timeoff.com.au

January 2000

Would the real Trent Reznor please step forward

David Bowie recently told yours truly that he believed Nine Inch Nails’ supremo Trent Reznor was "one of the great talents of modern American music without a doubt". A few years earlier, Time magazine went one better and named Reznor one of 25 most influential people in the US. But like most icons, Reznor has a soft underbelly that he likes to scratch.

"People might be surprised to know that Trent has a beautiful dog which sleeps in the bed with him and is treated like a person because she’s such an adorable creature," NIN keyboard wiz Charlie Clouser says. "And that Trent is particularly gentle with his pets. Maybe you wouldn’t think that the Dark Lord would be a pet lover. We’ve got lots of pets around the studio. We’ve got three or four dogs."

Over the last few years Nine Inch Nails have seen a great deal of those creatures at Reznor’s converted funeral parlour studio complex in New Orleans. The band’s last album, The Downward Spiral, hit the ground in 1994. It took until late last year to shift its hugely anticipated multi-textured follow-up, The Fragile, into the showroom. Yet despite all the sub-cultural water that’s been under the bridge in that six-year period, the new album has been received as something of a Second Coming. And in a sense it is. "It’s a long time to have been out of circulation," Clouser agrees, "and we certainly didn’t intend that. It’s surprising that to a certain degree we’re not starting from scratch again, that still somehow we’ve maintained a public consciousness of at least some level over the intervening time. Which is kinda surprising because I thought there was going to be a certain amount of ‘Hey, remember us? Our live show kicks arse, too, by the way!’. Here in America, the end of our last big tour was kinda winding up in like 25,000 seat hockey arena joints. It was going really well and we were in peak form. So fortunately we left people with the memory of that, not a video. It’s nice to be remembered for, ‘Oh my God! Their live show was complete destruction and you feared for your safety in the audience!’. We want to pick up where we left off in that department.

"I’m sure that everybody’s saying ‘But there’s a lot of like quiet, soft, squishy moments on the new record’. Maybe that’s going to somehow effect how aggressive the live performance is. But we really just swapped our older squishy moments for newer squishy moments. We haven’t taken away the pacing and the level of intensity and aggression that was in some of the classic Nine Inch Nails’ sets of past. We still have a healthy dose of chaos."

Chaos indeed. The harsh beauty even savage grace that runs through The Fragile is transformed on stage into a musical warzone. And the entire band dons hard hats.

"You’re definitely free to assault anything except Trent and Trent is free to assault anything. You’ve definitely got to keep one corner of your eye peeled to see if [Reznor’s] arming himself with a water bottle or if he’s headed your way. (Guitarist) Robin (Finck) and (guitarist, bassist, keyboardist) Danny (Lohner) take more of a beating than I do because I’m protected. I’m on a keyboard riser and my keyboard stand bolts down. So if Trent wants to flip me he’s got to take the whole riser over which he’s tried to do a couple of times. So I have a little bit of protection not from water bottles coming my way but at least from full-on, shoulder-checking tackles. But we had to redesign Danny’s keyboard stand so it didn’t have these sharp handles sticking out on one side because he feared that he’d get impaled on them if Trent attacks him from behind."

That limb-threatening stage mayhem must be an enormously welcome change to seeing the same computer monitor in the studio day in and day out for several years. But you also get the impression that the lengthy construction period for The Fragile was one huge blessing for Clouser who’s hand is almost continually guiding a mouse.

"The only saving grace to it all was that in our studio here we have five different rooms where Danny and I and Keith, our programmer, and Trent each have our own separate studios as well as the main studio. In many situations it would be five guys sitting in a lounge with an Nintendo while one guy’s in a control room recording. But fortunately this way we could each be in our own little rooms with our own little Nintendos (laughs), basically continuing to overdub and fiddle with stuff. That’s what contributes, I think, to the thickness of the sonic textures on the record: that there’s five guys in five studios working for two years, not five guys in one studio for two years. There’d be things where you’re like, ‘Man, I spent three days making that track! And what is it? Two bars on the intro of a song!’. Some little drone or some little noise sweep that started off as a whole concerto of noise and in the whittling down procedure and the boiling off all the excess procedure gets reduced to some tiny, one bar loop or noise."

So what’s it like working with someone like Reznor who has all those accolades to shoulder?

"He’s definitely the most talented and innovative musical type that I’ve ever worked with and I can see why people say these kind of things. But it’s weird because it doesn’t effect him somehow. He doesn’t take it to heart. He’s like, ‘Time magazine? What? How did they find out about me?’. And it’s not so much for any one particular thing that he’s done but what appears to be like a strategic course of action. Like being involved in Natural Born Killers, a very controversial movie, making controversial music videos, being involved in the career of Marilyn Manson… It paints a picture of someone who’s got a real coherent viewpoint."

Nine Inch Nails play the Big Day Out at Gold Coast Parklands on Sunday January 23. The Fragile is out on Universal.

Murray Engleheart

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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.