Trent Reznor sits in the corner of a dark room,
looks at the floor and says, „I think my main problem was, my whole life’s goal
was to attain where I was last year. I never thought I’d get there. I always
thought I’d be happy if I got to that stage. I’m probably more fucked up and miserable, in a way. Okay, now my job is making
music. Great, I don’t have to worry about working in a music store or
something. But it wasn’t his fulfillment.
The wind got out of the sails because right while this was happening the bottom
fell out of the business side. It didn’t give me any moment to enjoy it. Which
is probably good artistically in the long run.” The sad thing is, Reznor’s
probably right. While a musician with his vision could probably make something
worth hearing out if any mood, artistic misery has served Nine Inch Nails well.
And Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails.
Here‘s his story for those who came in late. In
the late ‘80s Reznor sent a demo of his self-made music to TVT Records in New
York, an indie label whose great success had been with compilations of
television theme songs (“ Gilligan‘s Island,“ “Mr. Ed“ etc. TVT stands for “TV
Toons“). TVT owner Steve Gottlieb signed the one-man band, though, according to
Reznor, Gottlieb proceeded to object to everything Reznor wanted his album to
be, from the title, Pretty Hate Machine,
on. Nonetheless, the album generated positive word of mouth and began slowly
selling. From 1989 until 1992, Pretty
Hate Machine became a fixture on the Billboard
charts, eventually selling dose to a million copies. That‘s why last year
should have been the best time in Reznor‘s life.
The reason it wasn‘t is the reason Reznor was
horrified this afternoon when he realized Musician had scheduled his interview
and photo shoot for a studio located upstairs from TVT‘s Greenwich Village
headquarters. Just coincidence, but when Reznor says that if he bumps into Gottlieb
in the elevator he‘ll kill him, it‘s only half a joke. To make a very long
story short, Reznor came to mistrust every aspect of TVT‘s operation, from
their creative ideas to their bookkeeping. After a series of escalating
arguments, Reznor exploded when TVT withdrew permission for him to make an
uncredited guest appearance on a one-off recording by Ministry‘s Al Jourgensen.
Reznor wanted off TVT, and a lot of big labels wanted Reznor. But there was no
way in hell Gottlieb was going to let his cash cow go. Thus began the Bat of
Nine Inch Nails. Reznor refused to give TVT another album and kept a touring
version of Nine Inch Nails on the road (including the 1991 Lollapalooza Tour)
to pay his lawyers.
“People have been on my shit for milking Pretty Hate Machine for so many years,“
Reznor says. “Which isn‘t all any fault. I couldn‘t put a record out. It was a
terrible thing because on one hand your career‘s taking off, people like you.
On the other hand, you‘re chained to a bad record deal and not able to do
anything. Pretty soon we‘d just fade out of people‘s eyes and be in the Where Are They Now category.“
Enter Jimmy Iovine, legendary record producer
and—these days—president of Interscope Records. Iovine was determined to sign
Nine Inch Nails, but so were a lot of other record executives. When it became
clear that Gottlieb would not let go of his prize, lovine got the idea of
Interscope buying TVT to get the
band. During months of bi-coastal negotiation, other Interscope executives
began to question Iovine‘s obsession with landing Nine Inch Nails. Iovine would
tell them, “Listen—they‘re another U2,“ and get back on the plane.
Actually, Iovine was not the only big shot to
have the brain storm of acquiring financial interest in TVT in get Trent
Reznor. The trouble, as a rival label president explained, was that any other
record executive would be seen by Reznor as an ally of Gottlieb. Iovine—an
acclaimed record maker who had stood with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty
through similar legal wars—could win Reznor‘s trust because he could make a
convincing case for being an ally of the musician against Gottlieb.
“They kicked the door open,“ Reznor says of Iovine
and Interscope. “They joined forces with TVT, which initially made us think
they were the enemy. But upon calming down I realized that all our plans had in
shift. And they have been totally cool in me. I deliver them a record mastered,
finished. I deliver them whatever 12-inch singles we want to put out, I deliver
them videos. It cuts this third wheel that always caused problems out of the
So recently, when the last hands were shaken
and the last agreements signed, Reznor told Interscope he had a surprise for
them—a new Nine Inch Nails EP to put out immediately (an album will follow in
spring of ‘93). If there was one final test of Interscope‘s good intentions,
that EP was it. Broken is a harsh,
screaming assault from start to finish. Reznor unleashes all his pent-up fury
through four proper songs, two instrumental bridges and—just when you think
it‘s safe to put the crystal back on the shelf—two unlisted bonus tracks.
“On this Broken
EP,“ Reznor says of himself and his co-producer, “Flood and I kind of went
crazy. We were both in foul moods and wanted to make a record that was pretty
difficult to listen to. It became difficult to do it, and to listen to the
songs all day long created ear fatigue and tension. And where we did it was horribly
depressing. We recorded up in Lake Geneva, a resort town outside of Chicago. It was like The Shining.
