Trent, a 24-year-old keyboardist from rural PA, dropped out of college in '84, moved to the steel wasteland of Cleveland and took a job as a studio technician to learn music engineering. Though he's a trained classical pianist, he hasn't looked at a piece of sheet music in five years. He didn't want traditional music theory and technique to interfere with Nine Inch Nails' raw, uncalculated debut LP, Pretty Hate Machine. Reshaping '80's mope rock, Trent and producers John Fryer and Flood fuse misery with technology. They take advantage of the massive appeal of the Cure, Depeche Mode and the Smiths(the dead on expression of post-adolescent discontent) and make it danceable. The album ia a collection of dense electronic noise, synthesized beats and powerful laments that wallow in introspection, attack with violent screams and haunt with seductive, droning whispers. The songs - the first Trent's ever written - are fraught with religious references, Trent sometimes putting himself in Christ's place.
"I believe in god,"he says. "I was brought up going to Sunday school and church, but it didn't really mean anything. Things upset me a lot. It was just a theme I kept coming back to-religion, guilt and doubting. I believe there's a god but I'm not too sure of his relevance."
On stage, Trent and the touring band he formed in Cleveland are lost in a sea of smoke, leather and skin. Covered in cakey white powder, black lipstick and eyeliner, he moves slowly, provocatively, then erupts into a wild, uninhibited dance, yanking his guitar player around the stage by his ponytail and spitting beer onto the crowd. Unlike his harsh, aggressive music and dramatic stage performance, Trent Reznor-a little over five feet tall with long jet black hair, shaved on both sides, wearing a hoop earing and black combat boots-is, in person, a bit shy, a bit melancholy. "I'm not the cool rock guy who has a motorcycle,"he says. Although, for fun he does ride a mountain bike.
"I was raised by my grandparents, the greatest people in the world," says Trent. "I try to tell them,"You're not going to hear my music on the radio. I'm not going to be on soap operas singing this." I can imagine what my grandfather tells people:"It's called Nine Inch Nails-here's the video. And here he is lying dead at the end of it." I warned my grandfather that the church might be after him."