Harvested at a Young Age
At the age of 5, Reznor was forced into piano lessons, and
got good pretty quickly. Music came naturally to him and at one point he
considered dropping out of school to become a concert pianist. But when he hit
high school, his musical interests tuned into rock & roll.
"I always knew what I wanted to do, but growing up in
Pennsylvania in a corn field, I just didn't have any idea how to go about
pursuing it," says Reznor.
But he managed to reap a dream bigger than most farm town
kids would ever know- his own team of sound engineers, a top-notch sound studio
in New Orleans and a life fully dedicated to creating his art.
His First Synth
Reznor got his first synthesizer in high school. "I knew it
was the right time for me, because all of the things I was interested in -
computers and music - were coming together," reminisces Reznor. "When I realized
I could start making music on computers, that's when I found a direction to my
Reznor Calculates His Future
After high school, Reznor thought about designing synths or
recording consoles of his own. To pursue this idea, he went to college to study
computer engineering. But like a lot of creative kids, he realized he didn't
enjoy doing calculus all day.
So he dropped out of college. "I got a job at a studio,
basically cleaning toilets and doing the odd jobs no one else wanted to do,"
explains Reznor, "But this gave me the opportunity to spend time around
recording equipment." And that's how Reznor got into audio engineering.
Fearing the Music Within
After teaching himself the basics, he felt it was time to
test his ability to do some serious writing. But he was plagued by self-doubt.
"I was afraid to write because I knew what I liked and what I
didn't like," says Reznor, "but I didn't know if what I could create would be
something I liked." He had played keyboards in a bunch of bands, but the focus
of the band had never been his vision.
As an experiment, he stopped every other aspect of his life
and spent every waking minute writing music, using the studio he worked at.
Then a revelation hit him…
"I realized I'd never really worked that hard in life before,
because things had always come pretty easily to me," says Reznor, "And I
realized I'd never really tried anything…you know, really tried.
"So then I really wanted to see what would happen if I went
wholeheartedly into it," he adds.
Spiraling Down His Budget
"I got my living expenses down to sub-poverty level and just
spent several months locked inside the studio," says Reznor. "When I wasn't
doing sessions for terrible Cleveland bands, I was working on my own
He couldn't find a band at the time, so he wrote and recorded
everything by himself. And that resulted his first hit record, Pretty Hate
Sometimes Less is More
"I made Pretty Hate Machine using a Mac Plus, an Emax
keyboard and a Mini Moog, " says Reznor.
"That set up was cool because it was so limiting that it
forced you to get the most out of what you had to work with. It was just basic
MIDI, with no digital audio. But I knew the three pieces of gear I had inside
and out," he adds.
Going for The Gumbo
"Every band I'd been in seemed to think the way to make it
was just to play bars where somebody would hear you some day and it just seemed
stupid, especially in Cleveland," remembers Reznor.
So he put together a demo tape, shopped it around, and
quickly received several offers from the small labels he had approached.
Reznor finally signed on with a label then known for its
distribution of old television tunes, TVT. But that turned out to be a painful,
rather than pleasurable, experience.
"They had no artistic insight whatsoever, and were very
meddling and interfering," Reznor reflects. "So I had the pleasure of putting a
record out that I was told would be my 'career ender.'"
Proof in the Puddin'
That same album, the completed version of Pretty Hate Machine
(PHM), released by Reznor under his assumed band name Nine Inch Nails (NIN),
went on to sell several million copies over the next few years.
Yet relations did not improve as a result of the album's
success. Luckily, due to the immense success of PHM, a bigger label, Interscope,
came over and bought NIN out of their contract. Reznor and his longtime manager,
John Malm, started their own label, Nothing Records, which Interscope agreed to
Audio Enters the MIDI Picture
After Pretty Hate Machine took off, Reznor moved into
recording audio tracks on his computer, a step that required a tad more
hard-drive space than his previous all-MIDI arrangements had.
"The album took off and I got some money for a change,"
revels Reznor. "That was right when sequencers started to able to record audio.
It was a big turning point in how I wrote music."
Following PHM, Reznor added four channels of digital audio to
his MIDI arrangements for Broken. "I switched mid-project from Digital Performer
to StudioVision just so I could add in those audio tracks."
Reznor's use of StudioVision continued through The Downward
Spiral, And by the time he started working on The Fragile, he was completely
settled into the program.
Chaos Strikes The Fragile
Then, like Murphy's Law would have it, StudioVision failed
him right in the middle of The Fragile. This resulted in a creative nightmare
"As we added channels, which it claimed it could do, it just
got too bogged down and stopped working," he says.
This put Reznor in a sticky predicament. The program he was
comfortable with wouldn't work anymore, and the other program being used at the
studio for sound design was too complicated for him to master quickly.
