Guitarist John 5 Talks Solo Disc, Rob Zombie + Marilyn Manson
Guitarist John 5 has just unleashed his new solo disc ‘God Told Me To.’ The CD/DVD combo offers up one part acoustic, one part electric, in addition to a behind the scenes DVD, delivered in retro-horror type style with his very own ghoulish host.
John 5, an integral part of Rob Zombie’s band, has been working on the new Zombie disc, as well, and will spend most of May out on the road as part of their co-headlining tour with Megadeth. One stop includes the Rock on the Range festival at the end of the month where John 5 will play the headlining slot with Rob Zombie while his former bandmate Marilyn Manson plays right before them.
We recently caught up with John 5 to talk about ‘God Told Me To,’ life with Rob Zombie, and how he ended up in one of Skid Row’s videos.
Your solo release ‘God Told Me To’ is not just a CD, it’s also a DVD. Can you tell us what we can expect from the DVD and how you’ve combined your love for horror movies?
I don’t even know the last time I actually bought a CD because you can just purchase them on iTunes so easily. This isn’t a revolutionary idea but I thought if you’re going to buy a CD why not get a little something more, have a DVD with it, so you’ll buy the physical CD instead of downloading it. I thought I’d put a ‘Making Of’ DVD with it and then I thought, instead of just a boring ‘Making Of’ as I got more into it, I thought, let’s put some tour footage, and what goes on in the day to day life of mine.
When I grew up, they would play old, old horror movies like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Wolfman’ and they would have horror hosts, probably one that most people would remember would be like Elvira. We had really campy horror hosts back in the day like Sir Graves Ghastly, so I thought what kind of horror host could host my DVD and put a theme around it like he was trying to destroy me, to really give the audience a little bit more. I really wanted to put a lot into this and I think it turned out pretty cool. It is really entertaining, you don’t have to be just a guitar player to get into this, you can watch this thing and have a sense of humor behind it and a little fun with it.
You’ve said the album title ‘God Told Me To’ kind of comes from a few different ideas; do you want to tell us about that? Does any of that play into the diverse nature of the tunes and all the different styles you’ve covered?
What I wanted to do, I’m trying to keep the audience fresh and excited about each CD so it’s not the same thing over and over. I thought, I never did a real acoustic track, instrumental stuff; I just wanted to keep it very fresh for the audience because it’s for them. I’m doing this for the audience and to hopefully inspire people on some different styles of music. It’s been working because I’ve done so many instrumental CDs, it’s really working.
Not that any part of your playing ever sounded lacking, but the acoustic songs – ‘The Castle’ and ‘The Lie You Live’ - sound amazing. Did the acoustic guitar take a new focus for you on this disc?
I’ve always played acoustic my whole life and appreciated acoustic music. For an example, the Led Zeppelin that I like is all their acoustic stuff. That’s my favorite before ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ or ‘Rock and Roll’ or ‘Immigrant Songs,’ or even ‘Kashmir.’ I love all their acoustic work – ‘Going to California’ and all that, I loooove the acoustic stuff. I think that when you’re listening to a CD, especially something like an instrumental, you need a little variety and a breath of fresh air. Even if it’s for three to four minutes and then you go back into the crazy stuff. I think it’s a lot easier to listen to a whole CD of music when there’s a variety of sound for someone’s ear, to take it all in.
The production on ‘God Told Me To’ is a bit more lush and full sounding than past discs – was there a different approach to recording the songs?
With acoustic music you can get a lot more depth I think, because nothing is as pure as an acoustic instrument. You’re probably right on the money with that. I spent a lot of time on this one with the DVD and the CD, especially in the studio, I wasn’t in such a rush. I recorded it over the time I was on tour, and took a long time with the writing, production and the DVD. You are right, I think the production is a lot better on this CD.
Talk to me about the tribute to both Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen on your rendition of ‘Beat It,’ why was it important for you to salute those guys?
I think everything is taken from your childhood and when that song was out it was so huge and so massive. With Michael Jackson’s passing I wanted to pay tribute to him and also one of my favorite guitar players, Eddie Van Halen. It’s such a great song and it’s known worldwide, anybody in the world knows this song, and I thought, how can nobody out of this whole huge world have ever covered ‘Beat It.’ I just wanted to cover it and do it up! I’m really happy how it turned out, I think it turned out really well.
And this isn’t the first time you’ve written or performed tributes to other musicians that have inspired you from ‘Fractured Mirror’ for Ace Frehley to ‘Ya Dig’ for David Lee Roth and now this Eddie Van Halen tribute. Even though you’re so successful, you seem to still be such a huge music fan at heart – is that what drives these tributes?
I am a huge fan of music in general but I think again it all comes from my childhood. Like ‘Fractured Mirror,’ I loved KISS when I was a little kid, and I loved that song. I also did a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ that’s the song that made me move out to California and give this whole music thing a try and that’s why I covered that. There’s a lot of reasons behind the covers.
