"What a creep!" The day that Prince broke Trent Reznor's heart

Prince and Trent Reznor
(Image credit: Prince - Theo Wargo/WireImage / Trent Reznor - Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)

When penning the liner notes that would accompany Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine, Trent Reznor took care to offer thanks to a musician he looked up to as his "idol": Prince

Although Ringfinger, the closing track on NIN's 1989 debut featured a snippet of Prince's 1988 single Alphabet St., Reznor's songwriting took little direct sonic influence from  the gifted Minneapolis polymath. But in interviews Reznor freely admitted that, in launching Nine Inch Nails as a solo vehicle, he was inspired by Prince's singular, uncompromising vision for his music and his enviable skills as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, studio engineer and producer. To this end, while serving his own apprenticeship in the music industry, Reznor had actually followed Prince's lead in taking a menial job at a recording studio in order to learn engineering techniques, so that, when the studio was free, he could work on his own music without relying on anyone else or having to pull in any favours.

"I had this romantic notion that, well, Prince did it himself, and I fully respected him for that," Reznor told Option magazine's Jason Fine in 1994. "So I just started to do it."

One year earlier, in 1993, Reznor had booked time at the legendary Record Plant studio in Los Angeles to work upon NIN's follow-up to Pretty Hate Machine. To his delight, he discovered that Prince was also booked into the facility at the same time, though he soon learned that The Purple One's working hours were decidedly fluid: "No one had ever seen him," Reznor told Revolver. "He'd never shown up."

"We got to know their engineers because they were just sitting around waiting all day," Reznor added. "And they said, 'No, he knows you guys. He was listening to [Nine Inch Nails' 1992 EP] Broken and referencing, 'I want it to sound like that.' I thought, This is fucking fantastic! My hero!"

Reznor recounted what happened next in a 1994 interview with Select magazine's Gina Morris, prefacing his anecdote with the words, "I‘ll tell you a funny story about Prince..."

"I was in this studio and I heard Prince was coming in," Reznor began. "There was a time when I thought he was awesome, but what a fucking creep! The rules were, you were never to say the word ‘Prince‘, you had to write down that symbol. You were never to look at him, or talk to him unless he approached you first, shit like that. So he shows up in a limo, wear a fluorescent pink jumpsuit, giant haft, a cane, huge heels and a lollipop. And he‘s wearing the worst women‘s perfume you‘ve ever smelt."

Reznor revealed that Prince was accompanied by "two giant bodyguards", even though there was "nobody there who was gonna fuck with him! at the Record Plant"

"So then I see him at the other end of this hundred yard corridor, and there‘s only me and him walking towards each other," the NIN man continued. "So we‘re getting closer,  and… he walks right past me. I couldn‘t believe it, I don‘t care who you are, that‘s bullshit."

"And that was it," he told Revolver. "My heart was broken."

As a post-script, it's worth adding that Prince later expressed his admiration for Reznor. In a post on Medium, Prince's former assistant Ruth Violette revealed that her boss once told her, "I like him and what he’s done. He’s a bit of an outlier, like me."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.