Reznor hopes new show will nail fans to their seats

By ROSS RAIHALA for St. Paul Pioneer Press on October 13, 2005

Attention Nine Inch Nails fans: Maybe you don't really need that second beer or soda.

"I've really tried to orchestrate the set to feel like it has a plotline," NIN majordomo Trent Reznor said during a phone interview from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. "I want to take the idea of going to see a band in an arena up a notch (by) elaborately dressing the set, designing the light show and framing the music in a way I couldn't in a club or a theater.

"I'd really like to avoid giving the audience any time when you can safely go to the bathroom."

And Reznor's still making changes to the elaborate, theatrical show, which he's got on the road this fall.

"When I'm onstage, I can see the audience's faces," Reznor said. "I can tell when people get bored. So I'm tweaking things every night."

Nine Inch Nails' current dates bring the group back to large North American venues for the first time in five years, following an instantly sold-out club jaunt in the spring.

Reznor, who gave up drinking and drugs four years ago, is out supporting his excellent, back-to-basics disc, "With Teeth." It strips away the arty excesses of his last effort, "The Fragile," in favor of the lean, muscular sound of his 4-million-selling 1994 breakthrough, "The Downward Spiral."

But it hasn't all been easy. Just before the tour kicked off, Reznor's onetime home of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The studio he still maintained in the city was destroyed, and many of Reznor's friends in the area lost nearly everything they owned.

Two weeks later, Nine Inch Nails had to cut short its opening-night gig in San Diego after drummer Jerome Dillon complained of chest pains. Two more shows have since been pulled, with Dillon sitting out the rest of the tour to tend to his health.

"It's been a bummer, to be honest," Reznor said. "I hate canceling shows — I hate it. But we are trying some other (drummers) out, and I do believe we're back on track."

Reznor's career began in the late '80s when, after playing with several traditional rock bands, he decided to explore his own interests in electronic rock. One of his inspirations was Minnesota's own Prince.

"He was a huge influence to me," Reznor said. "I did really want a band for the camaraderie of a bunch of guys heading toward the same goal. But I couldn't really find them. But I thought if Prince could do it alone, so can I. He was really a guide for me to how I could pull it off, in a very identifiable way — not just unique in his songs but in his sound and the whole way he presented himself."

After releasing his first NIN disc, "Pretty Hate Machine," Reznor assembled a live band and hit the road, initially opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and Peter Murphy. By the summer of 1991, Nine Inch Nails was a big-enough name to land a spot on the first Lollapalooza.

"That was really a cultural step, a breakthrough into a different level of people following the band," Reznor said. "It started to feel like I was onto something that had substantial merit — not financial but spiritual. Music was always my best friend that got me through the good times and the bad times. And (at the time), it felt like, wow, I'm providing that same feeling to (other) people now."

While Reznor's output has been markedly slow and deliberate, with gaps of five or six years between studio albums, he has always tried to remember what it's like to be a consumer of music.

"I know what I like as a fan myself," he said. "And I've had many fights with record labels and managers and bookers about what would be right for my career, but I've always followed my internal feelings about what to do. The whole way Nine Inch Nails is presented is really based on what I would want as a fan. That's what it all comes down to."

As such, Reznor has allowed his audience to remix and reinterpret the first two singles from "With Teeth," posting the master tapes online and allowing would-be producers to create their own versions of the songs.

"A lot of really incredible technology — the kind I use in the studio — has been simplified and aimed at the average Internet user," Reznor said. "So I gave out the master tracks, just to let people mess around with them. It's an experiment, a look behind the curtain at what I do. More than 1,000 people did remixes of the first single, and they range from unbelievably terrible to pretty great.

"I'm so much more at peace and in tune with myself now. I had no goal on my part other than to let people interact with the music."

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