INTERVIEW: John 5 (August 2006)

Posted: August 28, 2006 by Greg Maki in Interviews
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John 5

John 5

John 5’s resume is as diverse as anyone’s in the music business. Most hard rock and metal fans know about his associations with Rob Halford, David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and, now, Rob Zombie. Some know him as an accomplished solo artist, having released two instrumental albums, Vertigo (2004) and Songs for Sanity (2005). But his credits also include unexpected names like k.d. lang and Meat Loaf. His solo discs feature a heavy dose of country music. John 5’s passion is for the guitar. Just before leaving with Zombie for a co-headlining U.S. tour with Godsmack, John checked in with Greg Maki of Live Metal for a phone interview.

LIVE METAL: So I guess in just a few days you guys are heading out on tour with Godsmack.

JOHN 5: We leave tomorrow. It’s gonna be an awesome bill, because Godsmack’s awesome. It’s gonna be a ridiculous, crazy, huge production—a massive, massive tour. It’s gonna be awesome.

As long as you’ve been with Zombie, it’s been more of a stripped-down-type show. Obviously, that’s going to change.

This time, we got, like, six video screens. We got all this pyro and dancers and aliens and robots and us and all sorts of crazy stuff.

How important is showmanship, not just to the overall stage show, but to your individual performance?

Well, to tell you the truth, actually, I think when there’s not all the production, we move around more because we don’t have to run into a firewall or something like that. We’re more cautious when that stuff is happening. When it’s completely stripped down, we are just completely crazy, crazy maniacs up there.

Is there a type of setting or size of venue that you prefer?

No, there’s not. Actually, as long there’s a guitar in my hands, I’m good.

Is your solo still in the set?

Yeah, which is cool. Rob is awesome for letting me have the solo still. So, yeah, I’m still gonna be doing it.

How does it feel to get up there and do that, because, I guess, you hadn’t gotten a lot of opportunities to do that before?

No. Actually, I think, what was so incredible, the first time I did it, I was like, “Oh my god. These people are totally cheering during the solo.” So it was really cool. I think people really enjoy it.

Not too long ago, you had a new bass player [Matt “Piggy D.” Montgomery] join the band. Before—I saw you on Ozzfest and again in the spring—the chemistry in the band was really good. How has changing bass players affected that?

He’s a great guy. He’s a perfect fit. And I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true. I’d be like, “Uh, next question.” But, really, he fits perfect. He’s a great guy. He’s a great musician. He’s really talented and he’s just awesome to be around. So I’m really lucky.

What are some of your favorite Zombie songs to play live?

Actually, I don’t have any ones that I dislike. In every band you’re in or something like that, there’s always a few that you don’t really like playing. I swear, every single song we play I love. ’Cause I’ve been a fan of the band for so long, so it’s like even if you didn’t like a song, you’re like, “Oh, I love that song now,” because you’ve been listening to it your whole life.

How does working and touring with Rob Zombie compare to some of your previous experiences with people like Marilyn Manson and Rob Halford?

I love Manson, I love Halford and David Lee Roth and all those people, but this is different. It’s a friendship, and it’s a working relationship, too. But I wouldn’t do anything else. This is the only band I want to be in now. This is the best situation I’ve ever been in, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

How involved were you in the writing and recording of Educated Horses?

I collaborated with Scott Humphrey and Zombie on eight out of the 11 songs. So I was pretty involved, which is really cool that they let me into their circle. I’m honored, because I’m a part of the history now. I get to be a part of that. It’s just a true honor.

You’re a true part of the band and not just a side-type guy, right?

Yeah. That’s what I always hoped for.

This tour hasn’t even started yet, but what’s next after that? Are there plans at this point?

Yeah, we’re already working. We’re writing for another record and just working.

Are you going to do a third solo album?

Yes. I’m working on it right now. I’m actually almost finished with it. This one is—’cause I like to make each one more and more intense—but this one is almost unlistenable because it’s so over the top. Each song is, like, eight minutes long. You’re pretty much gonna be exhausted after hearing the record.

That sounds great.

We’re getting Satriani on the record, and it’s just gonna be a crazy, ridiculous album.

On the first two, you included a really wide range of styles of music. Was there any hesitation when you did the first one in including the country material? I would assume at that point that most of the John 5 fans were coming from the rock side.

