The human at the heart of
the nine inch nails machine never wanted to be worshipped. Mark Blackwell gets
you closer to god.
Utter silence has suddenly descended upon this rather loud winter's night.
Jim is stretched out prone and motionless on the floor of the small, dimly-lit
room. Standing above him, Karen appears to be somewhat nervous. Jim waves the
go-ahead. Karen gingerly places her right foot on the back of Jim's head. Jim's
face is gradually pressed into the kaleidoscopic pile of shattered beer
bottles. Karen collects her balance and slowly but surely stands up on Jim's
head. Jim begins to twitch a little. Face in glass. The hi-8 camera is rolling.
Trent sits contentedly on the arm of a couch above the peculiar event. He's
probably seen this a hundred times. He smiles broadly. "Ladies and
gentlemen, Mr. Jim Rose!" Karen dismounts. Jim leaps up unscathed. The
bevy of backstage females cheers. It's the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning
and we suddenly realize that we all have very much to be thankful for.
"Neck muscles," Karen slyly whispers as she sits back down on the
floor. "That's this guy's trick."
Mr. Rose sweeps up the green and brown shards, carefully depositing them
back into his bag.
"His face was in a pile of broken glass," I point out quietly, as
someone near the jam box cranks Public Enemy's Muse Sick N' Our Mess Age back
up to its former volume. "You stood on the back of his head."
"That's true," she admits. "That's true."
Every traveling circus must have its behind-the-scenes sideshow, and
tonight this backstage room would be that. The three ring extravaganza known as
the "self destruct tour" has just worked its dark magic on the youth
of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and now it's time for the performers to relax
and enjoy the spoils of rockdom. And circusdom. Floating in and out of the
space designated for the post-show fiesta are various members of Florida's
glam/shock leather-cock rock band Marilyn Manson, Seattle's razorblade n'
lightbulb eatin' Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, and, of course, the ubiquitous
show-stopping scream machine known as nine inch nails.
In lopes Mr. Lifto, who's chiseled quite a healthy career out of lifting
sundry weighty objects with various pierced sections of his anatomy. Sunken
gloomily into the couch, lipstick thickly plastered in an ear to ear oval, we
have Mr. Manson, calculatedly cutting the lanky figure of some waif bastard
offspring of Alice Cooper. And then there's Trent Reznor, a well groomed,
black-clad chap whose twisted demeanor pales, at least on the surface, in
comparison to the people with which he's surrounded himself here. His
strangeness is much more subtle and sublime. It's to the point that it's
actually something other than strange. He doesn't put on a front. Things are
happening around him and he's soaking 'em up. But while Jim Rose may be the
unofficial master of ceremonies for the array of uncouth backstage proceedings,
this thing as a whole is Reznor's baby. He is in control. He created this
king-sized bed o' nails and now he has to lie in it.
"This band is so big now," Reznor says earlier that day before
the show. He's not gloating by any means. And he's not necessarily complaining
either. He seems to be just pondering the fact, as he must every day of his
life now. The magnitude of his nine inch nails seems to confuse Reznor more
than anything else.
"This tour has gotten bigger than anyone expected it to be and it's
not.... I'm not so comfortable. I had a lot more fun with the band playing
clubs than I do with a 40 person crew, where I don't know the names of half the
guys on it."
Feeling distanced from the people who roam the world around him is not a
novel concept for this veteran of small town life in Pennsylvania and Ohio. His
story comes off as one of those classic "away from the numbers"
"I've always felt a little bit like a misfit," Reznor confesses
matter of factly. "I just don't belong. I don't know why. My life, I
think, from the start has been a bit abnormal. I didn't have a family structure
really. And...looking back it's always like there was the club. And I was like
always almost in there. Never had much close friends or anything like that. Now
I'm the president of the club. But I don't know any of the people in the club.
And they think they know me."
"And you've sort of volunteered to give yourself to them," I
"Yeah, and I don't get anything back so...."
"Except money or fame or...."
"Or being treated like a freak, you know. Which is not what I want
most of the time."
The 29 year old Reznor has generally rolled with the bunches, accepting the
fact that no matter how left-wing, lachrymose, and lobotomizing his words and
wisdoms may be, they've generally blasted their way into mainstream culture.
