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Trent Reznor was winded on the stage floor, so Billy Howerdel made his Nine Inch Nails debut

Billy Howerdel and Trent Reznor
(Image credit: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage and Scott Harrison/Liaison)

Billy Howerdel had only ever been on stage three times when he suddenly found himself joining a Nine Inch Nails show.

The future A Perfect Circle member was working as Trent Reznor’s guitar tech and wouldn’t usually be expected to become part of the performance.

But one night during NIN’s Self Destruct tour in the mid-90s, the band’s notoriously aggressive performance got too much for Reznor.

Howerdel told Kerrang: “The show was such an assault. 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 said of that particular night: “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 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.’”

That’s how he wound up playing the song Eraser in front of 15,000 people in an arena. “Up until that point I’d only played in front of humans three times in my life,” he said.

“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.”

But it proved to be a key moment in Howerdel’s move towards becoming a performer in his own right. “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.”

Howerdel just released his debut solo album, What Normal Was

Martin Kielty

Not only is one-time online news editor Martin an established rock journalist and drummer, but he’s also penned several books on music history, including SAHB Story: The Tale of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (opens in new tab), a band he once managed, and the best-selling Apollo Memories (opens in new tab) about the history of the legendary and infamous Glasgow Apollo. Martin has written for Classic Rock and Prog and at one time had written more articles for Louder than anyone else (we think he's second now). He’s appeared on TV and when not delving intro all things music, can be found travelling along the UK’s vast canal network.