even remotely in touch with today's music scene is well aware of the success
of hard/industrial music in the last few years. Leading the way in this
genre are two of today's most popular groups, Nine Inch Nails and White
Zombie. Both bands rely heavily on the use of samplers and taped effects
during live shows. SCENE recently talked to drummer/keyboard player/programmer/engineer/editor/producer
extraordinaire Charlie Clouser, who hasworked extensively with both of
the aforementioned artists and is indirectly a large part of each band's
own unique sound, both live and in the studio. Currently in New Orleans
where Nine Inch Nails is converting an old funeral home into a studio/rehearsal
space/living compound, Clouser is involved with other projects as well
while NIN is on touring hiatus.
When did you first get into music?
I started playing drums when I was six years old. Technically, I don't
really play drums anymore. But, I did end up getting to play drums on five
songs during the NIN/David Bowie tour. I guess I can say to some degree
that I still know how to play. In high school I was in many different bands
playing drums, then one day I borrowed a synth from a friend of mine and
kind of thought I had it figured out. In college, I went to a strange school
that lets you avoid classes and design your own weird academic program
if you want to. Hampshire College in Amherst, Ma., is one of those "hippy-dippy"
colleges that has been around for about 25 years and it doesn't work for
most people. But, it worked great for me because they had an electronic
music studio. Basically, I took classes for about three semesters and for
the remaining five semesters I was locked up in the studio. I was learning
as fast as you can hands-on. That experience enabled me to learn a lot
about the old modular synthesizers. This was before MIDI and computers
were happening. So I had learned sort of the hard way on the old refrigerator-
size synthesizers that made one note at a time. Then, all of a sudden you've
got DX7s and computers and it's like "Hey! This is easy!"
How long were you involved in session work?
I didn't really do sessions. It wasn't like I just went out and did any
kind of session I could grab just for some bucks. I did scoring for TV
shows and a bit of drum programming on some rap stuff out in L.A. About
three years ago I started getting into the Prong, Marilyn Manson, Wite
Zombie type of things. Before that I was into techno and stuff that didn't
really relate to this type of music. But, that gave me experience with
computers and samplers and so on and so forth.
What was your involvement with White Zombie's ASTRO-CREEP: 2000?
They had the songs pretty well written and they would give me a demo that
had just guitar bass and drums. I would basically take that and expand
upon the drum part. The beats were pretty well worked out in terms of what
the rhythm pattern was going to be. What I was doing was adding a thousand
more elements doing the same thing.
What did you do, sampling-wise, on the record?
Rob Zombie is a big collector of weirdo movies. He would usually bring
in eight or ten samples per song and ask me to put them in. I would chop
them up and insert them where I thought they should go in the track. This
whole process was done on a Mac system using Digidesign Pro Tools and their
Sample Cell Sampler which is built into the Mac.
What was your role on the NATURAL BORN KILLERS soundtrack?
Nails were going on tour in Europe and this project had to be finished
by the time Trent (Reznor) got back. Trent called me about three days before
they left, saying, "Why don't you come with us on tour. We'll bring a Pro
Tools system in the bus and we'll set it up in the motel." We had all of
the original cuts of the music that were used in the movie and we had the
edited version as the music editors had used it. The music editors on the
movie were very creative in the way they would make compilations out of
three or four songs and you wouldn't even notice things were changing.
Basically, we were adding dialogue over a semi-edited soundtrack of songs.
Trent didn't really have that much experience with that type of thing and
I've done a lot of soundtrack work for television shows and things like
that. I knew a little bit of the terminology of how film editors work and
how cues are numbered and so forth. So, I was brought in to operate the
computer and helped out because of my editing experience and a small background
of film editing.
Was that the first time you had worked with Trent?
No, I had worked with him in the past. I edited THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL album,
putting it all together into a finished piece. Also, I programmed sound
effects for the "Happiness In Slavery" video. They were sound effect overdubs
and that was really the first thing that I ever did with Nails. I did that
gig and a year went by, then I did THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL and another year
went by, and that's when I went to Europe with Nails and ended up joining
With all the different parts going on in Nine Inch Nails' stage sound,
how did you figure out what parts to play?
I replaced James Woolley, the old keyboard player. All that stuff had been
worked out at the beginning of the DOWNWARD SPIRAL tour. When I joined,
the tour was half over, so there was going to be no changing of anything.
