Trent Reznor On TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN PART 8, Five Years Later

In which the frontman of The Nine Inch Nails helps us celebrate one of the most iconic episodes of TV ever aired.

By Scott Wampler · @ScottWamplerBMD · June 24, 2022, 12:00 PM EDT
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Welcome to Into The Void, a weekly pilgrimage into, well, whatever happens to be going on in the horror-obsessed (and unfortunately opinionated) mind of Scott Wampler, officially licensed opinion-haver and co-host of the FANGORIA Podcast Network’s The Kingcast. All sales are final. No refunds will be issued.


Here's something I believe: the summer of 2017, wherein David Lynch and Mark Frost brought Twin Peaks back to television, represents the last truly great summer on record. The next few weren't bad, per se (and were certainly more satisfying than the summers we've been handed during the COVID era), but none of 'em came close to matching the crackling energy of Summer '17, when you, me, and everyone we know was caught up in the immense gravitational pull of Twin Peaks: The Return. It was a weekly show, rather than a forced binge. It was impossible to accurately speculate on, but we went ahead and tried to, anyway. All those viewing parties and conversations about what sort of game Lynch was playing this time. I think about that summer in the same way some folks think back to a beloved childhood trip to Disneyworld. I fantasize about feeling that way ever again.

Of course, we'd all been speculating about The Return before it even arrived. A few of my colleagues expected Lynch and Frost to bring the series right back to its soapy roots, and wondered if that was a thing we'd actually enjoy. Others theorized that Lynch might go balls-out with this new batch of episodes (18 of 'em, by God!), firmly placing The Return in territory that felt more of a piece with Fire Walk With Me than … well, let's say "sizable portions of Twin Peaks S2." When we realized – almost immediately, before the first episode had even wrapped – that Lynch and Frost really were gonna swing for the fences on this one, it was a moment of unbearable excitement. What a gift, we said, over and over again as those first few episodes unfolded. They're really going for it!

We had no idea.

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The first seven episodes of The Return proceeded at their own methodical pace, never skimping on the weird, the dark, or the terrifying but still rolling along at a (relatively) even keel: the wilder sequences were balanced by the melodrama, the surreal generally matched by the grounded. And so, many hours in, it seemed safe to assume that we'd reached the ceiling on how aggressively strange the new Peaks might get. Then we arrived at Part 8 ("Gotta Light?"), and all hell broke loose – both within the confines of the show and on social media, where Peaks fans were melting the fuck down about the parade of nightmarish images, shocking reveals, otherworldly locations and … well, what else would you call it? Quite simply: the pure, uncut Lynch of it all. It was mesmerizing.

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Central to Part 8 was a stunning appearance by Nine Inch Nails (cheekily rechristened The Nine Inch Nails in the Twin Peaks reality), who tore through the Roadhouse with a hypnotic, primal performance of "She's Gone Away" a mere fifteen minutes into the episode. This was something of a format break for The Return, which usually capped each of its chapters with one musical performance or another. That switcheroo seemed to offer another not-so-subtle hint towards Part 8's importance within the grand scheme of things, a way for Lynch and company to signal, "HEY! This one isn't like the other ones! Pay very close attention!" If that was the intention, it worked – though, admittedly, given the sizable overlap between NIN fans and Lynch fans, we may not have needed the reminder. We couldn't take our eyes off the goddamned thing.

Last week, I saw something on Twitter that reminded me that Part 8's fifth anniversary was creeping up on us, and I wanted to put together a little piece to mark the occasion. Amidst one of the best summers of my life, a summer which was an embarrassment of Lynchian riches to begin with, I'd witnessed one of the greatest hours of television ever aired, featuring what remains my favorite band of all time, and here I was – five years later! – still shellshocked by the moment. So I did what any reasonable person would do in this situation: I reached out to Nine Inch Nails frontman and Oscar-winning composer Trent Reznor to see if he'd be willing to answer a handful of questions about the experience and his long-standing relationship with David Lynch.

Here's what he had to say…

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FANGORIA: You and David Lynch have worked together on a number of occasions, and I know you're a lifelong fan of his work. So, I'm curious what your first interactions with him were like?

TRENT REZNOR: David Lynch was a hero [of mine]. Kind of a mythical creature. I'm sure the word had been put out regarding my respect for him and, particularly, how important Blue Velvet had been in the alternate trajectory of my life and certainly my artistic life. Walking into that theater not knowing what I was getting into, seeing that – my mind was blown.

So, I forget exactly how it came up, but I remember management calling me up and saying, "Hey, David Lynch wants to get together to work on sound design and some other stuff for his new film." I was living in New Orleans [at the time]. And that was a message I just couldn't believe I was even hearing. I remember a sense of panic, like – when? How? What's he wanna do? "He wants to come to New Orleans for a few days, hang out, and just work on some sounds." Yes.

Well, I forget the exact circumstance, but for some reason, I invited Peter Christopherson, from Coil, who I'd been around and working with a bit, to also join us in the studio. Peter was a great sound designer but also a weird guy, and I thought it might help to have a buffer between (Lynch) and me, the dude who's legitimately freaked to be on the scene.

Smart.

