Trent Reznor is ready to
sing. Bent slightly at the waist, tightly gripping the microphone as if
he's about to wring its little metallic
neck, Reznor closes his
eyes-shutting out the winking lights and splashy computer graphics around
him in the main control room
at Nothing Studios in New
Orleans- and waits for the music to roll in his headphones.
When it does, Reznor sounds
like he's bellowing from deep inside a shaken id. "I've become impossible
/ Holding on to when / Everything seemed to matter more, " he rages over
the martial crunch of "We're in This Together," one of more than two dozen
songs on Nine Inch Nails' new album, The Fragile, tentatively set for September
as a double CD. In fact, Reznor- who is Nine Inch Nails; who has written,
produced and, save a few odd licks, played every note on The Fragile -
is cool, collected
and utterly in control.
Take after take breaks down.
Reznor's voice veers out of tune; he hasn't written enough words; in midverse,
program abruptly quits.
Disappointed, Reznor takes a fast dinner break, then has another prolonged
crack at the song. For two
hours, he plays over a loop
of the verse of "We're in This Together," zipping though various keyboard
and guitar effects: glacial synth howls; Kraftwerk-ian
bleeps; greasy slide guitar; wah-wah; what Reznor gleefully calls "Jesus
and Mary Chain distortion." "Were not getting anywhere,
" he says to Keith Hillebrandt, an in-house programmer at Nothing, and
producer Dave Ogilvie, who's
also doing production on the album. "Let's just fuck around and see what
When Reznor calls it quits
at midnight to attend to other new album business (he is in the thick of
album-cover and video matters even though he is still recording), "We're
in This Together" is far from done. Reznor does not have any new, keeper
parts - nothing he is ecstatic about, anyway. But he's got a lot of ideas
preserved on hard drive (and backed up on digital tape) for further study.
"The important thing is to
keep tape rolling," says Hillebrandt, waving a yellow legal pad full of
notes detailing what Reznor has just played. "You never know when Trent's
going to do something he wants to use later on. This whole song started
from something he actually played at the end of another track. He wrote
it up into an entirely new song."
"It's been madness," Reznor
admits, earlier in the day, of the nearly two years he has taken to make
The Fragile. He gestures at the armory of guitars and keyboards to one
side of the control room, at the more than seventy effects pedals strewn
across the floor here in the nerve center of Nothing Studios, a former
funeral home in New Orleans that Reznor purchased in April 1995. "Ninety-five
percent of this record was written in the room," he says. "Which is not
the way to quickly make albums."
Reznor, who recently turned
thirty-four, does not look worse for the wear. He is clean-shaven, his
jet-black hair cut short. In a gray-green shirt, black pants and sneakers,
he seems fit, focused, and ready for serious labor. "This record," he says,
" has been about going off on tangents - about starting in one spot, then
starts to go this way. The next song picks up where that left off, and
moves that way."
To illustrate his point,
he plays the final mix of the albums initial single, "The Day the World
Went Away." One part has massed, Black Sabbath-like guitars suspended in
echo with discreet electronics and a slightly askew acoustic guitar that
proves to be a ukulele. Another section is even more airy - somber piano,
acoustic bass, a clean, intimate Reznor vocal, a mere eight lines of lyrics.
Compared with the violent density of Nine Inch Nails' 1992 EP, Broken,
and the '94 smash The Downard Spiral, "The Day the World Went Away" is
buoyant, spacey menace- with no drummed whatsoever.
Reznor plays a couple of
electrometal bruisers - "The Wretched" and "Starfuckers, Inc." the latter
the B-side of "The Day the
World Went Away" - that
are viciously, unmistakable Nine Inch Nails. But he seems proudest of,
and most nervous about,
detours like "La Mer" and
"Into the Void." "La Mer" is built on a circular piano melody ("My derwent
several seismic sniffs
before he and engineer/co-producer
Alan Moulder formally set to work in September 1997. Reznor briefly entertained
nation of recording with
a full band before reverting to his mostly one-man-combo ways. (Guest contributors
to The Fragile
include David Bowie pianist
Mike Garson, guitarist Adrian Belew and Ministry drummer William Rieflin.)
