Interview: John 5 Talks Solo Album, Zombie, Van Halen & More
John 5 is a name that carries a large cache in the world of rock. Born John William Lowery, and given the name John 5 when he joined Marilyn Manson, his guitar playing has been aligned with David Lee Roth, Paul Stanley of Kiss, Lita Ford, KD Lang, Meat Loaf, Garbage, Rick Springfield and many others.
Currently John 5 is the main axe man for Rob Zombie, who he’s joining on a co-headlining tour with Megadeth in 2012. I got to sit down with John 5 amidst his busy schedule to talk about his upcoming solo album “God Made Me Do It” as well as new Rob Zombie stuff, Van Halen reunions, his history and, oddly enough, the seventies variety show Hee Haw.
CRAVEONLINE: First up, how are you this fine day?
JOHN 5: I’m well. I’ve been doing a lot of these interviews but it’s great. That’s what it’s all about, getting it out there to the people.
CRAVEONLINE: Good to hear. So, let’s jump right in. Your new album “God Told Me To”, why make it a half heavy, half acoustic record?
JOHN 5: On my previous albums I would do rock and then add some country flair in there, y’know, I’d always try to do things with different styles and different music just to keep it fresh for the listener. This is my sixth album so I had to really try and change it up a little bit. I wanted to really challenge myself and do some unique acoustic music. It was all for the fan who buys my music, I always wanted to keep them guessing.
CRAVEONLINE: As an artist do you get different satisfactions from doing acoustic vs. doing the heavier rock jams?
JOHN 5: It’s definitely a completely different animal with structure and melody and how I approach the song. I could just chop away at the guitar and play just rock stuff but I wanted to make it more interesting. I put a little more thought into it, like with the song “Noche Ascador” and the Spanish style. Those songs give it a different flair.
CRAVEONLINE: So why call the record “God Told Me To”?
JOHN 5: That’s what a lot of serial killer and people who commit horrible crimes claim. They say they talked to God or that God told them to do it for him. To carry out his word and things like that. I look at it as a more of a positive thing. I wanted to be a guitar player and musician so badly and I prayed to get this the very few times I went to church and I feel like I got my prayer answered.
CRAVEONLINE: One of the more curious songs on the album is your cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. What brought that about?
JOHN 5: That song was such a huge hit worldwide. Not just America and Canada but all over the world. It was just massive. Everybody knows it. “Beat It” was such a huge hit when I was a kid and I was amazed nobody had ever covered it. I just didn’t understand how that could be.
CRAVEONLINE: Nobody’s ever covered it?
JOHN 5: Not that I know of. It has such a great solo in it and it’s such an iconic song that I just had to do an instrumental version of it. I’m really happy with how it came out.
CRAVEONLINE: Did the irony of covering a song with a solo by Eddie Van Halen when you’d worked so closely with David Lee Roth ever hit you?
JOHN 5: Totally. It’s so crazy to think I’ve worked with all these people. When I was a kid I would have really never believed it. I’m really so humbled and happy that this happened to me. I never dreamed of being a rock star, it’s even hard for me to say it. My dreams didn’t even go that far.
CRAVEONLINE: When rock and metal guys cover pop songs like “Beat It,” even with love, some people think they’re making fun of the tune. Were you worried about that and have you had any negative reactions?
JOHN 5: Not at all. Not even kind of. I’m known for doing so many styles of music, I take everything I do very seriously and it’s an amazing song. I haven’t had one, not one negative comment. I always play so many different styles that I don’t think anything I do surprises anyone.
CRAVEONLINE: “Kilafornia” was one of the stand out tracks for me. What’s that song all about?
JOHN 5: When I came to California I came from such an upper scale neighborhood, I was so sheltered but I always knew I wanted to live in California and I wanted to play guitar. Being a session musician was always my dream. I started when I was twelve and my goal after finishing high school was to go to California. I’d hear all the time how dangerous it was, the gangs and the violence and the craziness. I always called it Kilafornia because it was so dangerous, which it is.
CRAVEONLINE: How did you get Rob Zombie to do the cover art?
JOHN 5: We were one the road. It was one of those late night bus rides where we were just talking and I was figuring out what I wanted to do with the record. I said to Rob that if he had any time I’d be honored if he could do the artwork. He said “okay”. Now at this time he’s writing a script and dealing with movies and we’re on tour so he’s dealing with the live show and all the politics of that. He did it though and he did an amazing job. All I did was tell him the title and that’s it. It’s crazy how talented that guy is.
