Before Billy Howerdel was a bigwig rocker playing in A Perfect Circle with TOOL's Maynard James Keenan, he was a no-name guitar tech touring with Nine Inch Nails during the notoriously chaotic Downward Spiral era. In a new interview with Kerrang!, he recalled an absolutely insane story from those years in which he spontaneously played guitar during NIN's "Eraser" in place of Trent Reznor, who was lying on the stage bleeding after a particularly violent outburst.
"When I worked with the band it was full warfare — you could truly get hurt as there were broken parts from instruments and mic stands flying through the air," he told Kerrang! to set the scene for that particular incident, which he originally opened up about a few years back during a different interview.
In that telling, he mentioned that Reznor was "lying on the floor, bleeding, because he just destroyed a bunch of keyboards, and I think he had knocked himself in the head." But here's what he added in his most recent recollection for Kerrang!.
"In the middle of the show, there was a screen that came down between the band and the audience. The crowd couldn't see through it, so when it came down it gave a chance for us techs to clear up the disaster that was the stage, which was covered in stuff. As I was cleaning up, Trent [Reznor] was lying on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. There was a digital clock on the side of the stage counting down to when the next song starts.
"The time kept ticking down and Trent was still on the ground. I shouted, 'Let's go, buddy' and it was down to about 10 seconds. So I said, 'Do you want me to play this?' and he quietly replied, 'Yes.' I knew all of his parts but never did I think I'd play them, but I started playing 'Eraser' in front of a sold-out arena of 15,000 people.
"Up until that point I'd only played in front of humans three times in my life. The production crew were stood at the side of the stage thinking, 'What the fuck?!' that I'd lost my mind and had delusions of grandeur. Afterwards, Trent said, 'That was fun, let's do it every night,' so we did that song for the next two weeks of shows. That was pretty cool."
What a way to kickstart a music career. Below, check out Howerdel's recent appearance on our "Fan First" podcast, in which he talked about Guns N' Roses, his relationship with Keenan, and much more.