THE LOWDOWN: JOHN 5 OF ROB ZOMBIE
“Being in this band is such a pleasure. I wouldn’t be anywhere else or in any other band. I just love being here, it’s like a family.”
The virtuosic shredder’s first major break came in the form of industrial rock band Marilyn Manson. John 5recorded two multi-platinum albums with the band, Holy Wood and The Golden Age of Grotesque, which together have sold more than thirteen million copies worldwide. Beneath the theatrical stage show and ghostly makeup, however, restlessness was growing in the guitarist and 2004 saw the amicable termination of the partnership between John 5 and Marilyn Manson.
The decision didn’t slow the ambitious instrumentalist down, however. Conversely, it seemed to only propel him to new heights, as his first solo record Vertigo was released to an uproar of welcoming critical reception. And just a year later, undead rock legend Rob Zombie recruited John 5 as his one and only guitarist.
A steady and productive five years have passed since that critical moment, and in such a short space of time, the world has seen the Michigan-born songwriter unleash five successful solo albums and contribute to the Zombie-led efforts of two globally revered metal albums.
We were lucky enough to catch up with him for a chat about everything we could possibly think of!
AltSounds: Hey dude!
John 5: Hi! How are you?
AltSounds: Yeah, I’m pretty good thank you! And how are you doing?
John 5: I’m doing well!
AltSounds: Glad to hear it man! Good day as of yet?
John 5: Yeah, great day so far.
AltSounds: So, you guys are currently touring the UK! How’s that going for you guys?
John 5: Oh, I love it here! I think the people are great, I’m having a wonderful time. I love the UK so much, it’s one of my favourite places to be.
AltSounds: Awesome man! What is it about the UK that appeals to you so much? How different are we to America?
John 5: Y’know, I love the history of it – that’s for sure. I’ve had so many great experiences here before, I’ve had so many great times and shows over here. I’ve always just loved coming here because of past experiences.
AltSounds: You guys played London last night too! How did it go?
John 5: Honestly, I don’t think I had been that excited for a show since… I don’t remember the last time I was that excited. We didn’t play for a while, and it had such a big production, such a big show, and everything went perfect. I don’t think it could’ve been a better show, everyone had such a good time, I was so excited. And now we’re in Manchester, just about to do it again!
AltSounds: And I hope it goes just as well for you man!
John 5: Thank you! It was really great.
AltSounds: It’s been a fair while since Rob Zombie’s latest album was released, has your opinion of the work changed now you’ve had chance to reflect on the material and play through it live a few times?
John 5: Oh God, I love the record so much. We do a lot of songs from the new record,Hellbilly Deluxe 2, we’re doing ‘Sick Bubblegum’, ‘Mars Needs Women’, ‘Jesus Frankenstein’ and we’re doing ‘Werewolf Women of the SS’, so we’re doing a bunch of songs. And then, the Special Edition came out, with the DVD and all the new artwork… it’s my favourite Zombie record.
AltSounds: Obviously, Rob is a film director as well as a musician, and you’re a self-confessed movie fanatic too – how much do films have an influence on the songs you write?
John 5: Well, it’s funny ‘cos me and Rob will sit in the studio and knock around ideas, but he has this great vision of what he wants and what he wants it to sound like. When we collaborate, it comes together really, really well. I have a really great time writing music with him, it’s a pleasure.
AltSounds: And obviously you’ve been with him now for about five or six years, how have things changed since you first joined?
John 5: Oh God, y’know, being in this band is such a pleasure. I wouldn’t be anywhere else or in any other band. I just love being here, it’s like a family. I’ve been in the band for about six years now, and everything has been so wonderful. We haven’t even had onedisagreement! In other bands, you have a disagreement every couple of weeks, but this is amazing. It’s amazing being in this band and I love it so much. I’d love to be in the band just until Rob doesn’t wanna do it any more! And hopefully that won’t be any time soon!
AltSounds: How was it that you landed this awesome gig in the first place?
John 5: Well, we were doing a benefit for the tsunami, and Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction was putting it together. Rob Zombie was playing and I said to Dave that I’d love to play with them. We got along really well, and I said ‘hey, if you ever need a guitar player – let me know, I’ll be there!’ [laughs] So, Rob was playing Ozzfest and he said ‘let’s do six weeks of Ozzfest and see how it goes’. And now, six years later, it’s all going great and I am loving it.
