Nine Inch Nails : Happiness Is Slavery
Part one of two
By Jo-Ann Greene for Musician Magazine on August 1, 1995
And the kids just lap it up! That seemed to be the gist of the article and much of the mainstream press's reaction to the sudden success of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails. From their anger filled debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, through the self loathing of Broken, and on to the disturbing self examination of The Downward Spiral, Trent has exposed his deepest psychic wounds and doubt for the world to dissect.
And dissect they have. But while the press had grappled with why, an army of fans simply punched their fists in the air and shout, "Yes." Most understand implicitly, although some, like the one who posted on the Net, "He is my messiah," have missed the point entirely.
To the mainstream media, Reznor's success remains virtually inexplicable. Why would the nation's youth be drawn to an artist whose harsh music reverberates with such dark, negative emotions?
But for post-boomers, Reznor articulates a generation's self-doubts, rage, frustration and confusion. A messiah he is definitely not, and his refusal or inability to offer solutions baffles the boomer press at the same time as preserving his place in the alternative elite.
For a generation bred on cynicism, those offering answers are viewed with suspicion. It's the questioners that receive adulation. And People magazine was unable even to formulate the question, turning into the pat solutions of yesteryear: let's psychoanalyse him. And much to their disbelief, the answer didn't lie there either.
"So, is this guy the product of a warped childhood or not? Surprisingly the answer is not."
Shock! Horror! Reznor not only had a normal childhood, but a pretty happy one to boot. His parents, both natives of the small Pennsylvania town of Mercer, were still in their teens when they married; a wedding prompted by Trent's conception. Michael Trent Reznor arrived on May 17, 1965; a sister, Tera, joined him a couple of years later. But like many teen marriages, his parent's relationship soured, and they divorced when Trent was five. He and his sister were sent to be raised by his maternal grandparents.
As he explained to Alternative Press, "It was just easier on my mother having my sister and me stay with my grandparents because they lived near each other. My grandparents are good people and good parents, but I feel like anybody does whose parents split up, kind of ripped off. I'm not going to make it out to be some big fucking kind of deal. Subconsciously, it may have some kind of effect, but it didn't seem to be that bad. You just realize you're not on Happy Days. It's the real world; you need to ignore what you are programmed by sitcoms to think your life should be. I don't really think about it and I don't put blame on anybody. My parents were young. I would have done the same thing, I'm sure."
And Reznor has one thing to be thankful for, unlike too many kids of divorce, he continued to have a close relationship with his father, Michael, a graphic artist.
"My dad and I are best friends," he continued. "He's pretty much responsible for the way I turned out. He would provide a little artistic inspiration here and there in the form of a guitar, stuff like that. My family has always been supportive of what I do."
It may not have been Happy Days, but it was happy. Reznor was obviously musical, and began studying piano at five, soon adding saxophone and tuba to his musical arsenal. In high school, he played with the school band, and although Reznor was always a bit shy and introspective, he seems to have been well liked. Some sources say date Reznor's friendship with live perennial Chris Vrenna from this time, although NIN manager John Malm believes the two met later in Cleveland.
During his school days, rumors abound, Reznor played in at least one local band, Option 30. Goldmine readers with information about this group are welcomed to write in.
Upon graduation, Reznor headed for the nearest big city, Cleveland, leaving behind the corn fields of Mercer. He attended college initially, studying computer engineering, and took a job at a local record store, Pi Corporation. Not long after his arrival in the city, he auditioned for a band called the Innocent, a group that would come back to haunt him years later.
We all have memories in our past that we'd prefer to remain buried, and these are inevitably the incidents that a parent brings up the first time they meet your new girl/boyfriend. In this scenario, Details magazine's Chris Heath plays the role of the sire you want to strangle, because the Innocent recorded an album, Livin' On The Streets, and Reznor's in the band photo on the cover.
"The mention of this record and photograph causes the most touchy and embarrassed reaction Trent will exhibit in my presence, " the article said.
