He‘s just moved into
the house where Sharon Tate was slaughtered by the Manson Family. The video for
his new single‘s just been banned because it features scenes of torture, murder
and genital mutilation. His records — ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘, ‘Broken‘ and the
new remix EP, ‘Fixed‘ — are essays in homicidal rage und self-destruction, murderous
cacophonies that offend and appal. They also sell by the shit-load and achieve
platinum status in America. He is Nine Inch Nails — and his name is Trent Reznor.
The Stud Brothers report.
Trent Reznor‘s moved. He now lives in Los Angeles— Beverly Hills to be precise. Trent‘s new place
isn‘t particularly big, not by Beverly Hills standards, anyway. It does,
however, have a history. And, in LA, where they‘ll fix a brass plaque to
anything pre-Reagan, history is a big plus.
Get this. On the large paved parking area where
Trent now leaves his pick-up truck, a
young black woman discovered the dead body of an 1 8-year-old boy. He‘d been
shot four times and had his face and arms slashed. On the nearby lawn where Trent now plays ball, she found two more
bodies. One of them, a man, bad been stabbed 31 times, shot twice and struck 13
times over the head with a blunt object. Everyone agreed that he‘d fought hard
for his life. Near the man lay a 25-year-old woman. She‘d been stabbed 28 times.
But it‘s what they found in Trent‘s living-room
that realty gives the house its name. Just a few feet from Trent‘s bedroom, in
the room where Trent now watches TV, police discovered the body of a
hairdresser. He‘d been stabbed, beaten and shot. Someone had even tried to hang
him. Beside him was the body of a young, blonde, very pregnant woman. She‘d
been stabbed l6 times. Someone had also tried to hang her.
That‘s one hell of a history. Another
interesting thing about Trent‘s house, Trent tells us, is that you can make an
unbelievable amount of noise without disturbing the neighbours.
The first thing that occurred to many upon learning
that Trent Reznor is renting Sharon Tate‘s house, site of the Manson murders,
is that he‘s sick. The next is that that is exactly what Reznor wants us to
think. Those who already regard Reznor as a charlatan, a puerile pop poseur masquerading
as a hardcore industrial manic depressive, will view his move from New Orleans
to LA, and this particular house in LA, as a singularly grotesque and
obnoxiously theatrical way of proving that he really is a pretty f***ed-up
Three weeks ago Reznor told Melody Maker that his
renting of the house had come about by accident rather than design. He claimed
he was looking for a large, isolated home where he could begin writing and
recording his next album.
Reznor maintained that it was only just prior
to signing the contracts that he learned of the house‘s history. Nevertheless,
didn‘t he understand that by taking on the property he‘d be playing right into the
hands of his critics?
Sitting in the bar of a west London hotel, Reznor ponders this (he is a
big ponderer) and then sighs resignedly.
“Obviously I‘m aware that I‘m setting myself
up,“ he tells us. “I know people are gonna say I only did it to prove how ghoulish
I am. But the honest-to-God truth is that it was a cool place and it was the
place we‘d picked anyway.“
So the house‘s allure is in no way connected to
“Obviously it‘s intriguing to live in a house
like that. I was initially just interested in what it‘d be like to live in LA
for eight months, and now I know. I hate it, it sucks. But, if you’ve gotta be in
LA, that‘s the place to be— it‘s an a hill, it‘s go to beautiful view and it‘s
above the smog. And, obviously, so be living in that area, Beverly Hills with the rich and famous, is a cool
culture shock for me. I know this Tate business looks like the most gimmicky thing
I could do, but the house real is cool. And, besides, I don‘t think anyone with
the vaguest sense of curiosity, given the opportunity and the resources to live
there for a while would turn it down.“
Reznor has many times been accused of using
violence as a gimmick. Whether he does so or whether he‘s genuinely preoccupied
with violence is difficult to say. What is true is that violence, towards the
self and others, is Nine Inch Nails‘ central theme. Just the title of their debut
album, “Pretty Hate Machine“, is testament to that.
