Nine Inch Nails Interviews
of Future Music
FM: Were you
always into electronic music?
TR: I grew
up in Pennsylvania. Back then, if you had a band, it was a covers
band. That's all there was. (Learned piano when I was a kid and
I eventually started getting into keyboards, but all I was doing
was filling in with other bands. Not even session work. I was
just joining some band for a few gigs at a bar in some town somewhere.
been into computers because I was good at math, but the idea of
actual 'electronic' music didn't really hit me till I bought a
Moog Prodigy-that was when I was about 16 or 17. That thing just
blew my mind. Initially, I thought I'd combine the math and the
music. Maybe design synths or consoles or something like that.
But, eventually, it dawned on me that, eventually though I was
very good at calculus, J didn't actually like doing it. So, I
decided to do something I did like. Music.
FM: What else
did you have beside the Moog Prodigy?
first of all I moved away from home. To the nearest city, which
was Cleveland. Luckily, I got a job in a keyboard shop, which
kind of introduced me to this whole new world. This was back in
the days just before the DX7... when you got things like the Kurzweil
selling for 3,500 dollars. Getting a new piece of gear was a BIG
getting a Commodore 64 with the Sequential Circuits cartridge
sequencer slotted into the back - it didn't even have quantize.
And then I got a Linn 9000. Man, have you ever tried to program
one of those things? But I was starting to build up my rig. I
think the next thing 1 bought was a Prophet VS from the keyboard
shop 1 worked at. I got it for cost, but the box was too big to
fit in my car, so I threw the box away and put the keyboard in
my car and drove off. Unfortunately, I stopped off at a friend's
house on the way home and forgot that I'd left my window down.
It started raining and the Prophet got soaked. I hadn't even got
I dried it
out the next day, but something must have happened to the VCA,
because the sound started getting progressively weirder and weirder.
I kinda ended up liking it that way. I've used that keyboard on
every album since... and every album it gets a little bit more
FM: So, what
was in your studio by the time you came to record Pretty Hate
TR: The Linn,
the Prophet, the Moog, an Oberheim Expander and an EMAX sampler,
all running from a Mac Plus- one of those little self-contained
models - with Performer for a sequencer. Looking back now, that
was the last time I really had a limited set-up, but that meant
I was forced to learn every Trick in the book. Sampling things
an octave higher so you could maximize sample space .. things
By the lime
I got my record deal with TVT to release that first album, I was
the definition of ready-to-go. Man, I was prepared. I had spent
days and weeks and months on these songs. Everything was there.
All the drums programmed. All had to do was add some guitars and
redo the vocals. The deal didn't give me much money, but I did
persuade them to give me enough to come over to the UK and work
with John Fryer [who produced the likes of Depeche Mode, Cocteau
Twins and had long relationship with the 4AD label]. I really
admired Fryer's work, but we didn't hit it off. He was into experimenting
in the studio, but I'd already experimented with these songs about
3,000 times. They were as finished as they were ever going to
be. My money I' d got from TVT gave me about a month in the UK,
which was about two days to record and mix each song. I just wanted
to get the album finished.
FM: TVT didn't
like it did they?
TR: The word
they used was 'abortion'. They thought they were demos. They said,
'What you need to do is polish these up and make them sound like
everything else on the radio.' Obviously, this wasn't a very comforting
thing to hear when you've just recorded your first album, but
I sat down and tried to really objectively listen to the songs.
I felt that maybe two or three songs could benefit from another
mix. Head Like A Hole was one of them and I gal another couple
of grand out of TVT for a session with Keith LeBlanc in New York.
to program a few more drums and livened things up a bit, but what
actually came out was still pretty much me and my original demos.
That whole first album was me in the studio, just messing around.
Trying to find an identity. Trying to find out how I wanted to
FM: It couldn't
have been all that bad. You eventually sold over a million copies.
Were you surprised when it became a hit?
Fuck, yeah! It was bigger than I'd ever dreamed. And the strange
thing is that it all seems to happen in a whirlwind. You have
no control over it. One day, you're over here, and the next day,
you're way over here wondering what the hell is happening. I couldn't
play the songs live. I didn't have a band. That's how unprepared
When I did
start putting the band together and we started playing some of
the songs from Pretty Hate Machine, I think it really changed
my mind about what I wanted to do in the studio. Out on tour,
the songs sounded like these giant, ferocious... things. But when
I put the album on, I thought, 'This is weak. This is light.'
