Chris Vrenna enters a bakery. “I need a cherry pie for Trent.”
“We’re out of cherry pies, Chris.”
Chris looks totally distraught, declaring, “This can’t be. Trent
really wants that cherry pie...”
When your photographer has a dream like this a week before
an interview, you laugh. But when you just happen to see a cherry pie in
a bakery window hours before that interview, you buy it.
Even though Trent’s laughing he’s still looking at us with
an expression that says ‘what asylum do I call to get these two taken
away?’ I’m glad he’s laughing: I have orders from someone who know him
to push the pie in his face if he doesn’t.
So why are we threatening Trent with a cherry pie? Oh my
God, could it be due to the release of a new album? Good
Let’s take a few giant steps back. This Trent Reznor tale
has been mutating since mid-1992... starting with that over-publicized
occupation of the Sharon Tate house. Trent bitterly mocks, “I can’t say
I moved into the Sharon Tate house to do a record because it was a cool
place. When I found out that it was that place it didn’t even dawn on me
that I would get such shit for it. It was like wow, the chance to live
in a cool house that’s ten times nicer then any place I’ve ever lived.
Hell, yeah, I’ll try it until they kick me out. But that has been
misconstrued into everything I do is an attempt to get publicity.”
Just another facet of Trent’s tempestuous career that went
awry for no good reason...Trent still doesn’t accept how newsworthy he
really is. Once Hard Copy knows about you, you’re doomed.
We all know about that deliciously evil gem called
Broken. But it wasn’t where Trent was going. It was a nasty
musical temper tantrum, a knee-jerk reaction to his fouled-up career.
The mainstream press tired to play catch up on Trent when Broken
reared its vicious little head. No one questioned what was going to
happen when Trent finally focused with his true musical talent instead
of his hatred. Almost no one...
As much as I trust Trent’s vision it worried me that no new
music was going to be heard until I am in LA...
After a wonderful visit to Death Valley, which seemed an
appropriate prelude to Trent’s trauma, once back in LA we get strong
armed into going to proudly pretentious Small’s. Help me! Since the
friend who begged us to come is busy swapping gossip with fellow
musicians and I have the car keys’, which in LA is power, I’m
considering going into bitch mode and stalking out.
”Oh my God... you’ll never guess who is sitting across the
Perfect. I’ll be damned if I am looking over there let alone cross the room. I enjoy a sense of empowerment too. After five minutes I
hear a “Hello ladies...” Just perfect.
Next evening at a rented house on Hollywood Boulevard where
it twists into the Hills (Trent, or course, mocks this address) I’m
handed a cassette tape with a lifetime of nerves attached to it. “Be
gentle with me...”
”Is there a reason to have to be?” I ask as Masie, Trent’s
playful Golden Labrador, keeps offering me her leash.
“It’s not done yet... I’ve another week in the
studio...there’s no singles on it....” Trent’s emitting waves of
defensiveness mixed with both subtle defiance and anxiety. Now I really
want to hear this. We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.
The verdict? I don’t care how long Trent’s been in LA, and I
don’t care what you might think of him, he’s masterfully built the
bitter bridge between Pretty Hate Machine and Broken.
With The Downward Spiral Trent has created an
amazingly ambiguous and anxious album that alternatively slashes its
nails across the sonic blackboard then stares hollowly into that dark
void only to flair into even harder cathartic convulsions. He’s finally
found a true musical voice through exploring haunting new directions of
sound. And he’ll shake off casual fans like Masie shakes her pull toy.
It’s fitting that the next day turns out to be relentlessly
grey and torrentially rainy. Up in the Hills the rain gushes like blood
from a torn artery on its way down to flood Sunset. “I realize I still
get more done when it’s raining outside. I still have this built-in ‘oh,
it’s a beautiful day outside, I should be doing something outside...’”
I knew it. That’s why the album took so long. You were out
being a surfer dude... I can tell by that incredibly healthy pallor. “I
have up. When I was a kid I was Casper, always the whitest kid on the
block. But I said ‘you know what? Somebody that’s going to come into
style... and you are going to pay.’ Skinny pale kids... you wait until
you are wrinkled prune... although I’ll probably be dead from some other
cause by that time. But my skin will look good. Plus I feel like a freak
now because I don’t have some sort of tattoo. Unusual,” Trent mocks as
he offers his bare arms in evidence.
It’s obvious being trapped in LA for months hasn’t changed
Trent’s mockingly dry edge. “Believe me, this has done nothing but
increase my isolation,” he laughs. “We’ve been totally uprooted. But I
discovered if you just keep working you don’t have time to miss your
life,” he grins. “I enjoy working, but at the same time, there will
probably be four double albums out...”
At least you’ll be able to get back to touring new material
soon... “Yeah, that will be fun for six months then I’ll be like I can’t
wait to get into the studio,” he mocks whines. “I need something to keep
miserable with all the time.”
That’s Trent has that happy reputation as a miserable
bastard. He looks at me with this incredulous grin. I may get that pie
in my face. Hey, the British press practically nominated him as the
tortured soul poster boy of the decade. He rapidly scoffs, “Sometimes
it’s just really fun to play up, especially with those idiots. It’s not
about music, it’s about the soap opera, give them the show.”
Needless to say, Trent’s found his tenure in LA to be less then cheerful. That we saw him at Small’s was amazing, considering it’s
only the fourth time he’s been coaxed there. His summation of LA? “It’s
like ‘so, what do you do? What do you drive?’” as Trent gives a nasty
smile, innocently declaring, ‘”Why, my fist up your ass.’”
Nope, he hasn’t changed a bit.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A SLAVE
As Masie happily sprawls between us on Trent’s couch, Trent
begins a steady outpouring of the events that have occupied his life in
the last four years, apologizing since I already know most of this. He
wants it for the record. “We toured for eternity, and the bottom feel
out, and what was really shitty about all that was... say up to where
Lollapalooza happened, as the popularity of the band increased, and got
outside of the realm of the people I could understand liking it, some of
our original fans started thinking, ‘OK, the same record I liked a year
ago, now I hate it because my sister likes it.’ You can’t stop people
from liking it!”
During all this the relationship with Trent’s label TVT
deteriorated so badly that he realized he could never create another
album for them. Pretty Hate Machine was nudging the million mark,
and even though Trent swears that TVT hated everything about the album
when he delivered it to them, they certainly weren’t hating what
eventually happened on the financial end. Trent was reaping the glory of
public acceptance, but little else.
“It got to the point where it was so unproductive that it wasn’t a
matter of me demanding this and that, it was a matter of me going just
let me do what I want.” The relationship became so perverse that Trent
had to play games such as asking for a video director he really didn’t
want since he knew he would be refused who he really wanted. “It was
unproductive, and it was like that on every level. After the record
started selling on its own terms we thought they would think maybe these
guys know what they’re doing, why don’t we just leave them alone?
No. Oh, this record sold a million? Let’s have the next record
sell five million.”
Unfortunately, by this time Trent had discovered yet another
unpleasant aspect of the music biz. “It’s basically set up so that if
you’re the artist, you’re screwed. We went to a lawyer and said ‘look,
we’ve got 20 instances of where they’ve wronged us. We’ve never gotten a
penny.’ At the time we had sold 8000,000 records and I had never seen a
cent. I was ‘what is going on?’” The legal hassles that Trent went
through were immense, basically boiling down to no matter what, he was
going to loose a lot of money and still not be able to get out of his
And Trent’s not asking for sympathy. He freely admits he screwed up
but he still can’t accept a system that is allowed to rape an artist’s
natural resources. Example: TVT owns the publishing rights to the first
album. “We didn’t know any better... that was a monumental...” as he
pauses in fury, mouth pinching bitterly. “We gave them administrative
rights, which means when someone calls me and goes ‘hey, I was watching
this terrible movie last night with Corey Feldmen in it and ‘Head Like A
Hole’ was in it.’ ‘You’re kidding me!’ So I find the movie and
sure enough, there it is. They got five grand to put that in the movie.
‘Hey Trent, I was watching this shitty movie...’ ‘Oh no, not again! No,
Nooooo!’” he mockingly groans, shaking his head in despair. “It became a thing where I realized that I’d rather see Nine Inch Nails
evaporate and die then whore what it was going to turn into: if it had
to be the end, that was the end. Litigation was going to take two years,
this was already two years after the record was out, which would be
certain death. Then it was going to cost somewhere between half a
million and three quarters of a million. And that’s not saying you’re
going to get off. Because there was no smoking gun, in bullshit
lawyer-speak, which has to be some horrible act.” The following gem
about a label head and semen is best left alone.
Trent sighs, “That’s a pretty shitty feeling. ON one hand you’ve
worked hard and are seeing something taking off; on the other hand
you’re on thin ice and you know it’s over and you can’t do anything
about it. I can’t even describe that feeling, to not be in control at
all. It’s such an awful feeling.
“A bunch of labels were interested in buying us off TVT. TVT wouldn’t
let anybody take us. Legally another bigger label can’t help you
financially get off a smaller label, due to some amount of ethics that
exists in this business,” he mocks.
“When Lollapalooza came up, I said no because I hate playing outside,
big venues, and just that whole party down, all day festival bullshit.
But when they came back and said we’ll pay you 12,000 for each
show...shit! For 45 minutes!”
This sounded attractive at the time sin ce Trent wanted to save enough
money to mount a legal batter to get off of TVT. “We did the tour, we
did make some money, and we were going to start our last hope.” It had
gotten so bitter between the label and himself that he banned them from
backstage, and even that TVT mogul Steve Gottlieb thrown out for
impersonating Steve Gottlieb! “Moments of greatness in the midst of the
night mare,” Trent grins. “But when Interscope entered into the picture
in the form of going some joint venture deal with TVT, which at the
time, my impression of Interscope was this a label known for Marky Mark
and Geraldo... it’s TVT with more money!