Nine Inch Nails “With Teeth”
In The Studio with Trent and Atticus

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Recording Drums and Bass
Reznor sits down at an 88 weighted-key controller that is nestled between Ross’ workstation and a rack of effects processors. As soon as the click track starts, Reznor hammers out a few sequences of drums, with perfect timing and precision—fills and all— via the keyboard. All I can think is “Wow. Those childhood piano lessons really paid off.”

When Reznor finishes playing, he turns to Ross and states, “Let me hear those.” Ross plays the drum tracks back and Reznor, deploying the quick decision making expertise that is evident in most world leaders, states, “Okay, I want part 1 followed by part 3, followed by part 2.” Ross politely accepts his mission and starts a flurry of editing in Pro Tools, slicing and dicing up the audio he’s recorded out of the virtual Battery sampler — hosted by Logic — into Pro Tools, and then quickly moves the trimmed bits of audio into a nice, clean arrangement.

Atticus and Trent
photo: rob sheridan

Meanwhile, Reznor turns, thinks and then speaks his next desire for the song in progress. “Next, I’m going to do a bass track and I think I’m going to use these three pedals...” Reznor speaks out loud the names of the pedals, and as he turns to his rack full of basses, picks one up and tunes it, the pedals almost magically appear before him, hooked up by his highly efficient studio assistant.

By the time Reznor is satisfied with his tuning (less than a minute from the initial contemplation of the bass part), Ross has the arrangement ready and the pedals are ready to be played through. Reznor begins recording his next part. After yet another stellar performance, I realize that the absence of studio musicians isn’t a control thing, it’s purely logistical. No studio musicians are required because Reznor is a virtuoso when it comes to probably every instrument short of the physical drums. And even then, he effortlessly masters drum programming and drum performance when triggering samples in Battery through a keyboard controller.

Reznor turns to Ross and says,“I like that. Let’s keep that order. Now I’d like to do a tambourine part.” He gets up and walks into the next room. Ross turns on the monitors to the live room where we can see Reznor slipping on some headphones and picking up a set of tambourines. Ross then plays Reznor the sequence and records the tambourines into Pro Tools alongside the drum and bass tracks. He quickly applies a little EQ and has a mix ready by the time Reznor walks back in the room.

Recording Guitars and Vox
Reznor listens and states, “Great. Now I’d like to do a guitar part. For this I’d like to run a couple pedals through the Diezel and the Vetta.” He again speaks the names of his desired pedals aloud, not even directly asking for them, but rather like he is merely contemplating his next step out loud.

Next Reznor walks to the guitar rack, picks up an axe and then sits down to tune it. By the time he’s ready to play, the bass pedals have been whisked away and replaced with the guitar ones. Reznor leans down, and within seconds tweaks the effects knobs, morphing the tone into that perfect Reznor sound that most effects plug-in companies now spend hours trying to emulate in their presets. And again, with perfect precision, Reznor plays a few guitar parts in and when satisfied, turns to Ross.

“I’d like to do some vocals now,” he says. “Can you bring up that really cool Native Instruments Vokator thing?” The studio assistant quickly appears with a mic stand, Blue microphone and three sets of headphones so we can all monitor the mix in real time. Reznor plays with a few different ideas and then finally turns to us and says, “Alright, that’s enough for now. Let’s get some dinner.”

About Recording
After having a bite to eat, Reznor, Ross and I sit down to discuss their theories on the current state of technology, recording and what they hoped to achieve with the new album. “I usually take a while between records if anyone hasn’t noticed,” says Reznor. “And a lot of times that is because we usually end up touring for a lengthy amount of time — and that takes a fair amount of effort on my part. After that, there’s usually a period of decompressing and figuring out what makes sense to approach next musically.

“When we did ‘The Fragile,’ there were certain parameters that established themselves as the way we were going to work,” says Reznor. “All of the songs were going to be written in the studio. We knew it was going to be a long process — we probably spent over two years recording almost every day. So the last thing I wanted to do on this record was start where that left off and just keep going. There’s a lot of left over stuff from ‘The Fragile’ that’s just not inspiring to me right now. So it took me a while to kind of see what seemed exciting to me.”

Next page: Reznor on Recording and New Technology

Nine Inch Nails

1. The End of Nothing
2. In the Studio with Trent
3. Technology and Recording
4. Synths: Soft and Hard
5. The New Face of NIN

Reaktor-driven Guitar Trax

“There have been a lot of experiments that have happened, like when we were working with Zach de la Rocha on some stuff, and on this record,” says Reznor. “We were looking for a guitar tone so we’d take some weird old guitar pedals and start looking at the wave forms that come out of them when the guitar goes through it. Then I would think, ‘In Reaktor I could build some insane guitar pedals. What if we were to use that as a preamp —like it’s a guitar pedal— send that out to the Diezel, and see what it sounds like?’

“And there you go — you can get a crazy-sounding guitar, yet in an organic and weird kind of way because it’s coming out of a guitar amp in the other room,” adds Reznor. “There have been lots of good things like that for this album.”

Yet the recording process for “With Teeth” was still a lot more low tech than the process Reznor used for earlier releases like “The Fragile.” “There’s a lot of gear in this room, but it’s a lot less refined and perfected. We’re not really doing things right. A lot of it is trying to get back to what we find inspiring.”

Embracing The Minimalist Within
Reznor describes his prior release, “The Fragile,” as some sort of sick quest to see how many tracks could fit into a single song. “A lot of the songs would just keep going and going and it was a different mindset then,” he says. “But this time around — mainly from a song-writing perspective — it’s minimal.

“My brain also might be damaged enough not to understand that many tracks,” jokes Reznor. “In the past, a part was usually double tracked. But there’s none of that this time around. It’s much more of a case where whatever’s in there needs to be there. That’s the aesthetic of the whole thing.”

Continued on next page

Useful Links

Past Reznor Interviews
TR: Alchemist of Melody

More NIN-related Interviews
Jerome Dillon Produces
Sound Design for NIN
Producer Alan Moulder
Remixer Chris Vrenna

Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine
The Downward Spiral
The Fragile
With Teeth
Year Zero
Ghosts I—IV
The Slip

Power Mac

Ableton Live
GRM Tools
Native Instruments
Pro Tools
Waldorf Attack

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