The story of Trent
Reznor and his project, Nine Inch Nails, may read like a fairy tale, but for
the Cleveland musician and his manager, John Maim, the reality far exceeds the
Over a year ago NIN
released PRETTY HATE MACHINE. Reznor was the master mind behind everything the
recording offered: all the instruments, the lyrics, co-producing. To date, the
album has sold over a quarter of a million copies.
Now, Nine Inch Nails
is poised and ready to take on the European market. In what will serve as a
warmup, Reznor, along with keyboardist Lee Mars, guitarist Richard Patrick and
new drummer Jeff Ward [RevCo, Ministry] will perform at the Phantasy Theatre
this Friday, December 28. The sold out show is far more than a homecoming. it‘s
Cleveland’s return to being viewed as a major force in the world of music.
SCENE: John, when Trent first approached you
with his material, and the management proposal, what was your initial reaction?
John Malm: I loved it from day one. For the
first time it was like the artist had the same Vision I did. That was pretty
much to not look at this as a local thing and try to build out of a local market,
but to look at it as a national thing to begin with; treat the local scene like
it was just another City. I don‘t know if it‘s right or wrong, but it worked
SCENE: Trent, the first songs you
ever wrote are on PRETTY HATE MACHINE. What are your personal views in regard
to the success and acceptance of the material?
Trent Reznor: I reached the point in my life where
I either needed to do this or do something else. I wanted to be a musician. I
had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life, but bad not put the work into
it to get to that stage. For me the whole project was an experiment to see what
would happen if focused all my energy into one thing; put my life out of
balance and just work on it. That involved starting to write songs. I think I‘d
always been kind of afraid because if they werew terrible I didn‘t know what I
was going to do with myself.
SCENE: What have been
the rewards of going with a small indie label such as TVT?
TR: John and my initial approach to the project
was a bit different from anything that I have been involved with in this area because
we didn’t have dreams of overnight superstardom. We didn’t even approach major
labels because I wanted the project to be able to mutate as I wanted it to. I knew
it was pretty flexible at the time we were sending out tapes I didn’t really
have my entire scheme of what Nine Inc Nails was going to be formulated sonically
or direction-wise. I didn’t want to get into a situation where I’ve got a major
label adding pressure. I didn’t want to get into that because at the time I
didn’t know what was right, but I knew I would know what was right not some
A&R guy at a big label.
I also knew with the music not being as
radio-friendly and MTV-friendly as a lot of stuff out now; it was going to require
some extra support as far as promotion and attention from the label. It
wouldn‘t be a record that they put out and is scooped up by the masses
immediately. It was going to require some planning and some sort of media coverage
to get people interested in it. So the idea of an independent label that had enough
money to put out a decent record became an option for us later in the deal process.
For us, it worked out quite well because we did
get attention from the label. As we did, the record started selling, and we got
more attention. I‘ve got no problem being on a label the size of the one we‘re
on now. The Main thing I need is to be able to do my art. I need to be left
alone. I need to be able to do what I want to do. I don‘t need someone telling
me, no you can‘t say that word in this song, or, no write a happy song or, no,
we need a hit in Top-40 radio. I can‘t work in those conditions.
SCENE: You have
control of every aspect of your music -from the actual music, to the live show,
to the look of your musicians.
TR: Right now I need to do that. That‘s not from
the point of view of I’m an egomaniac and I want everyone to see my name on
every credit of everything we‘ve done. The point of view that‘s coming from is I
know what I want my music to sound like. I have a pretty good idea of who I
want to work with, if anybody. I know what I want the band to be represented as
visually. I don‘t need someone from a record label who doesn’t know what I want
and isn’t even familiar with the genre of music I am trying to create to say, “No
what you need is This.” That might be fine for certain bands, and I’m sun there
are lots of bands that need help. That‘s not me .I don’t need that. 1’m not playing
the same of heavy rotation on MTV. I’m just trying to put out music that has
some integrity to it, some honesty to it. There’s embarrassingly little of that
on the radio today or on MTV or anywhere else.
