Just off the Jane‘s
Addiction Lollapalooza tour, NINE INCH NAILS arrive in Britain this week to
support Guns N‘ Roses at Wembley. TED MICO met the master of alienation Trent
Reznor and discovered why they‘re being called ‘The Cure of the Nineties‘ in America and why even Europe may find their electro-loathing too intense to ignore.
Pics: KEVIN WESTENBERG
The Jesus & Mary Chain knew all about hate,
so did The Velvet Underground. Both used detestation as a source of inspiration
and realised that hate is creativity‘s sharpest spur. Hate is like war - a
great deal easier to start than to stop. Trent Reznor knows all about hate. His
general disgust for mankind is only matched in venom by his self-loathing.
Trent Reznor is a f***ed-up kid in a f***ed-up world. For Reznor, love isn‘t the
sound of a distant violin serenade, but the futile twang of a bedspring.
Reznor doesn‘t lean over his hotel balcony in
LA to admire the view, but to wonder how
fast he can plunge.
“I hope I don‘t do that,“ he says, “but I agree
that it‘s quite possible. I‘m not the most stable person - I‘m moody as shit
and I sometimes scare myself.“
Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails and ‘Pretty
Hate Machine“ is still his only album. It was first released two years ago to
glowing reviews and in the last 24 months, the Nails‘ popularity in America has
risen as fast as Reznor‘s spirits have fallen. But while Americans swooned at
his electro-fanfare to alienation and his computer generated nightmare resulted
in them being hailed as “The Cure of the Nineties“ ‚ they were systematically
ignored abroad, partly because Island, their record company here, had little
faith that pounding industrial beats could equal pounds sterling.
Now “Pretty Hate Machine“ is being re-released
in Britain and Nine Inch Nails‘ world has radically changed for the better,
even if Reznor‘s inner world of turbulent angst hasn‘t.
“It always goes back to self-destruction
through self-abuse,“ he says with a resigned smile. “On the record the
perspective is low, but there‘s an element of hope to it. Someone is trying to
get out of the muck one way or another. Live, it‘s the same: just scream along,
get it out of your system. I still haven’t got my philosophy in life figured
out, I haven‘t got my religion figured out, I haven‘t anything figured out, but
I‘m not afraid to question what I don‘t know. Part of my self-help is to
hopefully find a philosophy that gives me peace of mind.“
He looks down at the bottle of beer the bar
waitress has just served him as though it‘s a vial of belladonna, but drinks it
all the same. The Lollapalooza tour is taking its toll.
“I‘ve beaten drugs and I’ve beaten alcohol and
I know what they are and I don‘t need them as a crutch. Sex? I don‘t know, I’ve
beaten alcohol and drugs more than I’ve beaten that. I’m so away from people
and I’m so convinced that I don‘t need people – you meet a lot of scummy people
when you‘re on tour and rarely meet anyone you want to because those people aren‘t
the ones who waited an hour to get backstage. Three days ago, I met someone who
was totally cool and that made me the happiest I‘ve been since I can remember. It
maybe over next week, but I’ve forgotten that the feeling existed. I’d almost
have to go back to my childhood to remember…”
REZNOR grew up in Mercer, Pennsylvania, a small nowheresville where
“nothing f***ing happens except for corn growing“. His parents split up when he
was young and he was brought up by his grandparents, but admits his family life
was normal enough. He grew up listening to Kiss and Queen, Pink Floyd‘s “The
Wall“ (“I liked hearing someone who was more depressed than me“) and was almost
like any other kid... almost. He refused to settle for pumping gas - the only option
for anyone who doesn‘t make it out of Mercer after highschool. In fact, Reznor
refused to settle full stop.
“Looking back now through highschool, I never
fit in,“ he recalls. “I wasn‘t the total outsider who no one liked, I just
didn‘t have anything in common with anyone. Then when I went to college for a
year, I decided this time I‘ll make friends. So I did the same f***ing thing –
met a bunch of people, had to fit in, made some great friends and lost them
because I never went back to school.
He floundered around the States, playing
keyboards for several bands and finally ended up in Cleveland, where he got a job selling
software for electronic music. This led to a job in a studio, where Trent finally realised what might make
living and breathing worthwhile. “I reached a point a few years ago when I knew
what I wanted to do, but I‘d never worked at it because I was afraid if I did
work at it and it sucked, I’d never find something else,“ he says. “I really
threw my life out of balance, gave up my friends, gave up any personal life and
went into music full time. I worked in a studio in the day and my own demos at
night. I completely withdrew from people, wrote the album, immediately got a
deal, now I’m on the road.
