The last four years
have been sheer hell for Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor. And that‘s just the way
he likes it.
Fear, Grief, Debauchery, Betrayal, Forgiveness,
The greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out
that you can never step in the same river twice. Trent Reznor was all too aware
of this as he girded himself for his return to the concert stage, after an
absence of some four years, at the start of Nine Inch Nails‘ Fragility v1.0
Tour last year in Europe.
“I was a bit afraid at the first show, in Barcelona,“ he confesses. “We‘d never been
there before. We opened with ‘Somewhat Damaged‘ off the new album [The Fragile]. Because we‘d been out of
the limelight for so long, I had kind of a humble aspiration: Do people still
like us? Are we picking up where we left off, or starting again from scratch?
My feeling was, We have to build the house again. I was not expecting to walk
into a stadium filled with chanting people. But when we did that first song,
everybody knew all the words to it. I thought, That‘s weird. They don‘t even
speak English here, and they knew an obscure song off the new album. That started
it off. My fears were somewhat put to rest.“
A lot has changed since the 1994 release of
NIN‘s previous album, The Downward Spiral, and the notoriously debauched round of
touring that followed in its wake. (The band‘s 1997 longform home video, Closure, gives a hint of what that was
like.) Between then and now, Reznor started his own successful label, Nothing
Records, and launched the career of Marilyn Manson, with whom he then had a
bitter and prolonged quarrel. He worked on two film scores: Oliver Stone‘s
Natural Born Killers (1994) and David Lynch‘s Lost Highway (1997). A difficult
life passage came for Reznor with the death of his grandmother, a dose and
much-loved family member who‘d served as a surrogate parent in the years after
the divorce of Reznor‘s parents, who split when he was just six.
Nine Inch Nails‘ mastermind says he has spent a
lot of the last four years getting his own life in order. Touring behind The
Downward Spiral left him a seething, sub stance-addled mass of anxieties and
hostilities. Today, he seems far more well-adjusted, lightly simmering mass of
anxieties and hostilities. Reznor was diagnosed as suffering mild clinical
depression. But the artificially induced elation of prescription
anti-depressants wasn‘t to his liking. (Happiness is a condition he tends to
regard with some suspicion.) He says he found a more meaningful elixir in the
two-year creative process that went into recording The Fragile, the new Nine Inch Nails album.
“Doing the album was part therapy. It was a
great learning process. For me it was a very healing experience as well.“
The Fragile is easily Reznor‘s most ambitious
and fully realized work to date. It moves with wondrous dream logic through a
jarring range of moods, from sunny, delicate grand piano passages to those
screaming psycho-metal tantrums that Reznor throws so well. Songs are linked by
ingenious musical segues—hypnotic loops that build deliriously to unforeseen
destinations via sounds and textures that seem profoundly a yet also somehow
familiar. As always, Reznor played most of the instruments himself—including
loads of guitar— locked away in his New Orleans recording studio, leaving no
sonic stone unturned.
“It was great to be in artist mode for two
solid years,“ he says, “and not be concerned about what I‘m now concerned
about—which is getting people to buy the record.“
The music scene has changed just as radically
as Reznor‘s personal life not more so, in the years since 1994. Back then, he
was the Dark Lord of Industrial—a key figure in the alternative music boom of
the mid Nineties. NIN‘s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, bad ushered in a new
musical era by fusing the strident industrial tradition of Throbbing Gristle,
Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy and Ministry with Reznor‘s own unique melodic
sensibility and keen pop instincts. Two subsequent releases, Broken (1992) and The Downward Spiral proved Reznor to be an inventive musical
provocateur not to mention a major goth sex symbol.
But that was then. Most of the heroes of the
alternative revolution have long since shot their wads, died or gone back
underground. Their place in the mainstream has been taken by a corporate,
singles-driven music industry aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens too young
to know who Reznor even is. While The
Fragile has been a resounding critical success—an album that topped many
“Best of 1999“ polls—it has not been Reznor‘s greatest commercial triumph.
Although it debuted at Number One on the Billboard Top 200, it quickly slid
down the charts.
“It‘s a different climate today than when The Downward Spiral came out,“ Reznor
acknowledges. “I‘m feeling the pinch of putting out a record that‘s not singles
oriented. I‘m asking quite a bit of the listener to get through the album. It‘s
long—a double CD—and it‘s more expensive than the one next to it on the shelf. It
doesn‘t jump out of the speakers and say, ‘I‘m a great album.‘ You need to work
at it. There‘s some depth there, or at least I tried very hard to put some
there. It‘s difficult for a record like that to make waves in a climate of
But Reznor seems to relish doing things the
hard way and defying the odds. As he prepares to tour America with Fragility v2.0, he looks
fit—more substantial of limb than he was back in ‘94. Beneath medium length,
jet-black hair his face is a bit more careworn and ravaged-looking. But there‘s
a kind of quiet confidence in his manner as well. If current music is a
struggle between art and commerce, Trent‘s ready to do battle.
GUITAR WORLD: Both of The Fragile‘s discs end with songs containing the line, “I can
still feel you.“ Are we to take that in a positive way, like, despite the shit life
visits upon you, some kind of feeling—some human emotional contact—is still
possible? Or is it a grimmer realization that, no matter what you do to blunt
your senses, you‘re still going to feel life‘s pain?
TRENT REZNOR: A little of both. There are
different levels there. One is a sense of loss. The absence of someone else.
Grief. I went through some life crisis situations while I was writing the
album. Like the death of my grandmother. But on another level, those lines are
saying, “I‘m not the same person I was before I started this album.“ So it‘s
kind of self-referential. This record was a journey. Trying to climb out of a
hole. When I started this record, I was in a pretty bad place
emotionally. Let‘s just say The Downward
Spiral lived up to its name. So while The
Fragile is not overwhelmingly positive, it‘s not as overwhelmingly negative
as The Downward Spiral. If The Downward Spiral is the place where
you bit bottom, this one is trying to attempt some healing. Trying to find a
reason why in this mess. It doesn‘t end with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
But I think the act of attempting repair is a positive one. The Fragile—the title is self-referential. I was pretty fragile
at times during this whole process.
GW: Are you mellower now? More content?
REZNOR: Today I am. I think I‘ve seen
through the romantic notion of negativity and self-destruction: that “crash and
burn“ kind of direction. “Fuck everybody else. I don‘t need anybody. I don‘t
need God. I don‘t need friends. I don‘t need a relationship.“ But that delivers
you into a little black corner. And you can‘t stay there. You can either finish
oft the job [ self-destruction], or you can climb out. When you reach that low
point, it‘s not as romantic as it might seem from a distance. It‘s something I
don‘t want to return to right now. That‘s not saying I‘m happy now. But maybe
I‘m feeling more mature. I‘d have to say that was a big part of it. Part of
GW: Watching the Closure video, with all those scenes of you smashing up dressing
rooms, I found myself wondering something: Does that kind of destructiveness
become addictive, in the same way as drugs or alcohol?
REZNOR: It feeds itself, yeah, in a
strange way. That video was titled Closure
for a reason. I don‘t think that‘s how this tour is gonna be. I mean, I‘m glad I
went through that, although I might have done a few things a little
differently, perhaps. When you‘re in an environment like that, you‘re almost
encouraged to act like a fucking idiot. You‘re surrounded by people allowing
you to behave that way. In real life, you can‘t smash things. You‘ll get your
ass beat, or put in jail, or killed. But the insanity of touring, where everything‘s
happening so fast, where there are so many strange situations and you‘re being
treated weirdly by everybody and experiencing the adrenaline of playing in
Front of fans every night—it‘s a personality distorter, a behaviour distorter.
