Trent Warfare
The Sun December 1999

Trent Reznor is counting the cost of total devotion to his music, writes LAUREN ZORIC in London.

It's the day after the final night of the Nine Inch Nails' six-week Europeean tour and there are some shabby figures milling around the lobby of the deeply hip, blonde wood and cream leather-appointed Metropolitan Hotel in central London. Having experienced the NIN show, the performance itself would be enough to drain lesser mortals. Reznor is not so much a lightning rod for the energy generated in a live gig as a desperate void, sucking in all the emotion and rage, working himself into a hoarse frenzy of mania and self obsession. The band play with their heads down, a force unto themselves, illuminated in drenched storms of moody blue and purple, interspersed with stark, epileptic fit-inducing strobe lighting from five very gothic, pronged industrial chandeliers that look likke junkshop bric-a-brac sculptures. Relying on electro-keyboard sounds and distorted detuned guitars, with Reznor occasionally standing alone playing haunting piano-keyboard codas, the show moves through more aggressive rock styles into atmospheric ambience of the latest studio masterpiece. A massive screen comes down halfway through the set, separating the band from the crowd, projecting black and white images of the sea, roaming creatures and swirling internal organs and cells. There is much interplay between dark and light textures and violent musical dynamics.

GUITARIST Robin Finck, a veteran of the endless Downward Spiral tour that left the band members emotionally devastated, returned to the NIN fold when it came time to take The Fragile out of the studio and on the road. "After the Downward Spiral tour - tours - it was a long one," he says, "I needed personally to go someplace different. Not for a musical thing, I needed to wake up in the morning and be someone else, real bad. I kept bouncing on the bottom. It's nobody's fault, each to our own, we're all in control of our own persons, but it was long. There was ten months with Marilyn Manson and Jim Rose that was a little much." Afterwards, Finck spent a year playing in the orchestra of the Cirque du Soleil extraveganza before bunkering down for two years with Axl Rose - playing the guitar role vacated by Slash - on the new Guns N' Roses recordings. When the call came to rejoin NIN, Finck responded immediately. "My roots run deep here," he says. "I have a place here that I really missed, so I decided to accept their offer to come back. It feels really right." Reznor appears pale and beddishevelled, shaking hands with an almost feminine gentleness and reeking faintly of last night's drinking. Fragility is clearly a state of mind with which he is immediately acquainted. His voice is a cracked, thick-tongued whisper.

ACTUAL speech appears to be a painful activity, let alone articulating the long journey from the end of the Downward Spiral tour to being named Spin magazine's Artist of the Year. But Reznor is a sucker for self-sacrifice and pain, believing in suffering for his art. "I guess I realise the only things I have to say that matter are the things that require a degree of sacrifice," he explains in a slow, deliberate murmur. "I sometimes feel very naked because I think I've given up too much of myself that I'm not sure that I wanted to give up. But the decision to give it up was one based on the fact that it made the music and the art better to do it." The Downward Spiral tour, which arrived in Australia on the ill-fated Alternative Nation shows in 1995, played many hick US towns several times over. By the time Reznor stepped off the tour bus he was a big deal rock star, toting a multiplatinum album, trading public insults with ex-lover Courtney Love, shepherding protegee Marilyn Manson through the music industry (only for that relationship to sour dramatically) then waking up to realise he had fallen into the abyss he thought was only play-acting around. "I wrote a record which was very much a fairy tale, then I lived it. At the end of that tour, which was way too long, I believed the hype. I turned into that person I've read about in the media, which surprised me. And I have no desire to go back to that situation." After producing Manson's Antichrist Superstar and the soundtrack to David Lynch's Lost Highway (including the stunning track The Perfect Drug), Reznor spent two years toiling in Nothing studios in New Orleans with co-producer, engineer and mixer Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine) creating the 23-song sonic and emotional journey through decay, loss and survival of The Fragile. "Alan and I are like best friends. It was the most collaborative I've ever been with anybody. Almost in an unspoken way, we could communicate with each other. I do a record by myself but I always have a sounding board to bounce ideas off and on this record Alan was it." The task then was to translate it from the studio to the live public realm. Did he take a break after recording? "No, I started rehearsing. I should have, but I didn't," he says.

FROM rehearsal the band went straight into touring. The pressure is something Reznor accepts as part of the artist's reesponsibility. "There's always so much to do. ...I made a record I believe in, and people won't get it unless I explain it to'em, and if that means I have to tour for a year to show you, I believe in it enough to do it. "I hoped I wouldn't be in this situation, but I think that music sucks right now, I think most bands out right now are terrible. I can bitch about it or make music that is better, "It's a hard path," he admits, a little ruefully, "and would I rather be at home with me dog and my friends in New Orleans? Yes, but I believe in the record I put out enough to give that up and hopefully persuade people to pay attention to what I'm doing." Reznor says he turned a corner of maturity while making the record and realised that he had put his life on hold to do NIN, which wasn't a healthy thing to do. "I've given up a lot of things that matter to me to do NIN. ...Some day I'd like to have a family and I'd likke to have friends and I'd like to have what normal people have. And I can't have that because I've given up everything to do this thing and my brain works on a kind of one track. "I like to wake up and devote every ounce of energy to being in the studio or working on a song, coming up with a new idea - at the expense of normality, if that makes sense." How long can you sustain it? "I've done it for 10 years now, and it hasn't really worked out well. I aspire to achieve and not be completely one-sided like I am now." Can you have everything? "I don't think I can," he admits emphasising the pronoun, "but again, I aspire to find some sense of balance.

Lauren Zoric