If you’ve been a fan of Nine Inch Nails for long enough, you’re certainly familiar with Jerome Dillon. The musician played drums for NIN from 1999 to 2005, when an unfortunate health issue during a concert eventually led to his departure from the band. Soon after that, Dillon concluded the work that he had been doing on his solo project Nearly, and released its debut Reminder, which went on to gain a bit of a cult following over time.
Though Nearly remained dormant for years (during which Jerome kept busy with film scores), the project recently reappeared online with two new songs, Gone and Gray, which can be downloaded for free. In anticipation of an upcoming feature piece on former members of Nine Inch Nails, we took an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Dillon and discuss Nearly, as well as his leave from NIN.
Your solo project Nearly seemed to go away for a few years, then reappeared in May. What’s the current status of it?
Nearly was kind of dead in the water for a number of reasons. I was continuing to work on material even after we released the band’s live DVD/CD bootleg [in 2006]. I was working with a few female lead singers, most notably an actress by the name of Persia White who’s a really, really gifted singer, and a great writer. A lot of the material was finished, almost as glorified demos for another Nearly record, but it felt pretty bleak, like an identity crisis from an artist, for a number of reasons.
It’s not that I was expecting Reminder to sell a billion copies by any means, it was a personal record and also completely un-commercial, though there was a good response from the critics, and we did get some licensing opportunities for film and television. Now, Nearly basically consists of me, my management, and a revolving door of personnel – everyone from [NIN guitarist] Robin Finck playing guitar on some stuff to Gretchen King, a singer from my hometown in Ohio, who sang on the two most recent tracks that were released for free [Gone and Gray], that are in the film No One Lives.
And this material that you recorded with Persia, were you pleased with the way it turned out, or are you trying to move away from that now and do something different?
I think there was some really great work that was done. And when I listen back to the stuff that was done during that time, I can hear a natural progression, like it still sounds like me, because it’s me in the studio, basically doing everything with an engineer, trying to get things down quickly. But I was also trying to make it a bit more malleable, in terms of the instrumentation, because Persia’s voice was completely different from [Reminder singer] Claudia Sarne’s, it had much more of a soul, Billie Holiday kind of vibe. But the textures of both lend themselves to the way that I write. There were probably five or six songs that were done in that downtime, with Persia, and some of those I am planning, at some point, to release in some capacity. But the timing would have to be right, and I would have to make it clear that these were done in a point when I was trying to reinvent whatever the thing was going to be.
So the work that you’ve done with Nearly is more of a collaboration, rather than you writing the music and a female singer doing the vocals?
Well, Nearly, in any respect, is always a collaboration, that’s why we just launched the official Facebook page, and I’ve got every single person, including my dog, anybody that had anything to do with the DNA of Nearly, mentioned in that list of members. It is my thing, but I like to surround myself with people that are really talented and also have something to offer, not just musically, but from an emotional standpoint as well.
What about these two tracks that you did with Gretchen King, how did that come about? Is there more to the sessions you did with her, or is that it for now?
Those were the only two that were done with Gretchen. I was in Los Angeles, and she was in Ohio. It started when I was scoring the film No One Lives, and they were having issues with licensing music. They came back to my management and asked if I could either license some of the stuff from Reminder or if I had other songs that could lend themselves to not only the vibe of how it was shot, but the storyline as well. So I called management and said, “What if we do two new Nearly songs?”, and then we just ended up releasing them for free when the film was released.
How Robin Finck got involved, was that I called him and asked him if he wanted to play just some really loud feedback, basically building chords out of singular notes of feedback, done by an EBow. He just went into the basement of his house and recorded. There were five or six tracks on the score of the film that he ended up playing guitar on as well.
But what led you to bring Nearly back now, and actually put new material out there for people to listen to it?
When the film company called, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get my shit together and stop having an identity crisis, or an artistic identity crisis about what direction I wanted to take. That first record had a motif behind it, there’s a reason why the instrumentation was done the way it was, and why it was produced the way it was, and I knew I didn’t want to try to repeat that. So I thought, “Ok, I’ll just go in the studio with Persia and we’ll knock out a bunch of stuff,” just to see where things go, but I couldn’t come up with something that sounded as honest as the first record did. The lyrical content and the songs themselves were kind of all over the place, and that was the main reason that I thought, this isn’t the right time. As for the two tracks with Gretchen, they were finished in January 2012, but because they were associated with a film, I didn’t want to do anything that was going to compromise the marketing campaign.
Did you ever consider going the Kickstarter route and having a crowdfunded project to release new music?
