Trent Reznor hammers out his own turf
Thumbing through a recent Billboard magazine proved
to be a real
downer for Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Reznor
has never been
known as rock's resident optimist, but he was
genuinely depressed upon
seeing the number of mindless,
lowest-common-denominator rock bands
and teen acts that rule the top of the charts.
''It really is a terrible situation right now,'' says
Reznor, whose continued
effort to bring an artistic sensibility to rock 'n'
roll comes at a time when
artlessness is king.
''I don't mean to sound like the bitter, crotchety guy
whose record didn't sell
as well as somebody projected it would,'' says Reznor,
''but the lack of
intelligent music or challenging music or anything
that is risk-taking is really
frustrating, aside from the occasional hip-hop track
that is inventive, then is
ripped off by everybody else.
''I can't think of anything in rock that has excited
me lately,'' he adds. ''The
bands that are somewhat exciting seem to be playing it
safe and repeating
themselves. I'd say Rage Against the Machine is an
example of that. They're
a really good band, but they keep writing the same
song. I hold them in high
regard, but I don't hear anything that's really making
''And, sadly, the business climate that bands have to
deal with now is
horrible for creativity. Creativity is not encouraged
and it's certainly not
rewarded. It's all about finding your niche in the
demographic of the people
that you're going to sell your product to. It has
nothing to do with art or
And then comes this verbal coup de grace:
''If the public likes what's on MTV and on the charts
right now, then I don't
want to appeal to those people,'' says Reznor.
''That's not the demographic
that I care to ship units to. I want to appeal to
people who demand and
Appealing to a smaller mass
Reznor's art/industrial rock machine, Nine Inch Nails,
is still selling concert
tickets in high numbers - witness a sold-out date at
the Worcester Centrum
Centre this Tuesday. But its record sales have tapered
off with ''The
Fragile,'' a stunning, if sometimes confusing, double
album that has sold less
than a million copies, versus the 4 million of NIN's
previous disc, ''The
Downward Spiral'' (1994), and 3 million of its debut,
''Pretty Hate Machine''
Critics have generally embraced ''The Fragile'' - Spin
magazine dubbed it the
album of the year in 1999 - but many consumers have
They are apparently unwilling to wade into the dark
despair of some of
Reznor's musings, even though the lyrics, overall, are
more positive than on
the wrenching ''Downward Spiral.'' While there are
songs like ''The Big
Come Down'' and ''Into the Void'' (''tried to save
myself but my self kept
slipping away''), there also are rays of hope in the
single, ''We're in This
Together'' (''we will make it though somehow''), and
the title track, which
declares, ''I won't let you fall apart.''
''I know as a person I was in a much better, healthier
mind space than I was
when I did `Downward Spiral,''' says Reznor, speaking
from a tour stop in
Grand Rapids, Mich. ''Every record has just been a
mirror of where I've
been at the time I've done it.''
The 35-year-old Reznor, who grew up in a small town in
now lives in New Orleans, where he operates his famed
realizes that some people might find him to be a
''pretentious ass.'' He
admits, ''I struggled with that when I was finishing
`Fragile.' I thought, `Is this
palatable? Is this intriguing? Will someone give it a
chance? Or is it just a
load of self-indulgent crap?' I was trying to check
myself on that. I'll let
others be the judge on how well I've succeeded.''
Regardless, Reznor sticks by his instincts. When asked
if it might have been
wise to shorten the record to a single album instead
of a double album, he
refuses to budge.
''If I could do it again, I would keep it the way it
is,'' he says. ''There is an
argument that could be made that a more concise record
that is more
focused and more song-oriented rather than spatial may
have been easier for
a short-attention-span public to bite into. But that's
not what I chose to do.''
The Pink link
Some observers have maintained that ''The Fragile,''
with its grand,
techno-rock sweep balanced by heart-piercing ballads
interludes, was Reznor's attempt to update Pink
Floyd's ''The Wall'' for the
new millennium. He even brought in producer Bob Ezrin,
who had worked
with Pink Floyd, to sequence the tracks.
''Obviously, Pink Floyd has been an influence,'' he
says. ''To me, `The Wall'
was kind of the blueprint for the concept album. And
people are still
interested in that record because it had a pretty
cohesive and interesting plot.
But with `Fragile,' I really went at it from a purely
subconscious level and
that's what flowed out of me. `The Downward Spiral'
was more of an
attempt to make a plot-line album, a concept album.
''But `Fragile' was more sprawling. I wanted to see
what was in me and let it
come out. But it was Ezrin who said, `Oh, by the way,
there is a narrative to
a degree going on here - and here are some themes that
you keep repeating.'
It was interesting to be analyzed that way.''
Reznor is now grappling with how many songs from ''The
Fragile'' to include
in NIN's live show. ''We're doing a pretty good chunk
of it - I'd say seven,
eight, or nine songs. But I now have to judge
`Fragile' from its commercial
performance. I have to think, `OK, do people want to
hear stuff from this
album or should it be a greatest-hits show?' But,
really, I love this album and
it's the reason I'm out touring right now.
''We learned every song on the record and really could
perform it, but there
are a lot of songs in the same tempo range that
wouldn't work in a live
environment. I'm just trying to figure out how much to
do, because I've also
been a fan who goes to see shows and thinks of the
band, `Oh, God, more
stuff off the new album? I want to hear your old
favorites.' So I try to make
it a satisfying balance for all.''
A well-known studio perfectionist, Reznor tries to
translate that same work
ethic to NIN's concerts. The set design was done by
Mark Brickman, who
has also worked with Pink Floyd, though it was
completed by Roy Bennett,
who worked on NIN's ''Downward Spiral'' tour. ''We've
personnel changes,'' admits Reznor. ''Brickman is a
talented guy, but his
sensibility was in sharp contrast to mine.''
The visual highlights of the show, for Reznor, are the
mid-set videos done by
Bill Viola, an acclaimed figure who does not do rock
videos, but instead
specializes in video installations in museums and art
galleries. This is his first
partnership with a rock band.
''I'd just like to elevate the concept of a rock
performance, rather than have
it be the same thing all the time in a venue designed
for sporting events,'' says
Reznor. ''I'm just trying to notch up the intellect a
couple of levels. That's
what appeals to me.''
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