Behind The New Nine Inch Nails With Adrian Belew

Originally published in Launch.com on December 24, 1998

The long-awaited new album by Nine Inch Nails may still not have a firm release date ("sometime in 1999" is all that Interscope Records is saying at the moment) or even a definite title (the most recently aired contender is The Fragile, but that's said to be tentative). Yet one thing's pretty certain: at least a few of its songs will feature the talents of King Crimson guitar wizard Adrian Belew.

Earlier this year, Belew spent a couple of weeks in the studio with head Nail Trent Reznor laying down a bunch of tracks; he previously guest-starred on two songs on NIN's last album, 1994's The Downward Spiral. In a recent conversation with myLAUNCH, Belew discussed the work he did with Reznor and what fans can hope to hear whenever the album finally appears.

"This time," Belew says, "I was in for a longer stay. On The Downward Spiral, I was in for just two days, and that was when they were almost finished with the record--there wasn't much room to play. When I went back this time, Trent wanted to get me in on it earlier, so that I was more a part of the music. He was working on about 40 tracks; some of them sounded like Nine Inch Nails and some of them sounded different. We spent long hours in the studio, and I played a number of instruments for him--string bass, cello, lap steel, mandolin, and a lot of electric guitar. I played so much guitar stuff. I'm anxious to see what made the cut, but you never know how much they'll use. Obviously, I can't say because I don't know, but I do know I did a lot of playing."

One of the reasons for this surplus of electric guitar parts was because Belew played each song a number of different ways, each one of which was recorded. "Sometimes there may have been a quick discussion beforehand where he'd say, 'I'm hoping for something like this,' but most of the time he'd just let me go. What I'd usually do is give him four or five options. So I'd play all the way through and when we'd had enough of that, I'd say, 'How about this?' That's why there's so much stuff. Later, he and his engineers were all laughing and saying, 'You just gave us a lot of work, to sort through all of this.' But it was immensely fun."

According to Belew, many of the parts he played were highly intense, a quality that Reznor would often take several steps further. "There were times when I thought I was getting pretty hot, and then he'd get down on the floor and add in another effect," he says with a gleeful laugh. "It was like a two-man guitar team there."

Part of the fun for Belew at these sessions came simply from watching Reznor work. "I think Trent makes amazing-sounding records. I was really fascinated with the way he makes records. I have my own studio and I make records a certain way, but he makes records a very different way, which was interesting to watch." For his part, Reznor seemed pleased with Belew's work: "I know that he's a big fan of the [late-'70s] David Bowie era of my playing, and I guess he must have liked what I did the first time [on The Downward Spiral] because he gave me a call again. I think it's going to be a terrific record, and I'm really happy that I was able to do it."

Coincidentally, Belew just received in the mail his own framed copy of the quadruple-platinum certification for The Downward Spiral, which he plans to hang up in a privileged corner of his studio. "I put all that stuff on the walls; I don't hide it away in my closet. It does mean something, to tell you the truth. It's an achievement, and I don't think there's anything wrong with feeling that way about it."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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