NINE INCH NAILS - Trent
Reznor - got it bad, got it sussed and has currently got it made. Hugeness
beckons Stateside, hand in glove with credibility. It doesn‘t make him sad, but
it certainly doesn‘t make him happy. Like the great Danni Minogue he has
trouble with ‘success‘.
BACKSTAGE at the Lollapalooza festival in
Stanhope, New Jersey, the sun beats down unmercilessly on the heads of the crew
who‘re running around frantically, shouting to be heard above the dischordant
din the Butthole Surfers are currently making stage front. As I wait for Trent
Reznor to make an appearance, I scan the surroundings, able to pick out the
photo-familiar faces of various Jane‘s Addiction members, Ice-T with posse and
the heavily tattooed and sweating torso of Henry Rollins, fresh from his set.
Reznor himself is virtually upon me by the time
I recognise him. All in black, white skull topped by a crown of spiky
dread-plaits and wearing a look of weary despondency, the centrifugal force
behind Nine Inch Nails looks anything but comfortable in the light of day. He
nods a brusque hello as we are introduced, and his silence as we walk to the
tour bus to escape the noise is unsettling in the extreme. After all, ‘Pretty
Hate Machine‘ Nine Inch Nails‘ debut album, was hardly a bag of laughs, a
brutal and abrasive downward spiralling vinyl torture, created by one man and
his exploration of his own twisted dark side. At first impression, this man
seems to have made a career out of being miserable.
Once sitting comfortably inside the bus the
tension eases somewhat, to my relief, and Trent relaxes sufficiently enough to talk
amiably about Nine Inch Nails‘ current activities.
“I‘m about half way through the new album now,
hopefully it should be out by the end of the year. The new record‘s just myself
again, although there‘ll be different people playing here and there, but it‘ll
still basically be me co-ordinating it.“
Can we expect a lot of difference between the
new material and the angst-ridden flavour of ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘?
“Yeah, absolutely. I did the last record at the
end of ‘88 to ‘89, and it was true to how I felt at the time.“ He pauses for
thought. “I‘ve changed a lot. The music‘s going to be a lot different, probably
a lot more aggressive, more than just disco-dancey sort of stuff. My tastes
have changed and the old album sounds a little light to me right now.‘
If the old album seems ‘light‘ to Reznor, it is
worrying to think what boundaries he may be going to break with the next. I‘ve
heard various rumours about his unhappiness with his record label TVT in the
states, which in Britain is licensed through Island. Do they give him pressure about
the unorthodox nature of his records?
“Yeah,“ he nods, with barely concealed
annoyance. “I’m trying to orchestrate things now so that the record label gives
me money and then I give them the finished product. Because the whole idea of
having things approved and censored and going through channels of people whose
taste I don‘t approve, I can‘t deal with any more.
“In America we‘ve had an incredible amount of
trouble and it‘s not all vulgarity issues. Here they‘ve been trying to push us
as a Top 40 band, which is the last thing we are. Any amount of success we‘ve
had on the underground is nothing if it doesn‘t go Top 40, and there‘s 110 song
that I‘ve written which caters to that and I‘m not going to start.“
On a roll now the complaints come fast and
“I think radio is in a pretty sorry state today,
even college radio has become so fickle and stupid. And MTV is horrible, their
playlist is sickening. It‘s awful, it‘s so formulated and corporate.
“The only way 1Iknow to combat that is in put
out something that is good, that purposely doesn’t cater to it. Say for
example, if it was down to an issue of censorship, then our reaction would be
‘Here it is - you don‘t wanna play it then don‘t. F**k you.‘
“We have the same trouble with radio. There’s a
few alternative stations that, when we gave them the album, initially said.
