'It's not like I'm a horribly depressed person trying to come across as having a noose around my neck," says Trent Reznor, the sole member of Nine Inch Nails. NIN's debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, is shot through with angst-ridden sex, identity crises and religious doubt – but Reznor's explanation is simple enough. "The music I always liked as a kid was stuff I could bum out to and realize, 'Hey, someone else feels that way, too.' So if someone can do that with my music, it's mission accomplished."
Nine Inch Nails' sound is dominated by clanging synths and sardonic, shrieking vocals. But Reznor stretches that industrial-strength noise over a pop framework, and his harrowing but catchy music has taken the college charts by storm.
Two years ago, Reznor moved from his hometown in rural Pennsylvania to Cleveland. Unable to find band mates, Reznor, a classically trained pianist, taught himself to play guitar and bass and recorded his demos at a studio where he worked as a MIDI programmer. After signing a record deal, he hooked up with a bevy of weighty producers including Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc (Tackhead), Flood (Depeche Mode) and John Fryer (Love and Rockets).
Reznor ascribes the desperate sound of his record to the fact that "it wasn't the happiest time of my life." He loves to tell how he sent a tape to his uncle, who was in the midst of interviewing for a secretary. "This one girl was waiting for him to finish a meeting, and he gave her the tape to listen to," says Reznor. "He came back, and she had left. When he called her the next day, she said, 'I was listening to the tape, and I realized I don't want to work for this company.' That's pretty much what I was setting out to do."
Reznor admits to being fairly upbeat these days. "Who knows?" he says. "Maybe there will be a happy album from Nine Inch Nails. I doubt it, but you never know."
This story is from the February 22nd, 1990 issue of Rolling Stone.