Jahr 1990


Melody Maker


16. November 1991


Nine Inch Nails – Sin of the times



  Words: The Stud Brothers

Picture: Tom Sheeham





Is Trent Reznor the undisputed king of alienation, or Prince in Hell? The STUD BROTHERS travelled to Reznor’s home in New Orleans (or Sin City) and discovered why the video to his new single was banned for obscenity, why, despite his current success, he still just doesn’t fit in anywhere and why this may be the last ever Nine Inch Nails record. Pics: Tom Sheeham

Get this. We were sitting on the banks of the Mississippi in New Orleans, cultural capital of Louisiana, with Trent Reznor, his girlfriend Amy and their puppy-dog Maisie. We were just sitting there, enjoying the sun, the jazz and the nostalgic spectacle of paddle-steamers floating by when POW! we were mugged. MUGGED, we tell you. Oh, it wasn‘t guns or knives or threats or anything so memorably dramatic but, in its own way, it was equally demeaning.

It happened like this: Trent‘s bitching about his American record company, TVT and, not to be outdone, we‘re bitching about our British publishing company, IPC (“Never trust an acronym“) and, basically, none of us are aware (well, barely) of the tall hungry-looking black

guy hovering predatorily in the background. Trent, getting into his stride, stretches his legs and the guy makes his move. “You ready for that bootshine, man?“ Trent counters with an emphatically negative shake of the head suggesting, at least to us, that he will NEVER be ready for that bootshine.

“You definitely need one, man,“ says the mugger, thrusting an accusatory finger at Trent‘s US Army issues. The mugger had a point. Trent‘s boots, once doubtless black, are now a scuffed, one-thousand-mile grey. But, shit, maybe he prefers them that way.

Trent says he prefers them that way.

The mugger sighs wearily. Mugging Trent will not be easy.

“Bet I know where you got those boots, man. Bet I can name where you got ‘em, the city and the State. If I‘m wrong you get a free bootshine that don‘t cost you a dime.“

Trent bets. Shakes on it. We shake on it too. Blissfully ignorant of what we‘ll forfeit, we indulge in a cretinous orgy of glad handling.

The mugger beams triumphantly. He‘s mugged us.

“He got them boots,“ he reveals, “On his feet. He got one on his left foot and he got one on his right foot. The city is New Orleans and the State is Louisiana. Sheet, if I knew where he bought the boots personally I wouldn‘t be shining shoes, I‘d be on the ‘Johnny Carson Show‘. Right or wrong?“

Right again. Trent‘s boots are then subjected to an insultingly brief wipe with a damp rag. And this, the mugger points out with diabolical glee, will cost him $20. Twelve quid.

“See,“ chuckles the mugger, “I could be selling crack cocaine to kids in my neighbourhood. But I’m not a drugs dealer. I‘m a con man.“

A split second later, the mugger‘s two homeboys materialise before us and proceed to, er, shine our trainers. An absurd idea (who in God‘s name would want shiny trainers? It‘s like having shiny leans), but, nevertheless, it‘s one that costs us another 40 bucks. The muggers move off laughing - lean, mean, motherf***ing shoeshining machines.

Honestly, there was nothing we could do. We shook on it. Besides, dahn heeah in good ole Nawlins, everything‘s political. The blacks have been getting screwed since way back when, so we guess there‘s a kind of poetry to the shoeshine boy sticking it to Whitey. Sadly though, things don‘t end there. Whitey‘s sick of that shit. Whitey‘s sick of niggers on Welfare, niggers on crack, niggers with attitude. Oh, and Whitey don‘t take too kindly to Jewboys neither. Whitey‘s fighting back. On November 16, if the polls are to be believed, Whitey‘s going to elect David “The Duke“ Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and self-confessed Nazi sympathiser, as Governor of the State of Louisiana. Louisiana‘s not so much a state as a banana republic.

Oddly, it‘s the place that Trent Reznor has chosen as his home. Reznor, who loathes racism and sexism, whose songs rail against religion and religious bigotry, lives in the capital of all that - New Orleans with its topless, bottomless dancers, cockeyed Catholics, barmy Baptists, weirdo voodoo witch queens and David “The Duke“ Duke.

Why Trent, why here?