“Arrangement-wise, we would start with what I
thought was a good song—let‘s say ‘Gave Up,‘ the last song, which is probably
my favorite. I had a good guitar riff, a vocal that I liked and a good chorus.
Then we just ruined it by arranging it in such a fashion that... it‘s still
there but it‘s not. If it was in Pretty
Hate Machine‘s world the vocals would be way up on top, all the little bits
that are juicy would be right where you could get at them. Instead, they‘re
about 10 levels in. The hook‘s there, but the guitar sound is so fucked up that
you can‘t even hear what it‘s playing unless you fill in the blanks with your mind.
The lyrics are fairly indecipherable, the vocals are back three notches instead
of on top. And that carried through the whole EP. I guess it was kind of a
test. I don‘t know. It was me flexing a muscle.
“I wrote the songs on guitar instead of
keyboards to give myself a new challenge. I realized if I sat down at the drum
machine I would churn out more songs that resemble what I‘ve done in the past.
When Flood and I started in arrange and program, my original idea went from
being a very straightforward guitar/bass/drum thing to sort of psychotically
adding part upon part upon part. Both of us were in a shitty mood and we were
in a horrible studio in the middle of nowhere, and it just seemed like the
right thing to do. The end result I think is fairly indigestible the first
couple of times around. But if you give it a chance, I think there‘s some stuff
He‘s right, there is some stuff in there.
Although Broken‘s sheer aural
audacity will break any lease, the more you hear it, the more the songs emerge
from the stew, and the better those songs sound. Thematically, Reznor has moved
from being mad with the world (the general attitude of Pretty Hate Machine) in being mad with the world and himself.
There‘s a lot less anger at the silence of God and stupidity of authority, and
a lot more exploration of how often one‘s real enemy is oneself. On Pretty Hate Machine‘s “Head Like a Hole“
Reznor screamed, “I‘d rather die than give you control.“ On Broken‘s “Happiness in Slavery“ he wakes
up in the fact that he‘s been giving people control over his life since he was
Hate fans who are stunned by Broken
(and there must be a lot of them—the EP debuted at number seven on the charts
and immediately started falling) probably did not see the live band version of
Nine Inch Nails, which occupied Reznor‘s energy during the years he was on
strike against TVT. Under that group‘s nightly assault the Pretty Hate Machine songs were ripped open and their guts exposed.
The live, unrecorded Nine Inch Nails was the missing link between the
alone-in-the-darkness of Pretty Hate
Machine and the screaming-in-the-fire of Broken. “I look at Broken as the third step in Nine Inch
Nails,“ Reznor says.
Still, Reznor says that none of the touring
band were under any illusion that they would have a part to play in the studio.
The idea of Nine Inch Nails as a band was for public consumption; it was never
a reality. “I want to give the impression that it is a band,“ Reznor says,
“‘Cause I like to hide behind that. But I never worked with those people on
songwriting. I need the control, I have to get the thing out the way I want it
to be. But at the same time, I miss the camaraderie of a band. I have my own
studio now which allows me the time to get a guitar player and drummer together
and play for a week on some ideas, and if it works, record it and that will be
incorporated into the record. But to say, ‘Okay, we‘re a democracy now, let‘s
all join in...‘ I‘ve just found that anytime I start to share responsibilities
I am ultimately disappointed. I don‘t know if I expect too much. I‘m the
closest one to Nine Inch Nails. I‘ve put the most work into it. It‘s not that I
want the credit, I don‘t care about that. Honestly. But I do care about it
enough that I want it to be done right. I can‘t just say, ‘Let‘s all dick
around with the songs and then vote on it.“
Sure, but other bandleaders, from Ray Davies to
Bob Mould, find a road between democracy and working alone. Reznor nods. “I
think a lot of other bands have an advantage on me of an experience I don‘t
have—of interaction with people. I‘m trying to figure out how it works. In some
ways it‘s good we weren‘t on the typical band schedule of put a record out,
tour, second record, tour. There was a time about a year after Pretty Hate Machine came out when people
started liking it, when I honestly didn‘t know what I‘d do next. Because I
didn‘t know why they liked it. I went through that thing: ‘I like it but I
don‘t understand. What was good about that? Well, I should probably incorporate
those good elements into...‘ Since I had plenty of time to think, I realized
that when I did that record it was really honest to me. That was the thing I
wanted to keep for anything Nine Inch Nails does in die future, whether people
like it or not. I didn‘t expect them to like the first one.
