Trent Reznor was wearing a Machine Head cap.
Robb Flynn, Machine Head singer/guitarist, couldn't believe it when I told him.
He thought I was kidding. I had to tell him twice. Trent shrugged the garment off
as just being "merchandise" rather than an indication of his
admiration for the band, but it seemed to be some sort of sub-divine warning of
what Nine Inch Nails were about to unleash onstage.
Somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the same
quiet, polite singer who gently directed a member of another band's touring
party where they needed to go during our interview was transformed into a
f!?king monster with all of hell, all of Armageddon, all of evil breaking out
around him--and from him. Nine Inch Nails are scary shit. At Sydney,
Australia's Eastern Creek, you could feel--almost see--the night air, heavy
with fog, shudder when NIN kicked in. The volume, the eerie, almost
otherworldly, alien-type lighting and the incredible cold, clinical ferocity and
what seemed like very real violence taking place on and from the stage combined
for a harrowing effect. It's how classical composer Wagner might sound in 1995.
Still, Trent says he is keen for the next NIN
album to be more of a group effort than a communique from his very private hell
way south of Heaven. If a sequel to '60s "ultra-violence" flick _A
Clockwork Orange_ is ever produced, the makers of the soundtrack are at the
"We didn't want to be safe on this
tour," explains Trent, who was keen to go and catch Ice-T doing a rap set
before metal alter-ego Body Count stormed the stage. "If you go out with
no production, wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt, no one's going to make
fun of you, no on'es going to be challenged by that, really. You're not opening
yourself up to any degree of criticism. We decided to take in a pretty
over-the-top production sense of an environment that might really help
accentuate the mood of the music. Like when something's intense, when there're
so many lights in your eyes it's hard to watch--in the sense of transforming
the whole environment into something that can be oppressive...or seductive.
That led to designing the sets," the singer explains. "I wanted to
use the idea of raw wood and rubber, two textures against each other that you
don't see in a normal rock set. In real life our guitar player wears more
outrageous things than we do onstage, and he wanted to express himself, and
f?!k, we do what we want to do. Watching Ziggy Stardust tapes was more of an
influence than Nirvana. We kind of wanted to put on a show not to be
antifashionable, but because it's more really where we're coming from."
That place, of course, isn't a particularly
pretty region. While the NIN clan were unpacking their belongings after a collective
move to New Orleans, one of the movers approached Trent about an item in the
truck. He had claimed the piece of criminal history before he left Le Pig
studios, the birthing place of the hypnotic purgatory of _The Downward Spiral_
album and the site of the Manson Family's 1969 Tate house killing field.
"The moving guy asked, 'What the f?!k do
you have a door for?'" Trent laughs quietly. "We told them,
and they said: 'Oh, man! Does it still have the blood on it?' That was kind of
a consolation prize for getting ripped off for the amount of money we ended up
paying to be there."
Money, incredibly enough, was at the root of
NIN's appearance at Woodstock '94 and their dawn-of-time-type
performance with mud as Reznor's filthy holy water. Their set will go down in
rock history as one of the finest high-drama rock events of any
description--side by side with Hendrix' gutiar immolation at the 1967 Monterey
Pop festival and Iggy Pop's walk on a sea of hands at a festival in Connecticut
in 1970. For Nine Inch Nails, Woodstock '94 was great theater just waiting
"It just erased all inhibitions. It was
probably the most nervous I've been in as long as I can remember," says Trent, reflecting on his Woodstock '94 performance. "I guess it
was perceived as great theater. For me, it was a pretty true moment. When I got
offstage I felt like it worked, I felt like I connected. I mean, it didn't
sound worth a shit. My high was blown when I actually heard the tape the next
Last year Nine Inch Nails grabbed the world by
the balls and squeezed. The kid who was intrigued by the echoes of his own mind
in Pink Floyd's _The Wall_ had hungrily thrown himself at some sort of
alienation-transfer process of what he loved in Floyd's epic of negativity and
cleaned up with his outpouring. A fringe benefit of that success was being
approached by Oliver Stone--himself more a maverick than a cog--to do the
soundtrack collage for _Natural Born Killers_.