“I didn‘t want to get too attached or serious to
anyone person because I didn‘t want anyone holding me back. I can look at
myself now and honestly say that I’m proud of what I’ve done and where I’m at and
I’m happy about it, but I‘m not totally fulfilled and I’m so used to being
unhappy about everything, the idea has kind of snuck up on me. The more
emphasis I put into normal life, the less I put into the music, so I’ve decided
to abandon one side for a few years, just to see what I can do. If my life’s a f***ing
mess, bit I put out good music, then I‘ll be satisfied. I’ve tried to strike a
balance between my music and my sanity, bit it doesn‘t work.
“For the first record, I was in a withdrawn
state to start with, so I just thought about everything I’d gone through, which
fed itself and added to the isolation. The fact I couldn‘t get anyone to work
with me only added to the sense of alienation. I haven‘t fully explored all
“My career‘s going well,“ he continues, “far
better than I ever expected and I’m more than happy about that, but there are
new bad things: the biggest thing that was shattering for me was my foolish
idea that the music business was about music and art and instead it‘s been one
big slap in the face.
“I just keep fighting time aftertime with me on
the side of quality product and the record company on the side of rip the
people off, get these guys to remix it so it sounds like these other guys that are
in the charts and sell more records. I don‘t care I sell a f***ing record, I
have to be true to me, so the whole experience has been ugly and disheartening.
I’ve seen so many bands I’ve liked go down the shitter because they decided
they want to make some money. But do I really want to go through this cycle
every time: fight, do a record, fight, put out the record, fight, kill myself touring?
“The business is a licence to be an idiot.
That‘s why we‘d never live in LA. I live in New Orleans now, where nothing
really happens - there‘s no ‘scene‘ for what I do. It’s just a strange and cool
place and I’d rather be on my own. The scene is really in Chicago where my friends are and my peers
Reznor seems happiest living life not just as
an outsider, but an isolationist, pulling the shutters down on the rest of the
“Yeah,“ he agrees, “I never wanted to, but
inevitably, I never fitted into any group. Now we have success, and the people
I‘ve always liked and admired are all my friends and I hang out with them but I’m not like them
either. It‘s f***ed. I’m f***ed.”
In person, Reznor is shy, diffident and nervy -
the polar opposite to the violent psychotic on stage, but he still burns with the
same inward-looking intensity.
“I’ve had a real crisis in the post two years
since we‘ve started to attain success. My life goals up to this point were to
have a record deal, write something that hadn‘t been heard before that I could
relate to and think was cool. Now I can write better songs, we can play bigger venues,
more people can like us, but it’s really an extension of the same goals. I
thought I‘d reached some kind of peace with myself, which I certainly haven‘t. I’ve
been more miserable. I got it, it didn‘t f***ing help, now I’m more miserable.“
REZNOR‘S meteoric rise in America was partly
helped b yone of the greatest PR scams of all time - an infamous video for
“Down In It” that resembled a snuff movie and featured Reznor plunging 50-foot to
his death. The film was delivered to the police, who then spent the next year
investigating the supposed murder.
Reznor takes exception to the idea that the
whole charade was a set-up, designed to whip up publicity.
“I swear to God that was accidental,“ he
claims. “it sounds like the greatest publicity scam, but it wasn‘t; the whole
story‘s been distorted. We filmed the video for ‘Down In It‘ at the end of ‘89
and the theme of the video was suicide – I was pursued through this building
and finally jumped off the roof. For the final scene, I was laying dead on the
ground and they hooked up a camera to a helium balloon let it go and pulled it down
while shooting footage.
“The first time they did it, the rope snapped
and it started to float over the building. We drove a couple of blocks to see
if we could find it but It was just a tiny dot on the horizon. Then last
summer, my manager rang me, telling me the FBI wanted to make certain I was
alive, because they‘d seen the footage. A farmer found the camera 200 miles
away in a different state. He gave it to the police, they thought it was a
snuff film, gave it to the FBI, the FBI saw the cornstarch on my body and
decided the body‘d been decaying for three weeks etc.
