Jahr 2002




März 2002




Autor: Tommy Udo


Back with a retrospective live album, Nine Inch Nails have returned to sully our senses. Tommy Udo talked to industrial icon Trent Reznor about the new project and the band‘s uneasy future...

Live Albums stink. Half-assed cruddy sounding sub-standard bum-note laden toss, cynical contractual obligations that only the most cloth-eared or anal-retentive collector would ever actually want to own. Live albums (and by extension live videos/DVDs) have neither the raw excitement of a great gig or the hard hewn perfectionism of a great studio song.

There are exceptions: AC/DCs ‘IfYou Want Blood, You‘ve Got It‘, Hawkwind‘s ‘Space Ritual‘ and The MC5‘s ‘Kick Out The Jams‘ are as good as or better than any of their studio records. But mostly they‘re cheap and shoddy cashins designed to milk the last few bucks from the diminishing fan base of washed up bands on the road back to nowhere.

‘And All That Might Have Been‘ is one of the rare exceptions: a live audio and DVD video retrospective of the first decade of Nine Inch Nails caught on The Fragile tour, it perfectly conveys the same madness, the beautiful destructiveness that is NIN onstage.

The DVD package, filmed on tour using digital video and mixed in surroundsound even brings a new dimension to the usual lame concert films.

NIN in the studio and NIN onstage are two completely different entities, and it was as a control-freak studio boffin, playing all the instruments himself, that Trent Reznor moulded the sound. But history will judge the NIN line-up here: Robin Finck and Reznor on guitars and keyboards, Danny Lohner on bass and keyboards, Charlie Clouser on keyboards and theremin, and Jerome Dillon on drums — as one of ‘the‘ classic live acts of the past decade. ‘Head Like A Hole‘ and ‘Closer‘ still retain the visceral punch in the gut power that they have when played live.

It‘s not the usual live album second-best version of the studio recordings: it‘s a worthy addition to them, an interpretation that enhances them.

Live albums are usually a watershed in a band‘s career. For Trent Reznor, ‘And All That Might Have Been‘ is a full stop to over a decade of apocalyptic noise. It also marks the beginning of the next phase of NIN which will be radically different to anything that went before.

‘We were nearing the end of the tour supporting ‘The Fragile‘ and I’m standing onstage one day and not that I do this that often I was congratulating myself on getting the tour together,“ says Reznor. “I was very proud of it and feeling that a lot of effort had paid oft, the co-ordination of the production, the whole presentation. And I also realised that in a good and bad way that the tour was kind of a retrospective of everything I’ve done. I thought then, ‘Well I don’t think I’m gonna do this again I remember that with the band we learned pretty much every song I’ve ever written and whittled it down to what the folks want to hear as opposed to what wed like to play. I based that decision on the fact that I’ve gone to enough shows as a fan where I generally want to hear a well-rounded collection of music that I love as opposed to the entire new album. I was torn whether to do what I wanted to do or a more crowd-pleasing show which is what it turned out to be. I wanted to document that we had did this and to act as a kind of look at what we had done up until that point as a way to move away from it into the future.

From the release of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ in the early 90s through its follow up ‘The Downward Spiral’ to ‘The Fragile’, Reznor has always been unsatisfied always pushing the work a little bit further. Even when he has finished a song he keeps going back to it reworking and remixing. It’s as if there’s no definitive version of a Nine Inch Nails song, as though the version he releases on record is only the latest one, and that others - equally good - preceded it and will follow it. That he is now looking at a drastic overhaul of the very concept of Nine Inch Nails itself - which has been everything from Trent playing all the instruments in the studio to the fully fledged proper‘ band who went on the road with ‘The Fragile‘ - is hardly a surprise.

Trent sounds comparatively upbeat; the man who has been the ultimate miserable goth icon for the past decade often lived up to his image, going through phases of sullen pique and monosyllabic mutterings in interviews. The idea that he would play a live set as a crowd pleaser - and admit that that‘s what he had done - would have been anathema to the younger Reznor. But as he repeatedly makes clear, this album is the end of an era, the end of Nine Inch Nails as we know Nine Inch Nails and maybe its this process of laying to rest a lot about what Nine Inch Nails stood fort hat has filled him with optimism.

‘I need to risk failure to move into whatever is next. The whole format of the band needs to   evolve,“ he says.

Does that imply personnel changes?

“Personnel will probably change to fit whatever the new format is. It needs to be a bit more fresh and daring from my perspective.”

When you say failure do you mean commercial or artistic failure?

“Say I decided to go out and play with an acoustic piano on the next tour. That may be risking failure because I know that if I get this band that I have and we splatter ourselves in corn starch and play Head Like A Hole‘, people are gonna like it. I pretty much know that that will happen because I‘ve been doing it for 10 years. So the idea of - not only in the studio- trying to reinvent and try new things and push myself. I wouldn‘t mind trying some new things.“ Going on tour with an acoustic piano is actually one of the possibilities that Trent is looking at. On the bonus CD Still that accompanies the live album, Trent ‘deconstructs‘ songs from The Fragile‘, performing them at a piano in a live setting.

“In the middle of The Fragility tour I had new resources that I didn’t have before. The new drummer Jerome Dillon is excellent... the musicianship level in the band is higher than it has ever been. We messed around at soundchecks and took songs that we enjoyed playing but that for one reason or another didn’t fit with the live set and somebody asked us to do a radio show that was deconstructed - I don’t want to say ‘unplugged’ - where I played piano, there was no drum kit, where it wasn’t a big rock production. And I wanted to be sure that this live album had value when it wasn‘t part of the DVD set, so we remixed the stuff and felt that these tracks showed a different side to the band. A sort of rainy day melodies that showed a more melancholy side to counterpoint the live show. It‘s the hangover for the next day... it‘s not all forks in the eyeballs!“

Reznor‘s adamant that ‘Still‘ is a little curiosity rather than a signpost to the future direction that NIN will take and that while an acoustic club tour is on the cards, it‘s not necessarily the only path that Reznor will take in future.

