Trent Reznor - Extremist...Genius
His lyrics aren't exactly the stuff Hallmark cards are made of, and he
might not be the type of guy Mary Ann brings home to meet Mom and
Pop, but Trent Reznor -- for all his darkness, for all his angst, for all
his foreboding evil vibery -- is arguably the most beloved and vital
keyboard icon in rock music.
Let's qualify that. By "rock" we're talking the heavy side of the genre.
Whatever label you choose to hang on Trent's music, be it metal,
industrial, or hardcore, you must admit, the only thing predictable
about Nine Inch Nails other than raw power is unpredictability. From
grating, grinding power riffs ("Head Like a Hole," "Wish," "Mr. Self
Destruct") to liquid synth bass grooves ("Closer") to militaristic forays
into odd time signatures ("March of the Pigs"), no one does it quite
Keyboard has profiled Trent twice in the past (Apr. '90 and Mar. '94)
and both times received bundles of mail. A few readers wrote to
complain about his razor-sharp tongue, but most sent letters of
gratitude, citing the Nine Inch Nails mastermind as their guiding light.
For that reason, along with the fact that he has almost
singlehandedly saved keyboards from extinction in rock, we're pleased
to include Trent Reznor as the final artist in our 20th Anniversary "12
Who Count" series.
Although Trent has declined nearly all requests for interviews of late,
he graciously granted Keyboard a day-long hang for this special
piece. When the okay came in, we caught the first flight to Hartford,
Connecticut, where the Nails were just days away from kicking off a
major dual tour with David Bowie (slated to feature a nightly set
where Bowie teams with Trent to play Nine Inch Nails music and
vice-versa). In a gutted hotel room turned makeshift production
studio, Trent gave us the goods; and, unlike the man we've all
become accustomed to on video and stage, he was in a kind, gentle
frame of mind. He was polite, thoughtful, and no, he didn't smash or
set fire to any of his gear that day. (Shucks, we were hoping to bring
home half of a Nord Lead.) "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a
vampire," he told us, grinning. "My reflection does show up in a
mirror." Don't get the wrong idea, though. Trent was still Trent; he
was booked into the hotel under the pseudonym Dr. Hannibal Lector.
Trent's traveling rig is a technologist's dream -- and a hotel maid's
nightmare. "We don't let the maids in," joked drummer Chris Vrenna,
pointing to day-old food leftovers and piles of trash as proof. Cables,
racks, and instruments were strewn from end to end. Anvil cases
were stacked chin-high in the bathroom. Components of the confines
included a Macintosh Quadra 950 with a 10Gb drive running Opcode's
Studio Vision and Digidesign's Pro Tools (eight channels), and, in
alphabetical order, an Akai S1100, Clavia Nord Lead, E-mu EIV,
FocusRite compressor and EQ, Korg Wavedrum, Kurzweil K2000,
Mackie 32-channel 8-Bus and LM-3204 mixers, Oberheim Xpander,
Peavey Spectrum Analog Filter, Roland Super Jupiter, R-70 drum
machine, vintage Roland Vocoder, Sequential Prophet-VS, TASCAM
DA-88, Waldorf MicroWave, Yamaha VL-1m, and Zoom 9050 effects
Here, then, is round three with Reznor. As before, he gave us
mouthfuls of quotable material. This time, however, the focus was on
the state of technology, his celebrity status, censorship, his new
studio setup in New Orleans, and his future projects (including a
possible venture into the music software business). Now . . . where
did we put that garlic necklace Trent gave us?
People who know you only through your records, videos, and stage
appearances perceive you as a deep, dark, troubled individual. Are
you really as angry as your public image suggests?
