Nine Inch Nails

  • Alternative metal rock band formed in 1988 from Cleveland Ohio. For 28 years, the only official member of the group was singer, songwriter and musician Trent Reznor. In 2016, keyboardist Atticus Ross was added as a member of the band. At least 25 other vocalists and instrumentalists contributed to the group for live performances and recordings over the years.
  • Reznor saw an Eagles concert in 1976, and he decided that he would like to perform music on stage. In high school, he learned to play the saxophone and tuba. Still in high school, he joined a new wave band called Option 30, playing keyboards and singing. After he dropped out of college, he moved to Cleveland to start a music career. He joined a cover band called the Urge, and then moved to the Innocent in 1985, playing keyboards. The Innocent released one album, but Reznor left after three months, joining the synthpop band Exotic Birds.
  • While with Exotic Birds, Reznor took a job at a Cleveland recording studio as an engineer and janitor. He asked the owner permission to use the equipment so he could record demos of songs he had written. Unable to find musicians to back him, he performed all of the instruments himself, except for drums. He chose the name “Nine Inch Nails” because he liked the NIN abbreviation, which he stylized as NIИ. The first NIN performance was in October 1988. Several record companies liked Reznor’s demo work, and he was signed to an independent label.
  • NIN’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, was released in 1989, with Reznor playing nearly all of the instruments himself. The album had a alternative synth-pop sound to it, sampling music from artists like Prince, Public Enemy and Jane’s Addiction. It was well received by critics, and slowly gained popularity – while it only reached #75 on the album charts, it remained on the charts for over 100 weeks, and eventually it was certified 3x platinum. Two singles charted on the Alternative Airplay chart – Down On It and Head Like A Hole. The album ranked at #453 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2020.
  • After the success of the debut album, the record company pressured NIN to produce a follow-up recording. Reznor resented the direction the label had given, and demanded that NIN be released from their contract. He secretly began to record using pseudonyms, and he signed with another record company. After legal battles, an arrangement was made between the two record companies, and in 1992, the Broken EP was released. Unlike his first album, this EP was much more heavy metal sounding. Again, Reznor played all instruments except drums on the EP. It was a success – the EP peaked at #7 on the Billboard Album chart and was certified platinum. Two singles from the EP charted on the Alternative Airplay Chart – Happiness in Slavery and Wish. Both songs won Grammy awards for Best Metal Performance.
  • NIN released their second LP album in 1994 – The Downward Spiral. The album peaked at #2 on the album chart, and it was certified 4x platinum. It included the singles Closer, Piggy, and Hurt, all of which were top 20 singles on the Alternative Airplay chart. Hurt was famously covered by Johnny Cash in 2002 (Cash’s video of Hurt is considered one of the greatest of all time – and I agree – see my blog post of May 10, 2017 to watch it). The album ranked at #122 on Rolling Stones’ GOAT list.
  • Over five years passed before NIN released its next studio album – The Fragile. Another change in style was evident – no longer full of metal sound, this album was more art rock, with a reliance on electronica. It debuted at #1 on the album chart, and eventually it was certified 2x platinum. The single The Day the World Went Away was Nine Inch Nails’ highest charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #17. We’re In This Together and Into the Void both reached #11 on the Alternative Airplay chart.
  • After Reznor got through rehab for drugs and alcohol, With Teeth was released in 2005. It topped the album chart, and three singles were #1 on the Alternative Airplay chart – The Hand That Feeds, Only, and Every Day Is Exactly the Same. In 2007, Year Zero was released. The single Survivalism topped the Alternative Airplay chart, and the single Capital G reached #6 on the chart.
  • Between 2008 and 2020, NIN released six studio albums. The albums continued the NIN tradition of innovative concept albums.
  • Nine Inch Nails had a long history of concert tours to promote their albums. Reznor hired musicians to perform with him in these concerts. British musician Atticus Ross began supporting Reznor in 2004 on keyboards and programming, as well as some songwriting, and in 2016 he was made an official member of the band.
  • In 2019, Reznor and Ross received co-writing and production credit for Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, which was #1 on the Hot 100 chart for 19 weeks – the longest in the history of music (see my August 4, 2019 post for more details). They received credit because the song contained a sample of a NIN song titled 34 Ghosts IV. 
  • Nine Inch Nails ranked at #94 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Artists of All Time list in 2010. In 2020, they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to Reznor, the HOF included six other contributors to the band, including Ross. They truly were innovators in industrial rock music. Check out this live version of the NIN signature hit Closer – it comes with the “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” warning label.

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