Then add in drugs and alcohol, stir it all up, and you‘ve got quite a recipe
for disaster. Put the Jim Rose Circus, the Manson camp and the NIN camp all
together in that environment for an extended period of time, and what do you
expect? Something‘s gonna happen. Nobody died, luckily. It was dumb. I guess
it‘s some sort of rite of passage. It becomes apparent that something is wrong
when it‘s all over and you‘re still trying to act that way. I finished the tour
and then I did the dumbest thing: I produced a Manson album. And those guys..
.the tour bus may not be moving, hut they‘re still on tour. Every night there‘s
something going on. It was fun, but there has to be an end to it at some point.
Or you‘ll find yourself at an end.
GW: It‘s always dangerous to read
biographical meanings into songs, but one can‘t help but wonder if “No, You
Don‘t“ is about the dissolution of your friendship with Manson.
REZNOR: There were elements of that in
there—anger. I can‘t say I sat down and really thought, Let me analyze my friendship
with Manson dissolving. And that‘s nearing its end anyway, I believe. As far as
our speaking to one another.
GW: So you might bury the hatchet?
REZNOR: Well, we‘re on the same record
label. And I think, especially in the barren climate of rock music today, we‘re
also linked in terms of a sensibility that‘s a little more intelligent, I like
to think, than a lot of what‘s out there right now. That might seem
egotistical. But he‘s a smart guy. Let‘s leave it at that.
GW: Is there a significant other in your
REZNOR: There is, yeah. That‘s something I
keep to myself, though. A lot of times these interviews turn into psychological
evaluations. I realize that I‘ve given away more than I‘ve intended to at
GW: Have any revelations come out of performing
The Fragile live?
REZNOR: That will be a better question to
ask at the completion of the U.S. tour. So far we‘ve doneEurope, Australia and Japan. We‘re not as big there as we are
here. And the shows we did in Australia were all big festivals—outdoor
stuff. So we kind of tailored the set to be a greatest-hits show, and not go
too deep into the new album. Where as this U.S. tour is more focused on the new
album, which is more exciting for us to play, really. We‘ve got a new drummer
this time around, Jerome Dillon, which has really changed the dynamics of the
whole thing. My tastes have changed a bit too. We‘re doing a lot less
MIDI-triggering bullshit this time, and a lot more playing live.
GW: But you won‘t be playing The Fragile all the way through, from
start to finish?
REZNOR: Not in its entirety. It‘s not like The Wall. We‘re not going to go out and
perform the whole thing. That might be more exciting for me as a musician. But I
think I would feel somewhat apologetic to people. I try to keep a sense of what
the audience wants from a live performance. So it‘s going to be a good chunk of
the new stuff, hut some old favorites as well. That seems to be the best
approach right now. I remember going to concerts in high school. You‘d go see
Rush and they‘d play all stuff off their newest album. And it was like, “Fuck
it, I don‘t wanna hear the new album. I wanna hear ‘Tom Sawyer.‘“
Death, Depression, Creative Agony, Anger, Truth
Nothing Studios is located along a funky
stretch of Magazine Street in New Orleans, amid a strange confluence of bars,
bead shops, “baby boomer gumbo“ antiques places and impoverished black
businesses. The building that houses Trent Reznor‘s studios and offices stands
on a corner—a plain, two-story brick structure that was once a funeral home.
This doesn‘t seem at all unusual in New Orleans, a city where the boundary
between the living and the dead seems more faintly drawn than it is in most
Tales of hauntings are everywhere. They ding to
the crumbling old buildings in this, one of America‘s oldest cities. Because
the city is actually below sea level, the remains of the deceased commonly ooze
up out of the mud during rainy spells, which are quite frequent. The humid air
is oppressively heavy and conducive to pestilence. The dead seem more present
here than in other places— ghosts of pirates, prostitutes and great musicians
of the past. There‘s even some thing vaguely funereal about the pallid jester
masks and gaudy finery of Mardi Gras, as if all those gaily colored beads and
feathers were meant somehow to negate the body‘s inevitable decay. Could doomy,
gloomy Trent Reznor have possibly adopted a more suitable city as his home?