Scene: With all that
in mind, how important is a good manager?
TR: To me it has been invaluable. Recently I’ve
become friends with other bands that I have always been a fan of. I’ve become accepted
on that level and it‘s nice to know that people I‘ve really liked are friends
of mine .For example Ministry who are pretty good friends of mine now. I was
surprised to learn I knew that they were pretty self-sufficient somewhat
similar to the way I’ve worked, but they don‘t have a manager. They are the
people dealing with the record labels or the merchandise and everything else.
On the one hand that‘s very noble that they would not farm out any
responsibility to any one except themselves. They have complete control over
everything. But on the other hand, I couldn’t do that. I have no desire to spend
hours fight labels, setting up tours, doing things that I’m not able to do, nor
do I like to do, nor have the clear head to look at the situation in an overview
and rationally make decisions; which I find hard to do when I‘m in the midst of
trying to do something else – to step away from the situation and look at everything
and say in the long term of my career it might be better to do this. In that aspect,
aside from the day to day menial battles, the long-term overseeing of a career,
I find John invaluable. I don‘t know if that‘s what all managers do, I don‘t
care if that‘s what all managers do. We have a day to day, everyday, let‘s sort
out what we‘re doing situation. It’s been invaluable to me. We wouldn’t be
where we’re at without it.
SCENE: How have you
both learned as you went along?
JM: I think, as far as myself, I’ve learned a great
deal. A lot of it has been something you couldn‘t learn anywhere else unless you
can actually do it yourself. I’m not speaking for Trent, but the actual physical doing of things.
Trent and I just went over to London. He had to do a video shoot over
there. Dealing with people from another country, things are different I
couldn‘t sit here and watch a video tape about doing it and execute it, it’s something
that you have to actually do.
TR: The biggest thing, from my point of view is
being in Cleveland for several years and playing in local bands almost trains
you to believe that getting a record deal and dealing with real producers or
MTV or anything like that is such a distant unapproachable barrier, that it‘s
almost self defeating to consider it.
There have been so many bad situations so many
near misses, so many disappointments, that when it happens, when you start meeting
these people, you realize that they’re just people as well it’s not unapproachable
it’s not impossible to do this if approached in the right way. Think about where
you want to be - I want a record deal. How do I get that record deal?
For me it wasn’t, Let‘s play out in local bars
for three years until we self-destruct. It was, let‘s write music that warrants
being put out on a record and approach it by going to the right people who would
be interested in it. Approach them in a logical fashion that would get them
interested in the project.
As far as earning, aside from that aspect, as
we‘ve dealt with these people, and all these doors have been slowly opened that‘s
another neat thing about the success we‘ve had, it‘s been pretty gradual. A lot
has happened in a year, much more than we ever expected, but it didn‘t all
happen in the first month. Things would gradually escalate. That‘s been kind of
neat because we‘ve been able to enjoy little steps up here and there. It‘s been
dealing with people and learning how people work.
One of the things that John and I feared was we
both consider ourselves to be honest with one another and up front people when
it comes to dealing with business. You hear about the seedy record company scum
types and management ripoffs and all the horror stories. We’ve approached this
in a fashion where it would be nice to approach people up front; it‘s not a situation
of everyone trying to f**k everyone else over, you have to have a lawyer look
at every single word you say. The people we‘ve dealt with, as a whole, have
been pretty straight up as we are. I think we’re at the lower level of people
that still might be in the music business because they enjoy music.
It’s not an incredible corporate machine. Some oft
he people that we work best with will do things not purely mercenary, but because
they enjoy what they‘re doing. It was flattering for me for Flood to say, “I’m
blowing off U2 next year to do your record, so tell me when you want to do it
and I’ll schedule them around it.” We’re paying 1\100 of what U2 is paying but
it’s because he likes doing who he likes. He‘s at the situation where he can
afford to blow off something like that because he wants to do what he like
That‘s a real rewarding aspect, meeting
people that still give you a hope that they have integrity and are doing it for
the right reasons not because whatever. For every person that we‘ve met like that,
we’ve met five people who are opposite of that.
