Tag Archives: NIN

Nine Inch Nails Tries To Be All They Can Be

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor wants you to know two things: restraint is good and his old songs sound better now. Today we finally see the much-delayed, multi-pronged media assault by Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.

Completists will have to eBay their old KMFDM records to keep up with it all, too. Not only is there the live CD, And All That Could Have Been, which also features a bonus record of morbid piano-balladry called Still, but there’s an accompanying live DVD and VHS. Reznor says he’s using the live record to bring a sort of black harmony to the two faces of NIN.

The industrial disco of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine have angrier live interpretations. This makes them stand up better against heavier songs like “March Of The Pigs” and “Gave Up.”

“One of the reasons that I decided to put out the record was because the live band and the studio band of Nine Inch Nails have always been two different projects and some of the old songs like ‘Terrrible Lie’ are far better fleshed out live than it was the second time I’d ever sang it, which is the time on the [Pretty Hate Machine] record,” says Reznor. “I thought that justified people hearing it. I think it updates a lot of the older songs I really like and it’s nice to hear them in a non-cringing way, reinterpreted and given some balls or just manipulated differently, less meticulously and more off-the-cuff and emotional.”

While the live record may tap into those more visceral emotions, the Still album is a stark contrast. Cold, lonely and sombre, it’s a stripped down affair you could probably trick old people into listening to if not for the patented morbid lyrics.

“We were messing around with restraint as opposed to bombast,” says Reznor. “And there was a few of these floating around and when I finished [The Fragile tour] I felt it would be a good counterpoint to what the one disc was.

“You don’t expect it. You don’t expect it to sound the way it is. And it’s not just to do that,” says Reznor, before flashing a bit of his often-overlooked sense of coyness. “It’s to be all things to all people… Um, I’m just kidding, man.”

While Reznor’s still feeling jovial, the topic turns to the one-off festival show which took place a number of years ago at Molson Park in Barrie that featured Soundgarden headlining over NIN, Marilyn Manson, PWEI and other Reznor picks. During the show, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell frequently lost his voice and the grungers pulled themselves off the road not a week later.

Says Reznor, “I know better than to laugh at that one because it comes back to get you instantly. But that was the only date we played with them and they were fucking cunts. Complete superstar cunts. And I like Soundgarden but it was like, ‘Everybody back in your trailer. Soundgarden is walking by.’ Fuck you!”

After talking to the guy who’s played in Revolting Cocks, 1000 Homo DJs and covered Adam Ant songs, it’s obvious there is a bit of humour underneath the angry sloganeering. This, of course, just sets the imagination racing as to what Reznor’s next project will be like. Dark? Light? Funny? Industrial? Ambient? Metal? He’s playing his cards close to the vest on this one.

“It depends on what happens,” he says. “There’s a few things in the pot right now. I’m looking forward to a good several months in the studio starting right now. And I just want to get a few things going so we’ll see what happens.”

This feature was originally published January 22, 2002 via Chart Communications.

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Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine Turns 25

Pretty Hate Machine

Pretty Hate Machine

Nine Inch Nails’ debut album Pretty Hate Machine officially turns 25 years old today. Beyond making Gen Xer’s wistfully nostalgic for the 14-hole Docs they wore in their teens, it’s a good reminder that NIN leader Trent Reznor has been our outsider conscience for a long time (he’s 49 years old).

As a bit of a pipe-banging, keyboard-smashing trip down memory lane, here are some bullets about Pretty Hate Machine:

* An old MacIntosh Plus computer was one of the key instruments in creating Pretty Hate Machine.

“I made Pretty Hate Machine using a Mac Plus, an Emax keyboard and a Mini Moog,” Reznor told Apple in 2000. “I’ve just always had a soft spot in my heart for Macs.”

MacIntosh Plus

MacIntosh Plus

* Super-producer Flood contributed “programming, production and engineering” to the album. During this time period he also worked on Depeche Mode’s Violator as well as albums by U2, Nick Cave, The Charlatans and Pop Will Eat Itself.

* Someone named Hypo Luxa has production credits on Pretty Hate Machine. It’s really Ministry’s Al Jourgensen.


* Richard Patrick from Filter was credited with playing “drone guitar” at the end of “Sanctified.” Clearly this was his creative peak.

* “Sanctified” samples dialogue from the film Midnight Express.

* As evidenced in the “Head Like A Hole” video, in the early days NIN roadies were not good at protecting Reznor from tripping hazards.

Head Like A Hole mess o' wires

Head Like A Hole mess o’ wires

* Reznor recorded Pretty Hate Machine while working as a janitor at Right Track recording studio, using off-hour studio time to work on the album.

* Lady Gaga’s been trying to copy the “Sin” video for the last three years.

