"He has built his name on theatrics and
nihilism," gushed a seemingly shocked People magazine earlier this year.
"Nearly all of Reznor's lyrics are unprintable, and his videos, with their
frightful scenes of dismemberment and sadomasochism, have been censored or
banned outright by MTV."
And the kids just lap it up! That seemed to be
the gist of the article and much of the mainstream press's reaction to the
sudden success of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails. From their anger filled debut
album, Pretty Hate Machine, through the self loathing of Broken, and on to the
disturbing self examination of The Downward Spiral, Trent has exposed his
deepest psychic wounds and doubt for the world to dissect.
And dissect they have. But while the press had
grappled with why, an army of fans simply punched their fists in the air and
shout, "Yes." Most understand implicitly, although some, like the one
who posted on the Net, "He is my messiah," have missed the point
To the mainstream media, Reznor's success
remains virtually inexplicable. Why would the nation's youth be drawn to an
artist whose harsh music reverberates with such dark, negative emotions?
But for post-boomers, Reznor articulates a
generation's self-doubts, rage, frustration and confusion. A messiah he is
definitely not, and his refusal or inability to offer solutions baffles the
boomer press at the same time as preserving his place in the alternative elite.
For a generation bred on cynicism, those
offering answers are viewed with suspicion. It's the questioners that receive
adulation. And People magazine was unable even to formulate the question,
turning into the pat solutions of yesteryear: let's psychoanalyse him. And much
to their disbelief, the answer didn't lie there either.
"So, is this guy the product of a warped
childhood or not? Surprisingly the answer is not."
Shock! Horror! Reznor not only had a normal
childhood, but a pretty happy one to boot. His parents, both natives of the
small Pennsylvania town of Mercer, were still in their teens when they married;
a wedding prompted by Trent's conception. Michael Trent Reznor arrived on May
17, 1965; a sister, Tera, joined him a couple of years later. But like many
teen marriages, his parent's relationship soured, and they divorced when Trent was five. He and his sister were
sent to be raised by his maternal grandparents.
As he explained to Alternative Press, "It
was just easier on my mother having my sister and me stay with my grandparents
because they lived near each other. My grandparents are good people and good
parents, but I feel like anybody does whose parents split up, kind of ripped off.
I'm not going to make it out to be some big fucking kind of deal.
Subconsciously, it may have some kind of effect, but it didn't seem to be that
bad. You just realize you're not on Happy Days. It's the real world; you need
to ignore what you are programmed by sitcoms to think your life should be. I
don't really think about it and I don't put blame on anybody. My parents were
young. I would have done the same thing, I'm sure."
And Reznor has one thing to be thankful for,
unlike too many kids of divorce, he continued to have a close relationship with
his father, Michael, a graphic artist.
"My dad and I are best friends," he
continued. "He's pretty much responsible for the way I turned out. He
would provide a little artistic inspiration here and there in the form of a
guitar, stuff like that. My family has always been supportive of what I
It may not have been Happy Days, but it was
happy. Reznor was obviously musical, and began studying piano at five, soon
adding saxophone and tuba to his musical arsenal. In high school, he played
with the school band, and although Reznor was always a bit shy and
introspective, he seems to have been well liked. Some sources say date Reznor's
friendship with live perennial Chris Vrenna from this time, although NIN manager
John Malm believes the two met later in Cleveland.
During his school days, rumors abound, Reznor
played in at least one local band, Option 30. Goldmine readers with information
about this group are welcomed to write in.
Upon graduation, Reznor headed for the nearest
big city, Cleveland, leaving behind the corn fields of Mercer. He attended
college initially, studying computer engineering, and took a job at a local
record store, Pi Corporation. Not long after his arrival in the city, he
auditioned for a band called the Innocent, a group that would come back to
haunt him years later.
We all have memories in our past that we'd
prefer to remain buried, and these are inevitably the incidents that a parent
brings up the first time they meet your new girl/boyfriend. In this scenario,
Details magazine's Chris Heath plays the role of the sire you want to strangle,
because the Innocent recorded an album, Livin' On The Streets, and Reznor's in
the band photo on the cover.
"The mention of this record and photograph
causes the most touchy and embarrassed reaction Trent will exhibit in my presence, "
the article said.
Reznor's reaction? "Stupid. Dumb. A
ridiculous 1983 sissy."
Jeez, Dad, thanks.
"Foreigner crap...dinosaur AOR bullshit
rock," is how Reznor describes the Innocent, before claiming he didn't
actually play on the album.
This writer has never actually seen it, but a
Cleveland source said, "If the journalist had stopped staring at the photo
and turned the album over, he could have read the credits. Trent
It can be added with authority, however, that
the Innocent was better looking than Foreigner ever was. As for the music, that
was described by the source as "Loverboyish, they were pretty good for
that kind of music."
But it was obviously not Reznor's kind of
music. The band went nowhere, and Reznor went elsewhere. The rest of the
band-Rodney Sika, Alan Green, Al Brittan McClean and Kevin Valentine- either
disappeared or never grew beyond playing in local bands.
Still, not many 19 year olds can make the claim
that they have an album out, even if they were just bought in to play keyboard
parts. While the rest of his generation was stuck in McJobs, Reznor was
apparently jump-starting his career with McBands.
The Ohio/Pennsylvania corner during this era
had a circuit of big warehouse clubs, which easily packed in 800 to 1000 kids;
places like the Agora (Cleveland), Strippers, (in Canton), Peninsula (in Erie,
Pennsylvania) and Ramones (in Arkon). At the time, the mostly young audience
(the drinking age then was 19) preferred cover bands playing chart faves. And
that's precisely what Reznor's next band, the Urge, did.
A member of one of the many bands which played
the club circuit remembers seeing the Urge a few times. "They were good,
sounding just like the record, whoever they were doing: Billy Idol, Van Halen,
ZZ Top, Journey, Styx.
That's who were really huge back then. Basically the closer you sounded to the
artists, the better you were, and the more work you got. And the Urge got a lot
of work. They had poofy hair and a little eyeliner-that was the look back then:
sweat bands, bandannas, knee pads, and all that kind of stuff.
"Trent did some of the singing too, and he
sang well; he didn't sound like he does now. I thought that when he sang, that
he sounded better than the original!"
There's little artistic satisfaction in cover
bands, but Reznor had yet to start composing. Regardless, cover bands played
well, as one anonymous fellow cover-ite recalls. "Today an original band,
even a really good one, will get $300. Back then, you'd get paid $800."
And keyboards, synthesizers, et. al., don't
come cheap. Even split the initial four or five ways (the Urge would later
reduce down to a trio with a drum machine, unusual itself for a cover band),
Reznor would have seen substantial cash.
But eventually, the drinking age changed, and
the warehouse clubs started closing down soon after. The result was that the
whole scene turned from covers to originals. And where to turn for inspiration?
Abroad, of course. At the time, America was seeing a third British invasion, as
a wave of synth-pop bands floated across the Atlantic on a cloud of hairspray
and flouncy ruffles. Bands like Depeche Mode, kings of the catchy tune and
well-barbed hooks, Duran Duran, title holders of synthi-sophistication, and
Human League, who'd change image more often than most of us change our sheets,
all would have a massive impact on the American scene.
Sadly, synthi bands and the ensuing New
Romantic movement get short shrift today, but it's true place in the industrial
(r) evolution can't be denied. But first, let's get our definitions straight.