CRAVEONLINE: At this point in your career you’re seen as an accomplished musician, but how did you first learn to play?
JOHN 5: I started with lessons actually, which was a really smart way to go. I didn’t just figure it out, I was taught how to do this and how to do that. I was introduced to a lot of music. This was a long, long, long time ago so things were a little different. Rock music had a country flair to it. My family listened to a lot of different music. One thing in particular was I loved the show Hee Haw, which had a lot of country music in it. I think my love of music started there.
CRAVEONLINE: That’s funny. I loved that show to. My grandmother and I used to watch it all the time.
JOHN 5: It’s the best. They had so many great musicians on and it was a lot of fun.
CRAVEONLINE: When it comes to writing do you prefer the band situation e.g. Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson or would you rather write solo stuff?
JOHN 5: I love it all. It’s refreshing to me. It isn’t work at all. I’m the type of guy who would be playing all day anyway so I just enjoy whatever falls in my lap. Either or is just a lot of fun. Doing the instrumental stuff is a lot more challenging because it’s like writing little symphonies. For the instrumental stuff you have to do all these solos and all this crazy stuff but when you’re writing for an artist you have to make sure it’s fucking great. You have to buckle down and make sure the song is amazing. So both have their unique challenges.
CRAVEONLINE: Is there anybody out there you haven’t worked with that you want to?
JOHN 5: Prince. I’d love to work with Prince. He’s such an amazing musician. I’d love to work with him one day.
CRAVEONLINE: Have you done soundtracks in the past? I would think your music would be perfect for them.
JOHN 5: I’ve done a lot of soundtrack work. I’m currently doing the score for Rob Zombie’s new film The Lords Of Salem. I’ve worked on Baywatch, From Hell and a lot of other stuff.
CRAVEONLINE: Talk to me about the upcoming Co-headline tour with Rob Zombie and Megadeth. Was there any part of you that wanted to just go out and do a solo tour?
JOHN 5: No way, I wouldn’t change that for the world. It’s just like going on a vacation with your great friends and going on these concerts with people screaming for you and I get to watch Megadeth, how awesome is that? It’s the greatest!
CRAVEONLINE: The Rob Zombie show is very theatrical, more so than Megadeth. How do you think the two will blend together?
JOHN 5: Listen, if you’re a guy and you work at a job, say a restaurant, and you’re busting your ass all month long and you save up your money to go to this show, you’re going to get so much of your money’s worth. If you’re a fan of rock music, you get Rob Zombie and Megadeth. It’ll be such a huge show and most likely if you like Megadeth you like Rob Zombie and if you like Rob Zombie you’ll like Megadeth.
CRAVEONLINE: As a guitar player is it awesome to watch Dave Mustaine play?
JOHN 5: I love Megadeth; I’m so psyched to watch them as a fan. I’ve loved them since “Peace Sells”.
CRAVEONLINE: Is there new music from Rob Zombie for this tour? Is there a new record coming out soon?
JOHN 5: We actually go into the studio right after the tour to record the new album. The new stuff, well, a lot of people say this about their new music but really, the new stuff is just heavier. It’s just heavier and meaner and more aggressive.
CRAVEONLINE: It’s cool that Rob Zombie never lost the groove.
JOHN 5: It’s so imperative to him to have that groove. It’s the most important thing to him. It’s so nice to have somebody in the driver seat that knows what he wants.
CRAVEONLINE: What guitar players inspired you?
JOHN 5: So many. Starting when I was a kid with Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. I love guitar and guitar players and you can learn something from anyone. I always look for inspiration from any guitar players.
CRAVEONLINE: So what’s the difference between working with David Lee Roth and Rob Zombie?
JOHN 5: Well I think they have different personalities and goals. David might want something slower, while Rob wants a big heavy groove. It’s the individuality of what they’re creating and what you’re writing. It’s also being a fan of both of them so when Dave says “Gimmie something like Ladies Night In Buffalo”, I know exactly what he means. Same with Rob.
CRAVEONLINE: What did you think of the big Van Halen reunion?
JOHN 5: Oh I think it’s amazing, I think they’re killing it out there. The album’s great, they’re playing songs they haven’t played in twenty years.
CRAVEONLINE: Did it surprise you?
JOHN 5: No because I know Dave and when they started talking and jamming I knew it was a matter of time.
CRAVEONLINE: Any solo touring for you coming up?
JOHN 5: Oh man, I’m just trying to find time to go to the bathroom. Maybe when I slow down a minute. Maybe.