On passing through Nothing‘s front entrance,
the visitor is confronted with a wide stairway ascending to the second floor.
Presumably, coffins were once carried down the stairs in solemn procession. On
one of the lower balustrades sits a horse skull festooned with metallic purple
and silver Mardi Gras beads. A sculpted garden Pan crouches at the base of the
staircase on the opposite side. A voodoo doll is affixed to the gray molding of
the passageway from the reception area to the lounge.
But the real strange magic takes place behind
the staircase, in the main control room. A massive 72-input SSL G+ Series
mixing console dominates the space. There‘s a king-size Pro Tools rig and banks
of effects processors, vintage synths, stomp boxes and guitars. Trent Reznor
has spent much of the past few years in this room. His house is just minutes
away: a stately Southern home in the upscale Garden District, near the
residence of best-selling gothic romance novelist Anne Rice. It‘s an idyllic
existence—a little dark maybe, but definitely com But a few years back, amid
all the trappings of success, Reznor was miserable.
“I really wasn‘t happy,“ he says. “I thought,
Man, I‘ve done everything I wanted to do with my life. I‘ve got a fucking cool
studio. My job is to make music. What do I have to bitch about? I could sell
more tickets. I could write a better album, play a bigger place, make a bigger
video. I could get another effects pedal. But none of that would f this hole
that was there. Just acknowledging that and realizing that 1 bad to deal with
these things set me on the course to doing this album.
First Reznor tried a change of scene. He rented
a house with a grand piano in Big Sur along Northern California‘s scenic
coastline, far from any city distractions. He was even more miserable than
before. Most of what was written at Big Sur was promptly dismissed as “crap“ by the
intensely self-critical Reznor. But he‘d at least embarked on the path that
would ultimate lead to The Fragile.
He returned to New Orleans and started work in earnest.
Downward Spiral, I knew what I wanted to do,“ he says. “I had a plot all
written out and I followed it. It didn‘t turn out exactly the way I originally
thought. But I always knew what I wanted to do. I let it mutate into what it
turned into. But when I started writing The
Fragile, the approach was completely different—just to let things come out
and see what happens. Because I found when I‘d sit in this control room or the other
room at my house with a tape recorder or hard disc spinning, there was no shortage
of ideas flowing out. I got together a collection of instrumental demos that I
felt was really an advancement. I wasn‘t just recreating the calculated kind of
results I‘d achieved on the last record. This was pure subconscious coming
Guitar meltdown superproducer Alan Moulder (My
Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Curve, The Jesus and Mary Chain) was one
of the first people Reznor summoned down to New Orleans to help him make sense of this
explosion from his sub consciousness. Moulder bad done some work on The Downward Spiral, but was even more
integral to The Fragile‘s creative
evolution. Moulder, Reznor and programmer Keith Hillebrandt settled in for what
would prove to be a two-year stretch of intensive labor at Nothing Studios.
“The project broke down into two chunks of
roughly one year each,“ says Reznor. The first year was a time of unrestricted
experimentation: “We‘d truly sit here and say, ‘What would happen if...‘“
Tracking on a Pro Tools computer-based hard
disc recording system, Reznor was able to store musical ideas in such a way
that they could be easily edited and recombined as the project developed.
