And All That Could Have Been Brings NIN's Finest Hour Home - 01.22.2002

"Not long after the tour got rolling I realized it'd be nice to have some kind of memento, just something to show what we had achieved here." — Trent Reznor

Nothing about Nine Inch Nails is simple — from Trent Reznor's musical constructions, which bang and grind like mechanical annihilation, to NIN as an intense, mysterious entity, the group's every move is carefully orchestrated and conducted at a pace all its own.

So for the band's first DVD, Reznor thought through every detail to the fullest in its production. For And All That Could Have Been, released Tuesday (January 22), a straightforward concert video simply couldn't come close to meeting his goal of allowing viewers to share in what he considered his band's finest hour onstage, 2000's Fragility 2.0 tour. So before he dove in blindly, like so many bands committed to just keeping stride with the pack, he needed to test the waters.

"When we decided to come up with the idea to put out a DVD, I [first] spent some time exploring the format to see what you can and cannot do, to define the limitation of the medium," he said. "Then, secondly, knowing that you can do this, should you do these things?"

Alongside the video's features, intense visuals and the ability to change camera angles during the performance, both it and the simultaneously released live album by the same name spare no attention to detail — from the LP's cover art, by noted designer David Carson, to the transparent bookmark in the DVD packaging that's inscribed with a message from Reznor explaining his intent. This insistence on perfection contributed to the set being pushed back from its original release date in December (see "Nine Inch Nails To Release First Live Album, DVD").

"There's extra care put into a lot of things that I haven't seen on other DVD packages, and one could argue, 'What's the point? What does it matter?' " he said. "But to me, it's the same as a nice album cover — the art is not just in the music, but it's the entire thing. Like with vinyl, when you pull it out, it smells a certain way. It's the whole presentation. And with DVDs, you can get into it. When you pop the disc in your player, you should be transported into that environment. It should set up a framework for the music — or the main bulk of it — to be presented in a more interesting way, to show it in a different light. Kind of like the live show. We could just play it with a spotlight and play the set. Or I could create an environment that frames the music, that presents it to accentuate your experience of listening to or experiencing it."

Finding just the right stepping stone for his debut into the DVD and live album media didn't come quickly. In 13 years and more than 20 releases, including EPs, remixes and singles, NIN had never before issued a live album.

"I really felt a sense of pride [on the Fragility 2.0 tour]," Reznor said. "I remember before we went onstage that I really felt proud to present this show to the audience. And I was proud of how good the band was this time around. I was proud of the selection of music and also the presentation. I spend a lot of time really taking care in the way that the music is presented live. It's rare. ... I mean, never do we go out and just randomly pick songs to play live and take requests or anything like that. It's a pretty thought-out process of where I think the band is and how we feel about things, but also what I think the audience would like to see when they see a band. ... So, not long after the tour got rolling I realized it'd be nice to have some kind of memento, just something to show what we had achieved here."

A nine-song companion CD, available via the band's Web site or combined with the live LP as part of a deluxe audio package, features four new instrumental tracks, a new vocal track ("And All That Could Have Been") and "deconstructed" versions of "Something I Can Never Have," "The Fragile," "The Becoming" and "The Day the World Went Away." As a whole, it shows a side of NIN diametric to the conventionally held image of leather-clad industrial nihilists.

"Some of it is the band playing live in rehearsals," Reznor said. "Some of it is alternate ways to present some songs. Some of it is stripped-down versions we did for radio shows. And some of it is instrumental bits that I thought tied everything together to make a nice soundtrack for a rainy Sunday afternoon. That's what I was going for. And the point of including it with the live CD was to kind of show the dichotomy of what we can be. There's a live, kind of smashing performance and then there's another side of us that's a bit more gentle, a little reflective."

The video and albums combine for an elaborately constructed set, a formal presentation Reznor believes too few contemporary artists, with the exception perhaps of Radiohead and Tool, still care about. He chalks up this lack of sincerity to a need to churn out product in an increasingly sales-driven industry.

"Not to get on a soapbox, but as music becomes more commercialized, more product-based, it's more difficult for artists to argue there is value to the presentation and to maintain something precious about those things," he said. "I always run everything past my own filtering system: 'I am a music fan, what matters to me? What were those things that made this experience of music great? Why did I love certain bands?' The mystique and the little details that I think get overlooked in this mass-market kind of consumer world that we live in today."

—Joe D'Angelo