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Trent Reznor on Rock Hall of Fame Induction: ‘I’m Pretty Freaked Out’

“I’m allowing myself, for a limited period of time, to feel good about this,” says the Nine Inch Nails frontman

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Andy Greene Jan 16, 2020

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor is in a "state of shock" that the band is getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

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Trent Reznor has sold millions of records, played to oceans of fans at festivals all over the world and even won an Oscar. But the Nine Inch Nails leader was in a “state of shock” when he called into Rolling Stone to discuss his group’s admission into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, T-Rex, Notorious B.I.G and the Doobie Brothers. They’ve been eligible ever since their 1989 debut LP Pretty Hate Machine turned 25 in 2014, but this was their third time on the ballot and he truly believed he’d find himself in the position of facing rejection year after year.

Reznor spoke to us about his shock, why this is especially meaningful for him, his history in Cleveland and his thoughts on a possible Nine Inch Nails tour later this year.

Congratulations on the big news.
[Faux casual tone] Oh yeah. No big deal. [Laughs]. No, I’m pretty freaked out. I’m quite in shock.

Why shock?
I’m actually quite surprised. When I look back at how Nine Inch Nails are received, it always seems like we fall between the cracks or we’re not in this category or “that thing.” I don’t know if it’s a defense mechanism, but I just assumed we’d stay in that category, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see us acknowledged. It feels pretty good.

This was your third ballot, so I imagine you’d gotten used to seeing your name on there but not making it in.
Used to failing, yeah. I’m kind of relieved because I figured that every year for the rest of my life, I’d have a new disappointment reminding me, “You’re not good enough.”

How does this compare to your Oscar win?
Well, I haven’t really had time to deeply think it through. The Oscar win was a surreal experience because it truly came out of nowhere. It wasn’t anything I’d even thought about. We were just immersed in working on something that we really believed in and felt we did a good job at. And to see that people who knew what they were doing, they think we did a pretty good job. That felt legit. You wake up the next day and you’re still the same asshole you were before you got it, but it felt significant. It felt nice.

I had thought the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concept felt absurd. In some ways, it surely is; to try and quantify something as broad as that and inevitably add a competitive element to it. The gamification of it is hard to rationalize. Being there in that room last year to induct the Cure felt really cool. Sitting with the guys in Radiohead and watching Bryan Ferry play. It is just nice to see a bunch of people celebrating music as the primary thing. It felt legit. It really felt good. Like I said, it hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I’m quite honored that we’re being recognized.

It’s going to be in Cleveland, which I imagine will be extra special to you because of your history there.
Yeah. I remember back when there was first talk of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was somewhat, as I recall, of a competition about what city would get it. I was working at a music shop that sold keyboards and drum machines. There was some effort on the part of the store to draw up interest because they thought it would be a cool thing because the city needed something other than sports in order to focus it. It’s crazy to think all these years later that, wow, against all odds, I wound up as a part of that.

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You started your first album there, so it’s going full circle.
I grew up about an hour and a half outside of Cleveland and got sucked into Cleveland once I dropped out of school. To me, there was a pretty vibrant music scene happening there, especially compared to Pittsburgh, the other close city to me at the time. And I cut my teeth there, played in some bands and went through my early twenties. “I better do something with my life.” Then I had the opportunity to work in a studio there and really focus on what would become Nine Inch Nails and really hone the vision and blueprint of what that remains to this day, in Cleveland. That’s a romantic, rose-colored glasses vision of my Cleveland years.

They are just taking you and nobody else from the band. Was that the right call?
My preference would be that my band get inducted. I’m not the one deciding that, but there’s an effort on my part to acknowledge that.

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