When you’re first starting out in any rock band, most of the time you have to put your nose to the grind to get any decent song off the ground. There’s no time to half-ass anything in the early days, and Trent Reznor was always focused on pushing his music forward, making most of Nine Inch Nails’ debut album Pretty Hate Machine by himself during off hours from his day job.
Once you do have that one song that comes really quickly, sometimes it can feel like cheating.
As Trent was putting the tracks together, he had included the classic “Head Like a Hole” without really thinking that much of it, saying:
“I don’t remember what I was thinking about at the time, but it was pretty much about yelling at a beast without putting a face to it.
I wrote it at the last minute as a throwaway. The rest of Pretty Hate Machine was already written, and we’d revised everything else about nine times.”
That kind of raw anger was more than enough for the rest of us though, becoming one of the definitive NIN singles from around this time and turning Trent Reznor into a household name.
Trent was never really all that impressed with what he did on the song though, saying:
“Up until then, song-writing had been a meticulous and agonizing process, but this took me 15 minutes in my bedroom. The fact that it produced this huge reaction really pissed me off because I hadn’t agonized over it.”
Trent still has a few gripes about the kind of playing that he did on the final record as well, saying: “I was playing everything myself but I had no confidence in playing guitar.
I was convinced that if any real players heard it they’d laugh. Now I know that’s bullshit but at the time I was very insecure.”
While that’s a pretty absurd thought now looking back, even the label that released the record, TVT, at the time planted more seeds of doubt in Trent’s mind.
TVT’s label head apparently called the album “an abortion” after hearing it, going on to tell Reznor that “You fucked up what could have been a good career.”
It might not be on the Eddie Van Halen level of guitar work by any stretch. But all the way back in the late ‘80s, Trent seemed to learn a valuable lesson about writing hits: it’s not about how complex it is. It’s about how much emotion you put into it.