Jahr 1992


Mondo 2000



ca. 1992????



An Interview with Trent Reznor

of Nine Inch Nails


Autor: Gareth Branwyn


Trent Reznor, d.b.a. Nine Inch Nails, caused quite a stir in the music world with the release of his 1990 debut album « Pretty Hate Machine. A victim of “Industrial” labelling, the album was scoffed at by die-hard industrialists as a genre heist, and hailed by the overall alternative music press as a solid example of new music for the Nineties. Trent is not ashamed of the fact that he makes pop music – why should he be? Pretty Hate Machine is pop dance music at its best – fast, fresh – even emotionally deep. Which is a lot more than can be said for most of the retro-psychedelic- house-rap-metal-syntho smarm that’s being cranked out these days. His live show, with a full band, is another trip altogether. It’s intense (almost hardcore) and unpredictable – music that gets in your face and under your skin.

Gareth Branwyn

Welcome To The Machine

Mondo 2000: How did you originally get involved in music, and specifically, the kind of industrial-influenced music that you do?

TRENT REZNOR: I grew up with lots of music and instruments around the house. I was trained on the piano starting at five, My dad was into electronic devices and had an electric piano. When I got my first synthesizer, though, my piano playing came to an abrupt halt. Synthesizers seemed so much more than an instrument. I was also very into computers, electronics and video - so it all seemed to fit. I got serious about writing music about the time that MIDIs and sequencers hit the scene. So, right from the start I was composing on computer and sequencer. I can‘t imagine composing on a guitar or a conventional instrument.

Building Pop Structures with Industrial Power Tools

TR: When I was in the process of writing Pretty Hate Machine, I took an inventory of all the music that I liked. I wanted to formulate an idea what makes a powerful record. What it boiled down to was honesty - a sense of integrity in what was being said. I used that as a base in working with my ideas. Since I was a big fan of the American industrial movement -basically be it as electronic - it made sense for me to use this form. I had always been into electronic music, but I didn‘t feel it had much emotional intensity compared to rock ‘n‘ roll. Then industrial came along. It as electronic, but it delivered as much power and intensity as any other musical form. It also represents the total misuse of technology, which really appealed to me. [Laughter]

The best hip-hop—the stuff produced by The Bomb Squad from Public Enemy, is a totally novel use of sampling. It‘s using it as an instrument, instead of a simulation of a drum, or a piano.

From a songwriting point of view, I like anybody who‘s writing good material. I think XTC is a great band and writes excellent songs.

M2: Hear, hear! [Trent scores big points having just intoned the interviewer‘s other favorite band]

TR: Their lyrics are so intelligent, with good choruses. I‘m basically a Pop structure kind of guy. In that sense, I‘m not very experimental in terms of songwriting. A lot of industrial stuff is much more free-form. I like to have that hook and that structure.

In terms of arrangement, however, I‘m much less traditional. I‘m totally bored with guitar-bass-drums. I‘m more into using different things - basically anything I can find that gets the sound I‘m looking for. A lot of what I‘m doing now may sound organic - it may sound like real drums, and at one time, it was - but they‘ve been looped and sampled and processed in strange ways.

I cut and paste, plucking things off of other people‘s records - you become a kind of god of your own musical environment.

Cyborg Heart

M2: I want to go back to what you were saying about honesty being very important in music. I think that‘s what impressed me about Pretty Hate Machine. That raw sincerity really came through. Although the overall mood is dark and negative, there is a real beauty to it that I found uplifting. There‘s a real sense of heart, flesh, and blood amongst all the loud electronics. Are there other electronic musicians who you think have a lot of heart in their music?

TR: That‘s an interesting question. I was definitely aware of that in doing my album - that juxtaposition of humanity amidst all that machinery - not only lyrically or in terms of the arrangement, but just in terms of communicating that concept. Sometimes I would pit the harshest electronic textures against a particularly raw human vocal or a real guitar part.

I had a rule with myself during the recording that I would only do two takes of the vocals. I‘d sing it once and it would usually suck, and then the second take I would use - good or bad. Even if the pitch or intonation was off. The only exception was if I sang the wrong words. I wanted to express a kind of vulnerability—the idea that I was a person trying to keep my head above water, living in this machine which was moving forward.

As for other bands, I like Ministry. They basically established industrial music in America. They put the anger and aggression element into electronic music. I mean, the first electronic music that I got into wasn‘t Throbbing Gristle. It was more like Human League and Devo. Then you had the people who developed electronic personalities because their music was electronic - Gary Numan, Kraftwerk - very emotionless.

Today, you have people who just want to follow the technology rather than innovate with it. The people who arrange Paula Abdul or Madonna - they just buy the gear, read the manual and make the sounds it tells them they can make. That‘s why all the dance club bits sound the same.

M2: Let‘s talk more about “the ghost in the machine.“ I‘m interested in cybemetics—the sustainable relationship between humans and machines. I think there‘s a soulfulness and a dynamic on your first album which can only arise from a give-and-take relationship between humans and electronics. What other goals did you have for this first record?

