Nine Inch Nails: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. This week: Nine Inch Nails.
Trent has always insisted that when he moved to the posh Benedict Canyon section of Los Angeles to record his 1994 sophomore album, 'The Downward Spiral,' he had no idea he'd moved his studio into the house that was the scene of the notorious 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and friends at the hands of Charles Manson's so-called "family" members. But that didn't stop his morbid fascination with Manson once he found out. Reznor named the studio "PIG" -- a reference to the word Tate's killers scrawled with her blood on the house's front door -- and made further reference with song titles 'Piggy' and 'March of the Pigs,' introducing Manson's gruesome insanity to a whole new generation. "I'm not personally infatuated with serial killers [and] by no means do I wish to glamorize them," said Reznor, who also recorded Marilyn Manson's debut album at PIG. "From living in that house I've met every person in the world you can imagine who's obsessed with that whole thing and it's given me more of a perspective on it."
Artists as varied as Jane's Addiction, Public Enemy and Prince were cited as influences in the liner notes to Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut album, 'Pretty Hate Machine,' but industrial music is a more obvious touchstone. NIN's sound draws from a long line of precursors, and Reznor has long referenced the tape manipulations of Throbbing Gristle, the techno experimentations of Cabaret Voltaire, the grinding rhythms of Einstürzende Neubauten and the brutal guitars of Ministry, to name but some of the contributors to the Nails blueprint. Thematically, goth greats Bauhaus and post-punk icons Joy Division -- whose 'Dead Souls' has NIN covered -- are as important as any. And don't forget Coil, whose 1984 debut EP, 'How to Destroy Angels,' inspired frontman Reznor's current NIN side project of the same.
Trent Reznor has singlehandedly provided a model for how musicians can be financially successful in the post-Napster world. From posting the multi-track masters of 2005’s ‘With Teeth’ so fans could remix it to giving away part of 2008’s ‘Ghosts I-IV’ to create demand for deluxe versions (including the $300 ultra set) – not to mention implementing inventive guerrilla marketing to fuel the buzz behind 'Year Zero' and straight-up offering 2008’s ‘The Slip’ for free (“This one's on me,” he announced) -- Reznor has often sacrificed short term sales to build up the NIN brand. He’s ultimately generated more revenue from alternate sources like concert ticket and merchandise sales, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Nine Inch Nails have had an iconic, globally recognized logo and consistent album design elements since the very beginning. It’s all led to a dedicated fan base that's even eager to spread the gospel of Trent anywhere tattoo ink sticks.