Guitarist John 5 is slowly but surely becoming a premier name in the heavy metal world. Between tenures in Marilyn Manson and with David Lee Roth, writing songs for A-listers like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and his 5th solo album coming out next month, one can almost forget that he’s also been Rob Zombie’s guitarist for half a decade as well.
With Rob Zombie and Megadeth coming to the PNC Arts Center on May 11th, John 5 took some time to talk to me about his name, his projects, and… his love of NWA?
Examiner: Hi John, thanks for talking to me today. How’ve you been?
John: Good! Very busy, but good.
Examiner : Well yeah, you’re a busy guy. You’re putting out another solo record, playing with Rob Zombie, scoring movies, and I just read that you’ll be doing a track with Steven Adler too. Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
John: Oh yeah. I think I’m overwhelmed now. It’s just a lot, you know? The tour coming up and everything else, it’s a lot.
Examiner: How did the Steven Adler track come about?
John: Oh he just called me up. Everybody calls me to do stuff lately, and I respect Steven and I’ve known him for a long time, I’ve known Slash and all those guys for a long time, and of course. They’ve gave me so much great music over the years, it’s the least I can do.
Examiner: Besides music, what do you do for fun?
John: It’s mostly music, but sometimes I’ll go to a movie just to shut off. But that’s about it. Fun would be, I go on a summer tour like the one coming up with Megadeth, that’s going to be fun. It’s like a vacation. You get to run around with your friends and play loud music and play concerts and hang out and that’s fun to me. Especially in the summertime man, there is nothing like that.
Examiner: What I really enjoyed about your last record was that it wasn’t just instrumental metal, it hit all styles of music. Do you consider yourself a metal player first and foremost?
John: I consider myself a musician. I like to play everything. I really truly love all styles of music. A lot of people say that, but the first station they turn to when they get in the car is a rock station. I don’t always do that. I really enjoy everything. But of course, I’m a rock shred guitar player first.
Examiner: The classical influences in your solo work are obvious. Would you say you’re a fan of country and hip hop as well?
John: Oh I do tons of country on all of my albums. Tons of country and bluegrass. I would say rock, and then country second. But I used to not like hip hop at all. I did not like hip hop. And I’ve never talked about this, okay? Because there’s not a lot of guitars, it’s just not my cup of tea. But just lately, I put on NWA and I was like listening to it and I was like “Oh my god, this is unbelievable.” And I had a total epiphany. And this was only like a week ago, maybe not even a week ago. So I really had an epiphany for NWA, it’s really wild.
Examiner: Do you have a checklist of different styles you want to present on each album?
John: Yeah. A lot of the other albums I did a lot of country in between the rock stuff, which was really fun and people love that, but this one I wanted to do a whole acoustic side so I changed it up that way. I just want to keep the listeners on their toes.
Examiner: The CD is called God Told Me To. What exactly did God tell you to do?
John: Well, it’s kind of like a lot of serial killers or people that have committed horrible crimes, they say “Oh God told me to.” But I wanted to be a musician so bad, that the small amount of times I did go to church, like on Christmas or something, I would always pray to be a working musician. And I kind of got my wish.
Examiner: Do you anticipate any backlash from the conservative media with a title like that?
John: Oh god, I’ve had that my whole musical career, being with Manson, dealing with stuff like that. I don’t care.
Examiner: So you’ve been playing with Rob Zombie for a few years now, and it seems that your playing matches his style very well. Do you two get along personally?
John: He’s like the brother I never had. We get along great and it’s just unbelievable. It’s a dream gig, it’s like being with your best friend on tour.
Examiner: What’s your favorite Zombie song to play live?
John: I would say it’s a White Zombie song, Creature of the Wheel.
Examiner: I was listening to Educated Horses this morning, which was the first Zombie record you were on, and it struck me how distinctive your style is yet it still sounds through and through like Rob Zombie. How do you write for him versus writing for others or your solo records?
John: Well I was a fan of Rob Zombie, so I know his style. It’s the same thing as if I write for the Scorpions or Skynyrd, or even Rod Stewart. I know their catalog so well, so I know what kind of chords or keys they like to use. So it’s easy that way. Rob will say “Give me something like Electric Head” and I’ll know exactly what he’s talking about it. But if someone said “Hey come write on a Billy Ray Cyrus record,” it would be a bit more difficult.
