We chat to the Nine Inch Nails frontman ahead of his long-awaited Bangkok concert. 

Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor’s award-winning, long-running industrial rock project may have skipped Bangkok throughout their ‘90s heyday, but they’re making up for it on Aug 14 at Moonstar Studio (701 Lad Phrao Soi 80, 02-026-3068). As well as classic anthems like “The Day the World Went Away” and “Into the Void,” Reznor and co will be here to promote their 2018 EP Bad Witch, which has spent the past couple of months racking up superlative-heavy reviews online. Tickets are B3,000 from www.ticketmelon.com

Ahead of the concert, we chatted to Reznor about his creative process, the short attention span of audiences nowadays and Childish Gambino.

We in Bangkok are very excited for NIN, especially since your festival appearance here was cancelled back in 2014. Have you visited Bangkok before?

This will be our first time in Bangkok and we are sincerely thrilled to come over. So you guys keep your shit together so we can get there and play this time  

Your first album, Pretty Hate Machine, was life-changing for many fans. Are there any emotions or mindsets from making that album that you carry with you while producing music today?

I made some decisions when I was making that record which were terrifying at the time. It was transformative. Pretty Hate Machine is the blueprint for everything that we’ve done since then. I don’t mean ways and sounds, but the idea of locking yourself in a room and trying to be as honest with yourself as you can. Saying something in a song that you feel and mean, from a place of authenticity. Committing to the album and not listening to what any record label had to say about it, sticking to our guns, was what that record was all about. When I turned it in, the record label hated it and they said it would ruin my career before it even started. You know, I'd never made a record before so I thought they must know what they are talking about. I thought about it, I felt bad for a week and then I said, you know what, this is the record and this is what I’m going to put out, I’m not changing it. So I put it out and it did what it did and I toured and toured and people started listening to it. It taught me a lot of lessons.  

 

 

Apart from working in a studio, when do you feel the most creative?

I kind of learned how to wrangle creativity out of myself. I used to sit around with a blank notebook and be pissed off and scared. But I somehow faked my way this far and I don’t know how i did that. I got sober 17 years ago and it changed the way I thought of everything and the fear that I had around writing and being creative. These days I find when I wake up in the morning I’m filled with ideas and the day hasn’t beat me down yet. I try to set time aside to just think and write down stuff. They are not all brave ideas but the more you write down, you’re bound to get one sooner or later. It’s the opposite of how i used to be, which was stay up all night. 

You’ve worked on a few scores for films and have won an Academy award, among other accolades. How does working in relation to someone else's artistic vision differ from how your work on NIN productions?

It’s been very enlightening. Working with Atticus and David Fincher on the Social Network dropped me back into a scenario where I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how the process worked. I wasn’t sure how to score a film, I didn’t know the names or what a dubbing studio was. And I think being under the guidance of David Fincher, who is a genius and a very kind and generous collaborator, it was the best possible scenario. He had an incredible team around him and it made collaboration exciting. It opened me up to what it was like to work in the service of someone else. And really, it was refreshing because with NIN, every decision kind of rests on my head and now I share that burden with Atticus [Ross, bandmate] but sometimes it feels like chore, because at the end of the day, if it sucks, it’s your fault. What we try to do now is kind of split the workload. Every couple weeks we split up the work and it gives us a break from all the pressure.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

We are working on a couple things, there’s a few things bubbling around right now. I can’t say more than that. But we've got a few things. We are focusing on some new NIN music that is very different from what we’ve just been doing

You expose yourself in your lyrics in ways that a lot of fans relate to, some of whom are afraid to express how they feel but find solace in your music. Is there much music out there now that you find relatable?

If you ask me my favorite new band, I’m gonna sit silently because I can’t think of any, for me personally. I do believe that there’s a lot of music that a lot of people relate to out there. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t find anything on the pop dial that jumps out. I don’t relate to a lot of what’s happening in the hip hop world and I’m saying that from an American perspective. Recently I met Chuck D [of Public Enemy] for the first time at a festival and he was thrilled to meet me and I was thrilled to meet him. You know, that blew my mind because Public Enemy was relatable. I don’t feel that sort of connection to what i hear today. It’s different times but I’m just speaking from my outlook, I think the attention span of the audience has gotten really short with the fact that you’ve got phones in your pockets that are constantly distracting you with pictures and other distractions. People spend less time listening to music as the main thing. When I was growing up, I'd buy an album and I’d listen to the album. I wasn’t doing something else while I was listening to the album, I wasn’t looking at pictures of people’s butts on Instagram, I was just listening to music and thinking about it. I didn’t have that much music so when I bought an album I’d listen to it and if I didn’t like it, i’d still listen to it. And that profoundly affected who I am and how I see the world. And now there is so much distraction, so much good TV. Social media times suck, the news has become entertainment. Reality is subjective. It’s a weird world.

 

 

We noticed you recently tweeted in praise about Childish Gambino’s new video “This is America.” Do you feel an artistic work like that can have a real effect on American society in 2018?  

I think it’s the artist's duty to put it out there. I think what Childish Gambino has done is a noble, and risky, thing to do, which was the primary reason for praising it. It is an exciting piece of art and it's provocative. The video stopped me in my tracks. Just glancing at the news today and seeing how stupid America has become, you know... is it salvagable? Do people think about things anymore or is everything a knee-jerk reaction? It’s tough to see how it’s going to play out.

We were desperate to listen to the final installment in your EP trilogy, Bad Witch, and it didn’t disappoint. How does it differ from the two EPs that preceded it?

When we started the whole three EP thing, we had a big story to tell and it was originally going to work together as big album that required a lot of effort from our part and the listener. We thought it would be interesting to work on it that way as it would force us to commit to things. Then once it’s out, we couldn’t go back and change anything. Kanye West did it, I guess, he changed it, but the point is that it would already be out. Taking into consideration short attention spans, we thought maybe it would be easier to digest in smaller chunks. We’ve put out big, long albums and if I could put The Fragile out again, I’d do it differently because I don’t think many people made it to the end of the second disc. It wound up being an interesting process. The last EP, which we thought would be pretty easy to pull off because we felt really good about the first two and we'd just played some live shows. We thought we’d go into the studio and crank this thing out, but then everything ground to a halt. It felt like we hadn’t deeply thought through what we needed to do to make it exciting for us. We had the courage after a couple of months to admit to ourselves that this wasn’t good enough. We got frustrated that we had done all this work and realized we had boxed ourselves into a creative corner. Over the years, I've found that’s the hardest thing to overcome: you think you’re being bold but really you’re playing it very safe. Sometimes it’s hard to see those walls you put up around yourself. That’s when I decided to pull out the saxophone and smash it out. We made something we felt good about but then thought, man, we don’t know if anyone is going to get this. Then we thought, that’s how we should feel. We should feel uncertain. Bad Witch has been much better received than I would’ve have thought.

 

 

You learned at a young age to play various instruments including the piano and you brought the saxophone back in Bad Witch. When was the last time you really played the sax?

Occasionally, I remind myself that I’m not as good as I used to be. The last real serious time was when we toured back with Bowie in the late '90s. I played sax and he came out and played with us. That was the last real time there was a sax near and, yes, I have a lot of practicing to do

Can we expect to hear any new material in Bangkok? 

What's interesting is that our set tends to be from all the records and not necessarily the songs you think you’re going to hear. Everything is kind of tied together in a way that feels more unified. It’s interesting to see how it all works out.