Trent Reznor was wearing a Machine Head cap. Robb Flynn, Machine Head
singer/guitarist, couldn't believe it when I told him. He thought I was kidding. I had to tell
him twice. Trent shrugged the garment off as just being "merchandise" rather than an
indication of his admiration for the band, but it seemed to be some sort of sub-divine
warning of what Nine Inch Nails were about to unleash onstage.
Somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the same quiet, polite singer who gently directed
a member of another band's touring party where they needed to go during our interview
was transformed into a f!?king monster with all of hell, all of Armageddon, all of evil
breaking out around him--and from him. Nine Inch Nails are scary shit. At Sydney,
Australia's Eastern Creek, you could feel--almost see--the night air, heavy with fog,
shudder when NIN kicked in. The volume, the eerie, almost otherworldly, alien-type
lighting and the incredible cold, clinical ferocity and what seemed like very real violence
taking place on and from the stage combined for a harrowing effect. It's how classical
composer Wagner might sound in 1995.
Still, Trent says he is keen for the next NIN album to be more of a group effort than a
communique from his very private hell way south of Heaven. If a sequel to '60s
"ultra-violence" flick _A Clockwork Orange_ is ever produced, the makers of the
soundtrack are at the ready.
"We didn't want to be safe on this tour," explains Trent, who was keen to go and catch
Ice-T doing a rap set before metal alter-ego Body Count stormed the stage. "If you go out
with no production, wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt, no one's going to make fun of
you, no on'es going to be challenged by that, really. You're not opening yourself up to any
degree of criticism. We decided to take in a pretty over-the-top production sense of an
environment that might really help accentuate the mood of the music. Like when
something's intense, when there're so many lights in your eyes it's hard to watch--in the
sense of transforming the whole environment into something that can be oppressive...or
seductive. That led to designing the sets," the singer explains. "I wanted to use the idea of
raw wood and rubber, two textures against each other that you don't see in a normal rock
set. In real life our guitar player wears more outrageous things than we do onstage, and he
wanted to express himself, and f?!k, we do what we want to do. Watching Ziggy Stardust
tapes was more of an influence than Nirvana. We kind of wanted to put on a show not to
be antifashionable, but because it's more really where we're coming from."
That place, of course, isn't a particularly pretty region. While the NIN clan were
unpacking their belongings after a collective move to New Orleans, one of the movers
approached Trent about an item in the truck. He had claimed the piece of criminal history
before he left Le Pig studios, the birthing place of the hypnotic purgatory of _The
Downward Spiral_ album and the site of the Manson Family's 1969 Tate house killing
"The moving guy asked, 'What the f?!k do you have a door for?'" Trent laughs quietly.
"We told them, and they said: 'Oh, man! Does it still have the blood on it?' That was kind
of a consolation prize for getting ripped off for the amount of money we ended up paying
to be there."
Money, incredibly enough, was at the root of NIN's appearance at Woodstock '94 and
their dawn-of-time-type performance with mud as Reznor's filthy holy water. Their set
will go down in rock history as one of the finest high-drama rock events of any
description--side by side with Hendrix' gutiar immolation at the 1967 Monterey Pop
festival and Iggy Pop's walk on a sea of hands at a festival in Connecticut in 1970. For
Nine Inch Nails, Woodstock '94 was great theater just waiting to happen.
"It just erased all inhibitions. It was probably the most nervous I've been in as long as I
can remember," says Trent, reflecting on his Woodstock '94 performance. "I guess it was
perceived as great theater. For me, it was a pretty true moment. When I got offstage I felt
like it worked, I felt like I connected. I mean, it didn't sound worth a shit. My high was
blown when I actually heard the tape the next day."
Last year Nine Inch Nails grabbed the world by the balls and squeezed. The kid who was
intrigued by the echoes of his own mind in Pink Floyd's _The Wall_ had hungrily thrown
himself at some sort of alienation-transfer process of what he loved in Floyd's epic of
negativity and cleaned up with his outpouring. A fringe benefit of that success was being
approached by Oliver Stone--himself more a maverick than a cog--to do the soundtrack
collage for _Natural Born Killers_.