“It‘s stupid, but true. ‘Hard Copy‘ on TV did a
story on it and totally got on my shit, saying things like, ‘How dare you make
him of the police?‘ or ‘How did you fee when you found out the FBI had wasted a
whole year of their time?‘ I said it was funny and asked whether they don‘t
have better things to do.“
HAVING completed Lollapalooza, this weekend
Reznor and his band arrive in Britain to support Guns N‘ Roses at Wembley
Stadium. Axl Rose originally wanted Jane‘s Addiction to support them, but the offer
was rejected. Then he saw Nine Inch Nails play a club gig in LA and immediately
offered Trent the job. “Apparently Axl was irritating everyone on that Rock in Rio thing by saying, ‘You gotta listen
to Nine inch Nails‘ and wore our tee-shirts,“ Reznor explains. “I know
everyone‘s written off Guns N‘Roses, but same of what I heard is all right, the
rest is lumped into that MTV rock thing. Being totally honest and not a mutual
arse-licking rock person, I went back and listened to ‘Appetite For Destruction‘
and thought it was a harder and more honest than I expected it to be from
seeing ‘Paradise City‘ on MTV.“
The pairing of Reznor and Axl is, at best, an
unlikely meeting of metal and electro, but Nine Inch Nails are the world‘s most
unlikely electro band, who operate on a scorched stage policy when playing
live. Depeche Mode had Anton Corbijn film their concert footage, Nine inch
Nails would require Sam Peckinpah.
“We could get killed or make it happen,“ Reznor
concludes. “It doesn‘t make sense for us to be doing it - Depeche Mode would
make sense for us to support, but it‘s more of a challenge to bring it to
people who don‘t expect it.“
On stage, Nine Inch Nails treat their equipment
with the same care and tenderness a rabid pitbull would show to a sirloin
steak. Is the onstage demolition therapeutic?
“For us it is definitely,“ he concedes.
“Onstage I feel fulfilled, especially in a club when people are in my face and
attacking. When I see a lot of bands live, it’s like, ‘Wow we‘re on stage,
bang, we‘re into it‘. It‘s just a f***ing act and it might as well be
Shakespeare because they‘re just acting their f***inq part out. ‘
“When I formed the band, they asked, ‘How shall
we act on stage?‘ I said, don‘t even think about that - read the lyrics and
understand where I‘m coming from. Pretty soon everything started to have that
intensity. It‘s hard to do it every night, but we try and go out with the right
f***ing mindset and the motive is there.“
Half the money they made from the Lollopalooza
tour went into buying new equipment or repairing gear they‘d trashed. Some
people have suggested Reznor try for a sponsorship deal, but he grimaces at the
very mention of the word.
“I‘ll never do an ad or endorse anything for
anyone,“ he says curtly. “Paul McCartney sponsored by Visa? What the f*** is that.
Not that anyone really cares about Paul McCartney anymore, but it still gives
you a sickening feeling.
“I think that rock music should have an element
of danger to it. What‘s exciting is stuff that breaks the rules and is not accepted
by Miller beer commercials. It should be something that slaps you in the face,
whereas as now, growing up and wanting to be a rock star is as legitimate a
dream as a fireman, or doctor, or spaceman. Every commercial on TV has a token
rock person now. It‘s creepy; I hate it and I don‘t want to be a part of it or
associated with it in anyway.“
The Mary Chain were the first band Nine Inch
Nails supported, but it wasn‘t until they opened for Peter Murphy last year
that their live show began to accurately reflect Reznor‘s vision of chaos and
violence. Halfway through the tour, their popularity started to worry the headlining
band. They were selling as many tee-shirts and, in Reznor‘s words, the audience
began to get weird.
“All of a sudden we realised people liked us,”
he recalls. “One night, I was so mad at our guitar player, I just grabbed him
by the hair und threw him in the crowd. He freaked out, the guitar smashed, the
crowd wondered what the f**** was going on, but from that point, we‘d won them
over and we commanded that audience.
“If the mike‘s cutting out and you panic, they
laugh, but if the mike‘s in pieces und the drums are all over the stage, then
it‘s like ‘Wow‘. That element of uncertainty and fear can be used as a tool.“
It‘s the same reason Reznor und his band smear
their bodies with corn starch and look like jaundice victims.
“We try and catch the attention and walk that line
between being contrived and unusual. It‘s sort of an anti-glamorous thing. If we
try and look unhealthy, at least it‘s different from Poison who spend six hours
an a tanning bed before they go on stage. I know I sound like I’m contradicting
myself here, but I like the element of theatricality combined with integrity
and honesty. Now we have to find ways of stumbling into new and potentially dangerous
Nine Inch Nails are hate miles high und rising.
“Head Like A Hole“ is out on Island on September 2;
the album will be re-released on September23
NIN play Wembley Stadium on August 31.