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Inside Trent Reznor’s Sanctum

Trent ReznorBrian Viglione played Rock Band with Trent Reznor! The Dresden Dolls’ drummer also played on Nine Inch Nails’ new instrumental opus. So you wonder what it’s like to visit Reznor’s inner sanctum? Come along and all will be revealed.

When you record with Trent Reznor, a lot of interesting things happen. You get to assemble the drumkit of your dreams. You get to explore all the exotic musical equipment he keeps in his secret studio. You add spontaneous parts to songs you’ve never heard—and you still don’t hear the songs until Trent sends you the album. And you get to play Rock Band in his living room.

Brian Viglione is one of Boston’s most-admired drummers, the polyrhythmic madman in the Dresden Dolls. But before he became an underground rock figure himself, he was a devoted Nine Inch Nails fan. He first crossed paths with Reznor in 2005, when the Dolls were handpicked to open the Nine Inch Nails’ “Downward Spiral” tour. And late last year he got a call to play on sessions for “The Ghost Parts I-IV”, the instrumental epic that NiN released online to great hoopla last month. This was the first step in Reznor’s masterplan to reshuffle the deck on Nine Inch Nails, opening the lineup to new players and ideas. So Viglione is one of the lucky few to get a glimpse of the mysterious Reznor’s working methods, which he spills for us in this interview.

Q: Trent Reznor’s left New Orleans, right? Where is he based now?

A: He’s in Beverly Hills, with three beautiful Greyhounds that greeted me at the door. It was funny—When I got to my hotel, I got a phone call from Trent’s assistant saying “You know what, we’re going to hold off for tonight.” I said OK, I’ll deal with that. Then 20 minutes later, another call: “Actually, I’ll come pick you up right now!” So I went from minor disappointment to utter elation in 20 minutes.

I played drums, and he played guitar — on Expert, I might add. He absolutely shreds that thing.

Q: You’d toured with Trent, but hadn’t played on his albums before. How did he go about breaking the ice?

A: Well, there was the Rock Band console. That was pretty a funny, a real “hanging out with the guys” environment—Often times when there weren’t any responsibilities, people could hang out and play. At one point Trent said to me, “Sit down, man — This is your audition!” So we did “In Bloom,” “Say It Ain’t So,” and “Paranoid” — not any of the Nine Inch Nails songs. I played drums, and he played guitar — on Expert, I might add. He absolutely shreds that thing. I only did OK myself but it was a very down to earth, social bonding experience.

Q: You were part of the “Ghost” sessions, a pretty unusual record. What sort of briefing did he give you before you started?

A: He filled me in on what he wants to do over the next couple of years, which is to get away from the standard, five-piece, rock band setup. And then he says, “Let’s do a fun little art project here: I want you to build a drumkit. Piece together any stuff that you want to bang on; rent what you want to rent. Have fun and I’ll see you in a few hours.” And he said, “We could go the traditional drum route but be creative—See where your mind and your ideas take you.”
So I totally lit up at that invitation; my mind going a million miles an hour. I started by exploring around his house — There was construction going on, so I found this 50-gallon trash can that you could hit with a mallet — It made this great, ungodly sound. He had guitar pedals, sitars, upright bass, lutes, any string instrument you could ask for. After that I decided to go down to Home Depot—I was walking around the store dropping wooden dowels on the floor, to hear what pitch they were in. I wound up with two empty office cooler jugs, and my snare drum was a cookie tray with a chain laid across it.

Having him tell me to just have fun and be creative - that was the best.

Q: How much direction did he give you on what to play?

A: None at all. He just said ‘Put on headphones, we’ll play a tempo; you play whatever you hear.’ I had no context whatsoever of where the music was. But coming in from a Goth background, looking at Trent and having him tell me to just have fun and be creative - that was the best. I didn’t hear the results until he sent me the CD. The songs on “Ghost” aren’t titled, but I’m on tracks 19 and 22—on 19 my parts are fairly intact, and on 22 it was cut up. But in both cases, they left the original sounds unaffected, the original room ambience that I heard is there.

Q:The Dresden Dolls toured with Nine Inch Nails in 2005. Was Trent an easy guy to get to know?

A: He invited us on that tour. The first time we met was at the Astoria in London and we said, “Hey, thanks for having us—What the hell are we doing here?” He said he’d seen the video for “Girl Anachronism” and didn’t know if he loved or hated it, but that it made him think. Playing in front of 4000 people was a great incentive to go for blood, and we knew we had a lot to prove. On one occasion in San Diego, a couple very vocal NiN fans were screaming “You suck!” to us. Later in the show, Trent shouted “All the people who screamed at the Dresden Dolls…Shut the f*** up!” We loved it that he went on a limb for us.

Q: So you wound up seeing a whole different side of Trent than his “king of darkness” image.

A: I don’t think I met the Trent of 1994; I met the Trent of 2008. A lot of fans can hold you up to a certain ideal of who you’ve been in your career. He’s intelligent and thoughtful, at times calculated, but extremely driven and focused on what he wants to achieve artistically. The Trent that I saw was a very welcoming and enthusiastic person. And at the same time, he possessed a certain wisdom and tact that you don’t get from someone who is at all unsure about their work.