Some people punch walls when they're mad and
frustrated. Trent Reznor, leader of Nine Inch Nails, makes music instead. Music
where machinery and pure sweat fight for control. His new record, Broken, is a
mini-album filled with enough attitude to frighten some listeners away.
Sometimes you need to be scared to remind yourself you're alive.
"These catch phrases like 'psychotic
techno-pop' and 'angst-ridden' are all bullshit," Reznor said in 1990,
when his career was gaining momentum. "The thing that really pisses me off
is when someone has some elaborate interpretation of what I'm trying to say in
one song, or just reading too much about it, and getting it all wrong."
Reznor grew up in the small town of Mercer, Pennsylvania and later moved to Cleveland to pursue computer studies in
college. He quickly tired of the curriculum and got a job working at a local
recording studio, learning the ropes by day and working on his own material by
night. The classically trained Reznor played keyboards in a wimpy local band
and ended up making one record with them, but was so dissatisfied with their
hopelessly safe direction, he quit to pursue his own music. Dubbing himself
Nine Inch Nails, he assembled a band and went out on a small tour with
electro-terrorists Skinny Puppy. On a whim, Reznor sent a demo tape to Flood -
engineer and producer for seminal new-wave synth-poppers Depeche Mode - who was
impressed enough to work with him. Reznor signed with the TVT label and
delivered his first album Pretty Hate Machine in 1989.
Reznor took an approach similar to the work of
Ministry's Al Jourgensen by applying elements of industrial music (music with
no noted melody, harmony, or even at times, rhythm) and electronics and
infusing them with heavy guitars. Although tracks like "Sin" and
"Down In It" were popular in dance clubs, there was some abject
sixstringed heaviness fighting with synthesizers on venomous tracks like
"Head Like A Hole" and "Terrible Lie." With lyrics like
"Head like a hole/black as your soul/I'd rather die/than give you
control," the record certainly wasn't a mindless "everybody dance
now" piece of candy.
"What I wanted to do was take a computer
and give it integrity within the context of a rock band. The way [the record]
was made was to put something together, think about it, refine it and go back
in and do it again. I was trying to get Nine Inch Nails to congeal into a
Reznor formed a touring band and forged a
notorious reputation over months of non-stop roadwork. Antics like randomly
throwing things (boxes of corn starch, full cups of beer) at the audience and
stagediving before the first song even started only further pushed the
aggression level most metal bands merely pay lip service to. Before headlining
their own gigs, NIN toured with Peter Murphy - the former lead singer of gothic
gloom band Bauhaus - a tour Trent remembers less than fondly.
"We were doing two nights in Atlanta -
which I hated anyway - and we get on stage and there's all this junk sitting
there, like a half-eaten pizza we had at soundcheck. I got really drunk and I
started firing it out into the audience. I had this great feeling hitting all
these death rocker guys in the head with cold pizza! Then I smashed a guitar,
knocked the drums over, and walked offstage. That's what it took to get that
audience to like us. Forget the music. As soon as they got abused, that was
Disputes with his record company prevented
Reznor from recording new material, so NIN stayed on the road. They completed a
sell-out headlining tour, the first Lollapalooza package (where they sold more
T-shirts than Jane's Addiction), as well as being approached by die-hard fan
Axl Rose to open for several European Guns N' Roses dates.
Reznor's inactivity ended with the release of
Broken for his new label Interscope. Where Reznor's fury was tempered by some
of Pretty Hate Machine's smooth production and dance beats, the new record is a
furious spin cycle of seething anger and anxiety, with crashing metal guitars
slamming into exploding Macintosh computers. "Wish" starts with a
shuffle beat, only to be sliced apart with a thrash attack of guitars that cuts
like a horrible circular saw accident. The piercing lyrics in tracks like "Happiness
in Slavery" and "Last" detail a strong sense of loathing that
complement the raging music. Martin Adkins, the drummer on some of the tracks,
recalled a point during recording where he was playing so hard that he cut
himself on a cymbal and blood was flying everywhere; on his kit; the studio
floor and the control window in the studio, all while Reznor and Flood
meticulously programmed and adjusted the studio equipment. A testimony of
machinery and madness.
Trent is currently in his home studio
finishing a full length album, tentatively titled The Downward Spiral. What
should listeners expect? Well, it should be mentioned that Reznor is living and
working in the same house where followers of Charles Manson went on their
notorious killing spree two decades ago. Get the picture?