Down In It : Trent Reznor in Cleveland

Originally published in Cleveland Online on April 1, 1997

Nine Inch Nails are known across the world now, but before he made it big, Trent Reznor was a major player in the Cleveland scene. Before there were the Nails there was...

The early-'80s: Growing up in a small Pennsylvania farming town, Mercer, Pa., as part of a family who owns the rights to the Reznor furnace (an industrial heater), Reznor left for Allegheny College, where he studied computer engineering for a year before dropping out and moving to Cleveland.

The mid-'80s: After playing in a Top 40 Cleveland cover band called the Urge, Reznor joined the Innocent, a mainstream rock band a la Journey or Foreigner, with whom he played keyboards and sang. The band signed to the Chicago-based Red Records, a label whose only previous release was the "Superbowl Shuffle", a platinum selling LP recorded by the Chicago Bears. Reznor performed several live shows with the group, including some opening slots for Bryan Adams.

The late-'80s: After leaving the Innocent, Reznor worked at Pi Keyboards, a store on Brookpark and Broadview Roads (in Cleveland) that sold and repaired keyboards. He also got a job as an engineer at Right Track, a downtown studio known for recording Levert. Reznor soon hooked up with the Exotic Birds, a dance-pop band led by Cleveland Institute of Music percussion major Andy Kubiszewski (who would later play on NIN's Downward Spiral). He joined the Birds as they were moving towards a more-textured synth-heavy sound, and played on the group's second LP, L'oiseau. After the group disbanded (temporarily) in '87, Reznor joined the Top 40 synth pop group Slam Bam Boo, with whom he released a 45, "White Lies" b/w "Cry Like A Baby." A subsequent group, started by Slam singer Scott Hanson called Hanson: the Movie, had Reznor doing computer programming and engineering. During this time, Reznor also made a cameo as a member of Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett's back-up band (with Nation of One's Mark Addison and fellow Exotic Bird Frank Vale) in the 1987 film Light of Day, shot at many Cleveland locations including the Euclid Tavern, where the movie band played.

After playing some shows with Lucky Pierre (singer-guitarist Kevin McMahon was living in San Francisco, but would regularly return to town to play live), Reznor then played keyboards on the group's 1988 Communique EP, the title track of which would later appear on the debut of the McMahon-led Prick. (Reznor was also roommates with Lucky Pierre bassist Tom Lash, later of Hot Tin Roof).

Meanwhile, Reznor was working on his own recordings during off-hours at Right Track, doubling as a janitor at the studio in return for the free recording time. The result? The demo for Pretty Hate Machine, the tape that got him signed to TVT Records (short for TeeVee Toons), a label whose main notoriety involved releasing Television's greatest hit theme-songs. He then assembled a band, his first of many temporary line-ups, including former roommate Chris Vrenna (drums) and Richard Patrick, a guitar player in the U2-sounding group the Act (who would later found Filter).

NIN-'90s: After Pretty Hate Machine--which was produced by Flood (of U2 and Depeche Mode fame)--his contract was picked by Interscope Records. In 1992, Interscope gave Reznor his own label subsidiary, Nothing Records, which would go on to sign McMahon's Prick and is co-run by John Malm, who had managed both the Exotic Birds and Reznor in his early-solo days.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Special thanks to RockGirl78 (Tracy Thompson).

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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