Making industrial-strength music

January 18, 1991|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Nine Inch Nails

When: Tomorrow, Jan. 19, 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $10 in advance, $12.50 day of show.

Call: 752-3302 for information, 481-6000 for tickets.

If you're a typical rock radio listener, you've probably never heard Nine Inch Nails. It doesn't matter whether your taste runs toward Top-40, album rock or even alternative music; radio stations just don't play this band. As far as they're concerned, its sound -- built around raucous, screeching synths and a clanking, industrial beat -- is simply too intense for the average listener.

So how is it that Nine Inch Nails has amassed such a large and fervent following?

"I think the root is it's fun," answers head Nail Trent Reznor.

Speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Gainesville, Fla., he argues that listeners are drawn to his band precisely because its angry sound has such an edge.

"It's not safe yet," he explains. "It's still underground and on the cutting edge, and it's based on angst and a dissatisfaction with your surroundings. There's an ugliness to it that's appealing."

An appealing ugliness? That may seem an odd sentiment on the face of it, but to those who have grown up around urban noise and computer logic, the high-tech clangor of bands like Nine Inch Nails makes perfect sense.

Reznor still seems hesitant to call Nine Inch Nails an industrial dance band. "We're related to that genre in the sense that, yes, we're electronic; yes, we're aggressive; yes, some of the sounds we use are machine-like and ugly. But to me, those sounds are the industrial world's equivalent to distorted guitar in the metal world. The weight of the sound just has a power and anger to it."

Where Reznor parts company, however, is his approach to songwriting. With many industrial acts, there aren't tunes as such; instead, what usually gets passed off as a song is what Reznor describes as "a free-form groove with chanting over it." In some of the more extreme cases, the music almost seems like an endurance test, as if the performers were daring the listener to hang around.

Not Nine Inch Nails, though. Sift through "Pretty Hate Machine," the group's debut, and you'll hear definite melodies, choruses and hooks in the likes of "Head Like a Hole" or "Sin." Says Reznor, "When writing a song, I approach it from a more traditional pop song format. I'm concerned about the climax of the song, its structure and pacing, and so on."

As a result, Nine Inch Nails manages to remain accessible even as it avoids overt commerciality.

Reznor seems to enjoy his band's outsider status, and almost dreads the prospect of ever becoming a part of the mainstream. "I mean, I was one of those people who'd really like a band, and then when all of a sudden they'd break, well . . . it wasn't my secret anymore," he explains. "I had to find a new band. Even though that band may have kept their integrity, all of a sudden everyone's found out about them."

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