Trent Reznor on Producing Halsey Album – ‘We Came Out the Other End Changed, In a Good Way’
By most accounts, Halsey's If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power has been a commercial and critical success, expanding her horizons working with Nine Inch Nails pair and film scoring partners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who produced the album. But while audiences are loving the music, it's also had quite the impact on both the artist and her producing collaborators.
"I fucking love this record," Ross told Billboard, adding, "The one thing that we didn't change was any lyrics or melody. I can listen to the album and get lost on an emotional level."
Reznor added, “We’re always looking for things that make us feel inspired and less cynical. We came out the other end changed, in a good way, and revitalized. It has been invigorating and inspiring, and I can tell you we both needed it, just with what the world has been like the last couple of years.”
For Halsey, this is a collaboration long in the making, but now on her fourth album having the confidence to make the ask. “I was thinking, ‘Ugh, I don’t want it to be some corporate, ‘Hello, would you please be interested in working with our young pop star?’ So I wrote them a letter and just kissed their asses as much as I possibly could... and crossed my fingers that they would even respond.”
She continues, "I had been basically poorly plagiarizing their work forever. Every single time I started an album, I thought, 'Well, maybe this will be the one.' But imposter syndrome is huge, and I didn’t think they had any idea who I was. It turns out they didn’t, but that’s OK. This time, I thought I had something special."
The vocalist says she initially had an idea for a darker, more conceptual record, and that as the demos were coming together, she began to see a record form in a narrative manner just as she learned she was pregnant. "So I had this nightmarish, dark album, and I wanted to share it with the world in a way that was really compelling and visceral. Obviously, the first people I thought to call were Trent and Atticus," she explains.
For Reznor, Halsey's letter definitely captured his attention. "It was intriguing, and I thought, 'It’d be easy to just say no, but let’s hear some stuff.' We got a few songs [“Easier Than Lying,” “1121,” “Whispers” and “Honey”], and the original ask was, 'Could you contribute to these to help tell the story that I want to tell?' And we thought internally, 'Let’s just keep the vocals and try a new piece of music around the song and see what happens.' Right off the bat, the songs sprang to life. Suddenly, I’m leaning in and listening to the lyrics, and now I’m getting goosebumps." After the initial songs were sent back, an ask to work on the full album followed.
As for their contributions to the album, Reznor stated, "Halsey’s songs seem to come from a place of pain or catharsis. It has an authenticity to it that you can pick up on. We felt our job in this record was simply to put a nice frame around it so that it helps achieve that message. It wasn’t creating the message, it wasn’t even altering the message: It was just hanging it on the right wall with the right light on it so that you would pay attention to it."
Initially having concerns over how their touches would be perceived from the singer's pop fans, Reznor recalls, "I think initially, we were intimidated. 'Is it a pop star, and does that mean there are big businesses affiliated with it and it has to feel a certain way?' We don’t want to fuck that up, and we’re not out to troll. We were envisioning, to go to [the] worst-case scenario, 'At some point, someone’s going to talk sense into Halsey that this could be career-sabotaging because it’s not going to be a TikTok track.'"
But the end result was something impactful and that everyone was proud of. "We were really impressed with [Halsey’s] artistic fearlessness," says Reznor. "What matters is good music and having something to say that feels authentic and communicates with people. And on a real level, it’s not filtered through an algorithm or a group-think element weighing in."
The Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-produced Halsey album If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power arrived at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, featuring a guest lineup that included Dave Grohl, Lindsey Buckingham, Dave Sitek and more. It's already yielded the singles "I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God" and "You Asked for This."