TR: Basically to suck in a lot of people - get their attention. [Laughter] I had well-known producers - Adrian Sherwood (Cabaret Voltaire and Ministry), Flood (Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode), Keith LeBlanc (Tackhead), John Fryer (Cocteau Twins). That helped. I think a lot of people who bought the record were surprised that these people were involved with a project that was different than most stuff in the genre. Our live shows are very different from the records. I could have just gone out with tape machines or fifty keyboards and recreated the sound of the record. But I‘m more interested in the challenge of having four musicians interpret what was initially composed by one person on a computer. That way I‘m not bored, there‘s a lot of interaction, and it‘s a unique interpretation of my music. The record is me at home masturbating into a computer; the shows are me masturbating into an audience. [Laughter]

M2: [Sarcastically] Oh, what fun!

TR: Everybody bring your raincoat.

Whipped Cream & Other Delights

M2: I want to read you something about your show from an industrial music topic I started on a computer network. Since I‘ve never seen you live, I asked if anyone had and what it was like. Here‘s what one women said:

“Hard to describe. Intense. Very intense. It lasted an hour but that was plenty. Lights. Volume. He threw cornstarch and chocolate syrup on the band members and the audience. Many members of the audience stage-dove. The set was like a jungle gym and he clambered and wound himself around various parts of it. The songs all sound torturous, anyway, and he wrung them out of his body. I expected blood, really.“

TR: [Laughs] Well, that‘s a flattering interpretation.

M2: What‘s with the cornstarch and chocolate syrup?

TR: When we started out and needed to get press photos taken, we knew we didn‘t want to pose like pretty boys. We got this photographer - Jeffrey Silverthorne from Ohio—who was doing pictures of people covered in cornstarch. They‘re photographed really high contrast so they look almost corpse-like. Most of his work is of nudes. There‘s something really disturbing about them. Eerie. So, as a result of working with him, I just came out with this box of cornstarch for our first show and doused everybody. We looked really creepy and stupid, but we seemed to pull it off. It looks great under the lights, grungy - a sort of anti-Bon Jovi thing. Towards the end of the tour, it started getting progressively more ridiculous: you know, “How can we outdo the night before?“ We were breaking things on stage.

One night I was in a 7-11 before the show and I saw this big thing of chocolate syrup and I got an idea. During a certain point in the show, I always molest the guitar player in some fashion. I said to him “Rich, tonight I‘ve got a surprise for you, don‘t worry, it‘ll be cool.“ He says, “What is it? You‘re going to make me look like an idiot and my brother‘s going to be there.“ This point in the show is when things lighten up a bit; there‘s a break from the violent intensity. I pulled out two things of chocolate syrup and started pouring them over his head. It looked cooler than I could‘ve possibly imagined. It totally dripped all over his guitar, everywhere. The roadies are saying: [deep, gruff voice] “Fuck this! This isn‘t in my contract!“

So, of course, it had to go even farther. The next night, in LA, there was a wall of security guys in front of the stage so that I couldn‘t see the audience and the audience couldn‘t see me. At one point I stopped the show and said “What the fuck are you doing? Does anyone here wanna see these fuckin‘ guys?“ At the end of the show, I found out that there was this big hump in the dance floor that they were trying to keep people from walking onto. So I apologized to them and we became good friends. The next night (at the same place) the security guys brought out ten heavy naked girls, and my road manager covered them with whipped cream. It was totally bizarre and silly.

M2: Where did the naked women come from?

TR: Apparently they were stripper friends of the security people. Did you see the Hard Copy interview with us? They did a story on us because of that whole video scandal. They ran this totally ridiculous story. I think they may have been there filming that night, but I don‘t think they got the part with the nude women. [During the filming of NIN‘s video for “Down in It,“ the filmmakers tied a camera onto a helium balloon to film Trent lying on the ground covered with cornstarch. The balloon camera got away and ended up landing in a farmer‘s field. People thought they had found a tape showing some sort of ritual murder and all media hell broke loose.]

Blood & Chocolate

M2: Speaking of extremes, how extreme are you willing to get in your quest for release? That comment above, “I expected blood. Really.“ Are you going to continue to raise the stakes?

TR: When I‘m on stage some thing else takes over and I do things that I know I shouldn‘t do. Not in terms of hurting myself or anyone, but smashing things. I mean, I‘m not interested in slicing myself open like Iggy Pop, if that‘s what you‘re asking.

M2: Well, I was just reading an interview with Al Jourgensen (Ministry) and Nivek Ogre (Skinny Puppy) and they were talking about bloodletting on stage.

TR: [Laughs] What!? I hadn‘t heard that. What does the audience do - wear rubber gloves and stuff to protect themselves?

M2: Oh, that‘s right. It better be safe bloodletting. The entire audience dressed in rubber and PVC. [Laughter]