Jahr 1995


Circus Magazine


Februar 1995


Nailing the new Trent Reznor


Autor: Corey Levitan

Photographs: Teilweise Jay Blakesberg



Tent Reznor emerged from Woodstock ’94, mud-caked and seething, as the spokesman for Generation Angst. Trent is the band. The other musicians exist solely to support his vision.


“What a nice, polite audience,“ Trent Reznor says, halting a Nine Inch Nails concert to berate the gathered throng. “You want us to turn it down a little?“


Six months ago when Nine Inch Nails played Los Angeles it was at Hollywood‘s dark and spooky Palace Theatre, to a thicket of dark and spooky goth moshers. Reznor surveyed the Universal Amphitheater (home away from home for Barry Manilow and Julio Iglesias) with total disgust. Thousands of whitebread toetappers, wrapped in J. Crew and T-shirts hearing Reznor‘s name, have come to see who‘s next in rock & roll.


The Nine-Inch-Nails- On-Ice reception is symptomatic of the superstardom Trent Reznor has achieved since emerging from Woodstock ‘94, mud-caked and seething, as the spokesman for Generation Angst.


Undeniable indicators that the once club-sized appeal of Nine Inch Nails has grown into a vast presence in the mass psyche include the concurrent sales of the group‘s Downward Spiral (a #2 Billboard debut) and Reznor‘s Natural Born Killers album; the Rolling Stone cover treatment; and a week of Reznor jokes from Letterman in the wake of Woodstock.


Judging from all the mainstream acceptance, misery loves company. Yet this 29-year-old Machiavellian auteur - whose lyrics deal with vivisection, bondage and isolation - doesn‘t seem in a “new people“ kind of mood tonight.


“Are the lights alright?“ Reznor badgers, biting the fans that feed him. “You comfortable?“


A grenade burst of white noise explodes, followed by guitar shrapnel and the ever popular curious sucking noises. From underneath this nails-against-chalkboard whir emerges a bruised vocal, like someone gargling with broken glass into a megaphone.


Oh so sick I am

And maybe I don’t have a choice

And maybe that is all I have

And maybe this is a cry for help


Trent alternates between a standing fetal position - as if being stabbed - and thrashing about the stage like a tortured animal. Is it Kabuki for the popcorn crowd? Behind him, movie screens advertise images of torture, execution and rot ting animal corpses.


Autistic individuals are said to withdraw from the world because the slightest sound, light or touch overloads their senses. Lacking a perceptual filter, they receive all stimuli in a simultaneous painful gush - like they‘re watching every television channel at once. Witnessing a Nine Inch Nails concert, you know how the autistic person feels.


Even the lighting is rigged for maximum sensory harassment: Trent is lit not from above but behind. Through a fog of dry ice, a Close Encounter-like grid of alien landing lights beams directly onto the shrunken corneas of the audience. Backlighting casts Reznor in a glowing shadow: The negative image of the modern rock star personified.


In this era of “don‘t focus on me“ cool, Trent dares to languish in the full focus of the media‘s eye. While Eddie Vedder argues that he‘s just a guy in a band, Trent isn‘t ashamed to admit that he is the band. Reznor writes and performs every inch of NIN‘s music himself in the studio. His touring musicians - currently Robin Finck (guitar), Danny Lohner (keyboards, guitar and bass), James Wooley (keyboards) and Chris Vrenna (drums) - exist solely to support his vision.


Trent also flys in the face of rock‘s current “more music/less flash“ rule by flaunting theatrics, dramatics, aesthetics and all the other “-ic“ words eschewed by the current rash of grunge non-icons. Horror writer/artist/director Clive Barker, for example, is acknowledged before Jane‘s Addiction ‚and Prince on the liner notes of Pretty Hate Machine. Any student of NIN videos can guess why. (The video for “Closer“ features crucified monkeys. “Happiness In Slavery“ depicts a man slowly being ground into hamburger meat.)


Such taboo (and quintessentially Barker-like) imagery is a perfect backdrop for the rock genre known as industrial, so named for its sonic similarity to a busy steel factory. Industrial extends hack a decade to the death-disco of cult bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy. Within its neural mainstream the line between tone and texture is blurred - keyboards share percussion duties with drums, for example. Unexpectedness itself becomes a musical instrument, with sudden periods of silence or loudness appearing randomly throughout a song.


The industrial music of Nine Inch Nails is unusually eclectic, since Reznor takes nearly all his childhood references - no matter how contradictory - and expels them in undigested aural chunks into the mix. Saturday Night Fever disco, Cure goth, Prince soul, even rap - they‘re all there, identifiable either by overt reference or covert sampling. “March of the Pigs“ from Downward Spiral, for example, is a Motorhead-speed cranker that pauses for a piano-y Beatles chorus sweet enough to frost Captain Crunch.


“If you‘re not ready for it, it‘s terrible, it‘s noise,“ Trent told USA Today recently. “On a couple of listenings, if you get that far, you bear through the distractions and find a beauty under the surface ugliness.“


I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel


Most Nine Inch Nails songs express some degree of obsession with pain, even the love songs. In “Something I Can Never Have“ (from Pretty Hate Machine), the woman of Trent‘s dreams is merely someone who can “make all this go away.“ Pain in Trent‘s songs is used as an agent of power, sex, life affirmation.


Reznor‘s second full album, The Downward Spiral, is about a man‘s systematic self-destruction. (No doubt the locale where it was recorded provided inspiration: Trent cut it in the secluded Beverly Hills house where Sharon Tate was murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969.)

At the root of Trent‘s pain may be the nasty divorce of his parents - an artist and a housewife. He had to endure this when he was five years old. NIN lyrics frequently mimic what a child yells at his parents during a tantrum:


I‘d rather die than give you control/

You don’t hurt me/

You’re gonna get what you deserve/

Don’t you tell me how I feel!


Trent doesn‘t talk much about this sensitive period, but according to most armchair psychoanalysts, the hyper-violent misanthrope is emotionally reeling. Many children of divorce interminably blame themselves for breaking up the household.


After the divorce, Trent and his sister Tera were relegated to their grandparents‘ home and raised according to the conservative mores of the Depression era.


“There was nothing going on but cornfields,“ Trent has said of Mercer, Pennsylvania (pop. 2,444). It‘s the kind of town people drive trough on their way to someplace else. “My life experience came from watching movies, watching TV and reading books and looking at magazines. You‘re bombarded with images that seem cool, places that seem interesting, people who have jobs and careers and opportunities. None of that happened where I was. You‘re almost taught to realize it‘s not for you.“


Somewhere along the route to either Sunday school or his classical piano lessons, Trent discovered an outlet for all his welling frustration. Armed with his first synthesizer, he banged away in a plethora of different rock bands while attending Mercer High School. For a while his fire was stoked by the music of Kiss, David Bowie and Lou Reed, but then Trent went ape-dung over a new type of dance music propelled exclusively by the synthesizer. With synth-pop - pioneered by Kraftwerk and Einsturzende Neubauten in the underground and Gary Numan and the Human League at ground level - Reznor at last heard his true calling.


“I liked technology and electronics,“ Trent says. “I liked the way it sounded, the idea that you could make a record with a machine. It was more interesting than guitar-bass-drum bands.“


After graduating high school, Trent did a year at nearby Allegheny College, studying computer engineering. Amassing just enough training for his aural assault upon the unsuspecting world, Reznor dropped out of Allegheny and turned up in Cleveland - the closest honest-to-God rock town to Mercer.


Clueless about how to break into “the biz,“ he landed work at the Right Track recording studio, scrubbing toilets and assisting the engineer. Whenever the gear wasn‘t in use, Trent grabbed the opportunity to craft his first demo tape. That tape made the rounds, eventually reaching New York label exec Steve Gottleib, who signed Nine Inch Nails to TVT Records and issued Pretty Hate Machine in 1989.


“Head Like A Hole“ became the “Smells Like Teen Spirit“ of industrial. And Trent, with all his workboots, rubber jumpsuits and fishnets, became a cult icon. A support slot with Lollapalooza sent Pretty Hate Machine on an upward spiral past platinum, but it wasn‘t until Woodstock ‘94 that your grandma first heard the name Nine Inch Nails.


Reznor‘s career-defining performance was essentially a big accident. That Reznor would appear on stage covered with mud was interpreted as an act of solidarity with the crowd, who had been wallowing in it for two days. But the truth is, while walking towards the stage from the tour bus, Reznor shoved guitarist Robin Finck into the mud. Then Finck tackled Reznor and a mudfight broke out.


“It wasn‘t like a calculated move,“ Reznor confided to the L.A. Times, “but it might have been some subconscious attempt to identify with the fans.“


Still, Reznor, on tour for nearly a year in support of Spiral, has found his legions growing exponentially in number since Woodstock.


But fame does have its upside. Recently Reznor was able to start his own record company, Nothing. Based out of Cleveland, the label‘s roster features Marilyn Manson, Pop Will Fat Itself, Price, Coil and Trust Obey, some of Trent‘s favorite bands. When the current tour winds down (sometime in January), Reznor is said to be eager to delve further into the world of cinema, beyond just doing soundtrack albums. You guessed it: He wants to direct movies. If they‘re anything like the ones he shows in concert, don‘t sit too close to the screen. You‘re liable to wind up with angst all over your lap.