30 Years Ago, Nine Inch Nails Drops Their Debut Album 'Pretty Hate Machine'

October 21, 2019

Trent Reznor certainly has one of the more interesting rock star origin stories when compared to your regular garage band. Reznor moved from Pennsylvania to Cleveland, OH and worked nights as a janitor at Right Track Studio. When he wasn't working, Reznor was making use of his time by recording his own music, which eventually lead to the reaction of Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine.

Reznor was very adept in math, electronics and music, but never thought about combining all of them together until he bought himself a Moog Prodigy analog synthesizer as a teenager. From there he made his first demo known as Purest Feeling, which he would later take some song and retune them on Pretty Hate Machine.

Although he was operating as a one-man-band, Reznor's songs were fueled by his own personal experiences and feelings towards relationships, the government, religion, and more without coming off as preachy. Reznor's Purest Feeling caught the attention of TVT Records, which lead to a deal to work on his first full album. By the time he landed his record deal, Reznor says that many of the songs for the album were nearly ready to go. Having already spent weeks and months on the songs, all that was left to do was add some guitars and redo the vocal parts.

Reznor chose to work with producer John Fryer (Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins), but they had a rocky relationship in the studio from the start. Reznor says that the songs were nearly finished by the time they entered the studio together, and Fryer wanted to be more experimental. 

By October 20th, 1989, Pretty Hate Machine was released under TVT Records and put out "Down In It" as the first single. Reznor says "Down In It" was the first song he had ever wrote and admits that he lifted it from "Dig It" by Skinny Puppy. The song had picked up some momentum upon its release, topping out at No. 15 on Alternative Rock radio.

By March of 1990,  "Head Like a Hole" became the second single off of Pretty Hate Machine and immediately became a fan favorite, and along with a video directed by Eric Zimmerman, "Head Like a Hole" was frequently seen on MTV. Although the song peaked at No. 28 on the Alternative Rock Chart, its MTV presence exposed Nine Inch Nails to a much bigger audience, leading to a significant boost in album sales.

Reznor was unprepared for how commercially successful Pretty Hate Machine was going to be. When he was slated to tour with Jesus and Mary Chain, Reznor realized that he needed to put a real band together to perform the songs live. That was when he recruited the talents of drummer Chris Vrenna and guitarist Richard Patrick. Towards the end of their tour's run, Nine Inch Nails playing Lollapalooza and opening for Guns N' Roses on their European tour.

Since its debut, Pretty Hate Machine reached No. 75 on the Billboard 200 Album chart, but was certified as triple platinum by the RIAA.