Marc Geiger Talks Nine Inch Nails: The Upward Spiral As Trent Reznor Gets His Due

Nine Inch Nails
Paul Hebert / Icon SMI / Corbis / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images
– Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor

In Nine Inch Nails, the industrial band formed and led by Trent Reznor, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has found the rare combination of influential, independent and massively popular, inspiring generations of fans and musicians alike.  

“He’s singularly the smartest and most thoughtful artist I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and be friends with,” says former WME head of music Marc Geiger, whose time with Reznor goes back to the early days. “He’s thoughtful and an engineer like Elon Musk, when he rocks, he rocks with more precision and harder than Metallica; when he’s quiet and contemplative, he does it like Brian Eno and Keith Jarrett. When he wants to make dance music, he’s as good as Kraftwerk and New Order. When he turns to other parts of composing, like soundtracks, he’s like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, when he does design, he is like Vaughan Oliver or Peter Saville. When you think about his image, he’s up there with David Bowie, and when he does show production, he’s like George Lucas. 
 “I don’t know anybody else like that, who can do it all. That’s what I think about him and that’s why it’s about time he gets his due,” says Geiger, who adds that he himself is no longer with WME but “am forever on [Reznor]’s team, wherever he will have me.” 
Nine Inch Nails, which for all intents and purposes is Reznor, combined hard-edged, Gothic sonic tendencies ala Ministry and Skinny Puppy into a fiercely energetic live act that sells well into the arena-act numbers, landing on Pollstar’s 2019 Top 200 North American Tours Chart after a long history as an established live force.  

They Could Be Heroes?
Kevin Mazur / WireImage
– They Could Be Heroes?
David Bowie, who became a personal friend of Reznor’s, performing together in December 1995.
The band over the years has grossed $114.12 million on 2.76 million tickets with 458 headline reports, according to Pollstar Boxoffice history, with highlights including  six headline shows at the Hollywood Bowl in 2018, which sold 24,337 tickets and grossed $1.8 million. Other highlights include more dates from 2018, with two nights at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which sold 11,535 tickets and grossed $1.44 million, and three shows at Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, good for another 14,551 tickets and $1.33 million.
With producer/musician Attitus Ross becoming the first and only official other member of Nine Inch Nails in 2016, recent projects along with the latest acclaimed LPs from 2018 (Bad Witch) and 2020’s dual ambient releases Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts include the Oscar-winning collaboration for the 2011 film score for “The Social Network.” 
But there’s a lot of history that came before the Oscars and arena headlining, with the band’s first album, 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine featuring one of its most famous tracks, the catchy, raucous “Head Like A Hole,” an era during which Reznor became known for smashing his equipment on stage during energetic performances, opening for bands like Peter Murphy and the Jesus and Mary Chain, and notably a world tour in 1990 that continued into the first Lollapalooza festival in 1991.
Reznor was in full control and independently minded from the start, disagreeing with the handling of the band’s first album and quickly moving to Interscope, which led to its most successful album release in 1994 concept album The Downward Spiral, home to the band’s biggest hit, the thumping, jarring, at-times sinister sounding “Closer” with the perhaps-unlikely signature line, “I want to fuck you like an animal,” which remains the band’s most famous song.
Trent Reznor
Scott Harrison / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
– Trent Reznor

The album has been heralded as one of the most influential of the 1990s, with Rolling Stone calling it “a powerful statement” and Stereogum noting its influence on popular culture, with “teenagers wearing ripped fishnets on their arms.”

The height of the band’s recorded music fame coincided with major live music milestones, including the band’s Woodstock ‘94 mud-covered set that was broadcast on pay-per-view to more than 24 million homes, with the band widely considered to have stolen the show and further expanded its fanbase. 
The “Self Destruct Tour” of 1994, which featured an early incarnation of Marilyn Manson, debuted a grungy image of the band, with ripped clothes and covered in corn starch as the band’s shows were violent and chaotic. Such high-profile views led to higher visibility and production value as the band grappled with commercial success. 
Fittingly, as Reznor branched out musically and stylistically, he caught the attention of one of the more creative and innovative musicians of all time popular music in David Bowie, who along with collaborating in the studio for 1997’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” toured with Nine Inch Nails multiple times, including for the 1995-96 “Outside Tour.” Known to have influenced Reznor directly, it was Bowie who looked to NIN to challenge himself creatively, with NIN’s popularity and influence at the time so apparent that the larger-than-life musical icon had to adapt the the audiences, saying in an interview: “In those first weeks, we had to adjust emotionally to the fact that we were going to be challenged every night to get in sync with what people were coming to the show for. But then you start to recognize that if you’re going to continue, you’d better enjoy what you’re doing. The more we did that, the more it communicated to the audience. That’s how it went from survival to being a good tour.”
While some of those ‘90s performances put Reznor’s NIN on the map, Geiger stresses that career highlights have continued into the present, always with thoughtful precision and dedication to the craft.
“I remember him doing the Bridge School Benefit for Neil Young, he played with a string quartet, and we were in tears,” Geiger says of Reznor’s 2006 set at the acoustic benefit concert that took place annually at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in California. “Neil Young came back into the dressing room and said it was the most powerful, most innovative performance that had ever been at the Bridge School. That’s kind of what Trent does, and that’s what I take from him.”
With sporadic hiatuses, NIN resumed touring in 2005 along with the release of fourth LP With Teeth. After more creative differences with Interscope, he left the label after 2007’s Year Zero, and continued independently releasing more records. 
Reznor has toured with his musical influences, including Goth-synth pioneers like Skinny Puppy and Bauhaus. But Reznor’s influence rivals that of his idols, with Bowie himself comparing Reznor’s impact to that of the Velvet Underground, Axl Rose citing Reznor as an influence in Guns N’ Roses’ changing sound, and noted producer Bob Ezrin calling Reznor a “true visionary” and admiring Reznor’s no-compromise ethos. 
While maybe most influential to those growing up in the mid-’90s, Geiger notes Reznor’s impact on the younger generations as well. 
“I love watching the Billie Eilishes of the world look at him the way he and I looked at Bowie or The Cure,” he says.
Reznor and NIN figure heavily in popular culture, including doing the full soundtrack for landmark 1996 PC game “Quake,” whose soundtrack was recently remastered and released. The band’s music was featured in popular movie and TV  soundtracks such as “Natural Born Killers” and “The Watchmen,” and Reznor was even credited on the Lil Nas X “Old Town Road” smash of 2019, which  sampled a banjo snippet from the mostly instrumental Ghosts I–IV  2008 album. 
Geiger notes that while being sampled on the Billy Ray Cyrus-featured smash hit and, much earlier, parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic are amusing, it’s ultimately trivial.
“It’s way more than that,” he says. “His thoughtfulness is insane.”