Rockbeat Magazine 1992

The Man Behind The Machine

People didn't realize how angry and alienated they really were - that's the only explanation for the sucess of Nine Inch Nails. Singer/guitarist and braintrust Trent Reznor, 26 years old, with a head full of hate and an appetite for discomfort, does. "I just wanted to put out a record that was honest with how I felt, something like Pink Floyd's The Wall or the first Smiths album or a Cure album," he says. "Records I'd put on a different periods in my life that wouldn't make me feel quite so bummed out and alone." Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails' debut disc, is one of those records. A glimpse behind its angstaddled author's eyes into a world of anger, isolation, obsession and insecurity. Utterly normal stuff. Emotions everybody has. Just delivered with crushing rythms, angry melodies and a somber noise torn straight from the brink of hell.

"I'm not the happiest guy in the world," Reznor sighs. "I'm not so sure why, but playing in this band does feel like therapy at times." If anything, Nine Inch Nails, which for all intents and purposes is Trent Reznor, is about being normal. Maybe that's why it's struck such a deep, resounding chord in the thousands who caught 'em this summer with Jane's Addiction on the Lollapalooza road/freakshow; who made MTV darlings with the metal-on-metal art brut of a video ("Head Like a Hole") which propelled Pretty hate Machine to well beyond gold status. Ask Axl Rose. He was so impressed by the Nails' industrial-dance-rock-electronic bludgeon that he had 'em open for the Gunners in Europe this summer. Not bad for a guy like Reznor, raised by his grandparents in the nowheresville of Mercer, Pennsylvania - a town whose only other notable resident is Mr. Rogers!

"It was the sort of place where all you do when you and your friends get together is dream about getting out," remembers Trent. He found a way - music. Oh, it started with those damn classical piano lessons his grandparents made him take. "Fortunatelly, my father gave me an electric piano in high school - that was the end of good grades," trent laughs. "I think it paid off in other ways." Like an allconsuming passion for electronic sounds that ultimately led him to a studio day job, programming synthesizers in the steel wasteland of Cleveland, Ohio. By night, the studio owner gave Reznor free studio access - and Nine Inch Nails was born.

"I came to a big conclusion that year. I was 23 or 24, I was a fuckin' bum and had never had to work my ass off at anything before. So I asked myself, 'What if I did?'" Working on demos in the studio, night after night, in relative isolation, trent forged the initial impetus of Nine Inch nails, "and totally threw my life out of whack in the process!" he laughs.

Those midnight demos won him a deal with TVT, a New York-based independent label which released Pretty Hate Machine in late '89. Produced with a bevy of heavyweight producers (including Flood of Depeche Mode fame), it's a vicious bit of synth-pop melodrama married to heavy-metal crunch. Listening to its tales of dark angst and darker obsessions in songs like "Sin" and "Down In It", one would think that terrible Trent is a truly tormented soul, a bonafide M.C. Pain suffering. Is he really?

"No, I don't have a noose around my neck 24 hours a day," Reznor states. "A lot of the album was written lying on my bed at home, taking certain real-life situations, bad memories, things that had troubled me that I hadn't worked out of my system yet. I just dredged them back up and made worse in my mind. Plus, a year prior to that, I was in a relationship that had broken off really painfully. Until I wrote the album, it was something I was afraid to start thinking about forfear of that terrible churning in my stomach - y'know, that feeling you get when somebody dies. Doing the album exorcised a lot of demons for me."

He grabbed up a couple of musicians (including guitarist Richard Patrick, brother of actor Robert patrick who played the evil T-1000 in Terminator 2) and hit the road, winning crowds over with NIN's aggressive and dramatic stage performances. From the days when Reznor & Co., resplendent in black lipstick and white powder, frollicked in a sea of smoke and lights, Nine Inch Nails have grown into a truly terrifying live act. Ask anyone who caught 'em on the midsummer open-air Lollapalooza dates. We're talkin' total scorched-stage policy here. Guitars smashing, keyboards slamming hard on the ground, and band members getting hurt. That's the way virtually every show climaxes these days - and it's only been getting more vicious, more cathartic. Real sweat and blood rock 'n' roll from a sythesizer-based band. There's nothing like the real thing.

"On the beginning of the lollapalooza tour, we kept having equipment fuck-ups, power going out, all sorts of screwups," trent snarls. "Things started going well for a couple of gigs, and then we got to San Francisco and everything started fucking up again. Then something snapped. I don't know what it was, but something broke. My guitar smashed and a piece of it flew up and hit the keyboard player in the face. A couple of songs later, the road manager runs by and yells, 'It's okay, the ambulance is on its way! The medic's here! James's head! You hit him in the face with a guitar!' I look back and see James with blood trickling down his face and he's got this total pained grimace. I couldn't believe he made it through the whole set!"

Precisely the appetite for devastation that won the attention of one Axl rose. Seems that Axl saw the fiery Reznor as a kindred soul and asked for Nine Inch nails to support two of Guns N' Roses' European stadium dates: at London's Wembley Arena and in Mannheim, Germany. Trent took Axl up on his offer. "It was an interesting opportunity," he believes. An experiment in synth driven terror-noise from a laughingly self-proclaimed "synth faggot band" who play it ten times harder than the rock act. In Mannheim, they hated 'em. London, things went a lot better for the Nails.

"It's a strange place for a band like us to be in," trent believes. "Especially since we're trying to use electronics and give them some merit, which is something the average Guns N' Roses fan isn't used to. Whether you're playing a guitar or a keyboard, the bottom line is that they're both tools that are there for you to use. I think what we're doing is just as intense and as real as any so-called 'real' rock band."

An opinion which Guns N' Roses also seemed to share, as they invited Nine Inch Nails to join them on their last U.S. tour. Bruised and battered from two years on the road, trent declined, opting instead to muster his energies for the long overdue follow-up to Pretty Hate Machine. "The simple fact is, I can't goout and tour until I have another record out," he sighs. "I know since people have all of a sudden discovered us, it would probably make good sense from a business point of view - fuck that."

Trent's more into exorcising new demons in the home studio of his current New Orleans residence. "I don't think it's what people are going to expect," he muses. "I guarantee, it's bound to hurt a lot worse this time."

Next stop: Nine Inch Nails dig deeper.

By Mike Gitter