Trent Reznor's Funeral Home Studio
by Christopher Buttner
musicgearreview.com - jan. 2002

Even when the sun is shining and the temperatures are a pleasant balmy tropical, yet unusually warm 80 degrees for January, New Orleans carries a historic air of captivating Gothic, Vampire and Voodoo intrigue and mystery. I can't think of a better city from which to report this next story.

To his fans, Trent Reznor is recognized as the frontman, lead singer of the multi-platinum selling, Grammy award-winning, Nine Inch Nails. What many probably don't know is Trent is also a production wunderkind for numerous other platinum bands and artists, best known act being Marilyn Manson, as well as movie soundtracks, including Oliver Stone's 'Natural Born Killers', David Lynch's 'Lost Highway,' and Howard Stern's 'Private Parts.' In April of 1995, Trent moved his rapidly blossoming record label and production empire into a massive 17,000 square foot, 85+ year old funeral home in the uptown area of New Orleans. Known as Nothing Studios, the ominous charcoal gray edifice, with striking pitch black one-way windows, seems to loom over every other structure in the neighborhood from blocks away. As I approach, the building continually takes on an enveloping personality, until when I am standing at its gated entrance, even before I set foot over the threshold into its interior, the building almost obscures, if not absorbs, the sun, blue sky, and even the wind.

The architectural statement the immaculate building makes is somewhere between "gentrified Munsters" and "Addams Family meets Better Funeral Homes and Gardens."

I ring the bell at the wrought iron gate and wait to be approved for entry as I am scrutinized by eyes behind numerous security cameras mounted every corner of the building. The buzzer sounds as the dead-bolt is electronically released and I enter into the 'holding area' between the gate and the front door. A second buzzer sounds after the gate closes behind me and I enter Mr. Reznor's lair.

The charcoal gray walls and black one-way windows, black trim, drapes and carpet are dramatically offset by the vividly happy Blueberry color of the iMac computers on several of the desks. Even with the dark interior decorations, I am amazed at the amount of light that enters the building through the darkened windows. One wonders DO THE ROOMS in such a darkly appointed building get darker when one turns on the lights?

My eyes take a minute to adjust to the darkness as everyone is reduced to rapidly moving back-lit silhouettes against the intense light coming through the one-way windows. After a few seconds I realize I am in the foyer, at the base of a massive, double-wide stair case that probably once led to a large viewing room, where over 85 years, thousands of mortals were laid out before grieving loved ones. I find out later that this area is now home to some two dozen classic video and pinball machines. The stair case is so wide, I almost expect the stairs to open on a massive hinge, revealing Spot, the Munster's pet Dragon, breathing fire and brimstone.

Suddenly I feel the presence of two large four-legged bodies in my personal space as the front door snaps shut. As I look down into the darkness, I can only see the glint of two pairs of dark eyes staring up at me from waist level. I feel the warm breath of the Omen-like canines on my abdomen as their wagging tails sweep the air, signifying I am approved by this second stage of security. Ellie the Labrador and Ethel, a Lab/Shepherd mix, both lovingly referred to by Nothing staff as 'coffee table wide', appear to be thoroughly trained to pin one down and lick them into submission should the need arise. Reznor loves animals, so Nothing Studios is an animal-friendly environment. Trent's beloved Weimaraner Daisy May isn't around this particular afternoon; she's clearly off duty leaving her associates to defend the real estate.

Nothing Studios manager (engineer, assistant engineer, tech, etc.), Brian Pollack emerges from the darkness to introduce himself and shake my hand. I inquire about the age and history of the building and he states, "We're not sure if it's a turn-of-the-century building, but we know it dates back to the early 1900's. When we moved in we found funeral receipts and canceled checks from as far back as 1914 and 1915."

"Any ghost or poltergeist activity since Trent took up residence?", I inquire.

Brian rolls his eyes and smiles. "No, nothing. No sightings by anyone."

I am then pointed to an interesting artifact that makes me wonder if the Christmas Spirit even bothers to visit Nothing Studios.

The front door through which I just entered was previously the front door of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate's home on Cielo Drive, in Los Angeles. Yes, the same home where the infamous 'Tate Murders' took place on August 9, 1969, at the hands of Charles Manson family members Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian. When police discovered the grisly murder scene it was on the lower half of this very door that the officers saw the word "PIG" scrawled with the blood of the murder victims.

In 1992, after looking at 15 houses in one day, Trent signed the lease on the infamous 'Charlie Manson' Tate house to record 'The Downward Spiral' before being informed of its bloody history. When he album was completed, the owner of the house moved forward with his plans for demolition, but not before Trent requested, and received permission, to keep the front door.

I close my eyes and place my hand on the door for a few seconds expecting to pick-up some kind of a paranormal vibe to the horror of what this artifact must have witnessed over 30 years ago. Feeling nothing, I open my eyes to see Brian smirking at me. We both roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders. I nervously laugh at how ridiculous I must have looked and then we begin the tour of Trent's incredible, platinum record-adorned, technological labyrinth.

