Trent Reznor has some modest goals for Nine Inch Nails' summer tour: "I want you to leave feeling like your head exploded," he says backstage at the Forum in Inglewood, California, where his band is rehearsing. It's a fitting goal for a guy who has spent the past year blowing up many of the standard practices of the modern music business.
After completing his contract with Interscope Records, Reznor released Ghosts I-IV, a double instrumental record, in packages ranging from a $5 download to a $300 deluxe set. With no advance warning, he followed up in May with The Slip, an album free for download from his Website. Reznor's giveaway of The Slip went smoothly – more than a million people downloaded it – but he has some misgivings, worrying that he's contributing to an environment that devalues music and exploits musicians. "People feel it's their right to get stuff free," he says. "I don't agree with it, but I understand it. I think that's a fight you can't win. So then how can you treat fans with respect and treat yourself with respect? By experimenting." Reznor rejected the Radiohead scheme of letting fans decide what to pay for the album. "It gives them too much power," he says. "I'm not saying that you have to pay for it, but don't tell me that it's worth 50 cents." The Slip is now also available as a CD-DVD package, in a limited edition of 250,000, and it debuted at Number 13 when it was released in July. "People who want something physical at a reasonable price, they can get something that has value to them," he says.
Reznor is talking during a break from rehearsals at the Forum; he's wearing a black T-shirt and drinking a Diet Hansen's Soda. While his music is full of howling battles between the id and the superego, offstage he's calm with a sharp sense of humor. "I'm just an actor playing me," he jokes. "Puff Daddy and the real me are on a yacht somewhere."
The show's production was complicated enough to require weeks of rehearsal, which meant Reznor had to wrangle teams of technicians. "I didn't go to leadership class," he says. "But I'm having to transform from being an asshole to being a full-on dick." When problems arise, Reznor doesn't throw tantrums; he just wields his wit like a knife. "Are the smoke machines here?" he asks the techie manning the light board.
"Yes!" shouts the techie.
"Why, may I ask, is it completely smoke-free in here, then?"
Reznor is joined on this tour by four other musicians: drummer Josh Freese, multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (formerly with Beck) and guitarist Robin Finck, who has returned to NIN after a decade with Guns n' Roses. Reznor remembers telling a previous guitarist that it didn't matter how he played "Terrible Lie" as long as he got across the message "Fuck you." Now, in what Reznor thinks might be a sign of growing older (he's 43), he prefers to work with musicians who can play their instruments.
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