* The song “Ringfinger” samples “Had A Dad” by Jane’s Addiction and  “Alphabet St.” by Prince. Jesus And Mary Chain would also cover “Alphabet St.”

* Reznor’s “thin” dreadlocks were aspirational.


Trent Reznor. White person dreadlocks.

* Back in the early ’90s you separated the tourists from the committed by whether or not they knew about this Queen cover.

* Reznor’s Jesus Christ pose in the “Down In It” video predates Soundgarden’s similarly named song by two years.

* Play detect the “Sin” sample here.

* NIN toured with Guns ‘N Roses on their first album. Whenever Reznor tells stories about that period it’s gold:

“So we open up. First song, people are, like, ‘Yeah, there’s a band onstage,’ and they’re slowly realizing we’re not Skid Row. Second song, ‘Okay, these guys are not Skid Row and I think I hear a synthesizer.’ Third song, ‘We definitely hear a synthesizer — this is bullshit. These guys suck, they’re faggots, let’s kick their ass.’ There is something about the feeling of standing in front of 65,000 people giving you the finger … An intense terror took over. In a word, it sucks.”

* Danceability of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine, ranked:

10. “Something I Can Never Have”
9. “Sanctified”
8. “The Only Time”
7. “That’s What I Get”
6. “Terrible Lie”
5. “Kinda I Want To”
4. “Ringfinger”
3. “Down In It”
2. “Sin”
1. “Head Like a Hole”

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Nine Inch Nails: All The Things That Are


Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor

And All That Could Have Been.

Hidden in those simple words are a virtually innumerable number of meanings. Part epitaph for the glory days of the alternative music revolution, part multi-pronged marketing assault by Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails project and part symbolic dip into the many facets that make up NIN, all the things that currently are include a DVD, a live CD, a “stripped down” CD, a remix CD, a VHS and possibly a closing of a chapter in the history of Nine Inch Nails. After all, NIN have been around for 13 years and Trent Reznor is promising to boldly go where he hasn’t gone before…

The Frail
Trent Reznor’s about 12 minutes into a very subtly crafted condemnation of everything we hear these days. Few bands are mentioned by name, and fewer still can even be guessed at in concrete terms. But the sentiment is there.

Coming from the man who’s vicious sloganeering — Step right up, March! I wanna fuck you like an animal! — represented the most dangerous fringe of popular music in the last decade, anger has become almost too easy a well to tap. The greater artistic challenge now is to become all the things that could be.

“It took me a long time to gain the courage to not just make the music that would be expected — which would be tougher, harder and meaner or more punching you in the face,” says Reznor. “That’s easy to do and safe for me to do now. I’ve seen a lot of bands fall into this trap — especially recently — fall into this trap of hard, faster, faster, harder, noisier, louder, more bad words in it. It doesn’t equate to being more intense. It becomes just cartoonish after awhile.”

And like any good rebel, Reznor is trying to define himself by not being like his cartoonish colleagues.

“One of the ways in which I’ve tried to keep Nine Inch Nails expansive is to — I realized that I can write a Broken-type album — and I can mean it. But, the same night I can play something melancholy and sad on the piano. I used to be afraid to put that on the same record.”

Reznor seems to have taken up that challenge. Though the live album And All That Could Have Been captures the violent intensity that defined the typical NIN show, it was also accompanied by a second album called Still which was primarily a record of piano-balladry.

Considering Reznor is no longer the alpha male of the testosterone rock underground, an album of piano ballads seems an unlikely choice to enable him to recapture that throne. But for Reznor, a notorious perfectionist, being the king of the castle doesn’t have all that much allure.

“I’ve made the music I liked and a one point, The Downward Spiral era in particular, a lot of people seemed to like the same thing,” he says. “And that’s good and bad. It’s good because I got some rewards from that, I’m glad I turned a lot of people on to that music. But now it kinda haunts you in that your expectations, your commercial expectations are set so high that do I as an artist try to think, ‘Well fuck! What do they like about that? Maybe I can do more stuff like that.’ Then I’ll get rewarded and everyone will be happy… except my soul will decay because I’m not doing music that matters to me anymore.

“I’m not going to tell you there hasn’t come a time with me going, ‘Oh my god, Head Like A Fucking Hole.’ Again.”

March Of The Pigs

As tired as “Head Like A Hole” may seem to Reznor, that song was a theme of sorts for one of the most vital and dangerous musical movements in recent memory — industrial-alternative (and for the record, grunge wasn’t new and vital, that was just rock music in plaid).

In 1989, the world of music was a much different place. Pre-packaged hair metal ruled the day. Guns N’ Roses held the tough front for boys and for the girls there was Poison.