Nothing Studios became an idea factory. While Reznor and Moulder worked in the
main control room, Hillebrandt was often upstairs in a small studio tinkering
with sounds or comping guitar tracks. Longtime Reznor associates Danny Lohner
and Charlie Clousere were among the helpers busy in upstairs project rooms. All
of these satellite studios were linked to the main control room via a computer
network. Reznor explains:
“I could say to Keith, ‘Okay, let‘s work with
nature sounds—bee swarms. See what you can find in sound effects libraries, or
sample some stuff from old films. Or go to a bee farm and mike up a hive. Get
some raw stuff and loop it up as things I can play on a keyboard.‘ This way, we
could accomplish a lot of sonic experimentation that I could oversee, while
still devoting most of my time to writing music.“
As musical segments piled up and the project
entered its second year, says Reznor, “it was time to put on a different hat,
become more editorial and say, ‘Okay, we‘ve got 45 “things“ here, some of which
are songs and some of which are just “things.“ They‘re all interesting, but
let‘s weed them out.‘ We tried to find a structure that made a sensible piece
of work out of all the material we had— something with a beginning, an end and
an overall flow. It just clicked when we said, ‘Maybe this should be a double
record.‘ When we tried to weed it down to what would fit on one CD, it seemed
more like random pieces. But when you had songs that were bridges between the
pieces, it seemed more cohesive, although longer.“
A key player in the final phase of the project
was producer Bob Ezrin, famous for his ability to impart order onto dark,
sprawling concept albums like Lou Reed‘s Berlin and Pink Floyd‘s‘ The Wall (the
latter being one of Reznor‘s all time favorite records). It was Ezrin who
sequenced The Fragile, giving a
definitive form to the strange and wonderful sounds that had originated in
GW: Impressionistic, Debussy-esque
grand piano interludes crop up throughout The
Fragile. Did they come out of that initial period at Big Sur when you were trapped alone with a
REZNOR: That‘s where it started, yeah—sitting
at the piano in Big Sur. And then coming back here, I have a piano at my house
too. And I remembered I used to be a good pianist. At one time in my life there
were plans for me to drop out of school and be tutored as a concert
pianist—practice 10 hours a day. But then I got a Kiss album and that put
things into perspective: ‘It‘ll be harder to get chicks as a concert pianist!‘
So, during the initial stages of The
Fragile, the piano served as a vehicle for me to get reacquainted with
enjoying music. Somehow that got overshadowed by the business aspects of being
in a band—arguing about royalties on imports and shit like that. And not only
the business aspects, but the social setting. The elements of celebrity. People
backstabbing me. The inevitable things that creep in to invade your world. And,
stupid as this sounds, it took sitting down at the piano for me to remember,
‘That‘s why I‘m doing this! Because I love music.‘“
GW: What kind of sonic role did you
envision for guitars on The Fragile?
REZNOR: A very large one, actually. Because
of the subconscious way I was working, once I had a concept of what something
should sound like, 20 parts would all come out at the same time. Under those circumstances,
I found myself less inspired to reach for a synthesizer or sampler and more inclined
to grab a guitar. I was enjoying the imperfections of real instruments like
guitar—which I can‘t play very well, technically. But that technical naivete
often added to the overall mood. We were trying to make a record that sounded a
little bit broken—like it might crumble. Not a nice steel framework, but rough
wood with rusty nails; a plank might give out or the whole thing might blow
over in the wind. So we used real instruments for most of the stuff. And most
of the sound on the record is guitar—way more than ever before. But with lots
of different tunings, layers and processing.
The good thing about working with Alan Moulder is
that he‘s Mr. Guitar Sound. After all, he produced the Loveless album by My
Bloody Valentine, That record and that band were a big inspiration for me on
this album, in terms of sonic approach, in terms of what a guitar can do. And
also in the way that some of the songs sound, like, ‘Is the pitch slowing down
a bit?‘ That uneasy feeling. And I‘d ask Alan how he did stuff like that on
GW: While you were experimenting with
sounds, would you usually have a lyrical idea in mind?
REZNOR: Not on this record. I was real reluctant
to get into Lyric mode. ‘Cause that‘s when I have to bare my soul. And I hate
that. It‘s often unpleasant. So I try to avoid doing it if I possibly can and
work on the music first. Which was a problem sometimes. Most of the songs were
pretty complete instrumental demos before I even thought of putting vocals on.
