NINE INCH NAILS-BEHIND THE HATE MACHINE.
All his peers have fallen. Alone stands Trent Reznor. What next?
chart mag. - march 2002
All the things that are
And all the things that could of been.
Hidden in those simple eight words are a virtually innumerable number of meanings. Part
epitaph for the glory days of the alternative music revolution, part multi-pronged
marketing assault by Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails project and part symbolic dip
into the many facets that make up NIN, all the things that currently are included a DVD, a
live CD, a 'stripped down' CD, a remix CD, a VHS and possibly a closing of a chapter in
the history of nine inch nails.
After all, NIN have been around for 13 years and Trent Reznor is promising to go boldly
go where he hasn't gone before......
Trent Reznor's about 12 minutes into a very subtly crafted condemnation of everything
we hear these days. Few bands are mentioned by name, and fewer still can even be
guessed at in concrete terms. But the sentiment is there. Coming from the man whose
vicious sloganeering- step right up, march! I wanna fuck you like an animal!-represented
the most dangerous fringe of popular music in the last decade, anger has become almost
too easy a well to tap. The greater artistic challenge now is to become all the things that
could be. "It took me a long time to gain the courage to not just make the music that
would be expected-which would be tougher, harder and meaner or more punching you in
the face" says Reznor. ďThatís easy to do and safe for me to do now. Iíve seen a lot of
bands fall into this trap -especially recently- fall into this trap of hard, faster, faster,
harder, noisier, louder, more bad words in it. It doesn't equate to being more intense. It
becomes just cartoonish after a while."
And like any good rebel, Reznor is trying to define himself by not being like his
cartoonish colleagues. "One of the ways in which Iíve tried to keep nine inch nails
expansive is to...I realized that I can write a broken-type album- and I can mean it. But,
the same night I can play something melancholy and sad on the piano. I used to be afraid
to put that on the same record."
Reznor seems to have taken up that challenge.
Though the live album And All The Things That Could Have Been captures the violent
intensity that defined the typical NIN show, its also accompanied by a second album,
Still, which is primarily a record of piano-balladry. Considering Reznor is no longer the
alpha male of underground testosterone rock, an album of piano ballads seems an
unlikely choice to enable him to recapture that throne.
But for Reznor, a notorious perfectionist, being the king of the castle doesn't have all that
"I've made the music I liked and at one point. The downward spiral era in particular, a lot
of people seemed to like the same thing". he says.
"And thatís good and bad. Itís good because I got some rewards from that. Iím glad I
turned a lot of people on to that type of music. But now it kinda haunts you in that your
expectations, your commercial expectations are set so high that do I as an artist try to
think 'Well, fuck! What do they like about that? maybe I can do more stuff like that.'
Then Iíll get rewarded and everyone will be happy...except my soul will decay because
Iím not doing music that matters to me anymore.
"I'm not going to tell you there hasn't come a time with me going, 'Oh my god, Head like
a fucking hole. again."
MARCH OF THE PIGS
As tired as "head like a hole" may seem to Reznor, that song was a theme of sorts for one
of the most vital and dangerous musical movements in recent memory-
industrial-alternative (and for the record, grunge wasnít new and vital, that was just rock
music in plaid).
In 1989,the world of music was a different place. Pre-packaged hair metal ruled the day.
Guns N' Rose's held the tough front for the boys and for the girls there was Poison.
These were flippant, disposable times. But if you scratched just beneath that musical
surface, actually scratched until you were bloody and raw, you'd find something more
primal lurking there.
In the dark underground nightclubs, this new rave culture was getting its joy stolen and
repackaged into the fascist beats of Nitzer Ebb's glorious industrial- house. At the same
time, a band called Ministry were awakening from their bad Erasure obsession, melding
ferocious bpms, sabbath guitars and eerie samples into the brutally anthemic The Mind Is
A Terrible Thing To Taste.
Still, with these cornerstones for the true alternative nation in place, there was one thing
missing - a leader.
That's where Nine Inch Nails came in.
While grunge was still almost four years away from breaking big, the release of Nine Inch
Nail's Pretty Hate Machine represented a sort of cosmic force uniting freaks, loners, noise
aficionados, disco casualties and bored metalheads. And that force was powerful.
Pretty Hate Machine, and its subversive hit "Head like a hole" wrapped up all the anger,
all the loneliness, all the outsiderism and jammed it into one album which sounded like
the sonic equivalent of invasive surgery. But you could still dance to it.
Fast-forward to 1992.After stealing the show at the first lollapalooza, NIN released
Broken, what will likely stand forever as the single most defining amalgam of heavy
metal, industrial dance beats and a secret, yet healthy helping of pop sensibilities.
By this point Reznor's chiseled cheekbones and particular sense of mope made him a cult
hero. Two years later he would explode into a bona fide angst-rock superstar with the
release of The Downward Spiral.
Little did we know at the time, that title would be prophetic.
