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
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
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
“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
“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.“
“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
The son of a bitch.
“Sin“ is out now on Island Records..