Nine Inch Nails: Ball of Confusion

By Brandon Hargrove for Hit Parader on September 1, 1998

The world is waiting to find out exactly what Trent Reznor's next move will be. Millions of fans dotting the face of Planet Earth find themselves impatiently biding their time until this figure- dubbed by his more ardent supporters as The New-Age Musical Messiah- decides upon exactly which course his artistic fates may follow. As the world anxiously watches and waits, Reznor continues to calculate each and every move he makes, forcing those around him to sweat out the potential consequences of his actions...and inactions. The questions sit perched on everyone's tongues- the answers remain buried under a cloud of mystery and intrigue. Will he finally release his oft-delayed new album? Will he go to war with those who control his musical destiny? Will he follow through on his thinly veiled warnings and turn his attentions solely towards finding and nurturning new talent?

Like a western gun-fighter of old, Reznor seems to garner great pleasure out of making those around him squirm as they wait and wonder- coercing those caught in his blinding aura to wither under the strain of his imposing nature. Sometimes it seems like it's all just a game to Reznor- a high stakes battle of human chess with winner-take-all results. But Reznor doesn't play the game by conventional rules; never has, never will. In fact, it often seems as if he creates his own set of rules as he goes along, hoping to create as much confusion as possible in the process. Certainly as the days, weeks and months pass without a new album from Nine Inch Nails, one must begin to wonder exactly who is winning Reznor's latest game of rock and roll Russian roulette.

"It's gotten to the point where there are people at Reznor's record label that really don't have a clue about what's going on," an inside source revealed. "They don't really know when his next album is coming out. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next year- or it might never happen."

Could Reznor truly pack up his musical bags at some point in the not-so-distant future and walk away from his platinum-coated, award-winning musical life? Could he decide to put to rest Nine Inch Nails- one of the most commercially successful and ctirically lauded bands of the decade- and focus all of his abundant creative energies on producing other acts and running his own Nothing Records label? While such a notion might strike fear and loathing into the hears of any true-blue Reznorite, those same fans know that such a scenario is far from impossible when a figure as unpredictable as Trent Reznor is concerned. They know full-well that he has threatened to derail his own career before, winning a battle with his original label, TVT Records, by threatening to fall on his own sword rather than risk what he perceived as artistic prostitution. Could such a situation occur again in 1998? We may all soon find out.

While details remain as rare as proverbial hen's teeth, there seems to be little doubt that a war of attrition has begun between Reznor and forces at his current record label. Reznor was ready to release a new album- one supposedly called "Dissonance"- as far back as last summer. But when a few label forces supposedly stepped in asking him ever-so-politely to see if he could find it in his heart to possibly "tweak this" and "refine that", Reznor promptly drew a line in the sand. Apparentlyhe viewed such corporate intrusion as nothing short of sacrilege, maneuvers designed solely to ruin his unique creative vision. So far neither party has been willing to cross the figurative line of Reznor's design, realizing that the consequences of such a move could turn out to be quite unsatisfying for all involved. While Reznor seems almost willing to sacrifice everything he's gained with NIN over the last half-decade in order to ensure his continued control, the folks at his label certainly are not.

"Cooler heads must prevail," our source revealed. "Otherwise nobody wins. I think that the level of intensity between Trent and the label has been blown a little out of proportion, mostly since they're willing to do just about anything he says. But he is used to having total autonomy when it comes to his music, and anything less than that is apparently unacceptable."

Reznor's all-controlling stance has apparently gotten him in hot water with other factions of his extended artistic familty in recent months. Even kindred soul Marilyn Manson- who is not only signed to the Nothing label, but has so effectively utilized Reznor as both mentor and producer throughout his rise to fame- has recently turned his back on Mr. R in the hopes of futher establishing his own musical identity. Other artists, including Filter, have continually complained about Reznor's controlling tactics and his "my way or the highway" attitude. While such statements may not come as a great surprise to those who understand the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Reznor mind, they still serve as a harsh warning of even greater potential problems that may eventually work to derail Reznor's high-minded ambition.

It seems safe to say that Reznor- and conversely Nine Inch Nails- stands at the critical crossroads in his career. Perhaps a somewhat more relaxed stance towards his music (and those who hel him make it) could insure his continued ascendency to the very pinnacle of rock and roll power. However, a continually harsh attitude towards those who work around him could eventually turn Reznor into something of a rock and roll pariah- an incredibly talented performer who in the eyes of many would be little more than an impossible-to-satisfy genius. Obviously, fitting in and playing by accepted music biz norms have never been high on Reznor's priority list. But if he doesn't change his tune- both figuratively and literally- in the months ahead he man find himself in the unexpected position of being on the outside looking in as we prepare for the impending Millennium.

"Trent may be playing with fire, but he seems to enjoy that," out source concluded. "He doesn't really care. He knows that somehow, someway he'll always be able to make his music and get it out to the public- he couldn't care less how far underground he may have to go to fit into anyone's preconceived notions. We all need to respect him for that."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index