The mistake I made sometimes was putting too much in. So there was no room to
fit in the main thing—- the vocal, the thing that most people pay most
GW: Did you then have to pull things
out of the arrangement to make room for the vocal?
REZNOR: Yeah. And often it was things where
I‘d be saying, ‘But that‘s the best part of the whole song!‘ That‘s the kind of
thing that keeps you from finishing an album. And every record has a couple
like that—songs that fight you the whole fucking way. On The Downward Spiral it was “Ruiner.“ On this album it was “We‘re in
This Together.“ I wrote it quicker than most of the songs, probably. It was one
of the last ones we did. And it just seemed, like, “This is a pretty obvious
song. It adds a bit of accessibility, and it won‘t be hard to do. Right?“
Oh my God, that was the fuckin‘ hardest song we
ever recorded. I thought I was gonna go insane. The problem was that, when the
chorus came in, it seemed like the song was slowing down. We didn‘t know why.
Objectively we knew it wasn‘t slowing down. We could see the tempo wasn‘t
shifting. We tried to double-time the beat for the chorus. But then the verse
sounded funny. It was a real puzzle. Finally someone said, ‘What if we turn the
drums down?‘ And that solved the problem. The chorus comes in and the drums get
quieter. You‘d never think to do that. I‘d never done it before. But it took
three fucking weeks to figure that out. That makes the guitar seem louder, That
makes it seem more desperate. If only I‘d tried it the first day.
GW: Are there lots of other versions of
these songs squirreled away somewhere on your hard drive?
REZNOR: Yeah. There were always too many
ideas. Right now, I‘ve got 80 or 90 minutes of music finished and mastered that‘s either different
variations of songs on the album or remixes done by everybody at the studio
here, for the most part. I‘m not sure what I‘m going to do with it. I don‘t
know if I want to put it out as a retail record. Because it‘s more for the
fans. It‘s not my big statement. I might give it away on the internet. I think
we‘re gonna do a new single for retail. I might put a big chunk of this other
stuff on there. But I don‘t want it to be misinterpreted, like “Oh, it‘s 70
minutes long. It‘s a new album.“ No, it‘s not an album. It‘s a side note. A
GW: That‘s an interesting thing about
your catalog. There‘s lots of stuff. But there‘s really only three full and
proper Nine Inch Nails albums—Pretty Hate
Machine, The Downward Spiral and The
REZNOR: I would lump Broken in there too. It‘s short. But in terms of moving me away
from Pretty Hate Machine, it was
important. I probably just could have spent an extra month and made it a full
album. But I had what I needed to say.
GW: Do you see those four major works
as forming any kind of narrative progression an ongoing story?
REZNOR: Not necessarily narrative, but
hopefully a progression. I don‘t believe any of them are rehashes of what came
before. They just mirrored what was in my head at the time I did them.
Hopefully people will remain interested wherever I move. Part of my predicament
is that I‘m not doing what, say, Kiss is doing now: obviously catering to a
youth market when you‘re not youthful anymore. It seems foreign to me to think
of music as catering to a certain audience. Like if you‘re a 50-year-old film
director and you‘re making a movie you know I gonna appeal to teenagers. I can
understand that in a movie sense. But music, to me, still seems pure; it should
be approached as something where your spirit and soul comes out. I‘m not trying
to write songs to sell to Janet Jackson to put on her album. To me, music still
has some element of fine arts or truthfulness to it. I dunno, is this making
any sense at all?
GW: We‘re in a climate where there‘s
no expectation that a rock or pop record is going to be fine art. Whereas in
the days of the Beatles or Pink Floyd that was built into the marketplace.
People would look forward to a new record by a major band and say, “Wow, what‘s
the next great statement from these people going to be?“
REZNOR: Okay. That‘s a good way to put what
I‘m bumbling around with. In other words, the format of the rock album or long
form work is unexpected and therefore more difficult to sell as a piece or
work, as opposed to a piece of candy. Or like McDonald‘s. It seems like a good
idea until it‘s in your stomach. Everything‘s so disposable now. And everybody
seems to be happy, you know? Everybody wants to hear happy rock and pop music.
