Nine Lives
By Sean Moeller

Slightly left of the norm and patternly deranged enough to court delicious assumptions to netherworld liasions and prime gothic sensibilities, Trent Reznor and the fruit of his dark imagination, Nine Inch Nails, have held a high post at the summit of a mountain all their own.

Reznor, who turned 40 last May, is the arguable godfather of industrial music and his witchy electronica — all clicky drum machines, hazy howls, aggressive attacking, ripping guitars and maliciously slicing synthetic noodlings — is grandiose in its expansiveness, which resembles a riot, a haunted house of mirrors, an abandoned warehouse and a keepsake in one fell swoop.

Over the course of nearly 18 years of recordings, Reznor has released just five records, the most recent of which — “With Teeth” — was released last May. It came almost six years after the two-disc record “The Fragile” burst a five-year dry spell between releases.

He’s worked meticulously on his arrangements and augmentations — maintaining an identity that he’s kept shrouded in mystery — establishing his image as a recluse who emerges as a player and Grammy-nominated artist every half-decade.

“Teeth” is a back-to-basics album that generates a froth and a hissing fit. Lead single “The Hand That Feeds,” a rancorous lashing out against the Bush administration, was up for a Grammy award in the Best Hard Rock Performance category Wednesday night.

The long waits that Reznor puts his fans through have done nothing to dilute their dedication.

“I guess one does run the risk of losing fans when you take so long between albums, but I think if he would have kept releasing albums, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing now,” said Jeordie White, Nine Inch Nails bassist and formerly Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson. “He wouldn’t still have a wide audience. People get burnt out on music. I know I do. There are bands that keep putting the same thing out and doing the same thing. It gets old.

“I think five years is a bit much, but I think the Nine Inch Nails fan base is pretty dedicated. It ranges from a 14-year-old kid — who is new to the band — to someone who’s 50 and has been with the band since they were 30. I don’t think Nine Inch Nails is such a passing fad kind of thing. People are still interested in what Trent has to say.”

In 1989, “Pretty Hate Machine” put Reznor and his frequently shape-shifting band at the cutting edge of the new hard rock that few after them have approached in terms of invention and importance.

Five years later, “The Downward Spiral” earned Reznor most of the money that allowed him his 4,900-square-foot New Orleans mansion (which he sold in March 2005 for $1.8 million) and turned him into a personality with a creepy inner alias that dances on graves and devises the kinds of disturbing images of his Mark Romanek-directed video for the song “Closer.”

The animal heart turned into a string-operated whistle, agitated monkey and generally twitchy vibe made MTV and viewers jittery. It was at this time that Reznor and White first became acquainted when Manson supported NIN on its North American tour for the record. Reznor was becoming a bonafide superstar for the black clothing-wearing counterculture and Manson was gaining its faulty reputation as Satan’s spokesperson, capable of ruining the lives of every young person.

“We shared a lot of crazy experiences together and now we’re sharing a lot more normal experiences,” White said from his home in Los Angeles, where Reznor took up residence three years ago. “There was a little bit of excessiveness back then. It was probably crazier at times and not as crazy at other times than what people knew about. It’s kind of what happens when you get to that point. You abuse your power. You trick yourself into believing that you’re on top of the world. If there was a contest for the craziest bands ever, I’m sure we wouldn’t have won. I’m sure there have been more reckless individuals out there. Our time together now is a little clearer.”

White and Manson recorded their second album, the platinum-certified “Antichrist Superstar,” in New Orleans with Reznor and soon after began their run as the most hated band in the world, being opposed by religious groups and mothers who took on the plight of getting the band’s shows cancelled in cities throughout the country.

“It was what we were asking for,” White said of the commotion his former band caused. “It was what we were going for. We were trying to manipulate as many people as possible. It became a game to see how many people we could scare. Looking back at it doesn’t even seem like that was me. It always seems like a movie I watched.”

White also has been seen on the bass, playing with Tool’s Maynard Keenan in A Perfect Circle and in a side project with Hella’s Zach Hill called Goon Moon.

“When I split from Manson, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get back on stage,” White said of the break that was rumored to have been brought on by a falling out between he and Manson, but also was rumored to be because White found being in Manson to be getting too routine.

“When I got off tour with A Perfect Circle (in 2004), Trent called me up and asked me if I’d like to be in Nine Inch Nails. I eagerly accepted because it seemed like the right thing to do. We always kind of toyed with the idea of being in a band together. It was a couple Coachellas ago. I went to that with him and we hung out and got along great. I kind of felt (the invitation) was coming. I figured he would call me because he was almost done with his record, he didn’t have a band and he didn’t know many other people in Los Angeles. The record was already complete, but I hung out in the lobby of the recording studio playing videos games and listening while he mastered it.”

He doesn’t see himself ever being directly involved in the writing process for a Nine Inch Nails record, but he’s intending a long stay in the touring face of the group, which includes guitarist Aaron North (ex-Icarus Line), keyboardist Alessandro Cortini and drummer Josh Freese (member of The Vandals, Devo and A Perfect Circle).

“Usually, the record is just Trent Reznor,” he said. “I think it will always be him and that’s probably what I would do if it was my record. You get protective over it. You get protective of yourself.

“I don’t think he means to change the band so frequently. It changes with each new era. I think he wanted to not have the same band as he had 10 years ago. I think he wanted to just start fresh. I’m in. As long as I can handle it.”