GID: That’s one of the surprising things you realize about the album as you dive deeper into it. On the surface, it’s very angry and bleak, but in the end, it does have this redemptive power. Was there anything else you learned during research and writing that came as surprising?
AS: The thing that shocked me the most was recent commentary from Reznor looking back on The Downward Spiral 25 years later and referring to it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. He described how his addiction had its hooks in him, but he was unaware of it. The decline crept up on him and despite his creative achievements, he continues to describe those years as being personally unfulfilling, with only broken relationships to show for his millions of sales. He was adored by millions but alone in his private life. This other side of the narrative which is so common among major rock stars struck me as showing a hollow struggle that leads so many into their own spiral of death, addiction, and suicide.
GID: I found that interesting too. The Downward Spiral is often considered Nine Inch Nails’ most successful era, yet it led to Reznor’s most difficult years. As we’ve talked about, this book covers a lot of ground. What the most challenging thing about the writing process?
AS: I really enjoyed the process overall. Learning more about Reznor and the world of Nine Inch Nails was fascinating. Lots of weird stuff struck me, like the way in which the “Closer” video is packed full of obscure art-world references. It was easy to get distracted with these rabbit holes that I had to re-focus and try to fit them within the word limit of the book. Writing a book is lots of hours and the pleasure principle of the work can yo-yo quite wildly. Doing something you love, but needing the time, energy, and patience to see it through is both the challenge and the reality.
GID: You talk about how the album connected with people on an emotional level. They saw themselves reflected in these songs and lots of people still do. I’ve connected with the album’s themes at different points in my life as well. How do you connect with this album?
AS: I feel quite empathetic with what other people have described; you read similar accounts on blogs, reviews, fan message boards like NIN Hotline, across social media, and in Daphne Carr’s excellent 33&⅓ book on Pretty Hate Machine. In some strange and amazing way, the catharsis of the album allows people to put themself in the narrator’s place and in some ways to indulge in deeply negative thinking and painful feelings. The key impact of this, as highlighted by Marilyn Manson [talking about the positive power of music during his interview with Chuck Palahniuk], is that we are able to better reflect on our self-identity, and how we choose to be identified.
Being fucked up is okay, and this acceptance enables us to overcome our traumatic and challenging experiences and to work to make a better life for ourselves. People heard their own rage, frustration, and mental health struggles reverberating, and they felt less alone. That’s really important in the way music offers us communion with fellow fans and listeners. We hear the same song, we might hear it differently, but there are commonalities we can find in its emotional resonance and its excitement that we can share and understand one another without being able to fully verbalize it.
GID: Once I finished the book, I walked away with a newfound appreciation for the album and for Reznor. He’s had a hell of a journey and it’s great to see him come out on the other side. What did you walk away with?
AS: I think he is underrated as a musician. He learned classical piano when he was young, so he was already skilled in interpreting music and how to craft arrangements. Through technology, he deconstructed that system of writing to produce radically new sounds. He can still throw out classical piano influences. For example, Satie and Debussy as influences on The Fragile track “La Mer.” There aren’t many bands or musicians these days who are so accomplished in musical theory but also willing to throw it all away mid-song and quite literally break their music.
GID: Nine Inc Nails will finally be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame this year. I’m very excited to see them finally inducted, but I’ve been wracking my brain for months trying to figure out who will induct them. So far, I’ve only guessed Gary Numan or Al Jourgensen. Any guesses on who it might be?
AS: That’s a great question! Al is not clean cut or officious enough. Gary would make sense. It’s a shame David Bowie is no longer with us. I think that would have completed an artistic journey for Reznor. Perhaps someone a little more out there. Maybe a surprise artist, like Tool.
GID: Now that the book is out, what’s next?
AS: Mostly promotion. It’s quite hard for authors to stand out among the many books being released. It’s not even about competition, but getting a book like this to the fans, some of whom I would hope are really keen to read it! As for future projects, I’m looking into a few new books and hopefully more poetry, film work, and novels in the future.
Into the Never is out now via Backbeat books. Pick up a copy here.