Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails in November 2013 at the Staples Center. From left to right: Pino Palladino, Ilan Rubin, Trent Reznor, and Alessandro Cortini.
Background information
Origin Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Years active 1988–present
Associated acts
Past members Former members

Nine Inch Nails (abbreviated NIN; stylized as NIИ) is an American industrial rock band, founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor in Cleveland, Ohio. As its main producer, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Reznor is the only official member of the group and remains solely responsible for its direction.[3] Nine Inch Nails' music straddles a wide range of genres. After recording a new album, Reznor usually assembles a live band to perform with him. The touring band features a revolving lineup that often rearranges songs to fit a live setting. On stage, Nine Inch Nails often employs visual elements to accompany performances, which frequently include light shows.[4]

Underground music audiences warmly received Nine Inch Nails in its early years. Reznor produced several highly influential records in the 1990s that achieved widespread popularity: many Nine Inch Nails songs became radio hits,[5] and their entire catalog has reached record sales exceeding over 20 million albums worldwide,[6] with 10 million sales certified in the United States alone.[7] In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time magazine's list of the year's most influential people, and Spin magazine described him as "the most vital artist in music".[8] In 2004, Rolling Stone placed Nine Inch Nails at 94 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.[9] Despite this acclaim, the band has had several feuds with the corporate side of the recording industry. In 2007, these corporate entanglements resulted in Reznor announcing that Nine Inch Nails would split from its label and release future material independently.[10]

Since 1989, Nine Inch Nails has released eight studio albums. After a hiatus from 2009 to 2013, Nine Inch Nails released Hesitation Marks, through Columbia Records.[11] Prior to this, Ghosts I–IV and The Slip were both independently released in digital form, with physical releases coming later. The digital release of the latter was made available completely free of charge, and the former, while also available for sale, can be acquired legally through means such as file-sharing due to its Creative Commons license. Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for thirteen Grammy Awards and won twice for the songs "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery", in 1992 and 1996 respectively. In 2014, Nine Inch Nails was named as nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their first year of eligibility.[12] In 2015, they were nominated a second time.[13]


Formation (1988–1989)

The letters N, I, and a backwards N set in a strong typeface within a simple black border.
The Nine Inch Nails "NIИ" logo designed by Reznor and Gary Talpas

In 1987, Trent Reznor played keyboard in a Cleveland band called the Exotic Birds, then managed by John Malm, Jr.[14] Reznor and Malm became friends,[15] and when Reznor left the Exotic Birds to work on music of his own, Malm informally became his manager.[16] At the time, Reznor was employed as an assistant engineer and janitor at Right Track Studios,[3] in Cleveland; he asked studio owner Bart Koster for permission to record some demos of his own material for free during unused studio time.[17] Koster agreed and allowed Reznor to use it whenever it was empty,[18] commenting that it cost him "just a little wear on [his] tape heads". While completing the early recordings, Reznor was unable to find a band that could articulate the material as he desired. Instead, inspired by Prince, Reznor played all the instruments except drums himself.[19] This role remains Reznor's on most of the band's studio recordings, though he has occasionally involved other musicians and assistants.[20] Nine Inch Nails debut was at the Phantasy Theater in Lakewood, Ohio on October 21, 1988 as part of the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series.[21] In 1988, after playing its first shows supporting Skinny Puppy, Reznor's ambition for Nine Inch Nails was to release one 12-inch single on a small European label.[22] Several labels responded favorably to the demo material and Reznor signed with TVT Records.[3] Nine selections from the Right Track demos recorded live in November 1988, collectively known as Purest Feeling, were later released in revised form on the band's first full-length studio release, Pretty Hate Machine (1989).[14] The overall sound on Purest Feeling is lighter than that of Pretty Hate Machine; several songs feature more live drumming and guitar work throughout, as well as a heavier use of samples from films.[23]

Reznor coined the name "Nine Inch Nails" because it "abbreviated easily", rather than for "any literal meaning".[24] Other rumored explanations have circulated, alleging that Reznor chose to reference Jesus' crucifixion with nine-inch spikes,[25] or Freddy Krueger's nine-inch fingernails.[26] The English letters NIN are also noted for their resemblance to the modern Hebrew characters of the Tetragrammaton.[27] There is also an old English music hall song with the refrain, "I don't not know no one who don't want no nine inch nails."[28] The Nine Inch Nails' logo, which consists of the letters [NIИ] set inside a border, was designed by Reznor and Gary Talpas.[29] The logo first appeared on the music video for Nine Inch Nails' debut single, "Down in It", and was inspired by Tibor Kalman's typography on the Talking Heads album Remain in Light.[30] Talpas, a native of Cleveland, would continue to design Nine Inch Nails packaging art until 1997.[31]

Pretty Hate Machine (1989–1991)

Written, arranged, and performed by Reznor,[32] Nine Inch Nails' first album Pretty Hate Machine debuted in 1989.[33] It marked his first collaboration with Adrian Sherwood (who produced the lead single "Down in It" in London without meeting Reznor face-to-face)[22] and Mark "Flood" Ellis.[14] Reznor asked Sean Beavan to mix the demos of Pretty Hate Machine, which had received multiple offers for record deals.[34] He mixed sound during Nine Inch Nails' live concerts for several years, eventually becoming an unofficial member of the live band and singing live backup vocals from his place at the mixing console.[35] Flood's production would appear on each major Nine Inch Nails release until 1994, and Sherwood has made remixes for the band as recently as 2000.[36] Reznor and his co-producers expanded upon the Right Track Studio demos by adding singles "Head Like a Hole" and "Sin".[37] Rolling Stone's Michael Azerrad described the album as "industrial-strength noise over a pop framework" and "harrowing but catchy music";[38] Reznor proclaimed this combination "a sincere statement" of "what was in [his] head at the time".[39] In fact the song "Down in It" spent over two months on Billboard's club-play dance chart.[40] After spending 113 weeks on the Billboard 200,[41] Pretty Hate Machine became one of the first independently released records to attain platinum certification.[3]

