Influential band Nine Inch Nails is the brainchild of Trent Reznor, but is there more to the
band's evocative sound than its charismatic frontman? MIKE HOULAHAN asks guitarist
Make no mistake, says Nine Inch Nails guitarist Danny Lohner, the band's frontman Trent
Reznor is Nine Inch Nails.
Reznor, named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of the 1990s, has
created a series of ground-breaking industrial/goth-punk albums under his recording alias
of Nine Inch Nails.
Those albums are mainly recorded by Reznor himself - playing most of the instruments
and handling production duties.
There is another Nine Inch Nails though - the live band, which will play at the Big Day
Out in Auckland on January 21.
"Live, Nine Inch Nails is an experience in its own right. It's not just Trent Reznor and a
bunch of hired hands," Lohner says.
Lohner has worked with Reznor since the band's second album, 1994's Downward Spiral.
He had played with the band's first drummer Chris Vrenna in Skrew, a Nine Inch Nails
side project, and inquired whether the band needed any extra musicians for a tour. The
same day - unbeknown to Lohner - the Nine Inch Nails guitarist had quit.
He was asked down to Reznor's studio - in the infamous Tate Mansion where Charles
Manson's "family" wreaked murderous havoc - hung out for a while, played on a couple
of tracks on The Downward Spiral, and has been with Reznor ever since.
"When Trent looks for musicians he looks for people who have got a lot of experience,
both playing their instruments, and playing live," Lohner says.
"It sounds a bit cliched, but he wants musicians who are 110 per cent committed to every
show. The Nine Inch Nails live show is an emotionally intense experience, it's very
physically and emotionally demanding. It's very controlled and very focused aggression."
Directness sums up the Nine Inch Nails approach. While the music is often crafted and
sophisticated, the lyrics are painfully direct slices of rage, isolation, or despair. The band's
albums are often harrowing, but such open emotional expression is the stuff cult
followings are made of.
The 1990 album Pretty Hate Machine - which stayed two years in the Billboard charts -
was a dizzying blend of industrial-strength punk and dancefloor rhythms.
Its follow-ups, Downward Spiral and new album The Fragile, are much darker.
Time and working in Hollywood (Reznor has put together soundtracks for films such as
Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's Lost Highway) have not dulled his
However, with cult status comes a cult following. Add in such profile-raising exploits as
buying the Tate-Polanski mansion, a short fling with Courtney Love (Hole lead singer
and widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain), and running a record label which features
Gothic shock rockers Marilyn Manson on its roster, and the hype surrounding Reznor
"I think he has had to learn to live with it and accept it," Lohner says. "It does take you by
surprise sometimes, because he's just this guy you hang out with, but then something will
happen to remind you that he's 'Trent Reznor' the media figure, because he disregards that
stuff most of the time."
Reznor has been able to keep a lower profile than usual in the last two years - it took that
long to record Fragile.
"Make no mistake, Trent is the man behind each album. He's got such a strong over-all
vision of what he wants to achieve. He's got this way of hearing things which very few
After Downward Spiral came out, it seemed as if every second hard rock band wanted to
sound like Nine Inch Nails. Some, such as current US chart toppers Korn - who always
cite Nine Inch Nails as a big influence in their interviews - have gone on to enjoy possibly
greater sales success than the band which inspired them.
Musically, however, it's another story. Few of those bands have been able to top
Downward Spiral for its intensity, and with Fragile, Nine Inch Nails have set a new
"I think if Nine Inch Nails have had any impact, it's in that they've made it OK for bands
to be passionate and at the same time fragile when making music about emotional
subjects," Lohner says.