On The Record (classic rock albums revisited)

A retrospective on the Downward Spiral

Originally published in Guitar World on July 1, 1997

Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral (TVT, 1994) Produced by Trent Reznor and Flood

On July 4, 1992, Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor moved out to Los Angeles with a seemingly simple plan. Instead of making his next record in a established recording studio, he wanted to find a house where he could build his own custom facility and work at his own pace. "I wanted to fine-tune my engineering skills," recalls Reznor. "I figured if I had a studio around, I'd inevitably figure out how to use it. And also, for the first time, I had the financial resources to do something right, so I ended up buying a big console and a couple of Studer machines because it was cheaper that renting, in the long run." After rejecting about 15 houses, Reznor settled on a place in Bel Air. The 4.9 million dollar mansion was, for his purposes, perfect - secluded, the rooms were huge and there was a large swimming pool off the master bedroom. Reznor soon discovered that it was also a world-famous slaughterhouse - the place where members of Charles Manson's "family" brutally murdered five people, including actress Sharon Tate. "The first night was terrifying," says Reznor. "I jumped a mile at every sound. But after a while I got used to the place, which, in a way, is almost scarier." While Reznor doesn't claim that the house is haunted, it sure seemed that way to him at times. "We had a million electrical disturbances," recalls Reznor. "Things that shouldn't have happened did happen. Eventually, we'd joke about it: 'Oh, Sharon must be here. The fucking tape machine just shut down.'" Exasperated by constant equipment glitches that would render his arsenal of keyboards and samplers useless for hours - and even days - at a time, Reznor was forced to start writing on the three guitars he had brought with him: a white Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Strat and an Ovation acoustic. As it turned out, switching to the guitar turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Reznor, as it allowed him to concentrate on the fundamentals of songwriting - something he'd been having problems with. s the song ideas began taking shape, a theme started to emerge: Reznor was chronicling one man's dark journey through self-examination, desolation and loss, culminating in complete despair. While not the cheeriest subject for a pop album, The Downward Spiral became a massive critical and commercial success. "It's the type of record that takes a little more work on the part of the listener," explains the man who is Nine-Inch-Nails. "It gets better the more you hear it, hopefully. But it isn't something that jumps out of your cart speakers and says, 'This is the greatest album that's ever been recorded.' I was trying to find an intensity though restraint rather that by smashing you over the bead with a baseball bat. If we had 48 tracks, we wanted to bury 48 riffs that were meant to come out with repeated listenings."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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