In August of 1993 RIP ran an interview with
AC/DC's Angus Young which made mention of AC/DC being the closest thing there
is, in these times, to blues elder statesman Muddy Waters. A reader took
exception to this statement and fired off a letter saying if anyone was akin to
Muddy it was Trent Reznor. Yeah, it beat me too. But the NIN central effigy is
doing some sort of blues. And, according to Courtney Love, of all people, he is
doing it from a feminine standpoint.
"I know what she's saying, I think,"
Reznor responds thoughtfully. "The degree of vulnerability is probably
what she's reading as being feminine because on every song there's an AC/DC
[element--no, he's not referring to the band], macho-man perspective. But
there's something creative. I don't mind an observation like that at all. It's
unusually flattering for her to say something like that. She said that same
thing to me, actually. She likened that to one of the reasons she liked the
music because that was how Kurt used to write as well. At the time, I took that
as a compliment." At the time? Of course, the rumors flowing around Ms.
Love and Mr. Reznor ran rampant--she pursued him heavily, they were buying a
house together in New Orleans, he was running scared from her
insistent advances--to the point of ducking out on a hotel balcony to avoid
Trent acknowledges that his band--and
himself as magical ringleader--tends to inspire extreme reactions. "If you
mean there was a woman backstage with fangs, that's happened a few times,"
he admits. "There's been so many other ridiculous backstage situations
that that one kind of pales in comparison--like when we had Jim Rose on tour.
Jim Rose ended up being my best friend, always a fun guy to hang what was the
most ridiculous situation he could come up with. The mentality was no one does
anything they don't want to do; it's all in good spirits, and no one takes
advantage of anybody. I'm just debating whether I want this to come out in
print..." He pauses, letting out another rare, quiet laugh. "It
wasn't like we were out f?!king girls backstage or anything like that. The
first day we were around him, he had my drummer eating glass! Rose said, 'Chew
it up and drink!' I asked, 'What the f?!k are you doing?' Then my drummer said,
'He says it's okay.' I said, 'But *he's* not doing it!' That sort of thing. He
could take that to almost any level of..."
Speaking of, shall we say, differing
tastes...does Trent consider Nine Inch Nails good music to accompany sex?
"I don't think so, personally. I've heard
a lot of people say that to me. I can't because I start thinking about it and
I'm back in the mixing room thinking the snare drum's too loud! It doesn't work
for me that well," he reveals, laughing. "I guess for a certain mood
of sex it could be. I wouldn't think it was for your caressing,
intimate-loving, feel-good, lit-candle-type, I'm-in-love-with-you sex, but it
would be a nice variation."
Variety was at the heart of the _Kiss My Ass_
KISS tribute album. NIN were approached to record a track, but for some reason
didn't end up on the finished product.
"Gene Simmons himself called me up, and
you're not going to say no to Gene Simmons if you're me," Trent recalls.
"He was my idol when I was 13 years old. On further inspection the dream
list of bands that he recited to me over the phone got whittled down to about
one out of 20 bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket and that kind of shit. Anyway,
the song was going to be 'Love Gun.' I wanted to do 'Parasite,' but Anthrax was
doing it. I was going to do a total gay disco version of 'Love Gun' because I
thought that would probably be most unlike the other bands, and they probably
wouldn't like it. It would put them in an interesting position. I would have
done it in the greatest sincerity, though.
"At the time, if you lived in America, KISS were the greatest thing in
the world. If you were a teenage boy going through puberty, you had Gene
Simmons to guide you through that confusing time." Trent's voice drops to a whisper,
"They were the greatest," he pauses for a breath. "If you liked
the Clash, you were living on the edge in the town that I grew up in--and I
did." And Trent still lives on that edge, the Reznor Edge, no matter what town he's