Published Apr 08, 2013Throbbing Gristle could never have imagined selling 30 million records when they invented the term "industrial music" in 1976. Then again, neither could 11-year-old Trent Reznor, who was attending elementary school in small town Pennsylvania at the time. But 37 years after the birth of this hostile, transgressive, experimental music, Trent Reznor has sold all of those records and more. Under the name Nine Inch Nails, he's gone from working as a janitor recording music in a recording studio on the graveyard shift to playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans across the world. With its cacophony and avant-garde philosophy, industrial music should never have risen up from the underground. But Trent took it to the mainstream, becoming one of Time magazine's most influential people, winning a Golden Globe, an Oscar and multiple Grammys, stealing the show at Woodstock, and of course, making "I want to fuck you like an animal" one of the more popular lyrics of the '90s. In doing so, however, Trent earned himself the nickname "the Prince of Pain" for a reason, having endured record label swindling, corrupt management, alcohol and drug addiction, betrayal of his protégé Marilyn Manson and the sexual advances of Courtney Love. Twenty-five years after he began his ascent, Trent Reznor finds himself working two different projects: the debut album by How To Destroy Angels, the post-industrial act he shares with his wife and Oscar-winning collaborator, and the welcome return of Nine Inch Nails, which he has "reinvented from scratch."
1965 to 1982
Michael Trent Reznor is born in Mercer, PA, just north of Pittsburgh. His parents, Nancy Lou and Michael Reznor Sr., divorce and Trent, as he's called, moves in with his maternal grandparents, while his infant sister Tera lives with his mom. At age five he begins taking classical piano lessons. About his childhood, he'll tell Rolling Stone in 1994, "It isn't a bad place where I grew up, but there was nothing going on but the cornfields. My life experience came from watching movies, watching TV, reading books and looking at magazines. And when your fucking culture comes from watching TV every day, you're bombarded with images of things that seem cool, places that seem interesting, people who have jobs and careers and opportunities. None of that happened where I was. You're almost taught to realize it's not for you." That same year he describes Mercer to Option as "a fuckin' piece of shit town in the middle of nowhere." In junior and senior high he joins the jazz and marching bands, where he plays the tenor saxophone and tuba. He also stars as Judas in a school production of Jesus Christ Superstar and Harold Hill in The Music Man, while being voted "Best in Drama" by his classmates.
1983 to 1988
After a year of studying Computer Engineering at Allegheny College in Meadville, Trent drops out and moves to Cleveland, OH. He takes a job at Pi Keyboards and learns computer systems, MIDIs and sequencers. Trent joins new wave act Option 30 as keyboardist and lead vocalist. They record a demo, but it won't be released until 1997, obviously to capitalize on the success of Nine Inch Nails. Trent leaves that band and joins the Innocent. He lasts only three months, but appears on the album cover of their debut, though not the actual album. He'll later tells Details that the band was "Foreigner crap…dinosaur AOR bullshit rock." In 1985 he joins Exotic Birds, a synth-pop group as keyboardist, programmer and backing vocalist, managed by John Malm, who will continue to manage Trent for years to come. Not long after, future collaborator and friend Chris Vrenna joins on drums and they soon become roommates. He also plays keyboards in Slam Bamboo, most famously in their appearance on AM Cleveland in 1987. Trent and a member of Exotic Birds are cast as musicians in the Michael J. Fox/Joan Jett drama, Light of Day. Trent helps out his friend Kevin McMahon with his project Lucky Pierre, which also features Vrenna and manager Malm. Exotic Birds break up and while working at Right Track recording studio as a janitor, programmer and engineer, Trent begins writing his own music based on his newfound love for industrial music like Ministry and Skinny Puppy. He'll tell Spin in 1996, "Finally I was hearing bands that were using electronics, and they didn't sound like Howard Jones or Reflex. They had all this fucking aggression and tension that the hardest of heavy metal or punk had. But they were using tools I understood. And it seemed more interesting, because this music couldn't have been made five years ago, let alone 20. It was based on tools that were now."
During his off-hours, Trent's boss lets him record demos that he names Purest Feeling. "I heard stuff other people were recording and I always thought, 'This stuff sucks.' I thought I could do better, but for a long time I wasn't doing anything about it," he'll tell Option in 1994. "I was arranging other people's music. I was playing keyboards on other people's bullshit demos. I was playing live, taking drugs and being a fucking idiot — fooling myself that I was doing something when really I wasn't. Then when I got in that studio I realized that there's an opportunity here. I could make it happen." Trent searches for musicians to work with but fails to find any who can work for free between the hours of three and eight in the morning. "I had this romantic notion that, well, Prince did it himself, and I fully respected him for that," he'll tell Option. "So I just started to do it." Trent recruits Vrenna and Ron Musarra to make a three-piece band that he names Nine Inch Nails. He tells Access magazine that the name "lasted the two-week test, looked great in print, and could be abbreviated easily. It really doesn't have any literal meaning. It seemed kind of frightening." They tour Europe with Skinny Puppy to poor reviews.
