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Trent Reznor joins Jason Bentley to discuss his experience composing the film score for The Social Network, a hit movie about the origins of Facebook.com. Tune in to hear all about his debut film score composition, satisfying the tone of the movie with electronic elements arranged in an orchestral way. Join us to hear songs from the the film score and for this fascinating conversation on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Photo: KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley with Trent Reznor by Larry Hirshowitz
Jason Bentley: Well The Social Network is the number one film in the country. It’s about the founding of Facebook and was written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by David Fincher with music composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Joining us right now on KCRW to talk about his film score is Trent Reznor. Good Morning.
Trent Reznor: Hello.
JB: How you doing?
TR: I'm doing quite well.
JB: Must be an exciting time for you these days, I know you're about to become a father any minute now.
TR: That's true, I've kind of been checking my phone to see if any action's taken place while I've left the house.
JB: And also this seems to be a new chapter in your music career, composing for film, The Social Network. How did this come together?
TR: It was pretty unexpected, actually. I got a call from David Fincher last fall, asking if I was interested in scoring his film. And my first words out of my mouth were "Yes" and "what's the film?"
And I wound up really thinking about it. I had just gotten off of a long tour, a series of tours for the last few years, I had just gotten married, and I had really made a pact with myself that I was going to keep some time open just to kind of, find out who I am and let my brain kind of settle down.
And I reluctantly said, you know, I've thought about it David, and I don't think I can give you my best work right now, and I don't know if I have the confidence to pull this off artistically at the moment. A couple of months went by, and I felt so terrible about that, and it nagged me, and I got back in touch and said, hey, I'm really sorry that I let you down on that. And he said, "No, you didn't. Let's start, we've still got time, let's do this thing." So we were off and running.
JB: Now, you had some history with David Fincher. He worked with you on a music video before?
TR: He directed the “Only” video for us, and he'd used some of my music in the opening credits to Seven, and we had discussed a project that hadn't gotten off the ground -- a musical version of Fight Club -- we'd gone over that about a year ago, so we were working on that.
JB: And on your end, was this your first experience scoring a picture like this?
TR: Yeah, properly scoring a film, this was my first - really the first time I'd gotten into the full aspect of it. And it was amazing, you know. It was interesting to me when he approached me about it because I've always been intrigued by the idea of scoring a film, but I didn't know that I knew how to do that, really. To me, music has always been the thing that is the forefront - when you listen to a piece of music I've written, I'm hoping that that's what you're paying attention to, and the idea of composing something that's part of a whole, that supports the narrative and the image, was intriguing to me. I thought I would take it on.
JB: Yeah, I mean for those who don't know, being a film composer you have to serve a few different masters. The story, the director's vision, the studio - and even things like, audience testing, things like that. So, it's really a challenge for those who aren't used to that process. Was it challenging for you?
TR: Well, like I said, it really was an exceptional process, and one that I feel fortunate to be a part of because, first and foremost, there's a mutual respect between David and myself. And I really enjoyed the idea of serving someone else, and being in a situation where I'm not the top of the pyramid. And with the trust I have with David, and also knowing that he has a vision, knowing that he really has a good idea of what he wants for this. I had to question, ok, what does he want from me? How do I best serve that? And it was a real education. And in terms of, I've heard horror stories from friends who score films of meddling from the people with the paychecks and all - there was none of that. This was a very respectful situation, on all fronts. And it left me with a really good taste in my mouth, like - if it's like this all the time, I love this job.
JB: Trent Reznor is here live on KCRW, we're talking about The Social Network, he scored the film. So why don't we hear a cue or two, and then we'll come back, I've got a few more questions for you. Trent Reznor on KCRW.
JB: It's the score for The Social Network. Trent Reznor scored the film and he is our guest in studio on KCRW. Very nice, very nice.
TR: Thank you.
JB: Now clearly a non-traditional score, more electronic and intense. No orchestral parts that I can remember from the film - was that something you ever thought to work with or experiment with?
TR: Yeah, when we first got into this, Dave and I had a lot of discussions about overall approach, and I wanted to get in his head and see what his vision for this thing was. We decided right off the bat to not go the orchestral route and try to take it into referencing things like Tangerine Dream, a certain electronic element that had a real identity to it, but then at the same time make it organic and arrange it as if it were orchestral, with different voices and whatnot.
So, my partner and I, Atticus Ross, we spent several weeks just generating ideas to see what resonated with David, and came up with fifteen to twenty pretty fleshed-out musical identities, things you can tape on the wall and see if it kind of fit in general with what he described. Not specifically with scenes in mind, just emotional kind of tones in mind. We seemed to hit it right off the bat, he responded to all of those. And then it was a matter of fitting things in with the film, and when we delivered the pieces, we delivered them as if they had been recorded by an orchestra. A lot of the mixing took place when they were mixing the film -- rather than delivering finished music, we delivered enough that it could fit around dialogue because we knew that was a big concern in this movie, there's a lot of talking. We needed a bed to propel some scenes along that wouldn't interfere with the voices - an interesting process.
JB: At what point did you first start writing, at what stage of the picture's development?
TR: Well, when I went back to David and said, ok my confidence is up, and unexpectedly he offered me the job - this would have been late winter - and he had shot the picture, so we'd seen some very rough edits of various scenes, you know maybe half the movie we'd seen, and I'd read the script many times up to that point. And then it was just taking some of the guideposts that he'd given us in terms of the sound he envisions, and then sitting in a room and letting my subconscious take over and just generating things that wound up being the lion's share of the score.
