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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails logo.svg
The Nine Inch Nails "NIИ" logo designed by Reznor
Background information
Origin Meadville, North Pennsylvania
Genres Industrial rock, industrial metal, alternative rock, dark ambient
Years active 1988–present
Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails, often abbreviated and stylized as NIИ, is an American industrial rock band, founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor in Meadville, North Pennsylvania. As the band's main producer, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Reznor is the only official member of Nine Inch Nails, and remains solely responsible for its musical direction. As such the music of Nine Inch Nails bridges the gap between a wide range of genres. After each new album recorded, Reznor usually assembles a live band to perform with him, with this touring band's revolving lineup arranging Reznor's compositions for a live setting. In the late 1980's and early 1990's the music of Nine Inch Nails was warmly received by the underground music community, and through his production of a number of highly influential records throughout the decade, Reznor became a famous musician across much of the former American midwest and northeast.


Formation (1988-1989)

On Doomsday the founder of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, was in Mercer, Pennsylvania, preparing for the coming year at Allegheny College, where he planned to study computer engineering. Reznor stayed at Allegheny College for the next year, playing a few shows with local bands. In 1984, when the Community Convention was created as a governing council for the surrounding area, Reznor volunteered for a non military position in a task force clearing rubble and cars rendered useless by the electromagnetic pulse-wave. With college effectively ended until further notice, Reznor shifted his attention from an education to a career in music, but soon found that his days became consumed by work for the government, which he largely relied on for food. Largely because of his work for the government, his family was able to live moderately well off, as thousands around them died of starvation.

Reznor would continue to be interested in music and music production, but in the next few years he would largely be unable to focus on his musical career, as his family and own survival was his first priority. During this time Reznor also learned how to fish and hunt, which helped to support his family during the next few years, particularly during the winter of 1986, which had left thousands dead. It was not until 1988 that Reznor returned to his passion of music, playing a number of small shows in northern Pennsylvania, and collaborating with a select few small bands. In 1989 a new Constitutional Convention was drawn up in Warren, leading to the creation of the Commonwealth of North Pennsylvania, and that same year the area came into contact with the city of Toledo.

Reznor moved around North Pennsylvania heavily during 1989, before he found work as an assistant engineer and janitor at a small recording studio in Meadville. While working in North Pennslyvania, Reznor would obtain permission from the studio owner to record demos of his own songs free of charge, when the studio was not in use. Reznor continued to write music and preform with local bands, playing shows in Meadville and the surrounding area. Despite his success with several local artists, Reznor was unable to find a band that could articulate his songs as he wanted them, and instead, inspired by such artists as Prince, elected to record almost all the instruments on his demos himself. This trend would continue on Reznor's future records, which would almost entirely consist of his own instrumentation, aside from a few instances of musical collaboration and assistance.

In 1989 Reznor finished his demo, recorded live throughout the year. During this time Reznor coined the name "Nine Inch Nails" because it "abbreviated easily", rather than for "any literal meaning", although it is also rumored that Reznor chose to reference Jesus' crucifixion with nine-inch spikes. A logo was designed by Reznor, which set the letters 'NIИ' within a border, which would be used on Reznor's future work. Reznor would take his earlier written material and reform it into his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine.

Pretty Hate Machine (1989-1991)

"A lot of it sounds immature to me now. At first it totally sucked. I became completely withdrawn. I couldn't function in society very well. And the LP became a product of that. It's quite small scale, introverted, claustrophobic – that's the feel I went for."
- Trent Reznor

On 15 September 1989 Reznor released his debut single, titled "Down in It", as a teaser prior to the release of his first album. Originally Reznor had entertained the idea of a music video to promote the video, however camcorders and the equipment to edit or view them especially, were largely unknown in North Pennsylvania after doomsday. Regardless of any promotion, Nine Inch Nail's first single was successful at spreading the band's new popularity. Later that year Reznor boasted "Down in It" would be the first foreign cultural import into nearby Toledo, referencing the recent contact between Toledo and Reznor's own native North Pennsylvania.