"When I get ideas, I'll
get twenty of them at once,"
Reznor says. "It's hard for me, trying to wait for someone to catch up."
Suggestion of his friend
producer Rick Rubin, Reznor also went into class rock-song writer isolation
for two and half months- with a tape recorder and grand piano in a conviction
house in Big Sur, on the Northern California coast. "Tjos sprang from Rocj
and I talking, "Reznor explains. "Is a good song melody over a series of
chord changes and meaningful lyrics? If so, how many of your songs can
you play with an acoustic guitar in front of a campfire? 'OK, I'll show
you. I'll sit at the piano and write Billy Joel songs.' But I'm singing
out there thinking, 'This sucks.'" One piece of music Reznor salvaged from
the escapade was "La Mer."
"There was time wasting involved
in this whole thing; I won't lie to you," Reznor concedes. Nor will he
deny that he blew a lot of time
on a crisis of confidence,
a near total loss of conviction in what he had to say and the music through
which he said it. In 1997,
Reznor's grand mother did
at age eighty-five. When Reznor was five, his parents separated and his
grandmother raised him. "I
didn't deal with it," he
says quietly of her passing. "I just tried to pretend that it didn't happen."
And, Reznor adds pointedly,
"my best friends turned on me." Asked who those "friends" were, he replies,
"A group of people I
spent some time with, recorded
an album with, and their name has two words in it and they start with the
letter M" - a thinly
veiled reference to former
proteges Marilyn Manson.
"I took the time to get my
head straight," Reznor goes on. "Ironically, it was doing this record that
fixed me. Because that's what
always fixed in my past.
I was just too stupid to realize it."
Moulder, who was also mixing
engineer on The Downward Spiral, attests to the volatile mix of ambition
and in security in
Reznor's working methods:
"He gets frustrated with himself - if he's got an idea and he can't play
it on guitar as well as he wants. But he likes setting himself big tasks.
He'll never back down from a challenge. The best thing that could
happen to a song is, "I'd say, 'It's not cutting it.' He will then be determined
to make it work."
Reznor says Nine Inch Nails
will definitely tour in support of the new record: "Not like we did before,
but a fair amount. Ten times around Arkansas- I don't think that's going
to happen this time." He estimates he'll need about 700 singers in the
band, because I put a full-on Freddie Mercury tribute on some of these
songs." But even before he hits the road, Reznor plans to keep recording
one he's finished The Fragile for another project- a collaboration with
hip-hop auteur Dr. Dre.
"He worked on the mix of
one of the tracks for the record," Reznor explains. "I got to see how he
works, and it seemed very different-- far less knobs," he notes laughing.
"I think meeting him halfway would be interesting. He's never seen recording
the way we do it, which can get unnecessarily complicated. 'This has song
has four hard drives and tape backup' - all that bullshit. I'm interesting
in downscaling, being a little more efficient."
But not too efficient. One
example of the indulgence Reznor allowed himself on The Fragile comes near
the end of "Pilgrimate,"
a vigorous stomp with spooky,
choral vocals, Arabid-flavoed guitar and, near the end what sound like
a big, university-strength
"It shouldn't have taken
place," Reznor says sheepishly. "The track was done. But at the end, I
said, 'That's such a bizarre
theme. What would it sound
like played by a marching band going down the street?' A week later" he
nods in the diction of one
of the studio's king-size
Macintosh computers- "there's a band marching through the song. It's all
New Orleans, of course, is
a city full of marching bands. "It would have been easier to get a band
than it was to do it the way I
did," Reznor admits, grinning.
"And it start with, 'Give me two hours.' If I ever say that, order Domino's
and get the coffee on.
We're gonna be here for
By David Fricke
<< Previous Page