Industrial music dates back to the mid 70s, and was comprised of actual
industrial noise-sheet metal used as percussion, and the sounds of factory
equipment at work. Espoused by bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende
Neubaten, SPK and early Die Krupps, industrial truly was music from the factory
floors. Industrial, in those days, owed nothing to the rock scene, but the
experimental side of music that really was alternative. And while the genre
received quite a bit of attention in Europe, it remained mostly shrouded in
The flip side of the musical coin was
synthi-pop, which blossomed in the post punk period. It's antecedents trace
directly back to the early 70s and the ground breaking German bands like
Kraftwerk. Early bands such as Depeche Mode were really just punk-pop crossover
acts from the same school as the Buzzcocks. The difference was that Depeche
used the ultimate punk instrument, the synthesizer. Even the epitome of punk,
the Ramones, had to learn three chords. With a synthesizer, no talent was
needed; you just worked out which buttons to push.
As synthi-pop exploded, hybridization inevitably
occurred. Germany's Die Krupps is a case in point. Their first single,
"Stahlwerksymphony", juxtaposed factory sounds with experimental
keyboard melodies. And although they retained their metal on metal percussive
edge, their later music married this to synthi-pop melodies.
By the mid 80s, Krupps grew out of synthi-pop,
amalgamated the operatics of Queen with the Teutonic sturm und drang of
Laibach. After a hiatus, Krupps returned with a new guitar-driven sound, which
has increased with each new album.
In a nutshell, their career spanned the entire
popular electronic styles of the decade. And they weren't the only ones.
Depeche also briefly married industrial to synthi-pop on their classic single,
"Master and Servant."
By that time, the synthi scene was already
losing steam. In Europe, an early marriage between synthi-pop and Northern soul
had pushed electronic-based music into the clubs, which was where bands like
Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran sprang from to begin with. That strand divorced
from synthi and remarried to disco would cross the Atlantic, and return as
house, techno and rave. In it's wake, early "true industrial" bands
would be reborn with a new sound, bands such as Einsturzende Neubaten, Test
Department, Nitzer Ebb. etc.
But in North America, it would eventually take
a very different twist. Although Portion Control did it first, it would be
Skinny Puppy who received the credit for igniting an entire new sub-genre of
electronic music. It was harsh, it was dark, and for lack of a better turn, it
was still called industrial.
As Die Krupps' Jurgen Engler explained,
"If you were to ask me five years ago if KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails or
Ministry were industrial, I would have told you no. You know why? Because the
don't' have any connection with what industrial was about in the early days.
It's an American form of industrial. Here in Europe, it was always experimental
music, it wasn't rock music, which is all that is, and even we are, now."
But industrial it remains. And for the purposes
of this article, industrial is loosely defined as music with a harsh electronic
edge and/or metal-on-metal percussion.
Whether one came to the current state of
industrial from the experimental side or the synthi-side is irrelevant, it's
the merging of both that creates the spark for today's sound. Add a guitarist
with a hard rock/metal background, and you cross into the sub-genres of
Coldwave, Torture Tech, etc., with the likes of Ministry, KMFDM, Sister Machine
For the do-it-yourselfer, the more varied the
musical background the better. Reznor had already paid his dues in the rock
world, now he would gain experience in synthi-pop, starting with the Exotic
Johan, marketing director of the Agora and DJ
of Inner Sanctum, Cleveland's award winning local show on WEND, described the
Birds as "straight ahead, techno pop at it's finest. There was nobody
better in town in terms of a techno-dance band."
The Exotic Birds was formed by three Cleveland
Institute of Art percussion majors: Andy Kubiszewski, Tom Freer and Tim Adams.
Eventually it expanded to a five piece, and they recorded their vinyl only EP,
L'Oiseau, for the local Pleasureland label. There Reznor can be found on
keyboards, programming and backing vocals. The band's manager, John Malm, took
executive production credits. Today, Malm is Reznor's manager.
Reznor left the band soon after, a split that
Malm attributes to the keyboardist wanting to pursue other musical directions,
but other Cleveland sources put down to a falling out between Reznor and
Andy Kubiszweski has had an equally colorful
career, touring with the likes of Crowded House and The The. According to a Cleveland insider, "Trent recommended Andy for The The, and
that broke the ice, because it was a shame (what happened between them)."
Kubiszweski was also bought in to drum on Prick's debut album, which was
released on Reznor's own Nothing label. And most recently, he's joined Stabbing
It's all a far cry from the Exotic Birds,
where, as Johan explains, "The word dance was in every other line. They
even did a dance mix of 'Day After Day' by Badfinger." Although Reznor has
shown a marked propensity for unexpected covers, one shouldn't jump to
conclusions here. Exotic Birds was Kubiszweski's band, and Reznor didn't do any
of the songwriting, so it's unlikely he'd picked the cover's either.
But since the one thing that Reznor did have
was gear, when Hollywood came to Cleveland looking for a keyboardist, Reznor
was an obvious choice. The movie Light Of Day, starring Joan Jett and Michael
J. Fox. Filmed on location in Cleveland, a movie about a budding rock bands
inevitably requires club scenes with other acts. So, as befits the big screen,
a band was created, and thus Reznor notched the Problems on his musical belt.
Light Of Day was very much a case of being in
the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. And as NIN's
videos themselves prove, Reznor's taste in film lies very much elsewhere.
Joining Reznor in the Problems was Exotic Birds Frank Vale and Mark Addison.
And with a now-noteworthy lack of foresight, Reznor's is the very last name
listed in the movie's credits.
Not that the Problems were deserving much
credit. Their apperance in the film is fleeting, their one song, a cover of
Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways," is lost beneath dialogue. The
Problems were onscreen to be disparaged, dismissed by one character as
"cut rate specials" and by another (Michael J. Fox) as "A Flock
Still, only Hollywood would think it appropriate
to have a synthi-band playing a Buddy Holly cover. For those readers who
actually want to hear the song, you'll need to find the soundtrack album.
It was around this time that Reznor first met
Martin Atkins. Today, Martin runs his own Invisible label, and is head of the
notorious Pigface (see the previously published Goldmine Ministry article). The
drummer's credits roll back to PIL, Killing Joke and his own project, Brian
Brian Brain toured often and considered
Cleveland it's second home, thus Atkins became acquainted with many of the
local musicians and scenesters. "We had used a horn section on some
tracks," Atkins explained, "but we had no way to take a horn section
around the country, so we called friends in to help, sometimes with disastrous
results. The only place it came off was Cleveland with Tom Lash, Trent, and a
friend of his."
"That's because we rehearsed," Tom
Lash stated modestly. "The three of us played the record and learned the
That, to this writer's knowledge, is the only
time Reznor's played horn (trumpet, to be precise) live since his marching band
By now, Reznor had quit the Exotic Birds, which
subsequently broke up, and moved on to another Cleveland hopeful, Slam Bam Boo.
Johan described them as "Cleveland's answer to Duran Duran." Although
Reznor's not listed as a member, only "an additional player," he does
appear in the band photo on Boo's 1988 single, "White Lies/Cry Like A
Boo was Scott Hanson's band, and he'd already
seen some success with Boo's debut single. According to a Cleveland scenester,
"Trent joined the band, but because Scott didn't like to share the money,
when they did their second single, Reznor was bumped down to an additional
musician." Once again he provided the keyboards, programming and
additional backing vocals.
Among the many people in Cleveland who saw
these pre-NIN bands, not one with whom we spoke was willing to admit Reznor's
later success. Regardless of the band involved, all replied with variations on
the theme, "he was a good player, playing with other good players, in a
good band. But I never expected..." With one exception: Kevin McMahon knew
Reznor had something special.