The last nine inch nails album, the downward spiral -- a head-splitting,
no-holds-barred journey through the bloody, twisted bowels of sex, power,
sleaze, addiction, suicide, and other such sordid stuff that makes the world go
'round -- debuted at number two on the charts and has since sold around a
million copies. The band stole the show at this summer's Woodstock II. Oliver
Stone asked Reznor to put together the soundtrack for his recent Natural Born
Killers. Reznor has recently established his own record label called
"nothing" (see sidebar on page 39). The forecast is warm and sunny in
the hellish musical underworld that Reznor has meticulously mapped out on his
machines. Since he debuted with 1989's pretty hate machine, which basically
amounted to a rough-hewn, homemade solo project, the cult of nine inch nails
has gradually mutated into something that extends far beyond the bitter fringes
in which the sound is rooted.
In addition to his traveling work associates, various members of Reznor's
swelling "club" populate the post-show party. A number have been
"randomly selected" from the audience earlier and provided with
after-show laminates, the majority of these constituting an array of very
attractive females. It's an extremely surreal occasion to say the least. Up
until Jim Rose pulled his little stunt from the bag, the room was overflowing
with anticipation, yet nobody seemed to be sure exactly what the anticipation
was for. Now that the glass has been broken, the party is for all practical purposes
in progress, yet there's still some weird tension of unrewarded patience
lingering in the air. Whatever. The beer and the cheese are free.
After making a late entrance, Reznor slips in and out of the mix rather
quietly and discreetly. Nobody's really bothering him too much, as the girls
have been instructed not to ask for any 'graphs of the photo or auto kind. One
lone guy fan wanders about the room asking anyone that will listen questions
about the assorted keyboards that Reznor destroyed during tonight's
performance. He's wearing a stupid looking hat with little blinking lights on
it. He and I marvel together over the fact that there's actually a person
traveling with the tour whose job is solely to repair the instruments upon
which Reznor so avidly inflicts punishment on stage. The hat-light guy begins
to drill one of the security dudes about the make and model of one particular
synth that Reznor rendered all but keyless tonight. I can't figure out what the
hell he's talking about, so I go chat with Karen, the girl who was picked to
perch on Jim Rose's noggin.
"What are we doing back here with all these hookers?" she
"I wouldn't necessarily call them hookers."
"I would. Look at 'em."
This thought prompts me to ask Reznor's bodyguard, Jerry Meltzer, about the
girl/guy backstage ratio.
"Guys are more likely to go up and ask Trent a lot of stupid questions
and never leave him alone," explains Meltzer. "Girls don't tend to go
right up and annoy him as much for some reason. The ratio of guys to girls is
always sort of like this at the aftershow party. It just works out a lot better
The guy with the funny hat resurfaces at my side.
"I had a dream about this hat," he tells me excitedly, "and
then I found it at K-Mart the next day. I made this special visor for it. It
lights up. See?"
Perhaps Meltzer has a point. I'm suddenly glad I left my funny hat at home.
And I'm glad that I got all my stupid questions to Reznor out of the way
earlier in the day.
Was it difficult making the transition from little loner in the basement
with a synthesizer to big touring band guy that sells millions of records?
It was uncomfortable. The price you pay is that the media that was aware of
you and the fan base that was there from the start, they turn their backs on
you because suddenly you "sold out." Even though its the same record
they bought six months ago. And then it's not cool to like these guys if you're
really cool because other people that aren't cool like 'em now. Bullshit. I
felt really bad about it at first. I wished people would quit liking us and we
could go back to playing the cool clubs and, you know, stay in the cool
magazines and worry about the cool people. Then I thought fuck the cool people.
Do what you do. The cool people that are worth a shit are still gonna like you
if they liked you for the right reasons in the first place. The ones that are
trend hoppers, fuck them. It's not about the music for them anyway, it's more
about the statement of "look how aware I am. I found a band that nobody's
gonna wanna hear, and that makes me cool.
