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Nine Inch Nails' drummer moving out of the background

During the first six years of Nine Inch Nails, Chris Vrenna has been something of the silent partner within the project. As fans of the group know, singer Trent Reznor is the driving force behind Nine Inch Nails.

Mr. Reznor writes the group's emotionally intense, often disturbing songs that frequently probe the hard sides of the human heart and mind. He also oversees the complex production process used to create the Nine Inch Nails' hard-hitting, alternately abrasive and catchy music, which mixes elements of industrial, electronic, metal, dance and punk rock.

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"When it comes to me to create new songs, it's not five guys in a room jamming," Mr. Vrenna said in a telephone interview. "Trent's writing comes straight from him, personally, privately, 100 percent out of himself. Period. He never explains his music, even to me. It's like, 'Here it is,' which I respect. I think that's great. That's what makes it I think even more personal."

But within the structure of Nine Inch Nails, Mr. Reznor has had several allies, including the producer, Flood, and production assistants Sean Beavan, Maise and Brian Liesegang. Mr. Vrenna, however, is the member of the Nine Inch Nails inner circle with the most longevity. He has known Mr. Reznor since the mid-1980s, when they lived in Pennsylvania and played in local bands. Today Mr. Vrenna still considers Mr. Reznor his closest friend.

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"It turned out the band he was playing in in Cleveland, [their] drummer quit, and I ended up -- I was in the process of moving to Cleveland anyway for college because I was going to school there -- but I ended up joining that band," Mr. Vrenna said. "So Trent and I played in different local bands together.

"And then that local-band thing, as local bands happen, didn't do anything, so he started working on his own material. And yeah, we were roommates for quite a while in Cleveland, our famous starving ghetto apartment."

Since then, Mr. Vrenna has remained active in Nine Inch Nails. He has assisted in production on the band's records -- "Pretty Hate Machine," "Broken" and "The Downward Spiral" -- as well as the Reznor-produced soundtrack to the film "Natural Born Killers."

On "The Downward Spiral," the most recent Nine Inch Nails studio release, Mr. Vrenna was in charge of assembling many of the sampled sounds from movies, live instruments and other sources that formed the building blocks of the record's dense, dark and propulsive sound.

"I must have done hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies, endless hours of sampling and hours and hours of DAT tapes full of sounds and stuff like that," Mr. Vrenna said.

A drummer by trade, Mr. Vrenna is also the senior member of the Nine Inch Nails road band, which now includes keyboard player James Wooley, guitarists Robin Finck and bassist Danny Lohner.

In his time alongside Mr. Reznor, Mr. Vrenna has seen Nine Inch Nails go through a roller-coaster ride of experiences and emotions. There have been triumphs, such as the 1991 Lollapalooza tour. And there have been pressures, such as after Lollapalooza and, earlier, when their 1989 debut "Pretty Hate Machine" became a million-selling record.

There's also been bitterness over a nasty legal dispute with Mr. Reznor's first label, TVT Records, which kept him from recording for more than two years.

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The success of "Pretty Hate Machine" almost overnight vaulted Nine Inch Nails from the underground scene to a place where Mr. Reznor, much to his dismay, was being touted as the leader of the techno-industrial rock movement.

The pressures of stardom and maintaining a busy schedule have at times tested the Vrenna-Reznor friendship.

"We've gone through our moments," Mr. Vrenna said. "We went through our time a couple of years ago. . . . It just was to the point where -- that happens with any set of friends who spend too much time together locked in a recording studio I guess -- where we could just not be around each other. But you know, mostly it's actually been really good . . .

"There's a definite professional-ethic thing on top of all of us trying to be friends," Mr. Vrenna added. "He's still my best friend probably. And it's just like there's times when it's just like boom, we're in the work mode, and he's intensely focused and you've got to understand we're working now. Then all of a sudden it's 'OK, boom, wow, we actually got that finished. Hey, let's go see a movie. Let's go eat.' "

Nails file

To hear excerpts from Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6117 after you hear the greeting.

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Nine Inch Nails

Where: Baltimore Arena

When: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $22.50

# Call:(410) 481-SEAT


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