McMahon had seen Reznor playing with the Exotic
Birds, and although the band was not McMahon's type of music, he noticed the
keyboardist. "He seemed to be a frontman, a focal point." Therefore,
when McMahon had the opportunity, he asked Reznor to join his band, Lucky
Pierre. Reznor agreed, reuniting him onstage with good friend and roommate Tom
Lucky Pierre had been around for a decade at
this point, and centred around McMahon's quirky and uniquely structured songs.
With equal emphasis on nuanced lyrics with multiple layered meanings, Lucky
Pierre had more in common with glam-era Britain than the glam metal or
synthi-pop which was so popular in the Cleveland scene.
McMahon criss-crossed the Atlantic, spending
much of the year in Paris, then returning home to play a few shows, make some
money and put out another single. But in 1988, now in San Francisco, McMahon
set his sights higher, and began recording Lucky Pierre's EP, Communique. He
was already in the studio when Tom Lash and Reznor came out to visit, so he
asked them both to play on the record. It was the last time Reznor would play
for Lucky Pierre, but not the end of his studio work with McMahon.
Eventually, McMahon folded up Lucky Pierre, and
began to work on a new project, Prick. Not only did Reznor produce his early
demos, he also produced, engineered and programmed four of the tracks on
Prick's debut album. Although Prick initially signed to Interscope, when Reznor
set up Nothing, Prick would move over to that label. Several Lucky Pierre songs
would turn up on Prick's album ("Tough", "Need To Get To Know",
"Other People" and "Communique" included).
There's one final band to mention, which,
although it occurs chronologically after the formation of Nine Inch Nails,
should be referred to here. Tom Lash went out to form his own project, Hot Tin
Roof, with which Reznor also helped out on. Early on, Hot Tin Roof's "Warm
Jets" was included on a local compilation, Killer Blow, released by Blue
Bus Records, and passed out at the 1990 CMJ music seminar.
At the time, according to a Cleveland insider,
Hot Tin Roof was still a studio project, and Lash bought in musicians to
record. For the comp, Lash enlisted the help of guitarist Greg Zydyck and
Reznor. By this time, NIN was starting it's long climb up the path of success,
and is says much that Reznor was willing to come help out his former roommate.
And Lash wasn't the only one Reznor helped.
He'd long ago left Pi Corporation to work as an engineer at Right Track
Studios, now Midtown Recording. A lot of local bands passed through Midtown,
and as a Cleveland source related, "Trent didn't volunteer to play, but if
people would ask, then of course he would, as cordial as he is. And don't ask,
because I won't tell you which bands; some of them were really embarrassing. He
shouldn't suffer for being a nice guy."
Reznor might be surprised to know, considering
how unsupportive he believed the Cleveland scene to be, just how highly the
town speaks of him, on and off the record, anonymously or not. His earlier
bands were praised by all that saw them, and in an occupation notorious for dissing,
no one interviewed for this article had a negative word to say about him or his
One anonymous scenester summed it up best.
"Regardless of what image you think Trent is, the one thing I admire about
him most, he became ver, very famous and he kept his friends. It's amazing! He
had the ability to hang out with the movers and shakers; at the same time he
treats his friends well that he came up with."
Every scene has its share of in fighting and
back biting, but all in all, Cleveland seems to have treated Reznor well. In
the years there, he flitted across the musical spectrum, worked with many
talented musicians, gained stage experience and competency with his equipment,
and learned much about studio work. But there was one thing he'd yet to do.
Reznor had never written his own music. His apprenticeship was now over, it was
time to strike out on his own.
It was the summer of 1988, and the electo-scene
had undergone a radical shift. Except for long established artists,synthi-bands
had fallen out of fashion, and members of the electro-bands were turning to a
harsher style. Ministry's Twitch was two years old, and their new album, The
Land Of Rape And Honey, would hit the stores this year. Skinny Puppy had
already released a string of influential albums.
But just how did this shift occur? Vancouverite
Martin Myers, formerly with the very synthi Moev, now with his own
industrial-goth band Waiting For God, explains why things changed. "I
think people just got sick of playing the softer synthi stuff. I know I did!
And, eventually, as you become better acquainted with your equipment, you start
discovering the harsher sounds it contains, and begin using them."
Fellow Vancouverite Don Gordon underwent his
own pendulum swing from opening for Duran Duran with Images In Vogue to Numb,
his own aural terrorist industrial band. (He was joined in Vogue by Kevin
Compton, aka Skinny Puppy's Cevin Key) He elaborated: "The first
polyphonic samplers completely changed pop music for starters. For the first time
whole textures, whole things, could exist that never could before. That was the
beginning of sampling technology."
But they had severe limitations; there was no
sensitivity so either a note was on or off. "You were just as likely to
come up with a noise as you were something more musical in the traditional
sense. All the misses start to have as much appeal as the musical sounds, and
you start to incorporate more and more of them into what you do, and it becomes
what it is."
Early experimental bands like Portion Control
and Nocturnal Emissions were filled with these weird electronic
"mistakes", and were to be very influential on the budding industrial
scene. For experimentalists, the road to industrial noise was a natural
"In the early 80s, with the Prophet Fives,
you more likely than not got bleeps and squawks out of them. With the mini-Moog
you only heard a restricted number of sounds out of it, because it was all you
could do. The DX7 came along and for the most part all these were a bitch to
program, and al you got out of them was noise, because there was no particular
logic to the way they worked.
"Around 1983-84, the first samplers came
along, and they were pretty primitive, so it didn't sound like what you
programmed. It might have been a piano you were sampling, but when it came back
at you it didn't sound like one anymore. So instead of pretending it was going
to be a piano, fuck it, make it more of what it isn't."
And that's what precisely happened. But it was
the actual song composition that slotted a band into place in the industrial
spectrum. Martin Myers explained: "Don and Cevin are good examples of how
the music shifted over. When Cevin went to Puppy, he kept writing melodies,
then added noise on top. Don does the exact opposite with Numb, he creates the
noise first, then writes the melodies to layer within."
"Kevin had no musical background,"
Gordon elaborates. "He was a drummer, so he'd get a melody but he wouldn't
know how to create a song structure. I had a musical background, but was so
unhappy with it, I deliberately put obstacles in my way as to not to do that. I
wasn't interested in writing songs, it was an intellectual exercise of finding
the melodies within the noise. Kind of like Eno and his oblique strategy cards."
Add Ministry to the equation, and you complete
the industrial spectrum of the day. Al Jourgensen's career began in the New
Wave-esque Special Affect, before moving up to the synthi-height's of
Ministry's debut album, With Sympathy. But as his own style started shifting
with a move to the Wax Trax! label, Ministry began hardening its sound and
experimenting with electronic effects. Eventually the band began adding in
machine gun assaults, a style originally purveyed by KMFDM.
This German group had come the opposite
direction, from experimental true industrial (their debut live show
incorporated unemployed construction workers) crossed with battalions of
guitars. For Angst, KMFDM composed guitar riffs first then created the songs
around them. Ministry began their career the opposite way, writing songs then
adding noise. Now they too begin with the noise, then write songs around it.
For industrial fans, that's what makes the
genre so seductive, working out just how the music was constructed, and where the
sounds came from. And that is dependant on the artists' background and
As Don Gordon noted, "We all assimilate
influences in a different way, I obviously have the pretentious art school
background. But people buy songs."
