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7 things we learned about Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt from Netflix’s Song Exploder

The Downward Spiral, loneliness and David Bowie… here’s what we learned from the Song Exploder episode focusing on Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.

The second series of Netflix’s Song Exploder has just arrived, with one particularly awesome episode of the deep-dive show digging into Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.

Presenter/interviewer Hrishikesh Hirway meets Trent Reznor for a 27-minute breakdown of the Downward Spiral classic, which was of course later made even more famous by Johnny Cash in 2002. And it taught us a lot – not just about NIN’s frontman, but about Johnny Cash, David Bowie and more. Here’s just a brief glimpse into what we learned…

Trent Reznor’s upbringing was an influence for him

When I look back on my youth, it was not unhappy, but alone, most of the time,” he says, elaborating that he’d dive into records such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, where music felt like a mystery you needed to unravel. I could project into it what I was feeling… I can relate to the loneliness and the pain.”

Elsewhere in the interview, he elaborates of this loneliness: I’ve always had a sadness and a sense of abandonment haunting me, never feeling like I fit in anywhere, always feeling like an outsider… I was trying to find a purpose and salvation and sense of place, and just not to feel bad.”

The Downward Spiral’s concept was clear

Going into the planning of Nine Inch Nails’ second album, the frontman says: I knew the title, The Downward Spiral. I had an elaborate storyline for it, a timeline written out in a notebook… The Downward Spiral was the story of someone trying to find salvation through sex and drugs and self-destruction and self-loathing, and trying to find purpose and reason.”

Hurt was an “afterthought” for the album

It just felt like it could be a little coda to the end of the record,” Trent admits. It reflects back with a sense of loss and regret and longing, that might make the whole record feel more powerful and interesting.”

And he wrote and demoed this “afterthought” on the piano

I understand the piano more than any other instrument, really,” explains the frontman. But I didn’t want it to seem like a piano ballad; I wanted it to feel acoustic-based and kind of broken down, like the character.”

Trent’s vocal performance is very specific

I am out of tune a lot. I am singing it extremely quiet,” Trent acknowledges. I’d guess that would have come after a number of frustrating takes of it feeling too sung and less emotional. That’s me trying to sound quiet and sincere. Just feeling the weird shame and exposure of showing something intimate to the world but it wasn’t coming across right.

And I remember being frustrated that I wish I could sing like [David] Bowie. I wish I had that instrument, you know. I wanted it to feel less accessible. I needed to kind of hide inside the music. And, I figured I am producing it so turn the vocal down.”

Above all else, Hurt’s purpose is to make you feel something

NIN’s mastermind reveals the films of David Lynch as an influence here, inspiring Trent to want to hide subliminal sounds in the recording of the LP.

I want you to feel a certain way,” he adds. It’s not an amazing guitar solo, fantastic groove. It’s goosebumps. That’s the part that matters the most.”

Performing the song with David Bowie was “mind-blowing”

Discussing 1995’s The Outside Tour in which Nine Inch Nails supported David Bowie and would cover the song with The Thin White Duke, Trent enthuses, I couldn’t believe it was real. It really felt like, How much better does it get than this?’ Being able to stand onstage next to that guy who’s my hero. That voice is singing this beautiful harmony with that song I wrote in my bedroom was mind-blowing.”

Check out the trailer for Song Exploder (Volume 2) below:

Posted on December 15th 2020, 4:44p.m.
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