Nine Inch Nails' Reznor off alcohol, ready to perform

By David Glessner for San Antonio Express-News on September 13, 2005

On the mend from personal demons and touring in support of his latest critically acclaimed album, "With Teeth," Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails has been bitten by a series of drummer departures.

"Jerome Dillon has been diagnosed with some heart issues," Reznor says regarding the tour's original drummer. "The good news is it's not as bad as we feared. It seems to be treatable with medication and some rest. We played with (A Perfect Circle drummer) Josh Freese last night and it was great."

Marching forward with substitute drummers, Nine Inch Nails hammers the SBC Center on Sunday. Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979 ratchet up the ruckus. Expect all the industrial-sounding techno-metal rage that has made Reznor as iconic as Kurt Cobain and Perry Farrell when it comes to bookmarking the chapters of modern music (see titles such as "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral").

For a guy who has been crowned the king of pain through shadowy music videos and f-bomb lyrics, Reznor speaks in disarmingly measured tones. Calm, collected and immediately likable, the man who helped Marilyn Manson become the Antichrist superstar is not only enjoying the chart-topping success of "With Teeth" but also celebrating his newfound sobriety.

"The struggle was the acceptance that I am an addict," he says. "(Addiction) began around '97 or so. I went in for treatment and listened and said, 'OK, that makes a lot of sense.' I pretty much stayed sober until 'The Fragile.'

"I started drinking and that got out of control. It was primarily drinking, but that would lead to cocaine if it was around. Did I have some good times? Sure. But I also had a lot of really, really, really terrible times. That's a part of my life that I hope is over."

"With Teeth" features a good bit of drumming courtesy of Foo Fighters frontman and Nirvana hall-of-famer Dave Grohl. Due to other obligations, Reznor insists Grohl is unavailable to pound for the Nails.

"I'd be honored to play onstage with Dave, but that's not the case," Reznor said.

"When I was writing this record, I wanted to have real drums and, for the most part, get away from programmed drums. It's not forever, but that's what seemed inspiring at the time. I arranged the songs in a way that would accommodate a human being playing rather than a machine.

"When I heard Dave's drumming on the Queens of the Stone Age record, the Killing Joke record and the Nirvana stuff, it was exciting because it's hard-hitting and makes you want to pay attention to the drums.

"Somehow when I'm listening to music, I still have the ability to listen to the song and turn off the technical ears. Dave is able to encapsulate a really exciting guy beating the (expletive) out of the drums. I called him up, he was able to do it and it lived up to everything I had hoped for and more."

Something else that ultimately lived up to lifetime achievement status is Johnny Cash's version of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt." Cash's video for the song has been hailed as one of the most powerful and compelling mergers of song and film.

"I'm not proud to say it, but when I first heard the song it felt funny because that is one of the most personal songs I've ever written," Reznor says. "It took me by surprise and I felt a tinge of, almost, jealousy or being invaded. It felt like Johnny Cash was in my house or kissing my girlfriend.

"A week or two later, I got the video and when I put that on it was a completely different reaction. I had goose bumps and got choked up. It was beautiful. The fact that a song came out of my bedroom in a very private moment and was covered years later by an icon from a completely different walk of life was completely flattering. Sadly, it kind of became a swan song for him."

As a former New Orleans resident, Reznor worries that the city he loved may also be singing its swan song in the wake of the recent hurricanes.

"I don't think it will ever be the same," he says. "For me, the charm of New Orleans isn't Bourbon Street or Mardi Gras. It was a melting pot of people and tradition, and it was architecturally rich. Compared to western Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up, it was like another planet.

"I loved the place. It seemed magical and I hope that it can return to that. It's heartbreaking to know that it got wiped out not just by nature and God, but by also our own government through FEMA's (delayed) response and lack of funding for the levees."

View the NIN Hotline article index