Jahr 1994


New Musical Express


26. März 1994


Gimme Helter


Autor: Andrew Mueller


You know them as the Pretty Hate Machine, but NINE INCH NAILS mainman TRENT REZNOR has his softer side. Trouble is, there’s more than one Reznor, and the other ones have just made a Nails album at the house where Manson’s Family sliced up Sharon Tate.

ANDREW MUELLER finds an uneasy Reznor denying the hype. Family Album: DEREK RIDGERS

The first Trent Reznor I meet is, given his reputation, surprisingly affable. Curled up in the back of the NME’s rented convertible, be relates LA stories and tour anecdotes as we spend - afternoon driving around Watts and Compton, working our way through a list of possible photo locations and trying to find one that isn’t closed, inaccessible or just not the kind of place you’d want to park a bright red Mustang. This Trent Reznor seems like a pretty decent sort, a regular, successful, modern alternative rock artist.

The second Tent Reznor is, perhaps, closer to expectation. Leading his band through two unannounced warm-up shows in tiny bondage batcaves in Hollywood and San Francisco, he seems dangerous , destructive son of a bitch, retching venom an conducting a spectacular catharsis of chaos and noise.

This is Trent Reznor you can well imagine doing all the stuff you’ve read about – hospitalising members of his own band while enthusiastically wrecking stage equipment, having his former record company boss frogmarched out of his dressing room, living and recording at 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills – an address notorious as the house where, on August 9, 1969, followers of self-proclaimed messiah Charles Manson murdered the actress Sharon Tate and four others in a spree of butchery impressively savage even by American standards.

The third Trent Reznor, the one that eventually gets around to dropping by my room in San Francisco’s Phoenix Hotel seems to reside in a trough somewhere between the above mentioned peaks., He’s polite, though uncomfortable in front of a tape recorder, obviously shy, and pause for thought and apologies for inarticulacy are frequent.

He could be like any of us, struggling along with everyday despair as best and as quietly as he can; the cuts and bruises on his face, arms and neck, battlescars o a combative stage technique, beg to differ.

You‘d scarcely credit it these days of course, but there was a time when waxing tortured about alienation, self-loathing and paranoia wasn’t the shortest route to the Billboard Top Ten. In such a context, Reznor can make some claim to pioneer status. His debut album, 1989‘s ‘Pretty Hate Machine‘, was a howl of uncompromising adolescent fury, riddled with profanity. blasphemy, obscenity a most shockingly — for America – synthesizers. It should have doomed Reznor to cult obscurity. It sold a million copies.

Not to be outdone, in 1992 Reznor followed two years of arduous (for him) and dangerous (for the rest of the band) touring with two mini-LPs. ‘broken’ was a relentlessly bleak, hopelessly bitter volley of disgust from a man who’d finally got everything he’d ever wanted and discovered he didn’t want it. It should have been one of the very great suicidal carreer moves. It went platinum.

‘Fixed’ was a collection of remixes from ‘Broken’ that ran the gamut from confrontational to unlistenable. It should have stamped Reznor indelibly as a difficult, contrary, miserable little bastard hell-bent on commercial hara-kiri. They gave him a Grammy.

“Yeah, well,” he sighs today, “go figure. I’m sure it’s the only time ever the word ‘fistf****’ will appear in a Grammy-winning song. That’s my true accomplishment.”

There have been sillier epitaphs. “ ‘Reznor. Died. Said ‘Fistf**** and won a Grammy’. Yeah, I could do worse, I guess.”

The new Nine Inch Nails album is titled with the happy-go-lucky élan we’ve come to expect, ‘The Downward Spiral’. It’s Reznor’s best by furlongs. Though it occasionally lapses into regulation snottiness and twee metaphor (there’s nothing really big or clever about penis/gun allusions), the bulk of it is some of the most disturbed, twisted, furious music available in these times of overdrive-pedal languor. In terms of those Reznor regards as his peers, he has all the sonic inventiveness of the Minstry/RevCo axis, but none of the distracting frat house humour, all the grandeur of Depeche Mode but he writes better lyrics and mercifully doesn’t dance like Dave Gahan.

‘The Downward Spiral’ is a mature, realised work that seems to complete Reznor’s shift from railing against the world to railing against himself.

“It might be,” he allows, contemplating his coffee mug. “I haven’t really sat down and consciously decided that. But looking back at stuff, I can see that the focus starts to shift. The vibe on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ was pretty much the individual against oppressive forces, but there was a desire to overcome them, and you still had yourself. But with ‘Broken’, I think, being reflective of a period of ending touring, changing record labels, everything potentially falling apart… self-loathing kind of entered the picture.

What sets you apart, though, is that other people who deal with similar themes – Cobain, Vedder, Hersh, Coughlan, even Morrissey – always offer some kind of hope, some possibility of redemption. There are no lights at the end of your tunnel.

“On his record, generally, that is true, but I think there is a slight bit of optimism -  slight being the key word – thrown in there. Because though it does examine completely giving up… that’s why I put the song ‘Hurt’ last on the record, which was the last song written, I might add. It was going to end with the title track, and it just kind of faded out, really unsettling, made my stomach tighten.”

But ‘Hurt’ isn’t exactly ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, is it? The only redemptions it seems to offer are drugs and/or flight.

“Well, I think it offers redemption through the desire for it. By the end of that record, everything’s been discarded, and things that I’d looked for hope in have failed me – belief systems, religions, drugs, power, everything else, leading to the fantasy of suicide in the song ‘Downward Spiral’. But, with ‘Hurt’, I think I address something that…there was a certain feeling that I didn’t think I’d conveyed anywhere else, which was one of melancholy, not definite anger, but sadness and loss. But also a kind of wish that things could have been better if I’d known how to do things differently. Which I think is at least a slightly positive thing, as opposed to, you know, my head’s blown off and I’m bleeding on the carpet.”

Is it something you’ve ever seriously contemplated?

I’ve not thought about it a lot, because it‘s kind of dangerous in your own mind to think about it. But I make myself think about it once in a while to explore what it would be like, you know, what if I did? I don‘t want to do it, don‘t have any plans to do it, but there‘s been times when I‘ve seen that black f—in‘ cloud, and I don‘t even want to get up. Like, what‘s to get up for? Because there’s no way I can fix everything that‘s f—ed up.“

Does it strike you as not a little concerning that such a diseased piece of work is, as we speak, on its way into nearly a million homes? “Yeah.” He shifts uneasily. A nerve has clearly been exposed. “I’ve thought about that, too. The danger of it?”

Not in the sense of someone being inspired to do a Chapman or a Hinckley - or a Manson, come to that - anyone crazy enough to kill for a record is crazy enough to kill anyway. I meant more in the sense of what it says about how people — a lot of people — are thinking, “Uh—huh, Well, I think a certain faction of will discard this as being formulated, and I‘ve already got a wave of that from certain media that have written me off as if I’m just milking some formula, and how could I possibly feel like this and what could I possibly have to be sad about… anyone who would say that to start with. is someone who has never achieved anything they ever hoped for, because when you start to get that, you know it’s… it‘s not enough.

“I wanted to make a record about something, and what it was about was a fairly bleak set of issues. And I knew that it wasn‘t going to be the kind of record you could listen to in your car, or throw on at a party. I just think music today is — and this is a very general statement, unfair to some — somewhat uninteresting. It‘s force -  fed and accepted, and saying you want to be rock star is as legitimate a career aim as saying you want to become a doctor.

“I mean, I’ve relied on shock tactics in some of the lyrics on this record, being quite aware of that, to slap some people in the face, or at least affect them some way, whether they’re relating to it, revolted by it, or reading something complete different into it.”

Shock tactics.

For all his media-wariness, Trent’s getting pretty good at pre-empting interviewers. When Reznor took up residence at 10050 Cielo (recently demolished) and announced his intention to record ‘The Downward Spiral’ there, it struck many as a fairly juvenile exercise in schlock outrage Reznor, for his part, sticks to his claim that he was initially unaware of the house’s history with sufficient tenacity to be credible, though he will admit to being mildly titillated.

“We hat one day to look for a place, and it was just the coolest house, the location was awesome, and the view…wow. And then, at the end of the night, I heard it was, like, the house. I thought, well, freaky, but that it was kind of cool in a way. I wasn’t thinking in terms of press or anything like that, I just thought it was a cool place. I wasn’t afraid of ghosts – if anything, I was kind of interested to see if there was anything there.”

Would you concede that the location has informed at least some of the album? There‘s certainly Same Mansonesque terminology in there — die downward spiral/helter skelter motif and two titles that have the word ‘pig‘ in them (Helter Skelter‘ was the name the Beatles-obsessed Manson gave to the race war he intended the killings to provoke; Pig‘ was written on the door of 10050 Cielo in the pregnant Tates blood). “To be honest…,” he says, impatient but resigned, ‘Piggy‘ was written before I was even in California. And it wasn‘t, in my mind, in any way about the murders. ‘March of The Pigs‘ was formulated there, but not consciously about killing Sharon Tate. I guess just used that word generically, as a metaphor for people I don’t like, or myself, or things don‘t like.

„Naming the studio ‚Le Pig’... well, obviously.“

He permits himself a rare smile.

Did you ever subscribe to the cult that‘s sprung up around Manson? He‘s bee an  intermittently fashionable rock ‘n’ roll icon.

“no, I think he’s a charismatic character. I think the media created him, the embodiment of evil that he people wanted to see, the ultimate terrifying bad guy turning our hippy children into killers. I do tire of the sub-groups of people who really look up to the guy, and I’ve met ‘em all because they all came up to the house, and I’d let ‘em in, you know, but after a while…

“The turning point was that we became pretty good friends with the woman who was staying in the guest house before we moved in. And one of her best friends is Sharon Tate’s sister, and leader of the … whatever the f***, Rights For Victims Of Violent Crimes, or something. And that gives you an odd perspective. I don’t think people think what it must be like to have your sister senselessly murdered and have a whole world to know. It made me feel kind of weird about the whole thing. Everybody’s looking for a hero, though, and there’s your ultimate taboo icon.”

Predictably, when questioned about his own status as a hero, Reznor admits to being at a total loss for comment. He doesn’t want to be a role model, but realises that circumstances have decided otherwise, and says he just tries to deal with it as it happens. On ‘I Do Not Wan This’ – not really more or less revealing than any other song on ‘The Downward Spiral’, Reznor is unabashedly self-obsessed . he pulls the whole kit and caboodle of his fame and fortune down on his undeserving self, disappearing into apocalyptic feedback squall with a howl if ‘I just wan to do something that matters…”

Are you confessing to feelings of futility or admitting to an immense ungratified ego?

“Well, do you ever feel like you want to do something with your life, so maybe after you’re dead people will look back to you…?”

Oh, sure. But I was wondering whether you felt like that because you want to do some good or just be told you’re good.

“Yeah, OK. Well, it’s that and that essential question of, am I doing anything that means a f***in’ thing, really? Or am I just selling pop music as a product and next year, when the trend changes, I’ll fall between the cracks because I wasn’t really saying anything anyway?”

Tonight, Reznor will go through it all again in Palo Alto, an hour’s drive out of San Francisco. Half the town is a placid University burg, the other half a crack-infested slum with the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Everyone seems to find a song that sings to them. We’ve all got one foot on the spiral.