These were flippant, disposable times. But if you scratched just beneath that musical surface, actually, scratched until you were bloody and raw, you’d find something more primal lurking there.

In the dark underground nightclubs this new rave culture was getting its joy stolen and repackaged into the fascist beats of Nitzer Ebb’s glorious industrial-house. At the same time, a band called Ministry were awakening from their bad Erasure obsession, melding ferocious bpms, Sabbath guitars and eerie samples into brutally anthemic The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste.

Still, with these cornerstones for the true alternative nation in place, there was one thing missing — a leader.

That’s where Nine Inch Nails came in.

While grunge was still almost four years from breaking big, the release of Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine represented a sort of cosmic force uniting freaks, loners, noise aficionadoes, disco casualties and bored metalheads. And that force was powerful.

Pretty Hate Machine, and its subversive hit “Head Like A Hole,” wrapped up all the anger, all the loneliness, all the outsiderism and jammed it into one album which sounded like the sonic equivalent of invasive surgery. But you could still dance to it.

Fast forward to 1992. After stealing the show at the first Lollapalooza, NIN released Broken, what will likely stand forever as the single most defining amalgam of heavy metal, industrial dance beats and a secret, yet healthy helping of pop sensibilities.

By this point Reznor’s chiseled cheekbones and particular sense of mope made him a cult hero. Two years later he would explode into a bonafide angst rock superstar with the release of The Downward Spiral.

Little did we know at the time, but that title would be prophetic.

As NIN’s popularity peaked, the number of pipe-banging rockers ballooned. Names like the aforementioned Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, along with Skinny Puppy, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, The Young Gods, Front 242, Stabbing Westward and a whole host of others were marketed and packaged (and ultimately, co-opted) to try to capitalize on the trail NIN had blazed. It would be to the scene’s ultimate detriment.

“I think there was a time where we emerged out of where the Wax Traxx scene was going where it seemed like there was a lot of promise,” says Reznor, reflecting on the subsequent rise and fall of industrial rock. “It was a new form of aggressive music that you hadn’t heard before. It wasn’t a throwback to ’70s rock because ’70s rock didn’t have drum machines and ’70s didn’t have the production values that Skinny Puppy had. There was a real excitement back then, I remember just feeling really part of this clique and was thrilled when I got accepted into it and was playing onstage with Revolting Cocks, with some of my heroes.

“And I think what happened was a couple things: One was that when we started to get popular a lot of major labels came in and started to sign up everyone else that sounded anything like us. So that meant that Front 242 get signed and make a terrible album. And Skinny Puppy get signed and get drugs and go hide off in the woods somewhere and don’t make a good album. And Ministry were already signed… but you just saw a lot of bands spiral out of control.”

Of course, hindsight always helps give perspective on these things. Too much money being thrown around, too high expectations and an overestimation of how popular this violent form of music could be all contributed to these bands demise. But the number one factor involved was probably greed.

“You can blame that on major labels,” says Reznor, bluntly. “But I can also blame that on musicians and their responsibility. Now I’m not talking about drugs or anything else. I’m talking about — I’m trying not to get on a soapbox here — but it’s real easy to sit around and bitch about bands that are successful. But then someone goes, ‘Wow. Hey, do you want a record contract?’ ‘Uh, yeah.’ And you see all these guys jumping through hoops and giving in to corporate pressures of ‘Make your record sound like this.’ ‘We’re going to give you a lot of money, but you’ve got to do this.’

“What do you think American Records thought when they signed Skinny Puppy, probably under the pretense that Nine Inch Nails sounds like them? And [Skinny Puppy] turn in something that doesn’t have a big hit single with a glossy video? But that’s what happened. And I do know that they self-destructed by the time they signed with a major label.”

Reznor follows this with a simple statement that applies to not only his own special niche of PVC warriors, but to virtually every popular music scene.

“I would be hard pressed to name a band that really compromised their integrity then got really successful for a long period of time,” he says.

Something He Wants To Have

Nine Inch Nails followers know all about Reznor’s personal sense of integrity. On one hand it represents a quality control mechanism you only wish Billy Corgan possessed. On the other, it makes for often frustrating periods of anticipation for NIN fans.

Whether it was The Downward Spiral, The Fragile or the latest series of multimedia releases, Reznor’s need to get it right has consistently meant release date delays and if reports, inferences and the perpetual swirl of fanclub rumours are to be believed, multiple music projects shelved indefinitely, never to be heard by the music consuming public because Reznor doesn’t feel them worthy.

All this makes does is make the scope of the And All That Could Have Been release that much more surprising. Originally, it was strictly supposed to be a live DVD project. But somehow it ballooned into its multi-headed format.

