Aaron North answers your questions
Actually, our questions.
By Cliff Poonani for The NIN Hotline on August 6, 2007
As you all know (or sure as hell ought to know by now), Aaron North is the totally insane yet virile guitarist for the legendary industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, on April 3, 1983, North first became noted for his BMX stunt-riding at the Wisconsin Dells during junior high school. After a near-fatal injury involving a mid-air collision with Scott Baio, North was confined to bedrest for nine months, during which time he took up the electric guitar, tantric masturbation, and dwarf-tossing; the rest, as they say, is history. After a stint with popular boy band the Icarus Line, North joined NIN and has been touring with gothic mastermind Trent Reznor since 2005. North is also part of the duo behind groundbreaking record label and webzine Buddyhead, which he formed with hetero life partner Travis Keller way back in the summer of '69. (In the late nineties, Buddyhead quickly became infamous in Hollywood after a series of humiliating pranks on megastars such as J. Lo, Lorenzo Lamas, and Ted Danson.) On a break from NIN's grueling touring schedule, North recently sat down with the NIN Hotline at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas to answer a few questions.
TNH: First, some questions about Buddyhead. Next year will mark 10 years since the formation of Buddyhead, and eight years since the formation of the record label. What changes have you seen from the management point of view over this period, both in running the webzine and label?
AN: Haha… "management". You make it sound so professional dude! Nothing has really changed. If anything, about 4 or 5 years ago, I started touring a lot more often, and wasn't able to spend as much time on it with Travis as I had before. But when it does happen, it's the same as it ever was, just me and him. So yeah, the website part isn't updated as often as it was in the past. I dunno… I suppose we just got tired of talking about what we think sucks all the time, and aren't as interested in as many new bands anymore? It sounds lame, and maybe makes us seem super old, jaded, and cynical, but so it goes. I stopped watching mtv and listening to the radio a lonnnnnnng time ago. So when I stumble across that stuff, or open a magazine from time to time, I feel really out of the loop, cos most of the new stuff is completely off my radar. But why shouldn't it be? There's too many bands these days anyway, and I'm not in a hurry to find out about the new shitty ones. Not when I still have thousands of old cd's from Billy Bragg to Oasis to Neil Diamond to re-discover over and over. So why would I give a shit about what NME or whoever is telling me "the next Libertines" is? I thought the original sucked in the first place, why would I care about their newest knock-off? No thanks. I'll be at home checking out deep cuts on that Creedence record I never got around to instead, thank you very much.
TNH: How is Buddyhead handling the crazy shifts in the music industry, including sales and distribution?
AN: We aren't. Ha. No, I mean… If we had started putting out records in an attempt to become rich, or "moguls" or something, then yes, I suppose it would be a concern. But that has never been the goal. Yes, we are a "business" and have to deal with distributors and all that stuff, but I don't see us as a part of the "music industry". If we were doing it for the money, we wouldn't keep putting out records we know aren't going to be charting on Billboard in this lifetime, and we would've signed all the terrible bands we had the chances to years ago who have music videos set at funerals or whatever. Not that I'm gonna name names or anything! I'm delighted to see the "music industry" nose-diving. Kids don't really buy rock n' roll albums anymore anyway. They buy videogames, and spend all day on the internet re-designing their myspace pages and jacking off. And the ones left that are actually even buying the music, are usually buying bad hip-hop. What major labels see as a "problem", I see as an overdue solution to the over-saturation of mediocrity. These days, kids start a band, and after they've played one show, and posted some songs on their myspace page, they think they're immediately owed a record contract, manager, booking agent, fame, and fortune. The reality is, there IS no money in rock n' roll anymore. When I was growing up, a "big" band would sell 10 million albums. These days, the biggest bands are selling more like 2 million albums. And that's at the very top. At the very bottom, even though there wasn't really any money down there before, there's NOTHING down there now. So, maybe this will weed out all of the people making music for the wrong reasons. Maybe all the tards recycling bland garbage, just so they can get on "cribs" and get their weenies wet… Hopefully they'll realize it's just not happening anymore, and go back to pumping gas. Then, in a perfect world, the people left making music will be doing it for the sake of creating art. The concept of a "major label" is so antiquated now, it's a punch-line. In the past, the attraction to signing to a major label was maybe a big budget to record an album, and a shot at some sort of promotional push, so that maybe a band could get on mtv or something. Well… mtv doesn't even play videos anymore, so subtract that from the equation… and… now that everybody has Final Cut or similar programs at home on their computers, ANYBODY can make a music video. The same goes for big recording budgets. There's a reason most recording studios in L.A. and everywhere else for that matter are going under… cos anybody can buy Pro Tools, or Logic, or whatever now, and record their music themselves. So… you have bands like The Arcade Fire and Bright Eyes… bands on indie labels… playing the Hollywood Bowl. So, what's the attraction of it all anymore? None. Slash and burn and start from scratch. None of it has affected, or will, what Buddyhead does anyway.