Reznor's reaction? "Stupid. Dumb. A ridiculous 1983 sissy."
Jeez, Dad, thanks.
"Foreigner crap...dinosaur AOR bullshit rock," is how Reznor describes the Innocent, before claiming he didn't actually play on the album.
This writer has never actually seen it, but a Cleveland source said, "If the journalist had stopped staring at the photo and turned the album over, he could have read the credits. Trent Reznor-keyboards."
It can be added with authority, however, that the Innocent was better looking than Foreigner ever was. As for the music, that was described by the source as "Loverboyish, they were pretty good for that kind of music."
But it was obviously not Reznor's kind of music. The band went nowhere, and Reznor went elsewhere. The rest of the band-Rodney Sika, Alan Green, Al Brittan McClean and Kevin Valentine- either disappeared or never grew beyond playing in local bands.
Still, not many 19 year olds can make the claim that they have an album out, even if they were just bought in to play keyboard parts. While the rest of his generation was stuck in McJobs, Reznor was apparently jump-starting his career with McBands.
The Ohio/Pennsylvania corner during this era had a circuit of big warehouse clubs, which easily packed in 800 to 1000 kids; places like the Agora (Cleveland), Strippers, (in Canton), Peninsula (in Erie, Pennsylvania) and Ramones (in Arkon). At the time, the mostly young audience (the drinking age then was 19) preferred cover bands playing chart faves. And that's precisely what Reznor's next band, the Urge, did.
A member of one of the many bands which played the club circuit remembers seeing the Urge a few times. "They were good, sounding just like the record, whoever they were doing: Billy Idol, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Journey, Styx. That's who were really huge back then. Basically the closer you sounded to the artists, the better you were, and the more work you got. And the Urge got a lot of work. They had poofy hair and a little eyeliner-that was the look back then: sweat bands, bandannas, knee pads, and all that kind of stuff.
"Trent did some of the singing too, and he sang well; he didn't sound like he does now. I thought that when he sang, that he sounded better than the original!"
There's little artistic satisfaction in cover bands, but Reznor had yet to start composing. Regardless, cover bands played well, as one anonymous fellow cover-ite recalls. "Today an original band, even a really good one, will get 0. Back then, you'd get paid 0."
And keyboards, synthesizers, et. al., don't come cheap. Even split the initial four or five ways (the Urge would later reduce down to a trio with a drum machine, unusual itself for a cover band), Reznor would have seen substantial cash.
But eventually, the drinking age changed, and the warehouse clubs started closing down soon after. The result was that the whole scene turned from covers to originals. And where to turn for inspiration? Abroad, of course. At the time, America was seeing a third British invasion, as a wave of synth-pop bands floated across the Atlantic on a cloud of hairspray and flouncy ruffles. Bands like Depeche Mode, kings of the catchy tune and well-barbed hooks, Duran Duran, title holders of synthi-sophistication, and Human League, who'd change image more often than most of us change our sheets, all would have a massive impact on the American scene.
Sadly, synthi bands and the ensuing New Romantic movement get short shrift today, but it's true place in the industrial (r) evolution can't be denied. But first, let's get our definitions straight. Industrial music dates back to the mid 70s, and was comprised of actual industrial noise-sheet metal used as percussion, and the sounds of factory equipment at work. Espoused by bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubaten, SPK and early Die Krupps, industrial truly was music from the factory floors. Industrial, in those days, owed nothing to the rock scene, but the experimental side of music that really was alternative. And while the genre received quite a bit of attention in Europe, it remained mostly shrouded in obscurity here.
The flip side of the musical coin was synthi-pop, which blossomed in the post punk period. It's antecedents trace directly back to the early 70s and the ground breaking German bands like Kraftwerk. Early bands such as Depeche Mode were really just punk-pop crossover acts from the same school as the Buzzcocks. The difference was that Depeche used the ultimate punk instrument, the synthesizer. Even the epitome of punk, the Ramones, had to learn three chords. With a synthesizer, no talent was needed; you just worked out which buttons to push.
