Trent Reznor: industrial rock god, 1990s prince of darkness, acclaimed film scorer, and lover of electronic keyboards. All are relevant to what you’re about to see, but the last of which is perhaps the most important.
We all have to start somewhere. Whether it’s doing what you really want to do in just getting a foot in the door, making a strong impression and doing the best of your ability will get you a long way. Plenty of musicians wind up taking circuitous paths to success, let’s not forget that Tool’s Danny Carey played with Carole King and Pantera started out as a poor man’s Van Halen. With that premise, Reznor is no exception. His keyboard abilities and aptitude for technology meant that, in the late 1980s, Reznor found himself in more than a few synth-pop/new wave bands.
There weren’t many options for Reznor in his newly adopted home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Although he had a strong reputation for helping get nascent rock musicians off the ground, it was a difficult scene to be a part of in the late ’80s. Reznor hopped from band to band, even appearing in the film Light of Day along with his bandmates in the synth-pop group Exotic Birds.
By 1988, Reznor began to realise that if he wanted to play a darker and more aggressive style of electronic rock music, he was going to have to strike out on his own. But he was still an in-demand player in the Cleveland rock scene, so he sat in with bands to pay the bills when he wasn’t cleaning the floors at Right Track Studios. One band, Slam Bamboo, even made local television appearances, which has forever preserved Reznor’s pre-fame life as a new wave keyboard player.
Apart from a horrendous name, Slam Bamboo actually sound like they have some potential. They’ve got a weirdly charismatic and gangly frontman, and their song ‘House on Fire’ is catchy in a way that generic ’80s songs tended to be. These guys certainly weren’t cutting edge, but there was still a place for goofy, loose-limbed pop-rock at the time. The host of the programme probably put a curse on them by quoting a teen magazine that said the band had “everything it takes to make it big”, but that’s neither here nor there.
As for Reznor, he mostly stays in the background. Somewhat presciently, he looks almost exactly like he would when he came to fame a few years later, minus a sweet ’80s haircut. Leather jacket? Check. All black? Check. Reticence to look at the camera aimed at him? Check.
Unfortunately, Slam Bamboo never got out of Cleveland, and around this time Reznor completed most of Nine Inch Nail’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, all on his own. Just imagine that background keyboard player seething so hard about being in this generic new wave band that he goes home that night and composes ‘Head Like a Hole’ on the spot. That’s the way I like to imagine it went down.
See the clip, below.