Hammer head – how Trent Reznor nailed the new Nine Inch Nails album
As they get ready for their Belsonic headliner in Belfast, Nine Inch Nails frontman and former hellraiser Trent Reznor tells the story of how a greatest hits project spawned NIN's new album, ‘Hesitation Marks’
“I worked on about 100 ideas like that; what felt comfortable was filling up space with lots of tracks and textures, and weaving tapestries of complexity, which, of course, made the task interesting, challenging, difficult yet rewarding.”
It is odd, Reznor accedes with a self-deprecating “yeah”, to be discussing a greatest hits album from a band that would, perhaps, better soundtrack Buffalo Bill’s needlework than anything else.
“I agree that a greatest hits collection isn’t really a good artistic endeavour – it was a record label thing. NIN owed a hits collection to a previous record label we were on – it was written in a contract we signed 20 years ago – and it fulfils a certain commitment. I was reminded some time ago that it might be something I’d like to clear from my plate – so I did, and, as I’ve been saying, it turned out to be a catalyst for new material.”
Which will be released through, curiously enough as we shall read, a major record label (Columbia in the US, Universal in Europe). In 2007, Reznor established his own independent label, The Null Corporation, via which, in 2008, he released two subsequent NIN albums, Ghosts I-V and The Slip (the latter of which was made available to download for free, courtesy of an online message from Reznor that read, “this one’s on me”). He continued to release music via his label, doing his intelligent best to figure out how to instructively engage with online business models – or what he terms, atypically, as “disruptive technologies”. One such engagement was offering 3,000 deluxe editions of the (much extended) soundtrack to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the price of $300 each: signed copies of vinyl, with a flash drive, and – Reznor is quoted as saying – “a blowjob when you open it up.”
Such are the thrilling perks, then, of owning your own indie record label, but Reznor appears to have had a change of mind regarding his present business partnership with the majors. Back in 2007, he says, the decision for NIN to part ways with Interscope (a division of Universal) was amicable.
“I felt that big record labels hadn’t figured out the new climate, that they’re looking at music fans as the enemy, trying to combat piracy by attacking the wrong people, and hesitant to embrace any new technology. At the end of the day, if you look at these things through the eyes of a consumer – which I often do, because first and foremost I’ve always been a fan – then you ask yourself what’s it like for the person who’s just a fan of the music? What do they experience? How do they get it? Are they being forced to buy something they don’t want? And so on.”
After a few years of working flat out with The Null Corporation label, of trying everything he could think of to make selling music online as viable as possible, Reznor came to the conclusion that solving these problems “is bigger than what one band can do. I don’t think the solution is to sign up to the new NIN record and pay me five dollars or 10 dollars a year and then you’ll get everything I do. Ditto with Radiohead, or anyone else.
“I realised, also, that I was devoting a hell of a lot of time and energy into – and let’s call it what it is – market research, how to engage consumers, and shit like that.”