Right [long pause]. First of all, did I conceive Nine Inch Nails to be
this monstrous, negative entity? No. It started from: What can I say,
if anything? And I noodled around with some shit that didn't mean
anything to me, but I liked the Clash so I tried to write lyrics like
that: I don't care about politics and the world in general. And then I
got to a more intimate level and I realized I had a lot of things I
wanted to say. So I started to put things on paper, how I really felt,
like journal-type entries, and it came out being about things that
bothered me: I don't fit in, I'm not good-looking, I want this out of life
and I don't think I've gotten it. Things of that nature. I'm not saying
any of those feelings aren't things anybody else hasn't felt, but my
way of exercising and expressing this frustration was through my
music. And I realized that I had more to say in that department than
anything else. It was also kind of embarrassing because it was right
to the bone. It wasn't like Lenny Kravitz's lyrics, for example. Rock
lyrics. Probably well-written. But with my lyrics, it isn't a character
saying it, it's me saying it.
I've always been drawn to extremes, whether they be film or music or
self-abuse or whatever it might be. I don't consciously sit down and
think that much about it. Onstage, it is a conscious decision to not
talk between songs. "How's everybody doing tonight?" First of all,
that's not what I'd normally say. If I based my stage persona on
David Lee Roth [former Van Halen frontman] I would feel a need to do
that, but I don't. You do become an extended caricature of yourself
on the stage because it's surreal. You're in front of all these people,
and there's this energy, and you're allowed to do whatever you want.
So it becomes this distortion. When I started out, I was really eager
to talk to the press about anything truthful about my life and this and
that, and then I thought, "I don't need to do that." That last thing .
Details magazine, they hit me totally exhausted on tour and I was
being an idiot. This guy picks my brain and I just dumped. I just let
loose every bit of personal shit I never wanted to talk about. I don't
need people to know that about me. They know enough about me
through my music. So in the media I've now become this entity that
some people dismiss as cartoonish or whatever. I've just put on a
thick skin. It doesn't mean that much to me. If I thought I had
nothing to say musically, and I needed some image to just become a
character where I can schlock about, then I'd put more effort into it.
I think because Nine Inch Nails is focused on a certain element of my
head, usually the more negative regions, people get the idea that
that's all there is. But it's not. Now, that's not to say I don't have a
lot of problems to work out in my brain, but I don't stay in a dark
room all day with a sheet over my head.
I go through phases. The Downward Spiral was bleak. I enjoyed the
process of doing it, but where my head was at was pretty bad. And
then the nature of being on tour, it's just exhausting. There's less
time for reflection, and more time being bombarded with things to do
What are your feelings on how famous you've become?
The big thing in my personal life that's changed would be I get
recognized now, and I never did before. I've thought about this a lot.
Is it nice to have people care about your music? Yes. Is it nice to get
paid for doing it? Yes. There are endless benefits, and I'm not
complaining about them whatsoever. But what I personally don't long
for is adulation. Nine times out of ten I'd much rather walk through
the grocery store with nobody looking at me. You start feeling
Do you have to go out incognito or with a bodyguard?
No, I'll never do that. I mean I'll wear a baseball hat because then I'm
invisible for some reason, but nothing near the level of having to be
protected or any of that shit. Nor would I ever want to become that.
I'd just as soon be invisible. When I'm onstage, I don't demand fan
worship, and I don't need it for my ego. It is super nice to have
someone like David Bowie call you up and say, "I want to tour with
you." Or, I got a really cool letter from Alex Lifeson [Rush guitarist]
saying, "If you ever want to fuck around in the studio. .." That, to
me, makes it worth it. Or to be able to call up somebody you admire
and they know who you are, and they're willing to talk to you -- that
element of it I think is great. As well as, "Hey there's a new toy out
that I can buy." You can get the piece of gear that you could never
afford before . . . one that doesn't work yet [laughs].
Now that you're very successful, and you've sold millions of records,
how do you respond to people who accuse you of being a sell-out?
I don't think I've compromised my music to try to cater to a huge
audience. I think that we're the result of, I'd like to believe, talent,
but also a degree of timing and luck, being in the right place at the
right time. The Woodstock [anniversary] concert was a gamble. I've
said before and I'll say it again: We did it because they were paying
us a substantial amount of money that offset the cost of the tour we
were on. So I figured, one show and we'll try to do the best we can.
But when you see that guitar neck [logo] with the Pepsi thing sitting
on the end, you think, "This could be a nightmare." But we went and
it ended up being the biggest boost we could ever have. I thought we
played shitty, but onstage I felt like we were connecting. I had no
idea what chaos was going on in the mobile truck, but I felt like we
connected, and it meant something to me. I felt real good when we
left the stage. And I think also because of the amount of mediocrity
around it, it stood out as something interesting. And after that,
people recognize you everywhere. I would imagine a lot of people who
bought The Downward Spiral had no idea what was really going on
there, or even liked it once they'd bought it. I would hope that it
might have opened a few ears up, and if it made people think a little
bit or opened their minds or at least made them angry, great. It's
done more than Hootie And The Blowfish, which serves a purpose, but
I'd rather challenge people to some level. And if that opens a door up
for some more electronic music to not be shunned in this age of retro
thinking, then I'm glad I did it.
There's a weird climate right now, because it seems like there's real
confusion about the element of commerce in music -- the business of
it, and the art side of it. I think a lot of guys get bands together and,
"What do you want to do?" "Well, we want to get signed. We want to
put a record out." So, okay, they get that, they put a record out,
and pretty soon they've sold records and they're famous and, "Well
no, we're not a sell-out." It's a business. If you want to make music
and you don't want anybody to hear it, and maintain your obscurity,
don't sign a deal. Don't put a record out. Don't go into the studio.
Don't waste your time and the public's. If you do, then you're
acknowledging that you are in a business. You're in a business where
people around you are out to make money, whether it's through you
selling records, or tee-shirts with your face on it, or whatever else it
is. Just acknowledge it and approach it intelligently and don't let it
fuck with your art -- it doesn't have to. I don't think it does.
A crop of new musicians are citing you as their mentor. How do you
feel about being a father?
Well, now that I've turned 30 [laughs] . . . nah, I mean, it's obviously
flattering. I think what Nine Inch Nails did was start from a point of
reference that at one time was somewhat obscure, electronic music,
and mutated into something that was similar to but different than. We
had elements that the influences I was drawing from didn't have, and
those elements made it more palatable. It became something that
could be consumed by more people. I'd like to think I maintained
integrity within that, but I by no means am standing on a soapbox
saying I've created everything -- that I came up with the whole
concept of sequencing or distorting this or that. I know there's a
degree of animosity from those super purists who say for music to be
cool it can only be liked by a few certain people who are cool enough
to know about it.
Last time we talked, you were just getting ready to hit the road.
Here we are a year and a half later and you're still on tour. How have
you and the band been holding up?
Pretty good. There was a time, right around February of this year,
when it had gone on too long without a break. It got redundant
playing the same set night after night, and there was a phase where I
really just didn't want to tour anymore. Then they came up with, "Do
you want to go to Australia for three or four shows and some
festivals?" "Hmm, this might be kind of fun. We'll try it." And halfway
through the first set the first night it was like being right back on that
last week. It wasn't good. So I got busy setting up a studio in New
Orleans, kind of getting a home base there.
A permanent installation?
Yeah. We bought a 48-track analog studio, and the concept at that
early time was to get out of a real studio to do stuff in a different
environment. A big lesson I learned from the Tate house experience is
not to live where your studio is, because it just became an
entrapment. There's a million distractions that will keep you from
working -- kind of the opposite of what I originally thought. That
record [The Downward Spiral] probably took longer because you're
working and the phone rings and it's UPS at the gate with a delivery.
All those kind of things happen because it's your house. So when I
decided to go live in New Orleans again, I casually looked around for a
temporary space to set up shop, and we found this place. It was
perfect. It was real big, cheap, and that idea mutated into a more
permanent installation, maybe because there aren't any studios in
New Orleans that are right for what I do. What it's going to end up
being is a pretty cool SSL room, an analog 48-track place, that
sounds really good. It just got functional right when we left to go on
In addition to being the home of Nine Inch Nails, will it also be
available for the artists on your label (Nothing Records)?
Yeah, all the bands on the label will have access to anything in it.
There are a couple of rooms to work in, another room with 24 tracks
of DA-88s, Pro Tools rooms, and it could be commercial if we wanted
to do that. So if we go on tour again for a year or something, we may
open it up to select things. But we tried to make a place that's
comfortable to work in without many distractions. If people want to
clear their heads, there are different places to go, there's an outside
area, and inside there are rooms with different things going on in
Now that The Downward Spiral has been out for a couple of years,
what do you think of it?
After we finished it, I didn't listen to it for a while. I was too close to
it. Then we went on tour and started playing some of the songs from
it, and about midway through that tour I started listening to it again,
a lot, and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it held up. There were
some things that I'd even forgot I'd done. And about a month ago, I
started listening to it again. As with everything I've ever done, there
are things I wouldn't do again, but generally I'm pretty pleased with
What things wouldn't you do again?
[Pause.] When I'm working, I try to maintain a spontaneous element,
and not over-analyze everything. Usually what I'll do . . . like with
Pretty Hate Machine I knew I only had X amount of time to get that
whole record done in the studio, so I had everything completely done
in advance. The studio was just a formality of putting it on tape.
There was very little spontaneous studio energy coming from me
because I just didn't have time. One day it had to be recorded and
the next day it had to be mixed, for every song. So there wasn't a lot
of, "Hey let's try. . . ." The opposite danger occurs when you're under
the false impression of, "Hey, we're not paying. This is a house. Let's
fuck around." And you can get off track that way. We could spend a
week mixing a song when it was probably good the second hour of
the first day. So I try to keep an element of spontaneity going, but at
the same time what I've learned to do is, do something, don't think
about it, and then come back to it a couple weeks later and just
listen. If you like it then, usually it's okay. So towards the last bit of
that record [The Downward Spiral], I knew I was winding down, and I
had a last little burst of energy. I did some things that didn't have
that check time. One was "Big Man with a Gun" and the others were
"Downward Spiral" and "Hurt." Listening to it later, there were a lot of
things about "Big Man with a Gun" that I wouldn't put on there now.
It fit an emotion I thought needed to be on the record, but there was
probably a better way of accomplishing it now that I've had time to
look back at it. And little, dumb things about the mixes. Unlike
mathematics, which is an absolute. . . . You reach the end and either
it's right or wrong, and there's something about that that's beautiful.
You reach the end and there's a conclusion. It's absolutely over. But
if you're doing a mix or doing something creative, you don't get that
"I'm done" signal. You have to learn when to say, "This is good, but
could it be better?" Maybe. "Could you write a better lyric?" Maybe,
maybe not. "Could you mix that better?"
Some artists put those decisions fully in the hands of an outside
producer. What are your feelings about trusting outsiders?
I do to a degree. I think my collaborative efforts with Flood and Alan
Moulder worked. I've learned that you need some outside objectivity
at times. There's other times. . . . I mean, when I produce Marilyn
Manson and Prick, I think I have that objectivity that the artist
doesn't have. They're hearing that lyric being funny or they're hearing
that one note out of tune and they might be missing the big picture
that this is a statement. Like on the Prick album, Kevin and I worked
on four of those tracks in my bedroom when I was doing Broken. It
was a situation where we'd talked about working together, we'd been
friends for a long time, and I'd always respected his stuff. He sent me
a tape of some stuff that sounded so ridiculous; it was great. It
sounded like someone who didn't know how to work a drum machine.
But I'd never heard anything like it because he couldn't do that if he
knew how to. . . . A bad thing about getting some good engineers is
that you can't get them to do things wrong. "That's not how you do
that." "Well, try." But it had that kind of creative element to it. We
sat and messed around with a Yamaha TX802, four tracks of Pro
Tools running Studio Vision, a couple of keyboards, and a DAT
machine, and it became a challenge of, "How can we arrange this
music with these limitations?" It was one mic in a room, and if there
were background vocals it was me yelling from the other side of the
room, and mixing everything destructively -- mix these down to two
tracks and keep going -- and we ended up with four songs. So four
years later, ironically enough, signed to my label, he worked with
other producers. And when we were assembling the record, just for
the fuck of it I put the old mixes up and, technically, they weren't
mixed good, but there was some sort of energy spark there that was
way better than the other ones that took days trying to recreate the
accidents that occurred there.
Studio Vision at that time couldn't play back as many cuts as I had in
this one part through the [Digidesign] DAE, so it for some reason
would put this thing up an octave and skip through another section,
and it became a hook that if it wasn't in there the song didn't sound
right. So on the album we ended up using the original mixes. I was
trying to explain to Kevin when those elements of magic occur, take
advantage of it. Bob Clearmountain might be pissed off when he hears
that album, but nobody else cares.
Chris (Vrenna) said Bob Clearmountain was screaming for aspirin
after he mixed you at Woodstock.
[Laughs.] That was our thing in the studio: "Would Bob Clearmountain
hate it?" "Yeah." "It's good then." [Laughs.]
Chris also said you were toying with the idea of possibly recording
Nine Inch Nails live in the studio. What's your vision of the next NIN
Well, it fluctuates. I'd say it'll probably end up being a hybrid,
because my latest thing I'm hot to do is collaborate with some other
people. Probably at the top of my list this second is Mike Garson from
Bowie's band. He's a phenomenal pianist/keyboardist. We've been
messing around at the soundchecks, just playing stuff, and I don't
understand how that sound's coming out of his instrument. He's
coming from a place that's far removed from me, but kind of how I
used Adrian Belew [guitarist] on the last record I'd love to feed him
some of the things like that. I'd like to work with different groups of
people for different ideas. The idea of live is intriguing because I've
done every record pretty much based on the same format of
programming. I like the idea of doing a record that is performed and
then treated maybe in an Eno fashion. I listen to what's popular now
in rock music, and the idea of a guitar, bass, and drum band in the
Nirvana mold of music is just so utterly boring to me. Not that there
aren't good songs that come out of that, or good bands -- Nirvana
being one of them -- but to me, to get a band together that just,
"Okay, G, D . . ." It's been done. It's been done to death. If you're
going to make music, have something to say, and have some unique
way to say it. To me, I look at the studio as a tool, an instrument.
There's so much you can do sonically. To fall into that trap of, "To
have it be real music it's gotta be real instruments or real people
playing it" is complete nonsense. I like the challenge of doing a
record, maybe Nine Inch Nails, maybe not, of it being a traditional
instrumentation but seeing how far out you could get that without
sounding like Nirvana.
People wonder if there might ever come a time when we'll see you
on TV, smiling gleefully, singing about a mountain stream or
That's a hard one to answer, but if I felt that way, that's what my
music would be like. Yeah. If I went through such a sudden change,
though, I think Nine Inch Nails would gracefully bow out as an entity
and I would become whatever else.
What's the story behind the name Nine Inch Nails?
It just was a name. Everyone's got their theory on that -- nailing
Jesus to the cross, or this and that. But it just came up. I liked it. I
liked the way it looked in print, and it passed the two-week test.
How do you think Nine Inch Nails would sound unplugged?
[Grins.] I had a few theories on that. My favorite one was us onstage
with our equipment, and I'd look at Chris and say, "Start the tape."
He reaches over and pushes play, and of course it's not on, it's
unplugged, you can see the plug hangin' there. And I say, "Start the
tape, Chris," and he pushes the start button and, nothing. So we just
smash our instruments and leave. [Laughs.] But I've thought about
interesting ways to . . . the thought I've had is . . . I've hung with
Rick Rubin [producer] a lot, who's most likely going to produce a new
Nine Inch Nails album, because I think it's an anti-Flood-type
mentality, which is good because I need to have a new change. And I
know he's much more traditional song-oriented. I've looked at most of
my music and it's based on a groove or a mood, and I make a song
around that versus a song that's based on traditional harmonic chord
progressions or whatever. So as a writer I've been thinking more in
terms of seeing what it would be like to go in that direction a bit. And
I don't mean becoming more conventional, but maybe starting with a
song and then arranging it in any fashion. Just little games you play
to trick yourself into things. At the same time, I also like the idea of
removing those elements and seeing how far removed from a
traditional song you can get and still have an element of something
catchy about it.
Charlie (Clouser, Nine Inch Nails touring keyboardist) programmed a
batch of tracks for White Zombie's latest -- songs that often have
only one or two chords that cycle through the whole thing.
But there are choruses hidden in there, and that's the thing. You can
have one note go through the whole song, but when he [Rob Zombie,
singer of White Zombie] starts singing "More human than human,"
that's the chant-along chorus. Most of Ministry's songs are one riff
for as many bars as you can stand it, but it's still catchy because it
does relate to something, as opposed to, say, some vintage Skinny
Puppy where there is no element of . . . what you think might be a
chorus never comes back, which I think can be either rambling
nonsense or an interesting format. I'm into songs that are breaking
out of that mold that I've fallen prey to: verse, chorus, verse,
chorus, bridge, solo section, chorus, chorus. Almost every one of my
songs fits that same structure. I heard a track by the band Shudder
To Think and I thought, "What in the fuck? The meter's weird.
Nothing repeats until the very end where there's this little chant. It's
fuckin' cool shit." So I went out and got the record. The structure of
that was weird, but it worked. Another thing . . . Bowie was an
influence during his Low period. That was a big influence on The
Downward Spiral from a point of, not only the mood and the
desperation that it had, but structurally the songs are bizarre. One
might not have any vocals, but you don't even realize it. You didn't
even miss it. Or there's another one: verse, chorus, fade out. Just
things like that where they break up that tried and true formula. Or
odd tempos. I liked Rush when I was a kid, and I still appreciate that,
but it became a situation of playing odd tempos just because we
could. I remember being in cover bands trying to play "Spirit of the
Radio" and, you couldn't count it, you were just memorizing the
phrase. So I've tried to fuck around with odd meters, but trying to
get it to flow. I like watching people who aren't musicians trying to
bob their heads to "March of the Pigs," and they can't figure out why
they keep getting off.
"Closer" was a big hit despite its hook line ("I want to fuck you like an
animal"). Did it bother you when you heard that song being played
with the f-word bleeped out?
That song kind of came about . . . it just started with that line, and
then the music built itself around that. That was the scariest song to
write, because there would have been a time when I wouldn't have
allowed myself to be that obvious, because I would have been afraid
that it wasn't tough enough, or it was too disco. When I was writing
it and I came up with that bass line, I thought, "This is so obvious,
but fuck it." I mean, if you listen to the whole album, that song,
musically, is the most digestible if you're trying to pick a single, but
it's also crippled from the start because of the chorus. But I'm not
going to change it to try to make it a single.
So do you think bleeping the f-word was the best solution?
On one hand, yes. I mean, I saw somebody's little kid singing it, a
five-year-old kid. And I've got to question my own intentions in that
department. But aside from that, what I've tried to do is subversively
sneak some things in. I realize we have a pretty big audience now, so
how can I take that position and slip some things in that are
potentially dangerous ideas? Not to decay the moral fiber of America,
but to have something of substance to think about other than just
fluff. With all this controversy about song lyrics, I was surprised that
we didn't get blasted sooner than we did. But their own idiocy and
lack of knowledge crippled their argument. I would find lyrically a lot
of the things on The Downward Spiral more dangerous than the
gangster rap stuff.
