Trent Reznor did the
Music for Quake. Will he do it again?
The lyrics in a rock song can be tantalizingly mysterious.
Consider ‘ Somewhat Damaged,“ a track from nine inch nails‘ the fragile. One of
its lines — ‘this machine is obsolete“ — could be just another brutally honest
statement of self-examination common to many of its songs.
Then again, it could just mean lead guitarist
Trent Reznor needs a new 3D card. The idea that Reznor likes video games
probably seems about as far-fetched as alien abduction, but it‘s true. Hell,
even he has a hard time believing it himself. Then he reminds himself that he
did both the music and sound effects for the original Quake back in 1996 —
before it became trendy for rock bands to have their music in games. The more
we think about it, Somewhat Damaged“ may just be about an outdated PC after
Reznor is relatively new to PC games: He‘s a
die-hard Mac man. “I was never aware of what was going on in the PC world until
someone showed me Castle Wolfenstein 3D,“ he admits. “I‘d never gone near a PC;
that‘s a bad word around the studio. We‘re all Mac people, since most of the music
software is written for Mac. But when I saw Wolfenstein I went out and bought
whatever it was at the time, 386, 466. and we got hooked. The sense of being immersed
in the game really struck a chord with me. And when we were rehearsing for the
downward spiral tour, Doom came out, and I was like “Oh, my god.‘ So now every
six months a major [PC] upgrade goes on around here.”
Trent‘s love of Doom eventually led to him
meeting the guys at Id Software, which in turn led him to do the music and
sound effects for the original Quake.
I really did [the music for Quake] because I
was into the game. It wasn‘t for the money, because I didn‘t make anything,
really, and it wasn‘t because I wanted to appeal to some new demographic. When [creator]
John Carmack said, ‘Hey, one of the new weapons is a nail gun. What if the ammo
packs had the nine inch nails logo on it?‘ I was like, ‘Hell, yeah — that would
be cool!“ recalls the edgy rocker, who had been looking for a diversion.
“Musically,“ he says, “it was fun to work outside of nine inch nails and make
some cool atmospheres.“ The fact that he was already addicted to the game made
his decision to help Carmack out a lot easier.
Trent wrote new music for the game, though he‘s
quick to point out the Quake tunes shouldn‘t be thought of as a lost nine inch
nails album. “I remember when it came out,“ he says, “and it said, ‘New nine
inch nails music.‘ But I always thought that was an inappropriate way to look
at it. For what it was, it‘s good, but it‘s not meant to be listened to on its
PRODUCTIVITY VIA DEATHMATCHES
Trent is such a fan of Video games that when
asked why there was a five-year gap between the fragile and it‘s predecessor,
the downward spiral, he jokes that Quake II was to blame. But the truth, he
says, is actually the opposite.
“What I‘ve learned about creativity,“ he
explains, leaning back into his easy chair, “is that it‘s not anything you can
force. Sometimes you need to get your mind off of what you‘re working on. And
video games are a healthy way of distracting your mind. I‘ll often reach a
brick wall, where I just can‘t find the right line or the right melody. But
what we‘ve done here at the studio is create a bunch of distractions so you can
step out of what you‘re doing and change your head space. You can play a video
game, then you can come back, and often the problem has gone away.“
For Trent, gaming isn‘t just a solitary love.
Many of the other people who hang out with him at his studio are also gamers,
some worse than him. “It‘s more just a hobby. Instead of talking what engines
are in our cars, we talk about what graphics cards are in our PCs.“
While recording the fragile in their studio,
the band set up a LAN and discovered the world of online multiplayer deathmatches.
“That,“ Reznor remembers, “was our downfall. I‘d need some guitar parts, so I‘d
sit and just play over a loop for two hours, and then go away and come back
with fresh ears. Of course, that buys you an hour to screw off, so we‘d go
upstairs and play Weapons Factory, our favorite mod for Quake. It‘s class-based
play, where you have to work with a team, and your team isn‘t the guys sitting
next to you. That‘s a pretty cool way to interact with people.“
True Reznor followers may have noticed he
hasn‘t done the music for any other video games.
“I‘ve declined for a number of reasons,“ he
says. “I was even asked to do Quake II and III, but the direction was to do music
that would amp you up to play, and that doesn‘t interest me that much. Nor do I
want to be alongside band X, Y, and Z. I mean, how many times did you play
Crazy Taxi before you said, ‘Whoa, stop, turn the damn Offspring off!“
Reznor hasn‘t ruled out game collaborations
altogether, though. “If I were to do any more in an interactive situation,“ he
says, “it would have to be a project that had the same mood and atmosphere.
What I was hoping to achieve with the Quake music was not so much some
adrenaline-pumping, ‘let‘s go kick ass‘ kind of music, but more like the music
in films by John Carpenter — the tension and uneasiness — or David Lynch, the
dissonance or sound as atmosphere enhancement. So if it was a game that had the
same sensibility, I could be swayed to do it when I had the time. That‘s been
another factor of why I haven‘t taken on others of these projects. I‘d want to
dedicate some time to it.“
When Trent might find that time, though, is
anyone‘s guess. He‘s currently playing games on nine inch nails‘ American tour,
and then he‘ll head overseas, where he‘ll play games at some European
festivals. And when he‘s not playing games, Trent will be working on the next
nine inch nails album.
“I‘m bringing a rig with me,“ he says, “though
it takes [a lot] of discipline to write on the road. When you do have time oft,
you just want to sleep.“ His next album is still in the planning stages, but
Reznor knows one thing for sure: “It won‘t be much like the fragile. It‘ll be a
noisier album, less lush, more minimalist — as of right now. I say things and
then it changes when I sit down and actually do it. But the fragile was about
no restrictions, and I think what would be healthy for me right now would be to
make an album with limitations.
“Like, every song has to be done in two days.
And if it sucks, no one has to hear it. But I like tricking myself into thinking
a different way. When I write, I write with the computer. It‘s my pen and paper
but it‘s also my arranger, and my brain thinks the way it does. But the rig
we‘re taking out to write on is a different way of approaching things. It‘s
more mixer-oriented than sequencer-oriented, and will make me wrap my head
around things in a different way. And it‘s a welcome change.“
Besides the next album, Trent also has two side
projects he‘s working on. ‘ is the band Tapeworm,“ he explains, “which is the
guys in the live band and me working as a democracy. What‘s good about that is
that all the weight isn’t on my shoulders, and I can take a more casual
approach towards it. Which is not to say it‘s not important, but I don‘t
agonize over every minute detail. And it‘s a chance for other people to speak
“I‘ve also been thinking about working with another
vocalist, something where I would do the music, and they could take the lyrics
in a different direction. And what I‘ve been leaning towards is female, but
with a more soulful approach. Someone like Sade, not the female counterpart of
He continues, “I‘m into the idea of synthesis
through throwing in disparate ideas. But I also need something to motivate me.
The trouble with working by yourself is that all the pressure‘s on you to
FANS FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE
Regardless of what Trent does next — a new nine
inch nails album, a side project, or the music to a video game — he has
established enough of a track record that he‘s assured people will like it. But
those fans would be surprised to learn that a particular sequence of Reznor‘s
tormented lyrics might not have been an anthem to pain, angst, and loss — it
might just have meant it was time for him to upgrade that 3D card again.