Trent Reznor has spent 35 years making the most outrageously dissonant, elegant and dark rock possible. But, as it turns out, the Nine Inch Nails leader is not totally immune to the charms of a great pop song. On the latest edition of producer Rick Rubin’s Tetragrammaton podcast, Reznor fessed up that not only has he learned to appreciate a well-crafted pop ditty, but, thanks to his kids, he’s actually been brought to tears by one of today’s biggest mainstream stars.
“For while, I kept them in a kind of hermetically sealed way from pop music. Because I think it sucks generally — I had thought that,” Reznor said of his kids with wife singer Mariqueen Maandig. Then, Reznor said, he heard his six-year-old daughter singing along to Dua Lipa recently and it gave him pause.
“She is so into it and it is so cool. Like this is her music, you know, this is her thing,” he said. “It really reminded me the art of writing a well-crafted song — I teared up listening to a Dua Lipa track. Because it was just a really well-done piece of music, you know? It was clever. It felt good.”
The Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe-winning songwriter then made a startling admission. “It’s a difficult thing to do. I don’t know how to do that,” Reznor said. “When I’m trying to think of what to say, I’m saying it from the unvarnished me. And that requires me thinking about who I am and where my position is now and all of that together becomes something that feels the stakes are higher.”
That’s why he said he prefers film scoring, which has become his second full-time job thanks to acclaimed work on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Mank, The Social Network, Soul and Empire of Light, among others. “Sitting there and arranging stuff — I know what’s right… I don’t have to assess my thoughts on how I feel about a thing,” he told Rubin. “What it comes down to is I really enjoy weirdly working in service to something. It’s like cracking a code. It feels good to crack the code, whatever it is.”
As for the future of NIN, Reznor said because he has young kids at home he’s not really interested in “endlessly” touring any more and, frankly, given where he thinks the culture is now and the importance of music in it, “[it’s] a little defeating,” he said during the pair’s two-hour chat that ranged from the very beginnings of Reznor’s life and career in Cleveland through his thoughts on working with director David Fincher and his songwriting process.
“It feels to me in general, and I’m saying this as a 57-year-old man, music used to be the thing that, that was what I was doing when I, when I had time, I was listening to music,” Reznor said. “I wasn’t doing it in the background while I was doing five other things, and I wasn’t treating it kind of as a disposable commodity.”
Reznor also fessed up that he missed the attention music used to get, even from critics, who’s opinions he still doesn’t really care about. “But somebody heard it, it got validated in its own way culturally. Culturally, that feels askew,” he added. “Like I can’t think of any review I care about today that I even trust. I could write it before it comes out because it’s already written. In fact, ChatGPT could probably do a better job, you know? Or is currently doing the job. That makes for what I feel is a less fertile environment to put music out into –in the world of Nine Inch Nails.”
Listen to the full chat with Reznor below (Dua Lipa segment begins at 1:49:00).