‘there‘s nothing we can play off this record‘. Four or five months later one of
the tracks became the most requested song in LA, because they tried to play it
once and it took off. So they now believe, ‘well, if that made one programme I
think I’ll give the next album a second listen. I’ll give other bands a second
With his obvious unwillingness to conform and play
the ‘commercial single‘ game, does he expect further problems with his new
“Absolutely, if not more so,“ he sighs. “But
then I can respect a band like Jane‘s Addiction that can play to a shitload of
people, have a high selling album and maintain their integrity. They‘ve had
very little MTV support, no radio airplay, so it just goes to show it can be
done. I think that the success of this tour where there‘s only one band, Living
Colour, that‘s ever got substantial airplay proves it. It’s the hottest tour of
the summer, and it‘s selling out everywhere.“
While on the subject of the Lollapalooza, how
did Nine Inch Nails appearance come about?
“Jane‘s Addiction, along with their management
and booking agency picked everyone on the bill. They asked us if we do it. And
I initially didn‘t want to, because we‘re not an outdoor band, we’re not a
daytime band, and we’re certainly not
a festival band,“ he emphasises. “I hate the idea of playing in front of people
sitting drinking beer.
“But it‘s the challenge of putting our music
over in there because we‘re really comfortable in clubs, we‘ve done a couple of
sell-out tours in clubs, with cool production and a very insulting sort of show.
Now we’re trying to juxtapose that into a giant unfriendly well lit
environment. It’s creepy but it’s a challenge. We seem to have gone down well,
and we‘ve outsold every other band on T-shirts, whatever that means, I guess generally
I’m pleased about it, but I won’t do another tour like this – once is enough.
especially hard going on after Ice-T who’s got a good set and an ‘everybody
clap your hands’ participation thing. We come out and I have nothing to say to
the audience. I’m not the kinda guy who can come out and say, “How‘s everybody
feeling tonight New York y‘know? It‘s not me. I think people watch and if
they‘re into it then great, if they‘re not they can go and buy a hot-dog or
something“, he ends dismissively.
Trent is obviously adamant about gaining
acceptance on his own terms and doesn‘t seem to make concessions to win over a
more cross-sectioned audience. How then, I wonder, does he react to the
pigeonholing of Nine Inch Nails with the industrial/dance faction?
“I don‘t mind. I think what people call
industrial in the States is totally different to what people consider
industrial in Europe. Over here it‘s predominantly stuff
on the Waxtracks label, but there it‘s referring back to Throbbing Gristle and
Test Department, Over here it‘s more kinda harder edged disco sort of stuff.
“I listened to it and I liked a lot of it. It
influenced me and I kind of arranged the stuff in that style. But I don‘t think
that we by any means define what an industrial band is. It gave us a built in
audience when we started, and for that I can‘t complain. I’d rather be called
that than disco or metal or something that.
“But the live shows have taken it something
else completely. It‘s not really a synth band anymore. But I don‘t spend too much
time thinking about it, to decide what else it is. “We‘ve played a lot, we toured
for the most part of 1990, opening bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Pete
Murphy. It was fun and it gave us time to develop into something I think is a
pretty good show. A lot of it is based on production, I think a lot of it is
theatrical, but not in a shlocky Alice Cooper kind of way. I like playing live
but I ready to finish the album now. It‘s like A and B y‘know? In the studio
it‘s a lot of time for thinking, meticulously planning things out. Live is a
lot of time getting things just right.“
WITH these developments is Trent himself a
happier person? It appears he would be if it wasn‘t for that age old problem of
artistic temperament versus money grabbing industry. Trent seethes for the second time.
“We‘ve had such a bad deal with our record
label. To the point where the stakes are getting a little bit higher. Our
popularity level is on the up and I’m really excited about doing the new stuff,
which I now have a platform to do from. But,“ he pauses to glower ominously, “I‘ve
got this big obstacle which prevents me from doing everything. Which is the
record label. That‘s been a major dampener on the whole situation. My
optimistic outlook went down the toilet.“
He calms himself.
