Reznor gets back to discipline

By Jim Abbott for Orlando Sentinel on October 25, 2005

Trent Reznor left New Orleans long before Katrina hit, but his time in the city left its own personal devastation.

"One of the reasons I liked that place was that it was a good place to isolate and hide from the world," Reznor says. "I successfully did that for a number of years."

The soul of industrial-rock icon Nine Inch Nails, which performs tonight at TD Waterhouse Centre, Reznor always has imbued his music with tormented and self-destructive themes. There's a similar bleakness to the material on Reznor's new album, With Teeth, but he is no longer living it.

He has moved from a converted funeral parlor/recording studio in the Big Easy to a room with a view in Los Angeles. His painful battles with substance abuse finally seem to be in the rearview mirror, and he is learning again to enjoy what he does.

"What it comes down to is that, for quite some time, I had a problem with drugs and alcohol, and I wasn't at a point where I could honestly assess it," Reznor says. "It took me getting to a terrible, terrible place to do whatever it takes to get over that. That process, which started in 2001, took a few years of trying to not feel bad about myself."

No longer alone

Reznor has moved from isolation to L.A.'s industry-intensive environment, where he writes songs in a room overlooking a canyon.

"I want to get around my peers, people who do what I do. I want to be able to walk into the record label and have a fight with them when I feel like it.

"I wanted to get out of the kind of ruts I had gotten into in New Orleans. Those things that eat up your time, I got rid of all of those. It started me on a new appreciation for discipline."

As he conquered his demons, Reznor uncovered a surprise.

"I relearned my appreciation for music. I realized that I love music; I love playing it, writing it, being involved in it.

"It was something else that drugs and alcohol took away from me. Now there's the feeling like I've emptied my closet of [stuff] I've been carrying around. I hate the cliches attached to the word 'reborn,' but it does feel like I have a new lease on things. I'm glad my heart's beating."

Reznor's heart is particularly attached to the current NIN tour, which he boyishly calls the "coolest stage show of anybody in the world." Critics have generally agreed, with the St. Paul, Minn., Pioneer Press stating that "an impossibly robust and lusty Reznor looked and played like a man half his age."

Reznor, 40, admits that playing arenas isn't his idea of the ultimate concert experience, but he thinks he has found a way to adapt.

"I'm proud of the way we present the band, because playing an arena is a bummer on a number of levels. But we tried to see the positives. I can take out interesting production that works in a big room as a way to frame the music to make it sound better."

Reznor's goal was to present more than a collection of songs.

"We put in a lot of effort with the set and the light show. My goal is to turn our arena concert into something that flows like a movie or a play from one place to another and then ends up somewhere else. Before the record came out, we did a different kind of show. This is a much more cerebral thing that still rocks."

From destructive to organic

Along the way, Reznor's inclination toward wild and destructive stage antics has been tempered, a transition that he describes as organic.

"It's hard for me to be objective about that," he says. "The thing I'm most concerned about is relevance and how it felt to me. If it doesn't feel legitimate to me, then I can't imagine it would feel legitimate to anybody else."

When Reznor first started rehearsing for the tour, he "cautiously" approached his new music, then worked his way backward through such albums as The Fragile (1999), The Downward Spiral (1994) and Pretty Hate Machine (1989).

"There's nothing that seems obligatory, and I think that comes across on stage," he says. "I also feel differently. I feel older, but it still feels vital to me. It still feels like something real is happening onstage."

The tour hasn't been without its bumps. Drummer Jerome Dillon had to be replaced by Alex Carapetis after his chest pains forced the band to cut short and reschedule a show in San Diego and postpone another date in Tucson, Ariz.

Otherwise, Reznor is happier on the road than he ever has been.

"When we actually do play, we're awesome," he says of a band that also includes Icarus Line guitarist Aaron North. Reznor also is making time to write material for the next Nine Inch Nails album, though it's unclear if that will shorten his notoriously long gestation period between releases.

"I'm getting back to the discipline where I can artistically justify touring for a long period of time by telling myself I can get writing done in the process. If I wasn't doing anything creative, I'd go out of my mind."

Bow down before the one you serve: Trent Reznor (2nd from left) is Nine Inch Nails, but he tours with (from left) Jeordie White, Jerome Dillon (since replaced by Alex Carapetis), Aaron North and Allesandro Cortini.

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