Musician Trent Reznor

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Grammy-winning artist talks about making the switch from touring with Nine Inch Nails to composing the film score for The Social Network.

Trent Reznor, the primary member of Nine Inch Nails, has influenced many artists. The Grammy winner's first Nails release was '89's "Pretty Hate Machine," and his new band, How To Destroy Angels, released a self-titled CD earlier this year. Reznor began playing piano at age 5 and was a member of his high school's jazz and marching bands. He studied computer engineering at Allegheny College, but dropped out and spent time playing with local bands. Reznor co-wrote the film score for The Social Network and released the soundtrack on his own indie record label.


Tavis: Trent Reznor is the talented founder and front man for one of rock’s most popular groups, Nine Inch Nails. The band will continue to record together following what was their final tour in 2009. This year, Trent is a possible Oscar nominee, Golden Globe nominee and everything else, I suspect, for his work on the original score for “The Social Network.” Here now, a scene from “The Social Network.”
Tavis: Wow. (Laughs) So rock stars composing original film scores. There was a time when this wasn’t the coolest thing to do in Hollywood, and now you guys are cranking these things out.
Trent Reznor: Seems to be the case these days, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. How’d you get pulled in?
Reznor: Well, I had, uh, decided to take some time off from my day job, Nine Inch Nails, and really just take some time to think about what was next and get out of the grind of touring and get back to what drove me to make music in the first place, and just think about that. Out of the blue I got a call from David Fincher, who I’ve known, various circles over the years, and he asked me if I was interested in scoring “The Social Network.”
It kind of came out of the blue. I hadn’t really planned on that. The opportunity came up and it was – I thought it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I love the medium of film, and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could take my set of tools and apply it to a new medium.
Tavis: So you get the script, I assume, first for the film.
Reznor: Yeah, then I said no.
Tavis: Then you said – (laughter).
Reznor: No, and to be clear, it wasn’t because of the script.
Tavis: Right.
Reznor: He’d asked me, I’d just gotten off the road, I’d just gotten married, I’d made a promise that I was going to take a year just to think about things and kind of plan my next move, and this came up and my problem is it’s difficult for me to say no when something interesting pops up.
But the reality of it is, like I found in my life, if I’m touring, my brain’s in a mode where it’s usually just executing. You’re playing the same show every day; you’re not creating so much. It’s more of an execution phase. To switch right into creativity usually takes a bit of time, and this came up right at that juncture where I thought, okay, here’s an opportunity to work with somebody I really respect in a new medium. I don’t want to mess it up, and I really felt like bite off the next year of my life doing something I may not know how to do, I just didn’t feel confident about it.
It wasn’t the material and it wasn’t David, it was me, and that was the end of last year. Then a couple months went by and I started working on some other things and realized, hey, my brain works and I’m feeling good about my abilities, but I felt really bad about how I left it with David, making that call initially to say, “Look, I have to pass. It’s not you, it’s me.”
I got back in touch and said, “Look, I just want to reiterate it’s not you and it’s not the material, but I just wasn’t in a place where I felt like I could do it. But keep me in mind, and I’ve been feeling lousy about telling you that.” He said, “Come on over, let’s still do it. It’s still available.” That’s how it started.
Tavis: How do you, particularly for one who’s as gifted as you are and has all the success that you’ve had, how do you make that transition from feeling underconfident to a point, I assume, where you say, “You know what? I really can do this?” What makes the difference?
Reznor: Well, if I look back at my career, we started – Nine Inch Nails’ first record came out at the tail end of ’89, and there was big gaps between records. If I look back, I can see now that those gaps were just fear. I didn’t feel confident. I thought the act of writing was terrifying and self-examination with a close-up mirror in an antiseptic environment, and that’s kind of what Nine Inch Nails was based on.
It was something I found myself dreading and constantly questioning if I’m good enough to do it, and it stretched things out to a long – things took a long time in the ’90s for me to get my act together.
Jump ahead to this past decade, and I got sober and I worked on myself, and I put – the act of creativity became something that I look forward to now, instead of dreading. I went into projects thinking I’m going to give it my best and see what comes out, and that as opposed to staring at a blank page and saying, “I have to write the best thing ever,” and that’s a guaranteed way to make sure the page stays blank.
So with that confidence, I kind of come into this situation. I’d done some work at the beginning of this year I felt was good, and I felt like I’m back to being – the planets were lining up. If I’m going to take on a project in a new medium with a new discipline, I’m going to approach it with humility and just see, try to strategize how I can make it the best thing it can possibly be. I’m pleased with the way this came out.
Tavis: I’m going to come back to “The Social Network” in a second here, but you said something that I find interesting I want to go back and get you to unpack for me, if you will.
When you say you look back on your career and you see those gaps as gaps of fear, and then you talk about the fact that you eventually got sober, is there a link, a connection between the fear and the lack of sobriety in those moments?
