When Trent Reznor first arrived in 1989 as the intense control freak behind Nine Inch Nails, he was labelled many things, but ‘future Oscar winner’ was not one of them. Now, though, that looks like an increasing possibility, especially after his Golden Globe win for his score of the superb Social Network.
This mainstream triumph is just the latest phase in Reznor’s unexpected, late-flowering career rebirth. For most of his 20s and 30s he was known to the world as a druggy, depressive outsider, spitting lyrics of venom and defiance. And he wasn’t exactly prolific. In the decade spanning 1995-2005 he only released two albums.
Suddenly though, Reznor is a model of efficiency. He’s currently working on a TV series based on the NIN album ‘Year Zero’, the score for the new adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and writing new material for his new outfit How To Destroy Angels with his wife Maureen Mandig.
This new-found openness is particularly striking, because collaboration was never Reznor’s strong point. Since starting Nine Inch Nails, he’s worked with a revolving door of musicians, few of whom ever lasted beyond a single touring cycle. Even long time guitarists Robin Finck and Danny Lohner, who did six years each in the band, left the band after reported fall outs with Reznor.
This isolationist method of doing things made his music cold, precise and sometimes utterly impenetrable. Live, he was even angrier, seldom talking to the crowd. Reznor was also constantly falling out with his record label over creative control and spent a good part of his later years with Nine Inch Nails denouncing the music industry and everyone in it.
Something has happened, though, in the last few years. Reznor has softened and become much more collaborative – both with other musicians and his fans. He leaked parts of 2007’s ‘Year Zero’ album in USB drives which he instructed fans to hide in the toilets of various gig venues and he has since released two free albums for download.
In 2008 he dropped ‘The Slip’ which he made available on a Radiohead style ‘pay what you like’ scheme. That same year he also released ‘Ghosts I-IV’, an entirely instrumental album, during the promotion of which he let YouTube users submit their own films to go with the tracks and even set up a remix site to let fans make their own versions of his tracks. He’s even a frequent and sometimes quite funny Tweeter.
The ultimate internet-age rock star? He’s certainly showing others the way forward. Oscar or no Oscar, it seems that opening himself up to collaboration has been the best thing to ever happen to Trent Reznor.