Denver Post June 2000

Fragile Strength: Nails singer turns self-doubt into success.

Nine Inch Nails' last album, "The Downward Spiral," was released five years ago - an eternity in the ephemeral world of modern rock. Back then, Trent Reznor, the visionary behind NIN, had conquered the masses with his hammering industrial dance rock, a melding of computerized clangor, anguished vocals, organic sounds and surprisingly graceful melodicism.

His songs were nihilistic confessions, morose and uncompromising discourses on hate and hopelessness that put NIN stickers on the lockers of high school outsiders coast to coast. And then the bottom fell out. A twoyear tour promoting "The Downward Spiral," including Nine Inch Nails' mudspattered appearance at Woodstock '94, ended with Reznor in a clinical depression. Sycophants, sudden fame and fortune, and an unstable existence on the road augmented his suffering.

"I was with Marilyn Manson and the Jim Rose Circus as the opening acts - there was some form of illegal act going on at all times in some hotel room somewhere. Just to get through that tour, we abused everything we could get our hands on," Reznor says.

Living hard

"The act of touring leads to a nearsense of self-destruction after a while. The problem with the "Downward Spiral' tour was it lasted so long - it was really too much. To get on stage night after night after night to perform these songs that have come from places of hurt or despair or anger. It's unhealthy to get in that mind-set continually. You end up living the songs again." It left Reznor in a retreat, and it took two years to make "The Fragile," the new Nine Inch Nails album.

A healing

"It was a necessary period I had to go through to regain some self-confidence," Reznor says. "When I finished "Downward Spiral,' I felt like I had boxed myself into a corner a bit with Nine Inch Nails. Harder? Faster? Meaner? More desperate? Death was the next answer, and that wasn't really the choice I wanted to make.

"So it was, "Let's make Nine Inch Nails capable of anything.' That was the starting point. Everything was very motivational - we let it keep growing." On "The Fragile," a 23-track double CD, Reznor stares down his identity crisis in a smart, ambitious aggro-rock symphony. The sound is still textured and violent, but more cunning and disquieting than wrathful.

Now Nine Inch Nails has returned to arenas across the country with the "Fragility v2.0" tour. The U.S. leg wraps up at Pepsi Center on Sunday night. The live band is Reznor, multi-instrumentalists Robin Finck, Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser, and new drummer Jerome Dillon.

"We as people are very different this time around. In some ways it's not as much fun - there's a much more sober vibe going on, generally," Reznor says.

Reznor even wears a hat and goes out in the crowds, just to remember what it was like to be at a concert.

"You go on stage, and you give yourself away every night, feeling like everyone's here to see you. But you walk off stage and you're the loneliest guy in the world because you're detached - you're not part of the experience of seeing it." The high point of the shows is the plaintive final tune, the hushed "Hurt." "Everybody's singing along, and I walk off stage and I feel positive," Reznor says.

"At the end, I feel like everybody in the audience is my friend - we've gone through a battle and come out the other side. In the past, it had more of a confrontational vibe. We assaulted the audience, and they assaulted us back. This time it transcends that. By the encore, it seems like I want to invite everybody over to my house and sit around ... it's a strange connection that I don't remember being there, a vulnerability that wasn't apparent last time around."

Coming up

So what comes next?

"We did a radio show in Chicago and they said, "Do whatever you want.' I thought it'd be interesting if we went in with a deconstructed vibe - I played grand piano and Robin played acoustic guitar. It wasn't an "unplugged' situation, but the songs sounded surprisingly good out of the context you normally hear them in. It got me thinking. ..."