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Robin Finck

Nine Inch Nails

"It's a super power. It's an invisible cape. It's a magic trick. It's a tenuous operation of unfathomable nuance. It's an ever-evolving stream of happy accidents. It's a culture made up of weirdos and rule breakers, and geniuses of design and beach freaks and brainiacs and cavemen and beautiful little flowers...and it's been a huge part of my identity for as long as I can remember." In this episode, Ernie Ball artist Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails, Guns N' Roses) discusses his beginnings with music and guitar, his love of playing, and his relationship with Ernie Ball.

Transcript

Robin Finck:
It's a superpower. It's an invisible cape. It's a magic trick. It's a tenuous operation of unfathomable nuances. It's an ever evolving string of happy accidents. It's a culture made up of weirdos and rule breakers and genius of design and beach freaks and brainiacs and cavemen and crooked, little flowers. And it's been a huge part of my identity for as long as I can remember.

Robin Finck:
It's helped me make friends. It's given me something to claw at, and guitar playing, for me, has been my way out of town. It's introduced me to people and places I never would've dreamed existed. It's a well worn story, but I, like so many other six and seven-year-olds, got hooked on the Knights In Satan's Service, pretty deep. My dad had taken me to Corvette's, which was a East coast kind of like Kmart or Target or something.

Robin Finck:
It was going out of business and they had two records for a dollar. And he told me I could pick out the record. And I was too short to thumb through the bins myself. So my options were limited and I chose the one with the superheroes on the cover. But then the sound of it was, it just sunk its teeth into me.

Robin Finck:
My introduction to playing the guitar was in second grade. I was seven years old. I graduated from my wooden tennis racket and half empty box of blood capsules, to my dad's garage sale special, which was a neglected nylon string guitar that he kept in a pleather vinyls in a bag. Had one bulky metal zipper only on the end, so you had to feed the guitar through the metal teeth of the bag, which was a terrible idea.

Robin Finck:
Five years later there was this guy in homeroom who was successfully growing his hair down past his collar. And he told me that he had an electric guitar and an amp at his house. Sure enough, he had an Madeira electric guitar and Holmes guitar amplifier, like as big as a peanut butter sandwich, but it was loud and nasty. And that garage sale special was still hanging around at my house and I was playing it at my folks all the time and talked them into sending me back to lessons. And then I took off pretty quick.

Robin Finck:
I was listening so intensely that it just, it had to kind of come out. I was saturated with it. My family moved from the north to the south of the East coast the summer before my high school freshman year and I didn't know anybody then. I was pissed. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to meet anybody. I sat in the basement and just played the guitar all summer long.

Robin Finck:
I excelled more that summer than I ever had in my life. There was nothing else I wanted to do during high school and there was nothing else, really, I was considering doing after high school. I just didn't see anything else really. Not out of desperation, I was just, I was really into it.

Robin Finck:
I probably started playing Ernie Ball strings when I started changing the whole set instead of just the one broken string. And that would have been summer of 1986. In selecting the first pack, don't you know that the strings are kept safely behind the counter, like cigarettes or fantasy magazines. And so it's an important decision. It's one that I don't have a lot of hands on time to consider. And I pointed at the pack that looked like it was, maybe it could be on a, stapled to a telephone pole. And once I had it in my hand, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Metallica, Steve Vai. That was pretty impressive.

Robin Finck:
More so than the first pack, I remember my first box of strings that I purchased. Because I was starting to earn cash money mowing lawns and giving guitar lessons, saving for a nice Boogie Head and a Les Paul. And I noticed that if I bought subscriptions to magazines, they'd come to my door and they'd be less money per issue, if I bought the whole thing.

Robin Finck:
And I remember standing in front of, at the counter with the strings behind the guy and he was pulling the packs out of a box. And I said, "How much for the box?" And he told me, I just kind of did and I said, "Oh, so that's less per pack if I buy the box. Maybe I should get the box." Because I had $100 cash. I could get anything I want. I'm going to get a box box of strings.

Robin Finck:
And I bought a box and it was a white box with a red eagle stamped on one side of it. I got the box home and I had so many strings. I could, I was like string factory all of a sudden. I could have everybody over for strings. I didn't know what I was going to do with so many strings. I put them in the freezer next to the Klondikes and the Benson & Hedges because I'll never play through all these strings, especially the big fat ones.

Robin Finck:
Playing with Nine Inch Nails is more akin to a position in an orchestra as opposed to a jam band or some kind of improvisational track. It's meticulously schemed and devised and executed. Navigating our way through rehearsals is song specific, whether it's rather intuitive or sometimes can be a bit of a head scratcher. It takes a second to re approach.

Robin Finck:
Yeah, I just liked the push and pull of it. That's one thing I think I like about the guitar, is this thing here. There's not a lot of instruments that, where you have the push and pull. There's such a nuanced articulation. Both hands hitting the same string, but in all these different distances, but at the same time. And I think there's something to that that I'm quite fond of.

Robin Finck:
It is interesting because it's all right here. It's the strings and it's the chords and they're really close to my body. And I play alone in the kitchen all the time. And then I've been very fortunate to play on these exciting stages in front of so many people. It's not a straight shot from the kitchen to those stages, but just a bit of an arc there. But yeah, it's cool.

Robin Finck:
And I think that's not akin only to guitar, but just playing an instrument. Especially one you can carry. I think that lends itself to a very personal experience.

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