1989 to 1991
Although many labels show interest, Nine Inch Nails sign with Chicago indie label TVT. Paying tribute to one of his influences, Depeche Mode, Trent decides to number each release using a coded system under the name Halo. Trent begins recording the debut Nine Inch Nails album, Pretty Hate Machine, in multiple studios with multiple producers including Adrian Sherwood, Flood, Keith LeBlanc and John Fryer, some of whom are at the label's insistence. Trent and TVT boss Steve Gottlieb persistently butt heads over song mixes. The album is released on October 20, 1989 and Gottlieb reportedly dismisses it as "a complete abortion." Pretty Hate Machine will go on to become one of the first independent albums to go platinum in the U.S. and eventually sells more than three million copies. He tells Thrasher, "I see a lot of people over-analyzing, asking me if I've had a really tormented sex life, personal life... I haven't, not incredibly. I guess I've not always been the happiest person. The last few years have been a little darker than the rest. The premise of this record is a personal statement of what was in my head at the time. It's a sincere statement."
While shooting the video for first single "Down In It," a video camera tied to a helium balloon breaks away as it films Trent lying on the ground covered in corn starch pretending to be dead. The footage is found by a farmer 200 miles away, who turns it into the police. After watching it, the FBI launches a murder investigation thinking the tape is a snuff film made by the other members of the band, who are seen walking away in the video. Trent and his manager have to convince the authorities that he is, in fact, still alive. Nine Inch Nails appear on Dance Party USA, a Top of the Pops-type show where they perform "Down In It." Twenty-three years later the footage is uncovered on YouTube and Trent issues a statement saying, "Many years ago, a young and naive Nine Inch Nails were asked what TV shows they'd be interested in appearing on. As a joke (and likely drunk), they thought of the most absurd choice they could come up with at the time. They were then informed their bluff had been called and were actually booked on said show… They hopped in their Honda Civic touring vehicle (hatchback) and travelled many miles to (I think) NJ for the big show. They had a laugh making fun of the people, their fashion choices and hairstyles. Life was good. Years later, the internet is discovered… There's a moral in there somewhere. Come to think of it, Skrillex may indeed owe me some publishing on that hairdo…"
Richard Patrick, who will go on to front Filter, joins the band on guitar with Vrenna shifting to drums from keyboards, and art director Gary Talpas taking over keyboards. They begin touring the album as headliners, then support the Jesus & Mary Chain, followed by Peter Murphy. Trent sings on a cover of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" by the Ministry side-project 1000 Homo DJs. However, because of his contract with TVT, his vocals have to be distorted so they cannot be recognized; the song isn't released for another four years. Trent is interviewed for a South Florida magazine called 25th Parallel by a young music journalist named Brian Warner. Three years later Warner will be signed to Trent's label under the name Marilyn Manson. By the end of 1990, Pretty Hate Machine has sold over 150,000 copies. Trent tries to release a cover of Adam Ant's "Physical" as a twelve-inch, but TVT refuses. They end up releasing the ten-track EP Head Like A Hole, featuring remixes, demos and alternate versions. The label stiffs him on royalties.
Jane's Addiction front-man Perry Farrell invites Nine Inch Nails to join his travelling festival, called Lollapalooza, in its first year. The band experience a phenomenal upsurge in popularity and are constantly named the festival's best live act. They receive plenty of MTV coverage and make "industrial" a household term. During a show in Phoenix, a power box melts and continues to shut off power during their gig. The frustrated band begins trashing all of their gear on stage and it becomes an iconic moment. He explains Lollapalooza's impact to Spin: "Aside from Henry Rollins deciding he hated me, it was real cool. Particularly as a fan of Jane's Addiction — I'd seen them when they first started touring on Nothing's Shocking, in small clubs in Cleveland. And I could not believe how good it was. It kicked my ass." Right after Lollapalooza, they head over to Europe where they open two shows for Guns 'N Roses and Skid Row in Germany. In 2012, he'll tell Q, "It was only a couple of shows and they were some of the worst performances [Nine Inch Nails] ever had in front of the most hostile, moronic audiences I've ever experienced. They were there to rock; what they didn't want was some homo-looking dudes playing noisy synths and they made that very clear to us. Our first show was in Mannheim, Germany. There were thousands of people standing there going [raises middle finger] and there were bits of sausage on the stage. I've tried to block it out." Tensions between Trent and TVT boss Steve Gottlieb begin to reach a boiling point after the label refuses to release music that doesn't sound like Pretty Hate Machine or "synth-pop," which they had marketed it as. Trent demands to be released from his contract, but TVT refuses.