“Well, in a way, what you say is true,“ he says. “New Orleans is in the Bible Belt, sure, and there‘s a whole lot of racism here, but it‘s also got a decadence about it, that Sin City thing. To be honest with you, I just like the vibe.“

The vibe, for all the imaginable reasons, is weird. Part confrontation, part thoughtless hedonism. And Reznor would appear to thrive on confrontation. His music (and it‘s most defiantly his music - all other members of Nine Inch Nails simply being chicly scuzzy session-men), be it the electro-metal of “Head Like A Hole“, the morbid industrial-goth of “Temple Lie“ or Hie brilliant, shuddering techno-terror ofthe current single “Sin“, isa possessed of Reznor‘s highly personal, always paranoid and, at times, extraordinarily brutal vision of injustice.

Reznor sees in justice everywhere and despises it. He called his first and only album “Pretty Hate Machine“.

We once somewhat flippantly dubbed him an electro-Morrissey. The label, while giving some idea of how brooding and self-obsessed he is, is altogether too weak. Reznor‘s voice alone carries more weight, more incisive spite, than the whole Smiths‘ back-catalogue. Pitched high and maudlin he sounds like Prince in Hell. Hoarse and raging he‘s as ravaged and rabid as Axl Rose. Onstage, he‘s an ugly steaming mess of frazzled nerves, smashing his equipment and attacking members of his own band. In the studio he admits to being impatient and dictatorial. On video he‘s so extreme that the FBI once mistook lost footage that backed the single “Down In It“ for a snuff movie and spent six months investigating Reznor‘s murder.

Unbelievable. The video to “Sin“ is reportedly so violent that Island, Nine Inch Nails UK record company, are unable to release it. Or so they say.

“The video for ‘Sin‘ will never come out,“ Trent tell us. “Over here all the videos we‘ve given to MTV have been mildly edited, not because they‘re obscene, but just because they want to show you that they have the power to do that. So with ‘Sin‘ I thought, ‘F“ ‘em, let‘s just give ‘em something that‘s so f * ing vulgar there‘s no chance they‘ll play it‘. So I got together with Brett Turnbull from Test Department and we came up with this pretty elaborate scenario that ranged from hardcore S&M gay sex, like fistf***ing, to genital piercing and the display of genital jewellery. It was supposed to be a little walk into the Backroom, you know, a little interesting but, at the same time, definitely vulgar and provocative.

“Then I thought we‘d do another version with everything, and we‘d also bleep out some of the words from the song so, when it came to seeing it on MTV, it‘d be ridiculous, like watching a hardcore porn movie on Network TV.“

NONE of this of course ever happened. The version Island claim to have in their vaults, the version they claim is too hot to handle, if it exists at all, is an anodyne parody of the original idea. Trent actually believes Island have nothing and are just winding up the scandal-hungry press.

“There was only ever a roughcut,“ says Trent, “and when I got it, it was about as risque as a Duran Duran video. Everything was so darkly lit you couldn‘t see anything. The S&M scene was sad, two guys who were obviously not gay and obviously on-camera nervously eyeing each other up. So I call up Brett and I say, ‘What the f*** is that?‘ and then I realise it‘s not him, it‘s other people saying, ‘Don‘t tell Trent but we don‘t want this. And it‘s our money so you can‘t do it‘. I know of no other copy of that video and there f***ing better not be one. Like it is it‘ll never be released, because it‘s not the way it should be. Other people f***ed up.“

OTHER people f***ing up is, Trent reckons, pretty much the story of his life. It‘s what “Pretty Hate Machine“ was about, what “Sin“ is about, what life‘s about. People f***ing you up. When it‘s not one thing, it‘s another. If it‘s not the Duke with his bigoted bullshit, it‘s the shoeshine boys with their rip-off rap. What little control you have you exercise to the max.

This Trent has always done and says he will continue to do. Three years ago, when he first conceived Nine Inch Nails and first started making demos, record companies dismissed his music as too esoteric and too difficult, lumping it in with Ministry, Revco and Thrill Kill Kult and saying that Nine Inch Nails would forever inhabit the WaxTrax ghetto.