All of which help's explain NIN's success. Most
of the creators of pre-NIN industrial bands either came directly from
experimental backgrounds (a la KMFDM) or from synthi-scenes (Numb, Ministry,
Puppy). Whether it was due to lack of musical training (Puppy) or deliberate
attempts to create something different (Ministry, Numb), the synthi-kids were
no longer writing music with strong melodies and standard song structures.
Reznor was about to change all that. And
because of his own background, he would add a new element to the industrial
genre, rock guitar (as compared to the metal riffs utilized by many bands
today). Thus, he'd combine the catchy melodies of his synthi past, with his
earlier love of rock (as a child he was a huge Kiss fan; later he was hooked on
Supertramp). It would change the industrial genre permanently.
Reznor started composing, and by the summer of
1988, he'd demoed three songs at Right Track, which John Malm started shopping
around for a release as a 12 inch single. Ten small, mostly European, indie
labels were approached, all 10 offered contracts. Reznor and Malm reconsidered:
Maybe NIN could sign to a bigger independent.
Nettwerk expressed serious interest; the only
problem was, it had a slight cash flow problem having spent all its liquid
assets on Front 242. If Reznor would hang on six months... In the meantime, the
label offered him a slot opening for Skinny Puppy. Thing was, NIN not only
didn't have a live set, it didn't even exist yet as a band. Reznor worked on
more songs, and bought in local musicians for his live line up. The problem
was, the way the songs were arranged in the studio just didn't work live. And
that quickly became apparent on the Puppy tour. Nine Inch Nails were abysmal,
and later Reznor would openly admit to every journalist that asked, "We
sucked." Puppy gave them a chance, but understandably, after 10 shows,
they asked NIN to leave.
But two positive things came of it. First, it
taught Reznor an important lesson in rethinking his songwriting for live shows,
and second, someone from TVT saw one of the gigs and was mightily impressed.
Well, the latter seemed a good thing at the time, and Reznor signed on TVT's
Reznor returned to Right Track and continued
work on his demos. There are at least a couple of bootlegs on the market
featuring these early song versions. Purest Feeling (Hawk 026, later
re-released by Eagle 002) contains five early demos of Pretty Hate Machine
tracks, and a couple of still-unreleased songs.
The demos capture Reznor perfectly balanced between
his past and future. The songs are instantly recognisable for the later
official release, the difference remains distinctly down to arrangement and
effects. The melodies are catchy, and there is an edge to the material, but
Reznor's still occasionally resorting to synthi lines to carry the tunes,
particularly "Kinda I Want To." There's still a synthi feel to the
finished version, but the later production's complex and driving percussion
harshen the song's aura.
On "That's What I Get", Reznor uses metal-on-metal
percussion, and his vocal delivery is frayed with anger and frustration, but
it's the later addition of dark, atmospheric keyboard passages that provides
the cast shadows. Reznor knew he wanted the song to be harder, he just didn't
yet have the experience to do it himself. And that's what production is all
about, which Reznor the engineer well knew.
By rights, TVT head Steve Gottlieb should have
known that too. But he was happy with the demos just as they were; visions of
radio play and MTV rotation pranced through his head. Danceable-but with an
edge-pop, but not wimpy. Nine Inch Nails could be huge. It was exactly what
Gottlieb wanted, but not Reznor.
In fact, according to Reznor, Gottlieb had
never even heard of the producers he wanted to use: Adrian Sherwood, who'd
worked with Depeche Mode, Ministry's Twitch, Cabaret Voltaire, and runs his own
experimental dub label, On-U Sound; Keith LeBlanc, who produced many of the
On-U bands including Tackhead; Flood, who'd also worked with Depeche, as well
as Erasure and Nitzer Ebb; and yet another former Depeche ally, John Fryer,
who'd engineered their earlier recordings before going on to produce Love And
Rockets, Wire and the Cocteau Twins. They would all play a role in NIN's early
Sherwood was given just one song, "Down In
It", destined for 12-inch single. After LeBlanc had done some
pre-production work, the tape was sent to Sherwood in London.
Although Sherwood present the song with his
signature heavy dub sound, it was a straightforward mix. That version would
appear on Pretty Hate Machine, on the single it was subtitled "Skin."
The remix "Shred", just spun out the concept, while "Singe"
received Sherwood's full experimental, dub treatment.
With the single completed, Reznor moved on to
the preproduction phase of Machine. Although Reznor wanted Flood to produce the
entire album, that wasn't possible, due to a previous commitment to Depeche.
Flood would only have time for two tracks, "Head Like A Hole" and
"Terrible Lie". John Fryer would finish off the rest. However, Reznor
was unhappy with some of his mixing, and recalled Keith LeBlanc.
With the recording done, now came the real
work, taking all the material from four different producers and editing it into
a cohesive whole. Reznor and Chris Vrenna went to work, listening, editing,
cutting, splicing and sequencing. Upon completion, Reznor was justifiably proud
of his efforts.
Gottlieb, in contrast, was horrified, as Reznor
related to Industrial Nation. "When he finally heard it, he hated it.
After two weeks of silence, he called me up and says, 'I think your record is
an abortion. I think you'll be lucky if you sell 20,000 copies of it. You
ruined it by making sounds not friendly to the radio. These are good songs, but
you've ruined them.'
"Oh, to hear that at a stage when I didn't
know what I had created... I was too close to it. At that point, I felt like I
had fucked up. I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and I thought, well,
I made this record and I like it. Sorry he didn't like it,but fuck him, that's
Gottlieb's reaction was ominous, and whatever
alarm bells were now sounding in Reznor's head, they would soon turn into a
And it must have been hurtful, because Reznor
was right. After hearing songs over and over during the recording process, few
musicians can distance themselves from the final product. But with Machine it
was even more difficult. Reznor had decided to compose his own music, not just
because he was fed up playing in other people's bands, but because he had
emotional issues he was trying to work out.
In the end, he turned to his journals, and
those became the basis of the song's lyrics. Machine was intensely personal,
and reflected Reznor's own questioning and inner negativity. As he explained to
Industrial Nation, "The most bizarre thing is how intimate that record was
when I made it. I was so embarrassed when someone would hear it. It was my
journal and then to think that a million people bought that thing. It's giving
yourself away and that's a creepy feeling."
When the album hit the street, it made no
immediate impact. But in the industrial community, it certainly received
attention for Reznor was breaking an unwritten rule of the genre. He wrote in
the firs person, which provided an extra wallop of emotional power. In a genre
renowed for it's bleak outlook of the world and its future, lyrics spoke only
of each other. It was a revelation, and like all taboo breakers caused a flurry
of supporters and detractors.
Elsewhere, as Gottlieb predicted, the album
received little airplay and was ignored by MTV. Only the clubs showed any
interest. If NIN was going to get themselves know the only avenue left was
touring.. or getting themselves on tabloid TV.
In a scene worthy of Spinal Tap, during the
filming of the "Down In It" video, a camera, tied to a helium balloon
for overhead shots, came loose from it's mooring and floated off into the blue
yonder. It eventually landed in a field, and was turned in to the local police
by a farmer. To the men in blue, the camera contained footage of what appeared
to be a body. A murder investigation was immediately opened. It's hard to say
whose faces were the reddest when the truth became not only known, but divulged
to the entire nation on Hard Copy.
