Michael Trent Reznor (born May 17, 1965), known professionally as Trent Reznor, is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and film score composer. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, he is best known as the founder and principal songwriter of industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails. His first release under this pseudonym, the 1989 album Pretty Hate Machine, was a commercial and critical success.
He has since released eight studio albums. He left Interscope Records in 2007 and was an independent recording artist until signing with Columbia Records in 2012.
Reznor was associated with the bands Option 30, The Urge, The Innocent, and Exotic Birds in the mid-1980s. Outside of Nine Inch Nails, he has contributed to the albums of artists such as Marilyn Manson and Saul Williams. He and his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, are members of the post-industrial group How to Destroy Angels, alongside Reznor's fellow composer Atticus Ross and long-time Nine Inch Nails graphic designer Rob Sheridan.
Reznor and Ross scored the David Fincher films The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Gone Girl (2014), winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Social Network and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time's list of the year's most influential people, while Spin magazine has described him as "the most vital artist in music".
Reznor was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, the son of Nancy Lou (née Clark) and Michael Reznor. He has English, German, and Irish ancestry. He is a descendant of George Reznor, who founded the Reznor Company, a heating and air conditioning manufacturer, in 1888 (it was sold in the 1960s). Reznor grew up in Mercer, Pennsylvania. After his parents divorced, he lived with his maternal grandparents, while his sister Tera lived with their mother.
Reznor began playing the piano at the age of five and showed an early aptitude for music. In a 1995 interview, his grandfather, Bill Clark, remarked, "Music was his life, from the time he was a wee boy. He was so gifted." His former piano teacher Rita Beglin said that he "always reminded me of Harry Connick, Jr. when he played". Reznor has acknowledged that his sheltered life in Pennsylvania left him feeling isolated from the outside world. In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, he referenced his choices in the music industry:
However, Reznor later said that he did not "want to give the impression it was a miserable childhood". At Mercer Area Junior/Senior High School, he learned to play the tenor saxophone and tuba. He was a member of both the jazz and marching band. Former Mercer High School band director Dr. Hendley Hoge remembered Reznor as "very upbeat and friendly". Reznor also became involved in theater while in high school. He was voted "Best in Drama" by classmates for his roles as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. Reznor graduated in 1983 and enrolled at Allegheny College, where he studied computer engineering.
Early musical projects
While he was a student at Mercer Area Junior/Senior High School, Reznor joined local band Option 30 and played three shows a week with them. After a year of college, Reznor dropped out and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to pursue a career in music. His first band in Cleveland was the Urge, a cover band. In 1985, he joined The Innocent as a keyboardist; they released one album, Livin' in the Street, but Reznor left the band after three months. In 1986, he joined local band Exotic Birds and appeared with them as a fictional band called The Problems in the 1987 film Light of Day. Reznor also contributed on keyboards to the band Slam Bamboo during this time.
Reznor got a job at Cleveland's Right Track Studio as an assistant engineer and janitor. Studio owner Bart Koster later commented: "He was so focused in everything he did. When that guy waxed the floor, it looked great." Reznor asked Koster for permission to record demos of his own songs for free during unused studio time. Koster agreed, remarking that it cost him "just a little wear on his tape heads".
While assembling the earliest Nine Inch Nails recordings, Reznor was unable to find a band that could articulate his songs as he wanted. Instead, inspired by Prince, he played all the instruments except drums himself. Reznor has continued in this role on most of the band's studio recordings, though he has occasionally involved other musicians, assistants, drummers and rhythm experts. Several labels responded favorably to the demo material and Reznor signed with TVT Records. Nine selections from the Right Track demos were unofficially released in 1988 as Purest Feeling and many of these songs appeared in revised form on Pretty Hate Machine, Reznor's first official release under the Nine Inch Nails name.
Nine Inch Nails
Most of Reznor's work as a musician has been as founding and primary member of Nine Inch Nails. Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989 and was a moderate commercial success, certified Gold in 1992. Amid pressure from his record label to produce a follow-up to Pretty Hate Machine, Reznor secretly began recording under various pseudonyms to avoid record company interference, resulting in an EP called Broken (1992). Nine Inch Nails was included in the Lollapalooza tour in the summer of 1991, and won a Grammy Award in 1993 under "Best Heavy Metal Performance" for the song "Wish".