As synthi-pop exploded, hybridization inevitably occurred. Germany's Die Krupps is a case in point. Their first single, "Stahlwerksymphony", juxtaposed factory sounds with experimental keyboard melodies. And although they retained their metal on metal percussive edge, their later music married this to synthi-pop melodies.
By the mid 80s, Krupps grew out of synthi-pop, amalgamated the operatics of Queen with the Teutonic sturm und drang of Laibach. After a hiatus, Krupps returned with a new guitar-driven sound, which has increased with each new album.
In a nutshell, their career spanned the entire popular electronic styles of the decade. And they weren't the only ones. Depeche also briefly married industrial to synthi-pop on their classic single, "Master and Servant."
By that time, the synthi scene was already losing steam. In Europe, an early marriage between synthi-pop and Northern soul had pushed electronic-based music into the clubs, which was where bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran sprang from to begin with. That strand divorced from synthi and remarried to disco would cross the Atlantic, and return as house, techno and rave. In it's wake, early "true industrial" bands would be reborn with a new sound, bands such as Einsturzende Neubaten, Test Department, Nitzer Ebb. etc.
But in North America, it would eventually take a very different twist. Although Portion Control did it first, it would be Skinny Puppy who received the credit for igniting an entire new sub-genre of electronic music. It was harsh, it was dark, and for lack of a better turn, it was still called industrial.
As Die Krupps' Jurgen Engler explained, "If you were to ask me five years ago if KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails or Ministry were industrial, I would have told you no. You know why? Because the don't' have any connection with what industrial was about in the early days. It's an American form of industrial. Here in Europe, it was always experimental music, it wasn't rock music, which is all that is, and even we are, now."
But industrial it remains. And for the purposes of this article, industrial is loosely defined as music with a harsh electronic edge and/or metal-on-metal percussion.
Whether one came to the current state of industrial from the experimental side or the synthi-side is irrelevant, it's the merging of both that creates the spark for today's sound. Add a guitarist with a hard rock/metal background, and you cross into the sub-genres of Coldwave, Torture Tech, etc., with the likes of Ministry, KMFDM, Sister Machine Gun, et.al.
For the do-it-yourselfer, the more varied the musical background the better. Reznor had already paid his dues in the rock world, now he would gain experience in synthi-pop, starting with the Exotic Birds.
Johan, marketing director of the Agora and DJ of Inner Sanctum, Cleveland's award winning local show on WEND, described the Birds as "straight ahead, techno pop at it's finest. There was nobody better in town in terms of a techno-dance band."
The Exotic Birds was formed by three Cleveland Institute of Art percussion majors: Andy Kubiszewski, Tom Freer and Tim Adams. Eventually it expanded to a five piece, and they recorded their vinyl only EP, L'Oiseau, for the local Pleasureland label. There Reznor can be found on keyboards, programming and backing vocals. The band's manager, John Malm, took executive production credits. Today, Malm is Reznor's manager.
Reznor left the band soon after, a split that Malm attributes to the keyboardist wanting to pursue other musical directions, but other Cleveland sources put down to a falling out between Reznor and Kubiszweski.
Andy Kubiszweski has had an equally colorful career, touring with the likes of Crowded House and The The. According to a Cleveland insider, "Trent recommended Andy for The The, and that broke the ice, because it was a shame (what happened between them)." Kubiszweski was also bought in to drum on Prick's debut album, which was released on Reznor's own Nothing label. And most recently, he's joined Stabbing Westward.
It's all a far cry from the Exotic Birds, where, as Johan explains, "The word dance was in every other line. They even did a dance mix of 'Day After Day' by Badfinger." Although Reznor has shown a marked propensity for unexpected covers, one shouldn't jump to conclusions here. Exotic Birds was Kubiszweski's band, and Reznor didn't do any of the songwriting, so it's unlikely he'd picked the cover's either.
