“His mother used to rock him to sleep to Kooks!”: the time David Bowie and Trent Reznor teamed up on tour together

Bowie and Trent Reznor in 1995
(Image credit: YouTube)

The 90s were a reinventive period for David Bowie, an era in which the Starman sought to make up for the complacency that plagued much of his output in the late ‘80s and get back to breaking new ground. One such imaginative project involved teaming up with Nine Inch Nails, then flying high on the back of The Downward Spiral’s huge success, for a joint North American tour in 1995 to promote Bowie’s Outside record.

Given the creative minds involved, this wasn’t your usual ‘you play and then we’ll play’ scenario, Bowie and NiN leader Trent Reznor devising what Bowie described as a musical version of a two-act play. Titled the Dissonance tour, it saw NiN open proceedings, before melding into a five-song section where the two artists played together, and that giving way to a Bowie headline set.

Speaking to MTV as the tour got underway, the duo explained how the team-up came about. “Inadvertently, it was MTV’s fault because I saw the video that you’d banned [1992’s Happiness In Slavery] and I thought, ‘That’s really good’. Because of that, I got into what he was doing and Downward Spiral was just an exceptional album, really excellent… I like to be adventurous in terms of what I do onstage as well as on the music and so on the off-chance I phoned up Trent’s management to find out if there would be any interest in Trent working with me on the tour. Trent had been working for a year or so on the road already and was pretty tired and the answer I got back was, 'Yeah, we’ll do it but no more than six weeks please’. And then we started talking and it became a musical creative process.”

Bowie described the dynamic between the two acts as “a totally cool ying and yang thing, it’s a situation of opposites even though we’re working somewhere in the same area, we’re actually very opposite about the things we do. Trent is a minimalist in the way he structures his material, my stuff tends to be overlayed and conceptually more of a texture of things, so it almost becomes musically like a two-act play. I don’t know of any tour like it and I don’t know if you’ll see another one either.”

When interviewer Kurt Loder asks Reznor when he first became aware of Bowie’s music, a jovial Bowie jokes, “His mother used to rock him to sleep to Kooks!”. “ “I got aware of [David’s music] in the Scary Monsters era,” Reznor answers when he’s finished laughing, “and I went back and discovered a catalogue of great songwriting. When you think about your career, you think, ‘Well he did it right’, always kept himself interesting and took chances.”

Reznor would go on to provide a remix of the Bowie single The Hearts Filthy Lesson and also rework Bowie’s 1997 single I’m Afraid Of Americans. True to Bowie’s claim, the tour would remain a one-off. You can watch a video of their joint set here, though: 


Watch the full MTV interview below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.