Their new mini-album, “Broken“, and even
“Fixed“, the follow-up EP of remixes, are generally agreed to be the most visceral
releases this year, both in terms of content and execution. A fortnight ago,
one of Nine Inch Nails‘ videos on what was to have been a video EP was refused
a certificate by the British Board Of Film Classification —which, to all
intents and purposes, means it‘s been banned.
The nicest thing that could be said about the
video is that it‘s a cross between “Hellraiser“ and the Acid Queen sequence in
“Tommy“. The most truthful is that it depicts a naked man being sexually
tortured, then torn to pieces. Two previous NIN videos have also incited
controversy. A year ago, Island Records were forced to pull the video for “Sin“
because of scenes of genital piercing and gay men smearing blood all over each
other. In 1990, misplaced footage from “Down In It“, which featured a
half-naked man being thrown from a building, fell into the hands of the FBI who
believed they‘d stumbled across pieces of a genuine snuff movie and initiated a
The man, it turned out, was Trent Reznor, who
was ‚of course, alive, well and touring with
The Jesus And Mary Chain. The FBI were left with egg on their face. You
can‘t buy publicity like that.
Trent Reznor quite clearly and profitably
wallows in pain —his and other people‘s. The question is why.
“I admit,“ he says, “that I‘ve always been
interested in murder and murderers. And if we‘re talking about Manson then, yes,
I find him intriguing. He‘s obviously a really intelligent guy. I‘m not one of
those people who‘re totally enamoured by him and his life— I‘m not into that. I
think what he did was not cool. I‘m just into the motivation behind it all. I
can understand in some ways the empowerment it must give someone to kill
someone, to commit the ultimate violation of somebody‘s rights by ending them.
I‘m not endorsing it, I don‘t wanna do it myself— but I am fascinated by lt. I
read somewhere that the serial killer is ultimately fearless, he actually goes
out and does what everyone wants to do. It was in this fanzine, totally
illegal, that deals in murder and paedophilia and everything completely taboo.“
Doesn‘t it say something terrible about society,
and particularly American society, that murderers and rapists are celebrated as
subversives, as revolutionaries?
“It does. It most certainly does. And that‘s a
good reason to be interested in this stuff. The sad f***ing thing is that one
way of impressing a very violent world is to be more violent.“
“I mean, what on earth has it come to when kids
have to take guns to school, when you‘re no longer afraid of being beat up by the
bully, when you‘re afraid of getting shot in the hallway? Violence is all over.
I mean, just before I came over here I decided to come back down to earth from my
lofty Beverly Hills residence and take a driving tour of South Central. Five
minutes in, there was a corpse lying in the parking-lot. It was like, ‘Holy
f**! Five minutes from my f***ing house!“
minutes from Trent‘s new place.
Trent Reznor‘s self-penned press release
described “Broken“ as “an ugly record“. One review commented that it was “as close
to excruciating as is possible without the skeletal touch of Genesis P Orridge“
(by the way, another Manson afficionado). Reznor‘s voice, at the best of times
an anguished howl, is digitally ravaged on “Broken“. Great cusps of guitar threaten
so burst the eardrums. Rhythms move sickeningly exact thwacks to nerve-wracking
machine-gun rattles, and underlying it all is the packed racket of churning,
Did he deliberately set out to release something
that even his most vociferous critics would agree was, if nothing else, harder
than the rest? Was he observing his own sick little maxim that one way of impressing
a very violent world is to be more violent?
“I admit same of it I did do for shock value,“
he says. “I wanted it to be fairly relentless and, from people‘s comments, I
already know it bums people out. And partly it was a knee-jerk reaction to all
those people who say things like, ‘Well, you got Skinny Puppy and Ministry here
and you got that pussy industrial pop fag band Nine Inch Nails here.‘ So it was
a kind of ‘F*** You‘ to them. Not in a macho way, because in Metal and
Industrial there‘s already too much of that bi dick male stuff. It was just to
show that our records could be as hard and intense as the live shows already are.
