“Having too much stuff to start with gets in the way; there's too many options now”: Trent Reznor says that he and Atticus Ross like to choose “the best tools for the job” before they start writing

They’re two of the most successful movie soundtrack composers in the world, so it’s safe to assume that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have access to all the music-making gear they could ever wish for. However, in a new interview, Reznor has revealed that, sometimes, it pays to keep things simple.

“Before we start writing, we tend to think about what's the best tools for the job,” he told GQ. “We're in a room where any sound of anything is at our fingertips, whether we want a mock-up of something that can be performed by real people later with real instruments, or we're going to treat these instruments as the final product.”

Despite this embarrassment of riches, Razor says: “The process usually is reductive - what's the minimal amount of things that could be ways to start? If it's a Nine Inch Nails album, we'll start with the concept - The Slip was all about what it might sound like in a garage with just a few mics. Having too much stuff to start with gets in the way; there's too many options now.”

In the same interview, Reznor also discusses Head Like a Hole, the opening track on Nine Inch Nails’ debut 1989 album, Pretty Hate Machine.

“I had played in some local bands as the keyboard player and I wasted a few years dodging acknowledging that to be happy I needed to write my own music and I needed to see if I could write and what I had to say,” he says of that time. “And I think there was a fear that the answer to that question might be ‘I can't write’, and then I don't know who I am anymore.”

Fortunately, Reznor was able to get over this fear and get to work: “I started honing in on stuff that would become what Nine Inch Nails was,” he says. “When I finally turn it over to a friend of mine, who became my manager, it was clear to both of us there was something that had an honesty and a power to it… it felt super embarrassingly naked because it wasn't a character, it was just me.

“In what seemed like, two hours, Head Like a Hole came together. It was irritating because I'd worked real hard on other songs that had been on their 100th iteration, and Head Like a Hole just kind of fell out of me one day.”

You can check out the full interview, in which Reznor and Ross discuss some of their most celebrated work - The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Hurt, Pixar’s Soul and new movie Challengers - in the video above.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

(Image credit: Nina Westervelt/Variety via Getty Images)
Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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