“The record I‘m working on now is going to turn
out a lot differently than Broken. It‘s
not necessarily going to be harder, meaner, but I think a lot less polished. I
decided to start this new record by myself. I wanted to get a studio in a house
to make myself learn the engineering side of it, which I think will make a less
polished sounding record, but possibly more interesting and unusual-sounding,
which in turn will probably limit the commercial appeal further because it
sounds less conventional. Of course, that‘s also one more thing on the pile of
responsibility. It may slow things down, we‘ll see, but so far it‘s going all
right. If I get stuck and I think it sucks, I‘ll call for help.“
Reznor has set himself a series of rules for
this new album. Some are thematic—he wants the record to follow a sequence and
he‘s writing songs to fit the overall arch. “Musically,“ he says, “I want to
use other people—possibly no drum machine, we‘ll see. I don‘t want to get away
from electronics. I don‘t think it‘s cool to discard everything like that just
because it‘s out of fashion now. 1 want to be tougher, sol want real drums on
Grateful as he is to be free of record company
wars and able to make his music again, Reznor always has new problems to face.
Some record stores are charging album prices for the Broken EP, leading Nine Inch Nails fans to think they‘re buying a
hill album and leaving them disappointed. Things may get further confused with the
release of Fixed, a collection of Broken tracks remixed by some of
Reznor‘s favorite producers. When the new album is finally finished, Nine Inch
Nails will head out on tour for what Reznor hopes will be a long-delayed
catharsis. He needs the visceral release of shouting at his audience and seeing
them shout back. He needs the camaraderie of a band. Trent Reznor needs to get
some positive feedback. He is hurt by underground rock fans who now consider
Nine Inch Nails too popular to be hip.
“If you‘re in that alternative world,“ Reznor
says, “with record sales which cap oft at about one to two hundred thousand,
and you haven‘t been embraced by MTV and radio, it‘s easy to stay at that level
and maintain your integrity and fans still like you. You get big and your base
collapses because they all feel betrayed. I was guilty of that as a consumer,
but it‘s weird to see we‘re now at that level where people that put you up
there are die first to be catching the next train out, because people that
aren‘t that cool are learning about you. It‘s kind of disheartening. I would
assume Nirvana are going through that, too.
“There‘s a troubling climate with MTV right
now. If your number comes up on the roulette wheel, that‘s good—but is it good?
Where does Pearl Jam go from here? The thrill of it‘s gone, I think. For
example, who wants to go see INXS live, when every 10 minutes their video‘s on
TV? I‘m like, STOP, you know? I don‘t think anything on Broken would be able to do that anyway, but my biggest fear would
be getting into that sort of mass overload where people go, ‘I used in like the
song but I‘m sick of it, it‘s on every five minutes.‘ To make sure that won‘t
happen we‘ve done some things in make sure we don‘t get played. We just did a
video for ‘Happiness in Slavery‘ that won‘t get shown on MTV. There‘s no
That‘s the understatement of the week. The
video shows a naked man strapped to a torture machine being systematically dismembered.
Nice close-ups of metal claws tearingins nipples and testicles. Talk about
testing Interscope‘s dedication!
“It‘s extreme,“ Reznor says, “but if I saw that
I‘d say, ‘Yeah!‘ It doesn‘t stop even at the point of good taste. It goes over.
When you saw Madonna‘s ‘Erotica‘ video you were let down. After all that [hype]
when I saw her Sex book, I wanted in
see come shots, I wanted to see bestiality.“
Reznor smiles, sighs and looks up. “I threw my
life out of balance when I started doing this,“ he says, “as I‘m sure all
musicians do. I‘m not very well-rounded and I can‘t maintain a personal life
very actively and try to make a record that takes every waking minute of my consciousness.
I‘ve just been trying to figure out what I really want in do and coming to
terms with realizing that I can‘t be well-rounded for several years. I want to
dedicate the next x number of years of my life in pushing it in the ultimate
extreme of what I can do musically, and then at some point say, ‘I can‘t stand
it any more, I‘m going in shift gears.‘
“There‘s a lot of fun things,“ he adds, “a lot
of cool things, but I can‘t say I feel
totally fulfilled in life. I‘m now envious of my friends who have normal lives,
who are envious of me because I‘m on a magazine somewhere. I‘m not bitching,
I‘m just coming to terms.“
Trent Reznor relied most on a Macintosh Quadra with Opcode‘s Studio Vision. “Studio
Vision is the ultimate recording tool for me,“ Reznor says. “It changed the way
I write “ Also in Reznor‘s quiver are two Akai S-1100 samplers, a Mini Moog, a
Prophet VS, “a lot of Oberheim Expander,“ a Sequential Circuits Pm-1 and an Arp
2600. On his guitars Reznor uses a Zoom 9030, which he also uses to record his
voice (“It‘s the secret to all my vocals“). And which guitar might that be, Trent? A Gibson Explorer through a
Demeter tube preamp (“also great for vocals“) and a Marshall 9000 series amp. Reznor‘s strings
are GHS Boomers. His main vocal mike is an AKG 414. He also has a Fender
Precision bass which he runs through “a
Demeter tube direct thing.“ Okay, what are we forgetting? Trent sits back and lets his mind wander
through his studio. He sees an Eventide H3500, Digidesign Pro-Tools, an Opcode
Studio 5 and Turbo Synth software. Reznor‘s latest purchase is an AMEC Mozart