Three years later, “Pretty Hate Machine“ has gone gold in America and Nine Inch Nails minor league stars looking to the major league. And, like the biggest of the all, Guns N‘ Roses and The Black Crowes, they‘ve done it all by being belligerent, pig-headed, suspicious sons of bitches. They‘ve been so successful that the groups they were initially compared to, groups major record companies considered a sick, unmarketable joke, are now being snapped up with unseemly haste. Front 242 have signed a massive deal with Sony and Ministry Of Sound and Thrill Kill Kult are currently being courted by every ass-kicking acronym we can think of.

Amazingly, Trent Reznor‘s American record company, TVT - confronted by the fact that good, old-fashioned integrity can pay dividends - have become ever more censorious. Relationships between Reznor and record company boss Steve Gottlieb have become so bad that, on the recent Lollapolooza tour, Reznor had Gottlieb frogmarched from the backstage area and the two haven‘t spoken since.

“I hate that f***er, hisses Trent. “He‘s been obstructing me all down the line. When I saw that he‘d managed to get backstage at Lollapalooza I told security he was this guy who went around pretending to be president of a record company and they threw him out. In front of everybody. I wish I had it on video-tape. It was a f***ing beautiful moment.“

TRENT now feels, for reasons impossible to go into here, that TVT have, via Gottlieb, blown their chances of ever working with him again. He wants out. Gottlieb, quite understandably, (Nine Inch Nails are his biggest selling act) is unlikely to let Reznor go without a fight. Reznor assumes, somewhat pessimistically, that there will be no new Nine Inch Nails product for several years (“Maybe never“). And this despite the fact that Reznor is presently working on a new album he reckons would be ready for release in the spring of ‘92.

Isn‘t it just a case of an inveterate troublemaker making more trouble, much too much trouble, cutting off his nose to spite his face?

“No, no way. if you can‘t do something right, why do it at all?“

Nevertheless, Reznor has a reputation for being incredibly difficult.

“I know, I know I do,“ he says. “The weird thing is there‘s a lot of me that really wants to fit in. Now that I think back at it, the problem I‘ve had all my life is that I could never fit into a group and I think I‘ve always wanted to do that. My family life wasn‘t bad but it wasn‘t a typical family. I grew up with my grandparents, my parents split when I was young. I wouldn‘t trade that, they raised me well but I do think I missed out in some ways - brother, sisters, dog, typical family stuff. All through school there was never a peer group that I‘d just fit into, I could never just be a happy f***ing idiot part of the group. Same at college. Then, when I was in a band, I took to hanging out with Al Jourgensen and the Wax Trax people. “It was cool to meet them because I‘d always admired them and they accepted me as a friend, but I realised that I‘m not really like them. I can behave that way (boozing, bingeing, f***ing) only for a limited time. Now I know that I don‘t fit into this lifestyle, being a rockstar or an industrial electronic rock artist or whatever the f*** I‘m called. I think, basically, I‘ve always been lonely. I mean, I say I like being on my own, but I think saying that is just a way of making yourself feel better about it.“

Do you consider yourself odd?

“I guess. I know I‘m weird around people. I know I‘m acting weird, but I can‘t stop. I can‘t be normal, I can‘t talk to someone and not say some thing dumb. I was always like that. I remember the first time I was in London working on the album. I was there by myself, I didn‘t know anyone. I was working with John Fryer who I didn‘t get along with very well. We‘d work Monday through Friday and he‘d drop me off late on Friday. I remember dreading going home. I walked to every possible place in London, I saw every sight there is and, after a month, I still didn‘t know anybody and I was too f** *ing weird to meet anybody. I didn‘t like the people I did know, but I wanted to bang out with them anyway because there was no one else. I was afraid to go to clubs because I didn‘t know where to go or how to get in and I didn‘t know what you‘re supposed to do there and I couldn‘t possibly talk to anyone and. . . aaaw God.“

He groans.

“Now I‘ve got the home, I‘ve got the girlfriend and the dog. But what I really wanna do is make another record. I‘ve got shit loads of ideas and all I wanna do is get out touring with new material. It‘s weird.“

And it was around about now that we got mugged Life. . . it just keeps sticking it to you. And Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along.

The son of a bitch.

“Sin“ is out now on Island Records..