But since the one thing that Reznor did have was gear, when Hollywood came to Cleveland looking for a keyboardist, Reznor was an obvious choice. The movie Light Of Day, starring Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox. Filmed on location in Cleveland, a movie about a budding rock bands inevitably requires club scenes with other acts. So, as befits the big screen, a band was created, and thus Reznor notched the Problems on his musical belt.
Light Of Day was very much a case of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. And as NIN's videos themselves prove, Reznor's taste in film lies very much elsewhere. Joining Reznor in the Problems was Exotic Birds Frank Vale and Mark Addison. And with a now-noteworthy lack of foresight, Reznor's is the very last name listed in the movie's credits.
Not that the Problems were deserving much credit. Their apperance in the film is fleeting, their one song, a cover of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways," is lost beneath dialogue. The Problems were onscreen to be disparaged, dismissed by one character as "cut rate specials" and by another (Michael J. Fox) as "A Flock of Seagulls."
Still, only Hollywood would think it appropriate to have a synthi-band playing a Buddy Holly cover. For those readers who actually want to hear the song, you'll need to find the soundtrack album.
It was around this time that Reznor first met Martin Atkins. Today, Martin runs his own Invisible label, and is head of the notorious Pigface (see the previously published Goldmine Ministry article). The drummer's credits roll back to PIL, Killing Joke and his own project, Brian Brain.
Brian Brain toured often and considered Cleveland it's second home, thus Atkins became acquainted with many of the local musicians and scenesters. "We had used a horn section on some tracks," Atkins explained, "but we had no way to take a horn section around the country, so we called friends in to help, sometimes with disastrous results. The only place it came off was Cleveland with Tom Lash, Trent, and a friend of his."
"That's because we rehearsed," Tom Lash stated modestly. "The three of us played the record and learned the parts."
That, to this writer's knowledge, is the only time Reznor's played horn (trumpet, to be precise) live since his marching band days.
By now, Reznor had quit the Exotic Birds, which subsequently broke up, and moved on to another Cleveland hopeful, Slam Bam Boo. Johan described them as "Cleveland's answer to Duran Duran." Although Reznor's not listed as a member, only "an additional player," he does appear in the band photo on Boo's 1988 single, "White Lies/Cry Like A Baby."
Boo was Scott Hanson's band, and he'd already seen some success with Boo's debut single. According to a Cleveland scenester, "Trent joined the band, but because Scott didn't like to share the money, when they did their second single, Reznor was bumped down to an additional musician." Once again he provided the keyboards, programming and additional backing vocals.
Among the many people in Cleveland who saw these pre-NIN bands, not one with whom we spoke was willing to admit Reznor's later success. Regardless of the band involved, all replied with variations on the theme, "he was a good player, playing with other good players, in a good band. But I never expected..." With one exception: Kevin McMahon knew Reznor had something special.
McMahon had seen Reznor playing with the Exotic Birds, and although the band was not McMahon's type of music, he noticed the keyboardist. "He seemed to be a frontman, a focal point." Therefore, when McMahon had the opportunity, he asked Reznor to join his band, Lucky Pierre. Reznor agreed, reuniting him onstage with good friend and roommate Tom Lash.
Lucky Pierre had been around for a decade at this point, and centred around McMahon's quirky and uniquely structured songs. With equal emphasis on nuanced lyrics with multiple layered meanings, Lucky Pierre had more in common with glam-era Britain than the glam metal or synthi-pop which was so popular in the Cleveland scene.
McMahon criss-crossed the Atlantic, spending much of the year in Paris, then returning home to play a few shows, make some money and put out another single. But in 1988, now in San Francisco, McMahon set his sights higher, and began recording Lucky Pierre's EP, Communique. He was already in the studio when Tom Lash and Reznor came out to visit, so he asked them both to play on the record. It was the last time Reznor would play for Lucky Pierre, but not the end of his studio work with McMahon.
