Jahr 2000

Guitar World

Juni 2000

Close To The Edge


von Alan di Perna


The last four years have been sheer hell for Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor. And that‘s just the way he likes it.


Fear, Grief, Debauchery, Betrayal, Forgiveness, Healing

The greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out that you can never step in the same river twice. Trent Reznor was all too aware of this as he girded himself for his return to the concert stage, after an absence of some four years, at the start of Nine Inch Nails‘ Fragility v1.0 Tour last year in Europe.

“I was a bit afraid at the first show, in Barcelona,“ he confesses. “We‘d never been there before. We opened with ‘Somewhat Damaged‘ off the new album [The Fragile]. Because we‘d been out of the limelight for so long, I had kind of a humble aspiration: Do people still like us? Are we picking up where we left off, or starting again from scratch? My feeling was, We have to build the house again. I was not expecting to walk into a stadium filled with chanting people. But when we did that first song, everybody knew all the words to it. I thought, That‘s weird. They don‘t even speak English here, and they knew an obscure song off the new album. That started it off. My fears were somewhat put to rest.“

A lot has changed since the 1994 release of NIN‘s previous album, The Downward Spiral, and the notoriously debauched round of touring that followed in its wake. (The band‘s 1997 longform home video, Closure, gives a hint of what that was like.) Between then and now, Reznor started his own successful label, Nothing Records, and launched the career of Marilyn Manson, with whom he then had a bitter and prolonged quarrel. He worked on two film scores: Oliver Stone‘s Natural Born Killers (1994) and David Lynch‘s Lost Highway (1997). A difficult life passage came for Reznor with the death of his grandmother, a dose and much-loved family member who‘d served as a surrogate parent in the years after the divorce of Reznor‘s parents, who split when he was just six.

Nine Inch Nails‘ mastermind says he has spent a lot of the last four years getting his own life in order. Touring behind The Downward Spiral left him a seething, sub stance-addled mass of anxieties and hostilities. Today, he seems far more well-adjusted, lightly simmering mass of anxieties and hostilities. Reznor was diagnosed as suffering mild clinical depression. But the artificially induced elation of prescription anti-depressants wasn‘t to his liking. (Happiness is a condition he tends to regard with some suspicion.) He says he found a more meaningful elixir in the two-year creative process that went into recording The Fragile, the new Nine Inch Nails album.

“Doing the album was part therapy. It was a great learning process. For me it was a very healing experience as well.“

The Fragile is easily Reznor‘s most ambitious and fully realized work to date. It moves with wondrous dream logic through a jarring range of moods, from sunny, delicate grand piano passages to those screaming psycho-metal tantrums that Reznor throws so well. Songs are linked by ingenious musical segues—hypnotic loops that build deliriously to unforeseen destinations via sounds and textures that seem profoundly a yet also somehow familiar. As always, Reznor played most of the instruments himself—including loads of guitar— locked away in his New Orleans recording studio, leaving no sonic stone unturned.

“It was great to be in artist mode for two solid years,“ he says, “and not be concerned about what I‘m now concerned about—which is getting people to buy the record.“

The music scene has changed just as radically as Reznor‘s personal life not more so, in the years since 1994. Back then, he was the Dark Lord of Industrial—a key figure in the alternative music boom of the mid Nineties. NIN‘s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, bad ushered in a new musical era by fusing the strident industrial tradition of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy and Ministry with Reznor‘s own unique melodic sensibility and keen pop instincts. Two subsequent releases, Broken (1992) and The Downward Spiral proved Reznor to be an inventive musical provocateur not to mention a major goth sex symbol.

But that was then. Most of the heroes of the alternative revolution have long since shot their wads, died or gone back underground. Their place in the mainstream has been taken by a corporate, singles-driven music industry aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens too young to know who Reznor even is. While The Fragile has been a resounding critical success—an album that topped many “Best of 1999“ polls—it has not been Reznor‘s greatest commercial triumph. Although it debuted at Number One on the Billboard Top 200, it quickly slid down the charts.

