Game Changers: Trent Reznor

As Reznor readies new music from Nine Inch Nails, let’s look at how he brought music into the computer age.

The other day, I read in the news that Nine Inch Nails will be releasing new EPs this year as part of a trilogy that started with 2016’s EP, Not the Actual Events. After reading this news, I started to think back on the band and Trent Reznor, who essentially is Nine Inch Nails.

In 1989, Trent Reznor released his brainchild Nine Inch Nails on the world. While industrial music had been around for a quite some time with bands like Ministry and KMFDM at the forefront, Nine Inch Nails made what was mainly an underground genre mainstream.

As a young musician, Reznor tried putting together a band of musicians that would play his songs as he wanted. When he couldn’t find anyone that could do what he truly wanted, he decided to pull a page from Prince’s book and play all of the instruments on what would become Nine Inch Nails’ first album.

Photo Credit: John Gaps III

This is something he still does to this day, while occasionally inviting others to record with him. After recording a demo on his own during the free time given to him by the recording studio he worked at, the early makings of Pretty Hate Machine emerged, and the demo landed him a record deal with TVT Records.

When Pretty Hate Machine was released, there was buzz about this new “band,” though the full buildup took a bit. With now NIN classics like Head Like a Hole and Terrible Lie, fans started to gravitate towards Reznor’s dark, heavy sound that also meshed with some pop style sensibilities.

In the attempt to avoid a record company’s interference, Reznor secretly worked on the EP, Broken, which gave us another industrial classic, Wish (which even won a Grammy in 1993). There was no denying that NIN and their leader Trent Reznor were the real deal. The sounds and lyrics coming from Reznor resonated with many, who loved the raw power they felt from these in your face songs.

In 1994, NIN released what is considered their masterpiece and potentially one of the greatest industrial rock records of all-time with The Downward Spiral. From beginning to end, The Downward Spiral brought us on a journey of anger, despair, and mental progress.

With the word now out about Reznor and NIN, the album debuted at number two on the charts, and spawned the massive single Closer along with other great tracks like Piggy, March of the Pigs, and the darkest of darkest moments, Hurt.

From the opening line, “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel,” to the closing static noise, Hurt is one of the most depressing songs of all time.

Headlining arenas for the first time, Reznor and NIN became rock gods that helped usher in an age of industrial music. As time passed, more industrial acts started to sprout up in NIN’s wake. Bands like Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills, God Lives Underwater, and even a band Trent discovered and brought to the masses, Marilyn Manson.

Even as industrial music faded, NIN kept going strong as they released an array of incredible albums. One such album, The Fragile, is one that many fail to see as another classic, and I’ve always felt it was forgotten over the years. The double album showed Reznor really embracing his brilliance.

The lush soundscapes, atmosphere, and the way Reznor uses computers to get sounds and loops to his perfection are just mindblowing. During The Fragile 2.0 Tour, Reznor overdosed on heroin and shortly after, put the band on hiatus. He didn’t return for five years. When he eventually returned with his fourth album With Teeth, you could tell there was a different person behind the music.

Photo Credit: Andrew Chin

Now sober and using his sobriety to create even more empowering work, Reznor took everything he did to a whole other level. To go further as to why Reznor is such a brilliant artist centers around his live performances. Over the years, he’s created visual spectacles and experiences for fans at the shows.

What started in the early years as intense lights and fog machines evolved into concert experiences that truly had to be seen to be believed. I’ve been to over 20 NIN shows myself, and have seen the evolution of these stage shows. Look no further than Lights in the Sky Tour to see what I mean.

Nine Inch Nails are one of the best live acts out there to this day, and it only takes the act of witnessing a few of these songs live to understand this. In 2013, he upped the live game again, transforming his concerts into a sort of visual orgasm. Check out the video below to see what I’m talking about, as words alone don’t do it justice.

Trent Reznor has also scored soundtracks to such films as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network (for which he won an Oscar), and a handful of others. This particular phase of his career has shown that Reznor can put himself into any creative situation and his brilliance as an artist will emerge to create incredible music.

I want to end this Game Changers feature with my own personal story. I discovered NIN around the time grunge came into my life, and Reznor was an idol of mine from the first day I discovered his music (similar to when I discovered bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam). I’ve followed Reznor’s every move since I was 14, and have watched his genius unfold.

First, it was the way he made albums that spoke to me. Then, it was being able to see NIN live. My first show was in a small club at the very beginning of the Downward Spiral Tour, and it’s one I’ll never forget. I remember skipping my first day of college so I could get check out a secret NIN show that only 300 fans were allowed into.

Photo Credit: Matthew Ryan Williams

Once inside, I was able to stand against the stage just inches away from my idol. I’ve been on a journey while watching Reznor change music whether by bringing industrial to the mainstream, or by using technology to its fullest to create audible and visual masterpieces. I saw him win an Oscar for a film soundtrack, and Trent decked out in a tuxedo was certainly an interesting sight.

I’ve always said that Reznor is on the level of Prince; the same man who inspired him to take matters into his own hands. I could continue to talk about Reznor for days but instead, I urge you to listen to some of the music I’ve left here, and watch some of the live shows as well.

Look out for the second EP in NIN new trilogy of EPs which should arrive very soon. Get pulled into this digital world Trent has created, and I know you will leave with a different outlook. Trust me, I know I’ve never been the same since.

For more, be sure to recap why Josh Homme is another Game Changer, as he created a new genre of music out in the desert. Also, check out System of a Down, how they're finally recording a new album, and learn why they deserved to be the inaugural Game Changer in this series.