When I went back in to the studio to do Broken and The Downward
Spiral, I think it was my attempt to recreate the aggression and
the power of playing live. And, looking back, I think it was a
bit of knee-jerk reaction to all those people who said Nine Inch
Nails was pop music. At the time, that hurt me. My heroes didn't
play pop music. My heroes were 242, Skinny Puppy, Ministry...
the power of heavy metal, with out the schlock and the leather
FM: You talk
about recreating that aggression and power of playing live, and
it's fairly obvious that you found a new sound for Nine Inch Nails.
If you lake something like Wish [from the Broken EP]. it's a million
miles away from anything on Pretty Hate Machine.
TR: The difference
was digital audio. Literally. That was what had changed. I think
Pro Tools was out at the time, but I wasn't interested in the
whole digital tape deck side of things. I wanted something that
was grid-based. I needed a sequencer.
My world was
Studio Vision. Their very first four-track digital audio package
and a bit of Digidesign hardware. These days, it doesn't seem
like much, but this gave me a whole new way of recording. I started
to think about loops of audio. I could find the right drum loop
and then I could jam over the top of that with bass or synth or
guitar fat 20 minutes and then go back to find the best bits.
To me, it was the most inspiring thing that had ever happened.
I loved working on my own and this allowed me complete freedom.
no plug-ins or anything like that, but I did have a programme
called Turbosynth, which was kind of a wave-shaper-type-thing.
You could record something on Studio Vision, export it into Turbosynth
and export it back out to Studio Vision. All the guitars on Broken
were done like that. Which I guess is why they all sound so crazy.
FM: What about
The Downward Spiral? Sounds like you had a bit of a laugh making
TR: Oh, yeah.
It was a riot. Happy happy times. Two hours of hard to listen
to, dense, hard to understand... what do I call it? I suppose
I thought it was art. But it was certainly not what people wanted
to hear at the peak of the disposable grunge/metal single. When
1 handed it in to Interscope [Reznor signed with Interscope after
the lengthy legal wrangles that followed the release of Pretty
Hate Machine], I sent them an apology saying, 'This is not Head
Like A Hole, but it's what I wanted to do. I love it, but I know
you're going to have a tough time with it:
FM: The Interscope
deal must have given you a bit more freedom with the recording
I was working with 16 tracks of audio and I got the Akai S1100
sampler, so I got stereo samples for the first time. I started
using a portable DAT and a stereo microphone to go out and record
things. My pallet had just got much larger.
I also had
the money to put all that equipment into my first proper studio,
which meant that I was able to spend more time on the songs. In
fact, what did happen was that the whole demo, writing and recording
process all melted into one. I would go into the he studio, work
on ideas, and those ideas would turn into finished songs. There
was no distinction between the demo process and the recording
process as there had been before.
With the next
album, Fragile, I just took the whole recording process one step
further. It was a no-holds-barred version of what I had for Downward
Spiral. I had 96 tracks of audio and every keyboard and sampler
known to man. I didn't know where to start.
FM: It must
have been awful for you.
I didn't mean to sound like I was complaining. It was amazing.
I had the man to bring in good engineers to help me record vocals
and drums ... I could afford someone to come in and mix.
But I began
to think, 'Where do you go from here?' Because the equipment was
getting better and getting cheaper, everyone was suddenly working
on the same computer-based systems. Everyone could chop up the
sound and everyone could fix things with a plug-in. It was easy
to do things right and everyone was doing things right. The music
all began to sound the same
FM: Nine Inch
put it this way ... when it came to recording With Teeth, I felt
like I definitely needed a change.
FM: Back to
the Commodore 64?
TR: Not quite,
but I did go backwards. Like I said, everybody had discovered
the 'right' way to do things. Every piece of music sounded perfect
because there was always a piece of software to fix the problem.
I remember when I first came across a download called Pluggo.
For 79 fucking dollars, I could do in minutes what, in the past,
would have taken me an un-Christly amount of time. And a programme
like Live. You mean... the loop will always be in time? I can
pitch up and down and it doesn't alter the speed? I wanted to
grab hold of the people who'd invented that thing and say, 'Do
you know what I went through? Do you know how much time I wasted
trying to get loops in time?
