Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch Series,”where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Trent Reznor, Singer, songwriter, producer, instrumentalist

Founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor in Cleveland, Ohio, Nine Inch Nails (NIN) is commonly referred to as an industrial rock act though NIN defies genre convention, drawing musical inspiration from hardcore industrial bands like Skinny Puppy and Throbbing Gristle, while incorporating solo piano ballads, synthpop variations and even elements of drum & bass into their sound. Trent Reznor is the only official member of the project although backing musicians are employed for live performances.

As a studio engineer and fresh out of the bands The Innocent and Exotic Birds, Reznor started his own project borrowing John Malm Jr. from Exotic Birds as his informal manager. At the time, Reznor worked as a janitor and assistant for Right Track Studios. There he recorded his first demos. Unable to find like-minded individuals that suited his artistic needs, Reznor played all the instruments himself except for the drums and went on to support Skinny Puppy at several concerts.

Reznor’s aspirations for NIN included a 12-inch single on a small European label, but he signed with TVT records and recorded nine tracks in November 1988. These tracks were later included in NIN’s first full length album release in 1989. There was much speculation about the project’s name, perhaps alluding to the nine-inch nails used for the crucifixion of Jesus or, it was speculated, meant to allude to Freddy Kreuger’s nails from the horror franchise Nightmare on Elm Street. Reznor himself disputed any literal meaning claiming he chose the title because it abbreviated well and made a good logo.

In 1989, Reznor collaborated with Adrian Sherwood and Mark “Flood” Ellis on the production of the album Pretty Hate Machine, including the now classic NIN singles “Head Like A Hole” and “Down In It.” This album was one of the first independently released albums to ever achieve platinum status. The original music video for “Down In It” sparked controversy when the helium weather balloon used to film the last scene, where Reznor lies seemingly dead and covered in corn starch while other band members walk off screen in weird costumes, escaped its mooring and ended up in a farmer’s field. The farmer took the camera to the FBI suspecting marijuana surveillance footage. The FBI thought the footage was related to gang violence or possibly even a snuff film.

In 1990, NIN hit the road for The Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series, opening for Peter Murphy and The Jesus and Mary Chain. This tour developed into a world tour that continued through the Lollapolooza tour in 1991. Reznor’s onstage antics became increasingly aggressive resulting in smashed equipment and ecstatic fans.

After disillusion with the TVT record label and trying to record music under various pseudonyms to get around the label’s insistence that NIN assume a more synthpop sound for their follow-up album, Reznor and Mark Ellis started recording in secret. TVT eventually traded NIN over to Interscope, which encouraged Reznor to make the music he wanted to and also helped him set-up his own label, Nothing. In 1992, Reznor released Broken, Nothing’s first album, an EP featuring six songs and two bonus tracks. Heavier and harder than the band’s previous album, two of the tracks off Broken, “Wish” and “Happiness in Slavery” won NIN two Grammy awards for Best Metal Performance, the first two of twelve subsequent Grammy nominations.

Having moved into an LA residence famous for being the site of the Tate Murders (perpetrated by cult leader, Charles Manson) controversy continued to dog Reznor when the music video for “Happiness in Slavery” was universally banned. The footage featured Bob Flanagan naked on a machine which pleasured, tortured and eventually killed him. Continuing along these graphic lines, Reznor’s videos for “Pinion” and “Help Me I’m In Hell” featured a toilet flushing into the mouth of a person in bondage and a young man kidnapped, tortured and killed respectively. Although these videos were never officially released, they were circulated amongst covert tape trading groups at the time.

Living and recording at his LA home dubbed Le Pig, Reznor chose to record rather than tour and began work on The Downward Spiral released in 1994. Influenced by Bowie and Pink Floyd, The Downward Spiralfeatures a range of moods as the music seems to follow the psychological development of a central character. The most successful NIN’s album to date, the album’s success was anchored by the singles “Closer,” “Hurt” (nominated for a Grammy and later covered by Johnny Cash), “March of the Pigs” and “Piggy.” The video for “Closer” directed by Mark Romanek received heavy rotation on MTV2 after extensive editing, the original considered too graphic once again for most watchers. The video is an industrial take on the lab of a 19th century mad scientist complete with animal cruelty, religious symbols including a monkey suffering crucifixion, graphic sexual images and a variety of S&M/bondage paraphernalia. Reznor himself dons an S&M mask while swinging in shackles, which only added to the controversial content.