Nine Inch Nails' second full-length album, The Downward Spiral, entered the Billboard 200 chart in 1994 at number two, and remains the highest-selling Nine Inch Nails release in America. To record the album, Reznor rented and moved into the 10050 Cielo Drive mansion, where the 1969 Manson Family murders took place. He built a studio space in the house, which he renamed Le Pig, after the word that was scrawled on the front door in Sharon Tate's blood by her murderers. Reznor told Entertainment Weekly that, despite the notoriety attached to the house, he chose to record there because he "looked at a lot of places, and this just happened to be the one I liked most". He has also explained that he was fascinated by the house due to his interest in "American folklore," but has stated that he does not "want to support serial-killer bullshit."
Nine Inch Nails toured extensively over the next few years, including a performance at Woodstock '94, although he admitted to the audience that he did not like to play large venues. Around this time, Reznor's studio perfectionism, struggles with addiction, and bouts of writer's block prolonged the production of a follow-up to The Downward Spiral. In 1999 the double album The Fragile was released. It was partially successful, but lost money for Reznor's label, so he funded the North American Fragility Tour out of his own pocket. A further six years followed before the next Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth was released. During the intermediary period between the two records Reznor went into rehab, and was able to manage his drug addictions. After With Teeth Reznor released the concept album Year Zero, which has an alternate reality game themed after the album (see Year Zero (game)) which is about how the current policies of the American government will affect the world in the year 2020. After Year Zero's release in 2007 Reznor broke from large record labels, and released two albums, Ghosts I-IV and The Slip independently on his own label, The Null Corporation. In 2009 Nine Inch Nails went on hiatus, following the Wave Goodbye Tour. In 2013 Nine Inch Nails returned to large record labels, signing with Columbia Records. In September the album Hesitation Marks was released, and earlier, in August, the ongoing Tension 2013 tour began.
Collaboration with other artists
One of Reznor's earliest collaborations was a Ministry side project in 1990 under the name of 1000 Homo DJs. Reznor sang vocals on a cover of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut". Due to legal issues with his label, Reznor's vocals had to be distorted to make his voice unrecognizable. The band also recorded additional versions with Al Jourgensen doing vocals. While there is still debate as to which version is Reznor and which is Jourgensen, it has been definitively stated that Reznor's vocals were used in the TVT Records' Black Box box set. He also performed with another of Jourgensen's side projects, Revolting Cocks, in 1990. He said: "I saw a whole side of humanity that I didn't know existed. It was decadence on a new level, but with a sense of humor."
Reznor was in the David Bowie video for the song "I'm Afraid of Americans" in 1997. In the video, Reznor is a stalker who shows up wherever David Bowie goes. In a 2016 Rolling Stone article after Bowie's death, Reznor recalled how touring with Bowie in 1995-96 inspired Reznor to stay sober.
Reznor then sang the vocals on the 1991 Pigface track "Suck" from their first album Gub, which also featured Steve Albini. Reznor sang backing vocals on "Past the Mission", on Tori Amos' 1994 album, Under the Pink. He produced Marilyn Manson's first album, Portrait of an American Family (1994), and several tracks on Manson's albums Smells Like Children (1995) and Antichrist Superstar (1996). Relations between Reznor and Manson subsequently soured, and Manson later said: "I had to make a choice between being friends and having a mediocre career, or breaking things off and continuing to succeed. It got too competitive. And he can't expect me not to want to be more successful than him."
Reznor produced the soundtracks for Oliver Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's 1997 film Lost Highway. He is credited for "Driver Down" and "Videodrones; Questions" on the Lost Highway soundtrack; another song, "The Perfect Drug", is credited to Nine Inch Nails. Reznor produced a remix of the Notorious B.I.G.'s song "Victory", featuring Busta Rhymes, in 1998. Under the stage name Tapeworm, Reznor collaborated for nearly 10 years with Danny Lohner, Maynard James Keenan, and Atticus Ross, but the project was eventually terminated before any official material was released. The only known released Tapeworm material is a reworked version of a track called "Vacant" (retitled "Passive") on A Perfect Circle's 2004 album eMOTIVe, as well as a track called "Potions" on Puscifer's 2009 album "C" Is for.
In 2006, Reznor played his first "solo" shows at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit. Backed by a four piece string section, he performed stripped-down versions of many Nine Inch Nails songs. Reznor featured on El-P's 2007 album I'll Sleep When You're Dead, providing guest vocals on the track "Flyentology". Reznor co-produced Saul Williams' 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! after Williams toured with Nine Inch Nails in 2005 and 2006. Reznor convinced Williams to release the album as a free download, while giving fans the option of paying $5 for higher quality files, or downloading all of the songs at a lower quality for free. Reznor was also credited as "Musical Consultant" on the 2004 film Man on Fire. The movie features six Nine Inch Nails songs. He has produced a number of songs for Jane's Addiction in his home studio in Beverly Hills. The first recordings, new versions of the early tracks "Chip Away" and "Whores", were released simultaneously on Jane's Addiction's website and the NINJA 2009 Tour Sampler digital EP.
