Reznor's edge cuts NIN's bleak outlook
By Gary C.W. Chun for Honolulu Star Bulletin on September 14, 2007
Look at this tortured soul. Remember him? It's Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, as he appeared when he last performed here waaay back in 1994.
His angst-ridden industrial music was in its heyday. Working from his earlier hits -- "Head Like a Hole," "Terrible Lie" and "Wish" -- Reznor released what would be his career-making album, "The Downward Spiral."
The band did two incendiary shows at what was then the After Dark club on Nimitz Highway. It was such an event that music stars like Dr. Dre and David Gahan of Depeche Mode came to Hawaii to see the band in all its blinding glory.
Thirteen years later a different-looking and healthier Reznor returns to Honolulu to prove that Nine Inch Nails is still as relevant as ever. His dark music has moved from private dysfunction to a disturbing vision of a dystopian future.
Even though Trent Reznor's wasted Goth look is a thing of the past -- he's now bulked up with close-cropped hair -- there's no doubt he remains industrial rock's iconic figure. As wannabe acts have fallen by the wayside, he's now torchbearer for the genre, pretty much alone on his perch as Master of Angst.
After a five-year hiatus to get his life together, Reznor has been busy recording and touring, beginning with the '05 album "With Teeth."
It was like he never left, as he hit the ground running with breakout tracks "The Hand That Feeds" and "Only," a catchy piece inspired by synth-pop that reminded fans that Reznor occasionally gives his songs dance remixes to great effect.
Reznor's currently on tour to support an album released earlier this year, the conceptual and multitextured "Year Zero." What once was private pain has expanded into his take on a near future of catastrophic proportions.
"Year Zero" takes place about 15 years from now. Reznor has described its setting: "If you imagine a world where greed and power continue to run their likely course, you'll have an idea of the backdrop. The world has reached the breaking point -- politically, spiritually and ecologically. Written from various perspectives of people in this world, 'Year Zero' examines various viewpoints set against an impending moment of truth."
(The album's packaging includes opposing panels showing hands clutching a Bible on one side and a submachine gun on the other.)
Perhaps he'll find some brief respite in "paradise" when Nine Inch Nails plays Honolulu on Tuesday, concluding an exhaustive world tour that started Aug. 1 in Moscow, wending its way through Eastern and Western Europe, Britain, Israel, Asia and Sydney.
Speaking by phone Wednesday from somewhere between gigs in Seoul and Hong Kong, Reznor was low-key, firm but accommodating.
And he had some unexpected news to tell.
"YOU ARE getting the last show of the current incarnation of the band."
Although Reznor's touring band of drummer Josh Freese, guitarist Aaron North, bassist Jeordie White and keyboardist Alessandro Cortini are excellent support players, "at this point, I want to switch things around a bit. Nine Inch Nails as a rock band configuration, we've done it and we've done it again. I see other ways I can present the material in concert, more challenging, something new. I don't want it to go stale."
This group has toured together for two years, he said. "It's a well-rounded concert, a good collection of songs from different records."
If the show approximates the high production values seen on the 2006 tour DVD, "Beside You in Time," it should make for quite a spectacle, blinding strobe lights included.
"The show evolves, like a film," Reznor said. "It has a flow to it. And it'll be not what you saw on the DVD. It'll be cooler than that."
But the time has come to dial back.
"The idea of five guys playing loud music two hours, while it's the culmination of fine tuning over a lot of years, has got to change once finances come into play, especially performing in markets outside of the mainland U.S. I want to whittle things down."
Reznor was initially hesitant about doing this part of the world tour because of the expense. "But when you see a lot of people who don't speak English, knowing every word of your songs, that's pretty motivating and inspiring. And it helps that I have new management, a new head on my shoulders and the Internet to use."
MUCH OF the buzz surrounding "Year Zero" was created by an imaginative marketing scheme that exploited the Internet to its fullest. "It's the right medium for the content of this record. ... There are too many limitations that record labels use for artists. It's the old business model. With the Internet, everyone's a publisher, and it's kind of liberating to be able to write on my Web site, uncensored, for better or worse."
Part of Reznor's expanded vision came from the ruin Hurricane Katrina left behind.
"I lived In New Orleans off and on since 1990. I love that city, and I still consider it the closest place to home, even though I now live in Los Angeles. When I watched that place being destroyed, not so much by nature, but by negligence and incompetence, it was heartbreaking."
The storm hit two months before the Voodoo Music Experience, "one of the coolest fests in the U.S. Once the shock wore off of watching what happened on TV for weeks on end, I told the promoter, who's a good guy, 'Here's a way we can still pull this off that doesn't place more strain on the remaining infrastructure.'
"We basically played for free, and the festival was done on a smaller scale, basically for the recovery workers. It was the first time I'd been back, and it was overwhelming.
"The whole Katrina scenario made it very personal," Reznor said. "I'm already no fan of George Bush and his ideology on any level, and when that disaster hit, I felt it was a personal insult and outrage, and it certainly poured gasoline on the fire."
And you'll feel that fury come Tuesday night.
Transcribed by JessicaSarahS