Examiner: How does being in Rob Zombie compare to your time in Marilyn Manson?
John: Well it feels more like a band. I can’t explain how great it is being in this band. Of course Rob is the leader and he makes the decisions and we know that. But he doesn’t treat us like that.
Examiner: The implication being that Manson was different.
John: Well, Manson was a little more separated. Here we’re always walking around together, we’re in the same dressing room, the same bus, we’re just friends. We’re knuckleheads. But Rob makes the decisions.
Examiner: What made you decide to keep the John 5 name even after you left Manson?
John: That’s a good question. And I have a great answer. It’s just like when Ace Frehley or Peter Criss left KISS. Peter’s not going to change his name back to Peter Criscuola, or Ace isn’t going to change his name back to Paul Frehley. You build up a reputation on those names.
Examiner: So Rob Zombie is touring with Megadeth in May, and you’ll be playing the PNC Arts Center in NJ. How did this matchup come together?
John: I don’t know, actually. But I’ll tell you this. I am a really huge Megadeth fan, and I’ve always been a huge Megadeth fan. I started getting into Megadeth right after Killing Was My Business…, so I got into it right at Peace Sells. I was a Megadeth nut. And I’d seen them a thousand times when I was a kid. So I’m really excited to tour with them.
Examiner: What’s your favorite Megadeth song?
John: Oh boy. I would say Mary Jane or In My Darkest Hour. Hook in Mouth, things like that. Peace Sells is great.
Examiner: Are you a fan of the newer records?
John: Yes! I love Th1rt3en, I love Countdown to Extinction, I love it all.
Examiner: So this is a co-headlining tour, which I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about. On one hand, you get to see two great bands, but on the other hand, the setlists are usually shorter so you get less of a show from your favorite band. Do you feel strongly one way or another?
John: Well I think that it’s a lot harder for people to go to concerts nowadays, because it’s expensive. Because it’s expensive to tour. And so how are we going to get people in those seats? Let’s have a really cool double bill, or maybe a triple bill. People are going to come out in droves, and they do. People don’t buy music anymore, they’re stealing it. But you can’t steal a live show. There’s no way to reproduce a real live show. So I think that when you put a great bill together, that people will come out for it.
Examiner: This New Jersey show is going to be the first amphitheater show of the summer for metal fans in the tri-state region. Are you excited to hit the outdoor venues?
John: Can’t wait! It’ll be so much fun. When is the first show? Is it May 11th or something?
Examiner: Yes, that’s the New Jersey date, first show of the tour.
John: Will it be warm there at the time?
Examiner: It should be, May is usually pretty decent. Spring came to New York a month early this year, so barring any late surprises it should be perfect spring weather.
John: I really can’t wait.
Examiner: How does playing an outdoor venue differ from playing indoors?
John: I think outdoor venues sound so much better when you’re playing live, especially with rock music. Because the sound isn’t bouncing off of everywhere. It doesn’t sound like a mess. When you’re inside, you’re bouncing all over those walls and when people come in, it doesn’t get so boomy because the sound is hitting the people. But when it’s warm and you’re outside, there’s nothing better.
Examiner: Who are your personal guitar heroes?
John: Well there’s the obvious, Paul Gilbert and Yngwie and Stevie Vai, but also I love Roy Clark and Chet Atkins, Jimmy Bryant, a lot of those cats too. I can get something from anybody.
Examiner: Do you see yourself touring for your solo records?
John: Well, if I find the time, I definitely will. I’ll do a tour if we’re not making a record.
Examiner: Who would you like to tour with for that? Would you prefer other instrumental artists, or more mainstream bands?
John: I’d probably do a really messed up G3, like Buckethead and Bumblefoot and myself.
Examiner: Finally, I saw that you’re including an instrumental version of Beat It on the new album, and gave a shout out to Eddie Van Halen for his original solo, and you’ve also played with David Lee Roth. So I have to ask, what do you think of the new Van Halen record?
John: I love the new Van Halen album. I think they hit it right on the head. It’s exactly what they needed to do. I even like Tattoo. That chorus is so hooky.
Examiner: Thanks for talking to me John, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in New Jersey!
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