Atticus Ross On ‘Twin Peaks’, Trent Reznor’s Fearless Creativity & Why The Music World Needs Nine Inch Nails

Something’s not right. Artists are being fleeced and so too are the fans. The culture of music is being squeezed. New, creative and honest ideas are muted while any sense of community is spilling out from all sides. It’s going dark.

Corporate interests, algorithms and clueless consumer metrics are driving our art, insulating our thoughts. It’s time for artists to lead, speak out. To subvert, decode and tell the truth. To seize the fabrics of the culture in which they sit enmeshed and pull it in their own direction. The need for challengers to the system has never more apparent. It’s hanging in the air.

Nine Inch Nails are one band doing exactly that. Not intent on leaving fate in the hands of others, they’re taking action. Trent Reznor is on your screen and in the news preaching a way forward. His music hisses across your speakers. A pillar of resistance operating at the centre of The Machine.

NIN have a new record. But Bad Witch is more than a musical work. It’s a statement. These jagged sonics come framed with a broader narrative. A story of a band wrestling for autonomy. One forming a resolve to shatter the choking unreality of modern times. Not just for themselves, for all of us.

Bad Witch is close to un-relatable at first but when interrogated further holds revelation. It’s an ugly truth beckoning to be pulled inside. In a listen-once disposable culture, Nine Inch Nails are trying to recapture the experience of living with a record. Bad Witch is caustic as it is oblique. Its authors’ vision threads into your own and in having done so creates something which sticks. This is music which snakes across the whole of your mind. Not just the pleasure centres.

The third in a trilogy, Trent Reznor and long-time collaborator Atticus Ross arrived at where they wanted to sooner than they’d intended. They didn’t even realise it initially. At first, Bad Witch was a laboured effort. That is until the pair cut loose from expectation and experimented in a different vein. Then it came easy. So even while it’s still touted as a third instalment it’s very much its own outing. True to its nature it’s open-ended.

Nine Inch Nails have always represented the idea that not all truths are beautiful. But this new record attests that neither are they immediate. NIN sit floating within the present but unfurling in their own time. Tune in and drop into the Underdark. But before you do read these words from Atticus Ross.

Music Feeds: As a huge fan of both Nine Inch Nails and The Jesus and Mary Chain it’s exciting to see that both will be sharing a bill and touring across the US. How did it all come about?

Atticus Ross: Well obviously The Mary Chain has been a huge influence to everyone. It’s a band that I’ve always loved. But there’s an interesting bit of history, that’s got nothing to do with me! Trent opened for The Mary Chain on one of his first tours. The fact that both bands are still making great music! When you think of a tour and taking a band out on tour with Nine Inch Nails. To me, if I saw that bill, I would definitely be going for the physical presale.

MF: Tell me a little about the physical presale. Do you feel like you did what you set out to achieve by placing those printed tickets exclusively at venue box offices as opposed to releasing them online?

AR: Well I mean, I think that -I know – that some people complained about it. But the general idea behind it was simply this. It was a bit like having the physical component with the release with the album. I think there’s something to be said for it. I’m talking from LA. If you want to go to a record shop here, well certainly in Hollywood there’s only [ LA’s longstanding and much-cherished record store] Amoeba. There’s a few smaller ones dotted around, but it isn’t like when I was growing up.

I grew up in London. I grew up in West London where we had Rough Trade and Honest Jon’s. Within two or three blocks there were three of four great places where you could go and buy music and sit in there and listen to it. It was a physical experience. Owning an album to me was looking through the lyrics and reading who’d worked on it. Some of my favourite albums I didn’t understand when I first got them. You know what I mean? You had to save up. I remember saving up, buying a record and if it was one I didn’t really understand, listening and listening and listening! Some of the ones that have turned into my favourite albums are those.

I’m listening and listening and listening and I still don’t like it! But it became an experience. It wasn’t going on YouTube, putting in the search and wading through a hundred different bands. So I think the idea is one of community. It’s something we’ve explored musically and in the case of the ticket sales, you’re literally going to buy your tickets! And then there’s the second layer of, generally speaking here, that if you want to go to a show that’s a popular the bots will buy all of the tickets immediately and you’ll be paying three or four the amount of the money that’s listed on the ticket.

This was just the idea that if you are a fan, and you happen to be first at the box office you can get the best seats! And you know, it is what it is. Some people didn’t like it, some people loved it.