In August of 1993 RIP ran an interview with AC/DC's Angus Young which made
mention of AC/DC being the closest thing there is, in these times, to blues elder
statesman Muddy Waters. A reader took exception to this statement and fired off a letter
saying if anyone was akin to Muddy it was Trent Reznor. Yeah, it beat me too. But the
NIN central effigy is doing some sort of blues. And, according to Courtney Love, of all
people, he is doing it from a feminine standpoint.
"I know what she's saying, I think," Reznor responds thoughtfully. "The degree of
vulnerability is probably what she's reading as being feminine because on every song
there's an AC/DC [element--no, he's not referring to the band], macho-man perspective.
But there's something creative. I don't mind an observation like that at all. It's unusually
flattering for her to say something like that. She said that same thing to me, actually. She
likened that to one of the reasons she liked the music because that was how Kurt used to
write as well. At the time, I took that as a compliment." At the time? Of course, the
rumors flowing around Ms. Love and Mr. Reznor ran rampant--she pursued him heavily,
they were buying a house together in New Orleans, he was running scared from her
insistent advances--to the point of ducking out on a hotel balcony to avoid her.
Trent acknowledges that his band--and himself as magical ringleader--tends to inspire
extreme reactions. "If you mean there was a woman backstage with fangs, that's happened
a few times," he admits. "There's been so many other ridiculous backstage situations that
that one kind of pales in comparison--like when we had Jim Rose on tour. Jim Rose
ended up being my best friend, always a fun guy to hang what was the most ridiculous
situation he could come up with. The mentality was no one does anything they don't want
to do; it's all in good spirits, and no one takes advantage of anybody. I'm just debating
whether I want this to come out in print..." He pauses, letting out another rare, quiet
laugh. "It wasn't like we were out f?!king girls backstage or anything like that. The first
day we were around him, he had my drummer eating glass! Rose said, 'Chew it up and
drink!' I asked, 'What the f?!k are you doing?' Then my drummer said, 'He says it's okay.'
I said, 'But *he's* not doing it!' That sort of thing. He could take that to almost any level
Speaking of, shall we say, differing tastes...does Trent consider Nine Inch Nails good
music to accompany sex?
"I don't think so, personally. I've heard a lot of people say that to me. I can't because I start
thinking about it and I'm back in the mixing room thinking the snare drum's too loud! It
doesn't work for me that well," he reveals, laughing. "I guess for a certain mood of sex it
could be. I wouldn't think it was for your caressing, intimate-loving, feel-good,
lit-candle-type, I'm-in-love-with-you sex, but it would be a nice variation."
Variety was at the heart of the _Kiss My Ass_ KISS tribute album. NIN were approached
to record a track, but for some reason didn't end up on the finished product.
"Gene Simmons himself called me up, and you're not going to say no to Gene Simmons if
you're me," Trent recalls. "He was my idol when I was 13 years old. On further inspection
the dream list of bands that he recited to me over the phone got whittled down to about
one out of 20 bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket and that kind of shit. Anyway, the song
was going to be 'Love Gun.' I wanted to do 'Parasite,' but Anthrax was doing it. I was
going to do a total gay disco version of 'Love Gun' because I thought that would probably
be most unlike the other bands, and they probably wouldn't like it. It would put them in an
interesting position. I would have done it in the greatest sincerity, though.
"At the time, if you lived in America, KISS were the greatest thing in the world. If you were a teenage boy going through puberty, you had Gene Simmons to guide you through that confusing time." Trent's voice drops to a whisper, "They were the greatest," he pauses for a breath. "If you liked the Clash, you were living on the edge in the town that I grew up in--and I did." And Trent still lives on that edge, the Reznor Edge, no matter what town he's living in.