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 Trent Reznor hits rock bottom, comes to terms with his addiction and embraces music again ...

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 Reznor explains why The Fragile didn't work and ropes in Dave Grohl for With Teeth ...

Page 3

 "I would hate to think I would ever be in a position where I'm faking it to get a paycheck." ...

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"What if all the world you think you know/ Is an elaborate dream?"
— "Right Where It Belongs"

Michael Trent Reznor was born in rural Mercer, Pennsylvania, raised mostly by his grandparents. After dropping out of college to pursue music full-time, he moved to Cleveland, where he eventually started Nine Inch Nails. After famously recording The Downward Spiral in the Los Angeles house where Charles Manson's followers murdered actress Sharon Tate, he used his riches to buy a funeral home in New Orleans and convert it into a mansion and state-of-the-art recording studio.

Natural Born Killers - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(nothing/Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group/Warner Brothers)

There, he produced Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, wrote and produced music for the "Natural Born Killers" and "Lost Highway" soundtracks, and oversaw several remixing projects, including one with his idol, David Bowie. He also recorded The Fragile there, shortly before coming to terms again with his alcohol and drug problems.

When he finally started what would become With Teeth, Reznor found himself haunted by the debauched memories of past recording sessions and decided to move to Los Angeles.

"I just needed a change of scenery," he says, scratching the stubble on his chin. "I also wanted to be around other people who do what I do. It's part of my nature to isolate, and I think living in New Orleans was a good way to hide from the world. And it worked for a while, but in the end I needed to get out of there."

Reznor insists he's not "the scene guy," but he does do a lot more mountain biking. "I've got more friends than I used to have," he adds. Most are sober.

Moving away from New Orleans also brought Reznor back to the method he used while writing 1989's Pretty Hate Machine.

"By the time I did Downward Spiral and The Fragile I had a studio to work in, so I would write in that environment," he explains. "What I found was that songwriting and the arranging and production and the sound design process became the same thing. A song would start with a drum loop or a visual and eventually a song would emerge out of it and that was the song. This time I got back to starting with lyrics and words and really separating the process into songwriting and arranging and production. And when I came out here I just set up a piano, drum machine and computer to record vocals into."

The Downward Spiral
(nothing/TVT/Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group)

The result is an album with piano on nearly every track. "When it came time to pick the best of the best and arrange them in the studio, I found a lot of the space the piano took up sat nicely," says Reznor. "It was an odd sound with violent live drums and this cold, brittle environment of a piano to anchor everything together."

With Teeth sounds nothing like The Fragile, which Reznor thinks was too long, too "soundscapey," and in some ways, too ambitious. This time he forced himself to write two songs every 10 days, and he recorded them even more quickly.

"If I come up with rules or limitations it focuses me in a direction," he explains. "And those rules can change if you realize it's a dumb idea. You start to mutate it to see what fits best. In this case one of the early concepts was I wanted it to sound played. Not like a garage band, necessarily, but with computers it's easy to fix things and make everything perfect, and sometimes you can lose an element of humanity and imperfection. And the message emotionally was to be a bit frail and unsure of yourself, so we treated things as performances."

Reznor, as usual, played most of the music himself, but he also brought in and coached members of the latest incarnation of Nails. With drummer Jerome Dillon, he often found himself asking the percussionist to play like Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters frontman/former Nirvana drummer who's also sat behind the kit for Queens of the Stone Age and Garbage.

"Finally I thought, 'Why don't I just call Dave and see if he'd do it?' " says Reznor, who met Grohl at a festival in Australia years ago. "A few days later we were in the studio. It really was a great experience. Not only is he a really nice guy, but as a musician, he brought an understanding to the material.

"One of the reasons I wanted to use real drums on this record, as opposed to programming, was I know what programming is going to yield," he continues. "I've done it and I'll do it again. I want the excitement of when you have an exciting guy playing an instrument. It takes it up a notch."

'I would hate to think I would ever be in a position where I'm faking it to get a paycheck.' ...
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Photo: Chapman Baehler

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 "The Hand That Feeds"
With Teeth
(Interscope Records)

 "March Of The Pigs"
The Downward Spiral
(nothing/TVT/Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group)

Natural Born Killers - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(nothing/Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group/Warner Brothers)

The Downward Spiral
(nothing/TVT/Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group)

(Interscope Records/The Atlantic Group)