound like the EP they had released. I am hopeful. As you know, I love Trent's work overall... but it can be derivative and runs the risk of auditory and lyrical sameness. Trent even describes the bubble of producing all his work in the same room, with the same people and the same equipment, and that its easy for things to come out sounding alike. This is why he is challenging himself with these new projects. I say good for him and good for all of us!

It was in this vein that Trent had mentioned his work on Ghosts. After hearing him talk about it, I gained even more respect and interest in it than I already had. The idea that these songs were "soundtracks to films that didn't exist" and that he was coming from an "impressionistic place" and "dressing the visualized set with sound" was such an engaging idea to me that it made me want to create more art. I especially felt inspired when he stated that he would just sit at the piano or whatever instrument struck him and visualize something like "a pier in a swamp with rusty nails coming out of the cypress wood..." and asking himself what kind of music does that sound like? The fact that a 36 track instrumental album could be born without any intention other than filling a space with sound really appeals to me. It's music... for the sake of music.

There was a lot of topic jumping, tangents, and just good conversation that evening. There was this lilting, coy sort of dance happening for me in this interview that clearly, I very much enjoyed. Every album was piece of work was discussed or at the very least mentioned, with the exception of With Teeth or what I've come to refer to the album as the bastard child that everyone forgets to get a birthday gift for... it's a good album with a few duds, but other rather exceptional songs. I'm not sure why no one remembers it, really. Again, I digress.

Trent's look back at his first effort, Pretty Hate Machine was, surprisingly, where I felt the strongest emotional tie. It all began for me when Jon Pareles reflected on Trent's work and said, "Touching your pain, touching people's pain... you were going deep."

Trent responded, "It wasn't until I dared to match up some journal entries with music that I realized it actually had power. I couldn't let anyone hear it... it's not a character, it feels too... close to me. There's no shield up, but then I realized that's what the idea of Nine Inch Nails was going to be. It was going to be based on that opening up... and now we're here." He said it with a slight acknowledging smile, nod, and a look up at all of us in the crowd.

"And people rushed in when you opened up." Jon said. Yes, yes we did. I actually felt myself brimming with tears at this little exchange of dialogue. Trent's willingness to expose his most intimate feelings is absolutely what captivated me about Nine Inch Nails. It always felt "real" to me because of how I was feeling. Now, knowing exclusively for the first time in the first person that all this music that I poured my pain into and which poured it's relief, comfort, and sympathy into me was indeed sincere, that it was real, was the greatest comfort I ever have felt. This realization also made me want to jump onto the stage and give Trent a big hug and celebrate his well deserved happiness. I am proud to say I resisted that urge.

As we drew near to the close of the interview something occurred that I was NOT prepared for. A Q&A section with the fans. It was announced by Jon very suddenly. My whole body went rigid and blank. By the time I registered what I would've been able to do it was too late. I slowly turned my head before my body could react and all I saw was a raucous parade of people clamoring up to the two free standing microphones on either side of the auditorium. I shook my head, disappointed at missing my chance and turned back in my seat. As I locked my eyes on Trent once more, I recalled that I actually did get to hug him and tell him "thank you"... which made me feel significantly better.

At least all of the questions from the fans were good! We learned in rapid fire succession about his past collaborations,  and the potential or not for the music produced to ever see the light of day, and interestingly enough, Trent mentioned fantasizing about working with David Byrne, which I would pay GOOD money to see!

The infernal Tapeworm project came up, and, not surprisingly, someone asked Trent about working with Marilyn Manson, to which he responded, "I think there's a lot of talent in that guy and if he's in a position where he'd want to try something new... we've had our problems, but, I wear suits now, I'm an adult..." which I think the entire audience (myself included) got a real kick out of hearing.

The interview came to a close, I went home digesting all the information given. I feel relieved to know that even though Nine Inch Nails may be on hiatus, Trent Reznor isn't going anywhere. His inspiration and influence will continue for many years to come.

Thank You, Trent, for everything. 

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