They had made a tape with the old keyboard player on one channel and all
the rest of the band on the other during one of their concerts. I would
just listen to that tape and isolate what the old guy had played and I
had all the banks of sounds for his sampler so it was a simple matter of
reverse engineering the whole thing.
Are you responsible for any of the rhythm tracking parts?
It all comes from the drummer. If you hear a song that kind of starts out
with a beat boxy-type sequence and you see Chris (drummer Chris Vrenna)
isn't playing, then that part is on tape. Little 808 drum machine-type
patterns that you hear are also generally on tape. There's a couple songs
where we all have drum sounds on our keyboard. At the end of "Piggy," it
winds up with us all kind of hitting drums on the keyboard. But, that's
not really so much playing a precise part as it is just wailing on it.
What are your feelings about using tape onstage?
Computers would last about one-third of a song onstage. The only thing
that will work is a tape deck. There's a lot of times when there's three
guitar players and no bass, so the bass is obviously on tape. It's also
obvious that it's on tape because it's a synthesizer doing a jackhammer
rhythm that no one could or would try to play. If it's an obvious sequencer
part, I'm not going to try to play it. Nobody ever played it. It was programmed
on a typewriter. I feel sorry for bands that try to duplicate something
and feel it's wrong to use tape. Screw em'. White Zombie uses tape and
that's a rock band. It's really all about not having to hire six idiot-looking
musicians to try to replicate what you did all by yourself in the studio.
Any incidents where the tape has shut down when playing?
That has never happened. We have complete duplicates of the entire rig
with a custom built master switch. If something breaks, you hit a switch
and the next one kicks in. We have battery power supplies for all that
stuff, so if the power goes out, the tape keeps running. Great care is
taken in making sure it's located backstage with somebody tending it and
watching over it with loving eyes.
What does your live keyboard setup consist of?
All of the keyboard sounds are coming from E-mu Emax II samplers. All of
those samplers are rack-mounted and have an internal hard drive. We keep
them far away from everything onstage. The keyboards on the DOWNWARD SPIRAL
tour were Yamaha DX7s, the original brown metal ones. However, during the
tour with Bowie, we had these custom-made keyboard enclosures built with
smaller Yamaha MIDI-controller keyboards which don't make any sounds. They're
just a remote. They were both very similar to each other. On [each] Emaxs
in between songs, we would all have to load a new bank on our keyboard.
You hit one button that tells the Emax to load and you hit another button
that tells what bank on its hard drive to load. Each song has its own bank.
It takes maybe three or four seconds to load. Potentially, that can be
problematic if you hit the wrong bank button. Then, you've got to sit around
for four or five seconds while it loads the right one.
Did you ever have any chances to cut loose and kind of play whatever you
On the DOWNWARD SPIRAL tour, there were more opportunities like that. "Happiness
In Slavery" was just an all out bash-fest. You kind of had to play it by
rote for the first verse/chorus/verse and then by the second chorus things
started to disintegrate. From there it was a 162-bar chaotic jam. That
was one of the best times because right after that was a very long period
of quiet music and the curtain would come down in front of the stage. We
could destroy everything and there was 15 minutes while Trent was singing
by himself after this that allowed us to repair all of the gear and get
all new keyboards. The ending of the song was such that you could jam for
a while, or hit drum sounds on your keyboard, and then if you got bored
with that you'd wind up on the front of the stage Paul Bunyaning a keyboard
in half with somebody's guitar.
How many DX7s do you think you went through on the tour?
I have no idea! It was often three or four a night. Our keyboard tech was
able to build new ones out of what was left from the old ones. If the metal
part of the board was still good but the keys were all broken, he would
just put 52 new keys on it. But, if the metal got bent then the DX would
get trashed. That was his job all day long was to just build new keyboards.
We brought with us two dozen to start the tour. In any given small town
one of the roadies would go on a mission to try to find more DX7s. We would
check the local recycler paper or pawn shop and if they had any for 300
bucks we'd take them. They're the most rugged device of its kind ever built.
What are you going to be doing before Nine Inch Nails gets going again?
I just wrote a song for Rob Zombie that he and Alice Cooper are going to
sing for THE X FILES album and TV show. I went up to L.A. for five days
and wrote that with Terry Date and Rob Zombie co-producing. They recorded
all the vocals for that and I think it's mixed and done. White Zombie's
also doing a K.C. and The Sunshine Band song, "I'm Your Boogieman," and
I'm involved with that. It's gonna be heavy as a motherfucker.
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