“My favourite venues are clubs, where you can see the audience and the audience can see you without 30 feet of security barriers in between,“ he says. “At the same time the other things I’d love to do would be to actually score a movie.“

Reznor‘s involvement in the soundtracks for both Oliver Stone‘s Natural Born Killers and David Lynch‘s Lost Highway, both for the NIN contributions and the other artists that he brought in - most notably Marilyn Manson who actually appeared at the end of Lost Highway - was instrumental in the way that movie soundtracks began to change in the 90s, at best standing as entities in themselves (and at worst as spurious cash-ins bearing only a tenuous relationship to the songs that you actually heard on the screen).

“Actually my big dream is that David Cronenberg calls me up and tells me that he’s got a project that he wants me to work on from start tp finish‘ admits Trent. “I’d love him to say I‘ve got an uneasy film and I need same uneasy music to go with it. I’m not saying that this would replace what I want to do with Nine Inch Nails, but I’d like to go in and find out what I don’t like about it!“

If you see Trent Reznor only as some missing link between Al Jourgensen and Marilyn Manson, the results may be quite shocking. For fans reared on the frothing at the mouth cyberpunk of ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘ and the deep negativity of ‘The Downward Spiral’, it may even smack of betrayal and heresy (and you should never forget that Reznor‘s first stage appearance was as Judas in the school production of Jesus Christ Superstar!). There‘s an obvious comparison to be made between the nine songs an Still‘ and the stark, atonal minimalism of Radiohead‘s Kid A‘ and Björk‘s recent ‘Vespertine. It‘s the sort of record that must have had all the high ranking label bods cancelling Christmas the moment they heard it.

‘The Fragile‘, released in ‘00, was Trent Reznor‘s most ambitious work: at nearly two hours, it required the sort of commitment that you give when you sit down to read Crime And Punishment. But in a dumbed down post-dotcom age when the corporate marketing chimps have trouble reading their own nametags never mind Dostoyevsky, Nine Inch Nails made an album that his record company Interscope (all NIN releases are an Trent‘s Nothing imprint bat distribution is handled by Interscope) simply couldn‘t understand or deal with. Despite entering the Billboard album charts at Number One, the album is still perceived ass monumental commercial failure.

“I knew it was a pretty difficult record in a disposable climate but I guess I’m more disappointed in the fact that the media seem to equate commercial success with things being good. I have to admit that I get defensive when that starts coming up because it‘s an album that I loved and I still love. If you‘d asked me when I put out ‘The Downward Spiral‘, I’d never have thought then that it would even sells tenth of what it did and I think in the long run the success of that album was damaging to career in a way in that now the stakes have gone up. As a musician you‘re put into this competitive race to see who sells more record in the first week than the other guy. And that‘s not a good thing if you‘re in music for the reasons that I’m in it. My anger at the distributor sterns from their inability to understand what they‘re trying to sell. When you push my record through the same hole that Eminem goes through, it doesn‘t fit and when it started to not fit, it was left to die on the floor.“

Trent is also understandably pissed off that Radiohead‘s ‘Kid A‘, an album as musically ‘difficult‘ in every way as ‘The Fragile‘, is perceived as being a success.

“I love Radiohead and this isn‘t anything against them. Those albums ‘Kid A‘ and ‘Amnesiac‘ were two of my favourite records of last year,“ he says. “With the distributors I have, if they had tried to understand or put a little more thought into presenting it to the right people. On that label alone, the Radiohead machinery, the people behind them, succeeded, our machinery failed. Radiohead‘s team of people that sold you that record also sold you the perception that it worked, it was a success. The actual numbers would challenge that (FYI: ‘The Fragile‘ actually sold more than ‘Kid A‘, shifting 800,000 double albums in the US to Radiohead‘s 300,000) but it didn‘t matter. They won, you didn‘t question it. Interscope dropped the ball. And it‘s not like they’re doing me a favour with this album because they are still taking the lion‘s share.“

Tellingly, Interscope did not understand why Reznor wanted to include ‘Still‘- which contains new songs - as a bonus disc in the package and wanted to promote it as the ‘new‘ NIN album. And speaking of which, It took two years in the studio before ‘The Fragile‘ saw the light of day. Other projects - like the long mooted Tapeworm collaboration involving Trent, Charlie Clouser from NIN, Maynard James Keenan from Tool/A Perfect Circle, Danny Lohner, Phil Anselmo, various members of Prong and Helmet — isn‘t about to arrive any time soon. Are we gonna be drawing our pensions when the next NIN studio album hits?

“Actually I’m writing a lot at the moment. I‘ve got a notebook full of stuff and quite a bit of semi finished music waiting to be worked an. I’m still in the process of editorial, deciding what makes sense for NIN proper, but in my head right now I feel like I’ve unloaded a lot of baggage that‘s made me a lot more appreciative of my life and my reason for making music. My enthusiasm level is high right now,“ he laughs. “I’m just ready to get beat back down again!“

As to what the next level of NIN will actually sound like, we can only speculate based on the evidence of ‘The Fragile‘s more out-there moments and the stripped down approach on ‘Stift Asked what he‘s listening to he mentions Radiohead, Julian Cope‘s ‘Autogeddon‘ and  ‘20 Mothers‘, Spiritualized, and Beethoven‘s Piano Sonatas. Clue or red herring? When can we expect this?

“In a perfect world... well, I’m starting on it now. 2008 or something? No, I’d love for it to be completed by the summer. That‘s my goal.“