Jill / Canadian / Writer. Musing on music from the past and present with thoughts, photos, songs, and lol-worthy things. Loves alt rock and great synth hooks. Essentials: David Bowie, NIN, Dave Grohl, U2. -
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Nine Inch Nails’ most prominent visual theme evolved from decay into glitch during the With Teeth (2005) and Year Zero (2007) eras though the work of Rob Sheridan (Tumblr), a Los Angeles-based artist, designer and photographer. Sheridan started working with Trent Reznor in the late ’90s at a time when he was a budding artist with a well-run NIN fansite and Reznor was looking to expand his digital presence. As their partnership grew more and more collaborative, Sheridan’s role evolved from designer and photographer to Art Director. He also went on to create glitched visuals for Reznor’s work on The Social Network soundtrack in 2010 and with How to destroy angels_ this year in addition to becoming Reznor’s bandmate in the latter project. Despite being just as swamped as Reznor with NIN’s comeback, Sheridan was kind enough to speak with me over email about how he matches visuals to Reznor’s music.
Jill Krajewski (One Week One Band): What interests you about glitch art?
Rob Sheridan: I’ve always been fascinated with things that feel off, things that break formality or break the expected in interesting ways. When I started working with Nine Inch Nails and found myself tasked with visually representing the themes and emotions and sounds of the music, visual glitching was a natural fit. Trent has always played with things that sound slightly “wrong” in his music, and seeking the same visual metaphors often leads me to trying to use visual tools in “wrong” ways. Over time that’s meant dragging paper through broken printers, pouring liquids onto scanners, intentionally breaking cameras, corrupting code, disrupting signals, and on and on. But it depends entirely on the project and the themes and emotions behind it - you won’t find a trace of glitching on some of the albums I’ve done with NIN, because it wasn’t appropriate thematically.
OWOB: Your use of glitch art for The Social Network and Year Zero seems to reflect the backdrop of corruption in both works. Why do you feel glitch art suits this theme?
RS: Well glitch art is, by its nature, corruption. For Year Zero it was a really natural fit, and the use of glitching came initially out of the story. The idea in the mythology was that everything visual in the Year Zero campaign - album art, websites, video footage - had been sent here from the future. So the glitching was a way of visually showing that story element, showing that the data had been corrupted to varying degrees during the transmission back through time. Corruption being a thematic tie-in with Year Zero’s story made it that much more perfect.
For The Social Network, the look of corrupted images played perfectly into not only the themes of corruption in the film, but of the way we portray ourselves digitally on Facebook. The look of it hinted at a darker side to what would be otherwise benign photos.
OWOB: Is there a theme behind your use of glitch art with How to destroy angels_?
RS: I came to the world of analog glitch while seeking out visual inspiration for the new HTDA record [Welcome Oblivion]. Wanting to move away from databending and try something different, I found that the analog equipment I was starting to experiment with created a process that interestingly mirrored what was being done on this album with audio equipment in the studio. And the way the process distorted imagery tied in really well with the themes I wanted to explore. There are themes of singularity, of a sort of end to mankind in an apocalyptic yet distinctly non-apocalyptic sort of way. There are themes of information overload, an increasing inability to process the amount of data that’s coming in. None of that probably makes any sense, but I don’t want to go into it in too much detail. The themes are closely connected to the themes of the HTDA album, and I’d rather people be able to experience it themselves and have their own takeaway on what it’s about.
Thanks so much! Glad you loved The 1975 as much as I did. My path to getting to interview Matt Healy and shoot their show started with doing just what you’re doing. :)
Blogging about music is a great way to hone your knowledge, passion, and writing skills to eventually create a portfolio for yourself. Once you feel like you have a good roster of pieces, look up the independent music sites in your scene to start developing freelance relationships.
It’s more common to start out at a site with album and show reviews. After you’ve built up trust with a publication, they’ll be more open to having you do artist interviews too. With time, you can move up to larger music sites and bigger artists through the same deal.
It will take time and sweat, but if you know in your heart that working in music is what you want to do, don’t lose sight of the passion that started it all. Hope that helps!