Reznor embarked on the Self Destruct Tour, culminating in a mud-drenched Woodstock ’94 performance. The Downward Spiral album and tour garnered NIN both critical acclaim and a horde of new fans, catapulting the relatively unknown industrial act onto the mainstream charts with significant, but censored, radio play. After the tour, Reznor took a break from NIN, working on several soundtrack projects. Reznor produced the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers directed by Oliver Stone, developed the music and sound effects for the first person shooter video game Quake and produced the soundtrack for David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The soundtrack for Lost Highway spawned the single release of “The Perfect Drug.” The video, again directed by Romanek, features a father mourning his dead son in a Gothic mansion while losing himself to absinthe addiction, perhaps prophetic of Reznor’s later battles with alcoholism and drug addiction.

In 2005, NIN released their long overdue fourth full-length album, With Teeth, written in the shadow of Reznor’s battle with alcoholism and substance abuse. Singles include “The Hand That Feeds” and “Every Day is Exactly The Same” but the album was generally slammed by critics as being unoriginal and lacking in signature Reznor creativity.

NIN followed up the mediocre success of With Teethwith their 2007 offering, Year Zero, a concept album critical of the US government’s approach to politics. The album’s story is set in 2022, in an America ravaged by terrorism now operating under a Christian theocracy while distributing a drug designed to make the masses apathetic. Rebel movements from 2022 travel back in time to warn 2007 Americans of the coming apocalypse. This album met with critical acclaim but failed to perform in the charts. Although Reznor planned to create a movie adaptation of the album, that idea has since been superseded by HBO and BBC interest in developing a miniseries for TV.

In 2008, Reznor released two albums – Ghosts I-IVand The Slip – under creative commons license, making them available for free download on NIN’s official website. The albums were surprisingly popular, receiving over 5 million downloads. Since 2009, Reznor has officially put NIN on indefinite hiatus while working on side projects including How to Destroy Angels with his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and Atticus Ross. Reznor and Ross worked together on the soundtrack for the film The Social Network, winning a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Score 2010. Reznor and Ross again collaborated on the score for the 2011 film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Trent Reznor appeared fleetingly in the 1987 Michael J. Fox movie Light Of Day, where he’s part of a Synth-Pop band who aren’t much good.

Trent Reznor married Mariqueen Maandig in October 2009. They have two sons, Lazarus Echo (born October 10, 2010) and Balthazar, (born December 31, 2011). Reznor settled on his boys’ names ahead of their births, but admitted to Scotland’s The Daily Record that he would have had a battle on his hands with his in-laws if he’d had a daughter. “With those names, the boys are going to have to learn how to fight,” he laughed. “The in-laws are fine with it. The children were going to be stuck with those names regardless. But if there was a female, we were going to have a punch-up for sure.”

In 2009, before privacy was a major concern to most users, Trent Reznor released a Nine Inch Nails iPhone app with an innovative feature: Nearby, which let fans find other fans using the app in their area. The app didn’t work very well and never caught on.

Stabbing Westward frontman Christopher Hall credits Nine Inch Nails for getting his band and other industrial acts signed to major labels. “They had amazing songs that were super edgy to be on the radio and made everyone feel edgy and dirty,” “When that happened, every record label in America – and this is what they always do, they’re reactive as opposed to being proactive – they looked around and said, ‘Where can we get one of them?'”

Filter frontman Richard Patrick was a touring guitarist for Nine Inch Nails from 1989-1993. His only recorded contribution is a guitar drone that can be heard at the end of “Sanctified.”

Speaking on the podcast Stop! Drop & Talk, Patrick cited comments from Trent Reznor as the motivating factor for him quitting Nine Inch Nails.

“The final straw was Trent goes, ‘Hey, listen, Rich, I know you need some extra cash. Listen. Down at the end of Cielo Drive, there’s a little pizzeria, and they need drivers. So maybe you can go make some extra cash over there,'” Patrick explained. “And I’m, like, ‘Wow!'”

At that point Patrick had already written Filter’s’s debut single “Hey Man Nice Shot” and had interest from several labels.

Nine Inch Nails entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. At the ceremony (virtual, due to coronavirus), the Rock Hall made it clear that Reznor was the group, but inducted six other members as well:

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste won the Oscar for best score for the jazz-infused Pixar feature Soul, which featured the contrast of New York’s jazz scene with original compositions by Batiste, and the ethereal Great Before, scored by Reznor and Ross.

Chris Vrenna
Danny Lohner
Robin Finck
Atticus Ross
Alessandro Cortini
Ilan Rubin

Ross, Cortini, and Rubin didn’t make any contributions to NIN in the ’90s.

