Kerrang Magazine

April 1994

TECHNO FEAR!

Violence! Paranoia! Misery! Welcome to the nightmare world on NINE INCH NAILS! STEFFAN CHIRAZI gets inside the head of mainman TRENT REZNOR to discover the dark truths about the controversial new NIN album 'The Downward Spiral'!

We all want Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor, the pale, vulnerable new god of Industrial Hard Rock, to be some bucked-up little psychopath. The latest NIN release, a full length trip into the depths of human despair called 'The Downward Spiral', leaves the image of a man wandering around with pent up aggressions coursing through his veins, one step away from exploding into rapid gunfire at some suburban shopping mall. We'd all love Trent Reznor to be our own premier Pariah, an intellectually superior devil of doom. We'd love Trent Reznor to have some fucked up little head trip, some fucked up views, a fucked up past and a fucked up life.

We'd love to hear that Trent Reznor's some weird, violent, sadist who likes to fuck in bondage and enjoys the pain. We'd love Trent Reznor to be something more than flesh and blood. Some steel and rubber and leather perhaps? Surely a man so passionately vitriolic and aggressive, so extraordinarily creative, so dialled in yet so 90s cold and clinical, must be a biomechanoid? Not of this earth? The reality: Trent Reznor is a small, slim sharp man who is riding the same train we all are. He has simply found a catharsis in performance, and as a result has become a unique artist. Reznor has a single minded desire to achieve what he wants. He leaves you in no doubt that those who stand in his way will not be around him for very long.

"The Downward Spiral is" says Reznor, "very cathartic-it's from me". "I was around 13 when I realised I could express how I feel through a musical instrument," he recalls. "I was a trained pianist, and I'd get into trouble because the way I played pieces was not the way you were meant to play them. I'd always add inflections to it, play around with it, and you weren't meant to do that. "I always had a curious nature. I wasn't a really nerdy kid as much as I was the kid who was always in the Art Study school, listening to music and hangin' out. I was a bit of a loner and I hated school. I have no friends from that era even now. "Although I don't regret being bought up in that situation, it probably saved me from being a heroin addict or killing myself at an early age because that stuff wasn't around. "Growing up was like being in a camp for 18 years; you hear there's a world out there, you hear there's a place where things happen, but you can't get there because you don't know where it is. "At some point I decided, to use the cliche, you only live once. I didn't allow myself to get bogged down in burdening relationships, jobs and friends I couldn't leave... "My family wanted the best for me, and I didn't wanna go to school. I was gonna be a fucking Rock musician! Odds are you're going to be playing the local bar until you're 45 years old, but I remember really believing in myself."

Reznor is a deconstructionalist who enjoys ripping things down and re-assembling to suit a variety of moods and emotions. What would possess a young man to explore such expressive avenues, as opposed to just strapping on a Les Paul and playing rock 'n' roll songs? "When I first picked up a guitar, I did just play Rock songs. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and I always felt I was outside everything. "When I finally got off my ass and quit wasting time, at 23 years old, I had to call my own bluff to see if I really had it in me. I'd never written a song before, and had every excuse in the world not to. I was afraid I would suck-and then what would I do? "That was kinda ingrained in me from learning piano, where most of the greatest pianists are shitty composers. They're great piano players, but they can't write to save their ass, and when they do it's an embarrassing fumble into pretentiousness. "That kinda fear was always inside me. I knew what I did and didn't like, but what if I didn't like what I wrote? Finally I realised it was time to try. Then there was the question of what I had to say; 'Was it unique?'. I've no interest in sounding like anyone else, which isn't to say every idea is original, because it isn't." Was simple hard Rock too restrictive a genre for you to express everything you wanted to? "I didn't think that per se. My instruments are computers, samplers, drum machines and technology. But live, it's certainly more fun to see someone playing a guitar and it's more fun to express yourself onstage with one, rather than a fucking computer! "But when I started Nine Inch Nails at the age of 23, working in a studio, I had the nights to fuck around with. I was really into electronic music at the time. "David Bowie's 'Low' was probably the single greatest influence on 'The Downward Spiral' for me. I got into Bowie in the 'Scary Monsters' era, then I picked up 'Low' and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level. "That got me into Iggy Pop, stuff like 'The Idiot' and Lou Reed's 'Transformer' era. I went back to old Velvet Underground music I'd missed" On 'Low', Bowie exorcised his inner demons through mellow but very intense pieces of music. "I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe. "You may still be expressing extreme emotions, but instead of loud guitars it's the silence of restraint. When you think it's going to explode and it doesn't, it's over."