That has been talked about over the course of the last few weeks. The only thing that kind of makes me feel like a used car salesman, or snake oil salesman, with Kickstarter, is that, to me, if I’m going to put money into something, then I want more than just a signed copy of the record, I want to feel that there’s something more personal there. Unfortunately, like anything else, Kickstarter and a lot of the other sites that are about crowdfunding are starting to be abused now, in the wrong manner. In my mind, it should be specifically for artists and people without record deals that are doing completely independent production.
It’s a complicated approach, because a large portion of the press and media sees Kickstarter as a way of begging, and some people will never support it because of that.
I’ve seen that as well, and I don’t know if that’s a backlash that’s going to continue, or if that’s something that, as things progress, it’s going to disappear. I think that, as long as it’s being used for independent artists to do what they want to do, it can bring back that kind of old-school, nostalgic approach to songwriting and releasing music by yourself. It’s good if it’s used in the right capacity, and could do a lot more good than harm.
Your former NIN bandmate Aaron North was going to do something similar to Kickstarter with his band Jubilee, where fans could sort of fund the record ahead of release. But if you go to their website now, there’s an update from 2010 promising the record would be out, and nothing since that.
To be honest, you know a whole lot more about that than I do. When I left NIN, I did stay in touch with several people – I was always in touch with Robin, and there wasn’t any acrimony, at least on my side. I loved working with Aaron, and I actually went over to the studio a few times when they were tracking that record, and I was going to play drums on some of it, but he ended up booking a tour right around the time that we were scheduled to play sessions with me in the band.
After you left NIN, did you ever consider becoming a session drummer, or did you make a conscious decision to not go in that direction?
Yeah, it was a conscious decision. When I left NIN, I was getting calls from buddies of mine in other bands saying, “I heard you OD’d on heroin,” or “I heard you had a stroke,” or “I heard you were like the guy in Spinal Tap and blew up onstage, what the fuck happened?” So that continued for a while, but I didn’t pay any attention to it because I immediately was going into fast-tracking, getting the Nearly record mastered and getting it out. I played my last show with NIN at the beginning of October 2005, and Reminder was released worldwide in December. So I was not fucking around, and I didn’t need or want any of the distractions that were going along with whether or not people thought I was dying. But after that happened, and after we played the Nearly live shows in the beginning of 2006, I started getting calls to join other bands, as soon as people were figuring out, “oh, wait, that guy didn’t die,” people started recognizing the work that I had done with NIN.
I thought about a couple of them because they were potentially very lucrative opportunities, but the idea of going back out on the road and playing in a band that wasn’t as smart as Nine Inch Nails, intrinsically, the idea really bummed me out. It wasn’t that I wanted to be back in NIN, because I felt like it had definitely run its course for me, and probably for everybody else; I knew that that part of my life was over.
So you didn’t have to give a lot of thought to the idea?
Yeah, my choice was purely motivated, and I understand that probably part of my ego was calling the shots at that point too. I won’t say who it was, but I did a session after I left NIN, it was the first drum session that I did with somebody where I walked in and played a bunch of songs. I don’t wanna sound like an egotistical asshole, but I was standing there and I couldn’t believe how dumb everybody was – over in my head, I was kind of replaying all those sessions with Alan Moulder, and Trent, and Atticus Ross, and those guys that are so fucking smart.
I was pleased with my playing, the drum tracks were sounding good, but I started listening to everything they were doing after they got the basic tracks done with this really badass bass player I was working with, and he and I were looking at each other like, “what the fuck is going on?” They just started throwing dog shit on top of a chocolate cake, and he and I didn’t understand what was going on. The rhythm tracks were good, and then the producer and the artist were just making these inane decisions, musically and otherwise, that weren’t sound. When I got home after those three or four days of recording, that was probably the final impetus, the thing that made the decision for me, that I can’t be a session drummer and do this for a living. Nothing against great session drummers like Josh Freese and Steve Jordan, who are fucking amazing, but it wasn’t for me, and I needed to start whatever the next phase of my life was going to be, musically.
When exactly did you know that you weren’t going to continue playing in Nine Inch Nails?
That is a good question. It was after the Hollywood Bowl show, I remember being in the studio with a buddy of mine, he had asked me to come down and listen to some stuff that he was mixing. I got a call from NIN management, and stepped outside to take the call, and the conversation didn’t go very well, I’ll just leave it at that. I had been in the band for a long time, and I’d worked with Trent for a long time, and I had also just got a complete clean bill of health from two specialists, and was cleared to go back to work, and that’s not what happened. Essentially, I just looked at it as, this door is closing, and that means another one is going to be opening. I had been doing a lot of work with film composers, mostly with a guy named Basil Poledouris, and was very close to him, so I always knew that at one point I was going to take a break, indefinitely, from drums, to score films. As far as how everything went down specifically, it’s all kind of a blur now.