There's nothing wrong with getting your stuff across to more people
I didn't get into music to make a lot of money or to be this big. But now
that it's kind of happened, I think well, okay, how can I take advantage of
this position? I'm thinking of the fuckin' kid in Nebraska in the cornfield
that just heard about nine inch nails and then bought the record. And it
doesn't sound like the Pearl Jam record.... It might open his eyes up and maybe
he'll think, "This is really cool. I'll go buy a Ministry album. I'll go
buy a Skinny Puppy record." It's not that I'm on a great mission to do
that even. But I grew up in the middle of nowhere and a lot of my input when I
was a kid -- when I was forming my self opinion of who I am and what the world
is about -- music played a big part in that.
What about the company you keep these days on the charts?
I get irritated.... I mean, who the fuck is buying some of the shit that's
on there? And a lot of it under the guise of being something that has some
degree of conviction to it. That disgusts me. I just choose to work outside
that. I do what I do. If it becomes popular, alright. It's my terms I did it
Is it hard to stay "outside" without just becoming a parody of yourself,
like, trying to shock people just for the sake of shock value?
Yeah, I mean, I've been accused of that. I think the idea of shocking
somebody is a device that can be tastefully used. Even in a song like
"Closer." Kick into the chorus and it says "fuck" right the
first thing. The first time you hear that you're not expecting that to pop in
like that. And that in itself is a degree of shock. I'm not saying you're gonna
jump out a window, but it's still a device to make you listen. And at the same
time it kind of cripples the song's ability to ever do anything really in terms
of success, though I guess I've beaten that somehow. But let's take the
"Happiness In Slavery" video for example. The incentive behind that
was not, "Let's make a video that's really gross so it'll shock
people." It was that I finally had the freedom to do what I wanted to do.
If it pisses somebody off or someone's offended by it, then at least there's
some degree of response.
There just has to be some intelligence behind the whole thing.
To justify what's in there. Anyone can make something that's gonna shock
you. I could film myself taking a shit and say, "Here's my video,"
you know. But I try to have something with some degree of thought into it, try
to make something that isn't afraid of crossing the line into what you're not
supposed to do.
Do you mind having to edit stuff for MTV?
If you can edit it to where it calls attention to their censorship, I think
that in itself is a statement. We were gonna do a video for...I think for
"Sin," where we just blacked out boxes over everything and beeped out
words through the whole thing so much that it would be just stupid to even
watch it. We never did it for some reason. It was one of those many great
ideas.... Stone Temple Pilots'll probably do it....
Is going against the mainstream grain something that just comes naturally
to you or do you have to work at it?
The thing is that I'm not rebelling against it just to do it. I just don't
really like what's popular right now. I don't like the conservative nature of
music. Rock and roll is just so watered down and force fed into everybody's
homes via MTV, and there's nothing rebellious about it. MTV claims they're new
music first. No it's not. There not taking any chances playing nine inch nails
today. Five years ago they wouldn't play it because it wasn't established then.
They're breaking current "cutting edge" bands like Offspring. I find
nothing at all interesting about any of those kinds of bands that are claiming
to have some sort of integrity as a punk band. Bullshit.
Like Green Day?
Fucking Buzzcocks. Slap some fuckin' manic panic hairdye on somebody and
you know... It's just...retro. And therefore it's safe. Today look at what's
being labeled as alternative. Bands from Spin Doctors to fucking Pearl Jam to
Skinny Puppy all fall under that title. People don't realize the wool that gets
pulled over their eyes by shrewd marketing. That's why I have my own label.
Most record labels are just trying to push product that they don't give a shit
You seem to work hard at making your live show look different from the norm
I think the trend at the moment is to just get on stage in your work
clothes. Or put on some jeans with holes in them and a flannel shirt. That's
replaced the spandex outfits of eight years ago. That's the new "rock
uniform." With that comes a pseudo mentality of "we're
The stupid "punk ethic" thing."
Yeah. I think with the few bands that started that there probably was a
degree of legitimacy. Or honesty. But now with other bands...that's the new
thing.... It's not even worth talking about. We've never claimed to be about
that. Were not a punk band. We've never made any allusion or anything to that.
We're just what we are.
Your performance is rather theatrical.
