In this very relaxed interview with The Spill Magazine, John 5 talks about what it means to be a member of Rob Zombies band, working on his next solo album (and throws ideas around with the interviewer about who could play as guest), having his son come to see him perform for the first time and much much more.
Pentagrams, Naked Women And Phantom Strangers:
An Interview With John 5 of Rob Zombie by
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
He’s been a part of some of metal’s most controversial bands, known for his antics in Marilyn Manson and now as a member of Rob Zombie’s gruesome crew. On the afternoon of ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK’S Mayhem Festival’s stop in Toronto, The Spill Magazine had a chance to sit down with the legendary, John 5. I await his arrival aboard the floating press area around the Molson Amphitheatre’s Echo Beach, where dozens of reporters are conducting interviews. He walks in wearing a slouchy wool hat and a denim jacket, unseasonably warm attire for Canada in July. I stood to shake the hand of the man, whose music had such a profound impact on my youth, suppressing the inner fangirl inside me. It’s been an extremely productive year for this highly celebrated guitarist and I couldn’t wait to get down to the details.
As we sat down, I congratulated him on being the recipient of the Revolver Golden Gods Award: Best Guitarist of the Year. He smiles, “Thank you, yeah it’s pretty exciting! It’s pretty cool to get an award for something you just sit around and do all day. But I don’t take it for granted. I love playing guitar, so you know, to be recognized for it is awesome.” Taking a glance at the video clip of his acceptance speech will demonstrate his humble demeanour, ending in a dedication of the award to the late, Jeff Hanneman of Slayer.
Believe it or not, John 5 has an incredibly calm energy about him. Our interview feels like a relaxed conversation, two friends just chatting over an invisible cup of coffee. He smiles a lot, stretching out in his chair and lazily playing with my new Rob Zombie tour shirt I had placed on the table. I quickly move the conversation along to the release of Rob Zombie’s latest tongue twister of an album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor which I had written in front of me in huge, bold letters.
John 5 lets out a hearty laugh about the title, “It’s very large too, I know” noticing the paper I laid out. He commends me for my correct pronunciation, “It’s quite the name!” I add, “So tell me why it was a good fit for the album and how you guys came up with it” He responds, “Well, Rob (Zombie) thought it just sounded cool and it came out of his mouth …but I think that the songs kind of sound venomous and dirty. So I kind of look at the music as the title as well, just sounding aggressive and dirty and things like that”
John 5 was also credited as the main writer of the score on Rob Zombie’s latest horror flick, The Lords of Salem. Creating these eerie tracks, coupled with writing for the simultaneous release of Zombie’s latest album sounded like an immense amount of pressure. “It was a lot of work, but there is always enough hours in the day I always say. Because I love working and with time, you have to learn how to set everything up just perfectly. If you have to go somewhere then you have to go and if you can, you can’t stay long. You have to keep on a schedule. That’s kind of what I did. I didn’t sleep much.” he continues, “But now here we are on tour, doing interviews about it and it’s great! Because this isn’t like work, it’s more like a vacation.”
I laugh, pointing out his jacket, “Yeah, and I hear you like hot days!” he lights up, “I do, I love hot days! See,” he pauses, looking down. “I have a jacket on, It’s weird. I don’t know why I’m like that but everyone else in the band hates it. I just hate the cold.” We both share a laugh over our common hatred of Canada’s wintery months.
Curious about the writing process of Zombie’s new movie I ask how he went about recording the score. “Well, with a lot of scores, it’s a lot of violin music, cello, viola… and I used this thing called an EBow, it vibrates the strings, it’s really cool. I fingered my guitar and tuned it really high while using the EBow and it sounded just like a violin. And I would tune it back down for a viola sound and then way down for a cello sound. I did a lot of the score that way” John explains, “For the main witches theme of the movie I used this big cello bow across the strings. It created this really eerie theme to it. Just a few notes, but Rob was saying, ‘give me something really memorable, like a Jaws or The Twilight Zone type of thing’, so it came out really well, I’m really proud of it.”
The distinctive notes certainly carry the movie’s spine-tingling aura to the next level. Interested in the old school horror clips Rob Zombie is often inspired by, I ask John 5 if he too uses them as a basis for creating songs. He grins, “I really have always loved taking clips and I did a whole instrumental record called, Remixploitation that is just my songs and little samples from old horror movies…like, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ you know, ‘Dracula’ and ‘American Psycho’, stuff like that”
I decided to delve into an episode of John 5’s past, concerning the Manson days, “I know you’re now in a band with Ginger Fish (former drummer of Manson) and I was wondering how it compares to your experience in Rob Zombie now?