AltSounds: It’s amazing how much enthusiasm you have towards the band man, it’s great how perfect everything has worked out!
John 5: Definitely man, I love it!
AltSounds: So when you and Rob sit down to write material, what’s the typical songwriting process with you guys?
John 5: I’ll have a bunch of riffs ready, and I’ll show him stuff. If he likes something, he’ll just be like ‘yeah, let’s work on that!’ So it kind of goes that way and then we’ll change it around a lot. It’s great working with Rob, it’s really cool being in the studio with him because he’s so hands on.
AltSounds: Do you guys tend to write whilst you’re out and about on the road too?
John 5: I’m always writing, I’m always playing and I’m always working, so yeah – I always have ideas. Every day I’m putting stuff together and writing and recording and things like that, so I never stop recording.
AltSounds: When it comes down to it, do you find it harder to write to fit other people’s music when your roots lie in country and shred metal?
John 5: No, because I write with bands I really enjoy. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Scorpions, Meatloaf, Sixx: A.M., they’re all bands I really enjoy. It’s fun for me and I love writing for other people – it’s really great.
AltSounds: Awesome man! I mentioned briefly before your interest in country and metal – which one came first for you? Were you originally a metal kid or a country fan?
John 5: I think… y’know, I think it was country… because I remember when I was such a little kid, it was on TV all the time. Then I started getting into Kiss and Van Halen, so I had a nice amalgamation of the two – the country and the rock. And I just tried to mould them together – to try and be a little different – because we already have an Yngwie and an Eddie Van Halen and all that stuff, and I thought to myself ‘if I wanna be a little different I’m going to have to put the two together’.
AltSounds: And as an individual, you’ve definitely covered a huge spectrum of different types of music – and different types of guitar playing. Is there anything that you haven’t done that you would want to try in the future?
John 5: Y’know, with my instrumental albums, yes. I’m gonna do a half electric/half acoustic album. So half of it will be completely electric, the other half will be half acoustic, and that’ll be very different and something I’m very much looking forward to.
AltSounds: That sounds very exciting!
John 5: Yeah! And it’s really a lot of fun. On the new record I’m also going to have a cover of ‘Beat It’.
AltSounds: Really? That’s awesome!
John 5: Yeah, Michael Jackson! It’s really cool.
AltSounds: Definitely showing the Eddie Van Halen influence there then?
John 5: Oh definitely, yeah. I’m very excited about it.
AltSounds: On the subject of technical guitar and that kind of thing, what was it that made you choose the Telecaster as the instrument of your choice? Obviously, you’ve got a huge collection of them – was what is that took your interest initially?
John 5: I think what it was that in the early days of watching TV, I saw these guys playing electric guitar, and they all played Telecasters. So the only electric guitar I ever saw was a Telecaster, so I thought that was the only electric guitar. I was so young, but early on that kind of thing gets set in your mind. I guess I always had a soft spot for Teles because I was so young when I first saw them and I was like ‘this is incredible!’. I always had that, y’know when you’re a little kid and you see a bike that you want, and that bike will always just stay in the back of your mind. And that’s how it’ll always be for me.
AltSounds: So was the Telecaster the first guitar you had then?
John 5: Um no, I actually had a Strat. My mother got me a Stratocaster, which is an incredible guitar too. I was always driven towards the Telecaster though, there was just something in me that made me love it so much.
AltSounds: What was your style like when you first started playing? Obviously you’ve got a very strong right hand, and the fingerpicking and chicken picking you incorporate into your playing is phenomenal – is that how you set out? Or did you start with a pick?
John 5: I started with the pick, but later I started learning other styles to keep my sound fresh and things like that. I was so interested in these country guys, and they’re basically shredding on their own! I got… not tired of playing with a pick, but I just wanted to learn new things, new styles, new techniques. That’s what I love to do, just learn – learn, learn, learn and to be educated. I just wanted to start learning all this country stuff because I used to see these guys just shredding on that country style. And that stuff’s really hard! In comparison to regular rock playing, it’s all about using your fingers and that kind of thing. Not that rock isn’t super hard, but it’s just a completely different animal.
