Bye-bye Beck, hello Trent Reznor

Bassist talks NIN tour and Gene Simmons' gum-chewing style

By Matt Wake for upstatelink.com on October 28, 2008

Now that he's playing bass with Nine Inch Nails, Justin Meldal-Johnsen leaves his vintage gear at home.

He became known for using old-school instruments while recording and touring with Beck and Gnarls Barkley, and although NIN is a bit of a stylistic leap, the reason Meldal-Johnsen switched to newer axes is purely pragmatic.

"If Trent (Reznor, NIN front man) throws a mike stand I don't want to have to block it with a ,000 '60s Precision bass," he says.

Even without his last three jobs, Meldal-Johnsen's resume is prolific. He's cut tracks with a schizophrenic list of artists, including Mars Volta, Air, Courtney Love, Garbage, Macy Gray and The Dixie Chicks.

Now he's signed on for NIN's 2008 tour, and is psyched to be playing tunes from the group's flurry of recent releases, including "The Slip" and "Ghosts I-IV."

How do rehearsals for a Nine Inch Nails tour differ from rehearsals for a Beck or Gnarls Barkley tour?

It's extremely production heavy. There's equal emphasis between how the music is rendered and getting the sounds together and rehearsing production.

You have these semi-opaque LED curtains, HD video walls, laser sensors and all this. You have to rehearse that kind of stuff. It surprised me the time we needed for all that -- and we needed all of it.

On a big Beck tour, you'd rehearse for six weeks but it would be strictly on a musical level. Maybe a couple of days with production. This is just a whole other ball game.

What attracted you to the NIN gig?

When I first got the call that Trent wanted to meet with me, I thought about all the live DVD stuff I'd seen of Nails and the new CD "The Slip," which is very much up my alley.

So I went to go and meet Trent and we had like a three or four hour meeting at his house. His personality really reeled me in. The other thing that was attractive to me was the "Ghost" music.

What we've done is basically created a modern, flexible chamber group that plays rock shows. I started rehearsing the music and realized I could make this my own, big-time. It's just like putting on a different suit.

How much direction does Trent give you for the bass lines?

Some times a part needs to be exact and sometimes it's like "Dude, just make it sound good." He'll be literally that general. He just lets you go and if he doesn't like it, he'll qualify it.

How has your bass rig changed for NIN?

Basically it's left the world of vintage tube amplifier and big, giant speaker cabinets. That world is behind me. Everything has to be able to move around on little risers. But my tone hasn't really changed, frankly; I'm putting a big hairy sound next to the new stuff.

Could you tell me a couple of stories from your teenager days working at Cherokee Recording Studios in L.A.?

I met Lou Reed, and he was just chill, New York, leather jacket -- everything you'd expect out of Lou Reed.

And then, for a little contrast, you get Gene Simmons. There was a studio listening party for one of those (Kiss) records with the guitar player that was not Ace Frehley.

People were like, "Justin, Gene Simmons is out there; go help him park his car." It was a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud or something else really ostentatious.

I go out there and say "Hi, Mr. Simmons," and he doesn't say a word, just flips me the keys, chewing gum loudly, sunglasses on and walks right by me. Of course, he would do that. And then later I walked in on him making-out with some girl during the listening party.

Your parents spun a lot of records when you were growing up. What were some of the most important for you?

My parents had every Beatles record, every Stones records and a lot of soul stuff: Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, James Brown and all that. Incredible String Band -- weird psychedelic music.

My parents were pretty hardcore hippies, had a lot of records and loved turning me on to things. It was a great way to grow up. The first record I ever bought was "The Wall."

Transcribed by JessicaSarahS

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