After riding the rock roller coaster down, Trent Reznor heads back up

By Kevin Johnson for ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH on October 13, 2005

Trent Reznor is talking - talking so much, in fact, that it's hard to shut him up.

And that's great news for Nine Inch Nails fans. The enigmatic, typically press-shy singer is opening up about everything - from overcoming substance abuse to Nine Inch Nail's new CD and tour. Reznor even weighs in on how he really feels about Franz Ferdinand.

"Their record kind of sucks," he says. "It doesn't speak to me on any level emotionally or purposefully. They're a band you're meant to think is cool because they're marketable." Reznor is kinder to the Strokes. "I think they're an OK band, though they're not the future of rock 'n' roll, even if they're marketed that way."

Those with short memories might ask what gives Reznor the right to go off on Franz Ferdinand. But not long ago, Reznor was one of the rulers of the '90s modern-rock scene, right along with Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan. The two-time Grammy-winning Nine Inch Nails was the industrial-techno band of the decade, peaking with 1994's "The Downward Spiral," which sold more than 4 million copies and featured "Closer" and "Hurt," a song later provocatively covered by Johnny Cash.

But Nine Inch Nails hasn't been heard from since 1999's 2 million-selling "The Fragile." "A lot of things have changed since 1999," Reznor admits. "Whole genres of music have come and gone." While prepping for his return, Reznor says he asked himself, "Can I still write music? Do I have anything to say? Does anyone still care?"

The answers are yes all around. Testing the waters, Reznor first booked a spring theater tour, which he followed with the new CD, "With Teeth." That disc sold 272,000 copies its first week out, topping the Billboard 200. "The last thing I expected was to debut at No. 1," says Reznor. "It doesn't mean anything. I happened to come out on a week in which Kanye West didn't come out."

When pressed, Reznor acknowledges it's more than that. "I'd like to think it's because there's something unique being said, and said with integrity. Throughout the course of Nine Inch Nails, I tried to keep it precious and not sell out, not turn it into primarily a money-making device, and instinctively make the best music I can."

It's noteworthy that Reznor is still in the game. His own downward spiral into drugs and alcohol put the future of Nine Inch Nails in question. "What I learned on the last record is the roller coaster of a career is fun when you're going up and not so fun when you're going down. You never think it will happen to you when you're the guy selling out arenas. But then you're not the flavor of the month, you're not 20 years old anymore, and, wow, you become a drug addict. I watched 'Behind the Music' but never thought I would be the guy on it.

"When I finished my last tour in 2000 (for 'The Fragile'), I was a mess. I figured I would either die or get better. I decided to take some time to get my life in order."

Reznor says his career was launched like a bullet from a gun with 1989's "Pretty Hate Machine," and he's been going ever since. As a result, he never spent time on his family and friends or "developing himself as a human being. This led to a place of utter despair for me, so in 2001 I did whatever it took to get clean."

He started writing "With Teeth" in early 2004. Inspiration came easily "now that I wasn't fighting my way through the fog of being hung over."

Reznor says he set out to make a more concise record, "one that was the antithesis of 'The Fragile,' which was complex. Songs flowed into each other, and it was layered. This record I wanted to be as stripped down as possible. I wanted it to be more real, more organic, not overly fixed or chopped up. At the end of the day, it reminds me of 'Pretty Hate Machine.' "

Since the release of "With Teeth," which has sold more than 500,000 copies, Nine Inch Nails has taken its tour from theaters to arenas, and the band appears at Savvis Center Friday. (Two shows were postponed after drummer Jerome Dillon fell ill; Alex Carapetis is the new drummer).

The tour is heavy on production and visuals. "I get involved with the set design, lighting and the use of film because I always hated seeing bands in arenas," Reznor says. "They usually suck. You're not meant to see rock shows there. You're meant to see a basketball game. In approaching the idea of arenas, I asked, 'What can I do in arenas I can't do elsewhere?' I tried to make it unique, help frame the music, and make it more like theater, so it starts at one place and winds up at another."

You might say the same of Reznor's life, which is finally at a new place of peace and maturity. In making that journey, Reznor also rediscovered his interest in music. "I'd forgotten I love music. But in my time off, I've found I do love making music and listening to music. I've been fortunate enough to make music people have been interested in and not have a real job."

Nine Inch Nails

With Queens of the Stone Age and Autolux

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Savvis Center, 1401 Clark Avenue

How much: -.50

More info: 314-241-1888

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