Nails leader still sharp

Trent Reznor talks about travails and changes of band set to play at the Wachovia Arena

By TIM PRATT for Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre) on November 4, 2005

On the surface, it might seem strange to be talking about Nine Inch Nails in 2005.

The dark and aggressive band, which plays the Wachovia Arena on Sunday, had banked its career largely on the raw, emotion-fueled angst and aggression of front man Trent Reznor.

Albums “Pretty Hate Machine” and “The Downward Spiral” (with hits like the R-rated “Closer” and the poignant ballad “Hurt”) catapulted Reznor to tortured-idol status in the mid-’90s.

But the five-year wait for a follow-up resulted in the overambitious double album “The Fragile” in 1999, a decent but certainly not legendary work. It seemed like Nine Inch Nails had peaked.

Six years later, Reznor seems hungrier and more focused than ever, armed with a powerful new disc, “With Teeth,” that feels more like the proper follow-up to “Spiral.” He also has a whole new band and a whole new attitude — he’s given up drugs and alcohol.

There’s a positive vibe coming from the 40-year-old Pennsylvania native that seems a bit out of sorts for the notorious brooder.

Unfortunately, Reznor hasn’t completely escaped drama. Drummer Jerome Dillon, whose heart-related problems spurred the cancellation of the current tour’s Sept. 16 opener in San Diego midway through the performance, was forced to leave the tour after experiencing more chest pains. That happened just hours after this interview was conducted, so Reznor did not yet know he’d be looking for a new drummer.

Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle) filled in for Dillon beginning with the Salt Lake City performance Oct. 4.

Q: What happened when Dillon had to leave the stage during the San Diego show?

A: All I know is that 45 minutes in, he messed up the song before a little bit, and I looked back at him and just said, “Hey, it’s cool. We recovered.” And he kept trying to get my attention, and I was like, “It’s all right, man. It’s cool. Let’s move on.” And then I see him get up, and I thought, “Man, this guy’s coming up to apologize to me.” But then I realized ... he said, “Look, my heart’s freaking out. Something’s really wrong. I’m sorry, I have to stop the set for a minute.” And then he ran off the stage. … He spent the night in the hospital, got checked out the next day, and then we had a show the next day we had to cancel because we didn’t know what the results were going to be.

Q: Who else is playing with you?

A: I have a new band this time around. ... I have Jeordie White playing bass; Alessandro Cortini plays keyboards, and Aaron North, who used to be in the Icarus Line, is playing guitar.

Q: Did those guys record with you at all in the studio for “With Teeth,” or is that the touring band?

A: I got this band together after I finished the record. And the idea behind it was I wanted some guys who were fresh and felt that they could play the new album the best. This new album’s a lot more live and a less kind of production-heavy, and I wanted to get guys that meant it and felt could hold their own based on the instrumentation of the new record.

Q: How has the audience changed over the past decade or so?

A: It’s been five years since I’ve been on stage, for this cycle, and during that time I’ve gone away to get my life in order and get clean and get my head screwed on straight. So, approaching this cycle, it was like, “Well, let me see if I can write a record,” and it’s like “Wow, I wrote a really good record and I feel good about it. All right, let’s tour. Let me see if it feels right.” And it does feel right.

Time has passed and who is the audience? The weirdest thing now is that, when I look out at the crowd, it looks the same as it did 10 years ago. It’s still kids, you know? Ten rows back, you’ll see older people. ... It’s an interesting blend of people, and I really couldn’t ask for a better cross-section because I was really afraid that ... when it feels like Nine Inch Nails has become the nostalgia band, it’s time for it not to be Nine Inch Nails. When and if that day comes, it’s time for a long, hard look in the mirror.

Q: I know you lived in New Orleans for a long time. Were you at all affected by Hurricane Katrina personally, and if so what happened?

A Certainly. I had been living in New Orleans for about 14 years ; I moved down there in 1990 from Cleveland. I just sold my house there a few months ago ... and I still had the studio in New Orleans. It survived the flooding, but it’s water-damaged and filled with mold now. I saw some pictures of a lot of my favorite old keyboards with green mold all over ’em, so ...

How do I feel about it? I can’t say I didn’t feel some pain while looking at some photos of that stuff, but it’s just stuff. It’s just gear, and it’s just a building. ... I’m grieving a city that I think has been murdered. I’m grieving the place that I love.

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