Trent Reznor Thought His Side Project With Maynard James Keenan Was ‘Mediocre’

Trent by Rob Sheridan via Wikipedia. Maynard via YouTube.
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Tapeworm might be one of the most legendary metal side projects to have never actually released music for public consumption.

Who’s Tapeworm? Oh, just a band made of a bunch of no-name metal schlubs from groups like Nine Inch Nails and Maynard James Keenan of Tool, with long-rumored contributions from members of Pantera (Phil Anselmo), Prong (Tommy Victor),and Helmet (Page Hamilton).

The group was formed around 1996 right after The Downward Spiral sessions wrapped, largely because Nine Inch Nails live band members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser would regularly pitch musical ideas to Trent Reznor that he liked but didn’t quite feel comfortable using for NIN.

Reznor and Keenan were of course too talented and too influential to not cross paths and become friends in the 90’s. In fact, A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel recently described in an interview how he was the one who first introduced the two prodigies:

“I brought Maynard to the New Orleans studio to meet Trent. I mean, they obviously knew who each other were, but they’d never met. The first day I brought him in there, I remember Trent was literally on the floor with a PC spread out, putting circuit boards together and things like that. And I think it was the moment when Maynard goes, Oh, OK, this guy’s for real. This isn’t just some guy phoning it in with a pretty face and a couple of lucky songs.

This is a guy who’s doing the work. That’s me imagining [what Maynard was thinking], ’cause I l know Maynard’s work ethic, and I know what things he values. Trent was and still is a big inspiration, and kind of North Star, for what it is to be a writer, [as well as] a person looking at technology and how it incorporates into your world. … I think it’s inspiring.”

Now, back to Tapeworm. While there’s a lot of different stories on the web about how the project came to be and who was involved, there’s still a shroud of mystery about why the recordings have never seen the light of day.

Which, to be honest, is a bit weird because Reznor himself point-blank laid it all out back in 2012 during an interview with DIGG. As transcribed by The Pit, here’s Reznor’s no-holds-barred response:

“The question that won’t go away. Another one of those things I mentioned years ago. Tapeworm, you know, to set the record straight…  I know that what I was trying to do was waste time because I was afraid to write another Nine Ninch Nails record. So I was taking on other projects while I lived in New Orleans, to feel busy, but not have the pressure of doing it all myself.

Maynard and I had become friends over the years and we were trying to do this project that was Danny Lohner and Maynard, myself, and Atticus Ross, as a kind of democracy, and we’d see what happens putting forces together.

The 'Downward Spiral' Song Trent Reznor Regrets Making

And as we both, Maynard and I, were fitting it in around our respective day jobs of Tool and Inch Nails, the end result was kind of just mediocre, to be honest with you.

I think through lack of focus, and quite frankly there was another factor which was commerce, coming into play. Not from any one of us in particular but the climate at that time, forgive me for going off the tracks here, but there was a real element in the late 90’s of pressure from record labels to make money. 

And if you get a record on the radio, suddenly you have lots of opportunities that you wouldn’t have if your record isn’t on the radio. And not just monetary ideas, but different things open up. Whether they [record labels] tell you or not, there’s always a pressure to try to make something that appeals to the most people.”

So was the music that Maynard, Reznor, and friends really ‘mediocre’? Trent expanded:

“And I thought that the music we were doing and under the guise of Tapeworm, it never got that far – it just kind of felt like if you’re going to combine Tool and Nine Inch Nails, it has to be 10 out of 10, right? Not 7 out of 10, you know? And it felt like it was landing in the 7 range and I kind of put a stop to it.

So there isn’t really anything that’s great to be mined from that, and I love Maynard and he’s a good friend, and I’m certain we’re going to do something together that will be 10 out of 10.”

So there you have it folks. Reznor does raise a fair point that anything he and Maynard put their names on together sure as hell better be incredible. But, a 7 out of 10 in the mind of Trent Reznor is probably still damn incredible to the ears of us common folks.

Here’s hoping that he one day changes his mind and blesses us plebeians with the actual recordings so we can all judge (and enjoy) for ourselves.

Watch Trent Reznor Share His Thoughts on His Project Tapeworm with Maynard James Keenan: