PRETTY QUAKE MACHINE
The lyrics in a rock song can be tantalizingly mysterious.
Consider "Somewhat Damaged," a track from nine inch nails'"The Fragile."
One of its lines - "this machine is obsolete" - could be just another
brutally honest statement of self-examination common to many of its
Then again, it could just mean lead guitarist Trent Reznor needs a
new 3D card. The idea that Reznor likes video games probably seems about
as far-fetched as alien abduction, but it' true. Hell, even he has a
hard time believing it himself. Then he reminds himself that he did both
the music and sound effects for the original "Quake" back in 1996 -
before it became trendy for rock bands to have their music in games. The
more we think about it, "Somewhat Damaged" may just be about an outdated
PC after all.
Reznor is relatively new to PC games: He's a die-hard Mac man. "I
was never aware of what was going on in the PC world until someone
showed me 'Castle Wolfenstein 3D'," he admits. "I'd never gone near a
PC; that's a bad word around the studio. We're all Mac people, since
most of the music software is written for Mac. But when I saw
'Wolfenstein' I went out and bought whatever it was at the time, 386,
486, and we got hooked. The sense of being immersed in the game really
struck a chord with me. And when we were rehearsing for "the downward
spiral" tour, 'Doom' came out, and I was like, 'Oh my god.' So now every
six months a major [PC] upgrade goes on around here."
HOOKING UP WITH ID
Trent's love of "Doom" eventually led to him meeting the guys at
id Software, which in turn led him to do the music and sound effects for
the original "Quake."
"I really did [the music for Quake] because I was into the game.
It wasn't for the money, because I didn't make anything, really, and it
wasn't because I wanted to appeal to some new demographic. When
[creator] John Carmack said, 'Hey, one of the new weapons is a nail gun.
What if the ammo packs had the nine inch nails logo on it?' I was like
'Hell, yeah - that would be cool!'" recalls the edgy rocker, who had
been looking for a diversion.
"Musically," he says, "it was fun to work outside of nine inch
nails and make some cool atmospheres." The fact that he was already
addicted to the game made his decision to help Carmack out a lot easier.
Trent wrote new music for the game, though he's quick to point out
the "Quake" tunes shouldn't be thought of as a lost nine inch nails
album. "I remember when it came out," he says, "and it said 'New nine
inch nails music.' But I always thought that was an inappropriate way to
look at it. For what it was, it's good, but it's not meant to be
listened to on its own."
PRODUCTIVITY VIA DEATHMATCHES
Trent is such a fan of video games that when asked why there was a
five-year gap between "The Fragile" and it's predecessor, "The Downward
Spiral", he jokes that "Quake II" was to blame. But the truth, he says,
is actually the opposite.
"What I've learned about creativity," he explains, leaning back
into his easy chair, "is that it's not anything you can force. Sometimes
you need to get your mind off of what you're working on. And video games
are a healthy way of distracting your mind. I'll often reach a brick
wall, where I just can't find the right line or the right melody. But
what we've done here at the studio is create a bunch of distractions so
you can step out of what you're doing and change you head space. You can
play a video game, then you can come back, and often the problem has
For Trent, gaming isn't just a solitary love. Many of the other
people who hang out with him at his studio are also gamers, some worse
than him. "It's more just a hobby. Instead of talking what engines are
in our cars, we talk about what graphics cards are in our PCs."
While recording "The Fragile" in their studio, the band set up a
LAN and discovered the world of online multiplayer deathmatches. "That,"
Reznor remembers, "was our downfall. I'd need some guitar parts, so I'd
sit and just play over a loop for two hours, and then go away and come
back with fresh ears. Of course, that buys you an hour to screw off, so
we'd go upstairs and play 'Weapons Factory', our favorite mod for
'Quake.' It's class-based play, where you have to work with a team, and
your team isn't the guys sitting next to you. That's a pretty cool way
to interact with people."
True Reznor followers may have noticed he hasn't done the music
for any other video games. "I've declined for a number of reasons," he
says. "I was even asked to do 'Quake II' and 'III', but the direction
was to do music that could amp you up to play, and that doesn't interest
me that much. Nor do I want to be alongside band X, Y, and Z. I mean,
how many times did you play 'Crazy Taxi' before you said, 'Whoa, stop,
turn the damn Offspring off!"
Reznor hasn't ruled out game collaborations altogether, though.
"If I were to do any more in an interactive situation," he says, "it
would have to be a project that had the same mood and atmosphere. What I
was hoping to achieve with the 'Quake' music was not so much some
adrenaline-pumping , 'let's go kick ass' kind of music, but more like
the music in films John Carpenter - the tension and uneasiness - or
David Lynch, the dissonance or sound as atmosphere enhancement. So if it
was a game that had that same sensibility, I could be swayed to do it
when I had the time. That's been another factor of why I haven't taken
on others of these projects. I'd want to dedicate some time to it."
When Trent might find that time, though, is anyone's guess. He's
currently playing games on nine inch nails' American tour, and then
he'll head overseas, where he'll play games at some European festivals.
And when he's not playing games, Trent will be working on the next nine
inch nails album.
"I'm bringing a rig with me," he says, "though it takes [a lot] of
discipline to write on the road. When you do have time off, you just
want to sleep." His next album is still in the planning stages, but
Reznor knows one thing for sure: "It won't be much like 'The Fragile.'
It'll be a noisier album, less lush, more minimalistic - as of right
now. I say things and then it changes when I sit down and actually do
it. But 'The Fragile' was about no restrictions, and I think what would
be healthy for me right now would be to make an album with limitations.
"Like, every song has to be done in two days. And if it sucks, no
one has to hear it. But I like tricking myself into thinking a different
way. When I write, I write with the computer. It's my pen and paper but
it's also my arranger, and my brain thinks the way it does. But the rig
we're taking out to write on is a different way of approaching things.
It's more mixer-oriented, and will make me wrap my head around things in
a different way. And it's a welcome change."
Besides the next album, Trent also has two side projects he's
working on. "One is the band Tapeworm," he explains, "which is the guys
in the live band and me working as a democracy. What's good about that
is that all the weight isn't on my shoulders, and I can take a more
casual approach towards it. Which is not to say it's not important, but
I don't agonize over every minute detail. And it's a chance for other
people to speak up.
"I've also been thinking about working with another vocalist,
something where I would do the music, and they could take the lyrics in
a different direction. And what I've been leaning towards is female, but
with a more soulful approach. Someone like Sade, not the female
counterpart of me."
He continues, "I'm into the idea of synthesis through throwing in
disparate ideas. But I also need something to motivate me. The trouble
with working by yourself is that all the pressure's on you to inspire
FANS FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE
Regardless of what Trent does next - a new nine inch nails album,
a side project, or the music to a video game - he has established enough
of a track record that he's assured people will like it. But those fans
would be surprised to learn that a particular sequence of Reznor's
tormented lyrics might not have been an anthem to pain, angst, and loss
- it might have just meant it was time for him to upgrade that 3D card
<< Previous Page
is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.