The year 2009 was the 20th anniversary of Nine Inch Nails jolting the music world with the electric shock of "Pretty Hate Machine," and Trent Reznor chose to celebrate by putting the band to rest.
"I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while," he announced while unveiling plans for a Wave Goodbye Tour with Jane's Addiction, the band NIN shared the bill with on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour.
The tour wrapped up in LA that September and Nine Inch Nails was buried... until late 2011 when Mr. Reznor announced that he was writing with his old band in mind. The result is Nine Inch Nails album No. 8, "Hesitation Marks," and the Tension 2013 tour that stops at the Petersen Events Center Tuesday.
Looking back on 2009, he said in a phone interview last week, "I really thought that was the end of touring with Nine Inch Nails. It wasn't any kind of marketing plan or trick. We had toured for about four or five solid years, on and off, and it was starting to feel like I'd done all I could do in that context. I wanted to force myself to get to some of the other things on the list of things I'd like to do in my life that never get done when you're in that cycle of album-tour, album-tour."
To no one's surprise, he didn't sit around watching "Judge Judy." During the hiatus, Mr. Reznor -- who grew up in Mercer and graduated from Mercer High School before moving on to Allegheny College -- married singer Mariqueen Maandig and they had two sons, Lazarus Echo and Balthazar, just a year apart. Somehow, the couple managed to launch the side project How to Destroy Angels and release an EP and full-length album.
Most notably, Mr. Reznor added to his trophy case of two NIN Grammys by winning an Academy Award for his work with fellow composer/producer Atticus Ross scoring the David Fincher film "The Social Network" and another Grammy for the score to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
"It was very surreal," he said. "It was unexpected, because I had an opportunity to work on a score with someone who I think is an incredibly smart and talented filmmaker. I was lucky to even have the option to work with David Fincher, and as we worked on the film, Atticus Ross and myself, we were just interested in doing the best job we could do, and we enjoyed the film, we enjoyed working on it, we enjoyed the people we were working with. When we finished, we thought the film was great and we thought the music worked well with it, and someone mentioned, 'You guys could be up for an Oscar.' That never even crossed my mind. I just never thought about it. And when it actually started to become reality, it was just weird because there's a whole campaign around that. There's a million events you go to -- speaking events, screenings for different people in the industry. The whole process is weird and kind of cool. To be able win it -- sorry to keep saying 'weird' -- but it was weird. The night was flattering and, surprisingly, I allowed myself to feel good about that for a couple hours."
Somehow, between winning awards, caring for babies and learning to smile, he started to feel more Nine Inch Nails music rolling around in his brain.
"I went into it with no pressure," he said. "I just thought, I'm going to experiment around and see what happens. If [it's bad], if it feels like it's not what I want to do, if the results aren't any good, no one's expecting it to come out or anything to happen. So, I think starting it with that kind of mind-set led to a pretty natural process. The other things I had worked on -- films -- had been putting the story and the picture first and writing to support that. How to Destroy Angels, my other band, was contributing collaboratively to something where I'm not the person standing in the middle of the stage saying the words. And Nine Inch Nails has always been about me being the lead actor. So there wasn't really a reset there. There was just an itch, I had something to say, and this has always been the forum for me to do that."
"Hesitation Marks" is not "Pretty Hate Machine" or "The Downward Spiral," but it's also not a radical departure for Nine Inch Nails. While the music is typically dark, moody and pulsing and the lyrics aren't exactly sunshine and flowers, Mr. Reznor, 48, isn't the angry young man he was when he was screaming "Head Like Hole" or the anguished 29-year-old he was on "Hurt," when he struggled with depression and addiction.
The cast list is surprising, with contributions from guitarists Adrian Belew (King Crimson) and Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) and bassist Pino Palladino (best known for replacing John Entwistle in The Who).
"Most of the soul of where the record came from was done without me spending a lot time thinking about listening back to old Nine Inch Nails material and trying to think about 'How does this fit in with the canon of material?' and 'Is this the logical progression, does it reference things enough?' Most of it was me just sitting down working and being inspired by what feels right to me right now -- without overthinking it.
"I happened to take it down a more rhythmic path, less rock, less guitar, less bashing live drums, not as much outward aggression. It feels much more about tension and release, quiet moments, and holding back at times. I don't think it sounds like where I left off. It's a natural evolution of where I've been. I've been pleasantly surprised to discover, as much as I've paid attention, for the most part, it's been accepted, fanbase-wise. It wasn't complete anarchy. For those who were wanting 'The Downward Spiral, Part 2,' it's not going to happen."
He knew that putting out a new NIN record would require a tour and says he signed on "cautiously." In a live setting, a band like NIN can't exactly run away from its past.
"We carefully chose what songs we're playing from older stuff. I've been more acutely aware of just how long this has been going, how old I am, who I am now. We'll play a song like 'Hurt,' for example, and every time you play that song, you get transformed back into that framework of emotions. Maybe sometimes it's who I was as I wrote it. Maybe sometimes it's more current things in my life that get filtered through that, and you're living that again, in a sense. It's not just acting out and saying words that don't mean anything anymore. You get in that mind frame.
"When we walk off stage, you're not just physically tired from beating yourself up for two hours, but it's also, mentally, you've just gone through something again, which could be looked at as cathartic. At other times, I'm not sure I wanted to put myself in that place, nightly, but here we go ... "music
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published October 7, 2013 4:00 AM