BuBz - Inspired by Bill Bailey, the Klingong motivational speaker 2005

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Part 3 of the history of my favorite band - nine inch nails

Swimming in the haze: spirals, games, and soundtracks

Growth. It is a basic principle in life. All things grow and mature as they span their life from birth to infancy, adolescence, maturity, old age, and ultimately the final absolute in life, death. So it is with artists, and those inclined to the musical side of the artistic element. And so it was with Nine Inch Nails in 1994, who found themselves at the adolescent stage of their musical lifetime. The past several years had been tumultuous for Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails, and consisted of a great deal of firsts for them. Nine Inch Nails had signed their first record deal, released their first album, toured as a live show that turned more than a few heads, won several Grammy's, and successfully parted ways with the aforementioned label, TVT, in favour of more artistic freedom under Interscope. Reznor had also formed his own personal label, Nothing Records, and caused yet more controversy when he purchased and moved into the infamous Tate mansion, site of the infamous Charlie Manson murders, to record Nine Inch Nails' next studio album.

By March of 1994, Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails had completed work on their latest record, The Downward Spiral, and released Halo 9, "Closer". The single and accompanying video by director Mark Romanek began to gain notoriety from an audience of fans who had been caught up in the tempestuous maelstrom that was the Grunge rock movement. For the past several years, while Reznor remained holed up in "Pig" Studios in Beverly Hills, quite literally amidst a genuine American nightmare (or at least the site of), grunge had taken sway as the reigning King of Genres, and had eradicated virtually every hair metal band in the world. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and of course Nirvana held court now, and very few alternative (no pun intended) genres were holding steady against the Grunge movement.

And so, Nine Inch Nails was reborn into the media mainstream. Three years had passed since the release of their last full album, Pretty Hate Machine, and while they had made an impression in the early stages of Grunge's uprising on tours such as Lollapalooza, most music fans' attentions were focused on the Alternative movement. But few could easily dismiss the stark sights and sounds that were "Closer". Pulsating beats, warbling effects and no-holds barred lyrics were justification for the great deal of attention the single garnered. Critics began to simultaneously praise its brilliance and dismiss Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor fort 'sell-outs' the more popular the single became. In the UK, top BBC Radio One DJ Bruno Brookes accidentally (yah, right) played the full, unedited album version of "Closer", rather than the typical, edited version distributed to radio stations free of obscenities. Thousands of British listeners were treated to "I want to fuck you like an animal" over the airwaves, and thousands jammed the switchboards at the BBC lodging their complaints. Reznor followed up on the success of the single with "Closer to God", an additional single that featured mixes of several other tracks including "Heresy", "March of the Pigs", and "Memorabilia", a song originally recorded by Soft Cell.

And just as quickly as Grunge fans were taking notice of Nine Inch Nails' return to rock, their limited attention spans were abruptly yanked bank to Grunge, and Trent Reznor found himself standing in the shadows yet again. On April 8, 1994, the world was stunned to hear that Nirvana founder and frontman, the Godfather of Grunge, Kurt Cobain had taken his life the evening before with a shotgun. Cobain had long since been painted the poster boy for the troubled, drug-addled rock star, and he had finally succumbed to the stress subjected upon him by the media, his art, drugs, and other various elements. Trent Reznor, who had been often targeted as this same persona given his penchant for the darker side in life, did not succumb to these pressures, but rather poured them out through his art, much like Cobain had, yet had lived to tell the tale. In many ways, Cobain and Reznor were alike and several parallels can be drawn betwixt them. Both came from broken homes. Both had been raised in Small Town, USA. Both had expressed obvious dissatisfaction with society. And both felt pain and expressed it more acutely than the average bi-pedaled Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, Reznor had survived, and with the grunge movement in an uncertain place with their leaders Nirvana dethroned, Nine Inch Nails embarked on what would be the most important tour of the band's career. From the spring through the late summer of 1994, Nine Inch Nails toured relentlessly throughout North America and Europe on their Self Destruct tour. It would be their first major, headlining tour, and Reznor and company, now consisting of Robin Finck, Charlie Clouser, Danny Lohner, and Chris Vrenna, were making a serious impression. The Downward Spiral was garnering critical acclaim, "Closer" had become a regular in radio and video rotation, and Nine Inch Nails were being championed as rock's future saviours as the Grunge movement did not stumble, so much as it wavered uncertainly, as if hesitant as to where to go next. On August 13, 1994, Nine Inch Nails took the stage at Woodstock '94, alongside top acts such as Henry Rollins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, to name but a few. Nine Inch Nails' bombastic, frenzied, and mud-soaked performance nearly stole the show, as it were, despite the fact that there were many acts to follow. The crowd that had assembled for Woodstock '94 were not expecting the electric hellfire that was Nine Inch Nails' live show, and the performance was heralded as nothing short of phenomenal.

Nine Inch Nails had officially arrived.

After a brief two-week break, Reznor took his Nine Inch Nails out across North America on part two of the Self Destruct tour. Prior to
setting out on tour in the spring, Trent Reznor had relatively recently discovered a band by the name of Marilyn Manson in Florida, and immediately took advantage of his newly formed Nothing label by signing them. After producing their premier release, Portrait of an American Family, and in an ingenious move afforded him by his newfound freedom under Interscope, Reznor elected to take Marilyn Manson along as the supporting act on the Self Destruct tour, as well as a circus freak show known as The Jim Rose Circus. Fans of Nine Inch Nails' hair-raising performances were also treated to brutal displays and horrific stunts by The Jim Rose Circus, and as well as a whole new genre of rock that they simply could not classify in Marilyn Manson. Manson’s antics would become infamous, and the combined power of the opening acts fed the voracious craze that was rising up as more and more people were being converted into Nine Inch Nails fans.

As the year progressed and Nine Inch Nails were becoming a household rock name, Trent Reznor found himself with various opportunities that he had never been privy to before. Tori Amos invited Reznor to sing back-up vocals on "Past the Mission" off her Under the Pink album. He accepted and invited her to the Tate mansion for the recording process. They quickly struck up a friendship and rumoured romance that would later mellow for widely debated reasons, though Courtney Love, widow to Kurt Cobain, has received the most popular vote as the cause of their split, and Reznor himself has indicated as such, though he has never specified.

Reznor was also invited to contribute a track to the soundtrack for the movie The Crow. Again exercising newfound freedom muscles he didn't realize he possessed, Reznor consented and laid down another cover in the form of "Dead Souls", originally recorded by Joy Division. Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis was yet another rock n' roll suicide, and the connection was downright eerie when Brandon Lee, only son to famous martial artist Bruce Lee, died making The Crow in a stunt gone horribly wrong, and on his first major motion picture, no less. Trent Reznor was inadvertently (or ingeniously) falling under a dark and sombre umbrella that would come to envelop his career and mark his persona. Early in 1995, Nine Inch Nails would again set out in support of The Downward Spiral, joined again by The Jim Rose Circus, but this time the short leg featured another newly signed act to the Nothing label, Pop Will Eat Itself, as Marilyn Manson had embarked on smaller solo shows and set to work on future material.

Reznor was approached for another project heretofore foreign to his artistic meanderings, when Oliver Stone asked him to produce the soundtrack for the upcoming film Natural Born Killers. Reznor took the offer as a welcome relief from touring, and he and the production crew packed up studio, flew to Europe in early 1995, and holed up to assemble the soundtrack. The album would feature a very eclectic line-up, including the doomsday musings of Leonard Cohen, angst-heavy L7, snappy and smooth rappings of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, Jane's Addiction, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan, among others, thus demonstrating Reznor's wide-ranging tastes and fearlessness when manipulating and combining various genres. Nine Inch Nails also contributed several tracks to the effort, including a version of "Something I can Never Have" from Pretty Hate Machine, and a new song entitled "Burn", which paired with the violent, rage-infested theme of the movie perfectly.

Natural Born Killers, the film, was a smash for a number of reasons, not the least of which was director auteur Oliver Stone's name stamped on it. In addition, the apocalyptic, serial killer ramblings had been adapted from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, and it now had the sonic backdrop put together by the deft touch of Reznor. After receiving critical acclaim and praise yet again, Reznor said of the experience that he would "...like to do a real soundtrack. I'm interested in composing, whereas basically this was just editing. I made a little souvenir of the movie but I don't really feel I've created anything. That, I would like to do... if we ever manage to stop touring."

Nine Inch Nails would go on to Australia, where they played just a handful of festival shows, before returning to the US. Those who would accuse Trent Reznor of resting on his laurels during that period of Nine Inch Nails' life would be horribly mistaken. Immediately after returning from Australia, Reznor set to work producing Marilyn Manson's remix EP, Smells Like Children, which featured a cover of the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". The single hit the airwaves in 1995 and would arguably be Manson's biggest track both then and now, and it catapulted Marilyn Manson into the spotlight once and for all.

Reznor also set to work remixing and reworking his own material from The Downward Spiral, and these prolific remix sessions would result in Halo Ten, Further Down the Spiral, also released in 1995. Reznor further displayed his uncanny production and mixing prowess by creating completely reinterpreted songs. His sessions were so prolific, in fact, that Halo Ten was followed closely by Halo Ten v2, the lesser known little brother, containing a slightly different line-up than its predecessor and alternative mixes. After months occupied by these various side projects, Reznor was presented with a truly golden opportunity. His success thus far had earned him the attention of one David Bowie, who extended an invitation to Nine Inch Nails to open during a fall tour of North America. Needless to say, Reznor readily accepted. So it was in the fall of 1995 that Nine Inch Nails once more struck out on tour, this time with David Bowie, giving them exposure to entirely new generations of fans that had not yet heard of them. Nine Inch Nails' now renowned stage show, including the grand finale of "Hurt", which would occasionally feature Bowie on stage alongside Trent Reznor singing alternative choruses, garnered Nine Inch Nails respect and awe in places that Reznor had likely never dared dream of believing possible. Nine Inch Nails would then follow this highly successful stint with yet another few months of touring North America on their own, this time opting for smaller venues and playing with Helmut. Finally, in December of 1995, several months shy of nearly two solid years of copious touring and production, Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails concluded their support of The Downward Spiral and took a break. Of course, 'taking a break' seems to be a relative expression to Trent Reznor. Building upon the incredible momentum of Marilyn Manson's newfound success with their supporting performances of Nine Inch Nails and the "Sweet Dreams" single, Reznor and Marilyn Manson retreated to Reznor's new home at Nothing Studios, which was housed in New Orleans, Louisiana. Reznor had purchased an old mansion, located just blocks away from vampire author extraordinaire, Anne Rice, and refurbished the property to house both his own personal studio and his new residence. His former "Pig" Studio and the Tate mansion would eventually be demolished. Reznor retained the front door of the Tate mansion, which once bore the infamous "pig" scrawled by the real Manson cult in blood, as a souvenir.

Nearly twelve months involved Reznor and Marilyn Manson himself forging a friendship and a professional team in the production of Manson's upcoming album. Their recording sessions are the stuff of rock and roll legend, with tales rumours of rampant drug use, excessive alcohol abuse, and other tales of debauchery. The result, however, was nothing short of sensational. The fall of 1996 saw the release of Marilyn Manson's sophomore studio album, Antichrist Superstar, and much like Nine Inch Nails' second album, it would mark the dawning of a new era for Marilyn Manson, both the band and the man. Reznor's technical expertise was plainly evident on Superstar, and the singles from the album were both astounding and plentiful, including "The Beautiful People" and "Tourniquet".

Later that same year, Reznor was yet again approached by a director to work his magic on a soundtrack. This time around it was David Lynch, who offered Reznor the production job on his upcoming film, Lost Highway. Trent Reznor accepted, and gathered an eclectic, but viable collection of music for the piece, including newfound friend David Bowie, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks' theme), The Smashing Pumpkins, and the German-born Rammstein. Nine Inch Nails, of course, contributed three tracks to the album. "The Perfect Drug" was the primary of the three, and the obligatory Halo (Eleven) was also released containing five alternate versions of the song. Reznor would again team up with "Closer" video director Mark Romanek for a vivid and image-heavy, visceral video version of "The Perfect Drug". Also included on Lost Highway were the tracks "Videodrones; Questions" and "Driver Down", both of which
were not earmarked as Nine Inch Nails songs, but rather as "Trent Reznor", thereby marking the first time Reznor had ever 'released' a track under his personal name, as opposed to his band's name, despite the fact that most of us know that "Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails".

