Nine Inch Nails - Biography
Nine Inch Nails, which is more of a pseudonym for Trent Reznor than an actual band, did more to bring industrial music to a mass audience than any other band. Reznor's charismatic persona, that of a man who comes off as dark, disturbed, but altogether approachable, even made him a kind of sex symbol, and not just for misunderstood young girls who wore fishnet stockings. “Closer,” one of the most unlikely hits to ever be blasted from the car stereo of every high school senior in 1994, was the moment of commercial transcendence for Nails, as Reznor had not only written a quintessential industrial anthem, but a sex anthem, thanks to the line, “I wanna fuck you like an animal.” That controversial but undeniably catchy number was just one piece of the industrial masterwork that was The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails' second full-length, and one that wouldn't be followed for five years. Once the writer's block had subsided, Reznor released The Fragile in 1999. The double-LP was a few years too late, as music buyers outside of NIN devotees were spending their money elsewhere. It would take another six years for a fourth proper album, 2005's well-received With Teeth. Since then, Reznor has been more prolific than ever, releasing a fifth full-length two years later, followed by two consecutive albums of new material in 2008 alone, both of which were available first as digital downloads.
Trent is actually the middle name of Michael Reznor, who was named after his father and dropped his first name so as to not be confused with him. He was born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, on May 17th, 1965, and at the age of 5, when his parents divorced, he was taken in by his maternal grandmother and raised by her. 5 was also the age he began learning the piano. As he grew up, he started studying classical music. In his adolescence, he played the tuba and tenor sax in his school band, and also acted in musicals. When high school ended, Reznor attended Allegheny College, where he spent a year taking computer courses and continuing his music studies before dropping out. Along with high school friend Chris Vrenna, he moved to Cleveland with the idea that he'd devote himself to music entirely. Even the part-time jobs he had to get in order to survive were musically involved; he worked at a store that sold keyboards, and as a janitor at Right Track, a Cleveland recording studio. He was developing a fondness for new wave and music that couldn't be found on mainstream radio. At age 19, he auditioned for a rock band called the Innocent, and became their keyboardist. He played on one album, Livin' in the Street, but quit three months after he joined. By 1986, he had become a member of Exotic Birds, a band that scored a role in the Michael J. Fox movie, Light of Day, as a fictional band called The Problems playing in a bar.
By now, Reznor had become a studio engineer at Right Track, and got permission to use the studio to work on his own material during his off-hours. Under the name Nine Inch Nails, Reznor was meticulously putting together an album's worth of material in the vein of bands he enjoyed like Ministry and Skinny Puppy. He was playing all the instruments himself, except for drums, for which he used a synthesizer. He imagined he'd release a 12” single on some little-known European imprint, but when he sent his tapes to about ten American labels, almost every one of them responded enthusiastically. Various deals were being sent Treznor's way, and he eventually settled on TVT Records, a label that was really only known for releasing compilations of television show theme songs at that point. TVT put out Pretty Hate Machine in 1989. The album was little-heard by audiences upon its release, but its word of mouth buzz kept it on the charts for over two years, even though it halted at 75. Reznor got a band together and went on tour with Skinny Puppy to promote it. Although he was fond of Skinny Puppy, he felt that playing his music to a crowd of their fans would be an act of preaching to the choir. In an experiment to see if he could convert fans of alternative music to his brand of industrial rock, he started opening for bands like Jesus & Mary Chain and Peter Murphy. His band consisted of his friend Vrenna on drums as well as Richard Patrick on guitar and a slew of different keyboardists.
His fan base broadened considerably, as three songs off Pretty Hate Machine - “Head Like a Hole,” “Sin,” and “Down in it” - ranked very well on, of all places, the hot dance music/club play charts.“Down in it” and “Head Like a Hole” also gained attention from MTV and soon placed in the modern rock charts as well. Reznor finally found a keyboardist he liked in James Wooley, and the group played the first-ever Lollapalooza tour, set up by Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, a band of whom Reznor was a huge fan. NIN's debut album continued to be discovered by new fans, and would eventually become one of the first indie rock albums to go platinum.
To see to it that Reznor would follow Pretty Hate Machine with something as monetarily beneficial for TVT, the label attempted to oversee the new recording sessions and be as involved in the album as possible. This upset Reznor, who tried to break his contract with TVT, leading to a battle in court. Unable to record new material, he started collaborating with other artists. He guested on Pigface's “Suck,” a song he co-wrote for the band's debut, Gub. He also appeared on a cover of Black Sabbath's “Supernaut” with 1000 Homo DJ's, a project led by Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen. TVT ordered Jourgensen to remove Reznor's vocal track from the song, and the artist obliged, but in actuality, he'd only distorted Reznor's voice. Reznor soon signed with Interscope, a label that helped him start his own Nothing Records. He released two works on the label in 1992, the Broken EP, and Fixed, an album of remixes. Broken was a much more aggressive and heavy outing than his debut album. The single “Hate,” was hugely popular with fans and won a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance.