GW: Everybody‘s either happy or they‘re angry in a Korn or Kid Rock kind
REZNOR: In a comic book way, yeah. That‘s
not to dis Korn, but I read a level of insincerity in some of those posturings
GW: Some of those guys might claim you as a sort of godfather...
REZNOR: . . .of being unhappy? Lord of anger?
GW: Wasn‘t the term “hate Pop“ first coined for
REZNOR: I think I can claim that notch on my belt.
GW: So have we defined the problem then?
Audiences were once naturally predisposed to work hard at understanding a long
and difficult album, because rock stars were regarded more as serious artists,
more like novelists or filmmakers. Whereas now they‘re just expected to be
entertainers. Is that it?
REZNOR: Basically, yeah. Here‘s what I
think. People buy what they‘re told to buy. And in the Seventies, for instance,
record companies were basically people who loved music and sold records to fans
who loved music. When you bought Pink Floyd you bought the album. You didn‘t
buy it because it had “Money“ on it. And consumers in that era bought records
expecting them to be a statement, as you said. Now it feels as though music is
just big business. With all the mergers that have gone down, big corporations
now own all the record labels. All the independents, for the most part, have
been sucked into the vacuum. And that just seems to go hand in hand with the
fact that CDs arc just little plastic things to sell now—units to be moved.
There‘s less art in a CD than in a piece of vinyl. I‘m sorry to sound like Mr.
Luddite, but a whole level is missing—the large-scale artwork, liner notes,
even the smell of the vinyl as it comes out of the sleeve, checking the inside
groove to see if any mastering notes or messages have been written there. Also
MTV has assured that image is more important than content, which is a sad thing
for music. From a pop culture standpoint, the line between actor/ singer/model
is indistinguishable for the most part. A pretty face and a gimmick speak louder
than a good song. Although there are exceptions to that rule. If the Cure came
out today, would they have a chance? Even when The Downward Spiral came out in ‘94, there was Nirvana, Tool,
Jane‘s Addiction and Rage Against the Machine starting up. It seemed like there
was a host of smart bands that I was hoping would be around for a while.
Expecting them to be. Where‘s the counterpart to that today? Maybe I‘m getting
older, jaded and more cynical, but I don‘t particularly think that Barenaked Ladies
and Blink-182 are the same thing at all.
GW: But don‘t you think that the
average person has an emotional need for something more than this disposable
REZNOR: Yeah. I make music hoping some of
those people are out there.
GW: On the other side of the coin, do
you ever feel pressured by the Messianic thing? In the Sixties and Seventies
people really thought rock stars were God. Do you get that? People looking to
you to make meaning of their life?
REZNOR: If I read my fan mail a little
more closely, I suppose I would. I touch a nerve with some people. You can
imagine the demographic of people that would write me a letter! I just feel an
artistic responsibility to stay honest with my music. If I‘m suddenly happy
tomorrow and the clouds part and I write a Paul McCartney album, it‘ll be truthful
to where I am at that time. I‘m not gonna say, “I‘ve gotta write angry, depressed
music because that‘s what expected of me.“ Whatever I do, I want to remain true
to myself—whoever that is.
Guitar By The Numbers
Plugging into Trent Reznor’s digital world.
By Alan di Perna
“The training I’ve had on the piano sometimes
gets in the way,” Trent Reznor musses. “On guitar, I don’t have that problem,
‘cause I suck.”
Whatever Reznor lacks in technical facility he
more than makes up for it in the way of sheer creativity. In recording The Fragile, he plugged his guitar into
the vast technological resources of Nothing Studios and used the whole damn
place as his stomp box.