“It‘s a different climate today than when The Downward Spiral came out,“ Reznor acknowledges. “I‘m feeling the pinch of putting out a record that‘s not singles oriented. I‘m asking quite a bit of the listener to get through the album. It‘s long—a double CD—and it‘s more expensive than the one next to it on the shelf. It doesn‘t jump out of the speakers and say, ‘I‘m a great album.‘ You need to work at it. There‘s some depth there, or at least I tried very hard to put some there. It‘s difficult for a record like that to make waves in a climate of disposability.“

But Reznor seems to relish doing things the hard way and defying the odds. As he prepares to tour America with Fragility v2.0, he looks fit—more substantial of limb than he was back in ‘94. Beneath medium length, jet-black hair his face is a bit more careworn and ravaged-looking. But there‘s a kind of quiet confidence in his manner as well. If current music is a struggle between art and commerce, Trent‘s ready to do battle.

GUITAR WORLD: Both of The Fragile‘s discs end with songs containing the line, “I can still feel you.“ Are we to take that in a positive way, like, despite the shit life visits upon you, some kind of feeling—some human emotional contact—is still possible? Or is it a grimmer realization that, no matter what you do to blunt your senses, you‘re still going to feel life‘s pain?

TRENT REZNOR: A little of both. There are different levels there. One is a sense of loss. The absence of someone else. Grief. I went through some life crisis situations while I was writing the album. Like the death of my grandmother. But on another level, those lines are saying, “I‘m not the same person I was before I started this album.“ So it‘s kind of self-referential. This record was a journey. Trying to climb out of a hole. When I started this record, I was in a pretty bad place emotionally. Let‘s just say The Downward Spiral lived up to its name. So while The Fragile is not overwhelmingly positive, it‘s not as overwhelmingly negative as The Downward Spiral. If The Downward Spiral is the place where you bit bottom, this one is trying to attempt some healing. Trying to find a reason why in this mess. It doesn‘t end with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I think the act of attempting repair is a positive one. The Fragile—the title is self-referential. I was pretty fragile at times during this whole process.

GW: Are you mellower now? More content?

REZNOR: Today I am. I think I‘ve seen through the romantic notion of negativity and self-destruction: that “crash and burn“ kind of direction. “Fuck everybody else. I don‘t need anybody. I don‘t need God. I don‘t need friends. I don‘t need a relationship.“ But that delivers you into a little black corner. And you can‘t stay there. You can either finish oft the job [ self-destruction], or you can climb out. When you reach that low point, it‘s not as romantic as it might seem from a distance. It‘s something I don‘t want to return to right now. That‘s not saying I‘m happy now. But maybe I‘m feeling more mature. I‘d have to say that was a big part of it. Part of growing up.

GW: Watching the Closure video, with all those scenes of you smashing up dressing rooms, I found myself wondering something: Does that kind of destructiveness become addictive, in the same way as drugs or alcohol?

REZNOR: It feeds itself, yeah, in a strange way. That video was titled Closure for a reason. I don‘t think that‘s how this tour is gonna be. I mean, I‘m glad I went through that, although I might have done a few things a little differently, perhaps. When you‘re in an environment like that, you‘re almost encouraged to act like a fucking idiot. You‘re surrounded by people allowing you to behave that way. In real life, you can‘t smash things. You‘ll get your ass beat, or put in jail, or killed. But the insanity of touring, where everything‘s happening so fast, where there are so many strange situations and you‘re being treated weirdly by everybody and experiencing the adrenaline of playing in Front of fans every night—it‘s a personality distorter, a behaviour distorter. Then add in drugs and alcohol, stir it all up, and you‘ve got quite a recipe for disaster. Put the Jim Rose Circus, the Manson camp and the NIN camp all together in that environment for an extended period of time, and what do you expect? Something‘s gonna happen. Nobody died, luckily. It was dumb. I guess it‘s some sort of rite of passage. It becomes apparent that something is wrong when it‘s all over and you‘re still trying to act that way. I finished the tour and then I did the dumbest thing: I produced a Manson album. And those guys.. .the tour bus may not be moving, hut they‘re still on tour. Every night there‘s something going on. It was fun, but there has to be an end to it at some point. Or you‘ll find yourself at an end.

GW: It‘s always dangerous to read biographical meanings into songs, but one can‘t help but wonder if “No, You Don‘t“ is about the dissolution of your friendship with Manson.

REZNOR: There were elements of that in there—anger. I can‘t say I sat down and really thought, Let me analyze my friendship with Manson dissolving. And that‘s nearing its end anyway, I believe. As far as our speaking to one another.

GW: So you might bury the hatchet?