JB: It's real in-your-face when you see the picture, and I think one of the things it did for me was emphasize the sense of alienation that the main character, Mark Zuckerberg, who is the founder of Facebook, played very well by Jesse Eisenberg, I mean, he really nails it -
TR: Yeah, he was great.
JB: - you know, this kind of highly intelligent but socially inept and really resentful character, but the music for me really worked to sort of emphasize that alienation - was that kind of what you were shooting for with some of that?
TR: Very much so. Like I said, the whole aspect of scoring was - this was a real learning process for me. Seeing how we could change the interpretation of a scene, you know in this film in particular, there's a lot of people in rooms talking to each other, and seeing how a different bed of music underneath really gives it a completely different feel, you know, and my push was to turn it a bit more sinister and to build up - bring out some of the darkness and the emotional undertones of what's going on through this whole film.
JB: On a bigger level, I think it helped me get the sense of contemporary urgency and edge. I don't know about you but sometimes I feel the sense of an accelerated lifestyle where, you know, you may have a million friends on Facebook but, at the same time, you can still feel so utterly alone.
JB: And I think that the score really gave that urgency, that modern life feeling, as well.
TR: I appreciate that.
JB: So let's check out another couple cues, these ones I'm going to choose are a little more optimistic, and then we will come back and ask you a couple more questions. Trent Reznor is our guest on KCRW. He scored the film The Social Network, which is the big picture in theaters now, it had a huge weekend - $23 million - so congratulations on the success of the film. It's music from The Social Network on KCRW.
JB: It's the score for The Social Network. Trent Reznor, composer. He joins us in studio and we were talking a minute ago about the Internet, its effect and kind of the revolution that has gone on. Obviously, it changed the music business radically. You've been really outspoken about where it's all going, and I wonder if you feel that digital distribution of music has devalued music, or has it empowered independent artists?
TR: I think it's done both those things. It's been pretty amazing to watch what's happened to the record business in the last, say, ten years or so, and I think a lot of that revolution and upheaval has been absolutely necessary and certainly decreased the power of those corporate entities that have always steered to make music generally bad and mistreat artists in the process, and I can say that firsthand.
It's great to think that any artist, from their bedroom, can get worldwide distribution and they already have it, they just hit publish. But it certainly has disrupted a lot of things that…it would be nice, for example…like, I spend a lot of time - more time than I wish - thinking about solving that problem of how do you treat fans with respect and understand how they like music, how they like to consume music, how they like to hear about it, what formats they like it in, and also considering it from the point of view of the artist of how can you possibly make a living or be compensated for your hard work, and how do both those sides of the equation balance out.
I haven't seen any solution coming from record labels per se, a lot of their strategy is just, stick your head in the sand and hope that people still are going to buy plastic CDs that most people don't want and punish fans for rabid enthusiasm - you know, a record leaks. I've done this first-hand where I've been irritated that something I've worked on and designed my whole life to be able to create is stolen, and talked about, and shared, and I'm mad at those people.
But then I think, well, they're the people that - that's what I would be doing, you know? I want people excited about this, and this is wrong to be feeling this way. And it would be nice to be compensated for what I'm doing but at the same time, I'm very grateful people are interested in what I'm doing. Trying to find that balance is just a process that certainly I've been involved in the last few years, of trying to find strategies that are fair to both sides, where you can feel good about bringing fans in, turning people onto your music and also feel good about, hey, I was able to keep my head above water in the process. You know, it's certainly a work in progress and, anyway, that's my other job.
JB: More to come. Music from The Social Network will be available, you mentioned, will be available on iTunes, yes?
TR: I believe it may be now, or it certainly will be at any moment. And you can also go to Nullco, which is kind of my fake record label, and you can get a free EP there or you can buy the full record or a BluRay of 5.1 mixes. I was trying to come up with some ridiculous package but, no, we kept it pretty simple on this one. It's available there right now.
JB: Well, the music sounds great. I caught one of your farewell shows for Nine Inch Nails, I was at the Echo/Echoplex a few months back, really terrific but - any misgivings? Is this really it for Nine Inch Nails on the road or what do you think?
TR: Well, certainly for the near future. And that's been really just the result of having the courage to finally say I need to stop doing that. And it's not for any lack of love of Nine Inch Nails but, in a lot of ways, I think it's keeping me stagnant in this archetype of a thing that's been this thing that I felt very precious about. The reality is, I'm getting older and if it feels like it's not as sincere as it always has been to me, or maybe I'm turning into somebody new and I'm wearing a mask to go play those songs and it's starting to feel that way in some ways… And I made the decision to stop at the end of five years of constant touring which also played a factor in that.
So there's no immediate plans. Will I ever play as Nine Inch Nails again? Perhaps. But I really like the idea of trying to force my hand into some new things and seeing what happens.
JB: And hopefully more film score work.
TR: I'd like that.
JB: Alright. Well Trent Reznor, thank you for coming by KCRW.
TR: My pleasure, thank you.
JB: Alright. The Social Network is in theaters, the score available at iTunes and on his website and we do appreciate you coming through. Trent Reznor on KCRW, thanks man.
TR: Thank you.