NIN: Living On The Reznor's Edge
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 ready.
"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
"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 to happen.
"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 day."
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 her.
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 living in.
by Murray Engleheart
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.