Yeah, of course, like, 99 percent of them came from the rock side. But it’s just, like, with an instrumental album, you get one style. So I just wanted to add a different ingredient into it, like even if you don’t like that, it’s something different. It’s like, “Oh, wow. I don’t really like country music, but I can appreciate this.” I think that’s why the others got a little popular, because this is something a little different than all the other instrumental albums that are pretty much the same thing. It was shocking, but not in a way of me trying to be shocking.

Is there one style of music that you like to play more than others?

I love playing rock music, of course, and I love playing country music. So I play exactly what I love to play. It’s just like if you like a certain kind of girl. If you like big boobs, you go out with a girl with big boobs. I play exactly what I love to play, so it’s cool.

So going back, what inspired you to pick up a guitar for the first time?

I know it’s not a very interesting story, but I was watching this show “Hee Haw,” and I saw this little kid playing banjo. I was so impressed by his ability and his age. He was around my age—he was like 7 years old. And I was so impressed by that. So that’s what made me pick up a guitar. And then I saw KISS. I saw Love Gun in the stores, and I was like, “Oh my god.” So I bought that, and then I was really into KISS. And then I bought Van Halen I because it said Gene Simmons’s name on the back of Van Halen. Gene Simmons participated in Van Halen I. I guess he paid for their demos or something like that. So I bought Van Halen I just because Gene Simmons was on the back of the album. The rest is history.

Could you imagine doing anything else today?

Actually, that’s a great question. I’ve been doing what I do for so long I really can’t. But I guess, if, god forbid, if something ever happened, I guess I would probably just deal in vintage guitars or something like that. But I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else other than what I do.

So do you collect guitars then?

Oh god, yes. Yes.

How many do you have?

I have a little over a hundred guitars. With vintage ones, I have really pristine—I’m trying to get a Telecaster from every year. And each one I get has to be mint. We’re talking like brand new. I have a ’52, a ’53, a ’55, a ’60, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’66, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’75—I have no ’76—’77 and a ’78.

Do you have a personal favorite guitar in your collection?

I’d say either my ’53 Telecaster or my ’52 Esquire.

How often do you practice these days?

Every minute I can. Every minute I’m upright, actually. Seriously. And I love to learn new things, not just playing the same thing over and over again. I think that’s where I probably could’ve been way more advanced than I am now, but I was at that point where I was just playing the same thing over and over again. But now I try to learn something new every day or every other day.

It seems that in the last few years, real guitarists and people who actually play solos are making a comeback. What’s your take on that?

Well, I think that a lot of the music in the ’90s, people weren’t really doing that, weren’t playing guitar. It was a certain style. Don’t get me wrong, I love that music that came out in the ’90s. It was incredible. But I think that people weren’t really practicing guitar anymore, which—I don’t know, I could be wrong. But nowadays, it’s starting to come back. In the ’80s, everybody was already all practiced up and everything, but now it’s different ’cause people weren’t really practicing that much. I don’t know. I’m just glad to hear it creeping back into the mix a little bit.

Who are some of your favorite current guitarists?

I love Buckethead. I think he’s really incredible because not only is he a great player, but he really keeps his persona up, not doing interviews, not showing his face. And I think that’s really incredible because it’s real. It’s not like some kind of an act. I love Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen and all the greats. I just love being inspired by great guitar players. I just love hearing new people. Adrian Legg, who a lot of people don’t really know about, but is just totally insane and incredible, and Scotty Anderson and a bunch of crazy cats, I love.

You’ve worked with a ton of big names, both singers and guitarists. Who’s left on your list of people that you really want to work with?

I’d love to do some collaborating with Eddie Van Halen. I’d love to do that. He’s our Hendrix. He’s our virtuoso, and he’s gonna go down in history just as much as anybody is. He’s our legend, and I’d love to collaborate with him. I’ve been talking to him on the phone a little bit, and I’d love to do something with him. I think he’s just—he’s our Hendrix.

What would you consider to be the highlight of your music career so far?

I don’t know. I’ve pretty much played all over the world a bunch of times, played everywhere and every venue from, like, the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, to Radio City Music Hall to Madison Square Garden to just everywhere—the Grand Ole Opry, even. I don’t know. It’s just been a great experience playing with so many different artists and in so many different countries. It’s all been just a really great, great, great ride.

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