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April 2000

Split Personality: Nine Inch Nails promises a somber, more dynamic show

Danny Lohner is looking for pretzels. The multi-instrumentalist and Nine Inch Nails veteran has just awakened from a quick nap after a sound check in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is rummaging around for something to eat after consenting to do a last-minute interview.

He's funny and personable and repeatedly apologetic about rambling and talking with a mouthful of those pretzels. Yet within hours, that amiable demeanor will switch into frenetic overdrive when Lohner steps on stage to back one of the most influential performers of modern music, Trent Reznor.

Reznor, the auteur behind the industrial powerhouse Nine Inch Nails, first gained attention with the groundbreaking 1989 CD "Pretty Hate Machine" and has since been named one of the "most influential people in America" by Time magazine and "the most vital artist in music today" by Spin. So what makes a musician like Lohner willing to take a perennial back seat in a band (also featuring Robin Finck, Charlie Clouser and Jerome Dillon) that may always be considered a one-man wrecking machine?

"I've had my chance to be with other bands. I've turned down easier opportunities in terms of success in the public eye to play with this band. That kind of success isn't appealing to me," Lohner says. "This band is one of the best to come out of our generation of music. Trent requires people around him to help him achieve his goals. I'm proud to be part of the team because I learn so much. He is everything people write he is - he is truly gifted."

Reznor uses hard and soft extremes to perfection on his 1999 23-track double CD "The Fragile" (dubbed the "Decade's Most Anticipated Album" by Alternative Press magazine). It's a thought-provoking and masterful epic of lush cinematic passages and brutal gouges of industrial melancholy. Lohner was eager to meet the challenge of translating the delicate details and dynamic swings of "The Fragile" to a live setting.

"This is a headphone record. You can drift away and listen to it. It's detailed and textured in ways that are hard to recreate, but we've worked with the music long enough to know what to do to make it happen," Lohner says. An early Chicago Tribune review of the NIN show at UIC Pavilion (which sold out in 12 minutes) said "Reznor wisely underplayed the theatrics - and let the music speak with dramatic ebb and flow dynamics over a riveting 90 minutes."

While Reznor continues to push himself, his band and audience from their comfort zones, it's obvious this isn't the same Nine Inch Nails that battered itself during the exhausting two-year tour in support of the multi-platinum CD, "Downward Spiral." While that tour made Reznor an international star, it also lived up to the "Self Destruct" phrase emblazoned on everything from key chains to T-shirts and posters, as instruments and musicians were battered and bruised on stage night after night. It's different now, Lohner says, of the "Fragility V2.0" tour that heads into HSBC Arena Saturday night for an 8 p.m. show. "We're all older and wiser. We still have that element in the show, but it's old hat. Now there are highs and lows - our show is much more dynamic. And it's much more developed musically instead of us being ridiculous and breaking things," he says.

"The music is somber and melancholy and that comes across in the show," Lohner says of a sound he calls "Pink Floyd meets the aggressiveness of the year 2000." "We're not going for the obvious. It's sad and beautiful and aggressive. We touch on more shades instead of just black."

"The Fragile" was recorded over two years in Reznor's Nothing Studios in New Orleans - an old funeral parlor refurbished through a lot of manual labor from Reznor, Lohner and others. Lohner has his own small studio in the building.

"I've learned so much from Trent with technical knowledge and conceptual knowledge as to what makes a good song," says Lohner. "You forget how smart he is when he's just hanging out as a regular guy. But his knowledge is amazing. He's so well-versed in music and so well articulated that it's all second nature to him. Yet when he creates, it's more from the heart, like an untrained musician."

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.