1992 to 1993
Nine Inch Nails begin recording a new album without TVT's knowledge, using different pseudonyms and money they stashed from touring Lollapalooza. Trent eventually reaches an agreement to leave TVT and sign with Interscope, which allows him and manager John Malm to start their own imprint, Nothing Records, to release the music of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Pop Will Eat Itself, Prick, Meat Beat Manifesto, The The and Einstürzende Neubauten. "Jimmy Iovine got involved with Interscope, and we kind of got slave-traded," he'll later tell Spin. "It wasn't my doing. I didn't know anything about Interscope. And I was real pissed off at him at first because it was going from one bad situation to potentially another one. But Interscope went into it like they really wanted to know what I wanted. It was good, after I put my raving lunatic act on." Broken is recorded in seven different studios, including Le Pig, the infamous home in Benedict Canyon, L.A. where Charles Manson's "Family" killed actress Sharon Tate, among others. Trent describes Broken to Alternative Press as a "muscle-flexing male. A 'fuck you, here's a hard record.'" The EP is released on September 22, 1992 and reaches number seven on the Billboard album chart. Trent uses the release to give a middle-finger salute to TVT. In the liner notes for Broken, he writes, "No thanks: You know who you fucking are. The slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains." Trent whispers, "Eat your heart out Steve" at the beginning of "Physical," and "Fuck You Steve" appears on a computer monitor in the video for "Gave Up." The "Happiness In Slavery" video is deemed too controversial for television and banned outright for its depiction of torture, violence, gore, nudity and sado-masochism. Trent tells Billboard that "these were the most appropriate visuals for the song." The video will become the subject of an episode of MuchMusic's Too Much 4 Much, which discusses banned music videos. A companion remix EP, Fixed, is released at the end of 1992. Nine Inch Nails win a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 1993 for "Wish." The band choose not to tour and decide to move into Le Pig to begin working on the next album with Flood. Simultaneously, Trent co-produces Portrait of an American Family, the debut album by Marilyn Manson.
1994 to 1997
Trent appears on Tori Amos's second album, Under the Pink, singing on the track "Past the Mission." The infamous house that contains the Le Pig studio is demolished shortly after the band leaves. Just before that, Trent is approached by Sharon Tate's sister at the house. He tells Rolling Stone, "It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said, 'Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?' For the first time the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, 'No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred.' I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I don't want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit."
The Downward Spiral is released on March 8, 1994 and marks a significant shift from the techno-metal of Pretty Hate Machine and the raging noise of Broken. A concept album following the self-destruction of a man, Trent tells Select that it follows "someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on. It's less muscle-flexing, though when I started it I didn't know what I wanted it to sound like. I knew I didn't want it to be a full metal album, so I tried to address the issue of restraint. It was a long process." Guest appearances include Jane's Addiction/Porno For Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins and prog rock guitar guru Adrian Belew. The Downward Spiral enters the Billboard chart at #2, just behind Soundgarden's Superunknown. It will go on to sell more than five million copies and rank 25th in Spin's list of the "100 Greatest Albums, 1985 to 2005." The Downward Spiral is nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 1995 Grammy Awards but loses to Green Day's Dookie. Nine Inch Nails embark on the Self-Destruct Tour, which is shot for a tour documentary called Closure. Robin Finck joined the band on guitar, while Danny Lohner played bass. They are invited to perform at the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. They steal the show. Trent recalls the experience to Spin: "We got there the night before, and that rave was going on. I'm glad I saw it. We slept on the bus. The next day, a power line had fallen on the bus and there was voltage going through the bus while we were on it. I went back to the bunks: 'Guys, don't panic, but try not to touch any metal. There is a lot of voltage going through the bus right now.' I walk to the front of the bus, and I see fucking Crosby, Stills, and Nash looking in, and a sea of cameras, seeing me in my underpants. Hi everybody! That was the most nerve-wracking day of my life. But that changed things for us a lot, in terms of brand-name recognition."
Six months after the death of Kurt Cobain, Trent invites Hole to open up six shows for Nine Inch Nails. Courtney Love begins trash-talking his band on stage and becomes erratic and impossible. He tells Details, "In Cleveland she was completely intoxicated, a fucking mess. What I didn't know then was her fierce competitiveness when she's opening for somebody — she's carrying the weight of alternative credibility on her back, and we're a new-wave faggot band that's easily dismissed. Even though my crowd doesn't give a shit about that." Though rumours persist, Trent admits the two did not have a sexual relationship.