JM: Who are telling you how great you are until
you walk out of the room and then saying how can we capitalize on this, how can
we get rid of the manager, how can we get a booking agent in there?
TR: The way people treat you differently. It’s
still me, but now I’ve put a record out. Now You’re treated differently by a
lot people. Then you meet the booking agents that want to steal you away, “Let
me take you out to dinner and kiss your ass.“
JM: And sorry I couldn‘t take your call when you
originally called me.
TR: That’s the other killer. Some labels we approached,
no interest whatsoever. Now the same labels are back begging. Well, where were
you? It‘s still me. Where were you before the contract was signed. You see a
lot of that. I realize that a lot of the record business is not about music. It‘s
about numbers. That, I think, is why radio is as bad as it is today. Why MTV,
which could be a very unique artistic outlet for music, is nothing but a commercial
for your song.
SCENE: What‘s it going
to take to get it back to a certain level of integrity?
TR: It‘s going to take enough people, and I
don‘t know if this could even happen, it‘s going to take the public to finally
say, ‘We‘ve had enough Milli Vanillis. We‘ve had enough Vanilla Ices. It‘d be
nice to have something that says something, or that has a little substance, or
doesn‘t sound like every other thing on the radio.“ It‘s going to take some
record labels to hire some people with integrity and the ability to sign some
stuff that‘s new. Otherwise it‘s just a rehash; everyone plays it safe.
I hear people ask me now, “Hey does Cleveland have a great big industrial scene?“
No, not that I know of. I know a couple of bands, but there‘s no Cleveland
sound. It‘s not like we‘re representative of that.
SCENE: Do you think
there‘s a Cleveland music scene?
TR: If there is I don‘t know about lt. I‘ve not
been in the City much for the last year, but when I moved up here four or five
years ago, I know there were four, five or six good original bands that drew
several hundred people a weekend to see them. That‘s not what I‘ve seen now. I‘ve
seen it steadily decline to where there‘s fewer and fewer live music clubs.
Those that do cater mainly to national acts. When they can‘t get one, well
let‘s book a local band. That‘s not every club. There are exceptions to that.
But from what I’ve seen it’s a pretty declining, unhealthy, non-supportive,
hypocritical scene. It kills me when big commercial radio stations say, “We
support local music, but we won‘t play them.“ I can‘t say it‘s all radio‘s
JM: I‘d 1ike to add there is an exception,
think what Jim Clevo is trying to do...
TR: Sure, there are people who are really
bustin‘ ass. I don‘t mean to lump everything, but as a whole, if I came here
with the heads of five record labels, I‘d have a hard time saying, Let‘s plan a
full itinerary and see a lot of bands on a weekend. We could maybe see two or
three. I don‘t know who‘s fault that is. I’ve tried to remove myself from
thinking about that.
At the time that was one of the reasons Nine Inch
Nails was just me. There was no scene to motivate me. There was no interaction.
The other musicians in town, every body seems to have this backbiting kind of
very non-supportive situation, even with other bands.
It‘s not like that everywhere. Chicago‘s a city
where there is some backbiting, but there‘s also a pretty healthy scene of
several bands who are all friends, who help each other and collaborate. I don‘t
see that here.
I’m not as involved in it as I was, but when I
was involved it was very much anybody who had a hope of getting any success,
lets shit on them and beat them down. It‘s very jealous. I think that comes
from the fact that nobody makes it out of here. Everybody‘s so bitter because
being a musician is one of the most ridiculous careers that one could ever
choose. Your odds of ever succeeding are astronomically slim to start with.
SCENE: How has this
past year changed you or been different than what you envisioned it would be?
TR: The cool thing is, as far as me taking a
second to feel gratified by what‘s happened -which I don‘t often take - I‘m
real pleased that things have gone the way they have. Something that is
exceptionally pleasing about it is, I know I fought to get the record the way
that I wanted it to be. Every note on that, the music and the lyrics was me. I
made no substantial compromises to put it out the way I felt it should be. When
it’s rewarded and it comes back that people like it, that‘s a great feeling.