The reason some fans are still curious about this story is that there was no official announcement regarding why you were no longer in the band.
Well, the bottom line is that I definitely was sick, there was something going on. At the time it looked like a serious heart issue – once my adrenaline would get up on the stage, I would start to feel sick, and it didn’t make sense, because I was in really good shape, I was the only guy in the band besides Trent that was working out every day.
The setlists that he was coming up at that point, we were playing two and a half hours a night, and with the tempos of those songs, it was basically like running a marathon every night, playing drums with that band. So I saw a doctor backstage, and he said that I had atrial fibrillation, my heart was out of sync. But it’s something that’s very easily treated. I started taking the medication so I could keep touring with Nails, and later I found out that the thyroid medication was causing the issue [with the adrenaline], so the doctor told me, “if you take this beta blocker, you can continue to tour, we don’t even need to see you until the end of the tour.” Then I went back, and the dynamic of the band had changed on a lot of levels. It was almost like going to a family reunion, and nobody recognizing you. We had been working so hard to gel as a band, and then I got sick and didn’t know what was wrong with me, and those guys started freaking out, and rightly so. I always understood where that stress was coming from, so I made it very easy for everybody, the management and the band, and I just bowed out, and there were conflicting reports about whether I quit the band or Trent tried to fire me.
With Trent being in charge of the band the way that he is, do you think maybe he was a little overzealous for the quality of the live sound after you got sick?
No, I think it was all business, to be honest, and I didn’t fault Trent at all for any of the decisions that he had to make. He’s got to make sure that the show goes on, and I did have to cancel shows, there’s no question about that. My issue was that I had been in the band for a long period of time, and there were a lot of issues, or a lot of shows that were cancelled when he was abusing drugs. I just thought, “ok, if this happens with me, they’re gonna have my back.” And that’s why. When Trent got it together, nobody was more stoked or happier than me. When they were mixing With Teeth, it was so fucking good to see that guy functioning at the level that he was at when I first joined the band in 1999, and he was unstoppable.
Earlier, you told me that you played drums on a With Teeth track called Not So Pretty Now, which was left off the album. Later, in 2009, it was released as a part of a tour EP from the band, and someone asked Trent about the record label implications of that – since he was then out of Interscope. He just answered, “maybe you shouldn’t ask me that question.”
[laughs] He’s had some great moments. One of my favorites, we were on tour behind With Teeth doing festival shows in Europe, and he was back to his normal, kind of curmudgeon self, but he was always fucking funny. There was a gift that was given to Trent by Aaron North, it was this very large phallus, and it had a suction cup in the back of it, and it was black. Trent didn’t want it with his wardrobe case, so I stole it. Every time we would get backstage into a new area, they would put “Nine Inch Nails” on the door of our dressing room, and I took the black phallus and stuck it right over the band’s name, so it would be hanging off of our door. The crew thought it was hilarious, but when we were finishing these shows, one of the guys in Dinosaur Jr. did an interview with Rolling Stone and said, “quite frankly, I’ve been offended, because NIN have this black phallus attached to their dressing room door and we have to pass it every day.” So the guy in Rolling Stone asked Trent if he knew that someone in Dinosaur Jr. had a problem with this, and he answered, “well, musical irrelevance can tend to make you cranky.” [laughs]
Just to wrap things up, what kind of timeline can we expect for new Nearly material, and what else is on the horizon?
The music for an entire new record is done. It’s not done in terms of it being ready to mix and master, but the writing part of it is done. There’s around thirty tracks that I like and I’m confident with in terms them being finished. Some of them are instrumental, and those are the ones that are the closest to completion; also, I’m hopefully working with a new singer here very soon. The focus is to basically build the thing back up from scratch, from ground zero. There’s a possibility, if we can get something done quickly, that there can be an EP released, as a free download, to let people know we’re still around. The other thing that I’ve been kicking around is releasing the entire score, or most of it, for Officer Down, because I own it outright, and I’m probably going to license it to a company for release, or, conversely, I might do the opposite and just give the whole thing away. But, like I said, I’m trying to get the word out. In a best case scenario, I would like to have a new Nearly record or EP out within the next six to eight months.
Keep up with Nearly at their official Facebook page.