One of many fun subplots in the story of “Old Town Road,” the country-rap novelty that became a record-breaking viral smash, is that it’s built around a Nine Inch Nails sample. Lil Nas X, still 19 years old at the time, purchased a beat from Dutch producer YoungKio for $30. That beat sampled the NIN instrumental “34 Ghosts IV.” So indirectly, “Old Town Road” became Trent Reznor’s first #1 hit.
Reznor acknowledged his role in “Old Town Road” with a funny Instagram post when the song earned him a CMA nomination. And now, at long last, he’s spoken about it in an interview. At Rolling Stone, Reznor said “Old Town Road” is “undeniably hooky,” but when asked if he enjoys it, he replied, “It’s been stuck in my head enough.” Elsewhere in the interview, he invoked the weirdness of hearing Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” cover for the first time: “You feel a little bit violated, you know? And then you get over that, and you realize it has become something else… It’s very flattering.”
Reznor also explained that he could have stopped the song’s momentum on the charts by refusing to clear the sample: “The way it was presented to me originally is I got a call from my management saying, ‘We got a call from a panicked manager saying they had used the sample of something off Ghosts. They should have cleared it, but it didn’t get cleared. It’s picking up some steam on the viral Spotify charts. What do you think about that?’ And I said, ‘Look, I’m fine with it. I get how stuff goes. They’re not saying they didn’t sample it. Just work it out, but don’t be a roadblock to this.’ I hadn’t heard it yet. Then a few weeks later, I was like, ‘Holy shit.'”