Eventually, McMahon folded up Lucky Pierre, and began to work on a new project, Prick. Not only did Reznor produce his early demos, he also produced, engineered and programmed four of the tracks on Prick's debut album. Although Prick initially signed to Interscope, when Reznor set up Nothing, Prick would move over to that label. Several Lucky Pierre songs would turn up on Prick's album ("Tough", "Need To Get To Know", "Other People" and "Communique" included).
There's one final band to mention, which, although it occurs chronologically after the formation of Nine Inch Nails, should be referred to here. Tom Lash went out to form his own project, Hot Tin Roof, with which Reznor also helped out on. Early on, Hot Tin Roof's "Warm Jets" was included on a local compilation, Killer Blow, released by Blue Bus Records, and passed out at the 1990 CMJ music seminar.
At the time, according to a Cleveland insider, Hot Tin Roof was still a studio project, and Lash bought in musicians to record. For the comp, Lash enlisted the help of guitarist Greg Zydyck and Reznor. By this time, NIN was starting it's long climb up the path of success, and is says much that Reznor was willing to come help out his former roommate.
And Lash wasn't the only one Reznor helped. He'd long ago left Pi Corporation to work as an engineer at Right Track Studios, now Midtown Recording. A lot of local bands passed through Midtown, and as a Cleveland source related, "Trent didn't volunteer to play, but if people would ask, then of course he would, as cordial as he is. And don't ask, because I won't tell you which bands; some of them were really embarrassing. He shouldn't suffer for being a nice guy."
Reznor might be surprised to know, considering how unsupportive he believed the Cleveland scene to be, just how highly the town speaks of him, on and off the record, anonymously or not. His earlier bands were praised by all that saw them, and in an occupation notorious for dissing, no one interviewed for this article had a negative word to say about him or his former bands.
One anonymous scenester summed it up best. "Regardless of what image you think Trent is, the one thing I admire about him most, he became ver, very famous and he kept his friends. It's amazing! He had the ability to hang out with the movers and shakers; at the same time he treats his friends well that he came up with."
Every scene has its share of in fighting and back biting, but all in all, Cleveland seems to have treated Reznor well. In the years there, he flitted across the musical spectrum, worked with many talented musicians, gained stage experience and competency with his equipment, and learned much about studio work. But there was one thing he'd yet to do. Reznor had never written his own music. His apprenticeship was now over, it was time to strike out on his own.
It was the summer of 1988, and the electo-scene had undergone a radical shift. Except for long established artists,synthi-bands had fallen out of fashion, and members of the electro-bands were turning to a harsher style. Ministry's Twitch was two years old, and their new album, The Land Of Rape And Honey, would hit the stores this year. Skinny Puppy had already released a string of influential albums.
But just how did this shift occur? Vancouverite Martin Myers, formerly with the very synthi Moev, now with his own industrial-goth band Waiting For God, explains why things changed. "I think people just got sick of playing the softer synthi stuff. I know I did! And, eventually, as you become better acquainted with your equipment, you start discovering the harsher sounds it contains, and begin using them."
Fellow Vancouverite Don Gordon underwent his own pendulum swing from opening for Duran Duran with Images In Vogue to Numb, his own aural terrorist industrial band. (He was joined in Vogue by Kevin Compton, aka Skinny Puppy's Cevin Key) He elaborated: "The first polyphonic samplers completely changed pop music for starters. For the first time whole textures, whole things, could exist that never could before. That was the beginning of sampling technology."
But they had severe limitations; there was no sensitivity so either a note was on or off. "You were just as likely to come up with a noise as you were something more musical in the traditional sense. All the misses start to have as much appeal as the musical sounds, and you start to incorporate more and more of them into what you do, and it becomes what it is."
Early experimental bands like Portion Control and Nocturnal Emissions were filled with these weird electronic "mistakes", and were to be very influential on the budding industrial scene. For experimentalists, the road to industrial noise was a natural evolution.
"In the early 80s, with the Prophet Fives, you more likely than not got bleeps and squawks out of them. With the mini-Moog you only heard a restricted number of sounds out of it, because it was all you could do. The DX7 came along and for the most part all these were a bitch to program, and al you got out of them was noise, because there was no particular logic to the way they worked.
"Around 1983-84, the first samplers came along, and they were pretty primitive, so it didn't sound like what you programmed. It might have been a piano you were sampling, but when it came back at you it didn't sound like one anymore. So instead of pretending it was going to be a piano, fuck it, make it more of what it isn't."
And that's what precisely happened. But it was the actual song composition that slotted a band into place in the industrial spectrum. Martin Myers explained: "Don and Cevin are good examples of how the music shifted over. When Cevin went to Puppy, he kept writing melodies, then added noise on top. Don does the exact opposite with Numb, he creates the noise first, then writes the melodies to layer within."
"Kevin had no musical background," Gordon elaborates. "He was a drummer, so he'd get a melody but he wouldn't know how to create a song structure. I had a musical background, but was so unhappy with it, I deliberately put obstacles in my way as to not to do that. I wasn't interested in writing songs, it was an intellectual exercise of finding the melodies within the noise. Kind of like Eno and his oblique strategy cards."
Add Ministry to the equation, and you complete the industrial spectrum of the day. Al Jourgensen's career began in the New Wave-esque Special Affect, before moving up to the synthi-height's of Ministry's debut album, With Sympathy. But as his own style started shifting with a move to the Wax Trax! label, Ministry began hardening its sound and experimenting with electronic effects. Eventually the band began adding in machine gun assaults, a style originally purveyed by KMFDM.
This German group had come the opposite direction, from experimental true industrial (their debut live show incorporated unemployed construction workers) crossed with battalions of guitars. For Angst, KMFDM composed guitar riffs first then created the songs around them. Ministry began their career the opposite way, writing songs then adding noise. Now they too begin with the noise, then write songs around it.
For industrial fans, that's what makes the genre so seductive, working out just how the music was constructed, and where the sounds came from. And that is dependant on the artists' background and influences.
As Don Gordon noted, "We all assimilate influences in a different way, I obviously have the pretentious art school background. But people buy songs."
All of which help's explain NIN's success. Most of the creators of pre-NIN industrial bands either came directly from experimental backgrounds (a la KMFDM) or from synthi-scenes (Numb, Ministry, Puppy). Whether it was due to lack of musical training (Puppy) or deliberate attempts to create something different (Ministry, Numb), the synthi-kids were no longer writing music with strong melodies and standard song structures.
Reznor was about to change all that. And because of his own background, he would add a new element to the industrial genre, rock guitar (as compared to the metal riffs utilized by many bands today). Thus, he'd combine the catchy melodies of his synthi past, with his earlier love of rock (as a child he was a huge Kiss fan; later he was hooked on Supertramp). It would change the industrial genre permanently.
Reznor started composing, and by the summer of 1988, he'd demoed three songs at Right Track, which John Malm started shopping around for a release as a 12 inch single. Ten small, mostly European, indie labels were approached, all 10 offered contracts. Reznor and Malm reconsidered: Maybe NIN could sign to a bigger independent.
Nettwerk expressed serious interest; the only problem was, it had a slight cash flow problem having spent all its liquid assets on Front 242. If Reznor would hang on six months... In the meantime, the label offered him a slot opening for Skinny Puppy. Thing was, NIN not only didn't have a live set, it didn't even exist yet as a band. Reznor worked on more songs, and bought in local musicians for his live line up. The problem was, the way the songs were arranged in the studio just didn't work live. And that quickly became apparent on the Puppy tour. Nine Inch Nails were abysmal, and later Reznor would openly admit to every journalist that asked, "We sucked." Puppy gave them a chance, but understandably, after 10 shows, they asked NIN to leave.