REZNOR: Well, we‘re on the same record label. And I think, especially in the barren climate of rock music today, we‘re also linked in terms of a sensibility that‘s a little more intelligent, I like to think, than a lot of what‘s out there right now. That might seem egotistical. But he‘s a smart guy. Let‘s leave it at that.

GW: Is there a significant other in your life now?

REZNOR: There is, yeah. That‘s something I keep to myself, though. A lot of times these interviews turn into psychological evaluations. I realize that I‘ve given away more than I‘ve intended to at times.

GW: Have any revelations come out of performing The Fragile live?

REZNOR: That will be a better question to ask at the completion of the U.S. tour. So far we‘ve doneEurope, Australia and Japan. We‘re not as big there as we are here. And the shows we did in Australia were all big festivals—outdoor stuff. So we kind of tailored the set to be a greatest-hits show, and not go too deep into the new album. Where as this U.S. tour is more focused on the new album, which is more exciting for us to play, really. We‘ve got a new drummer this time around, Jerome Dillon, which has really changed the dynamics of the whole thing. My tastes have changed a bit too. We‘re doing a lot less MIDI-triggering bullshit this time, and a lot more playing live.

GW: But you won‘t be playing The Fragile all the way through, from start to finish?

REZNOR: Not in its entirety. It‘s not like The Wall. We‘re not going to go out and perform the whole thing. That might be more exciting for me as a musician. But I think I would feel somewhat apologetic to people. I try to keep a sense of what the audience wants from a live performance. So it‘s going to be a good chunk of the new stuff, hut some old favorites as well. That seems to be the best approach right now. I remember going to concerts in high school. You‘d go see Rush and they‘d play all stuff off their newest album. And it was like, “Fuck it, I don‘t wanna hear the new album. I wanna hear ‘Tom Sawyer.‘“


Death, Depression, Creative Agony, Anger, Truth

Nothing Studios is located along a funky stretch of Magazine Street in New Orleans, amid a strange confluence of bars, bead shops, “baby boomer gumbo“ antiques places and impoverished black businesses. The building that houses Trent Reznor‘s studios and offices stands on a corner—a plain, two-story brick structure that was once a funeral home. This doesn‘t seem at all unusual in New Orleans, a city where the boundary between the living and the dead seems more faintly drawn than it is in most other places.

Tales of hauntings are everywhere. They ding to the crumbling old buildings in this, one of America‘s oldest cities. Because the city is actually below sea level, the remains of the deceased commonly ooze up out of the mud during rainy spells, which are quite frequent. The humid air is oppressively heavy and conducive to pestilence. The dead seem more present here than in other places— ghosts of pirates, prostitutes and great musicians of the past. There‘s even some thing vaguely funereal about the pallid jester masks and gaudy finery of Mardi Gras, as if all those gaily colored beads and feathers were meant somehow to negate the body‘s inevitable decay. Could doomy, gloomy Trent Reznor have possibly adopted a more suitable city as his home?

On passing through Nothing‘s front entrance, the visitor is confronted with a wide stairway ascending to the second floor. Presumably, coffins were once carried down the stairs in solemn procession. On one of the lower balustrades sits a horse skull festooned with metallic purple and silver Mardi Gras beads. A sculpted garden Pan crouches at the base of the staircase on the opposite side. A voodoo doll is affixed to the gray molding of the passageway from the reception area to the lounge.

But the real strange magic takes place behind the staircase, in the main control room. A massive 72-input SSL G+ Series mixing console dominates the space. There‘s a king-size Pro Tools rig and banks of effects processors, vintage synths, stomp boxes and guitars. Trent Reznor has spent much of the past few years in this room. His house is just minutes away: a stately Southern home in the upscale Garden District, near the residence of best-selling gothic romance novelist Anne Rice. It‘s an idyllic existence—a little dark maybe, but definitely com But a few years back, amid all the trappings of success, Reznor was miserable.

“I really wasn‘t happy,“ he says. “I thought, Man, I‘ve done everything I wanted to do with my life. I‘ve got a fucking cool studio. My job is to make music. What do I have to bitch about? I could sell more tickets. I could write a better album, play a bigger place, make a bigger video. I could get another effects pedal. But none of that would f this hole that was there. Just acknowledging that and realizing that 1 bad to deal with these things set me on the course to doing this album.