Reznor during the 1991 Lollapalooza festival

Three music videos were created in promotion of the album. MTV aired the videos for "Down in It" and "Head Like a Hole", but an explicit video for "Sin" was only released in partial form for Closure.[42] The original version of the "Down in It" video ended with the implication that Reznor's character had fallen off a building and died in the street. This footage attracted the attention of the FBI. As Reznor explains in an interview with Convulsion Magazine:

There was a scene w[h]ere I was lying on the ground, appearing to be dead, in a Lodger-esque pose and we had a camera with a big weather balloon filled with helium hooked up to it ... the first one we did, we started the film, I was laying on the ground and the ropes that were holding the balloon snapped, the camera just took off into the atmosphere ... the camera landed two hundred miles away in a farmer's field somewhere. He finds it and takes it to the police, thinking that it's a surveillance camera for marijuana, they develop the film and think that it's some sort of snuff film of a murder, give it to the FBI and have pathologists looking at the body saying, 'yeah, he's rotting,' (I had corn starch on me, right) 'he's been decomposing for 3 weeks.' You could see the other members of the band walking away and they had these weird outfits on, and they thought it was some kind of gang slaying.[43]

In 1989, while doing promotion for the album, the band were asked what shows they would like to appear on. The band jokingly replied (possibly while intoxicated) that they would like to appear on Dance Party USA, since it was the most absurd option they could think of at the time. Much to their surprise, they were booked on the show, and made an appearance.[44]

In 1990, Nine Inch Nails began the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series, in which they toured North America as an opening act for alternative rock artists such as Peter Murphy and The Jesus and Mary Chain.[3][45] Reznor began smashing his equipment while on stage; Rockbeat interviewer Mike Gitter attributed the live band's early success in front of rock oriented audiences to this aggressive attitude.[46] Nine Inch Nails then embarked on a world tour that continued through the first Lollapalooza festival in 1991.[14]

Broken (1992–1993)

After a poor European reception opening for Guns N' Roses, the band returned to America amid pressure from TVT to produce a follow-up to Pretty Hate Machine.[47] After finding out they were hindering control of his project, Reznor criticized the labeling of Nine Inch Nails as a synthpop band[48] and demanded his label terminate his contract, but they ignored his plea.[49] In response, Reznor secretly began recording under various pseudonyms to avoid record company interference.[50] Involved in a feud with TVT, he signed a record deal with Interscope Records and created Nothing Records:

We made it very clear we were not doing another record for TVT. But they made it pretty clear they weren't ready to sell. So I felt like, well, I've finally got this thing going but it's dead. Flood and I had to record Broken under a different band name, because if TVT found out we were recording, they could confiscate all our shit and release it. Jimmy Iovine got involved with Interscope, and we kind of got slave-traded. It wasn't my doing. I didn't know anything about Interscope. And I was real pissed off at him at first because it was going from one bad situation to potentially another one. But Interscope went into it like they really wanted to know what I wanted. It was good, after I put my raving lunatic act on.[14]

In 1992, Nine Inch Nails relocated to 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles (renamed "Le Pig" by Reznor), the site of the Tate murders, when Charles Manson's "family" murdered Sharon Tate,[51] wife of noted film director Roman Polanski, and four of her friends.[3][14] It was used for the band to record Broken, an extended play (EP) that was the first release distributed by Nothing Records[52] and reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200.[14] In the liner notes, Reznor credited the 1991 Nine Inch Nails touring band as an influence on the EP's sound.[53] He characterized Broken as a guitar-based "blast of destruction", and as "a lot harder ... than Pretty Hate Machine".[25] The inspiration for the harder sound came from the way the live band played during concerts such as Lollapalooza.[54] Songs from Broken earned Nine Inch Nails two Grammy Awards: a performance of the EP's first single "Happiness in Slavery" from Woodstock '94,[55] and the second single "Wish".[55] In reference to receiving the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for "Wish", Reznor joked his epitaph should read: "REZNOR: Died. Said 'fist fuck', won a Grammy."[56] Against touring of the brand new material, Reznor began living and recording full-time at Le Pig, working on a follow-up free of restrictions from his record label.[14]

Peter Christopherson of the bands Coil and Throbbing Gristle directed a performance video for "Wish",[57] but the EP's most controversial video accompanied "Happiness in Slavery".[58] The video was almost universally banned[59] for its graphic depiction of performance artist Bob Flanagan disrobed and lying on a machine that pleasures, tortures, then kills him.[60] A third video for "Pinion", partially incorporated into MTV's Alternative Nation opening sequence, showed a toilet that apparently flushes into the mouth of a person in bondage.[61] Reznor and Christopherson compiled the three clips along with footage for "Help Me I Am in Hell" and "Gave Up" into a longform music video titled Broken.[62] It depicts the murder of a young man who is kidnapped and tortured while forced to watch the videos.[63] This footage was never officially released, but instead appeared covertly among tape trading circles.[60][64] A separate performance video for "Gave Up" featuring Richard Patrick and Marilyn Manson was filmed at Le Pig. A live recording of "Wish" was also filmed, and both videos appeared in Closure.[65]

Broken was followed by its companion remix EP Fixed in late 1992.[66] The only track that was left off the final version of the release is Butch Vig's remix of "Last" (the outro of the "Last" remix is heard in "Throw This Away", which also includes Vig's remix of "Suck").[67] The unedited version appeared on the internet as an 8-bit mono 11 kHz file, "NIN_LAST.AIFF", available by FTP from in 1993; it has been removed from the website, but can still be found on p2p networks (Reznor subsequently made it available in higher quality (256kbit/s mp3) at[68] Vig later spoke about his remix while answering questions on a music production forum, saying "I started recording a lot of new parts, and took it in a much different direction. When it was finished, Trent thought the front part of the mix didn't fit the EP, so he just used the ending. I'm glad it's on his website. Duke and Steve worked with me on the remix, in the very early days of Garbage."[69]