As a result, The Fragile demanded a bit more collaboration
than the standard NIN project would, because Reznor had to let someone else do
his sequence programming.
He's Out of Control
"The bad thing is that I got lazy, and now I don't know how
to work the sequencer that we're using," Reznor confides. "So I really feel like
my hands are tied."
And that's not a very nice place to be, especially for the
man who coined the phrase "I'd rather die than give you control." But
fortunately for Reznor, Digidesign released ProTools 5, and his hope is
"Now that ProTools 5 can deal with MIDI primitively, it feels
more like I'm working on a Mac again, " he explains. "Although there are some
things you can't do in ProTools 5, it handles audio great so I'm making myself
use it for the new stuff we're working on now."
The Sacred Art of Songwriting
Reznor may have a team of engineers designing original sounds
for him, but doesn't mean that songwriting has evolved into group process for
"I tend to get a bunch of ideas at one time and a pretty
clear idea of what I want to do," explains Reznor, "so rather than try to
democratically talk my way into getting what I want, it's just easier to pick
something up and do it myself."
Reznor still has a bunch of songs left over from The Fragile
that are in various states of being finished. He hopes to finish these songs and
release them on the next NIN album.
Further, he's considering putting out "a real stripped down -
not unplugged - minimal, kind of acoustic-sounding thing" which would be a bit
unusual for them. But the band did a radio show like that a while back, and it
worked out really well for them.
Touring with Final Cut and QuickTime
NIN is known for its intense and visual live shows, and
wanted to share the live experience with its fans around the world. So, Reznor
hired a photographer to shoot footage for the NIN website in conjunction with
the band's world tour.
Since the tour launched a few months back, the site has
featured regular post-show QuickTime movie clips of fans along the tour circuit,
and some live footage from select shows.
"We have Final Cut Pro, and we have been filming the last
several shows with about seven different Canon XL1 digital cameras," says
Reznor, "Then the plan is to edit it and finish it all on a Mac."
Reznor decided to enlist a single camera person, Rob
Sheridan, in lieu of a film crew. "We've gone the route of hiring big film crews
and fighting with editors and cameramen who think they're Orson Welles," he
Sheridan manages everything to do with filming for NIN, from
setting up the cameras to capture the live energy of NIN, to editing clips of
the tour in FCP for the website.
"We'll probably do a DVD release of this tour later this
year," says Reznor, "It's an experiment and an excuse to kind of dig into Final
Cut and see what happens." Sheridan will work alongside Reznor in editing the
footage for the DVD release.
G4/ProTools on the Tour Bus
Meanwhile, the tour bus is stocked with a media lab for both
audio and video editing, including a rack-mounted Power Mac G4 with a ProTools
rig in it. "We've got that with us for less excuses to waste time," he
Looking to Score
Reznor's experience in movie making had already extended into
working on soundtracks for some major motion pictures, and scoring music for a
popular video game.
"I did Natural Born Killers, and Lost Highway for David
Lynch," says Reznor, "but I've really no interest in doing any more compilation
albums. The only thing I'd want to do these days is actual scoring."
"I'd love for David Cronenberg to call me on the phone and
say, 'Score a film'," he adds. Reznor's spooky, atmospheric sound would blend
well with the film making style of the creator of films like Crash, Naked Lunch
and The Fly.
He's Game for Games
Then he confides that he's been talking to John Carmack about
scoring the music for a new version of Doom. "I would do something like that
mainly because it's a hobby of mine, I appreciate the technology, and it's fun
to work outside Nine Inch Nails once in a while."
"Quake was fun because they didn't want hard-rock goofy music
going through the game," explains Reznor, "it was all about atmosphere at the
Nailed to their Macs
"Everybody in our camp is Mac and that's it," stresses
Reznor, "We've adopted a pretty purist attitude. There have been some software
companies who develop PC-only software who've approached us -the people who make
Acid, Sonic Foundry, for one.
"It may be a nice program, but I'm not going to endorse it if
it doesn't run on a Mac, and I told them that," he adds.
"Even if it does run on Virtual PC, I tell them, 'Wake up and
do the right thing.'" he says "With Web integration stuff, there have been
companies that are like 'use our player' but it only runs on a Windows machine,
and I'm like, 'No, I'm not going to help the enemy.'"
"I've just always had a soft spot in my heart for Macs."
admits Reznor, "Like, I just got the blue-and-white machine and then oh…out came
the cooler looking G4!
"Someone bought me an iMacDV for Christmas, and it's just
something as simple as plug-in the DV and the first time 'Oh wow! it works.' I
mean, here I was expecting to have to hunt down a cable, but 'Woah, it's in the
box.' That's what I think a lot of the PC people don't understand," Reznor
concludes, "the pleasure of not having to worry about compatibility issues."