Nine Inch Nails : Happiness Is Slavery
"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 entirely.
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 do."
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 Reznor-keyboards."
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 obscurity here.
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 Gun, et.al.
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 Birds.
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 Kubiszweski.
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 Westward.
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 of Seagulls."
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 Brain.
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 parts."
That, to this writer's knowledge, is the only time Reznor's played horn
(trumpet, to be precise) live since his marching band days.
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 Baby."
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
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 Lash.
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 evolution.
"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 influences.
As Don Gordon noted, "We all assimilate influences in a different way, I
obviously have the pretentious art school background. But people buy
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 dotted line.
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
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
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 recordings.
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,
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
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
"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 the record."
Gottlieb's reaction was ominous, and whatever alarm bells were now
sounding in Reznor's head, they would soon turn into a deafening clang.
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
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
"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 tape."
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 Assholes.
"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 was solved.
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
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
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 darkness.
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 up.
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
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
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
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
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 that way."
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
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
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
With Spiral finished, the inevitable series of tour dates followed,
which would see NIN criss-crossing the country and on to Europe.
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 needed.
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 Killers".
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 strike.
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
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 justified.
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
By Jo-Ann Greene. Submitted to Smashed Up Sanity thanks to Gaby Boffa.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.