Cloud Nine Inch Nails
The Columbus Dispatch 09.99
by Aaron Beck
Howlin' Maggie drummer gets a new job, and he's still pinching himself.
The first studio album from Nine Inch Nails in five years will be more pop-oriented.
Or so Trent Reznor, who embodies Nine Inch Nails in the studio, has hinted.
Die-hards shouldn't fret, however.
Of the double disc The Fragile, due Sept. 20, Reznor told USA Today, "It doesn't sound like a band playing."
Yet, when the group that made industrial rock palatable for the mainstream performs tonight on MTV, Reznor will be joined by Charlie Clouser, Danny Lohner, Robin Finck (who recently re-enlisted in the touring band after a fruitless stint with Guns N' Roses) and former Howlin' Maggie drummer Jerome Dillon.
The band is planning a world tour tentatively to begin in December.
Dillon joined Nine Inch Nails in April after auditioning twice for Reznor in New Orleans.
The drummer, who lives in Los Angeles, was visiting family in Columbus when his manager, Sheila Scott, called to tell him she had a line on a new job.
"She asked if I was interested in being in Nine Inch Nails," he said. "I would have been interested in being houseboy in the studio."
He packed up the Howlin' Maggie album Honeysuckle Strange and some other recordings he'd made in Los Angeles and sent them to a post-office box in New Orleans. Within three days he received a call to head south. After auditioning in early March, he was called back four weeks later.
"I thought it was going to be the same thing all over again," he said. "Instead, I walked in and it was more of just a conversation with me and the band. They liked where I was coming from musically, and they thought it was conducive to the direction of the new record."
The previous drummer, Chris Vrenna, focused more on re-creating studio sounds with samplers and computers.
"He is a great drummer, and he put forth to the band a lot artistically," Dillon said. "He was also a great technician in the studio and an integral part. But when it came to fleshing parts on acoustic drums, he really wasn't that type of guy.
"I dissected all of those parts on the old records on the drum set. In both of my auditions, I played a four-piece kit with one or two cymbals and just tried to destroy the drum set. . . . Everyone in the band has a philosophy: Play every note like it's your last. I've always been a big believer in that."
Word quickly spread around central Ohio that Dillon had landed the job.
The straight-ahead rock pedigree of Howlin' Maggie is misleading, said Emperors of Bad Luck drummer Chris Wood, who attended St. Francis DeSales High School with Dillon (who ultimately graduated from Northland High School in 1987).
"I used to watch him play this Terry Bozzio kit when he was 13 years old," Wood said. "This has to be a dream come true for him."
Before Howlin' Maggie, Dillon played with a cousin and friend in the Nine Inch Nails-inspired band Nevermor.
"I had listened to Ministry, and I still think Land of Rape and Honey was way ahead of its time," he said. "As for how it sounds now, I don't know. But NIN's first record (Pretty Hate Machine) . . . struck a chord in me. . . . In my mind, it still sounds every bit as good as Roxy Music's Avalon does today or any other record that came out years ago that still, when you put it on, it's engaging and sounds great."
Dillon performed his first show with Howlin' Maggie in 1994.
In the midst of recording songs last summer for a second album, he moved to the West Coast but continued to commute to Columbus.
Columbia Records sounded the death knell, though, when it dropped the band from its roster.
"I miss those guys," Dillon said. "We laughed harder in that band than I've ever laughed in the studio and on the road. It was nonstop. But it was just a question of 'Do I want to make a career out of being a musician, or do I want to continue to put all of my time and energy and effort into this thing that is an outlet for one songwriter?' I had to move on; that was the bottom line."
He relishes the idea of working with Reznor.
"His vocal melody lines could be string lines from Vivaldi. Some of the rhythmic stuff on the new record harks back to Aaron Copland and Stravinsky. He's not afraid to pit 9/4 against 4/4 in a time signature with drums and guitar. And he never underestimates the intelligence of the people who buy and listen to his records.
"But the idea that is the most appealing is that I get to go to work with someone who knows exactly what he wants and, even more important, knows exactly what he doesn't want. . . . It's not even a process of elimination with him. That's a gift."
Dillon has a few "minor" songwriting credits on The Fragile.
"I'm not going to say he's scatterbrained, but, when he (Reznor) gets an idea, he gets 30," the drummer said. "He'll have loops of songs up, and you'll have no idea what you're playing to. Sometimes he'll say: 'This is a groove that sounds like Prince and Tom Waits. Do whatever you feel. Just play around the track and displace the beat any way you want. Just go crazy.'
"I've heard the record in its entirety, but I haven't dissected it to know if my parts ended up on this, that or the other."
Dillon spent recent weeks getting to know the other band members while rehearsing in the Bahamas.
"It was very quick as far as getting through a lot of the old material, but we're still trying to figure out how to execute these new songs. Some have 60 to 100 tracks of Trent's voice alone."
Fans, Dillon said, should disregard comments about the elapsed time between studio albums.
"There's lots of pressure on the band because we haven't been seen in such a long time," Dillon said. "Doing The MTV Video Music Awards is not really in tune with the type of mystique that the band has had in the past. But we're definitely going to try to keep people guessing a little bit more."