In November 2012, Reznor revealed on Reddit that he would be working with Queens of the Stone Age on a song for their sixth studio album, ...Like Clockwork. He had worked with the band once before, providing backing vocals on the title track of the 2007 album Era Vulgaris. Josh Homme has since revealed that Reznor was originally meant to produce the album.
In January 2013, Reznor was seen in a documentary entitled Sound City, directed by former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. Sound City is based on real-life recording studio Sound City Studios, originating in Van Nuys, California. It has housed the works of some of the most famed names in music history since its founding in 1969. The film has been chosen as an official selection for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and will be available to download from its official website on February 1, 2013. Reznor also contributed to the soundtrack for the film, on the track "Mantra", along with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme.
Reznor appeared in a live performance with Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, Dave Grohl, and Queens of the Stone Age at the January Grammy Award ceremony. In an interview with a New Zealand media outlet, Reznor explained his thought process at the time that he was considering his participation in the performance:
How to Destroy Angels
In April 2010, it was announced that Reznor had formed a new band with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and Atticus Ross, called How to Destroy Angels. The group digitally released a self-titled six song EP on June 1, 2010, with the retail edition becoming available on July 6, 2010. They covered the Bryan Ferry song "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" for the soundtrack for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was released on December 9, 2011. On September 21, 2012, Reznor announced that the group's next release would be an EP entitled An Omen EP, set for release on Columbia Records in November 2012, and that some of the EP's songs would later appear on the band's first full-length album in 2013. On October 8, 2012, they released a song and music video from An Omen EP entitled "Keep it Together". How to Destroy Angels announced in January 2013 that their first full-length album entitled Welcome Oblivion would be released on March 5 of the same year.
As an independent artist
Following the release of Year Zero, Reznor announced later that Nine Inch Nails had split from its contractual obligations with Interscope Records, and would distribute its next major albums independently. In May 2008 Reznor founded The Null Corporation and Nine Inch Nails released the studio album The Slip as a free digital download. In his appreciation for his following and fan base, and having no contractual obligation, he made "The Slip" available for free on his website, stating "This one's on me." A month and a half after its online release, The Slip had been downloaded 1.4 million times from the official Nine Inch Nails website.
In February 2009, Reznor posted his thoughts about the future of Nine Inch Nails on NIN.com, stating that "I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while." Reznor noted in an interview on the official website that while he has not stopped creating music as Nine Inch Nails, the group will not be touring in the foreseeable future.
The original music from id Software's 1996 video game Quake is credited to "Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails"; Reznor helped record sound effects and ambient audio, and the NIN logo appears on the nailgun ammunition boxes in the game. Reznor's association with id Software began with Reznor being a fan of the original Doom. He reunited with id Software in 2003 as the sound engineer for Doom 3, though due to "time, money and bad management", he had to abandon the project, and his audio work did not make it into the game's final release.
Nine Inch Nails' 2007 major studio recording, Year Zero, was released alongside an accompanying alternate reality game. With its lyrics written from the perspective of multiple fictitious characters, Reznor described Year Zero as a concept album criticizing the United States government's current policies and how they will affect the world 15 years in the future. In July 2012, it was announced that Reznor had composed and performed the theme music for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
In 2001, Reznor was asked by Mark Romanek to provide the score for One Hour Photo, but the music did not work for the film and was not used. These compositions eventually evolved into Still. A remix of the Nine Inch Nails track "You Know What You Are?" by Clint Mansell was used as part of the latter's soundtrack to the 2005 film adaptation of Doom. In 2009, Trent Reznor composed "Theme for Tetsuo" for the Japanese cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man from Shinya Tsukamoto.
Reznor collaborated with Ross to compose the score for David Fincher's The Social Network, a 2010 drama film about the founding of Facebook. Says Reznor, "When I actually read the script and realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned." The score was noted for portraying "Mark Zuckerberg the genius, developing a brilliant idea over ominous undertones," and received nearly unanimous praise across the board. The film's score was released in October 2010 in multiple formats, including digital download, compact disc, 5.1 surround on Blu-ray disc, and vinyl record. A 5-song sampler EP was released for free via digital download.
