Chances are John 5 is best known for his work with Rob Zombie. However, the collection of musicians the guitarist has performed and written music with reads as a “who’s who” list: everyone from Marilyn Manson to David Lee Roth, from Rob Halford to Lynyrd Skynard, and from Meatloaf to K.D. Lang. Yet despite keeping himself busy with other musicians and Rob Zombie, John 5 still finds the time to record instrumental solo material that pushes the boundaries of traditional guitar playing. And on May 8, John 5 will release his sixth solo album God Told Me To.
Somehow, John 5 found a spare moment to talk with Metal Insider. During our chat, the guitarist discussed the challenges of creating acoustic material over electric, how he constantly learns from every musician he works with, the upcoming projects he’s been working on (including new music with Rob Zombie AND Rod Stewart), and how he continues to love working with Zombie.
I just want to start off talking about your new solo album, God Told Me To, which features half electric and acoustic songs. Do you find playing or writing in one style more difficult than the other?
That is a good question. I kind of look at it as, ‘I want to keep this song interesting and have a good melody in it.’ So I guess both are very difficult in a sense because I want to make it really good. Maybe the acoustic is a little more difficult, especially something like “Noche Acosador” because its flamenco music and it’s something I don’t rock every day, but I wanted to make it authentic and sound really good. So something like that is a lot more difficult then something I’ll write every day. So yeah, I think the acoustic stuff is a little bit more difficult because I’m not playing acoustic every day like I am electric.
Maybe the right word might be more “challenging”? Because I can hear that you’re a little more hesitant to say difficult.
Well, I don’t know because it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s like trying to describe the color blue or something like that. You get into a different mind frame when you’re doing acoustic music.
I was kind of surprised this was the first time you released acoustic material.
Yes, I have done little acoustic pieces on other albums, but never a whole half of a record. I took the acoustic music to a different level instead of just playing a ballad with nice melodies. I did rhythmic tapping on the body of the guitar, on the wood of the guitar. I’m using violin bow a lot; I’m using mandolin. It’s a little more challenging in that way instead of just playing a ballad on an acoustic or something. So it is a little more challenging, acoustic music. Bbut a lot of fun for me because I love challenges. So that’s what it’s all about for me, if it’s a challenge and it comes out to be a nice piece of music then I’m really happy with the outcome. Especially with this record, I’m very, very, very happy with the outcome of the music. I’ll listen to it and be like “Oh that came out really good!”
This is your sixth solo album. How do you approach writing solo material differently than in a group setting as with Rob Zombie?
Sometimes I’ll start out with a riff, and the riffs are just good rock riffs like you would hear on the radio. But instead of a vocal coming in, it’s a crazy guitar. I would think that same question when I first started doing this instrumental music back with Vertigo. I would think “How am I going to do this? Is this just an extended guitar solo through the song?” which it’s not. I try to give it a verse, a B section and a chorus just as you would in other songs. And other guitar instrumentalists do the same thing and they have a nice verse, with a cool guitar thing going on, a B section and a melodic chorus. That’s the kind of instrumental music I like. I’m not really a big fan of instrumental music that’s just a big long guitar solo over a rock track. I just don’t think there’s a lot of thought into that. Like the big guys, that’s who I listen to and that’s where I got a lot of my inspiration for writing and doing instrumental music. There’s so many great ones out there now too, it’s great I love it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this your first solo album via Rocket Science Ventures and Sony Red?
I think I did another one with them. I think I did Heart of Malice with them as well.
Because I know you did 60 Cycle Hum for a while.
That’s my label. And I think Rocket Science did the last one too. They kind of just distribute it. but everything is still under 60 Cycle Hum [laughs] which is a cool name for a label.
What the hardest part of distributing your own music?
Well, luckily I don’t have to that, so I don’t that. They do that, but I guess distributing your own music is a REALLY difficult thing, especially nowadays because there’s no record stores left, or CD stores or anything. I think my CD is going into Guitar Center, which is the smartest place it could go into [laughs]. I think it’s the best place for that CD to live.
Going back to Rob Zombie for just a second; I know that the plan is to go into the studio following the tour with Megadeth. How’s the writing for the new record going?
It’s going really well. We’re going to start recording it in June. So we are excited. I’m really psyched at how the riffs are coming out. I don’t know what it’s going to sound like in the studio and what Rob’s going to want to use or not use. I really love his stuff. It’s really heavy, it’s got a groove and its aggressive. I love it. I really, really love it a lot. So we’ll see what Rob wants to use and what he doesn’t want to use.
Has Ginger Fish [who joined Zombie’s band last year] brought a lot to the table in regards to the new music?
