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Trent Reznor: Iconoclast To Icon, Via Oscar

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Trent Reznor: Iconoclast To Icon, Via Oscar

Trent Reznor: Iconoclast To Icon, Via Oscar

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(Soundbite of music)

GUY RAZ, host:

This is some of the haunting and delicate music from the film "The Social Network." The score won an Oscar at the Academy Awards last month.

And for millions of fans of the industrial goth band Nine Inch Nails, a band that became huge in the 1990s, there was a moment of almost jaw-dropping surprise that night: The man behind Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, also composed the music for "The Social Network."

And when his name was announced, a clean-cut, tuxedo-clad Reznor bounced onstage to hold high his Oscar, the same man who, for much of the 1990s, personified a dark and sometimes estranged voice in the world of rock.

(Soundbite of song, "Head Like A Hole")

Mr. TRENT REZNOR (Musician): (Singing) Head like a hole black as your soul. I'd rather die than give you control. Head like a hole...

RAZ: This is the Trent Reznor most of his fans know. Reznor's influence on rock in the 1990s cannot be overstated. It was huge. And it turns out his influence in the film world maybe even more profound.

Trent Reznor is here in the studio with me, fresh from his Oscar glory.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. REZNOR: Glad to be here. Thank you.

RAZ: "Head Like A Hole," this is the song we're hearing, it came out more than two decades ago. When you hear it, when you listen to it, do you still identify with the person singing those words?

Mr. REZNOR: I do. And we - I just spent some time with that record because we re-released it and re-mastered it. And so I had to actually clinically kind of listen to it.

I mean, in my early 20s, I had this kind of need to express myself that would have come out as punching a wall or writing a poem or screaming or whatever it might be. And it wound up being marrying a journal I'd been keeping with music I was writing. And this weird kind of concoction came out that had a truth to it because I meant it, you know, it came...

RAZ: I mean, you - it's well-known you suffered from depression for a while, and some of that was in your music.

Mr. REZNOR: Yeah. It wasn't - I hadn't been diagnosed at that point. And later in my life, you know, there was addiction involved that reared its head later. But certainly, music was a cathartic way for me to express myself.

And I think that there was an integrity and an honesty in that that other people related to. And for me, it felt like, well, I found this perfect vehicle to get this out of my system. And when we started playing live, I'd see people yelling lyrics back at me that...

RAZ: That you wrote.

Mr. REZNOR: That I've never met, that I wrote in the privacy of my bedroom in some states.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. REZNOR: And, you know, it felt like there was an interesting back-and-forth connection. And that kind of defined what that first chunk of my career became.

And over time, any time a new project comes up, it's really just a matter of mining into my own feelings and my own thoughts. And that place I'm in has changed, as I would hope it would. You know, it went from a place of - pretty dark and unbearable to what it is now, you know, which has lots of nice things in it.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: David Fincher, the director of "The Social Network," he could have asked anyone to score this film. He asked you. And I read that you were somewhat reluctant. Was that true?

Mr. REZNOR: Yeah. When he first asked me, I had just finished several years of touring, and I wasn't particularly feeling creative. You know, it's like, it takes a bit of time to shift gears from execution, playing shows and worrying about physically being able to do it to that quiet, contemplative time where good ideas can get snatched out of the air. And I wasn't in that mode.

So I told David, look, I don't think I can do - in fact, I can't do it right now. Several months later, things had kind of turned around in my world. I started writing. I was working on some other things.

RAZ: Hmm.

Mr. REZNOR: It was nagging me that I felt I disappointed him. And I got in touch with him just to say: Listen, sorry again, and in the future, just - if anything else ever comes up, let me know. And he said: Well, I'm still waiting on you to say yes to this film. He had filmed it in the meantime. So...

RAZ: Wow. So he didn't go ahead and find another composer?

Mr. REZNOR: No. So it was waiting. I got in my car that day, went over, and we were off to the races.

RAZ: In the opening scene of the movie, the Mark Zuckerberg character, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is getting dumped by his girlfriend. And he's obviously humiliated. He then goes back, darts across what is filmed as the Harvard campus, and we hear this music.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: There's that lonely piano and that almost ominous sound behind it. I read that Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, was very specific in the script. He wanted this energetic, stomping, pumping tune there. And you completely defied that.

Mr. REZNOR: Sorry, Aaron. No, I mean, that is one of my proudest achievements, that moment in this film, and honestly not just in this film, just in everything I've done. When I first saw that inserted in that place, it really felt like: Hey, we're on to something. And I was - I think it did an excellent job of framing the film in a way where your expectations are differently.

I'd seen a rough edit of that with Elvis Costello's song in there, and it becomes a different film. It becomes a familiar: Oh, this guy's at college. You know, it's...

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. REZNOR: This took it into a place where it felt unfamiliar, and it felt -there was a tension. There was a sense of remorse. There's a kind of noble melody being played and this kind of sad sounding piano that lacks any confidence. And it's in this icy kind of landscape of electronics that feels familiar yet unfamiliar.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: I'm speaking with Trent Reznor. He's the front man for Nine Inch Nails. He recently won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film "The Social Network."

Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg, at least as he is portrayed in the film, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is an anti-hero. And in the past, you've been described exactly that way as well. Did you feel any affinity with his character?

Mr. REZNOR: I did. You know, and really the way the score came about, the thought process behind it was first try to get out of David what he wanted, what's the film about. It's not about Facebook, first and foremost. Facebook is - could be anything, really.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. REZNOR: It's about a kind of flawed character that is in search of that defining idea, that thing that gives him a sense of purpose that validates his life, someone that never really fit in, someone that's angry and someone that pursues and chases that idea at any cost.

And when you distill it down to that, which is what it meant to me, those are definitely themes I can relate to, and this has no real bearing on the real Mark Zuckerberg, who have I have never met and who I don't know.

RAZ: Right. Right.

Mr. REZNOR: It's the character that was written. And that was my job, to interpret what's on the page.

RAZ: You and Atticus Ross, who you shared this Oscar with, are now scoring another David Fincher film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I'm assuming you must have had a good time doing "The Social Network" because you agreed to take on another movie project, another David Fincher project.

Mr. REZNOR: The act of working on the film, the entire experience, was unmatched and...

RAZ: Unmatched with...

Mr. REZNOR: Unmatched with anything I've done in my life.

RAZ: Wow.

Mr. REZNOR: Certainly creatively, and that includes playing sold-out shows and whatever else I've achieved with Nine Inch Nails. So when we finished, David asked if we were interested in "Dragon Tattoo." I didn't have to think about it. It was like - this would be an experience, an opportunity to work on a film that's very different than "Social Network" and try something very different that does have landscapes and expanse and try to figure out what - how to solve that problem.

RAZ: It sounds like you are at a really great place in your life.

Mr. REZNOR: You know, I feel pretty good about things, to be honest with you. I found a wonderful woman I'm married to. I have a new son. And I've kind of gotten out of the way and let life happen, and it's been going pretty great, you know? And coming out of a dark period 10 years ago, I got sober, and that was - I have very little to complain about. And I think what this film helped do was bring a new breath of optimism in terms of my relationship with music and my career.

RAZ: That's Trent Reznor. He's best-known as the front man for Nine Inch Nails. Last month, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on the film "The Social Network."

Trent Reznor, thank you so much.

Mr. REZNOR: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcasts. Subscribe or listen through iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode every Sunday night.

We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a nice week.

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