As NIN's popularity peaked, the number of pipe-banging rocker's ballooned. Names like
the aforementioned Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, along with Skinny Puppy, Revolting Cocks,
KMFDM, The young god's , Front 242, Stabbing Westward and a whole host of others
were marketed and packaged (and ultimately, co-opted) to try to capitalize on the trail
NIN had blazed. It would be to the scenes ultimate detriment.
"I think there was a time where we e3merged out of where the Wax Traxx scene was
going where it seemed like there was a lot of promise," says Reznor, reflecting on the
subsequent rise and fall of industrial rock. ďIt was a new form of aggressive music that
you hadnít heard before. It wasnít a throwback to '70's rock because '70's rock didnít have
drum machines and the '70s didnít have the production values that Skinny Puppy had.
There was a real excitement back then, I remember just feeling really part of this clique
and was thrilled when I got accepted into it and was playing onstage with Revolting
Cocks, with some of my heroes.
And I think what happened was a couple of things. One was that when we started to get
popular, a lot of major labels came in and started to sign up everyone else that sounded
anything like us. So that meant that Front 242 get signed and make a terrible album. And
Skinny Puppy get signed and get drugs and go hide off in the woods somewhere and
donít make a good album. And Ministry were already signed....but you just saw a lot of
bands spiral out of control."
Of course, hindsight always helps give perspective on these things. Too much money
being throw around, too-high of expectations and an overestimation of how popular this
violent form of music could be all contributed to the demise of these bands. But the
number one factor involved was probably greed.
"You can blame that on major labels," says Reznor, bluntly.
"But I can also blame that on musicians and their responsibility. Now Iím not talking
about drugs or anything else. Iím talking about...Iím trying not to get on a soap box here,
but its real easy to sit around and bitch about bands that are successful.
But then someone goes 'Wow. Hey, do you want a record contract?' 'Uh, yeah.'
And you see all these guys jumping through hoops and give into corporate pressures of
'make your record sound like this' 'We're going to give you a lot of money, but you've got
to do this.'
"What do you think American Records thought when they signed Skinny Puppy, probably
under the pretense that Nine Inch Nails sounds like them? And (Skinny Puppy) turn in
something that doesn't have a big hit single with a glossy video? But that's what
happened. And I do know that they self-destructive by the time they signed with a major
Reznor follows this with a sample statement that applies to not only his own special niche
of PVC warriors, but to virtually every popular music scene. ďI would be hard-pressed to
name a band that really compromised their integrity then got really successful for a long
period of time," he says.
SOMETHING HE WANTS TO HAVE
Nine inch nails followers know all about Reznor's personal sense of integrity.
On one hand, it represents a quality control mechanism you only wish Billy Corgan
possessed; on the other, it makes for more frustrating periods of anticipation for NIN
Whether it was The Downward Spiral, The Fragile or the latest series of multimedia
releases, Reznor's perfectionism has consistently resulted in release delays and if reports,
inferences and the perpetual swirl of fanclub rumors are to be believed, multiple music
projects being shelved indefinitely, never to be heard by the music consuming public
because Reznor didn't feel them worthy.
All this does is make the scope of All That Could Of Been that much more surprising.
Originally, it was strictly meant to be a live DVD project, but somehow it ballooned into
its multi-headed format.
This is because Reznor considers the live performances, which took place on the Fragility
v2.0 tour of 2000, to be amongst the best performances he's done live. At the time, he felt
Nine inch nails were actually a "band" and not just his vanity project.
"Now its just me again," he says, quickly correcting any inferences that NIN has evolved
into a permanent multi-person unit. ďWhen it's live, the people, especially in that
incarnation that's on the DVD and CD, they were people I respected and I thought
understood the music, so it was their interpretation of my music. It wasn't me riding them
about stuff and they were given room to make it their own. And in that way when we play
live, it is a band. And it is a band, not just me.
"But right at this moment Iím working on stuff alone in the studio. Iíve come to the
realization that Iíve always had this romantic notion that Nine inch nails could be a
semi-democratic band like bands Iíve always envied, like The Smiths, U2, The Stones,
where there's musical identities in the band.
"I'm making some inroad into some other band-type project that probably isn't Nine inch
nails that probably is more collaborative. Thatíll probably be how that format comes
So NIN is a band, but it's also a solo project.
And Reznor's currently in the studio creating new work, but if he doesn't like the results
you may never get to hear them. And if its not appropriate for NIN, his net musical
project may be a band. Clearly, Reznor wants everything he can be.
It's all very confusing and a little bit unsettling, but what may cause the greatest amount
of trepidation about all of this is the symbolic meaning which often follows the release of
something as comprehensive as the And All That Could Of Been project.
Is this a bookend? The end of an era? Will NIN forever change its direction?
"I donít think thatís going to be the case, but the type of show from NIN that people have
come to expect I think is going to be taken to something different," he says, just before
flashing a bit of his often overlooked gallows humor.
"It won't be five-piece, keyboard-smashing, corn-starch covered retards onstage. Weíre
going to put maple syrup on us next time."