It was only
then that it dawned on me that I was actually lucky. I was lucky
that I'd had to go through all that shit. I was able to think
back to a time when there were mistakes in the music. when everything
wasn't perfect. If you've only been making music in the last couple
of years, you haven't had to sweat and worry. You haven't had
to wonder how you're going to afford a Prophet VS. You haven't
got it wet on the way home. It's almost like we've forgotten how
to be human.
FM: Does that
mean you're anti programmes like Reason or GarageBand?
TR: God, no!
It's fucking great that software like that is out there. I've
even put one of the new songs on GarageBand for people to download
as a free multi-track. I love the idea that people everywhere
are going to be able to mess around with it.
I guess what
I'm trying to say is that you have to be very careful not to forget
what music is about. Emotion. Feeling. It's like when I was looking
for a programmer to work with on this new album. Richard Divine
is an amazing programmer. He's done a lot of work with Native
Instruments. Very cool guy. Hut when he came by to check out my
rig, he had this really strange look on his face. I could see
him staring at this row of about 10 Digidesign 192 interfaces...
all hooked up to my big old SSL desk ... all with extra analogue
outs. He said, 'You don't need all this stuff, Y'know. You can
do all the mixing in the computer. Why do you want to fuck with
what's in the computer?' And, of course, he's right. When he's
working on Pro Tools, he only has a stereo pair faded up.
understand how I work because he's from a new generation. And
he looks at my studio and thinks that it's completely archaic.
But those faders are there because I like faders. And I like knobs.
And I like to really crank things up. That's what I grew up with
and that allows me to stay in touch with what I'm doing. They
remind me that the music does not live in the computer. It exists
outside, as well.
FM: Did that
really make such a huge difference to the new album?
Remember what I was saying earlier about how I got to a point
where there was no distinction between demos, writing and recording?
This time, I vent back to just doing demos. I sat there with a
piano and a drum machine and I worked on ideas. There was no strategy
and no big plan. I just got about 25 songs together and waded
through the results to flush out the bits that didn't work. The
new album is a lot more songy.
FM: Does that
mean that this is more of a band album? Dave Grohl plays on some
of the songs, doesn't he?
Dave came in and played on about half of the songs and my drummer
[Jerome Dillon] played on the other half, but the rest is purely
me. I've never been good at that whole working together thing.
And I don't think I ever will be.
The big difference
was that I wasn't worrying about loops all the time. I wasn't
searching for the perfect take and then looping it throughout
the whole song. Take the bass lines. For the first time in years,
I began to think about the bass line as a whole. How it worked
with the whole song, not just four bars. We did fix some things,
but this album has a lot more actual human performances. It has
a lot more mistakes.
by waltrex - 2005-06-25
by Corey Moss
is back where he belongs. Standing like a track star stretching
his calf, sweat seeping from his face, hands choking a microphone,
he stares far beyond the tens of thousands of fans in front of
after his "holy sh--!" show at Woodstock, the mastermind
of Nine Inch Nails is announcing his return on another festival's
stage. There's no mud at Coachella, only windblown dust dancing
with the palm trees behind him. The band is different, and he's
bulkier than when we last saw him, but otherwise all the same
elements seem to be there: The black hair draping his face. The
piano trickling over deafening synthesizers. The angst. Definitely
On the inside,
though, things have changed. The "Nothing can stop me now"
line, from "Piggy," carries far more weight than it
did in 1995. At Coachella, a little more than 24 hours before
With Teeth, his first album in six years, will hit shelves, Reznor
is finally feeling invincible.
on this record made it very clear to me how governed by fear I've
been working on other records, how concerned I've been about what
other people think," Reznor explains, a week earlier and
much less sweaty. "I would never have admitted it, but I
can see now I did care a lot about those things and it kept Nine
Inch Nails, maybe for the better, narrowed into a certain thing.
I'm less concerned about keeping it [so focused] now and [more
concerned with] trying to make it more truthful and honest."
Reznor could become the confident, content (dare we say happy?)
man he is today, he had to hit rock bottom. That moment came about
four years ago, while touring behind The Fragile, when he woke
up in a London hospital after overdosing on heroin.
