“Trent Reznor and I were very 'f*** you' about guitars – it was the complete antithesis of what was going on with the era”: Filter's Richard Patrick on developing his unorthodox approach to tone – and his reunion with Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails and Richard Patrick perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022
(Image credit: Justin Mohlman)

As far as anti-heroes go, back in the '90s, Filter's Richard Patrick had it going on.

Be it his deeply brooding personality, angular approach to the guitar, or his early association with Trent Reznor through his tenure with NIN, Patrick – along with a few others – treated the guitar heroics of the '80s as nothing more than dirt on the bottom of his Doc Martens.

Records like Short Bus (1995) and Title of Record (1999) read back as classics loaded with gems that defined '90s alt-rock like few others. And, sure, Patrick is proud of his accomplishments, but that doesn't mean he's resting on his laurels.

In fact, according to Patrick, Filter's latest, The Algorithm, stands chest to chest with anything he's done prior.

"I had a lot of fun, and I think The Algorithm is right there with Title of Record, Short Bus, or The Amalgamut aka, 'the classic records'," Patrick says. "But if I had to pick my definitive statement, aside from The Algorithm, I'd pick Title of Record."

"Title of Record encapsulates everything this band is known for and can do. You've got Take a Picture, Welcome to the Fold, I'm Not the Only One, and a ton of songs that have really held up. And that's why I'm so excited about The Algorithm because, in a bunch of years, I think people will be talking about it in the same way."

Patrick's sentiments seem in line, as The Algorithm is filled with the frantic sounds that once made Patrick a staple of terrestrial radio and VH1's Pop Up Video.

A combination of cutting-edge tech and classic guitars keeps Filter's signature sound in the present, Patrick explains.

"I have a whole arsenal of stuff that I have inside my computer, like Universal Audio presets, Marshall amp simulator, and a ton of amazing plugins," he reveals.

"That stuff aside, I have a variety of guitars that I use, but my most-used is this Telecaster that I've had forever. It's got a Seymour Duncan Parallel Axis pickup in it, which, to me, is basically the sound of the '90s. It's super-high gain and pairs so well with the Bogner and Bad Cat amps that we used. But as far as writing, I try and go with stuff that sounds like it's ready and that I can record right away."

In support of The Algorithm, Filter's Richard Patrick dialed in with Guitar World to dig into his creative process, his 'punk rock' approach to guitar, and working and reuniting with NIN's Trent Reznor.

Tell me about Filter's latest record, The Algorithm

"I was calling it Rebus, which was the sequel to Short Bus, but that ended up not happening because there were some issues with PledgeMusic, who was supposed to be funding it. They collapsed, and the whole thing fell through, and then I was calling it They Got Us Right Where They Want Us, but they didn't stick, either. In the end, I spent a lot of time thinking, working on these songs via my computer, synthesizing my guitars, and basically drowning myself in this music."

What were some of the challenges of putting this record together primarily by yourself, as opposed to the '90s when you presumably had a full band behind you?

"For starters, the budgets are different [laughs]. Back in the '90s, heavy rock music was the big-selling thing, but not so much now. This was before music piracy and the absolute slaughter that happened over the last several years when budgets dried up. Now I have to be way thriftier, and I only really keep this running by doing film scores. 

"Without the side hustle, I don't know if I'd even be able to make new Filter records anymore. For example, Title of Record had a $1,000,000 budget, but with this new record, I had maybe $20,000. That's why I'm so proud of this– I made something that sits alongside those old albums and did so by overcoming the obstacle of budgetary limitations."

Is harnessing the classic Filter guitar sound on a shoestring budget difficult?

"The truth is that I've always been a cheater [laughs]. I've always used amp simulators, guitar processors, and all kinds of shit like that. I tracked everything, but was a bit too sloppy, so I had my good friend Jonny Radtke come in and re-track everything for me. He took my parts and re-recorded them in a single afternoon. Having Jonny there to clean things up was important because I've always been very punk rock and pretty sloppy."

Why do you feel you're sloppy, and how have you evolved since your heyday?

"I just think my style is so rooted in punk rock like Joe Strummer, but also heavy metal like Dimebag Darrell. I'm not saying I'm as good as either of those guys, but that's where I take a lot of inspiration from. When Filter plays live, I do this weird solo where I go bonkers, do dive bombs, and am feeding back all over the place while also fucking going crazy with the whammy bar; it's nuts. 

"I'm not a technical or amazing player, but I fucking feel it, you know? I have spirit. I like to find this out there, weird shit, and it doesn't matter if I'm a poor player or whatever; I'll take my spirit and caring about what I'm doing over being technically gifted. I've always been that way, and I don't think that will ever leave me, man."

Photo of NINE INCH NAILS and Trent REZNOR and Richard PATRICK, Trent Reznor and Richard Patrick performing on stage.

(Image credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

That same spirit probably attracted Trent Reznor to you.

"Yeah, man, that's true. My ethic and ethos are deeply rooted in punk rock, but I also grabbed all kinds of crazy shit from Skinny Puppy, Dimebag, Joe Strummer, and even fucking Mick Taylor [laughs]. I'm all over the place. I'll do a dive bomb out of nowhere in the name of art, and I'm okay with that. It doesn't need to be perfect or technical; leave it alone, you know? 

I see that shit as perfect and exactly as it should be. So, my guitar playing is a lot of 'fuck you,' and that's what Trent saw in me. He loved the fact that I had that sort of attitude. He gave me a place to shine, and I felt nothing but gratitude. But I'm still all about the same craziness, feedback, and locking into some sort of fucking power groove."

You reunited with Trent and NIN in the fall of 2022. How did that come about?

"That was one of the greatest moments that I've ever had on stage in my life. The crowd was amazing and so receptive. Trent asked me to sing Eraser, and I barely got through it because I had tears in my eyes. I fought through that and started screaming the part that's at the end, and man, it was just so unbelievably overwhelming. I was so happy to be there; it was such a special moment. 

"I've always loved Trent, but I love him even more now for it. And then we did Hey Man, Nice Shot, which was fucking insane. The fact that we got up and did my song… fucking amazing. Trent gave me so much time to shine, and I'm very appreciative. It was perfect to potentially close out my life with NIN."

Does that mean it was a one-off?

"Well, it was perfect closure. I really hope it happens again, but you never know. And so, if it never does happen again, I'm totally satisfied and happy because Trent gave me an opportunity to jump on stage with NIN one last time and rock out."

What have you learned from working with Trent that you still carry with you today?

"Trent was all about that punk rock attitude, which we had in common. His ethics were totally punk rock, which was interesting because we were coming out at the tail end of fucking guitar hero, finger tapping, a million notes a second, hair metal stuff. What we were doing with Pretty Hate Machine was kinda like Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, and Skinny Puppy. 

"The way we approached the guitars was they were a means to an end. They were about making a song complete or finishing it off rather than standing out. We didn't view them as a means to make a musical statement; we were very 'fuck you' about it. It was like the total opposite... the complete antithesis of what was going on with the era."

I can still hear that in your approach to this day.

"Fuck, yeah. Trent taught me that being yourself is the most original thing you can do. And, to me, that's the most important thing. I still follow my gut, be myself, let it rip, and keep having that same fucking attitude I've always had. And I'm pumped, man. We're gonna go on tour with Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, and Ministry; we're calling it The Freaks on Parade Tour. The record is out soon, and I've got a lot of friends I wanna go see. It's gonna be awesome."

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.