Spinning Platters Interview: Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails

by Matthew Blake on August 14, 2013

Robin Finck, bathed in green at Outside Lands Music Festival

Robin Finck, bathed in green at Outside Lands Music Festival

As San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival made a seemingly bold move by including Trent Reznor’s freshly reunited band of heavy hitters in Nine Inch Nails to its weekend roster, some wondered if this was the right decision considering a historically safe trend of artists who provide the soundtrack for having a good time in the park.  It ended up working out brilliantly – Nine Inch Nails’ Saturday night closing performance will go down as one of the greatest since the festival started in 2008.  Not bad for having to follow Sir Paul McCartney’s nearly three-hour rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza the previous evening.  We were lucky enough to catch up with touring guitarist and longest standing live member, Robin Finck, for a few questions just before the musical onslaught.

First of all, welcome back to the Bay Area!  The last time we saw you here was in 2008 on Nine Inch Nails’ Lights In The Sky Tour.  What are some of your favorite local features, whether arts, culinary, debauchery or anything else?
 
Well, I love to finally get to the Bay Bridge after driving from Los Angeles for too many hours.  You know, just to get to that water scape, the bridges, the skyline, and to feel the wind rushing through it all is a charge again and again.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time here through the years, extended stays and such.  My wife, Bianca, is a performer and choreographer and did periodic runs with Teatro Zinzanni, which was a theater show on the Embarcadero.  So, we have many friends here.
So it’s not a very new area for you to say the least?
 
I barely get around my own kitchen without a GPS.
I do recall you directed music for the Black Cat Cabaret over in Sonoma?
 
Well, it would be better said that I was the musical director (dye-rek-TOR).
Ah, so you were the musical director.
 
Yeah, so Bianca kind of got involved in…approached to do it, really, and we had just started preparing for our own baby, that we made.  So, I got involved too so we could all be together.  It was in Sonoma, for a pet shelter called Pet’s Lifeline.  It was two evenings.  I got a band together just from calling some friends and acquiring a list of names, some of which I had not met prior, and put a really good band together.  We backed up a kind of cabaret performance of actors, comedians, acrobats and music.  Thelma Houston was the focus and the singer.
I read that you and your wife met through Cirque do Soleil?
 
She was an acrobat.  Well, she still is an acrobat, but in the show she was an aerial performer and dancer, and I was a guitar player.
So how do you compare that to rock ‘n’ roll arena tours?
 
I certainly don’t.  That whole experience for me was about a year and a half, and it was very romantic off stage.  The creation stage.  Just being part of the troupe, an international cast of so many folks – kids and older folks, and clowns.  It was brightly colored and it was a dream outside of the show.  Inside of the show, I got the feel real quick that I wasn’t really flexing my…
You kind of held back a little bit?
 
Well, a lot, yeah (laughs).  We did 10 shows a week and the shows were two hours long with 15-minute intermissions.  I was off with the whole band in the shadows sitting on a stool.  So that’s what I mean, if you catch my drift.  It was really fun being apart of that troupe, but after a while I was like “wow”, I don’t know how long I can do this.  I certainly don’t regret, but I wouldn’t want to do it again next year.
So you’re not proficient on the trapeze?
 
No, I’m really not.
Transitioning to more recently, were you surprised when Trent gave you the call to join him again?
 
Yeah, I was.  It really kind of came out of the clear blue for me.
Was it a no-brainer decision?
 
Some friends of mine kind of razzed me and were jeering me that “Oh come on, it’s not the end!  You guys are going to…” and I really honestly thought that last show at The Wiltern in 2009 was the last time I would be ever stepping through those numbers.  So, I’m really kind of extra excited all over again.  Kind of another stomp through it all.
How do you compare the direction of the band now compared to the mid-’90s when you originally joined the live lineup?  The sound is a bit different, but just in terms of artistic creation, do you feel it is the same vibe and angle on things?

No, everything is different than the mid-’90s, for sure.  It is a natural evolution.  Since the final run on the Lights In The Sky and NINJA tours, there is a new album coming out.  It’s a new machination of players.  I’ve played a lot with Alessandro in Nine Inch Nails.  I’ve played with Ilan in Nine Inch Nails.  Josh Eustis is the new personality in the group.  A lot of the original catalog of material we approached with many weeks and months of rehearsal and experimenting, and sometimes we kind of stumble and catapult into newer, greener pastures with these (songs).  Then sometimes we wake up the next morning and go “Wow, we spent a lot of time doing what?”  Something sticky eventually dissolved into meaning a brand new slant on an old song.
Lastly, let’s mix it up here.  What are three bands you’ve been listening to lately that most fans would be surprised to hear about?
 
I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t have something at the ready to share with you.  You know, the last three months, I’ve listened to Nine Inch Nails.  We’ve been doing long days and long nights of Nine Inch Nails.  In the van ride over today, I listened to Nine Inch Nails (laughs).
Now was that by choice or just to get you guys in tune with the upcoming show?
 
I had homework to do.
So then what I gather is that you’re a dedicated professional.
 
When I scroll through my iPod, I’m sometimes stopping at something where I don’t know what it is, something that I haven’t heard before.  John Coltrane (laughs), or something that I don’t really comprehend because I don’t play the horns.
To be fair, I can imagine it being quite an undertaking preparing for a major tour in just a few months.
 
(Smiles and nods)

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