Band's Hot Image Rooted in Woodstock '94 Mud

By Gary Graff for Detroit Free Press on July 28, 1994

The sound you are hearing is Nine Inch Nails hammering into the pop mainstream.

Since its celebrated, mud-caked performance at Woodstock '94, the group - actually the stage name for performer-writer-producer-techno whiz Trent Reznor - has turned its hot cult status into a multimeda, mass-appeal buzz.

It is the hottest rock band of the moment. After hitting No. 2 on the Billboard charts after its March release, Nine Inch Nails' latest album, "The Downward Spiral," is again on the rise. Once a club-sized cult act, it now is taking its visceral and violent stage show to 15,000-seat arenas and amphitheaters.

Reznor, 29, recently was on the cover of Rollin Stone magazine, and David Letterman invoked the group's name almost every night for a week after Woodstock '94. Reznor also is affiliated with the hottest film of the moment. He produced the soundtrack album for Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers." The album, released on Reznor's own Nothing label, reveals a flowing sonic pastiche that mixes dialogue from the movie with the songs Stone used, including the new track "Burn."

Provocative Pop

That isn't bad for a guy who produces some of the darkest, most provocatiove pop around. You probably won't find such lines as "I focus on the pain/the only thing that's real" in the Ace of Base songbook.

"They're not simple pop songs," said Reznor. "The message of the music is not mass acceptance-type stuff. 'The Downward Spiral' is essentially a noncommercial record. Regardless of what I do . . . there's only so much expsure these songs will ever get."

Knowing that, Reznor said, makes it easier to embrace his new success. "It's still kind of strange," he said, "but although we've become a fairly big band, it's been done outside the channels of the mainstream media. I really feel like I've done things on my own terms."

Reznor said the anger that fuels his music goes back to childhood. His parents were divorced when he was 5, and he was reared by his grandparents in rural western Pennsylvania. He focused on music, setting himself apart from the athletic mentality of his peers.


Guilt plus alienation plus restlessness equals pain and artistic expression; it is an equation that has resulted in memorable rock music for more that just Reznor. By the time Reznor moved to Cleveland during the mid '80's, hsi mind-set was well formed. "Pretty Hate Machine," the title of Nine Inch Nails' debut in 1989, defines it.

"I base everything on the aesthetic that it comes from my own head and seems like the right thing at the time," Reznor said. "When I did 'Pretty Hate Machine," I felt it expressed how I felt very honestly at that time in my life. When I look back now, I can remember who I was then and accept the expression of that."

Forming a touring band, Reznor played granite-hard performances on the first Lollapalooza tour. Nine Inch Nails also was the tour's top T-shirt seller. Both the 1992 EP "Broken" and "The Downward Spiral" found Reznor crafting an even harder edge.

"I remember when I was making 'Broken' thinking that 'I'm going to burn out a lot of my fans, a lot of people who liked the lighter moments on 'Pretty Hate Machine,'" he said. "I can't start to cater to that. I have to approach it with the same idea - how do I feel about things."


In person, Reznor is hardly the bile-spewing demon his music suggests. "Probably because I don't bite heads off pigeons, I'm going to disappoint some people," he said. He also acknowledges a certain amount of theatricality in what he does. "What we do is closer to Alice Cooper than Pearl Jam" he told Rolling Stone.

John Malm, Reznor's manager since 1987, said his client's goal as artist and as record-company executive is simple. "He makes music to please himself," Malm said. "His whole position is if 10 people like it, great; if 10 million people like it, that's great, too."

Veteran guitarist Adrian Belew, who played on "The Downward Spiral," said he found Reznor to be a "very sweet, intense, shy-sounding person. He does have a very personable side. He doesn't say much, though."

The Woodstock mud bath was Reznor's crowning touch. The band had been at the festival site for a while, enjoying the first night's rave and growing nervous about its own performance. It didn't help that security guards had barred the musicians from bringing guests on their tour bus or that a utility pole had fallen on the bus, forcing everyone to evacuate without touching the metal sides.

So while Nine Inch Nails was walking towards the stage, Reznor decided to shove guitarist Robin Finck into the mud. Finck responded by tackling Reznor, who "realized it was too late to undo that. After that, we felt really good, all covered with mud. It ended up being a little painful after a while; the mud got in our eyes and stuff.

"That show certainly wasn't technically perfect, but we had a lot of fun and felt really good about being on stage."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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