On January 7, 2011, Reznor announced that he would again be working with Fincher, this time to provide the score for the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A cover of "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin, produced by Reznor and Ross, with Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) as the featured singer, accompanied a trailer for the film. Reznor and Ross' second collaboration with Fincher was scored as the film was shot, based on the concept, "What if we give you music the minute you start to edit stuff together?" Reznor explained in 2014 that the composition process was "a lot more work," and that he "would be hesitant to go as far in that direction in the future."
Reznor and Ross again collaborated, to score Fincher's film Gone Girl. Fincher was inspired by music he heard while at an appointment with a chiropractor and tasked Reznor with creating the musical equivalent of an insincere facade. Reznor explained Fincher's request in an interview:
Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs sang a cover version of the song "She," which was used in the film's teaser trailer. The soundtrack album was released on the Columbia label on September 30, 2014.
During Reznor and Ross' keynote session at the 2014 "Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference," held on November 5, Reznor said that he is open to working with other filmmakers besides Fincher, the only director he had worked with as a composer up until that point: "I'm open to any possibility ... Scoring for film kind of came up unexpectedly. It was always something I'd been interested in and it was really a great experience and I've learned a lot." Reznor further explained that he cherishes his previous experiences with Fincher, as "There's a pursuit and dedication to uncompromised excellence."
Suit and counter-suit with John Malm
In 2004, Reznor's former manager John Malm Jr. filed suit in the United States district court of Ohio against Reznor for over $2 million in deferred commissions. The suit alleged that Reznor "reneged on every single contract he and Malm ever entered into", and that Reznor refused to pay Malm payments to which he was contractually entitled. Weeks later, Reznor filed a counter-suit in the U.S. District Court of New York, charging Malm with fraud and breach of fiduciary duties. Reznor's suit arose from a five-year management contract signed in the early days of Nine Inch Nails, between Reznor and Malm's management company J. Artist Management. This contract, according to the suit, was unlawful and immoral in that it secured Malm 20% of Reznor's gross earnings, rather than his net earnings, as is the standard practice between artists and their management. The suit also alleged that the contract secured this percentage even if Malm was no longer representing Reznor, and for all Reznor's album advances. The suit also described how Malm had misappropriated the ownership rights regarding Nine Inch Nails, including the trademark name "NIN". According to testimony by Malm, Reznor gave him half of the "NIN" trademark "as a gift."
Reznor stated that he began to fully understand his financial situation after tackling his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Reznor requested a financial statement from Malm in 2003, only to discover that he had only $400,000 in liquid assets. "It was not pleasant discovering you have a 10th as much as you've been told you have," Reznor told the court. Malm's lawyers, however, claimed that Malm had worked for years "pro bono", and that Reznor's inability to release an album or tour and his uninhibited spending were the reasons for Reznor's financial situation.
After a three-week trial in 2005, jurors sided with Reznor, awarding him upwards of $2.95 million and returning to him complete control of his trademarks. After adjustment for inflation, Reznor's award rose to nearly $5 million.
In January 2013, Reznor and TopSpin Media founder Ian Rogers were chosen to head Beats Electronics' new music subscription service, Project Daisy, described by Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine as having "hardware, brand, distribution partnerships, and artist relations to differentiate Daisy from the competition". There was some speculation as to what Reznor's role would be within the company, but he was later named chief creative officer. He promised that he and the other members would strive to create a music subscription service that will be like "having your own guy when you go to the record store, who knows what you like but can also point you down some paths you wouldn't have necessarily encountered". The service was officially launched in the United States on January 21, 2014.
Reznor has continued on in a similar role under Beats' new ownership at Apple, where he has been involved in the launch of Apple Music.
Criticism of the music industry
In May 2007, Reznor made a post on the official Nine Inch Nails website condemning Universal Music Group—the parent company of the band's record label, Interscope Records—for their pricing and distribution plans for Nine Inch Nails' 2007 album Year Zero. 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 as "the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more." Reznor's post, specifically his criticism of the recording industry at large, elicited considerable media attention. In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on Universal Music Group at a concert in Australia, urging fans there to "steal" his music online instead of purchasing it legally. 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 stealin'."
Return to major labels
While on tour in Prague in 2009, Reznor realized the importance of the marketing aspect of a major label when he saw a lot of promotion for Radiohead's then-upcoming tour, but little promotion for his current Nine Inch Nails tour or any of its recently released albums. Reznor said the marketing from a major label outweighed the aspects of being independent that he liked, namely the ability to release albums whenever he wanted to avoid leaking, and to take a larger cut of the profits from record sales. Reznor's first album released through a major label after his return was How to Destroy Angels' An Omen EP released in November 2012 through Columbia Records. On working with Columbia for the release of the EP, Reznor said that "so far it's been pleasantly pleasant".