MF: You have a background creating music for film and television. Considering this history, it must have been tremendously exciting to have worked with David Lynch for the third season of Twin Peaks…

AR: I love Twin Peaks. There were a number of great things about that experience. One was that David Lynch is one of my favourite directors. He and Trent have a lot of history. Two, it’s Twin Peaks! Three, I thought that season, what Lynch did, I thought it was phenomenal. It just happened that of all the episodes, my favourite one was number eight [‘The Return, Part 8’] which we were in. I just thought it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. It is an honour to be involved in any aspect of both Nine Inch Nails, David Lynch and Twin Peaks. It’s hard to think of anything that one can say beyond that it was just a phenomenal experience.

And also, the other thing that was cool was that we didn’t know where it was going to be. We went to Lynch’s house one day after we shot our performance. He’s got a screening room. And he literally started it on the first frame of the performance and ended it on the last frame. We saw it and we thought it looked great but we had no idea where it was going to land in terms of the series. When it landed where it did! I just thought – I mean the whole thing is a piece of art really. But that particular episode I could just watch over and over again.

MF: You have a longstanding creative partnership with Trent. What is one of his greatest strengths and what is something about him that can be challenging?

AR: I think Trent is certainly strong-willed. And so am I. In terms of challenges? We have different ideas sometimes. But we’ve never had an argument in all the time that we’ve been working together. It’s based on creativity in the studio. So in terms of challenges probably the only thing is occasionally trying to keep up with the intense amount of projects we take on.

His strengths? I’ve been in the studio with a lot of people. And I’m not blowing smoke. It’s difficult when you’re working together. Apart from when he was on tour before [Ross formally joined NIN in 2016], we’re together almost every day.

It’s difficult to be objective. But I do genuinely feel that of all the people I’ve worked with and spent time with he’s the most gifted musician. Like I’ve said it sounds corny to come off like – I don’t know, when it comes down to it there’s just no question in my mind.

MF: Let’s talk about the new album. How does it fit into this cycle of recordings you’ve been working on with Trent? Where did you want to take your audience?

AR: Well I think what happened with this album, the third release, was that we did the first two and both of them came about pretty quickly. There was a direction we were kind of heading in terms of a conceptual basis of where the three releases might go. The first two came about pretty fast. There’s a clear kind of sonic and conceptual approach.

And then we had an idea for the third when but when we came back off doing a couple of shows – I mean this album was the one we spent the longest amount of time working upon. Mainly because the original idea conceptually we’d tied things up with a kind of bow I guess. But after we started working in that direction we realised that it wasn’t where we wanted to go. We thought it might be better to end it with a question mark, rather than a bow.

I’m not really good with memory or dates – and there were other things that were going on – but we probably spent five or six months working towards this last release, experimenting and doing things which might not have been in the initial plan. Where we took our music, we found ourselves in a place that we hadn’t expected. But we felt that it was right.

And it also, conceptually, put [Bad Witch] in a place that is more interesting than where we might have headed. As with everything our only goal is to make it the best that it can be in the context of what we’re trying to do. Once it took shape and life was breathed into the idea things started moving fairly fast. It took a long time to break the back of the idea. But once the back was broken it moved along pretty swiftly… What were you expecting with the third release?

MF: My only expectation with a band like Nine Inch Nails is that I never know what to expect!

AR: Well that’s good.

MF: You’ve been involved Nine Inch Nails for some time now and Trent’s been at it longer still. The group’s story is still being written musically speaking but just as equally its legacy is something which continues to grow. What is it about Nine Inch Nails that continues to draw people in while keeping long-time fans beholden?

AR: I mean, “I don’t know!” Is one answer. But at the same time, I would say it’s a dedication. Because I know everyone is working toward what is the most honest artistic statement that can be made. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the studio, be it working on a film or a Nine Inch Nails release and words have come up that say, “Why don’t we just do something like we did on the other thing?” I think that there’s an energy in terms of creativity that just does not and has not dried up. The years go past but the energy seems to stay the same.

I also think that the music business is so different these days than it was in the ’90s that you need someone like Nine Inch Nails. There needs to be someone who will fly in the face of expectation. Who simply does what they feel is the most honest statement. Who are willing to take risks where I think other people aren’t.

I’m not saying that from a place of arrogance or anything like that. Obviously, I’m grateful every day to be part of the journey. But I think it comes down to an attitude to life and within life, music is a soundtrack to our life. Personally, I feel very passionate about it. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as passionate as Trent.

Bad Witch’ is out now.

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