Nine Inch Nails
In late 1989, Nine Inch Nails came out of nowhere and proved to be a
driving force in the "industrial dance" scene that was quickly emerging
from the underground. Essentially a solo project of 27 year old
programmer/musician Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails was fleshed out to
a full band and toured extensively in support of the debut album,
"Pretty Hate Machine," proving once and for all that electronic music
could be adapted to the live setting. Nine Inch Nails toured for two
years straight, gaining wider exposure but leaving fans yearning for
more material. People began to wonder is Reznor would ever come up
with a follow-up to his stunning debut.
The silence has been ended with "Broken," an eight-song EP that
marks the beginning of a new era for Nine Inch Nails. The group has
ended its turbulent relationship with TVT Records after a bitter legal
battle and moved on to Interscope. Musically, the disc is very
different than its predecessor. Fans of the clean, high-tech sound of
"Pretty Hate Machine" may be shocked to hear the noisy,
guitar-oriented music on "Broken." Nine Inch Nails' music was always
aggressive, but the new EP takes it to the extreme. Reznor has
chosen not to tour in support of "Broken" and is currently working on
a new full-length album, tentatively scheduled for an early summer
Though the sound of "Broken" makes it seem that Reznor is getting
away from using heavy electronics in music, that is not the case. "It
may seem that way, but in reality it's probably as much or more so,"
he explains. "I just got different equipment for one thing, and what
appears to be guitar, bass and drums is really just a computer."
Musically, Reznor says that his tastes have changed since doing
"Pretty Hate Machine" and that he is not as stimulated by traditional
electronic music as he was. Reznor says that he is not turning his
back on electronic music, since that is his instrument, but was simply
changing the way he went about creating it. For instance, the music
on "Broken" was originally written on guitar.
The recording of"Broken" had to be done in secret, since at the time
the deal with Interscope had not yet been finalized. Reznor says that
the whole ordeal was an unpleasant experience, and he wanted to
make the music reflect that. But because he didn't want to bog down
an entire album with that sound, he chose to make the project an EP.
The resulting product is a dark, abrasive collection of songs that is a
far cry from the synthetic dance sound of" Pretty Hate Machine."
"A lot people may say 'oh, I don't like it as good as 'Pretty Hate
Machine' because it's not as accessible or it's not as pretty or it's not
as sad', or whatever the fuck they might say," says Reznor. "That
was meant to be a flexing muscle, it was meant to be an abrasive,
hard-to-listen-to thing, and lyrically ,it changed viewpoints. Because
where 'Pretty Hate Machine''s viewpoint was kind of like 'things might
suck, but I still care about myself and I still want things to be cool
trying to fix them', 'Broken' was things suck, and I suck and I don't
fucking care about anything, including myself. And that's not as
positive a statement to make or yell, and a lot of people I don't think
want to hear that statement and that's a specific statement for a
specific mood for people."
Although technically an EP, "Broken" contains as much music as some
LPs, due to the two bonus tracks that are not in the song listing.
"Those two tracks, a cover of an Adam Ant song ["Physical"] and
"Suck" were a couple of songs that we'd been floating around and
playing live," explains Reznor. "We first played "Physical," the Adam
Ant song, when we did Lollapallooza, and it ended up being kind of a
fun song to play and we wanted to put that out as a 12 inch when
we were doing Lollapallooza, but we couldn't, of course, because of
our record label."
Though these songs didn't really fit in with "Broken," Reznor did not
see them fitting in the future and just wanted to get them out. The
first 200,000 copies of the EP contained the songs on a bonus three-
inch cd, while future pressings had them at the end of the disc, not
listed on the track listing. "It was a way to distance them from the
other music because it wasn't part of the same mind set," says
Reznor. '"Unfortunately, the risk involved is, with radio being as
conservative as it is, I knew they would jump on "Physical" or "Suck"
because they're a bit more digestible than the other stuff, so I've
tried to make them as obscure as possible."
Reznor says that the troubles with TVT stemmed from the label
misconception that NIN was "a nice pop band." He says that when he
delivered "Pretty Hate Machine," the label hated it because it wasn't
as radio-friendly as they hoped. Ultimately, Reznor found it
unbearable dealing with the label and having to get the approval of
people that wanted NIN to be something it wasn't.
"I decided that there's no way I could make another record for these
people because I have to deal with things like them putting my music
in bad movies and buying advertising time during "David Letterman" for
a record that's two years old," says Reznor. "I'm the one that had to
answer to my fans for that, and it's not me doing it and I have no
control over it. It was a really bad situation and personally we hated
each other. But it finally ended and now we're on Interscope and
they've been really cool."
Reznor feels that the extensive touring that the group did after
"Pretty Hate Machine" was what broke the band. At first, not many
radio stations (and certainly not MTV) were playing Nine Inch Nails.
But after getting exposure touring first with The Jesus and Mary Chain
and then with Peter Murphy (both of whom Reznor says were "easy to
blow away"), people began to take notice. A successful headlining
tour followed and then came to question of Lollapallooza.
Reznor says that doing the tour was an attempt to earn enough
money to fight a successful lawsuit to get off TVT. But while it
proved to be a good way for the band to stay alive during a difficult
period, fans stated to think that Reznor was just milking it.
"We got a lot of people bitching at me 'get more material out, record
an album more often.' I'm like 'look, when I'm ready to make a record
that I feel is worth making I'll make it'," explains Reznor. "Secondly, I
owe you nothing as a fan except what I think is good material on a
good tour and everything's of quality. And I'm not going to put out a
shitty record that I write in a month just so that I can get back on
the road. That would inevitably do more harm to us. And, when you're
touring, that takes time and when I'm touring I'm not writing songs
and I'm not sitting at home on a computer working on drum samples.