The Downward Spiral (1994–1997)

Reznor performing during the Self-Destruct tour, circa 1994–1995

Early ideas for The Downward Spiral were conceived after the Lollapalooza 1991 festival concerts ended in September of that year.[70] Reznor developed a concept about the album's themes and later used it as lyrics.[14] He searched for and moved to 10050 Cielo Drive, renting it for $11,000 per month from July 4, 1992, marking the beginning of the making of both Broken and The Downward Spiral.[70][71][72] This was against his initial choice to record the album in New Orleans.[73]

Nine Inch Nails' second studio album, The Downward Spiral, entered the Billboard 200 at number two,[74] and remains the highest-selling Nine Inch Nails release in the United States for shipments of over four million copies, in addition to selling five million copies worldwide.[75] Influenced by late-1970s works by Pink Floyd and David Bowie,[3] The Downward Spiral features a wide range of textures and moods to illustrate the mental progress of a central character.[76] Flood co-produced several tracks on the album, which became his last collaboration with Nine Inch Nails.[77] Alan Moulder mixed most of The Downward Spiral and subsequently took on more extensive production duties for future album releases.[78] Reznor invited Beavan to work on The Downward Spiral.[14] After contributing to remixes of Nine Inch Nails songs, such as "Closer", Beavan mixed and co-produced Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar in 1996.[79] It was recorded at Le Pig Studios, previously used for the recording process of Broken.[14][51] "March of the Pigs" and "Closer" were released as singles. Two other songs from the album, "Hurt" and "Piggy", were issued to radio without a commercial single release.[80]

The music video for "Closer" was directed by Mark Romanek and received frequent rotation on MTV, though the network heavily censored the original version, which they perceived to be too graphic. The video shows events in a laboratory dealing with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror; controversial imagery included a nude bald woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig's head spinning on some type of machine, a diagram of a vulva, Reznor wearing an S&M mask while swinging in shackles, and of him wearing a ball gag.[81] A radio edit that partially mutes the song's explicit lyrics also received extensive airtime.[14]

Critical response to The Downward Spiral has generally been favorable, and retrospective reviews regard it as one of the most important albums of the 1990s. It has featured in several publications' best album lists: in 2005 the album was ranked 25th in Spin's list of the "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005",[82] and in 2003 Rolling Stone ranked the album number 200 on their "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.[83] Blender named it the 80th Greatest American Album. It was ranked No. 488 in the book The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by Martin Popoff. In 2001 Q named The Downward Spiral as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time;[84] in 2010 the album was ranked No. 102 on their 250 Best Albums of Q's Lifetime (1986–2011) list.[85] After The Downward Spiral's release, Reznor produced an accompanying remix album entitled Further Down the Spiral, the only non-major Nine Inch Nails release to be certified gold in the United States[75] and among the best-selling remix albums of all time. It featured contributions from Coil with Danny Hyde, electronic musician Aphex Twin, producer Rick Rubin, and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, among others.[86]

After the 1994 release of The Downward Spiral, the live band embarked on the Self Destruct Tour in support of the album. The stage set-up contained dirty curtains which would be pulled down and up for visuals shown during songs such as "Hurt". The tour debuted the band's grungy and messy image in which they would come out in ragged clothes slathered in corn starch. The concerts were violent and chaotic, with band members often injuring themselves, and they would frequently destroy their instruments at the end of concerts, attack each other, and stage-dive into the crowd.[87] The tour reached its widest mainstream audience with a mud-drenched performance at Woodstock '94 that was broadcast on Pay-Per-View and seen in as many as 24 million homes.[88][89] Nine Inch Nails received considerable mainstream success thereafter, performing with significantly higher production values and adding theatrical visual elements to the live show. Supporting acts for the tour included The Jim Rose Circus and Marilyn Manson.[90] Released in 1997, the Closure video documented highlights from the tour, including full live videos of "Eraser", "Hurt" and a one-take "March of the Pigs" clip made for MTV.[91] Around this time, Reznor's studio perfectionism,[92] struggles with addiction, and bouts of writer's block prolonged the production of The Fragile.[93]

Reznor produced the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers using a portable Pro Tools in his hotel room.[94][95] The compilation featured, "Burn", a song written exclusively for the film.[96] Throughout early 1996 Reznor collaborated with id Software to help create the music and sound effects to the first-person shooter video game Quake.[14][86] In homage to him, the entire Quake series features the Nine Inch Nails band logo on ammo crates that supply ammunition for the in-game nail gun weapon.[97] In 1997, Reznor produced the soundtrack to the David Lynch film Lost Highway.[98] The release spawned the single "The Perfect Drug", the music video for which was also directed by Mark Romanek.[99] A tenth anniversary deluxe reissue of The Downward Spiral was released on November 23, 2004.[100]

The Fragile (1999–2002)

Five years elapsed between The Downward Spiral and Nine Inch Nails' next studio album, The Fragile, which arrived as a double album in September 1999.[101] The Fragile was conceived by making "songwriting and arranging and production and sound design ... the same thing. A song would start with a drum loop or a visual and eventually a song would emerge out of it and that was the song."[102] Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin was consulted on the album's track listing; the liner notes state that he "provided final continuity and flow."[103]

On the heels of the band's previous successes, media anticipation surrounded The Fragile more than a year before its release,[104] when it was already described as "oft-delayed".[105] The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 228,000 copies in its first week and receiving generally positive reviews.[101] Spin hailed The Fragile as the "album of the year," whereas Pitchfork Media panned its "melodramatic" lyrics.[106][107] Nine Inch Nails released three commercial singles from the album in different territories: "The Day the World Went Away" in North America; "We're in This Together" in the EU and Japan (on three separate discs); and "Into the Void" in Australia. Several songs from the album became regular features on alternative rock radio stations, however the album dropped to number 16 and slipped out of the Billboard Top 10 only a week after its release, resulting in the band setting a record for the biggest drop from number one, which has since been broken.[108] Reznor funded the subsequent North American tour out of his own pocket.[101]

Before the album's release, the song "Starfuckers, Inc." provoked media speculation about whom Reznor had intended its acerbic lyrics to satirize.[109] Cinesexuality critic Patricia MacCormack interprets the song as a "scathing attack on the alternative music scene," particularly Reznor's former friend and protégé Marilyn Manson.[110] The two artists put aside their differences when Manson appeared in the song's music video, retitled "Starsuckers, Inc." and performed on stage with Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden in 2000.[111]

Reznor followed The Fragile with another remix album, Things Falling Apart, released in November 2000 to poor reviews, a few months after the 2000 Fragility tour which itself was recorded and released on CD, DVD, and VHS in 2002 as And All That Could Have Been. A deluxe edition of the live CD came with the companion disc Still, featuring stripped-down versions of songs from the Nine Inch Nails catalog along with several new pieces of music.[111]

In 2002, Johnny Cash covered the Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" for his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, to critical acclaim.[112] After seeing the music video, which later won a Grammy,[113] Reznor himself became a fan of the rendition:

I pop the video in, and wow ... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps ... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore ... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.[114]

With Teeth (2005–2006)

Live performance during the Live: With Teeth tour in 2006

A further six years elapsed before Nine Inch Nails' fourth full-length album, With Teeth, was released in 2005, though it was leaked prior to its official release date. The album was written and recorded following Reznor's battle with alcoholism and substance abuse.[115] With Teeth debuted on top of the Billboard 200, Nine Inch Nails' second reign at number one with an album.[5] The album's package lacks typical liner notes; instead it simply lists the names of songs and co-producers, and the URL for an online PDF poster with lyrics and full credits.[116] The entire album was made available in streaming audio on the band's official MySpace page in advance of its release date.[117]

Critical reception of the album was mostly positive:[118] Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield described the album as "vintage Nine Inch Nails".[119] PopMatters condemned the album, claiming Reznor "ran out of ideas."[120]

I think, fundamentally, music is something inherently people love and need and relate to, and a lot of what's out right now feels like McDonalds. It's quick-fix. You kind of have a stomachache afterwards.

—Trent Reznor, Salt Lake Tribune interview (2005)[121]

A music video for the song "The Hand That Feeds" premiered on the Nine Inch Nails official website in March 2005. Reznor released the source files for it in GarageBand format a month later, allowing fans to remix the song.[122] He similarly released files for the album's second single "Only" in a wider range of formats, including Pro Tools and ACID Pro. David Fincher directed a video for "Only" with primarily computer-generated imagery. The planned music video for its third single, "Every Day Is Exactly the Same", was directed by Francis Lawrence but reportedly scrapped in the post-production stage.[123] All three singles topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.[124]

Nine Inch Nails launched a North American arena tour in Autumn 2005, supported by Queens of the Stone Age, Autolux and Death from Above 1979.[125] Another opening act on the tour, hip-hop artist Saul Williams, performed on stage with Nine Inch Nails at the Voodoo Music Experience festival during a headlining appearance in hurricane-stricken New Orleans, Reznor's former home.[126] The Nine Inch Nails live band completed a tour of North American amphitheaters in the summer of 2006, joined by Bauhaus, TV on the Radio, and Peaches.[3] The Beside You in Time tour documentary was released in February 2007 via three formats: DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.[127] The home video release debuted at number one on both the Billboard Top Music Videos and Billboard Comprehensive Music Videos charts in the United States.[128]

Year Zero (2007)

Nine Inch Nails' fifth studio album, Year Zero, was released only two years after With Teeth, a marked change in the slow pace from the release of previous albums. With lyrics written from the perspective of multiple fictitious characters, Year Zero is a concept album criticizing the United States government's policies and their impact on the world 15 years in the future.[129] Critical response to the album was generally favorable, with an average rating of 76% on Metacritic.[130]

The story takes place in the United States in 2022, which has been termed "Year 0", by the government, being the year America was reborn.[131] It had suffered several major terrorist attacks, apparently by Islamic fundamentalists, including attacks on Los Angeles and Seattle, and in response, the government seized absolute control of the country. The government is a Christian fundamentalist theocracy, maintaining control of the populace through institutions like the Bureau of Morality and the First Evangelical Church of Plano.[132] The government corporation Cedocore distributes the drug Parepin through the water supply, making Americans who drink water apathetic and carefree.[133] There are several underground rebel groups, mainly operating online, most notably Art is Resistance and Solutions Backwards Initiative.[129] In response to the increasing oppression of the government, several corporate, government, and subversive websites were transported back in time to the present by a group of scientists working clandestinely against the authorities. The websites-from-the-future were sent to the year 2007 to warn American people of the impending dystopian future and to prevent it from ever forming in the first place.[134]

An alternate reality game emerged parallel to the Year Zero concept, expanding upon its storyline. Clues hidden on tour merchandise initially led fans to discover a network of fictitious, in-game websites that describe an "Orwellian picture of the United States circa the year 2022".[135] Before Year Zero's release, unreleased songs from the album were found on USB drives hidden at Nine Inch Nails concert venues in Lisbon and Barcelona, as part of the alternate reality game.[136] Fan participation in the alternate reality game caught the attention of media outlets such as USA Today and Billboard, who have cited fan-site The NIN Hotline, forum Echoing the Sound, fan club The Spiral, and NinWiki as sources for new discoveries.[137][138]

The album's first single, "Survivalism", and other tracks from Year Zero were released as multitrack audio files for fans to remix.[139] A remix album titled Year Zero Remixed was later released, featuring remixes from Year Zero by other artists.[140] The remix album was Nine Inch Nails' final release on a major record label for over five years, as the act had completed its contractual obligation to Interscope Records and did not renew its contract.[141] The remix album was accompanied by an interactive remix site with multitrack downloads and the ability to post remixes.[142]

Reznor planned a film adaption of the album[143] and noted Year Zero as "part of a bigger picture of a number of things I'm working on. Essentially, I wrote the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist."[132] The project moved into the television medium because of high costs for Year Zero as a film, then Reznor found American film producer Lawrence Bender and met with writers.[144] On August 10, 2007, Reznor announced that they would be taking the concept to television networks in an attempt to secure a deal: "We're about to pitch it to the network, so we're a couple of weeks away from meeting all of the main people, and we'll see what happens."[145] Since first announcing his plans for a television series, progress slowed, reportedly due to the 2007–2008 Writer's Guild strike, but it nevertheless continued.[146] As of 2010 the resultant miniseries, also named Year Zero, was in development with HBO and BBC Worldwide Productions, with the screenplay and script written by Reznor and Carnivàle writer Daniel Knauf.[147]

Ghosts I–IV and The Slip (2008)

Reznor in 2008

In February 2008, Reznor posted a news update on the Nine Inch Nails website entitled "2 weeks." On March 2, Ghosts I–IV (the first release on The Null Corporation label), a 36-track instrumental album, became available via the band's official website. Ghosts I–IV was made available in a number of different formats and forms, ranging from a free download of the first volume, to a $300 Ultra-Deluxe limited edition package. All 2,500 copies of the $300 package sold out in three days.[148] The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licence.[149][150] The album was created improvisationally over a 10-week period and contributors included Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder, Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew, and Brian Viglione.[151]

Similar to the announcement that ultimately led to the release of Ghosts I–IV, a post on the band's website in April 2008 read "2 weeks!"[152] On May 5, Nine Inch Nails released The Slip via their website without any advertisement or promotion.[153] The album was made available for download free of charge with a message from Reznor, "this one's on me,"[154] protected under the same Creative Commons licence as Ghosts, and has seen individual downloads surpassing 1.4 million.[155] The Slip has since been released on CD as a limited edition set of 250,000.

Since the release of Ghosts I–IV and The Slip, a 25-date tour titled Lights in the Sky, was announced in several North American cities,[156] and was later expanded to include several more North American dates as well as dates in South America. Cortini and Freese returned as members from the previous tour, while Robin Finck rejoined the band and Justin Meldal-Johnsen was added on bass guitar.[157] Freese and Cortini left the live band, but it became a quartet with the addition of Ilan Rubin on drums.[158][159]

On January 7, 2009, Reznor uploaded unedited HD-quality footage from three shows as a download of over 400 GB via BitTorrent.[160] In an immediate response, a fan organization known as This One Is On Us quickly downloaded the data and had begun to assemble the footage alongside their own video recordings to create a professional 3-part digital film, followed by a physical release created "by fans for fans".[161] This tour documentary became collectively known as Another Version of the Truth and was released throughout late December 2009 to February 2010 via three formats: DVD, Blu-ray Disc and BitTorrent. To date, the group and the project has received significant attention from media outlets such as USA Today,[162] Rolling Stone,[163] Techdirt and Pitchfork TV,[164] and holds the support of both Reznor and the fan community with theatrical screenings being held all over the world.[165] Nine Inch Nails art director and webmaster Rob Sheridan noted on the band's official website:

This is yet another example of a devoted fanbase and a policy of openness combining to fill in blanks left by old media barriers. The entire NIN camp is absolutely thrilled that treating our fans with respect and nurturing their creativity has led to such an overwhelming outpour of incredible content, and that we now have such a high quality souvenir from our most ambitious tour ever.[166]

Nine Inch Nails Revenge, an iPhone/iPod touch-exclusive rhythm game developed by Tapulous, was released on March 8, 2009 (five months after the company announced the development of the game). This installment in the Tap Tap video game franchise was themed after Nine Inch Nails, and included tracks from Ghosts I–IV and The Slip.[167][168] Portions of the album Ghosts I-IV were also used in making of the soundtrack for the documentary Citizenfour.[169]

Wave Goodbye Tour and hiatus (2009–2012)

Reznor performing at the Music Box in Hollywood on September 8, 2009

In February 2009, Reznor posted his thoughts about the future of Nine Inch Nails on his official website, stating that "I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while."[170] Reznor since clarified that he "isn't done creating music under the moniker, but that Nine Inch Nails is done touring for the foreseeable future."[171][172] The "Wave Goodbye" tour concluded on September 10, 2009, at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.[173] Reznor subsequently released two tracks under the Nine Inch Nails moniker: the theme song for the film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man,[174] and a cover of U2's "Zoo Station", included in the Achtung Baby tribute album AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered.

In 2009 Reznor married Mariqueen Maandig,[175][176] and formed a project with Maandig and Atticus Ross dubbed How to Destroy Angels. Their first release, a six-track self-titled EP, was made available for free download in June 2010. Reznor's next collaboration with Ross was co-writing and producing the official score for David Fincher's 2010 film, The Social Network. Reznor and Ross received two awards for the score, a 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture,[177] and a 2010 Oscar for Best Original Score.[178] Reznor and Ross again collaborated with Fincher for the official score the American adaptation of the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, released in December 2011, and then again on Fincher's 2014 film Gone Girl [179]

In July 2012 Reznor teamed up with video game developer Treyarch to compose the theme music for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.[180] Later that year Reznor again worked with Atticus Ross along with Alessandro Cortini on a remix of the song "Destroyer" by Telepathe.[181] Reznor also appeared in a documentary called "Sound City" directed by Dave Grohl,[182] in addition to co-writing and performing the song "Mantra" with Grohl and Josh Homme.[183] This led to further collaboration with Reznor and Homme on the 2013 album from Queens of the Stone Age titled ...Like Clockwork.[184] Reznor contributed vocals and drum programing to the song "Kalopsia" and vocals on "Fairweather Friends" along with Elton John on piano and vocals.[185] In October a project with Dr. Dre and Beats Electronics was announced that Reznor wrote was "probably not what you're expecting [from me]".[186] The project was named "Daisy"; a digital music service was announced in January 2013.[187] It was until January 2014 that the service was fully launched, with Reznor serving as chief creative officer.[188]

Return to touring, Hesitation Marks and future (2012–present)

Members of the original 2013 lineup of Nine Inch Nails, (from left to right) singer Trent Reznor, guitarist Robin Finck, bass guitarist Joshua Eustis, keyboardist Alessandro Cortini and drummer Ilan Rubin.

In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Reznor indicated that he would be writing for the majority of 2012 with Nine Inch Nails "in mind".[189] Reznor eventually confirmed that he was working on new Nine Inch Nails material and might be performing live again.[190][191][192] In February 2013, Reznor announced the return of Nine Inch Nails and revealed the Twenty Thirteen Tour. He also revealed that the new lineup of the band would include Eric Avery of Jane's Addiction, Adrian Belew of King Crimson, and Josh Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv, as well as returning members Alessandro Cortini and Ilan Rubin.[193] However, both Avery and Belew would quit the touring band before performances commenced,[194][195] with former member Robin Finck returning in their place.[196][197]

By May 28 a new Nine Inch Nails album was complete.[198][199][200] Released September 3, Hesitation Marks incorporated rhythms reminiscent of earlier releases, but was more expansive and theatrical. In addition to the recently departed Adrian Belew, Reznor employed bassist Pino Palladino along with Todd Rundgren and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham to achieve various art-rock elements.[201]

Nine Inch Nails performing at Mediolanum Forum in Milan in 2013

The album produced three singles, all released prior to that of the album itself. "Came Back Haunted" was released on June 6,[202] with an accompanying music video bearing an epileptic seizure warning.[203] The second single, "Copy of A", was released on August 12 free of charge to US and UK account holders.[204] "Everything" was the third and final single, recorded during sessions for the Nine Inch Nails greatest hits album. The sessions gave way to more songs that ended up yielding the entire album.[205]

In July the Twenty Thirteen Tour was underway, beginning with a slew of festival appearances that included the Fuji Rock Festival, and the Pukkelpop, Hockenheim, Germany's Rock'n'Heim and the Reading and Leeds festivals in August.[206][207] The Tension 2013 North American leg of the tour ran from September to November and added Palladino, Lisa Fischer and Sharlotte Gibson to the lineup with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky as opening acts.[208][209] This leg of the tour was documented and released in the spring as Nine Inch Nails Tension 2013.[210]

In 2014 the band extended their tour worldwide as a four-piece. The new lineup included previous collaborators, Ilan Rubin, Alessandro Cortini, and Robin Finck.[211][212] The band was joined by Queens of the Stone Age for the Australia and New Zealand tour, during which a nightly coin toss determined who opened.[213] The tour closed in Europe with supporting synthpop act Cold Cave.[214]

After a month-long break, Nine Inch Nails again hit the road on a joint tour with Soundgarden. The 23-day journey extended throughout the continental US, with experimental hip-hop group Death Grips scheduled to open most of the shows.[215] Two weeks into the tour, Death Grips announced their break up and cancelled all subsequent live shows.[216] Oneohtrix Point Never, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Cold Cave each replaced Death Grips separately for the remainder of the tour.[217]

In 2014, their first year of eligibility,[12] Nine Inch Nails were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with 14 other candidates.[218] While they were not inducted that year, the band placed second in the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees Fan Vote.[219] In 2015, Nine Inch Nails were once again nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[220]

In June 2015, Nine Inch Nails released instrumental versions of The Fragile and With Teeth to stream exclusively on Apple Music, a service of which Reznor is chief creative director.[221] In an interview promoting the service, Reznor mentioned he has started "messing around with some things" in regards to a new Nine Inch Nails album, stating "It's not a record I'm trying to finish in a month. It's more just feeling around in the dark and seeing what sounds interesting".[222] In December 2015, Reznor reported that "Nine Inch Nails will return in 2016".[223] In October 2016, in response to a fan question over new music, Reznor responded with "2016 is not over yet".[224]

Musical characteristics and lyrics

AllMusic's Steve Huey states that "Nine Inch Nails were the most popular industrial group ever and were largely responsible for bringing the music to a mass audience".[3] Reznor has never referred to his own work as industrial music, but admits to borrowing techniques from such early industrial bands as Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept.[24] Despite the disparity between those artists initially operating under the term "industrial" and Nine Inch Nails, it has become common in journalistic descriptions of Reznor's body of work to describe it as such. Reznor acknowledged in Spin magazine that "Down in It" was influenced by early Skinny Puppy, particularly their song "Dig It"; other songs from Pretty Hate Machine were described in the same interview as synthpop.[225] Reviewing The Fragile, critic Steve Cooper noted that the album juxtaposes widely varied genres, such as solo piano in "The Frail" and drum and bass elements in "Starfuckers, Inc."[226]

"The Day the World Went Away"
Album version, as it appeared on The Fragile

Album version, as it appeared on The Downward Spiral

Album version, as it appeared on The Downward Spiral

"The Great Destroyer"
Album version, as it appeared on Year Zero

Problems playing these files? See media help.

Certain techniques and styles can be found throughout Nine Inch Nails' catalog.[227] Songs such as "Wish", and "The Day the World Went Away" exhibit terraced dynamics. Reznor's singing follows a similar pattern, frequently moving from whispers to screams. He also has used software to alter his voice in several songs, as evident in "Starfuckers, Inc." and "Burn". The band's music also occasionally features complex time signatures, notably in "The Collector", from With Teeth, and concert favorite "March of the Pigs".[120][228] Reznor regularly uses noise and distortion in his song arrangements, and incorporates dissonance with chromatic melody and/or harmony.[229] These techniques are all used in the song "Hurt", which features a highly dissonant tritone played on guitar during the verses, a B5#11, emphasized when Reznor sings the eleventh note on the word "I" every time the B/E# dyad is played.[230] "Closer" concludes with a chromatic piano motif: The melody is debuted during the second verse of "Piggy" on organ, then reappears in power chords at drop D tuning throughout the chorus of "Heresy", while an inverted (ascending) version is used throughout "A Warm Place", and then recurs in its original state for the final time on "The Downward Spiral".[120] On The Fragile, Reznor revisits this technique of repeating a motif multiple times throughout different songs, either on a different musical instrument, with a transposed harmony, or in an altered tempo.[231] Many of the songs on Year Zero feature an extended instrumental ending, which encompasses the entire second half of the three-minute long "The Great Destroyer". Allmusic's review described the album's laptop-mixed sound: "guitars squall against glitches, beeps, pops, and blotches of blurry sonic attacks. Percussion looms large, distorted, organic, looped, screwed, spindled and broken."[232]

Lyrical themes found in Nine Inch Nails songs are largely concerned with dark explorations of the self ranging from religion, greed, fame, lust, addiction, self-deception, aging, regret, nihilism, and occasionally politics,[233] with the latter topic often being scrutinized in Year Zero.[133][234] Three of Nine Inch Nails' recordings are concept albums: The Downward Spiral, follow-up The Fragile, and the aforementioned Year Zero. With Teeth (under the working title Bleedthrough) was to be a concept album about an endless dream occurring in reality, but Reznor eventually took this idea out of the record.[235]


Nine Inch Nails' earliest influences include Ministry and Skinny Puppy, which helped shape what became 1989's Pretty Hate Machine.[3] The album's liner notes also paid tribute to the hip-hop group Public Enemy and Prince.[236] Another large influence on the band's sound is Gary Numan, which is evident as Reznor once said that "after hearing 'Cars' I knew I wanted to make music with synthesizers".[237] The 2005 single "Only" exemplifies the disco-style beats and synthesizers drawn from Numan's persuasion.[236] Other artists of significance to Nine Inch Nails encompass late 70s and 80s acts such as Queen, Devo,[238] Joy Division, Adam Ant,[236] and Soft Cell.[239]

Reznor had been fortunate enough to tour with some of his influences, including a brief tour opening for Skinny Puppy in 1989.[3][240] In 1995 Nine Inch Nails went on tour with David Bowie, who along with Pink Floyd had been a significant influence on The Downward Spiral.[3]


Nine Inch Nails has influenced many newer artists, which according to Reznor range from "generic imitations" dating from his initial success to younger bands echoing his style in a "truer, less imitative way".[241] Following the release of The Downward Spiral, mainstream artists began to take notice of Nine Inch Nails' influence: David Bowie compared Reznor's impact to that of The Velvet Underground.[9] Bob Ezrin, producer for Pink Floyd, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Peter Gabriel, described Reznor in 2007 as a "true visionary" and advised aspiring artists to take note of his no-compromise attitude.[242] Nine Inch Nails has been credited by music journalists for popularizing industrial music, despite ambivalence from Reznor.[3][243]

The act has received four awards from 25 nominations, including two Grammy Awards for the songs "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery" in 1993 and 1996 respectively.[244] Nine Inch Nails have received two Kerrang! Awards; one of them being the Kerrang! Icon in 2006, honoring the band's overall contributions since 1988 and long-standing influence on rock music.[245][246] The band has also received nine nominations from the MTV Video Music Awards for several of its videos, including two nominations for the "Closer" music video and five nominations for "The Perfect Drug" music video, including Video of the Year.[244]

In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time magazine's list of the year's most influential people, and Spin described him as "the most vital artist in music".[247] The Recording Industry Association of America certified sales for 10.5 million units of the band's albums in the United States,[7] which accounted for roughly half of the band's reported sales worldwide at that time.[6] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed The Downward Spiral at No. 200 in a 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[248] and by the following year ranked Nine Inch Nails at No. 94 in their The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.[9]

Live performances

Nine Inch Nails live on tour in 2005

Reznor is the sole official member of Nine Inch Nails. However, he has typically formed a backing group of musicians to perform the songs in a live setting. This live band, also known as Nine Inch Nails, rearranges the band's studio catalog and creates a different sound than that of Reznor's studio recordings.[249][250] Band members have occasionally been invited to participate in the recording process, but creative control within the studio has always been exclusively with Reznor.[99]

The Tapeworm project was created in 1995 as a Nine Inch Nails side-project between Reznor and various live-band members as a more "democratic" creative environment.[251][252] The band initially included live band members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser, but eventually expanded to feature other frequent Nine Inch Nails contributors Josh Freese, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder.[253][254] However, after 9 years of studio sessions, no material was ever officially released from the group, and it was confirmed to be no longer active in 2005.[255]

The lineup of the live band had a tendency to change drastically between major tours: aside from Reznor remaining on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar, no member of the live band had remained constant since its inception. Reznor cited the long gestation period between studio albums as part of the reason for these frequent personnel changes,[256] as well as his desire for fresh interpretations of his music.

