Chris Vrenna: Flexible Head Magazine

Originally published in Flexible Head Magazine on May 1, 1996

"The responses seem real positiveto the two shows we've played so far."

Chris Vrenna is talking about NIN Australian 'Alternative Nation' shows on the east coast early last year. Nine Inch Nails braved the muddy, cold and wet conditions (which led to many technical problems) to show Australia why they are know as one of the best live bands in the world. Chris is the reason why Nine Inch Nails cancelled their much anticipated Australian tour over a year ago."Yeah that was me," he says apologetically. "I ended up in the hospital that whole week [with a hernia], it was the beginning of the tour, so we had to take care of our medical problems right away."

After waiting for a lengthy period in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, I apprehensively call Konobe's (Chris's code name) room. (I was told that the band were in bad moods--probably due to the terrible weather.) Chris answers and gives the OK to do the inter view.

He'd just eaten dinner with the rest of the band and tells me a story about the trouble they had communicating with their Chinese waitress. "She was speaking really bad broken English with an American accent, it was so cute. She couldn't understand us, we couldn't understand her."

The band had actually finished their world tour, moved to New Orleans and were looking for places to live when the offer of a lot of money lured them back on the road to tour Australia. Chris mentions that the costs involved in coming here are quite stagg ering due to having so much equipment and about 19 road crew. They also brought their whole stage with them including rises, poles and lights.

"It would be different if we played clubs," explains Chris. "Because it would be just the instruments and that's it. But because there were so many people to see us, we needed to bring our stage with us. The promoters made it worth our while.

Fortunately, I was able to watch NIN live from the side of the stage, avoiding the rain and the large muddy crowd. The band opened with Pinion, then the thin curtain flew up and Mr Self Destruct began. Highlights were Gave Up and Reptile, crowd pleasers b eing well known favourites Head Like a Hole and Closer. It was an awesome show including the classic moment when Trent bolted side stage making everyone jump back while he threw himself on the mixing desk to rip a few buttons off in pure frustration (ie, due to the fact he couldn't hear himself sing).

In 1989, NIN's debut album Pretty Hate Machine was released. The inner booklet includes the statement: "Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor." At that early stage Chris Vrenna was assisting Trent but until now they've never had any consistent members. The live band, Chris Vrenna (drums), Danny Loehnor (bass), Robin 'Queenie' Finck (guitars) and Charlie Clouser (keyboards), have been together for over a year now. Whilst admitting to a previous mentality of " 'We hate everybody', let's just use this guitar player for this tour," Chris describes a more stable environment these days. "All five of us now live in New Orleans. We finally found a place to set up our reco rding studio right before we left to come here. As soon as we get back, we're gonna set that up and y'know, try to do the record as a group."

Nine Inch Nails are superstars in the US. They've sold millions of records and they are pretty much popular worldwide. How has the incredible success affected Trent and his friendship with Chris? "We're still best friends. It's tough, it's different. The success of the band is different on each of us individually because he's the famous one. It's his face on the cover of Rolling Stone and Spin."

Trent still writes the lyrics and music so the focus is on him. In the US he can't go anywhere without being recognised. Chris says that Trent is a very private person and the constant harassment drives him mad. Personally I'm sick to death of reading abo ut Trent and Courtney, Trent and Tori, Trent and the Manson house etc etc. How does Chris feel about Trent receiving all the attention, wouldn't he like a share?

"Well since the band is technically kinda just him, since he writes everything... I'm like this little known name on all the records y'know and no one knows who the hell I am. Sometimes it's a little like...[his facial expression says yes.] Sometimes thou gh, more times than not, I kinda like that. I don't have to deal with that stuff."

Talking about his friendship with Trent, Chris mentions that for a 9 month span in late 1991, he left the band and toured as KMFDM's drummer for the 'Money' tour. "For several months, due to mental problems I was having, Trent and I went through a phase of friendship where we just hated each other. We just needed a break." "It's tough for us cos he's the boss. It's kind of like we wear different hats. It's 'you're my boss' when he's in work mode, and 'Chris, I need you to sample this' etc and then work gets done and it's like... change hats and 'OK let's go and get a pizza and have a few beers.' It's just trying to keep the Communication open all the time. So we do tick each other off and get irritated."

Most magazine articles focus on Trent's gloominess, depression, the black look. The mainstream press have used this as an exploitative technique to sell their story. Chris admits that it has gotten out of control. "It's interesting to read that, since his lyrics are really personal, like he's the most depressing individual on earth. He's this vampire and he's suicidal and he lives in this scary Sharon Tate house... For fuck's sake!!"

Trent doesn't play down the dark image. Perhaps this is because it is all part of being in NIN. So what does Trent think about this interpretation of his personality?

Nine Inch Nail's song 'Closer' came in at Number 2 on Triple J's Hottest100 songs for 1995. 'I want to fuck you like an animal' broke NIN into Australia's mainstream market. Mainstream, it seems, has embraced NIN, rather than NIN embracing it. "That's exactly what it is," agrees Chris. "You've seen that coming for years now ever since Nirvana put Bon Jovi out of business."

Due to this sudden increase in popularity it's become 'uncool' to like NIN. The Downward Spiral is much less commercial than the synth pop album Pretty Hate Machine, but people still insist that NIN have sold out. Chris mentions that they went through the same backlash in America about two years ago.

"It's like that poppy commercial record (Downward Spiral) has been out for two years now and it's the same exact record you bought two years ago. And we didn't go out and buy a million copies of it." At the moment 'industrial', for want of a better term, is very popular, but the mainstream buyers are so fickle. What's popular changes so quickly. NIN will always have their dedicated fans but does Chris think that they will be popular for much longer?

"I don't know... but most importantly, we really don't care. We started off, especially in America, as a club band. With club remixes and doing the underground industrial thing when all the clubs were playing that kind of music, somehow it exploded into t his gigantic thing and y'know... after a record or two, it blows away. We're into making music we want to make and doing the tours we want to do." Are you enjoying the success? "Yeah, I am actually. It's all I've wanted to do since I was 6 years old, and I get to do it playing the music I like doing."

Chris Vrenna is the drummer, so I had to ask him whether he was the brunt of 'drummer' jokes. "Uh, no actually. I'm the brunt of all the jokes in the band. Since we make most of our music in the studio with computers, samples and stuff, I don't get to play a lot in the studio. We program everything which is fine. I love computers. But I get the co mputer vs. the live person jokes."

Talking about jokes I asked if Chris had heard the song 'Closer to Hogs' by Nine Inch Richards. For those of you who don't know, it is a poorly done pisstake of 'closer' including animal noises.

"Some representatives of him showed up in Sydney and dropped a stack of them to the band. It's ridiculous, it's funny. I really don't know what to make of it. It's not insulting I don't think, but you kind of hear it and go, 'Oh god!' "Six months later I'm watching NIN in Washington DC supporting David Bowie. To be honest I actually missed openers Prick and NIN due to traffic jams in New York. Luckily Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell was in the car to make the 4 hour journey to DC highly amusing. Arriving at the venue, streams of teenagers wearing NIN shirts were leaving (obviously David Bowie had started playing.) These fans didn't seem to realise they were missing one of the best songwriters in the world. At least I got to see about five songs.

I had a lot of preconceived ideas about NIN from reading articles over the past five years and those ideas changed after meeting Trent and talking to the rest of the band. Everything about NIN is so perfect, so well executed. From their stage show, to mar keting the band, to what they wear after the show. Trent has everything under control.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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