The bands I've always liked just put on some sort of show. We didn't sit
down and calculate out how we were gonna make this a theatrical performance. I
think usually when people say "theatrical" it has a kind of a
negative overtone. I know what you mean though and I don't mind it. We've
worked out a set that has a flow to it. It's almost like we're doing a play
every night. It starts in a certain spot and goes up and goes way down and then
builds back up to something else. And because we've taken that approach the
show does lend itself towards being somewhat theatrical. But I don't read that,
and here's where the negative comes in, as being any less...
Yeah, because there's a lot of spontaneity in there. Every time we do that
show it sucks the life out of me.
Indeed you can almost see the life being sucked out of the man as he leaps
and bounds and flops across the stage like a helpless marionette controlled by
some manic puppeteer in the rafters. Reznor is all but eviscerated by the scope
of the production, dwarfed by the zillions of harsh strobe lights and giant
projections of snakes, explosions, coffins, dripping blood, eerie landscapes,
and high speed time-lapses of decomposing animals. Sheer, unbridled desperation
is slammed upon the audience in blaring, relentless waves of noise. Reznor
agonizingly transforms himself into, as I scribed a while back in a review of
the 1992 EP Broken, sort of a modern day version of the Who's Tommy -- yet his
"see me, hear me, touch me, feel me" is more of a "hate me, hurt
me, rape me, kill me." It's like he's this deaf, dumb, n' blind kid,
spattering out repressed, traumatic wounds from his past by taking control of
this gigantic machine as only he knows how.
Fittingly, Reznor seems to becomes a virtual slave to this machine, which
he constantly attempts to destroy before his audience. Reznor hurls his guitar
into the drum set in the middle of the show. Then he hurls his guitarist into
the crowd in the middle of the show. He stomps the keyboards, throws the
keyboards, rips the keys off the keyboards, and even furiously plays the
keyboards now and again. And the crowd loves it.
All in all it's quite a feat for a band that's not even a band in the first
place. Avoiding the lone human presence vs. the tape machine trap that's
plagues the average pre-recorded live show, Reznor chose to assemble a crack
band to crank out his one-man-band computer generated creations on the road.
The pre-programmed furor is still there in the mix, but it merely serves as the
basic foundation for the band's brand of live-instrument jihad.
Will the next record be more of an actual band effort now that you've
gotten the live show down?
Yeah, it's getting towards that. It'll be a lot more of a collaborative
record 'cause I finally surrounded myself with some people that I know are good
players with good personalities. But realistically I haven't sat down with
them.... We haven't written songs together. The chemistry may be on, it may be
off. I'm more than willing to try some things and see what happens. What little
happened on the last record with, like, Adrian Belew and Stephen Perkins, was
really pleasant. I'm more confident in the studio now. I'm not as terrified to
be around people who I respect.
Do you feel like you're still just learning how to work in the studio?
Yeah it's definitely a learning process. I don't know exactly what I'm
doing. I think anything in the studio has to have the right attitude going on
and the right flow between people. Its kind of like...letting someone see your
asshole. You know, here I am, here's my butthole. You gotta be pretty confidant
with that person. When you get someone who's a cunt.... I was around Steve
Albini for a few hours when we did Pigface. He was the definition of a cunt in
What do you mean by cunt?
Just the most abrasive obnoxious, uncreative, un.... Making the worst vibe
you could ever imagine of intimidation: do this and shut the fuck up and you
don't know what you're talking about. I don't know if he needed some Midol that
day or what the deal was, but that was the definition of what I will never have
in the studio. It's quite the opposite with someone like Adrian Belew who just
comes in and is just an amazing guitar player. "What do you wanna do? You
wanna try this?" It was inspiring all around.
Are you generally a good judge of character?
I know if I like someone or not. I don't like everybody and not everybody
likes me and sometimes.... If I'm in that situation in the studio, I'm with
that person because I chose them for some reason and I'll give them the benefit
of the doubt. But there comes a point where I'll make that judgment that you
are a cunt, you know? That's not very often.... It just instantly happens.
Either, A: I do not like you for some reason, B: We'll work...whatever...but
there's no real feeling. And the rarest of those is that there's someone I'd
really like to be a friend with, you know. And I don't know why that is. But
I've been wrong about people a lot.
There's a lot of talk about your relationship with Courtney Love going
around these days. Do you wanna speak about that at all?