So, the night David Lynch shows up, we're in my studio, which was in uptown New Orleans, on Magazine Street. It's kind of a residential area. Well, it was also foggy that night, so we went to wait outside because we knew he was headed there. I guess he was driven and dropped off, because he suddenly emerges from the fog and – at that exact moment, from down a side street – two completely naked dudes also come walking out of the fog (laughs). It wasn't planned, just one of those random New Orleans experiences. I'll never forget the look on [Lynch's] face, like, "What the fuck is going on here?"

That set the stage for a pretty incredible couple of days of being in the studio with him. And he's exactly like what you'd think he'd be like. He talks loud. He speaks in riddles. Most of the agenda wasn't to compose music but to listen to noise. We had heard that the sound designer he'd worked with previously had recently passed away, and he was looking for someone to fill in the gaps. He was very knowledgeable about what he liked and didn't like. One of the more memorable bits was him grabbing a piece of paper and a pen and just scribbling with it, saying, "I want it to sound like that." So, it was equally intimidating and surreal and incredible. I wasn't at my best at that time – I was about to bottom out with drugs and alcohol – but he didn't disappoint, and that started a friendship that's lasted over the years. It's always great to hear from him, and [to know] that someone I truly appreciate is out there in the world, making it a better place.

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Then we flash-forward some years, and here comes Twin Peaks: The Return.

Yeah, when we got the call about Twin Peaks, the question was just, "Would you like to participate in Twin Peaks: The Return?" and the answer was, "Yes, of course!" and then he said, "I would like the band to be playing a show at the Roadhouse." No further information.

We didn't have a lot of time; it was maybe two, three weeks until [filming]. We were working on a piece that – and I haven't told anyone this – ultimately became the music for "This Isn't The Place," incorrectly thinking that he'd want something that was more … y'know, I was picturing Julee Cruise, something that was a bit more broken down or open and David Lynch-ish.

But when we turned the track in, he was comfortable enough with me to write or call me back and say, "Y'know, I'm looking for something a little less … this just isn't what I want. I want something that feels menacing and unpleasant." I think probably most of the people that were called [about performing in the Roadhouse] had the same thought we did, to go a little more Badalamenti-ish, something you'd expect to be playing in there.

So in about another day, we quickly turned around "She's Gone Away" and immediately got the response of, "Thank you, yes, this is exactly what I was looking for! Appreciate the extra effort!"

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And you must've known nothing about the context of the performance, right?

Yeah, when we arrived at where they were shooting the Roadhouse sequences, somewhere out in Pasadena, the only thing we knew was that we were a band playing on a stage.

Y'know what? That's not true. There was some question beforehand where I asked him, "Are we Nine Inch Nails? Or are we just some band playing? If we are Nine Inch Nails in this reality, what's the circumstance – are we just playing in this little bar where we have no production?" I was trying to avoid breaking the fiction of whatever he was trying to create, while not knowing anything about the story around us or why we'd be there, or what might be leading people into that place to begin with.

And we talked about having some sort of [on-stage] projection, something that'd feel like what you might bring if you were a band the size of a band that'd be playing in a bar like that. We did a little film test on our own just to show [Lynch] what we meant by "production," something that'd be a bit more than just house lights at the Roadhouse, and he loved it! We knew there wouldn't be a lot of time on set to experiment with it, so we did as much pre-production as we could, wrapping everyone's heads around it. So, when we went in there, we knew what the plan was and that everything would be ironed out. I think we were the last band to perform that day, but it was great.

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I'm curious if "The Nine Inch Nails" was a line in the script or something that happened on the day.

The "The Nine Inch Nails" thing came from the announcer guy, who kept fucking up [the line reading]. It was funny, so we all decided, "Let's just keep it!"

And how long was it between filming and you seeing the scene in context when the episode aired?

I had no knowledge whatsoever as to what was going to happen in The Return, at all, and I got a call from David maybe a month after we'd performed where he said, "Hey, will you come over and take a look at what I've edited, tell me if you're cool with it and your performance." Fuck yes, I'll come over! So I go over there and he's got a cool place to work, this little theater in his house, and he says, "I'm gonna play you a segment." He starts it, and he begins one frame before we start playing and stops it one frame after. So, I had no idea how that would fit into what was happening inside the show. "Nothing personal," he said, "Just gotta keep everything locked down!"

So, when we saw it on television with the rest of the world, that was the first time we'd seen the performance in context of what was happening. To say that my mind and Atticus' mind were blown by it would be a massive understatement. I could tell … look, I loved The Return, and I loved how uncompromised it was from the beginning. It wasn't catering to an audience of any kind, it was pure in what it was, and that episode, in particular, I felt – for whatever reason – was just the most mind-bending, experimental, beautiful, "I can't believe I'm seeing this" thing. To have us in the middle of that was incredibly flattering, in whatever little way we contributed to it.

I've been meaning to go back and rewatch the whole thing recently, too, given the time that's passed between now and when it happened. When I think back to that summer, it feels like a really magical time.

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NOTE: Special thanks to Trent Reznor for taking the time to offer us these recollections. Nine Inch Nails is currently on tour, and if you can make it to one of their shows, you absolutely should.