Nine Inch Nailsí Trent Reznor dances on the
edge of madness
If you want people to think you're darkly
twisted, where better to set up shop than in the California house where Charles Manson's
minions murdered Sharon Tate and friends on a stillnight in 1969?
Trent Reznor - who is, in essence, the one-man
industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails - hastaken over the notorious house
perched on a promontory with a stunning view of Beverly Hills.
Having temporarily moved from New Orleans, he is living and working there,
recording Nine InchNails' second full album in a studio he's fitted into the
white-walled living room where Tatewas killed.
Given the brutal nature of Reznor's music, the
house seems fitting. But sitting in a dimly lit corner of the studio, swiveling
in an office chair and biting his fingures, he explains that setting this site
was the result of serendipity, not willful perversity or conscious image
"It's a coincidence," says Reznor,
who is twenty seven, swearing that he decided to rent the house before knowing
of its notorious past. "When I found out what it was, it was even cooler.
But it's a cool house anyway and on top of that has a very interesting story
"The whole thing of living out here, I
didn't even think of it," Reznor says. "I didn't
go on a press campaign saying 'I live in Sharon
Tate's house, and I'm really spooky'."
Not spooky at all. The sketchy public image of
Reznor is of an obsessive, moody and demanding recluse. He seems cynically
willing to let that stand unchallenged. "I'm the lyrics, that's me,"
he says, referring to the images of hopelessness and degradation that mark his
work. that gives enough of me away. I don't want to talk about who I'm dating
or if I'm an asshole in real life. Everyone assumes I am, so okay."
On this drizzly Sunday afternoon, though, the
trait that makes the biggest impression is of a still-young man worried about
his ailing golden Labrador, which he just brought back from an emergency trip to the vet. But he
is unquestionably spooked, haunted by his own formidable ghosts. The music that
made Reznor industrial rock's first bona fide mainstr\eam star - by virtue of
2989's bleak yet.
catchy single "Head Like a Hole" and
NIN's stealing the show as the underdog hero of the 1991 Lolapalooza tour -
speaks of edge-of-madness paranoia and disconsolate submission. The recent EP
BROKEN, which debuted at a remarkable Number Seven on the Billboard pop-album
chart, is one of the most anguished, fiercely haunted collections ever to crack
the Top Ten, echoing in part
Reznor's frusterations with the contract
wrangling and ego wrs between himself and TVT Records head Steve Gorrlieb,
which prevented him from recording for two years.
The rural-Pennsylvanian native never wanted to
do anything but to make music since he was a preteen piano student and, later,
teenage rock fan infatuated wth Kiss and Pink Floyd. This threat to his
pursuits was almost unbearable.
"My whole life became my career,
essentially," Reznor says. "And then I was faced with the fact that
my career could easily have been over becasue the people that controlled it are
fucking assholes. It's a horrible feeling. On one hand, Nine Inch Nails had a platinum
album [1988's PRETTY HATE MACHINE]. On the other hand, I thought it was over
because I was not doing another album for Gottlieb. And I was told litigation
[to get off the label] would have taken two years. That's where a lot of the
rage on BROKEN came from."
That also, it would seem, is where the images
of the first video from the EP clip for the song "Happiness in
Slavery" shows a dour man dutifully submitting to unspeakable horrors in a
mechanical dungeon. It shocked even the most jaded music-industry insiders and,
needless to say, never got close to airing on MTV, save for a few very brief
excerpts in new reports "It wasn't a conscious decision to make the most
vulgar thing we could do to get press," Reznor says, "which it could
be easily be attacked as being. But it was a chance for me to finally be able
to do something I wanted without having to ask someone who has no fucking idea.
The question came up 'how far can we take
this?' I said: 'Let's just take it as far as we think right. Forget that it's a
music video, forget that it's basically a promotional clip, forget standards
and censorship.' Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it,
The freedom to make such a video comes from a
complicated deal that allowed Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records, which released
BROKEN, and a collection of remixes called FIXED. But don't look for that
freedon to bring about any mood life for the next album, which Reznor hopes to
release before summer, with at least a year of touring with a band to follow.
"I realize the strength of Nine Inch Nails
- there's not much room for happy songs," Reznor says. "And I like
that, I don't want that to change."
What changed is the status and prominence of
the style of music Reznor makes. "I think we're largerly responsible for a
lot of that attension," he says. "After Lollapalooza, this band came
out of nowhere, apparently, to major-label ears. I think the knee-jerk reaction
to that is where you see Front 242 now has a deal with Epic, the Thrill Kill
Kult is on Interscope, Ministry's doing great, Skinny Puppy's looking for a
deal, which they'll get." The downside is that "in a lot of ways I'm
looked at as the sellout of the whole genre," Reznor says, because he
brought the industrial rock out of it's exclusive cult status and into the pop
limelight. Reznor acknowledges that he accusations weigh on him a bit, but then
so do concerns that fans of "Head Like a
Hole" might have found the less accessible BROKEN material off-putting.
How any of this will play on the next album, he's not yet sure.
Perhaps looking for guidence, he does seem open
to inspitation from beyond as he prepares to go back to his slow, methodical
work this day. Luckily, he's got something that might balance whatever negative
vibes are hanging in the house: a Mellotron that once belonged to John Lennon,
on loan to Reznor from Ted Field, the billionaire who is the money behind
Interscope. A mischievous twinkle in his eye, Reznor remarks: "We've got
John Lennon and CHARLES MANSON in here. Cool."