Changes in songs, lineup keep Nails sharp

Interview with A. Cortini

By Troy Reimink for The Grand Rapids Press on February 17, 2006

It's the sort of thing you usually don't find on a bulletin board.

"I saw a flyer: 'Nine Inch Nails looking for keyboard player and guitar player,'" said Alessandro Cortini, recalling how he came to join the legendary alt-rock band. "The flyer was at Musician's Institute (a contemporary music school) where I was working at the time, in Hollywood. So I took advantage of it, of course."

That was in late 2004, when NIN mastermind Trent Reznor was assembling a new band and putting the finishing touches on "With Teeth," his latest collection of brooding electro-industrial rock. Cortini auditioned and was accepted as the group's keyboard player.

Though he's been welcomed into the group, the structure of Nine Inch Nails is atypical. The band's only official, permanent member is Reznor, who writes and records the music mostly alone. Each album/touring cycle features a different cast of sidemen. This time, it's Cortini, guitarist Aaron White (ex-Icarus Line), bassist Jeordie White (ex-Marilyn Manson) and drummer Josh Freese (ex-A Perfect Circle). Despite its enigmatic frontman, Nine Inch Nails morphs into a collaborative unit on the road, Cortini said.

"Trent is used to working pretty much on his own from a creative point of view," Cortini said. "I was amazed, especially when I first came in, that a lot of it was left to me, in terms of how to take care of the parts I was supposed to play, how I would play them, what equipment I would use. It's definitely a different entity from the studio entity."

That live entity has, over the years, developed a reputation for spectacularly intense live shows -- audio-visual extravaganzas that often climax with the destruction of much equipment. Cortini said he was unsure what awaited him in the band.

"I was a little worried. I remember having to learn the stuff for the audition off the live DVD (2002's "And All That Could Have Been"), and I was like, man, I don't know if I'll be able to stand up and play with all this stuff flying around. But I think this is a different incarnation of the band. The whole show has developed differently than it used to be. But the answer is yes, I occasionally break a keyboard, but not as extensively as I heard it used to happen."

Though the instrument smashing may have tapered off a bit since the '90s, Cortini insists the shows retain the familiar intensity.

In addition to providing an elaborate visual experience, the band has reinterpreted much of the NIN catalog. Though "With Teeth" has sold well (it debuted atop the Billboard album chart) and received generally positive reviews, Reznor is likely to be remembered for 1994's "The Downward Spiral," a key release in the alternative rock canon. The band has revisited some of those classics -- "Closer," "Piggy," "Mr. Self Destruct," etc. -- to make the material relevant today.

"It's rearranged, especially old stuff that Trent has been playing for the past 12 years. You can imagine it gets boring after a while. So a lot of the old songs went through changes, either in arrangement or soundscape-wise, in a way for them to sound a little fresher or newer," Cortini said.

"Personally, as a fan, if I go see a band and they play a version live that is exactly like it is on the album, unless there's something interesting to look at, I just get bored. That's the other side of the show, the light show and the videos in the background. I remember being totally amazed when I was able to see a recording of how the show looks.

"It's a great audio-visual experience. I haven't seen anything quite like it. It's definitely a great show to see live."

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