But when the song started to take off, it surprised me. What I hoped
would have been a higher art thing became a frat house, date-rape,
strip club anthem thing. Sad. I mean, it is an ugly song, no doubt. It's
not nice. It's not life-affirmative. It's probably the ugliest on the
record, which is why I dressed it up in nice easy-to-listen-to music. A
nice juxtaposition to the lyrics. But as culture moves on and people
become less inhibited by religious oppression and are encouraged to
think for themselves -- if people get over the silliness and the tools
and mechanisms of organized religion that are used to invoke fear --
things would be a lot better. It's something like the primitive stage
the Internet's at now. Just to have information available to anybody
anywhere that's non-governed and non-censored. You can find things
now that your library doesn't have that's current and it's on every
computer. It soon will be on every TV set. It's going to open people's
minds up to more things. I think censorship has been causing a lot of
problems in a lot of different departments in terms of human
evolution. But, hey, that's what this country is based on -- the
ridiculous right wing, keep you in line, don't think too hard mentality.
Speaking of the Internet, what are your feelings about multimedia,
be it CD-ROMs, enhanced CDs, Web sites, and the like -- do you plan
to dive in?
I've done quite a bit of thinking about that; we've had a couple of
propositions from different CD-ROM-type multimedia people. So I did
my degree of research of just checking out what's out there now, and
I've had some conversations with Todd Rundgren, but, you know, as
forward-thinking as I want to believe that I am right now, I approach
that with a real degree of hesitation because I haven't seen any that
I think are good yet. And I blame that on where the hardware is
today. Everybody seems to bring commerce into it. To make it worth
your while to produce it, it should run on a machine that's mainstream
enough to warrant putting it out, which means the incredibly shitty
Sega-CD systems or a PC. I don't think anybody wants to listen to
music on a computer, or go through the hassle of having to have a
couple thousand-dollar computer just to do what? To see a flickery,
shitty-looking video along with some lyrics? I haven't been impressed
with the ones I've seen, although I haven't seen the EBN [Emergency
Broadcast Network] one yet. I like the idea of it, but that also brings
up another element of: Do people really want to interact with music,
or do they just want to listen to it? The idea of an interactive movie
where you actually control some degree of what's going on, that
seems a bit closer to me than, here's a CD where you can remix some
of the tracks and you can do this. Todd Rundgren's is an interesting
one, but I can't imagine fucking with it for more than maybe a couple
of hours. With a record, I can listen to it in a car, or I can put it on
and it does the work for me.
The most interesting one we had presented to us was a demo by a
company in England called ESP, and it was for the Philips CD-I, which,
again, is another failed platform. But you put this in, and it actually
hacks into the operating system of the unit, so everytime you run it,
it's different. What's really in there is several videos, and there is
going to be an interactive interview with me where you could type in
words, and I'd respond if it could recognize the text. And if you asked
me irritating questions then I'd give shitty answers, and finally just
leave. What they tried to do was put an element of chaos and
personality into this disc, so maybe the joystick this time went in the
opposite direction, or it would be difficult to control, or different
buttons did random things. You didn't know what all was on there, so
I thought it was an interesting way to add depth to something.
If it gets to the point where everybody's television set has a CD
player hooked up to it, and they can put a CD in and see full-frame,
full-motion video with no lag time, and good audio coming out of
stereo speakers, anyone can get it, they're as common as CD players,
then that will be the time to seriously consider the medium. When I
pointed that out to Todd, he said, "Yeah, but someone has to be
there in the interim. There are shortcomings, but someone has to do
it." And I agree with that, but I have such a level of perfection to
what I do that I'm not comfortable with it yet. Now, at the same
time, I've always been fascinated with video games, and we are
involved with the guys who made Doom, id Software. They're making
a new one that is a true 3D world. Like all the other games, it's
totally politically incorrect, gory and violent and scary. We met up
with them, and I'm involved in the actual sounds for this environment
-- which is not music, it's textures and ambiences and whirling
machine noises and stuff. We tried to make the most sinister,
depressive, scary, frightening kind of thing. You'll be able to hook
hundreds of people up together over the phone lines and see each
other walking around, kill each other, et cetera. That's an interesting
little side project that, I think, works really well with the technology
that exists. It's been fun.