I'm touring and that takes a lot of energy. It's one guy doing
everything, and every time I write a song I have to try to reinvent
how I'm writing it, the sounds I'm using, the process of writing it, the
style of writing. I'm trying to break that up and that takes time. It's
not as simple as getting together with three or four other guys and
saying 'okay, here's the chord and the melody', not that there's
anything wrong with that but I chose not to do that."
In transferring the songs of "Pretty Hate Machine" to the live setting,
Reznor was faced with the challenge of making totally computerized
music interesting to see performed. Reznor believes it to be a "cop
out" to simply sing along to DATs, as many electronic bands do. But
he also feels it's a cop out to take electronic music and try to
translate it to full rock band format. The solution was to use live
guitars, drums and keyboards, but also have all the bass and any
unreproducable noises on tape, as Reznor does not think anyone will
miss watching someone play them.
"The second you mention tape on stage, everyone yells Milli Vanilli
and Janet Jackson," says Reznor. "My whole point it this - if someone
leaves our show and feels ripped off, fuck you, you can have your
money back. That was the way to make it sound the best and have
the most energy and sound live but also sound electronic at the same
NIN had its beginning when Reznor was working in a studio and
recorded demos during off-hours. He adopted the name Nine Inch
Nails because "it's a lot cooler name than Trent Reznor." Though he
was originally only looking for a 12-inch deal so he could hone his
craft, he ended up signing with TVT.
While its touring incarnation is a full band, on record NIN is still pretty
much all Trent Reznor. However, Reznor is starting to have other
people play on his music "to add a little life to it" and does not rule
out the possibility of collaborating on actual songwriting sometime in
The fact that NIN have been labeled "industrial" by the media has led
to a backlash from the "true" industrial fans who argue that the music
bears little resemblance to such industrial pioneers as Throbbing
Gristle. But Reznor stresses that it is the media that has given him
"Mainstream America needs some sort of name, so fine, you can use
that. In most of mainstream America, I would assume that Nine Inch
Nail's name would to mind if you said that word," says Reznor. "The
only problem I have is when you get the purist, underground people
whose sensibilities are so offended by the fact that a pop band, or a
band that actually has lyrics that you can understand or possibly
could be played on the radio is labeled "industrial" and they're like
'that's not industrial, god dammit!'. Okay, you're right. But who's
telling you that? Me? No, so if want to bitch at somebody, bitch at
Since NIN has emerged out from the underground to become a
commercial success, Reznor is also faced with the dreaded scenario
of having the people who liked NIN back when nobody had heard of
them suddenly accuse him of "selling out."
"When those people start to slightly turn on you, not because you've
put out bad music, not because you've sold out, but because a lot of
people like you, it's kind of a disturbing thing to think about," explains
Reznor. "Through the phase where it was like I wish these people
didn't like me because you don't understand where the fuck I'm
coming from. I don't want to be a big band and I don't want to sell a
shit-load of records and I'd rather be playing 500-seat clubs with my
fans there instead of poseur idiots, fuckheads who just show up
because you're supposed to like this. Frat boys, and that kind of shit.
"But I catch myself realizing what a fucking elitist, stupid, fascist
thing to think that is, where, okay, you're allowed to like it because
you're cool, but you're not allowed to like it because you're not cool.
"Well, fuck that. I understand people make music their own, and
suddenly when it's a big thing, a lot of people seem to turn on that
and they look for the other things that are now obscure that they
can make their own again. Nothing is going to change that, but when
you really think about it, it is kind of a silly way to act. I personally
don't feel that compromised in my music, and if I wanted to, I could
have just put out a record that would have sold a lot more copies
than 'Broken' might do."
Reznor is currently in the studio working on a new LP, which is
tentatively scheduled for a summer release. He says the music will
sound less dense and produced, as he feels too much thought and
too many layers of sound went into the creation of "Broken." Reznor
says he purposely made "Broken" less accessible in order to make it
more interesting for the listener and this idea will carry over to the
"It may be pretentious for me to say, but I wanted to make a record
that the first time you hear it you don't like it, but you might want to
hear it again, but by the third time it's pretty cool," explains Reznor.
"By the fifth time, you really like it and possibly by the tenth time
you're not sick of it and now it all makes sense ... For me, if I hear a
song and love it the first time I hear it, I'm usually sick of it by the
fifth time. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would be a great example of that.
That's a fucking great song, but I could live another five life times
without hearing it again."
The way Broken ended up sounding also has a lot to do with the type
of sounds it uses. On "Pretty Hate Machine", all the drums were
sampled from other people's records using an E-Max. But this time
around, Reznor went out with a portable DAT machine and recorded
his own sounds, later dissecting them on the computer to create the
instruments heard on "Broken."
In addition to working as Nine Inch Nails, Reznor also has a production
deal with Sire, though nothing has come out of it yet. "When they get
something that works with my schedule and that I'm into doing, I'd be
happy to do stuff with them," he says. "They're a cool label."
But Reznor says that he will not be working with Pigface again, as he
was not happy with the project the first time around." According to
Reznor, many shows were promoted as it he was supposed to be
appearing, even though it was known well in advance that he wasn't.
"Then every night there's a story about how I'm sick and I can't come
to the show," says Reznor.
"I think it's the kind of thing that could be fun to be involved in
except I haven't had the time to really do it and there's just some
difference in opinion on a few issue that will prevent me from working
with them again. I didn't think it was that great when it was out and
that's no commentary on the people in the band, because I like
everybody involved with that. I just have to be cautious of the way
that Nine Inch Nails is handled and I wasn't able to or I didn't have
time to put enough energy into that for me to feel really good about
doing it. I don't want to have to make excuses for what I do."
- By Bob Gourley
<< Previous Page
is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.