First Reznor tried a change of scene. He rented a house with a grand piano in Big Sur along Northern California‘s scenic coastline, far from any city distractions. He was even more miserable than before. Most of what was written at Big Sur was promptly dismissed as “crap“ by the intensely self-critical Reznor. But he‘d at least embarked on the path that would ultimate lead to The Fragile. He returned to New Orleans and started work in earnest.

“With The Downward Spiral, I knew what I wanted to do,“ he says. “I had a plot all written out and I followed it. It didn‘t turn out exactly the way I originally thought. But I always knew what I wanted to do. I let it mutate into what it turned into. But when I started writing The Fragile, the approach was completely different—just to let things come out and see what happens. Because I found when I‘d sit in this control room or the other room at my house with a tape recorder or hard disc spinning, there was no shortage of ideas flowing out. I got together a collection of instrumental demos that I felt was really an advancement. I wasn‘t just recreating the calculated kind of results I‘d achieved on the last record. This was pure subconscious coming out.“

Guitar meltdown superproducer Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Curve, The Jesus and Mary Chain) was one of the first people Reznor summoned down to New Orleans to help him make sense of this explosion from his sub consciousness. Moulder bad done some work on The Downward Spiral, but was even more integral to The Fragile‘s creative evolution. Moulder, Reznor and programmer Keith Hillebrandt settled in for what would prove to be a two-year stretch of intensive labor at Nothing Studios.

“The project broke down into two chunks of roughly one year each,“ says Reznor. The first year was a time of unrestricted experimentation: “We‘d truly sit here and say, ‘What would happen if...‘“

Tracking on a Pro Tools computer-based hard disc recording system, Reznor was able to store musical ideas in such a way that they could be easily edited and recombined as the project developed. Nothing Studios became an idea factory. While Reznor and Moulder worked in the main control room, Hillebrandt was often upstairs in a small studio tinkering with sounds or comping guitar tracks. Longtime Reznor associates Danny Lohner and Charlie Clousere were among the helpers busy in upstairs project rooms. All of these satellite studios were linked to the main control room via a computer network. Reznor explains:

“I could say to Keith, ‘Okay, let‘s work with nature sounds—bee swarms. See what you can find in sound effects libraries, or sample some stuff from old films. Or go to a bee farm and mike up a hive. Get some raw stuff and loop it up as things I can play on a keyboard.‘ This way, we could accomplish a lot of sonic experimentation that I could oversee, while still devoting most of my time to writing music.“

As musical segments piled up and the project entered its second year, says Reznor, “it was time to put on a different hat, become more editorial and say, ‘Okay, we‘ve got 45 “things“ here, some of which are songs and some of which are just “things.“ They‘re all interesting, but let‘s weed them out.‘ We tried to find a structure that made a sensible piece of work out of all the material we had— something with a beginning, an end and an overall flow. It just clicked when we said, ‘Maybe this should be a double record.‘ When we tried to weed it down to what would fit on one CD, it seemed more like random pieces. But when you had songs that were bridges between the pieces, it seemed more cohesive, although longer.“

A key player in the final phase of the project was producer Bob Ezrin, famous for his ability to impart order onto dark, sprawling concept albums like Lou Reed‘s Berlin and Pink Floyd‘s‘ The Wall (the latter being one of Reznor‘s all time favorite records). It was Ezrin who sequenced The Fragile, giving a definitive form to the strange and wonderful sounds that had originated in Reznor‘s subconscious.

GW: Impressionistic, Debussy-esque grand piano interludes crop up throughout The Fragile. Did they come out of that initial period at Big Sur when you were trapped alone with a grand piano?

REZNOR: That‘s where it started, yeah—sitting at the piano in Big Sur. And then coming back here, I have a piano at my house too. And I remembered I used to be a good pianist. At one time in my life there were plans for me to drop out of school and be tutored as a concert pianist—practice 10 hours a day. But then I got a Kiss album and that put things into perspective: ‘It‘ll be harder to get chicks as a concert pianist!‘ So, during the initial stages of The Fragile, the piano served as a vehicle for me to get reacquainted with enjoying music. Somehow that got overshadowed by the business aspects of being in a band—arguing about royalties on imports and shit like that. And not only the business aspects, but the social setting. The elements of celebrity. People backstabbing me. The inevitable things that creep in to invade your world. And, stupid as this sounds, it took sitting down at the piano for me to remember, ‘That‘s why I‘m doing this! Because I love music.‘“

GW: What kind of sonic role did you envision for guitars on The Fragile?