Are you going to launch an official Nine Inch Nails Web site?
We're working on a Web site for Nothing Records which will be
primarily a database of information on all the bands, with lots of links.
But there's a kid who's set one up out of Florida, and it's pretty
impressive. We're just going to hire him to work for us -- mutate his
to be a real one. Part of the reason of commerce is that there will be
merchandise available through there. That's the business reason to
justify it, but my main reason is just as a source of information.
Hopefully this will help us get rid of 98% percent of the false
information that seems to be circulating about us.
Like whether we can see your reflection in the mirror?
[Laughs] For starters.
We've heard rumblings about you possibly getting involved in music
software manufacturing. What's that all about?
Charlie [Clouser] and myself are talking about starting a software
company to put out some very specialized DSP-type software, maybe
in the form of plug-ins, but more likely mini-stand-alone applications
like Sound Hack. Little things. Ways to fuck up, degrade, and mutate
sounds that aren't real commercial. Weird stuff. We found ways to
destroy sounds, like taking the sample rate down to 2 bits, that
you're not able to do in [Passport's] Alchemy or [Digidesign's] Sound
Designer, and weird modulated things where you can really get shitty
sounds. Maybe we'll incorporate, say, 30 of our favorite destructive
processes -- again, Bob Clearmountain would have no use for this
[laughs]. Stuff like, "What if you took this and reduced its dynamic
range down to zero?" Or, "What would happen if you took the sample
rate down to this?" Whatever. We're collecting as many ideas as we
Have you set any solid goals or a time-frame to realize this?
We're just talking about it right now -- thinking about getting some
people involved. No real time-frame yet.
What do you think about the current crop of music technology?
Well, being a gear-head, I hadn't been interested in any new stuff
that had come out, as far as keyboards, with the exception of the
K2000. There was the hump of everything being workstations and
sounding the same, the sample-playback shit just was not interesting.
However with the modeling stuff -- we picked up the Yamaha VL1
after everyone said it was a piece of shit, and we borrowed it for an
afternoon in New York, and I was probably the most blown away by it
than with any keyboard I've met in years. I haven't delved into it far
enough to know, "Oh it can only do these three sounds," or not, but.
. . . Like, I remember when I first heard a [Roland] D-50. It would
have taken me five keyboards to make that sound, and that first
moment it was, "Whoa!" And then you quickly realize that that's all it
really can do. But the idea of organic sounds is right in line with a lot
of things I've been fuckin' around with. I'm glad that somebody's put
the research into a high-end piece of gear that's very non-commercial
that has the ability to make some truly new-type sounds that are
cool. I'm totally into that idea of technology. I also got the Roland
guitar thing, the VG-8, and I think it's excellent for certain things.
Just to be able to tune each string independently made it worthwhile.
We were going to use it on tour but decided it probably wasn't a good
idea, yet. But we used it on the new Marilyn Manson record and I
think it's a cool idea, a cool concept. I think the clean sound is
fantastic. If you look at it as an elaborate effects processor, I think it
could succeed on that level.
And you've got a Nord Lead.
I've got four of 'em now. I think that is the coolest-sounding
analog-type synth. I just love it. And I think it looks cool, and that's
pretty much the main reason I got it [laughs]. I love that keyboard,
and I know it's going to make a lot of the [analog] shit I have now
obsolete -- like, it doesn't go out of tune.
What software do you prefer these days?
I tried other sequencers, but I keep going back to [Opcode] Vision. I
couldn't be happier with it. [He also wrenches Digidesign's Pro Tools
Do you get much time to play keyboards away from the band?
I usually have the K2000 in my hotel room, but now that I have a
place to put it, I'm going to get a piano. That was a nice thing about
the Record Plant, they had a piano and I could just sit down and play
Perhaps a solo piano album is in your future?
Yeah, in a couple years when no one likes me anymore.
You might be ideally suited to interpret, say, Cowell's "Banshee."
Yeah, but with hammers and nails and shit all over the thing.
By Greg Rule
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