Nine Inch Nails’

Charlie Clouser On Fragility in 2000 2000

by Andrew Ragouzeos

“Underneath it all/kill my brain/yet you still remain/crucified/after all I’ve died/after all I’ve tried/you are still inside,” sings a wary Trent Reznor on “Underneath it All,” the closing song from Nine Inch Nails’s latest opus, The Fragile. A dense, two-disc masterpiece, The Fragile is a broken-hearted, teeth-grinding portrayal of the helplessness intrinsic to man’s descent into unending depression. But there is an underlying solace, a grounded delicacy, behind The Fragile’s monolithic discontent. The idea that internal salvation comes only after accepting the imperfect self in an imperfect world.

Compared to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Fragile’s most recognizable ancestor, Reznor’s creation eludes a Wall-like narrative flow in favor of interrelated emotional themes and delicate sound segues from track to track.With thick, churning melodies, ambient rifts, a scattering of hip-hop beats and many layered walls of guitar distortion, Reznor once again proves himself to be a master of orchestration.

The creepy isolation hymns, delicate interludes, new wave rockers, and old school Industrial nods make The Fragile an awe inspiring work, the result of two years of meticulous studio experimentation, refinement and revision.

Taking a different approach than he had in the past as a one-man record-making machine, Reznor employed a select number of collaborators to help on The Fragile. Both Dave Navarro, Dr. Dre and pianist Mike Garson are on the credits for three separate songs. But the biggest change in The Fragile’s collaborative approach came when Reznor invited two members of the Nine Inch Nails touring lineup, guitarist Danny Lohner and programmer/keyboardist extraordinaire Charlie Clouser (Prong, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, David Bowie), to live in his New Orleans studio.

“We had a great studio facility in New Orleans. Danny and I had our own separate studio rooms in the main building, and we were able to collaborate without interrupting each other,” Clouser said from inside his Los Angeles hotel room.

“We linked the whole building up with an internet network and we had a file server and everybody would take a copy of the song that was currently being worked on. Then we’d go off into our own little space and I could spend a week working on keyboard overdubs for a song before giving them back to the main studio on the file server,” Clouser continued.

“Then [producer] Allan [Moulder] (My Bloody Valentine) and Trent would say, ‘oh let’s see what these guys did.’ Then they’d chop up all Danny’s guitar bits and my keyboard bits and drop them into the song.”

Although The Fragile took two years to complete, Clouser said the time spent in New Orleans was “surprisingly upbeat,” and that Reznor’s obsession over details prolonged the album’s birth.

“Trent is by far the biggest challenge of anyone I’ve had to work with,” Clouser said. “He’s the biggest perfectionist. He has the most energy in terms of exploring all the options. A lot of the stuff on the Nails’ recorded work is not the first thing that comes out. You think the song is done and then Trent goes, ‘You know, I don’t like this, this and this. Let’s take it apart again.’"

"It can be frustrating to go down blind alleys at times, but you don’t know if it’s a blind alley until you get to the end. I mean, “Somewhat Damaged” had an entirely different end section. It was done for over a year, and then one day Trent said, ‘I’m gonna make it better.’ We were like, ‘No don’t touch it, please, it’s done.’ But sure enough he added a total different energy level to the song.”

Clouser said that the decision to make The Fragile into two CDs was inevitable. “We had done a bunch of different test versions of the album, like twenty different versions of trying to make it into one disc. But we’d have to leave out so much stuff that what was left wasn’t supported by its surrounding cast members. There were a lot of parts of material that didn’t sound right on their own. If we had to drop out all the quieter intro parts the songs wouldn’t be introduced as gently.”

After releasing The Fragile last Fall, Nine Inch Nails set out to tour Europe and Australia in the winter. Reviews for those shows were overwhelmingly positive, considering they were the group’s first in four years. This spring and summer the band will make their long awaited return to the States, and as Clouser described it, the band promises to show returning fans something different than what was done on The Downward Spiral tour.

Gone is the big movie screen, to be replaced with Sony Jumbotron LCD projectors that have big chain motors, angling lights above and behind the band. Other changes in the Nine Inch Nails live show are the addition of nine new songs to the set list and playing on a new stage layout.

“With our old stage design, we wanted it to almost look like a cage, a claustrophobic little box full of guys running around bashing into each other,” Clouser said. “But now it’s much more of an open design. There’s no great big speaker sets on the side of the stage, they’re all hung up above us so you can see from any angle. In typical Trent Reznor fashion we didn’t want to be out there with our projection screen again, repeating ourselves and finding out that other bands are doing the exact same thing. We bailed on a lot of the old ideas. No one has ever used LCD monitors at rock show before.”

Clouser said he anticipates crowd reaction in America to be strong. However, he does concede that the Nails’ popularity may have dropped during the five-year lay off between albums, a decline that Clouser isn’t necessarily upset about.

“This band started out thinking it was only gonna be an underground thing,” he said. “So then it was always strange to hear drunken frat boys sing, ‘I wanna fuck you like an animal.’ We hear that and just cringe. That’s not what we had in mind. It wasn’t intended to be this mass marketing thing, and it was kind of surprising to see the wide range of public acceptance for The Downward Spiral. Now we feel a bit more underground since musical culture has turned to Limp Bizkit, Backstreet Boys, N Sync and Kid Rock. No, we’re definitely not part of that world, and thank fucking god. We’re back to a kind of cult status where only the true die hard fans are into us.”

Clouser said the difference between Nine Inch Nails’ morbid sense of discontentment and the aggro-rage of today’s rap-metal rockers is that, “Trent is able to express things that are a personal emotion. It seems that some of this rap n roll has more of a group emotion. It’s like these people aren’t expressing things that they feel personally. It’s more like a gang mentality. It’s like ‘hey let me get all my reject friends together and smash shit over at the mall.’ Like, ‘We’re all standing around the keg throwing shit.’ Trent isn’t, ‘me and all my boys think this’. It’s more of a solo emotion. There’s also a greater sense of personal responsibility in what Trent does lyrically.

“There’s a wider range of emotions encompassed on this album than in the past,” Clouser continued. “It’s a more mature record thematically. But I think that after being in the studio and away from the road for so long - it has made us restless. Don’t worry, on this tour so far it hasn’t been a kinder gentler Nine Inch Nails by any means.”

Check out Clouser, Reznor and the other Nails when they come to The Post Gazette Pavilion at Star Lake on May 7.
Andrew Ragouzeos