REZNOR: A very large one, actually. Because of the subconscious way I was working, once I had a concept of what something should sound like, 20 parts would all come out at the same time. Under those circumstances, I found myself less inspired to reach for a synthesizer or sampler and more inclined to grab a guitar. I was enjoying the imperfections of real instruments like guitar—which I can‘t play very well, technically. But that technical naivete often added to the overall mood. We were trying to make a record that sounded a little bit broken—like it might crumble. Not a nice steel framework, but rough wood with rusty nails; a plank might give out or the whole thing might blow over in the wind. So we used real instruments for most of the stuff. And most of the sound on the record is guitar—way more than ever before. But with lots of different tunings, layers and processing.

The good thing about working with Alan Moulder is that he‘s Mr. Guitar Sound. After all, he produced the Loveless album by My Bloody Valentine, That record and that band were a big inspiration for me on this album, in terms of sonic approach, in terms of what a guitar can do. And also in the way that some of the songs sound, like, ‘Is the pitch slowing down a bit?‘ That uneasy feeling. And I‘d ask Alan how he did stuff like that on Loveless.

GW: While you were experimenting with sounds, would you usually have a lyrical idea in mind?

REZNOR: Not on this record. I was real reluctant to get into Lyric mode. ‘Cause that‘s when I have to bare my soul. And I hate that. It‘s often unpleasant. So I try to avoid doing it if I possibly can and work on the music first. Which was a problem sometimes. Most of the songs were pretty complete instrumental demos before I even thought of putting vocals on. The mistake I made sometimes was putting too much in. So there was no room to fit in the main thing—- the vocal, the thing that most people pay most attention to.

GW: Did you then have to pull things out of the arrangement to make room for the vocal?

REZNOR: Yeah. And often it was things where I‘d be saying, ‘But that‘s the best part of the whole song!‘ That‘s the kind of thing that keeps you from finishing an album. And every record has a couple like that—songs that fight you the whole fucking way. On The Downward Spiral it was “Ruiner.“ On this album it was “We‘re in This Together.“ I wrote it quicker than most of the songs, probably. It was one of the last ones we did. And it just seemed, like, “This is a pretty obvious song. It adds a bit of accessibility, and it won‘t be hard to do. Right?“

Oh my God, that was the fuckin‘ hardest song we ever recorded. I thought I was gonna go insane. The problem was that, when the chorus came in, it seemed like the song was slowing down. We didn‘t know why. Objectively we knew it wasn‘t slowing down. We could see the tempo wasn‘t shifting. We tried to double-time the beat for the chorus. But then the verse sounded funny. It was a real puzzle. Finally someone said, ‘What if we turn the drums down?‘ And that solved the problem. The chorus comes in and the drums get quieter. You‘d never think to do that. I‘d never done it before. But it took three fucking weeks to figure that out. That makes the guitar seem louder, That makes it seem more desperate. If only I‘d tried it the first day.

GW: Are there lots of other versions of these songs squirreled away somewhere on your hard drive?

REZNOR: Yeah. There were always too many ideas. Right now, I‘ve got 80 or 90 minutes of music finished and mastered that‘s either different variations of songs on the album or remixes done by everybody at the studio here, for the most part. I‘m not sure what I‘m going to do with it. I don‘t know if I want to put it out as a retail record. Because it‘s more for the fans. It‘s not my big statement. I might give it away on the internet. I think we‘re gonna do a new single for retail. I might put a big chunk of this other stuff on there. But I don‘t want it to be misinterpreted, like “Oh, it‘s 70 minutes long. It‘s a new album.“ No, it‘s not an album. It‘s a side note. A diversion.

GW: That‘s an interesting thing about your catalog. There‘s lots of stuff. But there‘s really only three full and proper Nine Inch Nails albums—Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral and The Fragile.

REZNOR: I would lump Broken in there too. It‘s short. But in terms of moving me away from Pretty Hate Machine, it was important. I probably just could have spent an extra month and made it a full album. But I had what I needed to say.

GW: Do you see those four major works as forming any kind of narrative progression an ongoing story?