But two positive things came of it. First, it taught Reznor an important lesson in rethinking his songwriting for live shows, and second, someone from TVT saw one of the gigs and was mightily impressed. Well, the latter seemed a good thing at the time, and Reznor signed on TVT's dotted line.
Reznor returned to Right Track and continued work on his demos. There are at least a couple of bootlegs on the market featuring these early song versions. Purest Feeling (Hawk 026, later re-released by Eagle 002) contains five early demos of Pretty Hate Machine tracks, and a couple of still-unreleased songs.
The demos capture Reznor perfectly balanced between his past and future. The songs are instantly recognisable for the later official release, the difference remains distinctly down to arrangement and effects. The melodies are catchy, and there is an edge to the material, but Reznor's still occasionally resorting to synthi lines to carry the tunes, particularly "Kinda I Want To." There's still a synthi feel to the finished version, but the later production's complex and driving percussion harshen the song's aura.
On "That's What I Get", Reznor uses metal-on-metal percussion, and his vocal delivery is frayed with anger and frustration, but it's the later addition of dark, atmospheric keyboard passages that provides the cast shadows. Reznor knew he wanted the song to be harder, he just didn't yet have the experience to do it himself. And that's what production is all about, which Reznor the engineer well knew.
By rights, TVT head Steve Gottlieb should have known that too. But he was happy with the demos just as they were; visions of radio play and MTV rotation pranced through his head. Danceable-but with an edge-pop, but not wimpy. Nine Inch Nails could be huge. It was exactly what Gottlieb wanted, but not Reznor.
In fact, according to Reznor, Gottlieb had never even heard of the producers he wanted to use: Adrian Sherwood, who'd worked with Depeche Mode, Ministry's Twitch, Cabaret Voltaire, and runs his own experimental dub label, On-U Sound; Keith LeBlanc, who produced many of the On-U bands including Tackhead; Flood, who'd also worked with Depeche, as well as Erasure and Nitzer Ebb; and yet another former Depeche ally, John Fryer, who'd engineered their earlier recordings before going on to produce Love And Rockets, Wire and the Cocteau Twins. They would all play a role in NIN's early recordings.
Sherwood was given just one song, "Down In It", destined for 12-inch single. After LeBlanc had done some pre-production work, the tape was sent to Sherwood in London.
Although Sherwood present the song with his signature heavy dub sound, it was a straightforward mix. That version would appear on Pretty Hate Machine, on the single it was subtitled "Skin." The remix "Shred", just spun out the concept, while "Singe" received Sherwood's full experimental, dub treatment.
With the single completed, Reznor moved on to the preproduction phase of Machine. Although Reznor wanted Flood to produce the entire album, that wasn't possible, due to a previous commitment to Depeche. Flood would only have time for two tracks, "Head Like A Hole" and "Terrible Lie". John Fryer would finish off the rest. However, Reznor was unhappy with some of his mixing, and recalled Keith LeBlanc.
With the recording done, now came the real work, taking all the material from four different producers and editing it into a cohesive whole. Reznor and Chris Vrenna went to work, listening, editing, cutting, splicing and sequencing. Upon completion, Reznor was justifiably proud of his efforts.
Gottlieb, in contrast, was horrified, as Reznor related to Industrial Nation. "When he finally heard it, he hated it. After two weeks of silence, he called me up and says, 'I think your record is an abortion. I think you'll be lucky if you sell 20,000 copies of it. You ruined it by making sounds not friendly to the radio. These are good songs, but you've ruined them.'
"Oh, to hear that at a stage when I didn't know what I had created... I was too close to it. At that point, I felt like I had fucked up. I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and I thought, well, I made this record and I like it. Sorry he didn't like it,but fuck him, that's the record."
Gottlieb's reaction was ominous, and whatever alarm bells were now sounding in Reznor's head, they would soon turn into a deafening clang.
