Puzzling Times of Trent Reznor

By Barry Connelly for Hit Parader on June 1, 1998

Trent Reznor knows all the answers... it's the questions that seem to give him the most problems. You see, in his head Nine Inch Nails' charismatic leader has it all figured out- he knows exactly what he wants to do with each note he writes and every word he sings. He possesses a three-dimensional imagination chock full of trend-setting musical concepts and precedent-shattering video notions. But it's the questions that others always seem to have regarding Reznor's mysterious and highly secretive creative process that always appear to throw this already-legenday rock and roll master into a state of total confusion.

Certainly, Reznor has learned to cope with such outside instrusions quite well during his decade of musical dominance. Yet it is those questions (What is he really trying to say in a perticular song? what is the significance of that video image? And when will he ever finsih work on NIN's next disc?), that have added immeasurably to the Nails' mystique over the last few years- especially when Mr. R does little or nothing to answer them.

No matter what Reznor does, no matter what he says, it always appears sd if everything that surrounds NIN's musical production is cloacked in so much mystery and intrigue. It forces those who work at Reznor's record label, those who share his marketing strageties, and even members of his own band to often openly wonder what it is exactly that's inspiring their multi-talented musical messiah at any given moment. It's apparently just not Reznor's style to let even his closet confidants in on his little trade "secrets". Like a four-star chef protecting his award-winning recipes, or an all-star quarterback guarding his teams' playbook, Reznor seems intent on keeping his rock and roll word his own personal domain as best he can- not and easy thing to do when millions clamor for even the slightest bit of insight into your music, and read extra meaning into you every utterance.

"Music has such an interesting impact on people," Reznor said. "Sometimes a band like Kiss can come along and sum up a lot of what people are feeling in a relatively simple, straight-forward manner. They did for me when I was young. But then, sometimes a band strives for something else, and as soon as you leave the mundane behind, people try too hard to figure out what you're trying to do."

Today, with the imminent arrival of NIN's eagerly-anticipated and oft-delayed new album the clamor surrounding Reznor's activities has only increased. The Nails' rumor mil is once again abuzz with talk concerning a variety of topics ranging from Reznor's love life to his supposedly strained relationship with the powers-on-high at his record label. Few, if anyone, is stepping forward to clear up such matters, especially not The Man himself. Whether it's simply a matter of Reznor enjoying the attitude of chaos his off-stage actions occasionally create, or if it's merely a situation where he couldn't give a rat's ass about what anyone thinks about whome he may be dating, his silence has been deafening to those who live and breathe NIN.

As the months pass since the expected "due date" of the new album last yer, stories began heating up on rock hotlines, on the internet an in cyberspace. Talk indicated that Reznor's first batch of tunes for ambitious, two-disc set had left a number of label executives cold, not believing there was enough "hit potential" in the heavy, dance-beat grooves featured on many of album's songs. When confronted, the label quickly and predictiably dismissesd such a notion, stating that they've never had any conflict with Reznor. They also quickly add that since his Nothing label is relatively self-controlled (though still a totally-owned subsidiary of the major label that he may-or may not- currently be in conflict), they'd have a hard time stopping NIN of they decided to put a dish featuring nothing but Bavarian folk dances. (Now there's an idea for Reznor to consider!)

"We always look forward to releasing new Nine Inch Nails material," a label spokesperson said with typical care. "Any stories you've heard of conflict are certainly news to me. I don't believe that anyone would want to hinder Trent Reznor's creativity in any way. We've had an excellent working relationship with him for the last seven years, and together we helped turn NIN's last album, The Downward Spiral, into an international hit that sold millions of copies. Why would we ever even think about jeopardizing such a successful relationship?"

Try or not, this certainly wouldn't be the first time Reznor ran afoul of record label personnel. It's part of Reznor lore how the then-young-and-struggling artist threatened to "retire" from the music business if his then-label didn't change virtually everything about the way they promoted such early efforts as Pretty Hate Machine and Broken. Eventually, after some bitter legal histrionics, Reznor was granted his release from that label and went on to record the historic Downward Spiral in 1994. Since then, aside from a few contributions to movies soundtracks (most notably David Lynch's controversial 1997 flick Lost Highway) and a couple of production credits, including Marilyn Manson and David Bowie, Reznor has been strangely silent.

Now Nine Inch Nails' incredibly dedicated fan base waits impatiently to see and hear what The Master's next move will be. Already word has filters out that the music contained on NIN's '98 disc is far different than anything they've presented before, trading in the bleak darkness and characterized so much of Spiral for a slightly more accessible, though still highly experimental approach. Those in-the-know indicate that Reznor has become fascinated with the world of electronica dance music, and that while much of the band's new music is still heavy and metallic, there are countless new musical and lyrical elements filtering through each song. How the world (let alone NIN's record label) responds to such an avant-garde stance still remains to be seen. But odds are that by year's end, Reznor will once again by be gardening countless industry awards... and facing a new-ending barrage of new questions which he will manage to defyly sidestep with the elan of a ballet dancer.

"Listen to the music... enjoy the music," he said. 'I don't enjoy getting into a lot of other stuff. What's the point?"

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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