An unknown quantity
behind his electronic wall of sound, Trent Reznor is releasing his new LP and
touring the nation. Read on as The Hammer goes to work on Nine Inch Nails.
Nine Inch Nails is violent dischord. Nine Inch
Nails is the unnerving threat of psychosexual angst alternatively screamed and
whispered against coarse unforgiving rhythmic aggression. It's the flawless
attraction of a sequenced rhythm track, the random chaos of grating metal
guitars and white noise overload. It repulses you, yet you desire it.
Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor from Pennsylvania. And when writing his music he
works on the theory that next time you pass a road accident, you're going to
look long and hard for a glimpse of twisted limbs amongst the wreckage. Since
1989 he's been producing a high profile brand of propane-injected,
electronically-based industrial metal that fits snugly between the abrasion of
Throbbing Gristle and the pop of Depeche Mode.
With his second LP, The Downward Spiral, he's
continued the Godless electronic perversity that turned so many heads on the
first album, Pretty Hate Machine ('89), two EPs, Broken ('91) and Fixed ('92);
and on the '91 Lollapalooza tour. It paints a dark psychological portrait of
the human soul that sits so enigmatically behind the music and pulls very few
punches in the process.
"I am the voice inside your head/I am the
lover in your bed...I am the bullet in the gun/I am the truth from which you
run", he screams on the opening track, Mr. Self Destruct, an aural master
and servant relationship in which naughty old Trent waves the big stick of
technological force while talking dirty through the mask of urban decay.
"I don't know how to write in any other
way," he says of The Downward Spiral's lyrical bluntness. "I stumbled
onto it with the first record and it made the biggest impact. I thought it was
the most powerful thing I could say and it provided a good framework for NIN to
"Thematically I wanted to explore the idea
of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he's
surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to
questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate
to other people or to have anything to believe in."
In comparison to the overbearing presence of
his music, Trent's nature is considered; almost humble. He is one man behind a
battalion of sound, and it's this that makes him so intriguing. Being the sole
composer, arranger and performer for all of NIN's recorded material, his is an
air of pure alienation.
"With they lyrics, it's all me. I made up
a bunch of stories about how it was a friend of mine, but it's not, it just
pops out of my head. I realise it's not the most uplifting record, but the idea
was to try and make something that was a bleak chunk of work that, for the
right mood, might be the perfect thing. And then I have people asking me 'Wow,
how terrible is your life?' and 'Are you going to kill yourself?'. But if I was
to write a happy or uplifting song, it wouldn't have fit.
"If I were to analyse myself, I'd say my
desire was to escape from Smalltown USA and the isolation you can feel in a
place where nothing happens is a recurring theme for my music. I think one of
the motivations to get NIN going was as an escape from working at the gas
station down the street. It was a way to try and break into the real world, or
the world I thought was real that you see on the television and movies,"
NIN have achieved a level of success above and
beyond many of their contemporaries. They've been historically appointed the
measuring stick for the whole murky genre of industrial/electric guitar bands,
a notion Trent is not entirely comfortable with.
"I want people to know that I'm not going
around saying 'Look at us, we're an industrial band!', as if that gives me some
flag of credibility to wave around," he says emphatically. "I look as
it as a challenge rather than something to be ashamed of. I like flirting with
accessibility, 'cos it allows me to be subversive and sneak things in that
people don't realise they're hearing. With The Downward Spiral I tried to make
a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real
synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for
NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on
texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a
Having spent the year and a half leading up to
the recording of the album 'in virtual isolation', Trent professes very little
interest in current music, citing cliche and a prevailing follow-the-leader
attitude as being the scourge of popular music. Inspiration, he admits, comes
from material he ignored the first time around-old David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou
"I hate retro thinking and I hate trends
towards bringing back stuff that's dead and gone, but at the same time it
really impressed me how much depth was in those albums in comparison with
today's music. It's a very general and unfair statement, but it seems like the
music industry is such a big corporate business now that a lot of albums just
seem like products-one or two good tracks with a bunch of filler and general
crap. My challenge was to try and make a record that's more of an album and
less a collection of songs."