Rob Zombie created the album art for you; it looks like an actual painting – was that the medium? Also, did he have free range with that or did you give him any ideas going into it?
Yes it’s a painting. I just kind of begged him. I said ‘Hey Rob, would you mind painting a album cover for me’ and he’s so busy but he did it. That was all I said, I didn’t give him any direction, I didn’t say anything, I just told him the name of the album and that’s pretty much it, which is amazing.
So what was your response when you saw it for the first time?
I was blown away. It’s so weird that this guy can do so much. He’s so talented from art to making movies to making amazing music, what can he not do, it’s incredible what he’s capable of.
You seem to be selling yourself short here though, aren’t you scoring the new Rob Zombie movie ‘The Lords of Salem’?
I am, we’re almost finished with it and it’s come out really well. I’m very proud of it and I’ve been working very hard on it.
How do you approach something like that compared to other projects? Do you tackle it differently?
It’s approached completely differently, it’s a whole new animal. It depends on the scene and it depends of the mood of the movie. It’s a lot of unorthodox bits and pieces which one would not normally do in a song. Sometimes there’s no time signature or even a key. When you’re doing a theme, it’s a whole different story. It’s a challenge but I love challenges and they’re really happy with what has been happening, so that makes me psyched.
I noticed that for Rock on the Range, you’re playing with Rob Zombie the same night as Marilyn Manson, any chance you might join him onstage for a song or two?
I don’t think so, but I just want to make it known, I have nothing against Manson. I think he’s great, I think his new music is great, and I wish him nothing but the very best. We have acquired Ginger Fish to play drums with us now, he’s been in our band for a little while now, so it’s really cool.
I was a fan of Manson before I was in his band and I’m a fan after, so I wish nothing but the best. I think he’s so talented.
You’ve said that you’re psyched to go to work every day with Rob Zombie, which is something not too many of us can say, can you tell us what it’s like to work with him, he’s got such a brilliant mind, so it must be an exciting day job.
It is very exciting. I think if you do your job and you do your job well, and have good ideas and be on time and be professional and efficient, I think in any job, you’ll be okay. If I was late and come in and not know what I was doing, it would probably be a nightmare but I have such respect for the band and Zombie that I pay close attention at doing a great job and it’s been a dream gig. I wouldn’t leave it for the world.
Your last solo disc was kind of a reflection back on your life and the people and things along the way – are there any songs on the new disc that call out to home?
There’s a song on the disc called ‘Ashland Bump.’ I grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich., in such a secluded little suburb, you were not allowed to go into Detroit – Detroit was considered dangerous. So we’d sneak over there when I was in my teens, but you would have to go over this street called ‘Ashland’ and that was sort of when you crossed over onto the bad side of the tracks. There was this big hill and you’d have to go slow, but you didn’t want to go slow going into this neighborhood, so we would call it the ‘Ashland Bump.’ I’ll take things like that because they have a neat story, it’s part of my life. Same thing with the ‘Beat It’ cover, things like that are deep inside, and they’re stories. As a kid, when I knew that certain song titles had a story to them, I would think of that story every time I heard the song.
‘God Told Me To’ kicks off with ‘Welcome to Violence’ which is a song that kind of explodes in your face – did you want that to set the tone for the rest of the disc?
I just wanted to do something that makes you feel almost out of control and panicked, just so crazy. That’s what I tried to make it feel like – almost losing control.
I interviewed Sebastian Bach awhile back and he offered up a bit of trivia on you saying that for the Skid Row ‘Piece of Me’ video, you’re actually in it as a music fan, stage-diving into the crowd – true?
That is very, very true.
So you were a big Skid Row fan?
Of course! Of course I was a Skid Row fan. They were shooting the video and I think we got some money to be extras. You can actually see me in the video. I was doing a stage dive. I only had like a couple tattoos and my hair was long, but if you pause it, you can see me diving and you can see my tattoos, it’s pretty funny. So if you’re reading this, go check it out.
And another piece of Sebastian Bach / John 5 history – do you remember the ‘Rolling Stone’ cover with Sebastian Bach on the cover? I don’t remember when it was, back in the early ‘90s. But inside that issue there was something called ‘Tattoos of the Sunset Strip’ or something to that effect. There’s a picture of me getting tattooed inside that issue. It’s kind of weird.
Given your history with David Lee Roth and the fact that you’re a big Eddie Van Halen fan, how do you feel about the VH reunion?
I have been a fan of Van Halen since their first record so it is great. The new record is so great and they’re just firing on all cylinders, they’re really doing so well. The record’s great, the live show is great, and they’re really changing up the set list a lot every night which let me tell ya, coming from experience, is not easy to do. You have to be very well-rehearsed to go in front of 15 thousand people and play songs and changing up the set every night. Hat’s off to them, they’re just really doing it.
So you were impressed with the live show?
Oh yeah, you will love it. If you’re a real Van Halen fan and you know all the songs and own all the records you will have the time of your life.