No Pain, No Gain
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 cohesive thing."
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 it."
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 currrently 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?
Circus Magazine 1993 - by Jason Pettigrew
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.