Trent Reznor discussed the ongoing influence of David Bowie on his life and music in advance of Friday night’s (Jan. 8) all-star tribute to the late rock icon. The Nine Inch Nails frontman who toured and recorded with Bowie in the mid-1990s spoke to Consequence of Sound about the indelible imprint Bowie had on his music, both before they met and collaborated and afterwards, when his new friend helped pull him out of a particularly dark period.
“As Nine Inch Nails was birthed, I found myself in the role of starting to accumulate an audience and feeling the weird pressures of someone who didn’t have any money. I was worried about how to pay the $30 gas bill and eating peanut butter for a week. And then suddenly, because I made an album I really liked, I could pay the gas bill,” said Reznor, who recalled how the “cold, alien” vibe of Bowie’s 1980 Scary Monsters album really struck him, leading to a backwards look at the rest of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s career highlights, including such landmark albums as Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust.
“My life was so much better now. Now, it’s time to write a new album. I’d like to try this new stuff, but it’d be nice being able to pay the gas bill,” he continued. “It creeps its way in in various ways. So, I would turn back to the idea of Bowie and think for a minute: ‘F–k, that’s what being an artist is.’ So, there was that kind of influence from a distance, a fan level, aside from the music emotionally connecting with me.”
Reznor will be part of Friday night’s (January 8) all-star streaming tribute on what would have been Bowie’s 74th birthday, “A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day!” The event is also slated to feature appearances from: Andra Day, Billy Corgan, Adam Lambert, Perry Farrell, Joe Elliott, Gavin Rossdale, actor Gary Oldman, Macy Gray, Ian Astbury, Yungblud, Peter Frampton, Kind Heaven Orchestra vocalist Etty Lau Farrell, Ian Hunter, Anna Calvi, Atticus Ross, Mariqueen Maandig Reznor, Charlie Sexton, Catherine Russell, Lizzy Hale, Gail Ann Dorsey, Michael C. Hall, Bernard Fowler, Corey Glover, Duran Duran, Lena Hall, Judith Hill, Boy George, Taylor Momsen, Ricky Gervais, Gary Barlow and Ground Control (a supergroup consisting of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney).
In recalling how Bowie’s music inspired him, Reznor said while moving through his catalog he marveled at Bowie’s ability to “become the best archetype for someone who has a fantastic voice and was kind of an actor pretending to be a rock star, in a way, which seemed to give him the ability to reinvent himself in ways that just felt like it would take a lot of courage to have had success at something and then throw it away and try something new.”
The biggest turning point came when Bowie reached out to see if NIN would be willing to open for him on an amphitheater tour in support of his 1995 Outside album. “Anytime someone would mention him and ask me questions, I would talk about Low and how much he influenced The Downward Spiral, and maybe it crossed his awareness to where he said, ‘You’re the only band I want to play with us. Would you be up for opening for us on an amphitheater tour?’ F–k, yes,'” he said. “I had just got done saying I couldn’t tour for another … We had just toured for two and a half years, and I was imploding. I needed to get off the road. Then, ‘Hey, would you like to go?’ Yes, when are we leaving? ‘How about in a month?’ Okay, I’m right there.”
And though being on the road with his hero made him both “terrified and intimidated,” Reznor said he got to meet the “actual human being” behind the ever-changing facade and absolutely lived up to the image he’d built in his mind. “What really left the biggest impression on me was there I was in a bad state of addiction and kind of going down the toilet,” he said of his struggles at the time. “And he was on the other end to have come out of it. And there were the few kind of big brother / fatherly times where he’d call me aside and kind of get on my s–t: You need to get your s–t together. It doesn’t have to end up down there. He didn’t say this, but look at where he was. He was happy. He was still taking chances.”
Reznor said he still listens to and thinks of Bowie “all the time,” grateful for the time when their lives intersected and the immeasurable help his mentor had in pulling him through dark times. “And I can hear his voice,” he said. “He penetrated through the layers of bulls–t that I’d built around myself. I’m grateful for that.”