Reznor: Oh, certainly. I can armchair analyze myself, but at the time when fame presented itself to me I was not at a point in my own life where I was equipped to deal with it in any way, and I had a built-in sense of not being good enough that I’ve carried with me from whatever it’s come from.
An easy way to fit in was to self-medicate, and after a while, self-medication started to stifle anything creative or good that I had, including my ability to even like myself. That led itself to a place where I was either going to – I had to get better. I hated who I’d become. Taking that process seriously and then watching the fruits of that come to be is why I can put out more material now, because I feel better about it.
I don’t go into it with all this baggage and it’s really, 20 years into making music and being able to make a living making music, feeling fortunate to be able to do that, this whole thing with the soundtrack, scoring this film, has really been like a breath of fresh air. It feels like a real reinvention, and it’s exciting. It’s felt good.
Tavis: When you finally got around to telling David that you were going to do this and you got into the process of doing it, what made you think that your unique gift, that the sounds you were hearing in your head, would work for this particular film? I can see your being turned on by trying something in a new genre, but what made this particular film, “The Social Network,” something that you thought you could match a sound to?
Reznor: Well, David pursued me, and I have great respect for David as a person and as a filmmaker, and I thought he must see something in there that is matching his vision. This was different for me because in the world of Nine Inch Nails or my other band, How to Destroy Angels, I’m at the top of the pyramid, making the decisions and making the call. It was interesting to work for something else. My music was in a supporting role for what best suited the picture and what David’s vision of that picture was.
So I just thought let me try to get in David’s head and best figure out what he’s wanting from it, and then just experiment and shoot all around the target and see if we find something that we both feel good about. Luckily, that process happened pretty quickly on this film.
Tavis: So have you been bitten sufficiently by the bug to want to do this again, even though you had great trepidation at the outset?
Reznor: Well, the experience I’ve had with “The Social Network” has been, from start to finish, just unmatched. The respect I’ve gotten from the filmmakers, also the people involved from the studio and producing level, has been such a good experience. Creatively it was interesting, and also just dealing with smart people that had common goals, it was a fun process.
Also, to be frank, seeing the accolades that are coming in for the film and being involved with a project that’s of this caliber was just a great experience, so there’s nowhere to go but down from here. (Laughter)
Tavis: I was waiting for you to get to the end of that answer, because I’m like, “Trent’s walking all around my question.” You explained how great this process was, and I could take that one of two ways – that you don’t ever want to do it again because you know it can’t get any better, or you’re happy to do it again to see if you can pull it off again.
Reznor: No, I’d be interested in pushing myself a bit, getting outside of my comfort zone in terms of the way that we scored this. It was something that was familiar, the sounds, the clay I sculpted this from was not a big stretch from where I would be if I wasn’t doing this. I’d be interested to see what happens if I had to do it another – the process was different.
Tavis: To your point about the accolades that are coming in, you’ve already won some major awards here in this town during this award season, and we’re getting into the thick of it after the first of the year. But you’re already on – the buzz is on you and the project, and as I said, you’ve already won some major awards.
Since you mentioned accolades earlier, how does this kind of acclaim for writing a score compare with the acclaim that you’ve received for Nine Inch Nails?
Reznor: That’s a good question, and I think back, and why I feel it’s a good question is in the last few months since this film’s come out I’ve realized that praise that the film and our work in the film has gotten has – it’s meant more to me for some reason.
From the years of being in the music business, it’s hard not to come out the other end jaded and cynical, and there’s a number of reasons for that. One, I think, is from my perspective, in the film world; some of the accolades really resonate with a sense of importance. On the music side of things, whether it be – what am I tiptoeing around saying?
It doesn’t mean as much. I think that a lot of what’s happened in the music business, how it’s been decimated by the Internet, that the critic’s voice isn’t as booming as it may have once been. People are looking and finding things through other means, so they’re not all pointed to one channel to tell them what to like.
I think that’s trickled down into the integrity of the music business. It has suffered, and the awards affiliated with the music business feel less about the award and more about the politics behind it, perhaps. Anyway, it feels good to see what’s happening with the film right now.
Tavis: That was a very good answer, and a very diplomatic answer, and I appreciate it on both fronts. (Laughter) Trent Reznor, is, of course, the front man for Nine Inch Nails and the guy behind the original score for the movie “The Social Network,” and he and his project getting a whole lot of buzz right around now as we enter into awards season here in Los Angeles. Trent, congratulations on all the success. I know that it is to come, and thanks for coming on to see us.
Reznor: Thank you, sir.
Tavis: I appreciate it.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm