reating A 'Downward Spiral'
Reznor's experimentation with "found sound" and discordant harmonies started early in his career, when he says he was inspired by bands like Throbbing Gristle and the films of David Lynch.
"As early as [Nine Inch Nails'] album Downward Spiral, there was a lot of effort and experiments going on — layering in sounds that might bother you under music to create a sense of anxiety," he says. "I've always found that it's an interesting instrument to bring into the mix — creating melody or purpose out of noise in the various shapes noise can take, whether it could be the hum of a radiator to a room tone, [to create] something that evokes an emotional response."
Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails' second album, was written in 1993, after the band had started to make a name for itself in the Cleveland underground industrial-music scene.
"I decided to write a conceptual record that told the story of somebody that was futilely trying to fill up a hole in their being with whatever it might be — sex or drugs, or to try to escape from a sense of emptiness," Reznor says. "And I felt that that created a framework where I could write these songs that all kind of made sense."
The album sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, with "Hurt" and "Closer" cracking the Billboard Top 10. Reznor says the album, about a man whose life spirals out of control, was not autobiographical at the time he wrote it.
"But the terrible irony of the story is that the story [in Downward Spiral] came to life over the next few years," he says. "My own life spiraled out of control, and I look back now and think, 'I was writing about me.' ... I think that I was somebody who was pretty immature emotionally. And when thrust into a situation that was very abnormal — of fame and adulation — I wasn't really equipped to deal with it very well."
In the late '90s, Reznor says he started relying on alcohol to get him through the day. He also began drinking heavily on tours.