AltSounds: For someone that’s wanting to get into that and learn to shred in similar ways to yourself, what advice would you offer them?
John 5: I would say to learn what you love. If you love Paul Gilbert, or Yngwie, or Van Halen, then learn songs from them and really get into that style. Just never put the guitar down! If someone’s gonna teach you happy birthday or something, then you’re not going to be very motivated to play guitar all the time if you’re just playing that.
AltSounds: Sound advice dude – play what you wanna play!
John 5: Exactly!
AltSounds: So, how do you go about writing your solos? Do you improvise them? Or do you sit down and craft them note-by-note?
John 5: I work them all out. I don’t like to repeat myself that many times, so I try new licks and things like that. Everything’s planned out and it does take a while. I’ve put out a lot of records, but it’s still such a pleasure for me to do it. It’s really fun.
AltSounds: As someone that’s created some amazing instrumental material, what are your thoughts on the audience for instrumental guitar music? Do you think that even people who don’t play listen to it, or is that one of its limitations?
John 5: Actually, that’s a great question. People that do play, of course love it. But there are people that don’t even play guitar that really like that style. I think the audience is such a wide range of people because of the fact that there are many different styles of music – I’ll get older men saying ‘oh I love your album!’, and goth kids who love it. It’s been wonderful. And this is so true; I never would’ve dreamt that I would be doing instrumental music. It’s really been such a great experience for me, and I’ve loved it so much.
AltSounds: When did it hit you that this is what you wanted to do?
John 5: I think it was when I left Manson, I just wanted to show everybody that I could play. I think it was that first album, Vertigo, after Manson, that really shocked everybody because no-one really knew I could play anything other than ‘The Dope Show’ [laughs] It really shocked a lot of people, and the different styles shocked a lot of people. It was an amazing first experience.
AltSounds: You’ve also been a part of two major bands that you could argue are solo projects of their own – Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, in which the band is named after the frontman. Being involved with these bands, has it ever felt to you that the band is all about the lead vocalist or does it just feel like an ‘ordinary’ band would?
John 5: It feels like a band – especially with Rob Zombie. But Rob’s definitely the boss, and that’s just how it is. But every situation needs a leader, definitely. Four leaders – it’s very difficult.
AltSounds: And looking back at your time with Manson, the band had a very distinctive image and a very distinguishing message to convey. As someone that was involved with that first-hand, did it feel genuine to you? Or was it just a bit of a gimmick?
John 5: Well, I really loved it. I really loved being a part of that. I loved… God, how do I explain it? [laughs] I loved the look, and it’s all entertainment. People want to be entertained. I loved Kiss and Alice Cooper and all that stuff when I was a kid, and I really like to see shows like that instead of just some guys getting up on stage in blue jeans and a t-shirt when all the crowd look exactly the same. Sometimes you can’t tell the band apart from the roadies. So I like things to look a little different.
AltSounds: Almost like a theatre show I guess?
John 5: Yes! Absolutely! It’s entertainment! People wanna be entertained.
AltSounds: I agree man! And I think I’ve just got one last question for you dude!
John 5: Sure, go ahead!
AltSounds: Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that our readers might be surprised to know about you?
John 5: Hmm… let’s see. I do have a problem with cleanliness. I do have to have my house super, super clean, or I get really upset. And my wife isn’t the cleanest person in the world… [laughs] But I have to have a clean home or my brain just doesn’t work. If I’m not playing guitar I’ll always be putting stuff away or cleaning up – it just makes me feel more in control. When it’s not like that I just feel out of control. That’s a weird thing, huh?
AltSounds: [laughs] Is it like a minor OCD type thing then?
John 5: Yeah, like an obsessive, compulsive thing.
AltSounds: That is interesting! Well dude, thank you very much for your time!
John 5: Great, well thank you – those were great questions!
AltSounds: Thank you very much! And you gave great answers! [laughs]
John 5: [laughs] Alright, you take care man!
AltSounds: And yourself dude! Have a good show tonight!
John 5: Thank you!
John 5: Bye!