And it must have been hurtful, because Reznor was right. After hearing songs over and over during the recording process, few musicians can distance themselves from the final product. But with Machine it was even more difficult. Reznor had decided to compose his own music, not just because he was fed up playing in other people's bands, but because he had emotional issues he was trying to work out.
In the end, he turned to his journals, and those became the basis of the song's lyrics. Machine was intensely personal, and reflected Reznor's own questioning and inner negativity. As he explained to Industrial Nation, "The most bizarre thing is how intimate that record was when I made it. I was so embarrassed when someone would hear it. It was my journal and then to think that a million people bought that thing. It's giving yourself away and that's a creepy feeling."
When the album hit the street, it made no immediate impact. But in the industrial community, it certainly received attention for Reznor was breaking an unwritten rule of the genre. He wrote in the firs person, which provided an extra wallop of emotional power. In a genre renowed for it's bleak outlook of the world and its future, lyrics spoke only of each other. It was a revelation, and like all taboo breakers caused a flurry of supporters and detractors.
Elsewhere, as Gottlieb predicted, the album received little airplay and was ignored by MTV. Only the clubs showed any interest. If NIN was going to get themselves know the only avenue left was touring.. or getting themselves on tabloid TV.
In a scene worthy of Spinal Tap, during the filming of the "Down In It" video, a camera, tied to a helium balloon for overhead shots, came loose from it's mooring and floated off into the blue yonder. It eventually landed in a field, and was turned in to the local police by a farmer. To the men in blue, the camera contained footage of what appeared to be a body. A murder investigation was immediately opened. It's hard to say whose faces were the reddest when the truth became not only known, but divulged to the entire nation on Hard Copy.
All publicity is good publicity, the old adage goes, but that's no longer true. In today's salacious world, this kind of press would be the start of Reznor being built into an icon quite at odds with his true self. (Reznor chose Chicago's H-Gun company to make the video; they'd previously worked with the Revolting Cocks and Ministry) But TV notoriety aside, he'd still have to prove himself onstage.
The aftermath of the Skinny Puppy tour left Reznor re-jigging the line up. Unhappy with the Cleveland scene, he claimed that he even considered moving to London and putting together a band there. He went as far as to run an ad for musicians in Melody Maker, an English national music weekly, but the 100 or so replies received changed his mind. Most were obviously looking for NIN as an out from the misery of British life and the English music scene.
So, Reznor took to the road at the end of January with Jesus and Mary Chain, accompanied by pal Chris Vrenna on drums, ex-Exotic Bird guitarist Richard Patrick (currently with Filter) and new keyboardist David Hames. NIN would spend the next year-and-a-half touring.
The Mary Chain tour ended in March, and although an improvement over the Puppy fiasco, it was still evident that NIN was having difficulty getting their message across live. This was even more noticeable on their next tour, with Peter Murphy, a mismatch by any standards.
Although Murphy was now long a solo artist, his fan base remained loyal, and dates back to his days with the seminal band Bauhaus. They were an arty, experimental group, who inadvertently launched the Gothic movement with their debut single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead". And much of Murphy's audience continues to be comprised of these wraithlike fans, to whom NIN must have seemed a cacophony of chaos.
The tour began on March 16 in Boulder, Colorado, and ended four weeks later on April 14 in Washington DC. For Nine Inch Nails that month must have felt like a millennium.
It was a frustrating experience, as Reznor explained to Alternative Press. "Our show just got much more anger-oriented, or just fucking frustration-oriented, rather that, 'We really want to do a fine job for everybody out there.' Fuck you! Like our music, or we're going to fucking spill beer on you and insult you. When we do, they love you more, and then that makes you have less respect for them. It just fuels itself to where you just turn into something else. It's a weird thing
"It wasn't hard to be hard, it was just hard, because it felt better being that way. It went from 'Let's play these songs and try to be sincere,' to explosions and screaming out. We won over the people we wanted to win over, but some of the vampire crowd were not gonna ever go for anything except their god, Mister Cheekbones..."
Transcribed by Keith Duemling