Down On The Spiral

By Carl Hammerschmidt for Hot Metal Magazine on April 1, 1994

An unknown quantity behind his electronic wall of sound, Trent Reznor is releasing his new LP and touring the nation. Read on as The Hammer goes to work on Nine Inch Nails.

Nine Inch Nails is violent dischord. Nine Inch Nails is the unnerving threat of psychosexual angst alternatively screamed and whispered against coarse unforgiving rhythmic aggression. It's the flawless attraction of a sequenced rhythm track, the random chaos of grating metal guitars and white noise overload. It repulses you, yet you desire it.

Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor from Pennsylvania. And when writing his music he works on the theory that next time you pass a road accident, you're going to look long and hard for a glimpse of twisted limbs amongst the wreckage. Since 1989 he's been producing a high profile brand of propane-injected, electronically-based industrial metal that fits snugly between the abrasion of Throbbing Gristle and the pop of Depeche Mode.

With his second LP, The Downward Spiral, he's continued the Godless electronic perversity that turned so many heads on the first album, Pretty Hate Machine ('89), two EPs, Broken ('91) and Fixed ('92); and on the '91 Lollapalooza tour. It paints a dark psychological portrait of the human soul that sits so enigmatically behind the music and pulls very few punches in the process.

"I am the voice inside your head/I am the lover in your bed...I am the bullet in the gun/I am the truth from which you run", he screams on the opening track, Mr. Self Destruct, an aural master and servant relationship in which naughty old Trent waves the big stick of technological force while talking dirty through the mask of urban decay.

"I don't know how to write in any other way," he says of The Downward Spiral's lyrical bluntness. "I stumbled onto it with the first record and it made the biggest impact. I thought it was the most powerful thing I could say and it provided a good framework for NIN to revolve around.

"Thematically I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he's surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate to other people or to have anything to believe in."

In comparison to the overbearing presence of his music, Trent's nature is considered; almost humble. He is one man behind a battalion of sound, and it's this that makes him so intriguing. Being the sole composer, arranger and performer for all of NIN's recorded material, his is an air of pure alienation.

"With they lyrics, it's all me. I made up a bunch of stories about how it was a friend of mine, but it's not, it just pops out of my head. I realise it's not the most uplifting record, but the idea was to try and make something that was a bleak chunk of work that, for the right mood, might be the perfect thing. And then I have people asking me 'Wow, how terrible is your life?' and 'Are you going to kill yourself?'. But if I was to write a happy or uplifting song, it wouldn't have fit.

"If I were to analyse myself, I'd say my desire was to escape from Smalltown USA and the isolation you can feel in a place where nothing happens is a recurring theme for my music. I think one of the motivations to get NIN going was as an escape from working at the gas station down the street. It was a way to try and break into the real world, or the world I thought was real that you see on the television and movies," he explains.

NIN have achieved a level of success above and beyond many of their contempories. They've been historically appointed the measuring stick for the whole murky genre of industrial/electric guitar bands, a notion Trent is not entirely comfortable with.

"I want people to know that I'm not going around saying 'Look at us, we're an industrial band!', as if that gives me some flag of credibility to wave around," he says emphatically. "I look as it as a challenge rather than something to be ashamed of. I like flirting with accessibility, 'cos it allows me to be subversive and sneak things in that people don't realise they're hearing. With The Downward Spiral I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar."

Having spent the year and a half leading up to the recording of the album 'in virtual isolation', Trent professes very little interest in current music, citing cliche and a prevailing follow-the-leader attitude as being the scourge of popular music. Inspiration, he admits, comes from material he ignored the first time around-old David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed...

"I hate retro thinking and I hate trends towards bringing back stuff that's dead and gone, but at the same time it really impressed me how much depth was in those albums in comparison with today's music. It's a very general and unfair statement, but it seems like the music industry is such a big corporate business now that a lot of albums just seem like products-one or two good tracks with a bunch of filler and general crap. My challenge was to try and make a record that's more of an album and less a collection of songs."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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