The Guide to Getting into Nine Inch Nails

Such a limiting term and framework as ‘industrial’ undermines and underestimates the range and quality of NIN’s music. We give you five entry points to the band as its catalogue approaches its 30th anniversary next year.

Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage(Lollapalooza 1991)

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.

Whether or not Nine Inch Nails qualifies as an industrial band remains one of the dumbest debates ever undertaken in music. Reviled by anachronistic purists still grousing decades later over how the genre got away from its throbbing, gristly origins, Trent Reznor did his time in the Chicago trenches. With credits on records by Pigface and Revolting Cocks, there should be no doubt of his roots. And yet, as the mastermind behind the most successful musical act to ever be associated with industrial, he still gets selectively snubbed by latter-day scenesters who probably wouldn’t have heard of the EBM artists they purport to listen to without that initial Reznor exposure.

Who needs ‘em? With two Billboard 200 chart-topping albums and three RIAA multi-platinum certifications for full-lengths, Nine Inch Nails (frequently abbreviated to NIN by fans) clearly captured a broader and more appreciative audience. While Reznor has collaborated over the years with legends like Adrian Belew, Dr. Dre, and Adrian Sherwood, the project has largely served his singular vision, one that is both darkly intimate and fundamentally apocalyptic. With a live band in tow, NIN persists as a powerhouse, letting his often maximalist works fill enormous spaces that typically host pop stars and sports teams.

Such a limiting term and framework as industrial undermines and underestimates the range and quality of Reznor’s music. While he’ll never get the credit that, say, Radiohead received for subverting genre while still entertaining the masses, there’s nonetheless a breadth to the band’s catalog as it approaches the thirty year anniversary mark next year. In light of this imminent event, now seems an entirely appropriate time to help guide you into the NIN discography.

So you want to get into: Hedonistic Heavy Metal NIN?

Twenty five years ago, industrial music changed forever. The September release of the Broken EP shoved all of that leather-clad nastiness and rubbed raw flesh of that truly subversive alternative scene into the oily faces of teenage American suburbanites like a stranger’s filthy unmentionables. After an alternating intro of static and drum, the jarring single “Wish” exploded like a nailbomb with its opening line – this is the first day of my last days – and mangled riff, only to detonate a secondary charge with its epic metal chorus. Taken from a subsequently banned longform video that seemed to portray a grisly murder, the song’s accompanying clip featured the band caged and writhing in performance while a surrounding horde of neo-neanderthals attempted to break through and tear the gents asunder. This display was unsettling even by MTV Headbangers Ball standards of the day, and it laid the groundwork for Nine Inch Nails’ imminent full-on mainstream breakthrough.

The sadomasochistic concerns of Broken and its even more depraved remix companion Fixed were not new ideas in metal specifically or in music generally. Yet rarely had the metaphors been so simultaneously overt and grave as on flagellants ode “Happiness In Slavery.” Continuing that shadowy sexuality, 1994’s The Downward Spiral opened with the sound of a literal beating, leading into the devastating and dogmatic “Mr. Self Destruct.” Recorded at the former home of Manson family victim Sharon Tate, nihilistic numbers like “Heresy” and “Reptile” exude dread and terror even as they appropriate metallic tropes including gratuitous soloing on the latter.

Yet all these brutal guitars existed to mask extraordinary pain, with painstakingly confessional lyrics both whispered and screamed. Never known for poetic qualities, heavy metal has rarely matched the topical tenor of “The Becoming” or with anything resembling Reznor’s grace. While later records considerably dialled back the aggression, NIN always seemed to leave a little room for it to return.

Playlist: “Wish” / “Mr. Self Destruct” / “The Idea Of You” / “Last” / “Heresy” / “Survivalism” / “Somewhat Damaged” / “March Of The Pigs”

So you want to get into: Naughty New Wave NIN?

Like scene progenitors Ministry before them, NIN didn’t start out as an industrial band, all gnashing gears and percussive pistons. Drawing obvious influence from the new wave and new romantic likes of Adam Ant, Depeche Mode, and Gary Numan, Reznor followed the synthpop path set by Al Jourgensen’s early gothy groover With Sympathy on 1989’s full-length debut Pretty Hate Machine. Some real NINcompoops will try and convince you that the Purest Feeling demos are worth tracking down, but the official versions of cuts like “That’s What I Get” should suffice.

Though the genre often gets stereotyped for having an artificially bright sound, genuine darkness prevails with some of its finest practitioners. Numan’s Tubeway Army provided the necessary connective tissue between glam and new wave, and the connection between that group’s “Are Friends Electric” and “Down In The Park” with NIN’s “Closer” and “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” should be apparent to even the laziest of ears. While Reznor lacks the pipes of Dave Gahan or the idiosyncrasies of The Cure’s Robert Smith, he shares their glamorous glum on Pretty Hate Machine’s “Sanctified.”