Seeing that the thing has taken off and gotten
much bigger than I ever expected is a great feeling, but what‘s doubly great is
that at the same time I get to see John‘s [J. Artist Management] company evolving
along with it. Now there s a lot of bands trying to get on with him, bigger
management companies trying to hire him to become part of their staff.
I think as he views my project enlarging, which
is him as well, I see him as a manager having the same opportunities
proportionally; as I grow, he grows. It‘s cool that a friend...Our careers are
simultaneously helping one another, and the doors are opening. Things that we
couldn‘t believe could ever happen now have happened, and we‘re used to them.
People who we were totally enamored with are now our friends and want to work
with us. We learn from just making mistakes and dealing with the day to day
atrocities that come up.
JM: As far as has Trent changed? I don‘t think he‘s changed
at all. He‘s the same guy he was a year ago. A lot of people would say
differently, but I don‘t think anyone knows as well as I do. I talk to Trent probably three times a day, every
single day, and his Ideals are the same, his motivation is the same, his drive
is the same.
Sure, both of our lives have become more
intense. But as far as the person he was and his ideals and what he‘s wanted to
be, I don‘t think there‘s been a change at all, he‘s just achieving what he
SCENE: As you both
look back on 1990, what really sticks out in your minds?
TR: I’ve had no time until getting off the last
tour I was on, which was August, until the present, to sit back and think what
has happened, what has gone on.
The weird thing is we started in January
playing out with nobody really knowing who we were and a couple of good
reviews, to by the end, when we did our own show, selling out shows that we had
played with the bands we opened for and didn‘t sell out, or bigger places. It‘s
weird to think that with this strange, fanatical following...that‘s incredibly
flattering but puzzling at the same time. It‘s almost like a blur. It‘s
happened that quickly. That‘s the state I hope to be at three or four years
from now, as far as our long-term plans.
SCENE: Any advice for
TR: Put yourself in a position, if your goal is
to get a record deal. that should be goal A - Big goal A - after doing demo
tapes. Try to see how you see yourself in the scheme of things. Are you
offering anything that is a bit unusual? Find out what it is you are saying
that is different than somebody else. Why have a band or why write music if you
just sound like everybody else? If you don‘t have anything to say, and I don‘t
mean a big political statement, just something to say, whether it be musically
or image-wise. When you‘re approaching any label, key up on that aspect.
When we were on the road I must have gotten 150
cassettes from local bands. Since we‘re an industrial band, they‘re all like, “I
sent this to Wax Trax label, Network. What do you think? If you like it will
you produce it or will you give it to them and tell them you like it?“
Most of them are so incredibly derivative.
Obviously they listen to a lot of Skinny Puppy or they want to be Front 242.
Imagine a label that specializes in that. If I‘m getting that many tapes, they
must get 10 times that many, and there‘s nothing original or unusual about
If you can play up what you have to offer that
says something - Is it incredibly good songwriting, is it anger, is it great
musicianship, is it great vocals? - whatever it is, key in on that and approach
labels that might be interested in that sort of thing, instead of thinking
there‘s only five labels in the world. If you’re really conducive to it, don‘t
sell yourself short by only approaching the big labels; go for the smaller
labels because a lot of times they can license out to the big labels.
Get a logical overview. I know it’s hard to do,
but get an idea of what the best way to go would be - consult with somebody if
you need to - and try to follow a course. Usually that means not learning 10
songs quickly to go out to a club and play, but spending some time doing demos.
Maybe go into a studio, cheaply. Don‘t put your own album out locally. The
prospect of putting your own record out and spending your own money is usually
a poor idea, that‘s only a way to lose money. Get a good demo tape and send it
out to record companies.
What gets you a deal in this area is a good
demo tape. People are living the myth of, Let‘s just play out every week and
see what happens. Maybe it happens, but I don‘t bump elbows with A&R people
when I go out to clubs in Cleveland.