Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are Grammy winners. Oscar winners. Rock stars. Bringers of sonic nightmares. They are not, however, always great on their first attempt at a piece of music. When Damon Lindelof commissioned the longtime collaborators and Nine Inch Nails bandmates to write a score for his HBO adaptation of the comic book Watchmen, Reznor and Ross made a pass that they mostly didn’t like.
“We were a bit caught up in our own heads,” Reznor admitted during a conversation with Ross, Lindelof, and Rolling Stone about the Watchmen score. There was, however, one track that so totally captivated Lindelof that, as he put it, “I felt it in my teeth.” Lindelof told Reznor and Ross to do more in the vein of that work — which would ultimately be called “How the West Was Really Won” — and thus a mesmerizing, unsettling sonic template was born. Now, the pair are nominated in two categories at the upcoming Emmy Awards (September 20th at 8 P.M. ET on ABC), for original dramatic score and original music and lyrics (for the track “The Way It Used to Be”).
During our interview, Reznor and Ross not only revealed how they wrote that piece, and many of the others that followed — they offered a practical demonstration, breaking “How the West Was Really Won” and several other tracks down into their component musical parts, then layering them on top of one another.
Along the way, Lindelof played fanboy about Reznor and Ross (and vice versa) and explained how they wound up working on Watchmen — which led all shows with 26 Emmy nominations this year — in the first place.