While on tour in his hotel, Trent composes the soundtrack for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, which features a brand new Nine Inch Nails single, "Burn." During a tour stop in Columbus, OH, Trent's dog Maise, who guest-barked on the Broken EP, dies after falling 50 feet at the concert venue during a walk. Trent learns of this after the show and cancels the next tour date. Like with Broken, Nine Inch Nails release a remix companion album titled Further Down The Spiral, which goes gold. The band co-headline the Dissonance tour with David Bowie, Trent's lifelong idol. One night at his Nothing Studios (a converted funeral home) in New Orleans, Trent parties with Marilyn Manson and the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Enigma, the heavily tattooed sideshow gimp tries to convince Trent to perform a trepanation on him. He tells Select that he happily declined, saying, "No way! I'm not having a dead tattooed guy with a hole in his head and his brain fluid all over the studio." Trent, Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser start a side-project called Tapeworm that collaborates with Maynard James Keenan (Tool), Toni Halliday (Curve), Phil Anselmo (Pantera), Page Hamilton (Helmet), Alan Moulder, Tommy Victor (Prong) and Atticus Ross. Although the band will last for ten years, no music is ever officially released. Nine Inch Nails pick up their second Grammy in 1996, winning Best Metal Performance for the live recording of "Happiness in Slavery" from Woodstock; they also receive a nomination for Best Rock Song for "Hurt." Trent co-produces and co-writes some of Marilyn Manson's Smells Like Children EP and second album, Antichrist Superstar, which makes the shock rocker a household (and feared) name. Trent collaborates with id Software to compose ambient music for the first-person-shooter videogame, Quake, which ends up featuring the Nine Inch Nails logo on the nailgun ammo boxes. Trent is offered the job of scoring David Lynch's film, Lost Highway, much to the chagrin of Marilyn Manson, who is also considered for the job. The friendship between the two begins to sour. Trent becomes addicted to alcohol and heroin and enters rehab, successfully completing a program. He'll later tell The L.A. Times, "I had told myself for a long time that an alcoholic was a guy down the street and that a cocaine addict was a guy with his nose falling off. I told myself I was smarter than that. I was the guy who could get onstage and make music for thousands of people. I was invincible."
1997 to 2000
Trent's grandmother dies at the age of 85. He tells Time that her death and the pressure to continue his success led to depression. "I was in a bad place," he says. "I couldn't work. I couldn't look in the mirror." Trent begins to talk about collaborating with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube on a project, but nothing ever transpires. Trent and Alan Moulder enter Nothing Studios to begin working on a new album. Early on he tells Entertainment Weekly that "I'm trying to get out of the confined guitar-bass-drum rock-band formula… I'm trying to make an old Prince record, I think." At Rick Rubin's suggestion, Trent isolates himself in a house at Big Sur with just a tape recorder and a grand piano, but everything he writes sound "like something off Billy Joel's The Stranger," he tells Spin. Nine Inch Nails receive a Grammy nomination in 1998 for Best Hard Rock Performance for Lost Highway's "The Perfect Drug."
An expansive double album clocking in at one and three-quarter hours, The Fragile is a tribute to the albums he grew up with, explaining to Pulse, "There are a lot of things in there that I think are going back to my '70s records roots. A lot of the song structures and the fact that I wanted it to be an album, you know? I used to like listening to a piece of work that was ten or 20 songs long, instead of 'Oh, we got two good songs, just skip around on your CD player.' God forbid you hit the random button. It's not meant to be that way, you know? The random button is my enemy." The album is released on September 21, 1999. It goes straight in at #1 on the Billboard album chart but drops to #16 the following week, making it, at the time, the biggest drop from the top of the chart ever. The album will go on to sell more than two million copies in the U.S. alone. Spin calls it the Best Album of 1999. Trent tells Rolling Stone "it is by far the best record I've ever done. But it appears to be one of those records that doesn't jump out of the speakers, that announces it's at the top of the charts, right from the first song. Nor was it intended to be that." Years later, Trent looks back on making The Fragile, telling Kerrang! "[It] was madness! I was in the grips of addiction and was not acknowledging it. I was so governed by fear; I felt I didn't have anything to say. There aren't many lyrics on the album, and what there are, are hidden. But I needed to make the music. So I went crazy. I'm still proud of it, but I never want to make an album like that again." Trent begins drinking again after completing the Fragility Tour. He tells the L.A. Times, "I hated making music. From a commercial standpoint, The Fragile was a failure. The record company seemed to abandon us. My manager and I weren't getting along. I didn't feel like I could write anymore, and I couldn't even stop drinking." After a friend dies in a random shooting, he enters rehab in New Orleans. He describes it to the L.A. Times: "Imagine being put in a locked room where you feel you've got the worst flu you can imagine and your skin feels like it's on fire and you have to vomit constantly." Nine Inch Nails are nominated for two Grammys in 2000: Best Alternative Album and Best Metal Performance for "Starfuckers, Inc." A companion remix album called Things Falling Apart is released.
2001 to 2006
Trent is asked by director Mark Romanek to write the score for his Robin Williams-starring thriller, One Hour Photo, but the music is not used. Nine Inch Nails use some of the songs for a bonus EP called Still, which accompanies the live Fragility tour CD/DVD set called And All That Could Have Been. Trent completes his rehab and leaves New Orleans for Los Angeles, where he begins psychotherapy. He tells Kerrang! in 2005, "My way sure wasn't working. I always though I was smart, that I could lick anything because I'm smart enough to work anything out. It s been a very humbling learning experience, of being right in the gutter it s one thing to talk about hitting the bottom, to flirt with it, this romantic notion of a dark side. Embracing it and getting really deep into it? I don t ever wanna go there again. I've been there, and it was not good." Johnny Cash records a cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" for his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. The cover wins a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form and the CMA Award for Single of the Year. Trent tells Kerrang!, "When my friend Rick Rubin asked if Johnny could cover 'Hurt' I said yes immediately. A couple of weeks after that I saw the video. And that's when it all came together; I got goose bumps, I welled up with tears and I knew it wasn't my song anymore." Trent starts working on a new Nine Inch Nails album. He describes it to Alternative Press in 2003, saying that it "explores loss and possible discovery of self, along with alternate layers of reality and perception set inside a nightmare you can't seem to wake up from, with lots of feedback." Trent serves as music consultant for the film Man On Fire, which features six Nine Inch Nails songs. John Malm Jr. files a lawsuit claiming Trent owes him $2 million in deferred commissions, alleging that Trent reneged their contracts and refused to pay him what he was contractually entitled to. Trent responds with a counter-suit, claiming Malm mismanaged his finances and took advantages of his addictions, manipulating him into signing unfair agreements. In May 2005, a court rules in Trent's favour, ordering Malm to repay him $2.95 million plus interest in lost earnings and damages, equalling about double the amount. During the trial, Trent told the court, "John was the business guy, and I was the guy working for nothing in the studio." Originally titled Bleedthrough, the fifth Nine Inch Nails album is released on May 3, 2005 under the name [WITH_TEETH]. Reacting to The Fragile's length and abstract instrumentals, the album uses more simple song structures and aggressive, electronic programming, while tackling heavy subjects like his addiction, the Bush administration and his broken relationship with Malm. Trent tells Rolling Stone it's "12 good punches in the face — no fillers, no instrumentals, just straight to the point… It's a complicated concept record, but reduced to just simple songs. It's not epic in its scope. It's minimal and a bit brutal." Produced with Alan Moulder, the album is the last to be recorded at Nothing Studios, and marks the first collaboration with Atticus Ross, who acts as engineer. Dave Grohl plays drums on seven of the album's tracks and Trent lists Rick Rubin as "a mentor, source of inspiration and guiding force throughout the process." The album debuts on the Billboard chart at #1 and sells more than 272,000 copies in its first week. "The Hand That Feeds" is nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 2006 Grammy Awards, while "Every Day Is Exactly The Same" receives the same nomination in 2007.
On February 27, 2007, a documentary of the Live: With Teeth tour is released under the name Beside You In Time and marks the final release by Nothing Records. Less than two months later, Nine Inch Nails release their sixth album, Year Zero. Trent explains the album to Kerrang! saying, "Essentially I wrote the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist." Announcing the album, Trent writes: "What's it about? Well, it takes place about 15 years in the future. Things are not good. If you imagine a world where greed and power continue to run their likely course, you'll have an idea of the backdrop. The world has reached the breaking point — politically, spiritually and ecologically. Written from various perspectives of people in this world, 'year zero' examines various viewpoints set against an impending moment of truth. How does it sound? You will hear for yourself soon enough, but given the point of this document is to provide information... This record is much more of a 'sound collage' than recent efforts from me. A lot of it was improvised. It is very tedious describing your own music. It's not just music. It's probably too long, but it felt like the right thing to do was to paint the complete picture. It will sound different after a few listens. You can think about it and it will reveal more than you were expecting. You can dance to a lot of it. You can fuck to a lot of it (maybe all of it depending on what you're into)."
Year Zero is released simultaneously as an alternate reality game that took the album's narrative further using a variety of different media like websites, email, phone numbers, murals, USB drives, MP3s and videos. The album reaches #2 on Billboard, with 187,000 copies sold in its first week. After its release, Trent condemns how Interscope/Universal prices and distributes Year Zero in Australia, which he calls "ABSURD. Shame on you, UMG. Year Zero is selling for $34.99 Australian dollars ($29.10 U.S.). No wonder people steal music. Avril Lavigne's record in the same store was $21.99 ($18.21 U.S.). By the way, when I asked a label rep about this his response was: 'It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out — you know, true fans. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy.'
So… I guess as a reward for being a 'true fan' you get ripped off. The point is, I am trying my best to make sure the music and items NIN puts in the marketplace have value, substance and are worth you considering purchasing." Things escalate from a stage in Sydney, Australia, where Trent shouts, "Has anyone seen the price come down? Okay, well, you know what that means: STEAL IT. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin'. Because one way or another these motherfuckers will get it through their head that they're ripping people off and that's not right."
Nine Inch Nails release a remix version of Year Zero titled Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D, which is the final release for Interscope after fulfilling the contractual obligations. On the Nine Inch Nails website, Trent writes: "I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate." Trent admits that he's planning a feature-length film as part of the Year Zero mixed-media project, but it soon becomes a concept he decides would work better on television. The 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike halts the pre-production, however, in 2010, Trent confirms to the Los Angeles Times that "We are in [the development phase of] pre-production with HBO and BBC [Worldwide Productions] to do a miniseries. It's exciting. I probably shouldn't say too much about it except that I understand that there's a thousand hurdles before anything shows up in your TV listing. It's been an interesting and very educational process and it cleared the HBO hurdle a few months ago and now we're writing drafts back and forth. So it's very much alive and incubating at the moment." Nine Inch Nails tour mate Saul Williams releases his Trent Reznor-produced and bankrolled third album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! Trent provides vocals on El-P's "Flyentology," from his album I'll Sleep When You're Dead.
2008 to 2009
On February 17, 2008, Trent posts a message that reads "2 weeks." On March 2, exactly two weeks later, Nine Inch Nails surprise fans by releasing the mostly instrumental Ghosts I–IV, a 36-track collection of four EPs, via Trent's new label, the Null Corporation. The album uses the Creative Commons license and is released across multiple formats with pricing plans, including a free digital download. On the Nine Inch Nails website, Trent explains the release, writing: "This music arrived unexpectedly as the result of an experiment. The rules were as follows: ten weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as... something. The team: Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder and myself with some help from Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew and Brian Viglione. Rob Sheridan collaborated with Artist in Residence (A+R) to create the accompanying visual and physical aesthetic. We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five-song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this. The end result is a wildly varied body of music that we're able to present to the world in ways the confines of a major record label would never have allowed — from a 100 percent DRM-free, high-quality download, to the most luxurious physical package we've ever created. More volumes of Ghosts are likely to appear in the future." In its first week, the various physical formats of Ghost reach $1.6 million in sales, making it Amazon's top-selling album of 2008.
Only two months later, Nine Inch Nails post a message that reads "2 weeks!" On May 5, they release their seventh studio album, The Slip, once again as a free download (physical formats followed). Trent posts a message on the Nine Inch Nails website, saying, "Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years — this one's on me." Just six weeks sees more than 1.4 million downloads. Speaking with the New York Times, Trent explains the freebie, saying, "Aside from any kind of monetization of it, I'm glad to know that a million people have it on their iPods. If you paid for it, great, but I want everyone to hear it, you know? I want to blow people's minds." Engineered by Atticus Ross and mixed by Alan Moulder, the album is recorded in three weeks, following one month of songwriting.
The band embark on a tour in support of The Slip called Lights in the Sky. Trent was in talks with James Cameron to direct a 3D concert film, but the project is canned once Interscope learns of it; a DVD titled Another Version of the Truth is released in its place as an independent film credited to the "NIN fan community." Ghosts is nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2009: Best Rock Instrumental Performance and Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition Package. In February 2009, Trent announces that Nine Inch Nails will go on hiatus: "2009 marks the 20th anniversary of our first releases. I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while." Speaking with Mojo in June, Trent elaborates: "My buddy who just got married, wait, now he's got a four-year-old kid and what I have done? I sang 'Head Like A Hole' 600 times. I always want to make sure Nine Inch Nails feels precious and respected. Right now it feels like it needs to go away and be missed. There will be a record, I suspect, in the next couple of years but no touring."
Trent takes to Twitter to slam Chris Cornell's disastrous, Timbaland-produced solo album, Scream, tweeting, "You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell's record? Jesus." Cornell responds with a veiled tweet that reads, "What do you think Jesus would twitter? 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone' or 'Has anyone seen Judas? He was here a minute ago.'"
A few weeks go by and then on April 1, 2009, Trent tweets, "I've been busy. Brand new FULL LENGTH NIN record available now." A link takes fans to a site for a fake Nine Inch Nails album titled, Strobe Light, which is produced by Timbaland and featuring a photo of Trent in a hip-hop pose wearing Kanye shades. Instructions read as follow: "Your credit card will be charged $18.98 plus a $10 digital delivery convenience fee. Your files will arrive as windows media files playable on quite a few players with your name embedded all over them just in case you lose them. You will also receive an exclusive photo and a free email account with our partner Google's Gmail service. Your email will be kept confidential and will not be used for spam, unless we can make some money selling it."
Tracks on the album include "Everybody's Doing It (featuring Chris Martin, Jay-Z and Bono), "Pussygrinder" (featuring Sheryl Crow) and "Aid, Paid and Played" (featuring Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas and Al Jourgensen). In an interview with Eye Weekly, Trent explains the prank, saying, "I really have no personal issue with Chris at all. The thing I said on Twitter… it goes deeper than what have may appeared on the surface. We were on [Interscope]. And I have had Jimmy Iovine, the president of that label, come up to me on every record from With Teeth onwards saying I should do some sort of urban thing — it was Timbaland for a while, then it was Pharrell for a while — because 'that's how you sell records.' The idea seemed so preposterous and insulting. I'm not talking about 'let's go make a record with Dr. Dre,' because that would be kind of cool. What he's talking about is making your record sound like what's on the radio, whether it's appropriate or not. And that's what Chris did. I think that when somebody who is respected like he is goes that route, it sends the message that it's OK to give up any kind of core values you had to be the fashion of the moment. I don't think that's OK. I think it's harmful. If I have one major fight in the world of the music business, it's trying to keep art first and commerce second."
Nine Inch Nails embark on the Wave Goodbye tour, in which they play smaller venues in select North American cities. A new Nine Inch Nails track appears in the closing credits for the film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. Trent marries Mariqueen Maandig, the former vocalist for West Indian Girl. The news is broken on Twitter, when Nine Inch Nails member Danny Lohner tweets "Goths the world over will mourn this day — off to a wedding," followed by a picture of the couple dancing.
2010 to 2012
Trent announces he's formed a new band called How To Destroy Angels (named after the Coil song of the same name) with his wife Mariqueen, Rob Sheridan and regular collaborator Atticus Ross. Two months later the band release a self-titled EP as a limited free download. In an interview with The Quietus, Trent explains how the band operates: "It comes down to parallel tracks. One is primarily Atticus and myself starting with an idea — we were heavily inspired by old Cabaret Voltaire, starting with the sound of old analog sequencers and things, trying to sync up things in conception, and machines working together in concert but not quite able to do so. I think that concept led to experimentation as it proceeded. The other track would be Mariqueen coming up with melodic ideas — sometimes completely unrelated to what we're doing — lyrical concepts and fragments of lyrics that were married to this music. It would often go in a direction that Atticus and I didn't intend it to, and that marriage, that collision, would make it feel a lot different to how a Nine Inch Nails record would feel, or a soundtrack as it evolved."
In a Facebook Q&A, Trent addresses the future of Nine Inch Nails: "NIN is not dead and I am about to work on some material that I believe will be quite different than previous NIN very soon." David Fincher asks Trent and Atticus Ross to score his Facebook movie, The Social Network. Trent posts a message on nin.com explaining why he chose to score the film, saying, "I was planning on taking some time off after the continual waves of touring that ended last fall and spend this year experimenting around with what would become How to Destroy Angels and some new NIN. Well, that plan didn't work out so well. David Fincher started inquiring about my interest in scoring his upcoming film, The Social Network. Yeah, the movie about the founding of Facebook. I've always loved David's work but quite honestly I wondered what would draw him to tell that story. When I actually read the script and realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned. Atticus Ross and I have been on a creative roll so I asked him if he wanted to work on this with me and we signed on. Months later, I'm happy to tell you we're nearing the completion of this and I couldn't be happier with how it's turned out. The level of excellence that David operates on is inspiring and the entire process has been challenging and truly enjoyable. As Atticus and I near the end of the scoring process, we're looking forward to the next phase — distilling the large amount of music we've written for this down to a satisfying record (or two). The film opens Oct 1 in the US with the record likely available a couple of weeks ahead of that. Speaking of the film... it's really fucking good. And dark!"