All publicity is good publicity, the old adage
goes, but that's no longer true. In today's salacious world, this kind of press
would be the start of Reznor being built into an icon quite at odds with his
true self. (Reznor chose Chicago's H-Gun company to make the video; they'd
previously worked with the Revolting Cocks and Ministry) But TV notoriety
aside, he'd still have to prove himself onstage.
The aftermath of the Skinny Puppy tour left
Reznor re-jigging the line up. Unhappy with the Cleveland scene, he claimed
that he even considered moving to London and putting together a band there. He
went as far as to run an ad for musicians in Melody Maker, an English national
music weekly, but the 100 or so replies received changed his mind. Most were
obviously looking for NIN as an out from the misery of British life and the
English music scene.
So, Reznor took to the road at the end of
January with Jesus and Mary Chain, accompanied by pal Chris Vrenna on drums,
ex-Exotic Bird guitarist Richard Patrick (currently with Filter) and new
keyboardist David Hames. NIN would spend the next year-and-a-half touring.
The Mary Chain tour ended in March, and
although an improvement over the Puppy fiasco, it was still evident that NIN
was having difficulty getting their message across live. This was even more
noticeable on their next tour, with Peter Murphy, a mismatch by any standards.
Although Murphy was now long a solo artist, his
fan base remained loyal, and dates back to his days with the seminal band
Bauhaus. They were an arty, experimental group, who inadvertently launched the
Gothic movement with their debut single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead". And
much of Murphy's audience continues to be comprised of these wraithlike fans,
to whom NIN must have seemed a cacophony of chaos.
The tour began on March 16 in Boulder,
Colorado, and ended four weeks later on April 14 in Washington DC. For Nine
Inch Nails that month must have felt like a millennium.
It was a frustrating experience, as Reznor
explained to Alternative Press. "Our show just got much more
anger-oriented, or just fucking frustration-oriented, rather that, 'We really
want to do a fine job for everybody out there.' Fuck you! Like our music, or
we're going to fucking spill beer on you and insult you. When we do, they love
you more, and then that makes you have less respect for them. It just fuels
itself to where you just turn into something else. It's a weird thing
"It wasn't hard to be hard, it was just
hard, because it felt better being that way. It went from 'Let's play these
songs and try to be sincere,' to explosions and screaming out. We won over the
people we wanted to win over, but some of the vampire crowd were not gonna ever
go for anything except their god, Mister Cheekbones..."
The magnanimous Mister Cheekbones replied,
"I remember being very impressed by their record. It seemed to be very
similar to one aspect that Bauhaus had done; that was five years ago, still it
was a little deja vu in moments. However, the audience were almost battered
into submission by the time we came on.
"There were problems in that a part of
Trent's act was to throw and goad his band into throwing flour. My band, the
Hundred Men, were a little bit pissed off about this and the damage they were
doing to their equipment. Trent was saying this is a part of our act and we
have to carry on. This is a part of our integrity and we want to carry on doing
this and this should not be a problem. My band was saying it is a problem, so
it was perceived that Peter Murphy wanted to throw Nine Inch Nails off the
tour, which wasn't the case at all. I wanted them to stay, but I was between my
guys and them.
"Trent basically used backing tracks a lot
of the time to make it credible; although the band was playing, the backing
tracks laid the foundation of the sound. The band was just a visual device to
make it look like there was a band entity. But actually it's just Trent. The
band was just bit part players in the overall scheme of things; it was very
theatrical in that sense. This is part of the very manipulative way that he
works, which is clever in a way, thought out and planned."
John Malm denies that NIN threw flour, although
the band did wear cornstarch onstage. However, he admits the stage show was
violent, and said Murphy was well aware of that. As for the backing tapes, Malm
states that NIN "used tape and samplers; however 90 percent of the show
was live; only things that couldn't physically be played live were on
From the stage, it might appear that Nine Inch
Nails was making little impact at all, although the more violent their stage
act became, the more audience response they received. However, on the dance
floors it was an entirely different story.
"Down In It" was followed up by
"Head Like A Hole." The 12 inch single contained four remixes of the
title track, two remixes of "Terrible Lie" and the non-album track
"You Know Who You Are." CD buyers received the same, plus the two non
album mixes of "Down In It."
The CD single also provided a home for Reznor's
original demo of "Down In It." Although he wasn't happy with
Sherwood's work, he'd felt that the hip-hop feel of his demo had been neglected
in the mix. Now the listeners could hear what he'd actually had in mind for the
song. (There's also a short bonus track, a soundbite from a NIN fan)
The video for "Head" reunited Reznor
with Martin Atkins, who appeared as the band's second drummer. The day before
the shoot, Atkins bought Reznor along to Ministry mainstay Paul Barker's
filming for his "Faster Than Light" video (from his solo Lead Into
Gold album.) And in fact, Reznor makes a fleeting appearance in the video,
playing guitar. Also hanging out during the shooting were Ministry drummer Bill
Rieflin and band frontman Al Jourgensen. Somehow videos seem to play a large
role in Reznor's life.
A frazzled Reznor saw the last of "Mr.
Cheekbones," and enthusiastically took up Martin Atkins' offer to join
Pigface in the studio to record vocals on "Suck", for the forthcoming
Gub album. "When we put the Pigface thing together everybody was getting
involved," Atkins laughingly reminisced, "and I had Trent fly in from
Cleveland. (Producer) Steve Albini said, "Aaaah, keyboards, waaargh! But I
told him, 'No, it's cool, I want this guy to come out and work on this.' So,
Trent came out and very matter-of-factly went and sang and that was that."
But Reznor obviously had a slightly different
experience, as he related to Grant Alden in Focus: "That was very
unpleasant. Probably the whole Pigface sessions weren't like that, but while I
was there Steve Albini was just proving how 'alternative' he is. There's a very
vulnerable time when you're offering up ideas, and you're around people who are
all trying to make something sound better. Then there's one jerk saying, 'That's
the worst idea I've ever heard. No, we're not going to try that.' Getting off
on the power, getting off on knowing that he was making me feel shitty. Someone
who got pushed into too many lockers in high school."
Atkins candidly admits that the experience
probably wasn't the happiest for Reznor. "A producer is many, many things
and I like Steve, but there are a lot of things that Steve isn't.. Imagine
Steve as a Midwestern foundry worker meets a Yorkshire working class state of
mind, portrayed in a Pythonesque manner. Without saying, his attitude was,
'Who's this waste of time? Oh you want to do two takes..oh, sure.' His people
skills are somewhat lacking, I have to say."
Reznor gritted his teeth and finished the
recording, his vocals on "Suck" capturing the white hot fury he
obviously felt at the time. Atkins next convinced Reznor to join Pigface
onstage for their New York City and Philadelphia shows. Chris Vrenna also
participated on several dates, including Cleveland, where Tom Lash also came
out and played horns. That track's on Pigface's live album, Welcome To Mexico
"Pigface is a hanging thing to me,"
Atkins explained, "that's why I wanted Trent to come out on this tour-to
hang, to see another side of the music business, to see how it could be. Maybe
five years ago, he didn't know how shitty it could be. I was trying to show him
something in Pigface that he didn't know how cool things were for him, because
he didn't know how bad things could get.
"I remember being disappointed because I
thought, great, we'll hang out in the back of the bus and watch movies on the
way to Philadelphia, but he chose to fly. Whatever. But it wasn't why I wanted
him to come. I wanted him to hang out."
