Every weekday, Trent Reznor makes his way from his house, a cottagey sprawl behind a white wall in a canyon on Los Angeles’s Westside, to a studio he’s built in his backyard. There he meets his best friend, bandmate, and business partner, Atticus Ross, and they get to work. Reznor and Ross observe the same hours, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. “We show up,” Reznor told me. “We’re not late. We’re not coming in to start to fuck around.” It’s a methodical, orderly existence that Reznor could not have foreseen in the ’90s, when he was fronting Nine Inch Nails and struggling with a drug-and-alcohol problem that was his answer to success. “I would do anything to avoid writing a song,” Reznor said. “I’d rewire the studio 50 times.”

Now Reznor has a wife, Mariqueen Maandig, five kids, and multiple jobs. He is sober. Since 2010, when the director David Fincher asked Reznor and Ross to score The Social Network, for which Reznor and Ross won an Oscar, the two men have had steady employment composing for film. This year, Reznor and Ross are also starting a company called With Teeth, built around storytelling in multiple disciplines: film production, fashion, a music festival, and a venture with Epic Games.

And then, of course, there is the oldest and perhaps still the most complicated of Reznor’s jobs: being the frontman of Nine Inch Nails. In 1988 Reznor formed what was then a one-man band; the first two full-length records Nine Inch Nails released, Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and The Downward Spiral (1994), have sold more than 8 million copies. (Over subsequent years and subsequent albums, the band has since crossed the 20 million mark in sales.) In the ’90s, for a time, Nine Inch Nails was ubiquitous: a phenomenon on the level of Nirvana or Dr. Dre. During that decade, the success of the band nearly killed Reznor. “I didn’t feel prepared to process how disorienting that was,” he said. “How much it can distort your personality.”

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Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross cover GQ’s Global Creativity Awards 2024 issue. Subscribe to GQ.

On Trent Reznor: Jacket by Dolce & Gabbana. Sweater by Ferragamo. Pants by Rick Owens. Necklace by The Great Frog. On Atticus Ross: Coat by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Scarf, stylist’s own. Sunglasses by Ahlem.

These days, Nine Inch Nails, which Ross joined as a full-time member in 2016, presents a different problem—how do you make something old, something so already well-defined, new again? There are years when Reznor feels like he has the answers and years when he’s less certain. He has put the band on hiatus more than once; after the last Nine Inch Nails tour, in 2022, Reznor deliberately took a break from playing shows as well. “For the first time in a long time I wasn’t sure: What’s the tour going to say?” Reznor told me. “What do I have to say right now? We can still play those songs real good. Maybe we can come up with a new production. But it wasn’t screaming at me: This is what to do right now.”

But he and Ross still come to work, daily, in search of transcendence. “We sit in here every day,” Reznor said. “And a portion of the time organically becomes us just figuring out who we are as people and processing life and a kind of therapy session. And in those endless hours it’s come up: Why do we want to do this? And the reason is because we both feel the most in touch with God and fulfilled.”

It is easy to make things when you are a teenager growing up in rural Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border, as Reznor was, and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain; it is considerably harder, once you’ve gotten older, and found a way to make things that people like, to keep going. It’s an old story: The act of creation can lift you up, but those sharp gifts can also destroy you, and if you make it past that, the sheer blissful regularity of life with money and a family can even you out so thoroughly that there is no friction left to work with. You look inside the cupboard and the cupboard is bare, or it’s a mansion and living inside of it is a person you’re bored of, and so you stop looking. But Reznor and Ross have never stopped looking, and the search for that magical feeling of finding something—that feeling of, in Reznor’s words, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how I just did what I did, but I’ve channeled it into something that worked”—is still the thing that organizes their days and their moods.

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