Talkin' The Talk With NIN's Reznor

ATN Toronto correspondent Peter Howell reports: "Silly" isn't the first word

to come to mind when describing the soul-stripping music of Nine Inch Nails.

Not when you hear what NIN leader Trent Reznor wants to do to us "like an

animal'' in the song "Closer.'' Nor his desire to "break it up . . . smash it

up," as heard in "March Of The Pigs," and as witnessed in his

fist-in-the-face Maple Leaf Gardens show here in Toronto last December.

But "silly" was Reznor's surprisingly critical view of some of his recent

live work, as he prepared to challenge our perceptions of NIN with the show

he brings this Wednesday (Sept. 20) to the SkyDome, alongside David

Bowie. He candidly admits he nearly burned on the idea of touring, after

taking his

1994 platinum-seller The Downward Spiral on a year-long tour, which

ended last February. "Sometimes we became a parody of what I wanted it to

be," Reznor, 30, said

from Hartford, Conn., where the NIN/Bowie tour began. "Equipment breaking and

stuff was what we got to be known for and were

expected to do. Before we went out, I wanted to present the most intense

light

show you could ever see and the most over-the-top theatrical performance...

but at times it slipped into silliness.

"At the time, it seemed the right thing to do," he continued. "But after

touring for a year with The Downward Spiral, I found myself mentally

in the state where I was sick of the way the band was represented. My heart

wasn't in it at the end. It just became a surreal, weird, non-creative

thing, doing the same songs, night after night. But right now, we've gone

out of our way to present things the exact opposite way: a very scaled-down,

stripped-down, stark approach, to put the emphasis back onto the music and

playing."

Reznor certainly wasn't intending to go back on the road this fall. Instead,

he and bandmates Chris Vrenna, Robin Finck, Danny Lohner and Charlie

Clouser--Reznor no longer considers NIN a one-man show--were intending to

record a new album, for release in November. But plans for a new album

switched to plans for a new tour, after the twin paths of circumstance for

Reznor and his biggest musical influence, Bowie, reached the same

destination.

When Reznor was compiling tracks for last year's Natural Born Killers

movie

soundtrack, one of his many side projects, he briefly considered using two

tracks from Bowie's 1993 album, The Buddha Of Suburbia. That didn't

happen, but the connection was made. And after Reznor sampled

Bowie recently for the remix track, "Self Destruction Part Two" (part of

Bowie's "Time" is heard in it), he was approached by the Thin White Duke

about the possibility of touring together "for three or four shows," Reznor

recalled.

"It would be fun," Bowie told him.

"My first thought was, `No,' I don't want to go back out again," Reznor

said.

But the chance to work with Bowie, and to reinterpret his own work along

with the master chameleon of rock, made Reznor change his mind. "I was

flattered he even knew who I was, let alone wanted to tour with me. We're

doing a few songs together (on stage) and it's going to be pretty

interesting."

Reznor just finished up six weeks of rehearsal to make it so. "We changed

a lot of the music around," he said. "A lot of new arrangements, playing some

stuff we didn't play before. We're not playing a lot of our classic hits,

because we're tired of them. Not in an effort to deny fans from hearing it,

but (the songs) just don't mean as much as they did at one time. So we're

playing music that means something to us again."

The songs still mean a lot to Reznor's audience, judging by the mash notes

that make it onto the Internet in the many NIN Web sites and newsgroups. And

Reznor has had to learn to accept his public image as being the standard

bearer for suicide cases, even though he accepts no responsibility for what

his art may cause distraught people to do. Says Reznor: "Because I've focused

on the emotions and feelings I have in the songs I've written, I'm obviously

not going to be portrayed as a well-rounded, pastel-wearing kind of

character.

"But one of the things I've struggled with in the last few years have been

my own idea of what Nine Inch Nails is," he said. "When I started out, I

thought it was

just one guy and that no one was necessarily going to like this, but I wanted

to do it and I needed to do it. And then it started to get bigger and bigger

and to a lot of people, the fact that we did Lollapalooza (on the inaugural

'91 Lolla tour) meant we were a big band."

NIN's appearance at Woodstock `94 last summer, where a mud-caked Reznor and

company led the fair's famous mud people hordes, further vaulted the band up

the pop charts. Lest you think Reznor is yet another whining, I-hate-fame

rocker, he's quick to flail that notion into submission. He's already gone

through such

angst, and emerged a better person if still a supremely gloomy one. "I went

through a denial phase of, `I don't want to be big,' which is complete and

utter stupidity. Then there's this whole confusing mindset that to have

integrity you have to be unsuccessful. If you have any success in any

department, you're accused of selling out. And that's a lot of s---."

Now Reznor's success can be measured in the brutal fact that even though

Bowie is the putative headliner for the tour, it's likely much of the

audience

at Wednesday's show--the younger people, at least--were attracted

by NIN. "I realize right now we're more in the public eye," Reznor said,

respectful of the fact that without Bowie's influence, there would be no NIN.

"I know there will be a faction of people that are there to see us. I just

hope they come out with open minds, willing to check out some other things."