“I still have the same motivation for making
music. It‘s just a way of me expressing myself and getting things out of my
system. My purpose for doing it, is that if someone can relate to that and I’m
vague enough about what I’m talking about, they can apply their own situation
to that. That‘s why I like the music I like for the most part. I don’t want to
preach to people and say ‘believe in this God, or do this thing’. I don’t care
about that, and I don’t like people telling me
“I also naively thought that it would give me
some sort of peace,” he smiles briefly. “It didn’t. Now it’s got to the stage
of, well I can sell more records, I can have more people at my show, I can make
better videos… you know what I mean, it’s like a zero after that number. But
what I do feel good about, is that it’s nice to know that some people like what
I do. And instead of now trying to repeat what I did, it gives me the balls to
do something else. I know I will have people who will follow it now, give me
the chance. I have the nerve to do that. If it works, cool, and if it
doesn‘t...I have to be honest to myself. So basically I‘ve got more confidence
in my art.“
So much confidence that he‘s willing to go out
in front of an audience predominantly made up of metalheads when they open for
Guns N‘ Roses? I mean, it‘s plain that Reznor likes pushing the odds, but does
that incorporate a death wish?
“We‘re doing it for the spectacle of it. We
were asked to do it. Axl‘s our friend and he likes the band,“ states Trent, to
my look of amazement. “So he said if we wanted to open for them we could. We‘ve
never played Europe so I thought it was a good way to
And how. But again, I ask, what can they hope to
achieve by playing to an audience that are renowned for their lack of patience
for anything that doesn‘t come under the metal banner?
“That‘s the idea. It‘s the challenge of seeing
what will happen. I‘d rather open for them than for someone who would make more
sense. I figure most of the people there will probably never have heard our
record. If it incites a not or upsets people all the better, because we‘ll be
at our most offensive for those shows.
“I just like people being forced to deal with
us in some capacity, whether they hate us or love us. There‘s nothing more
offensive to me than playing a show where the people are looking around or
trying to talk over you. If they throw a beer at my head, I don‘t care. Leave,
go take a shit, but just don‘t sit there!
“When we play live we always try to get minimum
or no security, so that we give out to you, you throw it back and we throw it
back again ten times harder.“
A true artist, Reznor is intent on causing a
reaction, be it positive or negative. Is he tempted to test this out in other
“I absolutely would,“ he replies. “I don‘t like
videos, because of MTV and I‘ve got no desire to work in that context, in that
format. I‘ve got some plans to do some shit for the next album, but I don‘t
want to say too much in case it doesn‘t come off, but it‘s along the lines of
using film as a medium, working with a director, that compliments the record
rather than being looked at as a video.
“The new record will be sort of more like a
concept. I like the format of a CD or album to be a piece of work with a
beginning and an end, rather than a collection of songs.“
Following his collaboration with Al Jourgenson,
are there any more in the pipeline?
“I‘ve worked with the Revolting Cocks a little
bit. I did the Cocks tour in America, played some guitar, and I did the 1,000
Homo DJ‘s. At some point when it‘s right we‘ll probably do something together
Is there anyone that you‘d like to collaborate
with that you haven‘t?
“I‘d like to do a lot of things that aren‘t obvious.
I would like to get Prince for example, and say let‘s just produce an EP or
12“, but it‘s not going to be you producing me, it‘s going to be us working
together. Get him back to doing...well I‘ve always been a fan, but some of the
stuff he‘s done lately...but something sinister and cool and out there. He‘s
been an inspiration in the way that he‘s proved that one guy on his own can do
Nine Inch Nails are gaining more acceptance and
are amassing a huge underground following in the States. As that grows, doesn‘t
the introverted Reznor want to shy away from the trappings that success will
“I don‘t know. This tour has been weird because
we‘re still at the elevation status. As long as I can do what I do without the
pressure of sales. But there‘s gonna be a time...well I don‘t see Nine Inch
Nails as being real long lived. Hopefully I won‘t feel this way five or ten
years from now and rather than bastardising it into something that turns people
off, I’d rather change the name and incorporate some new ideas. I don‘t want to
be an old fart. It‘s easy for me to say now that those guys suck, they haven‘t
got it anymore. I’m still climbing up the ladder. But, yeah, inevitably I‘m
going to mature and I don‘t want to drag the fans with me. Nine Inch Nails
right now is heading in a direction of complete negativity and 1 want to
explore that and see what happens.“
And financially? Is it the old trap of having
inspiration and no money to put it into action or vice versa?