The score wins a number of awards including Best Original Score at both the 2011 Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Trent and Mariqueen welcome their first child, a son names Lazarus Echo Reznor. A year after The Social Network, Trent and Atticus return with the score to another Fincher film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Trent tells The Hollywood Reporter, "[The Social Network] was tricky because it involved mainly people in rooms bitching at each other; it didn't seem obvious what role music would play. This film felt a bit more like: 'Ah, serial killers and anal raping, I know what that sounds like. It's not as much of a stretch …' Let me rephrase that — a dark tone felt more familiar."
One of the songs is a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" featuring vocals by Karen O, which features in the film's opening credits. The album receives another Golden Globe nomination, as well as a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, which it wins. Trent composes the theme song for Call of Duty: Black Ops II. How To Destroy Angels sign a deal with Columbia Records and release a new EP titled An Omen. Trent explains the decision to return to a major label: "Regarding our decision to sign with Columbia, we've really spent a long time thinking about things and it makes sense for a lot of reasons, including a chance to work with our old friend Mark Williams. There's a much more granular and rambling answer I could give (and likely will in an interview someplace) but it really comes down to us experimenting and trying new things to see what best serves our needs. Complete independent releasing has its great points but also comes with shortcomings."
The New Yorker reports that Nine Inch Nails will become active again: "In 2014, Interscope Records will release an edition of the band's greatest hits, to which Reznor intends to contribute two new songs. Then he plans to write music for a new record."
Trent Reznor teams up with TopSpin Media founder Ian Rogers to develop Project Daisy, a new music subscription service via Dr. Dre's Beats Electronics. Expected in late 2013, in a press release Reznor describes the service as like "having your own guy when you go to the record store, who knows what you like but can also point you down some paths you wouldn't have necessarily encountered." How To Destroy Angels release their debut album, Welcome Oblivion. Speaking with Clash, Trent explains the album's delay: "Why it took so long is that when we went into this project we wanted to take our time, we wanted it to reveal itself rather than force it down a certain avenue. We wanted to give the band some time to figure out what it actually sounded like, how we felt comfortable working."
On the eve of Welcome Oblivion's release, Trent announces the return of Nine Inch Nails: "Nine Inch Nails are touring this year. I was working with Adrian Belew on some musical ideas, which led to some discussion on performing, which led to some beard-scratching, which (many steps later) led to the decision to re-think the idea of what Nine Inch Nails could be, and the idea of playing a show. Calls were made to some friends, lots of new ideas were discussed, and a show was booked — which led to another, which somehow led to a lot of shows. The band is reinventing itself from scratch and will be comprised of Eric Avery, Adrian Belew, Alessandro Cortini, Josh Eustis, Ilan Rubin, and me. The first shows will begin this summer, followed by a full-on arena tour of the U.S this fall, and lots of other dates worldwide to follow through 2014. Lots of details and dates to come. See you soon."
The Essential Trent Reznor
Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine (TVT, 1989)
The album that brought industrial music out of a deep, dark void and onto the set of Dance Party USA, Nine Inch Nails' debut literally came out of nowhere. The product of a temporary custodian job, Trent reinvented industrial music's limits, opening a door for other acts to be heard outside of their niche audience. By injecting the genre's cold, noisy reputation with a jolt of melody and hooks, severe lyrics like "Head like a hole/ Black as your soul/ I'd rather die than give you control" became mainstream sing-alongs. And let us not forget that PHM made the impossible possible: demonstrating that keyboards in aggressive music could be kind of cool.
Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral (Nothing/Interscope, 1994)
One of the biggest albums of the '90s, The Downward Spiral was a bleak concept album that didn't force its theme on the listener — of which there were more than six million. Moving beyond the fierce techno-pop of Pretty Hate Machine and the metallic discharge of Broken, Trent presented a grand juxtaposition that introduced an array of textures to complement his devastated prose. Electro-thrash ("March of the Pigs"), noise-hip-hop ("Ruiner"), ambient ("A Warm Place") and pitiful balladry ("Hurt") all united to give an emotional soundtrack for anyone, be it jocks, preps, geeks or Goths.
Nine Inch Nails The Slip (The Null Corporation, 2008)
Year Zero was more of an experience with its mixed media agenda, but The Slip was arguably the most cohesive and immediately rewarding Nine Inch Nails album since the debut. Blind-siding us with two weeks notice, and only 15 months after Year Zero, The Slip was pure meat'n'potatoes industrial rock that proved to be the band's most pummelling, confrontational collection of songs to date. The antithesis to the sprawling instrumentals of Ghosts, it validated that Trent was as driven and fertile as ever in the studio, 20 years into his career. The fact that it was a freebie made this album all the more easy to love.