TNH: How much of a constructive role do you play in the bands signed on with Buddyhead?
AN: We only sign bands when both Travis and myself are excited about them, and feel like they should be heard by more than just their group of friends, or the people in whatever town they're from. We're not trying to turn anybody into huge superstars… We're just trying to help make people more aware of things that they probably should have been already.
TNH: Did Travis Keller really leak your cell phone number a while back?
AN: Nawwwww… I believe that was Sully the Bull. It's cool. The score is settled every day when he has to handle Jeordie's dirty show clothes.
TNH: Moving on, given your guitar preference of Hagstroms, have you bought and/or played any of the new USA-made models, and if so, how do they compare to Swedish-made vintages?
AN: I have a few of them… they're cool… but… the main reason I got into the older Hagstroms were cos the single coil pickup models have these pickups in some of them that just scream like Sully when he has to talk to a girl. They decided not to make replicas of those models cos they were perceived as being too "cheap" or whatever, but that's what I liked about 'em. Different strokes for different blokes I suppose. Other than that… the new versions of the "swedes" and "super-swedes" are pretty cool. I had a lot more Les Paul's in my live rotation when I started playing with nails, and never really owned any of those models, but after playing a few, I almost entirely swapped out all the Les Paul's for the Swedes.
TNH: Same question but this time about butt plugs.
AN: Vintage Swedish models all the way.
TNH: Now for some technical questions: what equipment do you use for the following parts of the following songs:
a) Sin solo
AN: I dunno… in this part of the song, I'm usually just more concerned about how Trent is always grappling me, and trying to shove me off the stage and into the security barricade, that the whole "playing" thing or what pedal is on or whatever is forgotten. It's funny… every time that part comes up I'm like, "Ok, this time I'm really gonna NAIL this thing" and then Trent comes and knocks me on my ass again. Maybe next time.
b) Ruiner solo
AN: Ehhhhhhh… I dunno. OH! The "freedom rock" part! Usually some sort of guitar with a humbucker, a wah pedal, maybe some microsynth or something. Again, on this one, my brain is usually somewhere else. The song always kicks in, and I go, "DAMMIT… what are the words I hafta scream really fast again? 'The Ruiner knows Phil Spector, he likes wearing sweaters' Right?"
AN: I have no clue. I can't even remember the last time we played that. I just remember something with a wah or something, and trying to get out of the way of that big LED fence thing when it came down so I didn't die an embarrassing death in front of thousands of people.
d) The Perfect Drug
AN: That's easy, only cos I remember finger-fucking the arrangement on that sucker forever. I know I play a Jazzmaster in drop D tuning, and make lotsa weird noises. It sounds cool, and is fun to play actually. Maybe we'll even perform it live someday. Eh. Prolly not.
TNH: How many different guitars do you go through during a six week run?
AN: Good question. I have no idea. I think Trent and myself go through more microphones than anything. Guitars… obviously I have a few of my "babies" out there, but not as much anymore. It took a couple times of accidentally breaking an early 70's Les Paul, or a vintage Hagstrom or something to come to the conclusion that a nine inch nails stage is not the place to be playing your most prized possessions. So… my favorite children are left at home. It's ok though, Travis comes by to check on them while I'm away… walk them, talk to them, play them really obscure b-sides by The Verve while he frantically burns rope on my couch. Well, he doesn't really hafta do that last part, but I know he does anyway.
TNH: Multiple choice. If you had to be gay, which of the following men would you choose?
a) Jesse Hughes
b) Fred Thompson
c) Jeordie White
AN: Wuddya mean by "had to"? You make it sound like a punishment! You also make it sound like you don't already know the obvious answer! Definitely Meathead. Cos those other guys are all in bands, and you don't know where those things have been.