It's basically.... Since she's opened her big fuckin' mouth to...
(Anmerkung des Abtippers: Ein
„Scene Missing“-Bildchen wurde an dieser Stelle über den Text gelegt. Eine
Erklärung, warum das gemacht wurde, gibt es im nächsten Heft.)
...a complete fucking lie.
Is it harder for you be close friends with people these days?
You just don't have any time. It's real hard to maintain a friendship with
somebody. It's hard to find people that understand. I may not call in six
months -- that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about you, but when I find I have
time it might be five o' clock in the morning.
Do you feel like your life is at all stable?
Mmm-mmm. No. I felt pretty good when the record got done because I got to
do something new besides sitting in a studio for two years. Then I got to sit
in a tour bus and drink beer every day, you know, for a year. And move around.
The price I've paid for all that is I've got no.... I don't even have a home
right now. It's just moving around all the time. Friends are at a low stage
right now, plus we're reaching the point of touring where I've about had
Is it worth it?
Even if tomorrow everybody hated nine inch nails and it's done...alright I
did do something. I'm proud of that. I think also it's the realization that
part of being a human being is...doing human things too. You know....
You'd just like to have a normal lifestyle eventually.
Yeah. Maybe someday be able to establish a family, something like that.
Some degree of domestic stability perhaps. Just a fuckin' apartment for that
matter. A place with the same bed you wake up in for a week. Time to do things
other than worry about the deadline for the next something that you're doing.
Having no roots is sort of enviable in a certain weird way.
In a certain way, yeah. In another way, when the time comes I just wanna go
home. Today my home is Adam's Shit Stain Hotel or whatever the fuck place we're
in. It's a choice I made.
Do you worry about sort of going off the deep end? Too much to deal with?
I don't worry that much about that. My level of stability and sanity just
varies a bit. Right now it's on the low side. A few months ago I felt... It was
a different person that wrote the downward spiral. Like a weight has been
lifted. I know that guy. It's not me right now. What was I thinking? The thing
is, my perspective changes. 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?
What do you do in that situation?
Do you just shut down sometimes?
Sometimes. 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. All of
those things are difficult to do in LA because a million fuckin' people are
trying to do 'em at the same time. So it got weird for a while, but then I
kicked out of it. When the record was done I felt a lot better. And this tour
is going pretty easy for the most part. Within the last few months it's kind of
I'm really sorry to hear about your dog dying last week.
Yeah that sucked. (long pause)
Um...do external occurrences like that cause you the most problems, or is
it sometimes just internal stuff?
It depends. This one has been more external, then it triggered the internal
somehow. So now they're one and the same. But usually.... I don't know.... I
never really thought about that.
Sometimes when people flip out, they look back and can't figure out what on
earth caused it in the first place.
Right.... there's a degree of that.... (He smiles.) The world of chemical
Is it easy to get that stuff out of your head and into the songs?
I never did get it out until I started writing pretty hate machine. I
thought, well I'm either gonna pretend I'm a musician and fuck around in local
bands and be a loser or find some way to knock out a few birds with one stone.
I know what I wanna do. I wanna play music and I wanna try to work out
something that's going on in my head. The two things came together and it
became an avenue for me to do that.
The act of writing the music and getting it out is good, but the act of
being worshipped because of it that means nothing to me. I hate it. No one used
to recognize me anywhere. And then the last six months, just now it's getting
bad. Bad enough for me.
I look out at the crowd now and I don't know who the fuck's out there. I'm
not worried about it. I'll just do what I do and if they stay along for the
ride.... We'll see what happens. Who knows? I don't know. It's a lot harder to
be a bigger band. There's a lot more people waiting for you to fuck up. But
when you have a bigger audience.... I don't really mind that. I don't mind
thinking, "let's see how far out I can go." I get people's moms
coming up to me now. Fuckin middle age mothers, like, "I love that song
'Closer'" It's like what the fuck are you talking about? You know? It's
just bizarre to me.