REZNOR: Not necessarily narrative, but hopefully a progression. I don‘t believe any of them are rehashes of what came before. They just mirrored what was in my head at the time I did them. Hopefully people will remain interested wherever I move. Part of my predicament is that I‘m not doing what, say, Kiss is doing now: obviously catering to a youth market when you‘re not youthful anymore. It seems foreign to me to think of music as catering to a certain audience. Like if you‘re a 50-year-old film director and you‘re making a movie you know I gonna appeal to teenagers. I can understand that in a movie sense. But music, to me, still seems pure; it should be approached as something where your spirit and soul comes out. I‘m not trying to write songs to sell to Janet Jackson to put on her album. To me, music still has some element of fine arts or truthfulness to it. I dunno, is this making any sense at all?

GW: We‘re in a climate where there‘s no expectation that a rock or pop record is going to be fine art. Whereas in the days of the Beatles or Pink Floyd that was built into the marketplace. People would look forward to a new record by a major band and say, “Wow, what‘s the next great statement from these people going to be?“

REZNOR: Okay. That‘s a good way to put what I‘m bumbling around with. In other words, the format of the rock album or long form work is unexpected and therefore more difficult to sell as a piece or work, as opposed to a piece of candy. Or like McDonald‘s. It seems like a good idea until it‘s in your stomach. Everything‘s so disposable now. And everybody seems to be happy, you know? Everybody wants to hear happy rock and pop music.

GW: Everybody‘s either happy or they‘re angry in a Korn or Kid Rock kind of way.

REZNOR: In a comic book way, yeah. That‘s not to dis Korn, but I read a level of insincerity in some of those posturings of anger.

GW: Some of those guys might claim you as a sort of godfather...

REZNOR: . . .of being unhappy? Lord of anger?

GW: Wasn‘t the term “hate Pop“ first coined for you?

REZNOR: I think I can claim that notch on my belt.

GW: So have we defined the problem then? Audiences were once naturally predisposed to work hard at understanding a long and difficult album, because rock stars were regarded more as serious artists, more like novelists or filmmakers. Whereas now they‘re just expected to be entertainers. Is that it?

REZNOR: Basically, yeah. Here‘s what I think. People buy what they‘re told to buy. And in the Seventies, for instance, record companies were basically people who loved music and sold records to fans who loved music. When you bought Pink Floyd you bought the album. You didn‘t buy it because it had “Money“ on it. And consumers in that era bought records expecting them to be a statement, as you said. Now it feels as though music is just big business. With all the mergers that have gone down, big corporations now own all the record labels. All the independents, for the most part, have been sucked into the vacuum. And that just seems to go hand in hand with the fact that CDs arc just little plastic things to sell now—units to be moved. There‘s less art in a CD than in a piece of vinyl. I‘m sorry to sound like Mr. Luddite, but a whole level is missing—the large-scale artwork, liner notes, even the smell of the vinyl as it comes out of the sleeve, checking the inside groove to see if any mastering notes or messages have been written there. Also MTV has assured that image is more important than content, which is a sad thing for music. From a pop culture standpoint, the line between actor/ singer/model is indistinguishable for the most part. A pretty face and a gimmick speak louder than a good song. Although there are exceptions to that rule. If the Cure came out today, would they have a chance? Even when The Downward Spiral came out in ‘94, there was Nirvana, Tool, Jane‘s Addiction and Rage Against the Machine starting up. It seemed like there was a host of smart bands that I was hoping would be around for a while. Expecting them to be. Where‘s the counterpart to that today? Maybe I‘m getting older, jaded and more cynical, but I don‘t particularly think that Barenaked Ladies and Blink-182 are the same thing at all.

GW: But don‘t you think that the average person has an emotional need for something more than this disposable fare?

REZNOR: Yeah. I make music hoping some of those people are out there.

GW: On the other side of the coin, do you ever feel pressured by the Messianic thing? In the Sixties and Seventies people really thought rock stars were God. Do you get that? People looking to you to make meaning of their life?

REZNOR: If I read my fan mail a little more closely, I suppose I would. I touch a nerve with some people. You can imagine the demographic of people that would write me a letter! I just feel an artistic responsibility to stay honest with my music. If I‘m suddenly happy tomorrow and the clouds part and I write a Paul McCartney album, it‘ll be truthful to where I am at that time. I‘m not gonna say, “I‘ve gotta write angry, depressed music because that‘s what expected of me.“ Whatever I do, I want to remain true to myself—whoever that is.