He’s been working on drum parts and loops and cool sound effect parts. That’s what he’s really, really good with. So we’re excited to get in the studio with him because he has such a great groove in him. I mean, he really has a great feel and that’s something you can’t really teach. I’ve done many records with him before and he’s just a really solid, backbeat, great drummer. We’re really happy to have him.
Besides Rob Zombie, you’ve worked with so many influential musicians. Just to name some would really do an injustice to what you’ve done. Is there any one particular musician or artist that you would say you’ve learned the most from during your time working with them?
I’ve learned a lot from everybody. I’m like a sponge. Everybody I’ve worked for has had a massive, massive career. So whenever they talked, I listened. I’m not like that guy who says “Oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about…”, because they DO know what they’re talking about because they have done it. So I always listen to everything they say. When they talk, I’m like E.F. Hutten, I listen! I’m like, listening, listening, listening. I’ve learned so much from everybody, from Manson to David Lee Roth. But I think I’ve learned the most, and I’m not just saying this, I’ll say this always. I think I’ve learned the most from Rob Zombie. I mean, Jesus Christ, the guy’s so smart and he’s so successful. So I’ve really learned a lot from him.
Not to make you say dirt or anything but is there one musician that you’ve had difficulty working with?
No, I don’t think that I’ve had difficulty working with any of them. I think the public portrays it as “Oh, he had a hard time with Manson.” But I didn’t really at all, it was just portrayed that way. I haven’t really had a hard situation with any of them. With what people see on YouTube with Manson, I had a death in the family. I was a mess at that time, and a lot of people don’t know that. So that’s why certain things occurred.
You’re talking about the video of you and Manson fighting onstage?
That must have been a learning experience in itself.
Yeah. I mean, that was something that I shouldn’t have done. It was something where I had a death in the family and it was a really hard time in my life, and it was tough. It’s life, you know? But I think the public’s perception is like “Oh, do you guys get along?” Yeah, we talked and there’s no hard feelings at all. And I wish nothing but the best for him, that’s for sure.
You’ve previously said that the one artist you’d love to work with is Prince. I know that you’ve stated that you want to work with Zombie as long as you can. But if Prince was to walk into the room or call you right now and say “Hey, I want you to go on tour with me” or “come into the studio with me ASAP,” what would you do?
I wouldn’t do it, not for any amount of money. And here’s the reason why: I’ve been in this business long enough, and you can totally quote me on this one, the grass is not always greener. I’m in such a great situation. And if someone comes around and offers more money or private jets, that’s not what it’s about. If you’re happy in a situation and it’s great… I mean, you’re not going to leave your wife if some other girl comes around. The grass is not always greener, and I’m really happy with what I’m doing. So no, I wouldn’t do it, no way.
It’s really cool to hear you talk about how happy you are playing with Zombie still after so many years.
Yeah, it’s been like seven years or something like that.
Right, and Educated Horses came out in 2005/2006?
Yeah that’s a long time, that’s a long time. I don’t even know when it came out, if it came out in 2005. I’m really bad with years. But I think we did our Ozzfest Tour in 2005 if I’m not mistaken.
Oh that’s right! So it came out in 2006, because I remember seeing you and Zombie on what I think was the Educated Horses tour at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. That might have been in 2006 now that think of it.
It’s funny how quick time goes by. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the grass is not always greener. People all the time leave gigs thinking “Oh this is a bigger gig or this is more money.” It doesn’t always work out that way. You just gotta learn about these things.
In addition to God Told Me To and the new Rob Zombie album, you just recorded a guest appearance on Steven Adler’s new album as well as scoring Zombies new movie Lords of Salem. Are there any new projects or collaborations that are on the table right now or about to get worked out?
I just submitted a bunch of songs to Lynyrd Skynyrd. So they’re recording those songs right now for their new record. I also did a little work for Rod Stewart. He’s got a new record he’s working on. And just doing the Lords of Salem thing, and just getting ready for this tour. So it’s just a lot of stuff.
Hearing you talk about Lynyrd Skynyrd or even earlier about David Lee Roth, is there one musician that you’ve worked where found yourself saying aloud “Oh my god, I was just in the studio with that person…”?
Yes, absolutely and I think it all comes from your childhood. And I think that person was when I recorded music with Paul Stanly for his album [2006’s Live To Win]. I mean KISS when I was super little, that was it. I didn’t even use to think they were real, and I was so little. And they’re all my great friends, but working on music with them is just a different thing. And David Lee Roth too, I was young and a kid and that was it for me, Van Halen and KISS. It’s a major thing in someone’s life. It’s like if you were really obsessed with Frankenstein and Frankenstein was like “Hey, come and make a movie with me.” You’re like “Oh my god, this is crazy!”