Even as Reznor’s career progressed into the 21st century, a nostalgic appreciation for the purer electronics of his youth persisted. In recent years especially, the synthesiser freak has doubled down on these sounds for atypical singles like “Copy Of A” and deep cuts like Not The Actual Events’ “Dear World.”

Playlist: “That’s What I Get” / “Less Than” / “Copy Of A” / “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” / “Dear World” / “The Wretched” / “Closer” / “Sanctified”

So you want to get into: Aggro Arena Rock NIN?

If the first time you ever saw NIN live was from the elevated VIP pavilion with a craft cocktail in hand at one of the big corporate American music festivals like Coachella, chances are you’d be into the more rockin’ stuff in the band’s catalogue. While more conventional hard rock had crept its way into the fatty folds of lardaceous double disc set The Fragile, it took centerstage on 2005’s perfectly-titled comeback With Teeth. Guitars had regularly played a role in Reznor’s discography, but comparatively meatier bits like “The Collector” and “The Hand That Feeds” seemed to match the once wiry frontman’s now noticeably musclier beefcake image.

After years of terrifying stadiums with nightmarish noise, the more palatable fare of With Teeth and its dystopian 2007 follow-up Year Zero no doubt reflected a maturity for an artist on the so-called wrong side of 40. Ever the studio whiz, nuanced compositions like “The Beginning Of The End” and “1,000,000” offer sonic depth and even surprise, hardly the lumbering lunkhead rockers of your standard Nickelback clone or ageing arena axeman. Strip away a few layers of distortion and an arty indie vibe emerges amidst some of this tougher material. Case in point: 2013’s critically-acclaimed Hesitation Marks showed off an unlikely angular approach with the boppy “Everything.”

Playlist: “1,000,000” / “The Collector” / “The Beginning Of The End” / “We’re In This Together” / “Everything” / “Discipline” / “The Hand That Feeds” / “Where Is Everybody”

So you want to get into: Tortured Torch Songs NIN?

A most improbable balladeer given the violent tendencies of much of the NIN discography, Reznor has been crooning since those Pretty Hate Machine days. The pining of “Something I Can Never Have” provides a suitable introduction to this satisfying section of his oeuvre.

Led by Reznor’s vulnerable voice, these tracks showcase a pensive sensitivity that generally gets buried in the waves of electronics and guitars. Most proper NIN albums boast at least one such example, as do the EPs. So impactful is this material to the fandom that the band could confidently choose the drumless “The Day The World Went Away” as The Fragile’s lead single, an otherwise audacious move in the five year album gap following The Downward Spiral. It peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, NIN’s best ever showing there.

Not surprisingly, these are the songs that provide respite from the fury evident during the band’s live shows. An indisputable classic, “Hurt” remains a showstopper, its heartrending contents proving eternal relatable to those whose lives his NIN’s music has touched. Worth noting: it even garnered a cover version by none other than The Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash.

Playlist: “Something I Can Never Have” / “Right Beside You In Time” / “Find My Way” / “The Fragile (Still)” / “The Day The World Went Away” / “The Great Below” / “Lights In The Sky” / “Hurt (Live)”

So you want to get into: Moody Ambient NIN?

Much like the noteworthy industrial musician Graeme Revell of SPK before him, Reznor made a fruitful transition into soundtrack work. Even before becoming director David Fincher’s go-to guy alongside partner Atticus Ross, that penchant for evocative sound design manifested both inside and apart from NIN, from the spare piano-led drone of “Another Version Of The Truth” and the delicate shoegaze of “Beside You In Time” to his discomfiting score for the PC video game Quake. Listening to The Downward Spiral’s beauteous breather “A Warm Place,” one might be bold enough to draw comparisons between Reznor and ambient pioneer Brian Eno.

Those who really want to bliss out or sulk should seek Ghosts I-IV, a nearly two hour long collection of original instrumentals. While some of the material spread across these four contained volumes recalls more song-oriented NIN material, a great deal of it truly celebrates serene motifs and clandestine diversions. Though considered primarily for completists, it could perhaps serve as a less caustic entry point into Reznor’s vast sonic worlds.

Playlist: “A Warm Place” / “13 Ghosts II” / “Another Version Of The Truth” / “Beside You In Time” / “Hand Covers Bruise” / “30 Ghosts IV” / “Adrift & At Peace” / “Videodrones; Questions”

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