INTERVIEW: John 5 (September 2010)

Posted: September 8, 2010 by Greg Maki in Interviews
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John 5 performs with Rob Zombie at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest in Bristow, Va.

John 5 performs with Rob Zombie on Aug. 8, 2010, at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest in Bristow, Va.

John 5: Killing with kindness

Most music fans know John 5 from his current gig as Rob Zombie’s guitarist or his previous stint filling the same position for Marilyn Manson. But he has worked with a seemingly endless list of musicians and is building an impressive body of work as a solo artist. The Art of Malice, his fifth album of instrumental, guitar-driven music, was released earlier this year. While winding down from Zombie’s co-headlining run on this summer’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and gearing up for this fall’s Halloween Hootenanny tour with Alice Cooper and the special-edition release of Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe 2 album, John checked in with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.

LIVE METAL: With about a week to go on Mayhem, you broke your foot onstage. What happened?

JOHN 5: We have these ego risers that we jump on, and I was up there like I’ve been for the last five years, just doing my thing, everything’s fine, no problems. The song ends and it goes dark, and Rob goes, “Hey, come here.” And he was asking me something. I was like, “Oh, what’s up?” And I just walked off of it, off of the little ego riser, and I guess what they call it is rolling your foot. So that’s what I did. I broke a bone in my foot. But I never canceled any shows, and I kept going when I broke it.

That’s pretty crazy. I’ve seen you running around on the stage and jumping around on things and all the flames, and then you hurt yourself by just taking a step.

I know. I wish I had a cool story, like I fought a gang or something, but that’s not the case. [laughter]

How hard was it for you playing the shows after that where you couldn’t really move?

It was so strange because I’m so used to running around. So it was very hard for me to just stand still. It sounded great because I was playing everything just fine, but it was weird not running around.

Aside from the injury, how was the experience on the Mayhem Festival this summer?

The Mayhem Festival was the best time. It was so much fun. It was exactly everything I thought it was gonna be. It was summertime, it was a great time, we had A blast. The only thing was I broke my foot. But other than that, it would have been incredible. We were just having such a great time. I was so excited just to be out there. I loved it. I loved watching Korn and Five Finger (Death Punch) and Lamb of God and everything. It was a blast.

This has been a really hot summer in a lot of the country, and it gets even hotter when you guys are onstage with all the flames and everything. How much weight do you think you sweat off this summer on that tour?

Quite a bit. It’s funny with me—I don’t mind really hot, hot, hot weather. I don’t really mind it that much. So I was pretty good with it. But yeah, we definitely dropped some L-B’s, that’s for sure. And especially with the fire and everything, I think it makes it probably 30 degrees hotter with that fire up there, I would guess, easily. So it’s pretty crazy.

You’ve got coming up in the fall—I can’t imagine a better Halloween tour, with Zombie and Alice Cooper and then the Murderdolls opening up. You’ve got to be looking forward to that tour.

Yeah. I started getting into Alice Cooper, I’d say, probably two years ago. And I love him so much. I mean, I’ve always liked Alice Copper, of course. Everybody does. But when I say “get into him,” I mean like really get into every song on the record—not just the hits. I really, really got into him, and I’m so glad I got into him now because I can appreciate what was being done. The production and the musicality and all that stuff—it’s incredible. I’m really excited. We did a tour once with Alice , and it was so much fun. We all got along great. I’m really looking forward to this tour because I’ll get to run around again. Hopefully I’ll be healed up in time. They say I will be, so I’m psyched.

On the spring tour with him, at at least one of the shows, you got to play with Alice, right?

Yes. We got to do “School’s Out,” which was really fun. It was a blast. It was weird to be up there with him now that I’m so into the guy. It was really fun to play that song with him.

Let’s go back to Hellbilly Deluxe 2. I know on Educated Horses, you collaborated on the songwriting for a bunch of the songs, but from what I’ve heard about this one, it sounds like it was even more of a group effort. What was the experience like of writing and recording this time?

Well, it’s kind of like getting together with your best friends and just knocking out some songs. That’s exactly what it was. We all get along so well, me and Rob and stuff like that, so we just sit down in the studio and have a blast. We laugh, and we just come up with really cool songs that we like. It’s funny—me and Rob were talking about this—Educated Horses, there was some different styles, some slower stuff or acoustic stuff. And we were thinking about this. It’s like, if we just kept playing stuff like heavy White Zombie or stuff like that, it doesn’t show much growth. Look at The Beatles. If they always kept playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” it wouldn’t be very special. We like to explore. We both love music so much. We love to explore and we love to listen to different things, and it doesn’t always have to be heavy. People are realizing that now ‘cause there’s a lot of great songs on Educated Horses. There’s “American Witch” and “Lords of Salem” and “Devil’s Rejects” and “Let It All Bleed Out,” “Foxy Foxy” and all that stuff. These are great records. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is another that’s just slammed full of great tunes.

Just before Mayhem, you went into the studio to record some new songs for the special edition. What can you tell me about those new songs and what was it like working with Joey Jordison in the studio?

These songs are brutal. These are really cool songs. We recorded like eight songs, and we put three of them on this re-release. Joey, of course, just lays through them. He’s awesome. He’s the best drummer around. It was great to have him on the tracks, and this re-release has all new artwork, so he’s in the pictures and everything like that. We also did a half-hour behind-the-scenes footage of the tour, which Rob has never done in his career. So it’s a really cool thing. This re-release is really special—all new artwork, three new songs, a documentary of the tour. It’s really, really cool. I’m excited for it to come out. I can’t wait.

