For most people, a nightmare is something you want to wake up from and forget.
Especially if the dream recurs for more than five years and involves a mysterious girl covered in mud luring you to the edge of the ocean and then holding you underwater until you drown.
But for former Nine Inch Nails drummer Jerome Dillon, this nightmare was the catalyst for his debut solo album, Reminder (coming out on the label Kufala/ La Cosa Nostra on April 11), which he recorded under the alias Nearly. The completion of the long-gestating album was also a form of release for the drummer after what he described as a less-than-amicable split from NIN, which followed a spate of health problems during the band’s 2005 tour (see “Nine Inch Nails Postpone Show Due To Drummer’s Heart Trouble” ).
“I didn’t talk to a lot of people about the dream because it freaked me out,” said Dillon, 36, who began having the nightmare before joining NIN in 1999. “I thought this could be a way for me to get rid of it or work my way through it. I chose to do a record instead of going into therapy.”
Dillon enlisted friend and former 12 Rounds singer Claudia Sarne to give voice to his dreams on the album, a collection of ambient noise collages and moody rock tunes accented by string arrangements and morbid lyrics. Given his six-year stint in the band, the album is unsurprisingly reminiscent of NIN and includes a healthy dollop of Siouxsie and the Banshees-style goth.
The majority of the songs began as four-track home recordings that Dillon laid down on acoustic guitar and drum machine during NIN’s 1999 tour. “It took me a while to realize I was having this recurring dream,” Dillon said of the visions that inspired such dark rockers as “Straight to Nowhere” and the slow-burn “All Is Lost,” in which Sarne wraps her eerie, smoky voice around the lines “All is lost/ Either way, it’s my mistake/ All is lost/ Ease the way to my escape.”
“It was this very isolating but peaceful dream that had a morbid ending, with me accepting an invitation to drown myself,” Dillon explained. “It was pretty gothic. It could have been a Nine Inch Nails video.
“After I moved to another house in L.A.,” he said, “I started thinking about doing something to document it, because I was definitely hearing melodies in my dream.”
Dillon kept a microcassette recorder next to his bed and would hum melodies into it in the middle of the night, and he would write down ideas at the breakfast table first thing in the morning.
Confident that he didn’t want to sing on the album, Dillon also recruited his old friend, former Afghan Whigs singer Greg Dulli, to duet with Sarne on a cover of the Whigs’ “Step Into the Light.” In addition to the nightmare-evoking tunes, Reminder contains other songs that touch on dark themes: The ghostly “Prins Hendrik” is inspired by the death of jazz great Chet Baker in an Amsterdam hotel, while “Mary Vincent” is based on the true-life tale of a 15-year-old girl who had her hands and forearms chopped off by a rapist in 1978.
“The title of the album covers this dream,” explained Dillon, “but it’s also about the concept of how everyone deals with loss in their own way.”
Another loss Dillon is still dealing with is what he described as his unexpected expulsion from NIN. While Dillon said NIN leader Trent Reznor was very supportive of the Nearly project — at one point asking if he could help produce it or use some of the tracks as part of defunct goth-rock side project Tapeworm — Dillon maintains that Reznor was nowhere to be found after he became ill during NIN’s tour last year.
“It was absolutely the most stressful thing I’ve been through in my life,” Dillon said. “During the third leg of the tour, I noticed that I was not feeling good. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a thyroid malady and I was taking medication for it. I didn’t know that [the medication wasn't working] and was building up in my system on the road.” The buildup caused a cardiac disorder that, while not life threatening, frightened Dillon enough to go to the hospital after a show in San Diego.
But, despite receiving a clean bill of health from the doctors there, a few NIN shows had already been canceled. After two days of tests that finally helped diagnose the problem, Dillon said he called NIN management to tell them he was ready to resume playing and was met with “complete apathy and no sympathy for what I’d been through,” he said. “I was not welcomed back with open arms, which I didn’t understand, since I had been in the band for six years.” Dillon said Reznor didn’t call or contact him to see if he was OK and has not done so since.
Though a NIN spokesperson said last week that Reznor had no comment on Dillon’s allegations, a post credited to Reznor on the messageboards of the official NIN site on Tuesday suggested otherwise.
In it, Reznor wrote, “A few thoughts / corrections on Jerome Dillon’s latest press attempt to create interest in his project:
- First, the facts:
- I was impressed with his demos that ended up being his record.
- I thought the choice of using Claudia was fantastic — I love her voice.
- I did not offer to produce his record.
- I did not attempt or ask to use any of his tracks for the “Tapeworm” project (which was long dead by the time I heard his music).
- His recollection of the events leading to his departure from the band is once again inaccurate.”
Dillon is in the process of getting a live band together to perform the Nearly material and hopes to play some shows later this year.