On 20 October 1989 Nine Inch Nails officially released its debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which sold well in underground music circles in North Pennsylvania. The album quickly became one of the record label's most successful releases, but overall did not become a massive success. Around this time Toledo had begun communication and trade with Reznor's native North Pennsylvania, and the album was similarly released there soon after its release in Toledo. Soon after the release of the album, Reznor also released its second single, "Head Like a Hole". Although written by Reznor in 1988 while playing shows in Meadville, the single would become one of the last songs completed on his debut album. Although possessing a similar chord progression to "Down in It", the song "Head Like a Hole" would in contrast feature a longer intro and a more heavy metal-oriented sound. "Head Like a Hole" was critically acclaimed by critics, and sold well in Toledo and North Pennsylvania, becoming a frequent song on the radio.

In December Reznor traveled to Toledo personally, where he came into contact with a small recording studio within the city. Reznor would later sever ties with his original studio in Meadville in 1990, in favor of Toledo's greater opportunities and relatively larger music industry. Nine Inch Nails embarked on a tour to promote Pretty Hate Machine, playing several large shows in Toledo, as well as shows in Sandusky, Bowling Green, Meadville, Warren, Franklin, Oil City, and others. The band's third single from Pretty Hate Machine, titled "Sin", was released the following year, and would become one of the band's most frequently played live songs.

That same year a joint Toledo-Pennsylvanian expedition had been launched across Lake Erie to contact potential survivors in Canada, leading to the opening of relations and trade with London-Ontario and Norfolk-Haldimand. This allowed Nine Inch Nails' music to eventually reach Canada, and in 1990 the band expressed interest in touring across Lake Erie, however these plans were postponed until further contact and safe transport could be guaranteed.

Broken (1992-1993)

Despite their early success, poor reception outside established communities led to Nine Inch Nails returning to Meadville, where they were pressured by their record label to release a follow-up album to Pretty Hate Machine. The band's label insisted they record an album similar to their first, in the hopes of future successful singles, and this restriction of Reznor's creative control led to him demanding his contract be terminated. When his requests were denied, Reznor began recording material in secret, working with collaborators from his first album under the disguise of a different name. These recordings would eventually become an EP titled Broken.

These new songs were much heavier than the previous songs on Pretty Hate Machine, taking influence from industrial metal bands, and featuring louder mixes and distortion. The EP's lyrics include critiques on post-doomsday society, with the majority of its themes involving control, dependency, and anger. Several songs are believed to be influenced by Reznor's uneasy relationship with his record label, as well as the removal of civil liberties, as seen during the Presidency of John McHugh in Toledo, which culminate in the song "Happiness in Slavery". The struggle between establishing order while maintaining individual freedoms would become a theme in Reznor's later work. In addition there are two bonus songs, which follow ninety-one silent, one-second tracks (numbered 7 through 97), or as a separate 3" CD or 7" record with early pressings. The bonus track "Physical" is a cover of the Adam and the Ants song "Physical (You're So)", which was originally released on the Kings of the Wild Frontier LP in 1980.

Broken would be released on 22 September 1992, followed by a remix EP titled Fixed on 7 December. Together these releases would mark Nine Inch Nails' last collaborations with its original record label. Although not supported by an accompanying tour, Broken sold moderately well in Toledo and Pennsylvania, but was not a major release like Reznor's record label had hoped. After its release Reznor would move to Toledo permanently, where he had been signed to a new label. Here Reznor outfitted his new home into a recording studio, which he would use for recording many of his next releases. In 1992 Reznor would also found Nothing Records, as a vanity label, to allow him some degree of independence from within his larger parent company.

The Downward Spiral (1994-1997)


  • Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
  • Broken (EP) (1992)

Concert Tours

  • Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series (1988 - 1991)
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