Controversially, 'The Downward Spiral' was recorded in the Los Angeles house where Sharon Tate, wife of renowed movie director Roman Polanski, was murdered by the followers of Charles Manson in one of the most senseless acts of violence ever perpetrated. Did Reznor choose the house simply to immerse himself in misery, violence and sadness? The vibes in that main room must have been horrific. "The Tate house was just a house. They didn't advertise that fact it was the Tate house when we were looking at it. "The reason I was there is because it's a cool, nice house on this beautiful green mountainside that overlooks the whole city from the ocean to the downtown. It's really quiet and secluded, yet it's also five minutes from the Whiskey (the famous LA club on Sunset Strip). "If there was any sort of vibe then it was one of quiet, maybe sadness. But the nice thing about the house, which I feel had nothing to do with what happened there, was that I wouldn't leave it for weeks. The house was on its own, gated in, and once I realised I hated LA, there was never any reason to leave. That perhaps added to the isolation and claustrophobia of the record." Will your work always be so dark and cathartic? "I've thought about that. This record was an unpleasant experience. I came up with the analogy that it was like climbing down a manhole and pulling the cover over my head. "When I'm in the studio I'm in there all the time, easily a minimum 14 hours every day. And I realised as I started that I was going to have to dig deep yet again. Will it always be that way? I don't know." Would it shock you that the few million people world wide who revel in the misery of your music don't give a shit about a happy Trent Reznor? "Well, I'm sure I wouldn't be happy to discover something like that, but Nine Inch Nails is set up to express those negative things. I'm not always angry and I'm not always fucking depressed. "A journalist asked me once: 'What do you have to be miserable about? You've got a big record deal, you've got a successful band'.. You could tell that this journalist hasn't achieved anything he's ever set out to get. If he had, he'd have learnt that achieving your goal isn't everything you dream of. "As far as 'The Downward Spiral' goes, all I know is I made a small-scale, potentially ugly record that reflected how I felt. All I hope is that there are people who'll think, 'Wow, I'm not the only person who thought those things'. "Some of those ugly things are things you wouldn't want to tell your Mom, your friends or even your lover. But it's no fucking public service either! It's just what I felt."

More than any previous NIN release, 'The Downward Spiral' centres on the concept of control: physical domination, sex as a control, mental slavery. "If you think about it, every society is based on control, which equals power. Churches tell you to do this and that, or the punishment will be going to Hell. "In every relationship you get into, someone wants to control it. I'm aware of that, I'm addressing it, I'm challenging it. I don't know what's made me feel this way, but every time I'm told I can't do this or do it that way, I inherently want to know why. "Put it this way: I was a bad employee and it wasn't because I wouldn't work hard. It was because what I was being told was dumb." So is the intellectualisation of Nine Inch Nails, 'The Downward Spiral' and ultimately Trent Reznor amusing or trying? "I guess," Reznor smiles. "I'm flattered in the sense that there's something to talk about."

Also included is a side panel regarding remixing.

NIN: MEGA METAL MIXMASTER!
TRENT REZNOR discusses Metal and the art of mixing with STEFFAN CHIRAZI! On 'Fixed', Reznor, JG Thirlwell and Butch Vig remixed tracks from the acclaimed 'Broken' EP. Was it a case of closing off the violent energies of 'Broken'? Says Reznor: "That wasn't consciously thought of at the time, and I don't think anyone could call the last track of 'Fixed' repaired at all! "When I do remixes I'm more self indulgent. I don't have to be as self critical, and I can fuck around, and a lot of the time better things come from not having the pressure. It's not like, 'Here are my 10 songs for my record.' "That's why I look forward to putting out those remixes with bunch bunch of bullshit on them. Personally, I think it's a case of hit and miss." Perhaps your only disappointing piece of remixing was on Megadeath's 'Symphony Of Destruction'. "Well, I actually liked that remix. I enjoy production because I get to do everything I do with my own album, minus the pain factor! "Remixing's different, because your role is to provide a service, and I have to think about what they're expecting from me. I find myself second guessing. I heard back that Mustaine really liked the remix, but I don't wanna do any more for a long time." Is there any raw power in Heavy Metal that you identify with? "I think Pantera's a great band. I briefly heard the new album, lent it out to my guitar player and never got it back! 'Vulgar Display Of Power' is vocally awesome. The anger is amazing, that sense of power, and that fuckin guitar sound is a new reference point. "For that sort of thing, from my perspective, I haven't heard anyone do it better."

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Nine Inch Nails
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This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.