“The first question was always, ‘do we want it
to sound like a guitar or something else?’” he says. Either way, Reznor and
co-producer Alan Moulder would generally start by plugging a guitar into a row
of effects pedals gleaned from Reznor’s impressive collection. Favorites
included a Swollen Pickle by Way Huge Electronics and, on the vintage front, a
Univox Uni-Fuzz, Fender Blender, Foxx Tone Machine, an original DigiTech Whammy
Pedal and a mysterious Trent bought for 20 dollars in an L.A. keyboard shop. There‘s no brand
name or model number on it. Just the words “tone control,“ and knobs for lo,
hi, mid and a sweepable resonance filter. “It‘s the most brutal kind of eq, but
with intense distortion,“ Trent marvels.
Whereas Reznor has almost always recorded
guitars direct in the past, he did go for some miked cabinet sounds this time,
at Moulder‘s encouragement. On the direct front, Reznor generally used Amp Farm
(an amp-modeling plug-in card for Pro Tools) or a Zoom speaker simulator. A
DigiTech 2120 was also in favor for a while.
Typically Reznor would record multiple takes of
any given guitar track into Pro Tools, often working in loop recording mode. He generally
sat at the control room console playing guitar
while Alan Moulder manipulated effects controls
in real time and programmer Keith Killebrandt wrote down the bar numbers where
things start ed sounding cool. The multiple guitar takes were then layered up
using Pro Tools‘ cut-and Paste facilities. That, for example, is how the
distressed power chording on “The Day the World Went Away“ was achieved.
Many guitar tracks went through another
processing stage after being recorded and layered. For this Reznor often used
devices like the Virus, by Music Access Electronics, and the Mutronics Mutator,
both of which allow any audio Signal to be passed through a bank of analog synth-style
filters. The one-note drone heard in the verses to “The Day the World Went Away“
sounds like an analog synth with a bad case of oscillator drift. But it‘s
actually layered guitars processed through the Mutator. An old Roland Chorus
Echo with a broken motor was another prime source of strange, wobbly tones.
“I‘d say a good 80 percent of the guitar parts
on the record were done with a Parker guitar,“ Reznor adds. “I used the piezo pickup on the Parker
quite a bit. One of the tricks we‘d use on this record was tuning all the
guitar strings to the same pitch: two low octave, two middle and two high. Then
I‘d strum as fast as I could, playing a melody with one finger up and down the
neck. We‘d run that through a [Yamaha] SPX1000 with early reflection reverb
You‘re not hearing the strings, but you‘re hearing the pitch, and it has an
infinite reverb type of sound, but it‘s not sustaining like a room reverb.“
The job of recreating all this madness on the
concert stage fell to longtime Reznor cohorts Robin Finck and Danny Lohner.
“Danny and I will go through the 25 guitar tracks on the record and break it
down to the most essential parts,“ says Finck, who has been using an assortment
of Godin guitars on the Fragility tour, employing their piezo pickups to
reproduce some of Reznor‘s Parker ones. For meatier stuff, Finck plays a Les
Paul. He‘s using a Marshall JMP-l preamp and a Bradshaw switching System with a
TC Electronic G-Force and a Voodoo Valve as featured effects.
Danny Lohner, who also contributed some guitar
tracks to the album, plays both bass and guitar live, performing on Fernandes
and PRS guitars and an Ernie Ball Music Man bass through a SansAmp PSA-1. His
guitar rig includes a DigiTech 2120 and Whammy Wah and a Piercing Moose octave
distortion pedal by Way Huge Electronics. A Ground Control MIDI Switcher keeps
all this in order.
Onstage, Reznor chimes in on Gibson Les Paul
Standard and ESP Les Paul models through a Line 6 Pod. All guitars are direct
injected into the house P.A.—a necessity given Nine Inch Nails‘ ultra-violent
stage show. “We used to have mikes on cabinets,“ says Lohner. “But they‘d get
kicked around and you‘d go two songs not knowing your guitar wasn‘t being heard
in the house.“