Alec Wilkinson’s New Yorker profile of Trent Reznor is brilliant. It sheds new light on Reznor as a musician and as a composer, and also wickedly hints at his future plans without ever truly revealing them. Earlier in the week, it came to light that Reznor was working with Beats to create a less mechanical streaming application named Daisy. There was also a minor hint at the release of Interscope’s long-planned Nine Inch Nails greatest hits compilation in 2014, the creation of which Reznor will now be involved in.
The piece simply hints that “In 2014, Interscope Records will release an edition of [Nine Inch Nails’] greatest hits, to which Reznor intends to contribute two new songs. Then he plans to write music for a new record.”
It is bizarre that Reznor – a man who so staunchly objected to both Interscope’s way of handling Nine Inch Nails as well as its prospects to release a greatest hits album – is now involved in the process, but it is certainly understandable. It’s better to have at least the slightest bit of control over something you object to than to simply hand it over to suits and businessmen who see nothing in music but pure currency. Furthermore,
The piece reveals more about Reznor’s idea of songwriting and the storytelling involved in it. “He likes records that have a narrative,” Wilkinson’s profile emphasizes, before quoting Reznor who claims: “Side A and Side B, like a movement. An hour of music… I want to tell you a story, and that gives me a format. Too long ruins it; too short, not quite enough. Best is eight, nine, ten, eleven songs that feel like siblings and surround the subject with different points of view.”
While two new songs on a compilation are hardly a way to tell such a story, we assume that Reznor is still contractually bound to involve the Nine Inch Nails brand with a label that he strongly criticized in the past. Last year, he mentioned that NIN “still owe Interscope a greatest hits bullshit of some sort.”
It’s also understandable why How to Destroy Angels could be signed to a record label: It is a wholly different band, one that is supposedly completely separate from Nine Inch Nails and its form of music and storytelling. It is Reznor’s way to further differentiate the Destroy Angels brand from Nine Inch Nails, while also having the opportunity to harvest a new fan base of non-Nine Inch Nails aficionados.
Wilkinson’s profile of Reznor still paints an incredibly interesting portrait of the often-reserved songsmith. In it, Reznor speaks on why he prefers machines as musicians:
“Reznor said that what he likes about machines is that they can play demanding passages precisely in time and longer than a person probably can or would care to. He also likes that the music they produce has ‘no swing or human feeling.’ Human beings playing instruments telegraph emotion.”
He also opens up about his early songwriting days and his influences and what came of it:
“I was trying to write like the Clash… What did I have in common with the Clash? Nothing. I was aping somebody else’s style, and the songs were terrible, because they weren’t true… [Then] I set one of [my journal entries] to music, and I realized it was powerful. It wasn’t me safely posturing as someone else… I hadn’t crated a character like Alice Cooper to convey them. They were just true. I felt I had nothing to lose by revealing them, because it was always blanketed by the thought that no one’s going to hear them anyway.”
Reznor also hints at exactly how he wants to approach music in the future, and why he wants to go on making it, stating:
“My new rule is as few parts as possible… Maybe just my voice and a drum machine, and make it feel open and Johnny Cash-like. I want to turn my old ways of working on its head and limit myself to things I’m not used to. I want to stumble into something that gives me a new way to think.”
And with these simple words, How to Destroy Angels and its minimalism and its somewhat ripe temperament begins to make more sense. It is a work in progress. It is something new, and it is brave.
HTDA’s full-length album is set to come out next year – check out it’s possible title and tracklisting here.