Guitar By The Numbers

Plugging into Trent Reznor’s digital world.

By Alan di Perna

“The training I’ve had on the piano sometimes gets in the way,” Trent Reznor musses. “On guitar, I don’t have that problem, ‘cause I suck.”

Whatever Reznor lacks in technical facility he more than makes up for it in the way of sheer creativity. In recording The Fragile, he plugged his guitar into the vast technological resources of Nothing Studios and used the whole damn place as his stomp box.

“The first question was always, ‘do we want it to sound like a guitar or something else?’” he says. Either way, Reznor and co-producer Alan Moulder would generally start by plugging a guitar into a row of effects pedals gleaned from Reznor’s impressive collection. Favorites included a Swollen Pickle by Way Huge Electronics and, on the vintage front, a Univox Uni-Fuzz, Fender Blender, Foxx Tone Machine, an original DigiTech Whammy Pedal and a mysterious Trent bought for 20 dollars in an L.A. keyboard shop. There‘s no brand name or model number on it. Just the words “tone control,“ and knobs for lo, hi, mid and a sweepable resonance filter. “It‘s the most brutal kind of eq, but with intense distortion,“ Trent marvels.

Whereas Reznor has almost always recorded guitars direct in the past, he did go for some miked cabinet sounds this time, at Moulder‘s encouragement. On the direct front, Reznor generally used Amp Farm (an amp-modeling plug-in card for Pro Tools) or a Zoom speaker simulator. A DigiTech 2120 was also in favor for a while.

Typically Reznor would record multiple takes of any given guitar track into Pro Tools, often working in loop recording mode. He generally sat at the control room console playing guitar

while Alan Moulder manipulated effects controls in real time and programmer Keith Killebrandt wrote down the bar numbers where things start ed sounding cool. The multiple guitar takes were then layered up using Pro Tools‘ cut-and Paste facilities. That, for example, is how the distressed power chording on “The Day the World Went Away“ was achieved.

Many guitar tracks went through another processing stage after being recorded and layered. For this Reznor often used devices like the Virus, by Music Access Electronics, and the Mutronics Mutator, both of which allow any audio Signal to be passed through a bank of analog synth-style filters. The one-note drone heard in the verses to “The Day the World Went Away“ sounds like an analog synth with a bad case of oscillator drift. But it‘s actually layered guitars processed through the Mutator. An old Roland Chorus Echo with a broken motor was another prime source of strange, wobbly tones.

“I‘d say a good 80 percent of the guitar parts on the record were done with a Parker guitar,“ Reznor adds. “I used the piezo pickup on the Parker quite a bit. One of the tricks we‘d use on this record was tuning all the guitar strings to the same pitch: two low octave, two middle and two high. Then I‘d strum as fast as I could, playing a melody with one finger up and down the neck. We‘d run that through a [Yamaha] SPX1000 with early reflection reverb You‘re not hearing the strings, but you‘re hearing the pitch, and it has an infinite reverb type of sound, but it‘s not sustaining like a room reverb.“

The job of recreating all this madness on the concert stage fell to longtime Reznor cohorts Robin Finck and Danny Lohner. “Danny and I will go through the 25 guitar tracks on the record and break it down to the most essential parts,“ says Finck, who has been using an assortment of Godin guitars on the Fragility tour, employing their piezo pickups to reproduce some of Reznor‘s Parker ones. For meatier stuff, Finck plays a Les Paul. He‘s using a Marshall JMP-l preamp and a Bradshaw switching System with a TC Electronic G-Force and a Voodoo Valve as featured effects.

Danny Lohner, who also contributed some guitar tracks to the album, plays both bass and guitar live, performing on Fernandes and PRS guitars and an Ernie Ball Music Man bass through a SansAmp PSA-1. His guitar rig includes a DigiTech 2120 and Whammy Wah and a Piercing Moose octave distortion pedal by Way Huge Electronics. A Ground Control MIDI Switcher keeps all this in order.

Onstage, Reznor chimes in on Gibson Les Paul Standard and ESP Les Paul models through a Line 6 Pod. All guitars are direct injected into the house P.A.—a necessity given Nine Inch Nails‘ ultra-violent stage show. “We used to have mikes on cabinets,“ says Lohner. “But they‘d get kicked around and you‘d go two songs not knowing your guitar wasn‘t being heard in the house.“