It's almost time to get out of here. Mr. Lifto has apparently decided that
he isn't pleased with the positioning of the jam box on the corner table of the
party room. Stripping off his "Ask Me About My Genital Piercings"
t-shirt -- then shedding the rest of his clothing -- he attaches a chain to his
penis, hooking the other end to the handle of the box. Standing up naked on the
table he begins to swing the jam box to and fro. Now that we're getting
personal, I ask Mr. Manson my burning stupid question about the little leather
briefs he wears on stage. Turns out his penis is in the extended leather sheath
that he generously waves around at everybody, but "it's not that
big." The guy with the stupid hat has almost cornered Reznor, no doubt in
hopes of garnering some elusive technical synth specifications. Reznor will
soon escape and board the bus back to the Shit Stain, where he'll wake up on
Thanksgiving morning and get back to the grind of his machine.
From Nothing Leaves Nothing"
It used to be that musicians just wanted to be actors. Now they all want to
be record company geeks as well, despite the fact (or because of it) that most
of them constantly bitch about said geeks. But while some of those artists
(i.e. Madonna) have been playing the record exec. role too well -- signing
uninteresting bands with lots o' commercial potential (i.e. Candlebox) --
others, such as nine inch nails' Trent Reznor, are taking the opposite route.
They're signing bands that they actually believe in the same way someone once
believed in them. And trying not to screw 'em like they've gotten screwed.
It's basically just to provide a shell to other bands to have a concrete
environment, says Reznor of his Nothing label. And also to be aware of how the
business part of it works -- which most labels don't want artists to know.
There's so much shit in the music business aimed at protecting the label and
fucking the artist over. I've learned 'cause I've gotten fucked and there's no
reason it should be that way. Everybody asumes you're gonna fuck them over so
they fuck you over first. It's stupid.
The first band on nothing, co-run by Reznor and his manager, John A. Malm
Jr., was Marilyn Manson, a cartoonishly violent hard rock band that conjures
images of a modern Twisted Sister if singer Dee Snider listened to more Alice
Cooper and watched *Friday the 13th* sequels day in and day out. Adapting their
names from assorted infamous serial killers, guitarist Daisy Berkowitz (David
'Son of Sam' Berkowitz), drummer Sara Lee Lucas (Henry Lee Lucas), keyboardist
and horn player Madonna Wayne Gacy (John Wayne Gacy), bassist Twiggy Ramirez
(Richard 'Night Stalker' Ramirez), and singer Mr. Manson (Chuckie 'Fun Boy'
Manson) spew crunchy guitar riffs over solid rhythms, with the added coloring
of odd vocal samples. The lyrics are equally tongue-through-cheek: 'Cake and
Sodomy' opens with Mr. Manson declaring, 'I am the god of fuck', while 'Organ
Grinder' changes that to 'I am the face of piss and shit and sugar'. Their
album, 'Portrait of an American Family' (there's also an EP, 'Get Your Gunn',
with two album tracks and two unreleased songs) is good, dirty, shock-rock fun;
the kind you either get swept up in, or laugh at hysterically.
Stylistically similar to Marilyn Manson, though decidedly less cartoonish,
Prick combines dramatically-revved hard rock with nine inch nails-style effects
and sampling; imagine if Mr. Manson dropped the horror-core facade and listened
to more David Bowie. On its self-titled debut, the group uses a variety of
sound effects, from metallic noises to movie score orchestrations, but the core
remains Smashing Pumpkins (*Gish*-era)-style heavy rock, with riffs tossed
around equally frantic rhythms like a beast on fire.
Acting as a musical blender set on puree, the pioneering (and criminally
underappreciated) Pop Will Eat Itself mixes elements of trance, dub, rock, rap,
metal, and industrial to form future-sounding pop music; music perfectly suited
for S&M techno-trance nights at the community center. Besides its new album
'Dos Dedos Mis Amigo', the group has also combined two of their UK EPs into the
'Amalgamation' EP, which includes two new songs, plus remixes and regular
versions of three 'Dos Dedos' tracks.
"We're just keeping it small," explains Reznor of the label,
which also recently released the soundtrack he produced for Oliver Stone's
'Natural Born Killers'. "The thing I quickly realized is that it takes a
lot of time and I don't want it to get to where I don't know what's going on.
It's nice being able to do this and it's fun to put some energy into something
other that nine inch nails all the time."