Marilyn Manson, now at the height of his fame thanks in large part to Trent Reznor, also contributed several tracks, including a bloodcurdling cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkin's "I Put a Spell On You" and an original track, "Apple of Sodom". Marilyn Manson himself and Manson's bassist, Twiggy Ramirez, even appear in cameos in Lost Highway as porn stars. This was also the first indication of a divide between Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson himself and would foreshadow events yet to unfold. Manson had allegedly wanted to produce the album, and was apparently livid that Lynch had handed the reins to Reznor. Marilyn Manson went on to a sensational and controversy-laden world tour in support of Antichrist Superstar, and would later move on to Hollywood as the rift between Reznor and Manson grew.

Reznor continued on his workaholic regimen, and yet again got his fingers into unexplored territory when he was tapped to do the soundtrack for a video game. Reznor would spend months in isolation writing the mood music to Quake, the sequel to the immensely popular game, Doom. "I would do something like that mainly because it's a hobby of mine, I appreciate the technology, and it's fun to work outside Nine Inch Nails once in a while. Quake was fun because they didn't want hard-rock goofy music going through the game," explains Reznor, "it was all about atmosphere at the time." Quake's creator, John Carmack tipped his hat to Reznor's efforts by placing the NIN logo in the video game itself in the form of a logo imprinted on ammunition boxes.

In 1997, Trent Reznor again teamed up with David Bowie, this time to remix Bowie's single "I'm Afraid of Americans" from Bowie's album, Earthling. Reznor, along with the now staple production crew of Charlie Clouser, Keith Hillebrandt, Dave "Rave" Ogilvie, and Danny Lohner, set to work interpreting Bowie's music. Again thinking outside of the box that the media would love so dearly to paint for him, Reznor called upon rapper Ice Cube to lend his vocal styling to one version of the single. Reznor would also be featured prominently as the antagonist in the video for "I'm Afraid of Americans", ostensibly appearing as said "American", replete with military style jacket and menacing glare, who stalks David Bowie through city streets throughout the video.

Thinking his production efforts for others at a halt, Reznor began the process of gathering his thoughts and artistic subconsciousness in preparation for Nine Inch Nails' third studio album. His work had yet to get off the ground, however, for Reznor was to receive yet one more call from an infamous musician requesting his talents. Rob Halford, former lead screamer for '80s metal giant Judas Priest and now openly gay, happened to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1997 with some friends, and when Reznor's studio was pointed out to him, he quite literally showed up knocking on Reznor's doorstep, requesting that he lend his ear to a demo Halford had. Reznor accepted the demo, and after listening to it several months later, called Halford up and offered to produce and release the project on his Nothing label. Reznor "told me [Halford] that he had been listening to the music and he had a vision. He could hear them in a different way. And could we take them and break them down and build them up again, with his interpretation?" Halford agreed, as he "knew that this was somebody who was a visionary, an incredible talent, and he was in his own exclusive world." The result was 1998's Voyeurs by Halford's new band, called simply Two. While the album did not garner critical acclaim or much commercial success, many hail it as yet another production masterpiece from Trent Reznor, who once more called upon Dave "Rave" Ogilvie to aid him at the mixing desk. Reznor had had enough of production and side projects that had too long distracted him from work dedicated solely to Nine Inch Nails. Aside from the few songs recorded for various soundtracks, Nine Inch Nails had not fashioned any new material, and it was nearly four years since the release of The Downward Spiral, more than eclipsing the typical two-year window between most musical acts' studio releases. The time had come for Reznor to honestly buckle down and begin work on Nine Inch Nails' next record. Having learned in several years what many artists do not in their lifetimes, Reznor began the arduous process of applying this newfound knowledge and success to the task of recording Nine Inch Nails music once again. The progression would be long and extensive, and Nine Inch Nails fans waited impatiently for their hero to come forth with new material. Their patience would be tested indeed, as it took Reznor nearly two more years to create his next record, a double-album opus that would attempt to sate the now ravenous appetite of his fans.


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