I want to switch gears here and talk about your latest solo album, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve liked all your albums, but this one seems to be working for me even more than the other ones. I’m really intrigued by the title track, for a couple reasons. “The Art of Malice” seems like an odd title for kind of a clean, innocent-sounding little piece, and then it also seems strange maybe to name the entire album after that little song. So how did that come about, that song and the album title?

“The Art of Malice,” what that means in my eyes, it was like, kill them with kindness. Very nice, very sweet. Those are the ones that you’ve got to watch out for—that thing, kill them with kindness. Someone could be your best friend, but he is literally behind the scenes your worst enemy. So that’s why it is sounding so sweet and so nice. But it’s tough; it’s hard to do. The secret behind that song is, I was warming up, I was checking my clean sound. I was doing the song called “The Nightmare Unravels,” and I was checking my clean sound to see how it is. I usually just mess around with finger picking and stuff like that. My engineer was recording it, and it sounded really cool. And he said, “Let’s keep that.” If you go on YouTube and put in “John 5 in the studio,” for some reason, they recorded me doing this and you can see me playing this thing. So it’s really cool. It was kind of just a mistake and a warm-up thing, but we kept it.

And that’s the exact opposite of how you do most of the songs for your solo albums, right?

Yes, because of the fact there’s no backing music behind it. I was just kind of warming up. It’s kind of like “Spanish Fly” or something like that.

Obviously, the songwriting and your whole approach to these albums has got to be completely different than when you’re going into making a Rob Zombie album.

Yes. With the instrumental record, it’s kind of like training for a fight. You have your song down, and then you just rehearse it and rehearse it and rehearse it and rehearse it. There’s nothing worse for an engineer to walk into a studio and the guitar player just can’t get something right, especially annoying solos. I usually just walk in there and knock it out in two or three takes, get out of there in about an hour. With the Zombie thing, I go in there and write and usually track it right there while we’re writing. So it is different, definitely a different vibe.

I can listen to these songs and even though they’re instrumental, I can tell that you put a lot off effort into song structure and having hooks. Are there ever times where you come up with something but it’s going too far, too much shredding and you’ve got to kind of bring it back to the song?

Absolutely. I like instrumental music, but I know when there’s too much, and there’s got to be a little melody for someone to grab on to. Because it’ll get annoying after a while if you’re just doing that, doing that, doing that. I do have to pull myself back sometimes and say, “Alright, time for some melody. Let’s get some melody in here.” Because it’s important. It’s important for the listener, too.

You have on here tributes to some of your—I don’t know if heroes is the right word or not. “Fractured Mirror,” obviously. Why did you decide to cover that one?

“Fractured Mirror” was very, very close to my heart. The Ace Frehley solo album, I got that when it came out in late ’78. I loved Ace because Ace played guitar. So I was really into it. When I heard “Fractured Mirror,” I just thought it sounded so cool. So I always loved that song. It was very close to my heart, so I wanted to pay tribute to it, just say thanks. I didn’t want to put a bunch of ridiculous solos over it. I just wanted to pay respect to it, and hopefully new fans will listen to it and go, “Oh, that’s rad.”

“Ya Dig,” does that go back to your days with David Lee Roth? There’s definitely a Van Halen feel to that song.

There is a Van Halen feel. And that was again from my childhood. Van Halen, it blew me away. It was amazing to me. And Dave always says “ya dig” instead of “ya know.” A lot of people will say “ya know,” ya know, when they’re talking—just like I did, ya know? [laughs] But he says, “Ya dig.” So that’s how he would talk, and that’s why I named it that. It’s a little inside thing about Dave. So it’s pretty cool.

That one probably came easily, but is it hard to come up with titles for instrumental songs?

It is. Every instrumental song I do, I have a story with each one. “The S-Lot” is a little place in my high school where kids used to sneak away, and that’s where I used to go and play guitar. “J.W.”—My dad used to call me J.W. because my middle name is William, so he would always call me J.W. They all have meaning, which is cool.

Have you ever thought about doing a solo album kind of along the lines of what Slash put out this year, where you bring in singers?

Yes. Absolutely. I think it would be awesome. I think it would be really, really, really cool. I would love to do that one day, for sure.

You’ve worked with so many people, I’m sure you’ve got all the connections you would need.

Yes. But it’s funny. Would you want to hear a song with me and Rob Halford, but I already did a record with him. Or would you like to hear a song with me and David Lee Roth, but I already did a record with him. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Or should I do a song with—god, I don’t know—Phil Anselmo or something. I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. But yeah, I think it’s a brilliant idea, and that’s what I want to do one day.

I’ve heard you say in interviews that you don’t drink or do any drugs. Is that something that’s been throughout your whole life?

Throughout my whole life. I never have done anything, which is very important. I’ve never done anything like that.

The next tour doesn’t start for more than a month. What are you doing in the meantime?

I just did Hollywood Undead. I just did a session for them. And believe it or not, I’m gonna go into the studio on Friday and do another instrumental song.

Cool. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me this afternoon. Is there anything you’d like to add?

That’s it. Thank you very much.

Alright. Have a good day and get that foot better!

Thank you.


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