Violence! Paranoia! Misery! Welcome to the nightmare world on NINE INCH
NAILS! STEFFAN CHIRAZI gets inside the head of mainman TRENT REZNOR to
discover the dark truths about the controversial new NIN album 'The
We all want Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor, the pale, vulnerable new god of
Industrial Hard Rock, to be some bucked-up little psychopath. The latest
NIN release, a full length trip into the depths of human despair called
'The Downward Spiral', leaves the image of a man wandering around with pent
up aggressions coursing through his veins, one step away from exploding
into rapid gunfire at some suburban shopping mall.
We'd all love Trent Reznor to be our own premier Pariah, an intellectually
superior devil of doom. We'd love Trent Reznor to have some fucked up
little head trip, some fucked up views, a fucked up past and a fucked up
We'd love to hear that Trent Reznor's some weird, violent, sadist who likes
to fuck in bondage and enjoys the pain. We'd love Trent Reznor to be
something more than flesh and blood. Some steel and rubber and leather
Surely a man so passionately vitriolic and aggressive, so extraordinarily
creative, so dialled in yet so 90s cold and clinical, must be a
biomechanoid? Not of this earth?
The reality: Trent Reznor is a small, slim sharp man who is riding the same
train we all are. He has simply found a catharsis in performance, and as a
result has become a unique artist.
Reznor has a single minded desire to achieve what he wants. He leaves you
in no doubt that those who stand in his way will not be around him for very
"The Downward Spiral is" says Reznor, "very cathartic-it's from me".
"I was around 13 when I realised I could express how I feel through a
musical instrument," he recalls. "I was a trained pianist, and I'd get into
trouble because the way I played pieces was not the way you were meant to
play them. I'd always add inflections to it, play around with it, and you
weren't meant to do that.
"I always had a curious nature. I wasn't a really nerdy kid as much as I
was the kid who was always in the Art Study school, listening to music and
hangin' out. I was a bit of a loner and I hated school. I have no friends
from that era even now.
"Although I don't regret being bought up in that situation, it probably
saved me from being a heroin addict or killing myself at an early age
because that stuff wasn't around.
"Growing up was like being in a camp for 18 years; you hear there's a world
out there, you hear there's a place where things happen, but you can't get
there because you don't know where it is.
"At some point I decided, to use the cliche, you only live once. I didn't
allow myself to get bogged down in burdening relationships, jobs and
friends I couldn't leave...
"My family wanted the best for me, and I didn't wanna go to school. I was
gonna be a fucking Rock musician! Odds are you're going to be playing the
local bar until you're 45 years old, but I remember really believing in
Reznor is a deconstructionalist who enjoys ripping things down and
re-assembling to suit a variety of moods and emotions. What would possess a
young man to explore such expressive avenues, as opposed to just strapping
on a Les Paul and playing rock 'n' roll songs?
"When I first picked up a guitar, I did just play Rock songs. I had an
idea of what I wanted to do, and I always felt I was outside everything.
"When I finally got off my ass and quit wasting time, at 23 years old, I
had to call my own bluff to see if I really had it in me. I'd never written
a song before, and had every excuse in the world not to. I was afraid I
would suck-and then what would I do?
"That was kinda ingrained in me from learning piano, where most of the
greatest pianists are shitty composers. They're great piano players, but
they can't write to save their ass, and when they do it's an embarrassing
fumble into pretentiousness.
"That kinda fear was always inside me. I knew what I did and didn't like,
but what if I didn't like what I wrote? Finally I realised it was time to
try. Then there was the question of what I had to say; 'Was it unique?'.
I've no interest in sounding like anyone else, which isn't to say every
idea is original, because it isn't."
Was simple hard Rock too restrictive a genre for you to express everything
you wanted to?
"I didn't think that per se. My instruments are computers, samplers, drum
machines and technology. But live, it's certainly more fun to see someone
playing a guitar and it's more fun to express yourself onstage with one,
rather than a fucking computer!
"But when I started Nine Inch Nails at the age of 23, working in a studio,
I had the nights to fuck around with. I was really into electronic music at
"David Bowie's 'Low' was probably the single greatest influence on 'The
Downward Spiral' for me. I got into Bowie in the 'Scary Monsters' era, then
I picked up 'Low' and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a
song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level.
"That got me into Iggy Pop, stuff like 'The Idiot' and Lou Reed's
'Transformer' era. I went back to old Velvet Underground music I'd missed"
On 'Low', Bowie exorcised his inner demons through mellow but very intense
pieces of music.
"I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course,
but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe.
"You may still be expressing extreme emotions, but instead of loud guitars
it's the silence of restraint. When you think it's going to explode and it
doesn't, it's over."
Controversially, 'The Downward Spiral' was recorded in the Los Angeles
house where Sharon Tate, wife of renowed movie director Roman Polanski, was
murdered by the followers of Charles Manson in one of the most senseless
acts of violence ever perpetrated.
Did Reznor choose the house simply to immerse himself in misery, violence
and sadness? The vibes in that main room must have been horrific.
"The Tate house was just a house. They didn't advertise that fact it was
the Tate house when we were looking at it.
"The reason I was there is because it's a cool, nice house on this
beautiful green mountainside that overlooks the whole city from the ocean
to the downtown. It's really quiet and secluded, yet it's also five minutes
from the Whiskey (the famous LA club on Sunset Strip).
"If there was any sort of vibe then it was one of quiet, maybe sadness. But
the nice thing about the house, which I feel had nothing to do with what
happened there, was that I wouldn't leave it for weeks. The house was on
its own, gated in, and once I realised I hated LA, there was never any
reason to leave. That perhaps added to the isolation and claustrophobia of
Will your work always be so dark and cathartic?
"I've thought about that. This record was an unpleasant experience. I came
up with the analogy that it was like climbing down a manhole and pulling
the cover over my head.
"When I'm in the studio I'm in there all the time, easily a minimum 14
hours every day. And I realised as I started that I was going to have to
dig deep yet again. Will it always be that way? I don't know."
Would it shock you that the few million people world wide who revel in the
misery of your music don't give a shit about a happy Trent Reznor?
"Well, I'm sure I wouldn't be happy to discover something like that, but
Nine Inch Nails is set up to express those negative things. I'm not always
angry and I'm not always fucking depressed.
"A journalist asked me once: 'What do you have to be miserable about?
You've got a big record deal, you've got a successful band'.. You could
tell that this journalist hasn't achieved anything he's ever set out to
get. If he had, he'd have learnt that achieving your goal isn't everything
you dream of.
"As far as 'The Downward Spiral' goes, all I know is I made a small-scale,
potentially ugly record that reflected how I felt. All I hope is that there
are people who'll think, 'Wow, I'm not the only person who thought those
"Some of those ugly things are things you wouldn't want to tell your Mom,
your friends or even your lover. But it's no fucking public service either!
It's just what I felt."
More than any previous NIN release, 'The Downward Spiral' centres on the
concept of control: physical domination, sex as a control, mental slavery.
"If you think about it, every society is based on control, which equals
power. Churches tell you to do this and that, or the punishment will be
going to Hell.
"In every relationship you get into, someone wants to control it. I'm aware
of that, I'm addressing it, I'm challenging it. I don't know what's made me
feel this way, but every time I'm told I can't do this or do it that way, I
inherently want to know why.
"Put it this way: I was a bad employee and it wasn't because I wouldn't
work hard. It was because what I was being told was dumb."
So is the intellectualisation of Nine Inch Nails, 'The Downward Spiral' and
ultimately Trent Reznor amusing or trying?
"I guess," Reznor smiles. "I'm flattered in the sense that there's
something to talk about."
Also included is a side panel regarding remixing.
NIN: MEGA METAL MIXMASTER!
TRENT REZNOR discusses Metal and the art of mixing with STEFFAN CHIRAZI!
On 'Fixed', Reznor, JG Thirlwell and Butch Vig remixed tracks from the
acclaimed 'Broken' EP. Was it a case of closing off the violent energies of
Says Reznor: "That wasn't consciously thought of at the time, and I don't
think anyone could call the last track of 'Fixed' repaired at all!
"When I do remixes I'm more self indulgent. I don't have to be as self
critical, and I can fuck around, and a lot of the time better things come
from not having the pressure. It's not like, 'Here are my 10 songs for my
"That's why I look forward to putting out those remixes with bunch bunch of
bullshit on them. Personally, I think it's a case of hit and miss."
Perhaps your only disappointing piece of remixing was on Megadeath's
'Symphony Of Destruction'.
"Well, I actually liked that remix. I enjoy production because I get to do
everything I do with my own album, minus the pain factor!
"Remixing's different, because your role is to provide a service, and I
have to think about what they're expecting from me. I find myself second
guessing. I heard back that Mustaine really liked the remix, but I don't
wanna do any more for a long time."
Is there any raw power in Heavy Metal that you identify with?
"I think Pantera's a great band. I briefly heard the new album, lent it out
to my guitar player and never got it back! 'Vulgar Display Of Power' is
vocally awesome. The anger is amazing, that sense of power, and that fuckin
guitar sound is a new reference point.
"For that sort of thing, from my perspective, I haven't heard anyone do it
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.