Reznor considers the live performances which took place on the Fragility v2.0 tour of 2000 to be amongst the best performances he’s done live. At the time, he felt Nine Inch Nails were actually a “band” and not just his vanity project.

“Now it’s just me again,” he says, quickly correcting any inferences that NIN has evolved into a permanent multi-person unit. “When it’s live, the people, especially in that incarnation that’s on the DVD and CD, they were people I respected and I thought understood the music so it was their interpretation of my music. It wasn’t me riding them about stuff and they were given room to make it their own. And in that way when we play live it is a band. And it is a band, not just me.

“But right at this moment I’m working on stuff alone in the studio. I’ve come to the realization that I’ve always had this romantic notion that Nine Inch Nails could be a semi-democratic band like bands I’ve always envied like The Smiths, U2, The Stones, where there’s musical identities in the band.

“I’m making some inroads into some other band-type project that probably isn’t Nine Inch Nails that probably is more collaborative. That’ll probably be how that format comes out…”

So NIN is a band, but it’s also a solo project. And Reznor’s currently in the studio doing new work, but if he doesn’t like it you may never get to hear it. And if it’s not appropriate for NIN, his next musical project may be a band. Clearly, Reznor wants to be everything he can be.

It’s all very confusing and a little bit unsettling, but what may cause the greatest amount of trepidation about all of this is the symbolic meaning which often follows the release of something as comprehensive as the And All That Could Have Been project.

Is this a bookend? The end of an era? Will Nine Inch Nails forever change its direction?

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case, but the type of show from Nine Inch Nails that people have come to expect I think is going to be taken to something different,” he says, just before flashing a bit of his often overlooked gallows humour. “It won’t be five-piece, keyboard-smashing, corn-starch covered retards onstage. We’re going to put maple syrup on us next time.”

This story originally appeared in Chart Magazine’s March 2002 issue, #134.

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 1996

Tricky's Maxinquaye

Tricky’s Maxinquaye

Back in 1996 I was the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Centennial College student newspaper, The Siren. I dug into some of those back issues to find my Top Ten album list from that year.

Looking at the list now it’s a pretty clear reaction against grunge in favour of mostly dark, electronic-based music.

Here it is:

1. Tricky Maxinquaye
2. Massive Attack Protection
3. Future Sound of London ISDN
4. Pop Will Eat Itself Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
5. Neil Young Mirror Ball
6. Blue Resistance
7. Portishead Dummy
8. Teenage Fanclub Grand Prix
9. Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral
10. Cypress Hill Temple Of Boom

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Maxinquaye remains infinitely listenable. Besides the tepid cover of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel” it still sound intriguing today. It’s probably no longer the #1 on this list, but it’s still a solid Top Five.

Of the trip-hop big three Massive Attack’s Protection is probably the one I care the least about now. That’s not to say I don’t care, it’s just that it’s the album I go back to the least amongst them. Again, if you listen to this album in the now it could still fool the kids into maybe thinking it’s current. Or, at the very least, you can trick ’em into believing “these are the guys who used to produce The Weekend.”

Holy smokes did I ever listen to Future Sound of London’s ISDN a lot back in the day. It’s why I’m very been-there, done-that about Boards of Canada in the present. This was also kinda my last flashback buzz album as I transitioned from student rascal/five-day-a-week rave ‘n’ club kid into person-with-a-job.

I wouldn’t quite call this a guilty pleasure because there’s no guilt in my enjoyment of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, but of the albums on this list it’s probably the easiest to peg in terms of being of a certain time, scene and sound.

Neil Young’s Mirror Ball is the only good album Pearl Jam’s ever been part of.

In hindsight, the inclusion of Blue’s Resistance on this list is kinda embarrassing. An electro-dub record on Sabres of Paradise’s label, this selection was clearly an act of showing off my expensive import record collection. The album doesn’t suck, but it wouldn’t make my Top Ten now and it speaks of hanging around a bit too much in the chill out room.

Portishead are where it’s at. After some time and distance, Dummy is probably my #1 album for 1996. And Beth Gibbons was doing witchcore at least 10 years before everyone else was.

I’m not sure why I put Teenage Fanclub’s Grand Prix on my list. I don’t really like Teenage Fanclub or much power pop and I haven’t actually listened to this album since 1996. This song’s OK, though, so perhaps I need to revisit this one:

Ah, Nine Inch Nails. I had this at #9, which means I probably didn’t like it all that much, but as a superfan of the band I had to put The Downward Spiral
on the list. Maybe it’s because the album’s so familiar. After all, it was the album that anchored a certain big-booted, goth-rivethead scene that year and I would have heard it everywhere I went. It can probably stay on this list… but with a leery eye.

Cypress Hill’s Temple Of Boom? Too much time in the chill out room, for sure.

Other album lists…

2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1


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