Reznor moved to LA for the recording of his second full-length, which wouldn't see the light of day until 4½ years after Pretty Hate Machine. He moved into the mansion where actress Sharon Tate was murdered by cronies of Charles Manson, and set up a studio. When he'd finished recording his album and moved out, he took the door of the house with him, the one on which Tate's murderers used the actresses blood to scrawl the words, “Le Pig.” The album he made there turned out to be The Downward Spiral, an ambitious, sprawling album that debuted at number two on the charts and later went multi-platinum. “Closer,” with its innovative but disturbing music video and its perverse, famous, four-times repeated proclamation of primal desire, was one of Nine Inch Nails' biggest hits. Reznor had somehow become a kind of unlikely sex symbol, and was even drawing comparisons to Jim Morrison.
“Hurt” was the album's next single, and although nothing about this incredibly depressing song rocked , it reached number 8 in the modern rock charts.
Richard Patrick had already left the band to form his band, Filter, so the band as it now stood was comprised of Vrenna, Wooley, guitarist Robin Finck and bassist Danny Lohner. Before taking to the stage as part of Woodstock's 25th anniversary, the band famously covered themselves in mud. After the success of The Downward Spiral , Reznor took some time to collaborate and do soundtrack work. He was in charge of the content for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers soundtrack later in 1994. He sang on “Past the Mission” on Tori Amos' second album, Under the Pink. And, in 1995, he toured with David Bowie, bringing along his new keyboardist, Charlie Clouser. Nine Inch Nails were so popular at that point that Further Down the Spiral, a collection of album remixes, actually reached the top 20. Reznor used the money he made from these releases to build a studio in New Orleans building that was once a funeral home.
Reznor signed Marilyn Manson to Nothing Records and produced his album, Antichrist Superstar for a 1996 release. The relationship between Reznor and Manson soon soured, as did Reznor's friendship with longtime friend and bandmate, Vrenna, who left the band and was replaced by Jerome Dillon. Things got worse for Reznor, as the grandmother who raised him passed away. He started using drugs more heavily, and was drinking in excess. He got back to work, producing the soundtrack to David Lynch's Lost Highway, and pitching in the song “The Perfect Drug.” Other than that song, Reznor was having trouble coming up with material, and was experiencing a severe case of writer's block.
He finally returned in 1999 with The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope), an ambitious double-LP that sky-rocketed to the top of the charts right away, before quickly tumbling down in sales. “We're in this Together” and “Into the Void” were popular singles, but Nine Inch Nails simply couldn't achieve the same level of popularity as they had in the mid-90's. This was the case for pretty much every alternative band that had experienced success at the beginning of that decade. A remix album, Things Falling Apart (Nothing/Interscope), appeared later that year, and this time, the remix album did not chart.
After his long world tour, he put out a live disc called And All that Could Have Been in early 2002 on Nothing. Again, Reznor was taking a long break between studio albums. His first album in the new millennium was 2005's With Teeth (I Nothing) which reached the top of the charts, scoring three number one singles - “Everyday is Exactly the Same,” “The Hand That Feeds,” and “Only.” Reznor spent 2006 on the road with such openers as Saul Williams, Peaches, Bauhaus and TV On the Radio. In April of 2006, he released the Every Day is Exactly the Same EP before hitting the road again. An inspired viral marketing campaign took place during the tour. Strategically-placed USB key chains were found in the restrooms during the shows and were discovered to contain new songs by NIN as well as a noisy audio file that drew an audio wave in the shape of a phone number when run through a spectrum analyzer. The phone numbers led to answering machines spouting off conspiracy theories and, predictably, fansites started popping up to theorize about what all of this could possibly mean. The revelation came that it was all part of the concept of the new Nine Inch Nails album, Year Zero (Universal Japan), which came out it in April of 2007.
Reznor worked on the new Saul Williams album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, which became available as a digital download. He then left Interscope because of his distaste with the way the label marketed music, especially their cost for the Australian release of his new album. He released the instrumental Ghosts I-IV on his website by himself. By March 2008, it was available in both digital and CD format on his new label, Null Corporation. Later that year, Reznor released The Slip as a completely free digital download, and in May, it too was put out through Null Corporation, and proved to be one of Reznor's most well-reviewed collections of new songs since The Downward Spiral, second only to Year Zero.