Below is an excerpt from The Village Voice‘s new interview with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor.
Reznor’s mind is still very much on last night’s Nine Inch Nails gig at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, California. As he is set to prove at the Panorama Festival on Randalls Island this weekend, there remains no more reliable source of rock’s essential blend of ecstasy and violence, of exalted disruption, than a Nine Inch Nails show. The Rabobank, in turn, is the Platonic ideal of the suburban American arena, with freshly waxed floors and clean bathrooms that smell like chemical soap and glistening hot dogs that smell like chemical meat and remarkably polite “have a nice evening” security guards who seem like chemical people. But as soon as NIN took the stage, the place was instantly infused with a rank, erotic, decidedly organic feel, as Reznor stalked the stage, vigorously shaking his head like an attack dog that’s just cornered its prey. Still, for the singer, “it was a fucking shit-show.” Rather than strike a stereotypical rock-star pose and perform in front of a wall of curated video — or “content,” as Reznor calls it, practically spitting the word in revulsion — he wanted to cover up that omnipresent scrim with a dirty sheet, illuminated by a set featuring only white lights, “and make the show about this kind of unsafe feeling,” he says. “Make it about a band playing, you know?”
The idea didn’t quite come together. “The piss-stained sheet was a pretty white curtain that looked stupid.” There followed a “harsh talk with the lighting designer,” Reznor recalls. “I said, ‘You are going to throw all this shit out and do what I said the first time. I want the biggest fucking fans in Los Angeles to blow so much smoke that we can’t stand onstage without being knocked over. I want to be the Cure in 1981. I want to be just an outline of a shitty haircut and color and smoke and noise.’ ”
All of this bummed Reznor out, because a) he treats as sacrosanct the exchange between band and audience, and b) the Bakersfield performance was meant as a shake-off-the-cobwebs practice run for a receptive crowd before the band tackles four big festival shows, the first Nine Inch Nails gigs in nearly three years. Those included a headlining slot July 23 at FYF in L.A., where NIN — as an act “in the dying genre and the oldest people on the bill” — played what Reznor calls “the Chili Peppers slot”: Sunday night, 10:45; and at Panorama, where he is set to take the stage at a similar hour on July 30. “I know what I’m doing at that point in a festival. I’m thinking” — the singer mimes looking at his watch — “ ‘If I leave now, I can miss traffic.’ Nobody wants that. I mean, it’s an honor to be asked to do it, but it’s a pretty immediate mirror to find out where you’re at.”