“I‘ve never had money, but I‘ve got enough now
that I can pay my rent. We hear things like ‘Well, your T-shirts are now worth
a million dollars, you can sell your merchandise franchise.‘ Christ y‘know?“ he
says shaking his head in disbelief. “I’m tempted to sell it and then quit music
and do something else, and say, tough shit guys!“ He laughs. “I wouldn‘t do
that, but I didn‘t do this for money, and I‘m not going to let that change us.
It‘s very tempting, but to sell out would be to go against everything I‘ve ever
said, or the reason that I’m making music in the first place.
“I really don‘t think I‘ve changed as a person,
as far as the success factor. I’m flattered when someone comes up to me, but I
moved to New Orleans to get away from people, just so I can write music, live,
wink down the street without getting a big scene. I don‘t want to be around
that, although some people seem to need that.“
And as they say, money can‘t buy you happiness.
Are you bothered that the press have got you down as a miserable bastard? “It‘s
kind of an extension of the truth. People listen to that record and say ‘God
you must be the most depressed person‘. Well, yeah, I was depressed when I wrote
the album, but you know if I wrote a novel about killing people that doesn‘t
necessarily mean I‘m going to go around doing it. I can project and extend
things beyond what they truly are.
“When I was doing that record I would start
with how I felt about something and take that to the ultimate degree of what I
could feel for that and see what it was. In turn I bummed myself out by doing
it, but I got a documentation of it. What irritates me is when some f**ker
comes up to me and goes (he takes on a thick drawl), ‘Who was the girl who
f**ked you over?‘
“When we first started this out, being on a
little label there was no-one to guide me as far as press. When I first started
doing interviews people are asking me about my background and it wasn‘t a real
bizarre story. I didn‘t grow up living in twenty countries, I didn‘t have a
heroin habit and I‘d never been a male prostitute.
“And I thought ‘I‘m boring!‘ I grew up in Pennsylvania, went to college and dropped out.
But I decided instead of fabricating some kind of story that would make me
sound more interesting, to tell the truth. Because lying about things would contradict
what I had done in terms of the record. On stage I didn‘t sit down and create a
character consciously, it just developed naturally. But the bad thing is that
now people I don‘t know and maybe don‘t want to, know about me. That was really
creepy at first, but now I‘m just numb to it.“
I comment on the dangers of the obsessive fan,
and how Perry Farrell had his artwork smashed up by one who couldn‘t accept he
had a life outside his persona.
“But there‘s a trade off,“ argues Trent. “You
get an artistic platform, you get people catering to your every whim. The
downside is you have to sacrifice some things to get that. Y‘know I bitch about
people bugging me, but I just get tired on tour of people hounding you not
understanding that it wou’ld be so much nicer to just wave and leave. But I‘d
rather be doing this than anything else.“
And on that note I depart to witness Ice-T‘s
magnificent all-out rap attack, and with the audience participation, yeah, it
did look a pretty hard act to follow. However, Nine Inch Nails proved
themselves up to the challenge. Reznor pacing the stage, wild-eyed and razor
sharp, looked a million miles away from the quiet unassuming figure I‘d met
only an hour earlier.
Live, Nine Inch Nails are a killing machine,
and rolling into battle with such tenacity, it seems for now at least, their
downward spiral is reversing to spin out with anger.