TNH: Bleeding on stage: good show, or infection scare?
AN: Hmmm. Neither. Bleeding is good, cos it'll wash the infection out on its own with the flow of the blood. It's those injuries where ya don't bleed that you really gotta worry about. And I wouldn't say it makes a good show either. There's so many lights on that damn stage, I could have a wombat strapped to my face on fire, and only the people in the first row would possibly notice. Whatev's… "It beats pickin' cotton and waitin' to be forgotten".
TNH: How much, if at all, have past incarnations of NIN live influenced your playing? (In answering this question, please keep in mind the memorable contributions made by Zombie Jeff Ward.)
AN: Not to sound like an ignoramous, but none really. I had never seen nails play live, or videos or bootlegs or anything like that before I joined, just heard the records. I remember they played in Anaheim on the tour for "the fragile" and wanting to go, but I was on tour and missed it. Well… I guess I saw the "march of the pigs" video, does that count? Honestly, growing up, and listening to "wish" and stuff, I thought the guitars, and the noises, and the whole reckless sound and aesthetic of it was insane. Then somewhere in there after starting the gig, I checked out that live dvd, and the guitars sounded so ordinary to me, it was kind of a let down. So… I made an attempt to come closer to those original aesthetics than what the live guitarists had previously done. On top of that, Trent made it clear from the get-go that he wasn't really interested in me trying to sound like any of the old dudes anyway. He was like, "Instead of copying something Robin just copied from Richard, do what you want"… And to the dismay of kids everywhere with shaved eyebrows and those weird shoes with the big soles on them, I did.
TNH: Do you wipe sitting down or standing up?
AN: Standing. Definitely. Never understood sit-wipers. That's like people who load toilet paper backwards, with the paper coming from the backside of the roll. Inconceivable.
TNH: Out of the several years you've now been with NIN, are you able to isolate any particular defining moment when it all came together?
AN: There's a few moments that really stand out. Perhaps too many to mention. Most of them not happening in public view. One of them that was and stands out would be Mexico City. I think it was the longest set we ever played, and I remember during "the day the world went away" the crowd was flicking their lighters in time with the song. Since the people at the front of the stage would hear the music a smidge earlier than the back, it caused this wave of flames through the thousands of people. Incredible.
TNH: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, how good a lay is Paris Hilton?
AN: HA! Dude, ask Meathead!
TNH: What can you tell us about the inevitable solo project you'll be starting when that sad day comes, hopefully far off in the future, that you decide to quit NIN?
AN: Well, I definitely don't have any "solo album" plans. I'd actually hafta kinda matter first for anybody to give 2 shits about something like that. But… I will say I have started a new band, and we'll have something released in the very near future. But, like I said, it's a band, and the other people involved are just as important to it as I am. I'm looking forward to bumming out small audiences in small sweaty clubs again.
TNH: If something has been advertised as "minty fresh," do you believe it to actually be "minty fresh? "
AN: Interesting. I'm not really a big mint fan, so I guess I've never pondered too hard about that one. The only time the term "mint" ever comes into play around me is when Trent will say something like, "Look at that dude's ass. Damn, he's so MINT."
TNH: Let me ask you a personal question. If you were getting married, would you invite your bandmates to the ceremony, or do you try to keep your professional life separate from your personal life?
AN: Of course I would invite them. I've never considered playing music to have anything to do with being "professional".
TNH: Who would win in a fight, Trent Reznor or Chris Benoit?
AN: Who the hell is Chris Benoit?
TNH: What bands are currently out there that you would want NIN fans to check out?
AN: Good question. The new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album is bad ass. The Grinderman record is cool. The last Oasis album was their best since like, 1995. The new Queens of the Stone Age record gets my pee-pee excited too.
TNH: Finally, let me close with a question from our very own Meathead: " i'd like to know why he's such a bitch." Any comment?
AN: Tell Meathead I'm super bummed out he never returns my calls or emails. He moves to L.A. and I think, "Now's my chance to tap that shit like Gregory Hines", and instead he starts rolling around town with the super elite Lohan and Hilton crowds, and is too cool for anybody anymore. I know yer reading this dude! Stop screening my calls! I know where you live bitch!
There you have it, kids. The NIN Hotline would like to thank Aaron North for his time and wish North and NIN all the best as they embark on their latest tour of Europe and Asia.