"I had to come to terms about becoming an addict, which,
for a long time, I lied to myself about the status of until I
couldn't lie any more, 'cause I was either going to die or get
better," he recalls now, in a rare on-camera interview. "I
couldn't go forward. So a few years ago I did what I needed to
do to get my life in order."
completed a rehab program after touring behind 1994's The Downward
Spiral but relapsed while recording 1999's The Fragile, checked
himself into a New Orleans treatment center. When he finished
the program, he left no longer knowing who he was or what he wanted
to do. He took some time off, started working out, mountain biking.
He considered not returning to music.
wound up in a terrible, terrible place and I wasn't sure what
got me there," he says. "I had to figure a lot of things
out. Most importantly, I had to figure out that I still loved
break, music started to become a separate thing from his career
and all the pressures that came with it. "I realized that
I really loved music, it's the backdrop and soundtrack to every
bit of my life," he says in a speaking voice that is throaty
and slightly accented from his years spent living in Louisiana.
Reznor got the itch to start writing again. The problem was he
couldn't. It'd been four years since The Fragile and a decade
since his biggest hit, and he worried that too much time had elapsed.
was going through my head was really questioning my own relevance,"
he explains. "I was wondering if I had anything to say or
was any good."
time, Reznor received a call from his friend Rick Rubin, asking
if Johnny Cash could cover The Downward Spiral's haunting "Hurt"
for the latest in a series of covers albums Rubin was producing.
Reznor was flattered but knew the two were working on hundreds
of songs and thought it would probably never see the light of
day. Then it arrived in the mail.
in the middle of something else, kind of distracted. When I heard
it, it surprised me that I felt a bit invaded, like his voice
was in my song and it sounded funny to me," Reznor remembers.
"Not long after that, I got the video in the mail and that's
when [I got] goose bumps, wet eyes."
As bleak as
director Mark Romanek's video is, Reznor found it comforting.
"It was like a pat on the back in a way, like, 'You can do
this. Go out there and write an album.' "
music became not just something the Nine Inch Nails singer enjoyed,
but something he needed. Songwriting had always been a remedy,
but never this necessary, and never so rewarding.
incredibly therapeutic because I could actually think again,"
he says. "And I liked myself again and was more enthused
about working than I'd ever been. I felt like I'm not anchored
to this black cloud that's going to descend on me. I was taking
certain chances and allowing something to sound a certain way
because I felt more confident than I had. I felt good about things
for a change. I'm not saying it's a happy record, [because] it's
exploring a lot of things about coming out of that cloud and trying
to figure out who I am and what I am with a lot of fresh terrible
experiences to think about."
Reznor was born in rural Mercer, Pennsylvania, raised mostly by
his grandparents. After dropping out of college to pursue music
full-time, he moved to Cleveland, where he eventually started
Nine Inch Nails. After famously recording The Downward Spiral
in the Los Angeles house where Charles Manson's followers murdered
actress Sharon Tate, he used his riches to buy a funeral home
in New Orleans and convert it into a mansion and state-of-the-art
produced Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, wrote and produced
music for the "Natural Born Killers" and "Lost
Highway" soundtracks, and oversaw several remixing projects,
including one with his idol, David Bowie. He also recorded The
Fragile there, shortly before coming to terms again with his alcohol
and drug problems.
When he finally
started what would become With Teeth, Reznor found himself haunted
by the debauched memories of past recording sessions and decided
to move to Los Angeles.
needed a change of scenery," he says, scratching the stubble
on his chin. "I also wanted to be around other people who
do what I do. It's part of my nature to isolate, and I think living
in New Orleans was a good way to hide from the world. And it worked
for a while, but in the end I needed to get out of there."
he's not "the scene guy," but he does do a lot more
mountain biking. "I've got more friends than I used to have,"
he adds. Most are sober.
from New Orleans also brought Reznor back to the method he used
while writing 1989's Pretty Hate Machine.
time I did Downward Spiral and The Fragile I had a studio to work
in, so I would write in that environment," he explains. "What
I found was that songwriting and the arranging and production
and the sound design process became the same thing. A song would
start with a drum loop or a visual and eventually a song would
emerge out of it and that was the song. This time I got back to
starting with lyrics and words and really separating the process
into songwriting and arranging and production. And when I came
out here I just set up a piano, drum machine and computer to record
is an album with piano on nearly every track. "When it came
time to pick the best of the best and arrange them in the studio,
I found a lot of the space the piano took up sat nicely,"
says Reznor. "It was an odd sound with violent live drums
and this cold, brittle environment of a piano to anchor everything
sounds nothing like The Fragile, which Reznor thinks was too long,
too "soundscapey," and in some ways, too ambitious.
This time he forced himself to write two songs every 10 days,
and he recorded them even more quickly.
come up with rules or limitations it focuses me in a direction,"
he explains. "And those rules can change if you realize it's
a dumb idea. You start to mutate it to see what fits best. In
this case one of the early concepts was I wanted it to sound played.
Not like a garage band, necessarily, but with computers it's easy
to fix things and make everything perfect, and sometimes you can
lose an element of humanity and imperfection. And the message
emotionally was to be a bit frail and unsure of yourself, so we
treated things as performances."
usual, played most of the music himself, but he also brought in
and coached members of the latest incarnation of Nails. With drummer
Jerome Dillon, he often found himself asking the percussionist
to play like Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters frontman/former Nirvana
drummer who's also sat behind the kit for Queens of the Stone
Age and Garbage.
I thought, 'Why don't I just call Dave and see if he'd do it?'
" says Reznor, who met Grohl at a festival in Australia years
ago. "A few days later we were in the studio. It really was
a great experience. Not only is he a really nice guy, but as a
musician, he brought an understanding to the material.
of the reasons I wanted to use real drums on this record, as opposed
to programming, was I know what programming is going to yield,"
he continues. "I've done it and I'll do it again. I want
the excitement of when you have an exciting guy playing an instrument.
It takes it up a notch."
With Teeth was going to be a concept album called Bleed Through.
five or six songs into writing it, the songs started to sound
good on their own and they didn't need this framework to work
together," Reznor says. "I took a moment to be editorial
and say, 'I think it's an unnecessary idea,' and it wasn't out
of laziness. It felt like this is going to be an album of a collection
of songs that are friends with each other, but they don't have
to rely on each other to make sense."
As with Nine
Inch Nails' past albums, With Teeth is destined to be blasted
from the stereos of men with relationship problems. Lyrics like
"Why do you get all the love in the world?" and "Don't
you f---ing know what you are?" are the perfect remedy for
a bad breakup.
doesn't discuss what songs are about ("Books are better than
movies because you design the set the way you want it to look,"
he offers as an analogy), but he cops to With Teeth being a relationship
record, just not the kind you think.
of this was [about] my relationship with myself, the world at
large, and where I might fit into that," he explains. "I
learned in my life that I don't know everything. I'm not always
the exception to the rule. Also [it's about] my relationship to
a disease that's going to kill me if I don't deal with it, and
I came very close to that. Hopefully disguised enough that it's
not a terribly boring record about recovery and addiction and
first started finishing songs for With Teeth he would send them
to Rick Rubin, who produced one of the greatest recovery records
in modern rock, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Reznor had always produced his own material in the past, however,
and eventually he got enough confidence that Rubin's guidance
like 'I just need to do this my way, I need to see it through,
for better or for worse,' " Reznor says. "It wasn't
against any ideas Rick had, it was just every cell in my body
as an artist said do this record how you would do it, 'cause I
didn't feel short of ideas and I felt like I had a plan and I
don't need to approve it by anybody. And I talked to Rick about
it and he was cool about it. It was just the natural progression
of the record and I'm happy with how it turned out."
the 13 tracks on With Teeth, the sessions yielded at least seven
more songs Reznor hopes to eventually release. And since wrapping
the album, he's already been writing the next one. "I haven't
interrupted the writing process this time, and I feel energized,"
singer Billie Joe Armstrong recently said, "It's sexy to
be an angry young man, but to be a bitter old bastard is another
thing altogether." It's something Reznor's been thinking
about lately. In a few weeks he turns 40.
like I've come out of a coma and thought, 'Wow, how did I get
to be this age?' " he muses. "When I've sat down to
write, I've always had the main criteria to be honest with myself
about how I feel about whatever it is I'm writing about. As long
as it feels valid to me and feels sincere, I'll do what I do under
the moniker of Nine Inch Nails if it's appropriate. I would hate
to think I would ever be in a position where I'm faking it to
get a paycheck.
on that topic," he continues, "It's been four and a
half years since we've toured and a big question for me was wondering
if this is going to still seem valid and relevant. ... And as
of right now, we've played a handful of shows and it felt real
onstage. I don't feel like I'm playing a role that I used to be.
It feels relevant and valid and I'm very happy that it feels that
way. It feels good to be onstage."