Barely off the road himself, Reznor probably
just needed some downtime, and besides, he didn't have to look back very far to
recollect just how bad things on the road could be. Atkins would have seen
"Down In It" reached #1 in Rolling Stone's dance chart, and make the
Billboard Top 20 club chart, but NIN tours were a real struggle. In fact,
Reznor probably would have happily traded places and let Atkins deal with the
Murphy crowd, so he could join the carnival fun of Pigface!
The New York show epitomised the Pigface circus
atmosphere. "We'd kidnapped the bassist from Gwar in Richmond,
Virginia," Atkins laughingly recalled, "and he came out onstage in
full Gwar costume!" True trademark Pigface: The audience never knew who'd
actually be appearing on their stage, and what they'd do once they arrived. For
Reznor, it must have been welcome relief, and a blatant reminder of his own
position, worsened, according to him, by the lack of tour support from TVT.
Somewhere around this time, Reznor joined the
Ministry camp for three days in Chicago, and recorded vocals for the 1,000 Homo
DJ's cover of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut". The DJs were a Ministry
spin off comprised of Jourgensen, Paul Barker, Bill Rieflin and Mike Scaccia.
To everyone's disgust, TVT refused permission
for the song's release, although it did turn up on a limited edition
promotional Wax Trax! sampler. This difficult to find cassette was handed out
at the New Music Seminar in the fall of 1990. The DJs were then forced to
re-record the vocals (although rumors are rife that this was not done, and
Reznor's vocals were merely affected) with Jourgensen taking over.
It wasn't until TVT and Wax Trax! merged and
created last year's four album retrospective, The Black Box boxed set, that the
original "Supernaut" finally received its official release.
The aptly named Hate '90 North American tour
kicked off in St. Louis on June 21, winding around the country to end on August
24 in Cleveland. Three days later, another Ministry side project, the Revolting
Cocks, arrived in town. Reznor eagerly stepped onstage with them, and then
joined their tour, leaving after the Florida show a few weeks later. From there
it was back to Nine Inch Nails, and Reznor's own gruelling tour schedule.
He remained on the road for much of the rest of
'90, the year rounding out with the release of the "Sin" single. The
two song cassingle coupled a remix of the album version with a cover of Queen's
"Get Down Make Love" (While Adrian Sherwood had provided the
"Sin" remixes, "Make Love" was produced by Al Jourgensen
and Paul Barker.) The 12-inch single and CD5 contained both tracks, with two
more remixes of the title song.
But as 1990 drew to a close, Reznor had a lot
to be thankful for, not least of which was proving Gottlieb wrong dead wrong.
By the end of the year, Machine had already sold over 150,000 copies.
1991 dawned, and NIN was back on the road
grinding through the club circuit. Line up changes in the band continued. Hames
had already been replaced by Lee Mars. Tensions between Reznor and TVT were
reaching the boiling point, and Reznor was determined to remove himself from
the label. But it would be expensive, and the club dates weren't going to
provide him with the cash needed for the upcoming battle.
Which was when Lollapalooza rang. They offered
NIN $12,000 to play half hour sets. Reznor could hardly believe it, his problem
However, the opening night in Phoenix was an
unmitigated disaster; the power kept shutting down, leaving NIN staring at
25,000 people who were jumping to the conclusion that there entire show was on
tape. Reznor, rightfully upset, then made the mistake of blaming the crew for
the problem. The quote appeared in USA Today, souring relationships between the
NIN-er and the technicians. Later, he discovered the outages were caused by a
problem in one of the power boxes, but it was too late.
Technical problems bled into personal problems,
worsened by a brief falling out between Reznor and Chris Vrenna. Vrenna left
the band for a short period, and was replaced by Jeff Ward, who was tied to the
Ministry camp. Ward reportedly had a drug problem, which just added to all the
other difficulties. Sadly, Ward's own problems worsened with time, and he later
With only the cash to fight TVT to keep him
going, Reznor finished Lollapalooza and went from the frying pan into the
fire-England. A few dates were already booked that mispaired Nine Inch Nails
with the alternative pop band the Wonder Stuff. Second on the bill was Carter
USM (that stands for the Unstoppable Sex Machine, in case you were wondering)
an Anglocentric dance club group.
With that in store for them, when Axl Rose of
Guns 'n' Roses contacted Reznor and asked if NIN would care to open for a
stadium show in Germany, Reznor agreed. He thought it would confuse people. And
it did.. for the first two songs. Then the 65,000 people realized that this
definitely wasn't the second billed band, Skid Row.
Reznor confided to Musician just how that felt:
"There's something about the sight of every single person flipping you off
in a giant stadium that makes you instantly go numb. I started laughing, then
insulted them with anything I could think of. At that moment, I see this
fucking link sausage come flying up onstage, and I thought, 'Okay, Germany,
link sausage, you got us. So that was a penis shrinker'."
The one pitiful fan in a NIN shirt that Reznor
did notice disappeared in a scuffle, and apparently never surfaced again. But
perhaps the true gauge of that show was the t-shirt sales. Of the 65,000 strong
crowd, NIN won over three people. Well, maybe a few more, but only three felt
strongly enough about what they'd seen to buy a shirt.
Lesser men would have crawled back home and
never left again; others might have spent the rest of their careers whining
interminably to the press about the horror of it all, the more fragile might
even have attempted suicide. But Trent Reznor took all the anger and hook and
turned it into Broken.
Hopefully, this was the lowest point that
Reznor will ever have to live through. The English tour had been disastrous.
According to numerous press interviews, Reznor was receiving little money from
TVT, although the singles and Machine had continued to sell in even greater
numbers. And worst of all, Reznor had sat down with a lawyer and discovered
that even Lollapalooza wasn't enough to finance a lawsuit that would take
approximately two years to wind it's way though the courts.
Negotiations between the two camps continued,
and there were offers from numerous labels willing to but out NIN's contract.
But Gottlieb sat tight; he couldn't be forced to give up the band-laws that
protect smaller labels from their bigger brethen saw to that. Reznor announced
that he'd never record for TVT again, the last resort of the artist painted
into a corner.
But the anger and frustration needed an outlet,
and so Reznor secretly began booking studio time under a series of aliases. If
the money from Lollapalooza couldn't help him get off TVT, it could at least
finance a new record.
Never a prolific writer, Reznor hadn't written
anything in almost two years, and now he discovered he'd virtually forgotten
how. Rather than his normal practice of composing on keyboards, this time
Reznor picked up a guitar and began writing songs on that. Initially, he
considered stripping his music down to just guitar, bass and drums. But in the
end, he decided that this approach would be counter-productive, running the
risk of turning NIN into a garage band.
Once again, Flood was busy with Depeche, and he
could only fit three of Nine Inch Nail's songs into his schedule. Reznor was
now truly on his own, writing programming, and producing the rest. Out would
tumble onto record all his emotional turmoil and fury. As he explained to
Alternative Press, "Everything sucks but me, but what if you don't have
yourself anymore? You've let yourself down and you don't have a permanent
foundation to stand on."
That self loathing bled across the recording,
at times reducing Reznor to tears in the studio, as he couldn't bring himself
to enunciate the lyrics. A howl of pain and rage, Broken was a testament to
Reznor's anguished state at the time.
On "Wish", Reznor's vocals are a yowl
of wrath crossed with a tearing shade of pleading, "Wish there was
something real, wish there was something true." The music crashes across
the song, bouncing off the very walls, like a crazed slam dancer.
"Last", the song whose lyrics gave
Reznor the most problems, is the defiance of a man who's lost all hope, still
desperately holding out for last minute salvation, while the guitars sear the
The melancholy instrumental of "Help Me I
Am In Hell" gives brief respite before the industrial roar of
"Happiness In Slavery", whose lyrics contradict the song's title.