“I love it. I’ve been offered to join a ton of bands but I wouldn’t leave this for the world” he said peacefully, “But compared to Manson, you never knew what was going to happen. You never knew if we were going to play or not, how many songs we were going to play, and with this, we’ve got to be there on time and do things just right. Because the show is so big, there is no room for error whatsoever. And also, with our crew and everything, when you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You have to even know where to stand at certain parts. And being in Manson, it was very unpredictable, which is very fun too! I wouldn’t change my past for anything. I’m very proud of being in Manson and those times.”
Turning back to the show tonight, I ask about the theatrics that were about to unfold, “I saw a preview of some of the costumes for the tour, which look completely insane and I was wondering who designs them and puts it all together?” John replies, “I just kind of thought about it and designed this costume for the opening number. I had this woman Cody, make it for me. She’s this woman in Melrose and she’s amazing with a needle and thread, so anything I can think of she kind of puts together. So this is a big one, it takes a long time to get on and off!”
“Yeah,” I joke, “I’m surprised you can even see the guitar while you’re playing!” He chuckles in agreement, “I know, it’s tough, sometimes I have to adjust myself.”
As I begin asking about what he has prepared in the future for his solo projects, John says something that throws me completely off guard, “I’m working on a new record—well, I’m always working, doing things like that” he pauses, a soft twinkle catching his eye, “I’m trying to get some guest players on and I’m taking suggestions from people…so who do you suggest?”
Thinking quickly on my feet, I spit out the first person that comes to my mind, “Ohmygosh… do you think Jack White would ever be a pick for you?” I almost wince as he responds, “I don’t know but that’s a great one! Very smart, okay, I’ll take that!”
Happy he didn’t bash my reflex suggestion, we begin discussing his favorite moment on Mayhem’s tour thus far, “The first show was around L.A. and my son who’s seventeen got to come to the show and he’d never seen me live before, because the ex-devil-wife never let him. I mean all those years in Marilyn Manson and all these other tours that I’ve done, he never got to go. He got a chance to come to the show and he freaked out, he lost his mind. He got in the pit and everything!”
There was a tangible moment of connectivity and joy as he recounts this memory of his son moshing in front of him. Following a path down memory lane, I ask, “Who’s been your favorite tour collaborator?”
“Well, I’m friends with everybody. But it’s always fun to tour with these bands. Even out of the business, I’m friends with Kerry King and we did that Slayer tour, the Megadeth guys, Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. We’ve had really good luck on all these tours. It is a very small world and a small music business, too. So it’s good to be friends with everybody because you’re probably going to tour with them eventually. Whatever I’m doing I try to enjoy.”
“I bet sharing a stage with Alice Cooper was fun.”
“Oh, yes of course. At that time I was really getting into Alice and I read his book, so it was really fun to be on the road and see him.”
This is John 5’s eighth year of being the guitarist for Rob Zombie, so I was compelled to ask about his favorite part about joining such an industrious project. “Well, first, I love playing the songs. I think that’s really imperative. And then, being great friends with them. It’s almost like brothers. You grow really close to someone, which is great because it’s no fun being in a band with somebody you can’t get along with. And, luckily, we get along great” he interrupts himself, staring off quizzically, “Is this thing rocking?” he asks, indicating the steady rhythm of the deck we’re aboard “It totally is, we’re on water” I giggle. He continues, “And you know, writing music and everything. I am just in such a great place, I’m really happy and I wouldn’t change it for the world”
I had one last question for John 5 before I bid him farewell, “So the Red Hot Chili Peppers do a preshow ritual before they go on, do you guys have anything you do before a set?” His eyes widen, thinking for a moment, “You know, it’s seems a little demystifying but we kinda just get ready and I sit and play guitar…What do they do?”
“Oh, I hear they do a type of meditation circle together before heading on stage.”
He laughs, “Wow, that’s crazy. I just sit and play guitar.”
“Well that can be a form of meditation in some ways!”
“Yeah, I guess…or masturbation” he mentions casually, leaving me in a state of bewildered amusement and laughing heavily.
John’s incredible honesty and keen sense of humor made him a pleasure to talk to. As we parted ways, I felt a surge of excitement for Rob Zombie’s show that night and suffice it to say, it did not disappoint. Rob Zombie will lure you into their kaleidoscope world of pentagrams, naked women and phantom strangers, which are sure to please. Check out The Spill’s full review of Mayhem Festival here and keep on the lookout for Mayhem’s latest tour dates in a town near you!