In 2013, Reznor returned to Columbia Records for Hesitation Marks, the eighth Nine Inch Nails studio album.
Musical style and influence
Reznor possesses a baritone vocal range. He is a fan of David Bowie, and has cited Bowie's 1977 album Low as one of his favorite albums. Reznor has stated that he played the album constantly during the recording of The Downward Spiral for inspiration. In 1995, Nine Inch Nails toured as a co-headlining act on the North American leg of David Bowie's Outside Tour. Reznor also appeared in Bowie's video for "I'm Afraid of Americans", cast as Bowie's stalker. Reznor also made several remixes for the single release of the same song, as well as a remix of "The Hearts Filthy Lesson". Reznor also states in the 2010 documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage that the band Rush had played a major part in his childhood influences. He also stated that he considered Rush to be "one of the best bands ever" and had gained a perspective on how keyboards could be introduced into hard rock after listening to their 1982 album Signals. Reznor also stated "Freddie Mercury's death meant more to me than John Lennon's" and covered Queen's "Get Down Make Love", which was produced by Paul Barker and Al Jourgensen of Ministry and released on the single for "Sin". He also expressed the significant influence that Coil had on his work, saying that Horse Rotorvator was "deeply influential". In many interviews with Musician, Spin, and Alternative Press, Reznor mentioned Devo, The Cars, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Pere Ubu, Soft Cell, Prince, Ministry, Gary Numan, and The Cure's 1985 album, The Head on the Door, as important influences. According to Todd Rundgren, Reznor told him that he listened to Rundgren's 1973 album, A Wizard, a True Star with "great regularity". In a radio interview, Reznor stated the first song he ever wrote "Down in It" was a "total rip-off" of the Skinny Puppy song "Dig It."
Reznor's work as Nine Inch Nails has influenced many newer artists, which according to Reznor range from "generic imitations" dating from the band's initial success to younger bands echoing his style in a "truer, less imitative way". Following the release of The Downward Spiral, mainstream artists began to take notice of Nine Inch Nails' influence: David Bowie compared NIN's impact to that of The Velvet Underground. 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." 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. During a rare appearance at the Kerrang! Awards in London that year, Reznor accepted the Kerrang! Icon, honoring Nine Inch Nails' long-standing influence on rock music.
Steven Wilson of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree has stated that he is influenced by and much admires Reznor's production work, in particular The Fragile. Timbaland, one of pop music's most successful producers in recent years, has cited Reznor as his favorite studio producer.
In 2011, Reznor and Ross won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the Academy Award for Original Score for their work on The Social Network.
For their work on Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Reznor and Ross were nominated for the 2012 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, and won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. Neither Reznor or Ross were present to accept the award, but Reznor published a thank you on his Twitter profile.
Ross and Reznor's Gone Girl score was nominated for Best Original Score in a Feature Film at the 5th Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMA)—the award was eventually won by Antonio Sanchez for Birdman on November 4, 2014. In a November 2014 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Reznor revealed that he values Oscar trophies above Grammy awards: "When the Oscar [nomination] came up, it felt very different. I can't tell if that's because I'm older or it felt like it's coming from a more sincere pedigree."
During the five years following the release of The Downward Spiral, Reznor struggled with depression, social anxiety disorder, and the death of his grandmother (who raised him). During this period of intense grief, he began abusing alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs. He eventually became addicted to alcohol and cocaine. He reached his darkest moment with substance abuse while touring in London for The Fragile, when he mistakenly purchased china white heroin, which he believed to be cocaine; he consequently overdosed and was resuscitated at a local hospital.
In 2001, Reznor successfully completed rehab, and eventually moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles. In a 2005 interview with Kerrang, he reflected on his self-destructive past: "There was a persona that had run its course. I needed to get my priorities straight, my head screwed on. Instead of always working, I took a couple of years off, just to figure out who I was and working out if I wanted to keep doing this or not. I had become a terrible addict; I needed to get my shit together, figure out what had happened." In contrast to his former suicidal tendencies, he admitted in another interview that he is "pretty happy". Nine Inch Nails' next full-length album, With Teeth (2005), reached number one on the Billboard 200.
Reznor married Filipino American singer-songwriter Mariqueen Maandig in October 2009. They have four children: sons Lazarus Echo Reznor (born October 10, 2010) and Balthazar Venn Reznor (born December 31, 2011), a third child whose name and gender have not been revealed (born November 1, 2015), and daughter Nova Lux Reznor (born December 2016).