And finally "Gave Up", which seems to
be aimed directly at Gottlieb: "It took you to make me see the light
smashed up my sanity smashed up my integrity smashed up what I believed in..
gonna smash myself"
With it's high beats per minute, and
alternating soft and crashing passages, "Gave Up", lyrics aside,
leaves the listener with a ray of hope. While the rest of the EP gives the
impression of careening down into an abyss of no return, "Gave Up",
in contrast,is the victim a moment before he turns and slays his tormentor.
Then came the two bonus tracks, a cover of Adam
and the Ant's (Reznor was a long time fan) "Physical" and a
re-recording of the song Reznor had done with Pigface, "Suck". The
song was stripped to the bone, then refreshed with nothing more than rhythms
and a looped riff, with a chorus that nails the listener to the wall. "How
does it feel?" Reznor rails. "Suck!". And that about summed it
While Reznor thrashed through his torment in
the studio, the situation reached a standstill between TVT and Reznor. Each had
backed the other into a corner; TVT wouldn't give up NIN, Reznor wouldn't
record for TVT. And then came the breakthrough-it made neither party happy, but
they could live (uncomfortably) with it.
John Malm explained: "Jimmy Iovine from
Interscope formed a joint venture without our knowledge with TVT. When we were
in Europe, I got a call from Jimmy saying we'll be distributing NIN from now
on. I said, 'No you wont'!'."
However, after negotiations, a deal was struck.
TVT would still own NIN, but they'd have no further control, and Reznor inked a
new deal with Interscope, thus pushing his original label into the position of
silent partner. Reznor and John Malm established the Nothing label at the same
time; henceforth all NIN releases would bear the TVT, Interscope and Nothing
Reznor handed his EP to Interscope, which
entered the Billboard chart at #7. It seemed the more anguish Reznor exposed,
the higher his record sales grew.
Broken was released in several formats. The
cassette contained all eight tracks, six on side A, the two bonus tracks on
side B, while the 12-inch carried the six tracks and the two bonuses on an
included 7 inch. The CD came in two versions; one with eight tracks, the other
with 99, although tracks seven through 97 were blank.
To everyone's surprised, Broken went on to win
a Grammy for best metal performance with vocal. Things finally seemed to be
turning around. Next up was a bit of an experiment: Reznor contacted a variety
of musicians and producers and asked them to remix songs from the EP.
It wasn't a total failure, but it wasn't a
success either; only half the tracks ended up being usable. Coil made the cut,
as did two tracks by Jim Thirlwell of Foetus fame, but Reznor couldn't even
salvage Adrian Sherwood's, although he was able to get Butch Vig's to satisfaction
with Chris Vrenna's help. To showcase Reznor's disappointment with the results,
Fixed was initially sold for the same price as a single. However, the record's
now easier to find on import than on domestic, and priced accordingly.
Reznor had also turned his attention to
Nothing, which may be tied to Interscope, but gives Reznor the freedom to sign
bands and offer them complete artistic control. Bands currently signed to the
label include Marilyn Manson, Prick, Pop Will Eat Itself and Coil.
Meanwhile, the videos from Broken were making
the news. Initially, the game plan was for a video compilation of all the
songs. Filming was already complete for "Pinion" "Wish" and
"Happiness In Slavery". Reznor then contacted Coil's Peter
Christopherson (who'd done the "Wish" and several more NIN videos),
and asked him to shoot a video for "Gave Up", and come up with a way
to tie all the videos into a package.
The end result was so intense and extreme,
ending with the infamous dismemberment and castration scene, that Reznor
eventually decided to shelve it. Editing it was impossible; releasing it as was
would have led to a pasting by a rabid press, and his motives for making a film
would have been misconstrued as wanting further notoriety. And considering his
new address, that was the last thing he needed.
By this time, Reznor had already relocated from
Chicago to New Orleans, which he now considers home. With touring finally at an
end, it was time to start a new, full length album. To this end, Reznor decided
to build an inhouse studio in New Orleans, and began searching for a house to
rent. However, he was unable to find anything big enough and set far away
enough from other homes. Plus, he'd be needing technical help installing the
equipment, and the people he was using were all from LA.
So, Reznor flew out to California and began
house hunting there. He saw over 15 homes before he found one he really liked.
It was only later, when he mentioned its Cielo Drive address to a friend, that the
connection was made. The friend produced an old copy of Helter Skelter, Vincent
Bugliosi's best-selling account of the 1969 Charles Manson killings, and the
pair realized Reznor was about to rent the house where actress Sharon Tate and
several others were brutally murdered by the depraved hippie gang in one of the
century's most notorious crimes.
Reznor briefly reconsidered, and even returned
to New Orleans to have another look at a house he'd previously seen and
rejected, but it had been sold. He rethought again, and opted for the Tate
house. Who cared? It was his favorite anyway. Well, the press for one; they had
a field day.
But Reznor weathered the storm and got to work
building his studio, jokingly named Pig after the blood-scrawled word left on
the house by Masonite Susan Atkins. (This was to launch among the industrial
community a slew of pig references, and it's surely no coincidence that two of
the tracks on the next NIN album had the word pig in the title.)
The installation dragged on for three months,
two months over Reznor's projected schedule. But finally, he was able to begin
writing The Downward Spiral. After Broken, which had started to take form while
on tour, Reznor wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the new album. The only
thing that was clear was this one would be softer and less aggressive.
Reznor explained this to Industrial Nation:
"I knew I wanted to make a broader scope type of record that consciously
wasn't' harder, faster, meaner, tougher, and just boxing myself into a corner
Initially, he began writing on his guitar, as
he'd also wanted to stay away from the amount of electronic effects that had
filled Machine. Instead, Reznor was now attempting to create atmospheres, and
in the process wanted to strip his sound down to the bone.
For Reznor, songwriting has always been an
uncomfortable examination of his inner confusion, self-doubts and psychic pain.
It's an easier state of mind to fall into when one's depressed, but not
someplace one would want to go by choice.
But eventually, painfully, the album began to
take shape. Reznor confided to huH magazine, "The time of Downward Spiral
was the blackest, bleakest.. This is never gonna get done. I hate what I do; I
don't like doing it anymore. Why am I even doing this anymore?
"The problem in my head, when I was doing
that record, was... being in LA, all my little devices to repair myself, I
didn't know how to do there. Things like go outside and ride your bike around,
get away from people, hang out in nature, go out and have a pleasant dinner,
drink yourself stupid. So it got weird for a while, but then I kicked out of
it. When the record was done I felt a lot better."
Once again Reznor contacted Flood and the two
set to work. At the time, both were heavily into David Bowie's Low album, and
Reznor cheerfully admitted that Spiral was heavily indebted to the Thin White
Duke and his producer, Brian Eno, which is why he contacted King Crimson's
Adrian Belew and asked him to contribute on the album.
The guitarist had played on Bowie's Lodger
album, and Reznor was keen on the concept of using a musician totally out of
context. However, by the time Belew came in, most of Spiral was finished. At a
bit of a loss, Reznor tossed on the record's noisiest, fastest song, "Mr.
Self Destruct." Belew picked up his guitar and played away, leaving an
awed Reznor and Flood in his wake.
Unfortunately, not much of Belew's
contributions turned up on the album, but Reznor has promised they'll reappear
in later remixes or new songs.