“But the idea that ‘Broken‘ was contrived, that
it was made coldly, isn‘t true. It genuinely reflected my state of mind. In
some ways, I was unmotivated. I was scared because I hadn‘t written songs in years,
and I was in a real shitty mood because I’d been on tour for three years -
getting shuffled around, with all the highs, lows, self-abuse, meeting people
constantly, having to prove myself again and again. I became a total prick, bitchy,
real hard to be around.“
One of the weirdest things about Trent Reznor
is that he finds his own success intensely embarrassing. Ever since “Pretty
Hate Machine” took off (it’s now gone platinum in America), he‘s been offering thinly
veiled apologies. He tells us – confesses to us – that where he is at the moment
is where he had originally planned to be in five years time. It‘s not that Reznor
doesn‘t believe he deserves his success, it‘s just that he‘s handicapped by that
indie mentality that equates obscurity
with credibility. Reznor fears that one reason NIN might have become so big is
that there‘s something visibly and audibly naff about them. Reznor believes naffness sells.
Proof of this is that “Fixed“, the remixed “Broken“,
was to have featured a Butch “Nirvana” Vig reworking of “Last”. However, when Reznor
heard Vig‘s version, he immediately recognised it as a potential Top Tenner and
threw it away.
“The idea with ‘Fixed‘”, he says, “was to just farm
out the tracks on ‘Broken‘ to other people and let them do their own thing. I
got Butch Vig to do ‘Last‘ out of curiosity. And it was a curiosity, completely
I told him to make it rock, like he normally
does, and he did. He played all the guitar and bass, gave it a whole new groove.
I appreciate the amount of work that went into it, and it’s well done for what
it is. But it transformed my song into something I f***ing hate. It‘s sooo rock,
Reznor says this with predictable but impressive
disgust. There‘s no doubt that he sees himself as a maverick—successfully
opposing the mainstream.
“In our lifetimes,” he says, “we‘ve seen rock
music completely legitimised. It used so be a force for change, it used to
wanna change itself. Now it‘s just stale. Now it seems as legitimate an option
in life as being a banker. You can even go to rock college. And through MTV and
Guns N‘Roses be so massive, everything‘s become homogenised, everyone thinks
guitar-bass-drums is the only way to be. But I say why not break out of that?
“ I know to some extent Nine Inch Nails plays
the pop music game—we make albums, videos, we get on MTV occasionally, we write
songs that have choruses. I‘m aware that, compared to Throbbing Gristle and
Skinny Puppy, we‘re very conventional. But I don‘t think, sonically, we‘re a
safe option —we‘re not completely within the guidelines set. I mean, I think
Nirvana are great, I‘m glad they‘re up there instead of Bon Jovi. But they
certainly aren’t confronting us with a
new form of music. Sugar, Soul Asylum, The Replacements, The Black Crowes—
maybe they can write a good song but, musically, they bore me senseless.
They‘re so derivative of other things.
“I know we are, too, but I do always try to
throw something in there that ‘ I‘ve never heard before. My goal, and I know it
sounds amazingly pretentious and I‘m far from attaining it, is to do something
like Hendrix did, make something that‘s great because it’s so wrong. I have to
The reason NIN are viewed so sceptically in
certain quarters is because Reznor tries so hard. Too hard. For some, “Broken“
is just too heavy, the videos are just too sick, and Sharon Tate‘s house…
Sharon Tate‘s house is just too much. For some, NIN are just an icy, pompous
exercise in schlock The argument as to whether
NIN are a genuine voice of despair and anger or a cynical exploitative facsimile
will doubtless continue. What no one can argue about is that NIN are quite
extraordinary. No one is presently taking the enormous chances Reznor is taking.
And rarely does such chance-taking pay such enormous dividends.
“Broken“ is indisputably one of the albums of
the year because it‘s bleak and brilliant, obscene and disgusted, visceral and
cerebral, because it makes noises you have never previously heard. And because it
proves that a record that raises eyebrows even in the most liberal and bohemian
circles can go Top 10 in America. Its success demands that others
take similar chances.
Whether “Broken“ is a true testament to
Reznor‘s misery and loathing or the product of some sinister masterplan is ultimately
an irrelevance. The bottom line is that Nine Inch Nails are one of the few
groups whose music, videos and attitude can honest described as extraordinary.