Corporate disputes

Reznor is an outspoken critic of the music industry, particularly the influence that music businesses have exerted upon his creative freedom. Nine Inch Nails has clashed with several music industry corporations, culminating in Reznor's decision to proceed as an independent artist who does not employ the financial backing of the music industry to fund his creative output.[257]

TVT Records

In the early 1990s, Nine Inch Nails was involved in a much-publicized feud with TVT Records, the first record label to sign the band. Reznor objected to the label's attempted interference with his intellectual property.[25] Ultimately, they entered into a joint venture with Interscope Records in which Reznor forfeited a portion of his publishing rights to TVT Music in exchange for the freedom of having his own Nothing Records imprint.[258] In 2005, Reznor sued his former friend and manager John Malm, co-founder of Nothing, for fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and other claims.[259] Their relationship was formally severed in a New York courtroom, with damages awarded to Reznor in excess of three million US dollars.[260]

At the behest of Prudential Securities bankruptcy proceedings, TVT put the rights to Reznor's recordings for the label on auction in 2005. This offer included the whole TVT catalog, including Pretty Hate Machine and a percentage of royalties from Reznor's song publishing company, Leaving Hope Music/TVT Music. Rykodisc, which did not win the auction but was able to license the rights from Prudential, reissued the out-of-print Pretty Hate Machine CD on November 22, 2005.[261] Ryko also reissued the "Head Like a Hole" CD and a vinyl edition of Pretty Hate Machine in 2006. The label considered releasing a deluxe edition, just as Interscope had done for The Downward Spiral. They were influenced by Reznor and liked the idea, but did not want to pay him for the album and the idea was scrapped.[262]

Universal Music Group

In May 2007, Reznor made a post on the official Nine Inch Nails website skeptical of Universal Music Group (parent company of Nine Inch Nails' record label, Interscope Records) for their pricing and distribution plans for Year Zero.[263] He labeled the company's retail pricing of Year Zero in Australia as "ABSURD", concluding that "as a reward for being a 'true fan' you get ripped off". Reznor went on to say that he hated Interscope, and in later years the "climate" of record labels may have an increasingly ambivalent impact on consumers who buy music.[264] Reznor's post, specifically his criticism of the recording industry at large, elicited considerable media attention.[265] In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on UMG at a concert in Australia, urging fans there to "steal" his music online instead of purchasing it legally.[266] Reznor went on to encourage the crowd to "steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing".[267]

Reznor announced on October 8, 2007, that Nine Inch Nails had fulfilled its contractual commitments to Interscope Records and was now free to proceed as a "totally free agent, free of any recording contract with any label".[10] Reznor also speculated that he would release the next Nine Inch Nails album online in a similar fashion to The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which he produced.[268] Reznor later released the first nine tracks of Ghosts I–IV and the entirety of The Slip in 2008 for free download.

In another post on his website, Reznor again openly criticized Universal Music Group for preventing him from launching an official interactive fan remix website. Universal declined to host the site just days before its scheduled launch, citing the potential "accusation", in Reznor's words, "that they are sponsoring the same technical violation of copyright they are suing [other media companies] for".[269] Reznor wrote in response that he was "challenged at the last second to find a way of bringing this idea to life without getting splashed by the urine as these media companies piss all over each other's feet".[270] Despite these obstacles, the remix website was launched in November 2007.

Other corporations

Nine Inch Nails was scheduled to perform at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, but withdrew from the show due to a disagreement with the network over the use of an unaltered image of George W. Bush as a backdrop to the band's performance of "The Hand That Feeds". Soon afterwards, Reznor wrote on his official website: "Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me."[260] MTV replied that it respected Reznor's point of view, but was "uncomfortable" with the performance being "built around partisan political statements". A performance by Foo Fighters replaced Nine Inch Nails' time slot on the show.[271] During the Lights in the Sky tour in 2008, some performances of "The Hand that Feeds" had the image of Bush on a video screen behind the band. At some gigs leading up to the election, the face of Bush slowly morphed during the song into the face of John McCain.

In 2006, after being alerted by a fan website, Reznor issued a cease and desist to Fox News Channel for using three songs from The Fragile on air without permission. The songs "La Mer", "The Great Below", and "The Mark Has Been Made" appeared in an episode of War Stories with Oliver North detailing the battle of Iwo Jima.[272] A post appeared on Reznor's blog, which read: "Thanks for the Fox News heads-up. A cease and desist has been issued. FUCK Fox Fucking News."[273]

As part of the alternate reality game which accompanied the release of Year Zero, three tracks from the album were intentionally "leaked" prior to their official release at a number of Nine Inch Nails concerts on USB flash drives.[136] The high-quality audio files quickly circulated the internet, and owners of websites hosting the files soon received cease and desist orders from the Recording Industry Association of America, despite the fact that the viral campaign, and the use of USB drives, was sanctioned by Nine Inch Nails' record label.[274] The source that broke the story was quoted as saying, "These fucking idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on."[274]

The music of Nine Inch Nails has reportedly been used by the U.S. military as music torture to break down the resolve of detainees.[275] Reznor objected to the use of his music in this way with the following message on the front page of the Nine Inch Nails website: "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture. If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities. Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration's reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us."[276]

Aside from disagreements over the usage of Nine Inch Nails material, some corporations have dismissed content due to perceived obscenity. In 2009, Apple rejected an update to Nine Inch Nails' iPhone application, NIN: Access, because it found The Downward Spiral to contain "offensive or obscene content", referring to the lyrical content.[277][278] Reznor criticized their decision, citing the audio was also available through the iTunes application.[278]

A similar incident involving digital content distribution occurred in 2013 when Nine Inch Nails re-released the original 1993 film Broken on Vimeo. Within hours of launch, the video was removed due to a terms of service violation on material that "harass, incite hatred or depict excessive violence".[279][280]

Band members


Concert tours


Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards and has won awards on two occasions—for "Wish" in 1992 and "Happiness in Slavery" in 1995:


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