Each portal leads deeper and deeper into the high-tech catacombs of the sprawling facility. Room after equipment-stacked room features numerous guitars, keyboards, amplifiers, miles of cable, effects, and racks-upon-racks of equipment. It's as if in the five years between the five-time platinum selling 'The Downward Spiral' and 1999's 23-song 'The Fragile', Trent has employed a full-time person to shop for two of everything, from every major music store, in every major city.

I am informed the studio staff has totally lost count of the number of Mackie mixers that reside at Nothing Studios. On our walk through the various Nine Inch Nails band member project rooms, we quickly count three 32*8 Bus consoles, one with a 24*8 extender in a sidecar. Numerous 1604 and 1202 compact mixers dot the landscape of every studio environment we pass through. While it's pointed out they're used for everything from keyboard mixing, input expansion for monster consoles, submixing and final mixing every where in the building, I am also advised, they might be breeding since more and more of them seem to turn up every month. I wonder if a 1604 might be being used at the receptionist's desk to route incoming calls.

Since 'The Fragile' was released in September of 1999, the Nothing Studios' staff of about ten full-time employees ramped up the facility to open for commercial business in early 2000. In the five years since it was purchased, the building has been Trent's private 'Funeral Home Studio' where Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar was recorded and produced, as well as Trent's latest epic. Purchased in April of 1995, Brian points out, "We had Studio A up and running and we were off and mixing by July of the same year. Studio B came on line months and months after that."

Studio B, the latest and greatest addition to Nothing Studios, is replete with the consistent decorum of charcoal gray walls, black trim and molding and carpet, and black sound absorbing drapes hang from wrought iron curtain rods. Two colorful Blueberry Macintosh G3 CPUs, in the center of the room, again stand out in a sharp contrast under the clarity of halogen lights.

An expansive Argosy desk houses the two new Mackie Digital 8 Bus consoles, purchased and installed in April of 1999. The desk is incredibly stream-lined with the two monitors mounted down into the Argosy, behind - you guessed it - black glass. Brian advises me, "Trent is full on to learn anything new and he was the one who said, 'Let's get the Mackie D8Bs,' after checking out all of the specs. He has gotten to the point where he delegates a lot of responsibility, as opposed to being hands on on everything, and it's really his ears that do a lot of the work in Studio B. Mainly he does his work in Studio A, but there are times when he will come back to Studio B and use it as his writing room and do some singing."

Brian continues, "In fact when the D8Bs first showed up, I was on vacation and Trent was the first person to get them up and running. When I came back he was like, 'Look how easy these things are to use, you can just press this and it'll do that, and if you do that, it'll do this.' He was ramped up and working on these things in no time."

"There was such short leaning curve on the D8B it really surprised me as to how easy they are to learn," Brian notes. "It was just a question of me sitting down with some signal running through the console, a bit of scanning the interface, and suddenly I'm saying, 'oh, okay, that's easy enough.' I really didn't have to get into the board too heavy to really understand it."

Brian then spent a week of sixteen-plus hour days making the room ready in anticipation of Studio B's first outside clients. The group Porter Ricks, a collaboration of ambient maestro Thomas Köner and beatmeister Andy Mellwig, were the first outside artists to visit Nothing Studios and mix their new single, 'The Day the World Went Away' on the Mackie D8Bs.

Brian points out that the boards are networked together so they act as one console with 48 digital inputs and 48 analog inputs. The D8Bs were called upon for the remixing of 'Ten Miles High', which appears on the vinyl release of 'The Fragile', as well as the UK single release for 'Complication.'

All of the digital sequencing for 'The Fragile' was handled on the D8Bs, as well. Brian points outs, "Bob Ezrin did all of the digital sequencing on the D8Bs for 'The Fragile' here in this room."

The D8Bs are fed automation moves from a multitude of computers, all of which are running ProTools and Logic, from the band member's individual project studios. Song sections or remixes are started in any of the upstairs studios and then transferred to the D8Bs for collaborative mixing and print down.

Continuing, Brian states, "There was one mix I had done on both of the D8Bs, and there was a lot of timecode. After listening to it I wanted to come back a few days later and do a few fixes. I just reloaded the settings and had everything back to where I had exactly left it off in a second. I got the perfect sound instantly and then it was incredibly fast and easy to make the changes."

"Instant recall, instant everything," Brain states as a few of the D8B's best assets. "In Studio A, we have the SSL 4000G Plus, a great board, it's a favorite of mine, but with the D8B, if you want to call something up, it's just one button and you can call up and reset whole board. Once we got the synch card installed and with the ease of the interface with the computers, they have been flawless. A breeze. Plus, they sound great. It's one thing to be easy to use, but if they don't sound good, what's the point?"

"With the gates and compressors on each channel, and even little features like switching between a two track A and B and main and near field switchability, even the way the mix system works, it's up there with a console that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars."

I ponder, Hmmm. That could be another great business venture for Trent... Maybe he could use the savings to start a magazine called, 'Funeral Home Recording?'