Trent Reznor's relentless tale of despair

one-track mind | nine inch nails, "the collector"

By Ricardo Baca for Denver Post on October 3, 2005

Trent Reznor has a way of making a 4/4 beat irregular. His production has edges like a machete, and as it careens its way through the verse-chorus format, his vocals complement the grainy beats with a matching severity that's almost boggling.

It's severe, but Reznor is so accustomed to the way of working that it's almost serene - something made obvious by "The Collector," the masterwork of his band Nine Inch Nails' latest, "With Teeth."

The song, which will surely be a part of the set when Nine Inch Nails plays the Pepsi Center on Wednesday, is filtered-out and stripped down. Reznor said it evolved that way naturally because of the way he recorded "With Teeth." With previous records, he saw the arrangement and production melding into one another, so with this record, Reznor went back to making demos and actually overemphasized each step in the process of writing and recording an album.

"And 'The Collector' was a reaction to that, abandoning the idea of melody and trying to be a bit more (like the band) Killing Joke, tribal, brutal," Reznor said last week from the road. "No nice chords, no nice hooky melodies, a bit more relentless."

No nice anything. The track tells a story of helpless despair:

"I pick things up/I am a collector/And things, well, things, they tend to accumulate/I have this net/It drags behind me/It picks up feelings/For me to feed upon."

"The Collector" is Reznor's favorite song on "With Teeth," he said. And the song, like everything he writes, hits close to home.

"I rarely get into talking about what my songs are about," he said. "But one of my problems I've had, and I've acknowledged it over the years, is that I've suffered from depression, and one of the things I'd find is that I can't let things go."

This self-induced emotional terrorism, coupled with his battle with substance abuse, was tearing Reznor apart. And it all came out in his lyrics with ferocious self-hatred.

From "The Collector:" "I am the plague/I am the swarm/All your heart sticks on me/And I keep it warm."

"I've tried to get away from it," Reznor said of the first-person perspective. "I got tired of saying 'I.' Count the 'I's' in Nine Inch Nails music ... thousands per album. And as a writer, I thought, 'I need to work on this. I need to work a little Paul McCartney in my world, I need a 'White Album.'... But I'm just not that good at it. And my strategy in trying to be truthful in music is the first-person narrative and the slicing up of my guts and seeing what spills out on the paper."

Reznor's life turned around - personally and professionally - when he found sobriety a few years back.

"Turning that corner and the process of writing this last record have been eye-opening, not only in the mechanics of how I did it and the ease of fighting myself a lot less, but also the potential of where the writing could go. ... I felt like I'd changed course. And it opened up a whole new realm of things I can get into and express in that department. I haven't abandoned the first-person world, but it feels less closed-in and narrowed-down than it did a few years ago."

Nine Inch Nails plays the Pepsi Center on Wednesday with Queens of the Stone Age and Autolux in support. Tickets, .50-, are available via Ticketmaster.

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