Now, all that was left was to sequence the
album. As Reznor explained to Axcess, "The order was made to work as a
climax and then go down a tube. That side has to work as a whole. It adds to
the A/B nature. There were a few things I wanted to do with this album: Get
away from the verse/chorus, verse/chorus, middle part, end structure... Also to
experiment with mood and put more effort into that than I had in the past.
Music that might evoke visual images, not any specific ones. Perceptions"
And that's precisely what Spiral accomplished.
More accessible than his previous releases, but with a dark, edgy atmosphere,
for many Spiral would be their first taste of "industrial" music.
So far, two singles have been culled from the
album. The first, "March Of The Pigs," was released as a five song
CD5 featuring the album version and a remix of the title track, two remixes of
"Reptile," ("Reptilian" courtesy of Dave Oglivie, and
"Underneath The Skin") and a new track, "A Violent Fluid",
which was a short, experimental percussion driven piece.
A British import of the single comes in a
double CD pack, adding a "clean" version of the title track and
"Big Man With A Gun". (Most of NIN's U.K Cd singles were released in
this digipack format, as well on 12 inch.)
The follow-up was the nine song CD single for
"Closer To God". This featured the title song, five remixes from the
likes of Coil and David Oglivie, Adrian Sherwood's remix of "Closer To
God" ("March Of The Fuckheads"), a remix of "Heresy",
and an affectionate cover of Soft Cell's "Memorabilia".
A two song cassingle was also released the
paired "Closer" and "March Of The Pigs Live".
In May 1995, the 11 song "Further Down The
Spiral" was released featuring remixes of tracks from Spiral. Remixers
included American Label head Rick Rubin (whose "Piggy" includes
Jane's Addiction's guitarist Dave Navarro), Foetus's Jim Thirwell, ambient king
Aphex Twin, Coil and NIN themselves. As with Fixed, quality is variable, and
it's evident Reznor had to clean up some of the remixes. (The British import
contains two different tracks, both remixed by NIN-er Charlie Clouser.)
Reznor had also done production work and
remixes for a multitude of bands, including KMFDM, Megadeath, Machines Of
Loving Grace and the Wolfgang Press. He also recorded two songs within
Hollywood Records mammoth Queen reissues program. Reznor's extracurricular
activities rate an article of their own at this point.
But perhaps his most unexpected appearance was
singing back-up vocals on Tori Amos's "Past The Mission. Reznor was a fan
of the waif-like Amos, and when the two eventually met, the immediately hit it
off. So, when Amos asked him to provide vocals, he agreed, although it was such
an anti-NIN situation that Reznor reportedly claims he was scared to death
during the recording.
With Spiral finished, the inevitable series of
tour dates followed, which would see NIN criss-crossing the country and on to
In between, NIN recorded a cover of Joy
Division's "Dead Souls" (from their Still album) for The Crow soundtrack.
The original was a melancholy number, with Joy Division's signature drone
counterpointed by simple, skeletal sketches of melody. Reznor started his
version faithfully, fleshing it out slightly with more pronounced drums. But a
minute in, he brings up strafing guitars, which fade in and out between the
verses. Reznor's vocals start at a whisper, then crescendo into the chorus,
"They keep calling me." The song ebbs and flows, as the repetitive
chorus builds to a shout, the slowly fades out. It was a brilliant work, easily
his best cover to date.
There have been numerous incidents of NIN songs
turning up in films, often to Reznor's dismay. But as TVT can do as it will
with Machine-era music, Reznor had no control over their dispersal. Thus, it
was no surprise that Oliver Stone included "Something I Can Never
Have" in his new film Natural Born Killers. However, he also wanted to use
"A Warm Place" from Spiral,and for that, permission was
Reznor was contacted, and invited to a
screening to approve the song's use. A nice gesture on Stone's part, and not
normally done. After the more appalling uses of NIN songs, Reznor was very
happy, so when Stone approached him about Nothing putting out the soundtrack,
Reznor agreed. He hadn't realized what it would actually entail.
Although the songs for the film were already
picked out, Reznor would oversee editing. However, he decided to take his
producer title seriously, and create a soundtrack through editing, remixing and
use of vocal samples that would actually paralleo the film. Stone agreed, and
Reznor was given free rein over the record.
Reznor was also asked to write a new song for
the soundtrack, a first for him. He struggled a bit, attempting to keep within
the movies theme, without actually titling the song "Natural Born
The result was "Burn", which crossed
hip-hop beats with white noise and industrialized effects. Befitting the film,
the song is ominous, dripping with coiled violence, like a murderer ready to
Reznor actually assembled the soundtrack album
while touring Europe, setting up computers in his hotel rooms. Taking the songs
from the soundtrack, he set about remixing some (as he did to "Something I
Can Never Have"), editing others, splicing in dialogue and sequencing. In
the process, he estimated that he must have watched the movie a good 70 times.
It might not have been the same as actually
writing a soundtrack, but it was almost as creative. And the end results were
equally as creative.
And meantime, the Self Destruct tour continued
with the line-up of Robin Finck and Danny Lohner on guitar, keyboardist James
Wooley and of course Chris Vrenna. The highlight, of course, was Woodstock '94,
where NIN performed on Saturday, August 13. Covered in mud, the band's set pushed
it over the top into super-stardom.
From playing large concert hall, Nine Inch
Nails was catapulted into stadiums, and changed their show accordingly.
Previously, frenzied crowds watched in awe, as Reznor spun like a dervish
across the stage, knocking band members, mike stands, all that stood in his
was, flying. Each show saw the destruction of yet another keyboard, and it was
impossible to keep track of how often mike stands hit the floor.
For these larger shows, a new, more subdued NIN
took the stage. The aggression and fury were gone, replaced for part of the set
by a large screen upon which images flashed behind the band, and at times in
front. No longer having to whip the crowd up, Reznor could now concentrate on
the songs themselves.
And another treat lay in store for fans in
Boston and New York. There, Adam Ant, and his guitarist Marco Pirroni joined
NIN onstage for three of Ant's songs, "Physical" "Red Scab"
and "Beat My Guest"
1995 has been a slower year. In May, NIN
performed for the first time in Australia. And now, Reznor and Chris Vrenna are
back in New Orleans, hard at work building another in house studio. Seven years
after Reznor made the decision to take a stab at songwriting, Nine Inch Nails
and Trent Reznor have become hugely successful, with all of the pluses and
minuses that entails. How did NIN become so successful? Because Reznor's music
have remained brutally honest. There's no facade, no false emotion... his songs
are a true reflection of himself.
As he told Details, "Every day I'm saying
the most personal things I could ever say. And I don't know if I want people in
my head that much, but I've chosen to give that out because I realized that's
what made the strongest statement, that was the most honest art I could make. But
one of the prices is that there's an open raw nerve that I'm letting everybody
That indeed is the price of fame, the price of
success, and the price of vocalizing the emotions of an entire generation.
The author would like to thank the following
people whose recollections were so important to this piece: Martin Atkins,
Johan, Don Gordon, Martin Myers, Kevin McMahon, Tom Lash and Bill Rieflin.
Very special thanks also goes out to my
anonymous sources in Cleveland for their invaluable assistance.
You know who you are, thank you. I hope you've found that your faith in me was
Appreciation is also gratefully extended to
Mike Roston, Wade Alin, Mark Thomas and Brian at Formula for their assistance
with the discography.
Finally, much thanks to John Malm for his
assistance, and a big thank you to all at Formula. And to Dave Thompson whose
help never ceases-thanks..again.