#2 Trent Reznor, founder of Nine Inch Nails
May 17, 1965 – Present
Reznor’s production credits include:
- Nine Inch Nails
- Marilyn Manson
- How To Destroy Angels
- Soundtracks for Natural Born Killers, David Lynch’s Lost Highway and contributions to many other movie scores. In 2010 Reznor and Atticus Ross won the Best Original Score Oscar for The Social Network soundtrack; the two of them followed this up in 2011 with the score for another David Fincher film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Founder of industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails, Reznor stands for musical innovation, artistic independence and channelling raw emotion through technology like no-one else before him.
Reznor started early with music, beginning with the piano at the age of five, and after being involved with a few synth-based bands as a teenager in the mid-80s, got a job at Manhattan’s Right Track Studio as an assistant engineer and janitor. Studio owner Bart Koster later commented that Reznor was “so focused in everything he [did]. When that guy waxed the floor, it looked great.”
Reznor asked Koster for permission to record demos of his own songs for free during unused studio time, and these eventually led to the first Nine Inch Nails recordings.
While assembling these earliest Nine Inch Nails recordings, Reznor was unable to find a band that could articulate his songs as he wanted. Instead, inspired by Prince, he played all the instruments except drums himself. This role remains Reznor’s on most of the band’s studio recordings.
So although Reznor has always had help in the studio – notably Mark “Flood” Ellis on The Downward Spiral and Atticus Ross on more recent NIN albums, Reznor represents the artist/producer fully taking control of his creative output from recording to performing and distribution.
Nine Inch Nails
Reznor’s first release as Nine Inch Nails was Pretty Hate Machine (1989), but it was second album The Downward Spiral (1994) that has become the most enduring (and highest selling).
Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote, “Every instrument, acoustic or synthetic, seems tuned to create the maximum aural abrasion”. Pareles also noted that unlike other electro-industrial groups like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, “Reznor writes full-fledged tunes; he knows his way around melodic hooks, not just riffs. And while purists accuse him of selling out their insular genres, he actually trumps them; the music is no less transgressive, and possibly more so, because it sticks in the ear.”
Reznor recorded The Downward Spiral in a custom-built studio space at the Cielo Drive mansion, site of the 1969 Manson Family murders. He said at the time that he chose to record there because, “I looked at a lot of places, and this just happened to be the one I liked most”.
Reznor is a big fan of David Bowie, and cited Bowie’s 1977 album Low as one of his favourite albums, adding that he played the album constantly during the recording of The Downward Spiral.
Following the release of The Downward Spiral, Bowie himself compared NIN’s impact to that of The Velvet Underground.
Reznor even appeared in Bowie’s video for “I’m Afraid of Americans”, cast as Bowie’s stalker.
Five years elapsed before Nine Inch Nails’ next album, The Fragile, during which time Reznor seems to have struggled with pretty much everything: addiction, studio perfectionism, depression, social anxiety disorder and the death of his grandmother, who raised him.
Despite the commercial and critical success of those first few albums, it has been since Reznor finally returned from rehab to the studio in 2005 that he has really started to confirm his position as a truly forward-thinking producer.
The NIN albums in the past few years – With Teeth (2005), Year Zero (2007), Ghost I-IV and The Slip (both 2008) – mark a new phase in Reznor’s personal and creative lives.
The Nine Inch Nails sound is almost an entire genre in its own right. The thing that puts Reznor’s productions at a whole other level to many electronic productions is the fact that underneath all the studio wizardry there is real artistry, a burning need to express real emotions and to craft real and powerful songs. When you strip away all the effects and processing, you can still play most NIN songs on an acoustic guitar and they’ll still sound good. In fact, it is when Reznor adds to the distortion and sound design effects with his trademark ‘acoustic’ treated piano that his sound really opens out and takes off.
As far as studio gear goes, Reznor and his team make use of a lot of both hardware and software. His collection of guitar effects pedals and stomp boxes is near legendary, and from With Teeth onwards, Reznor has embraced the software computer music revolution. So as well as the huge modular analogue synths you can see lining the walls in the studio pictures, plugins and soft synths dominate within his Pro Tools / Logic –based setup. “I think it is an excellent time right now — from a sound and sonic point of view — where the dark ages are past [in terms of music technology],” says Reznor. “There’s a limitless palate of interesting stuff coming out software-wise. I mean, Reaktor alone. It’s great to have additive and granular synthesis at your fingertips, and the spectral stuff. I’m excited because there are several new software apps that I’ve got and some hardware that I haven’t even scratched the surface of.
“I find that exciting from a sound design point of view —new ways to treat things, ways to evoke emotions out of certain things, ” he explains. “At the top of my list would be pretty much everything Native Instruments makes. From Reaktor to Vokator and Battery for drums. I’ve messed around with Kontakt a bit and Absynth is great.”
Reznor represents a no-compromise attitude, both towards the production of his own music and towards the general greed inherent in the music industry.
In 2007 Reznor made a post on the Nine Inch Nails website condemning Universal Music Group (the parent company of the band’s record label at the time, Interscope Records) for their pricing and distribution plans for Year Zero. He said, “as the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more.”
Following this, fellow producer Bob Ezrin described Reznor as a “true visionary” and advised aspiring artists to take note of his no-compromise attitude.
In May 2008 Reznor released the Nine Inch Nails studio album The Slip as a free digital download on his website, stating “This one’s on me.”
Get the album download here.
Reznor developed this system with Saul Williams’ 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which he co-produced. The album was released as a free download, while also giving fans the option of paying $5 for higher quality files. As time goes on, Reznor’s style and world-view seems to be ever more prophetic and relevant. As the old music industry caves in on itself, Reznor has led the charge in establishing new modes and models of distribution and communication with fans – modes that echo the same independence and expression brought about through the harnessing of technology that also define his musical production style itself.
Check out Reznor’s own excellent essay on “What To Do As A New / Unknown Artist”.
How To Destroy Angels
In April 2010, Reznor has put Nine Inch Nails to rest for a while, and released an EP under the name How To Destroy Angels: a new project comprised of Reznor, regular production partner Atticus Ross and singer Mariqueen Maandig.
WATCH & LISTEN:
Studio performance of song The Becoming from The Downward Spiral:
MTV interview with Reznor at his old Nothing Studios in New Orleans: