Interview: JOHN 5 – Guitar hero discusses new solo work and Rob Zombie music, his love of his fans, and his collaborations w/ David Lee Roth & Ace Frehley
Ass-kicking axe aficionado, John 5, is about to kick off a month long solo tour in March, with a March 6th Chicago stop at Reggies Rock Club (tickets available now here: click to get tickets to John 5 in Chicago), before he sets out on a long tour where he’ll be playing “every place that has electricity” with his main gig, the Rob Zombie band.
The solo tour will feature his band, John 5 & The Creatures, performing newly released material, as well as other selections from his many solo albums, and promises to showcase his immense guitar slinging talents, as well as the excellent chops of The Creatures.
John 5 recently spoke to Bradley Todd of Bestrocklist.com about his new material and tour, his love of his fans, the upcoming Rob Zombie album and tour, scoring Rob Zombie’s new film, as well as his collaborations with David Lee Roth and Ace Frehley.
BestRockList: You’ve released two new songs (and accompanying videos) so far this year called “Black Grass Plague” and “Behind The Nut Love” (watch below), with a third, “Making Monsters”, to come out on March 1st.
In the past, you’ve released full length solo albums. What is the direction you are going with releasing the three songs as opposed to a record? Why the change?
JOHN 5: Well, here’s what I’m doing – I’m releasing a song and a video the 1st of every month…
BestRockList: For the whole year?
JOHN 5: Yeah, for the whole year…so why I’m doing that is that the music, the way people listen to music, and all that stuff, has changed so dramatically. And what I did is very simple. You know we’re older, but the kids…what they do, is they have no idea what a record is or pretty much not even what a CD is. How people, how kids, are watching music, and listening to music… it’s just YouTube. And what that means is, the kids aren’t even really watching TV anymore. Everything they want to see is on YouTube. So what I’ve been doing is… I did a little research and I’m looking at videos, and I’ll think to myself, “Ok, what’s a really popular video?” And I thought, “Ok, let’s do All About That Bass,” from that girl artist…I forget her name…but, I looked it up and it was over a billion views, and that’s astronomical. Then, I would look at how many records she sold, and she sold between 3 million, something like that, which is amazing, that’s great!…but, now it’s proven to me that everyone’s just watching YouTube.
So I released a video. I released a song on the 1st of January (Black Grass Plague), and the views were through the roof, and I was like, I would never sell 50,000 copies in a few weeks, it just wouldn’t happen. And that’s what been happening…you know, people are just looking at the video, and the song is for sale…every song is for sale on iTunes…so it’s kind of a new model, and it’s working. And it’s not like by any means I’m some kind of a genius to figure this out, it’s just common knowledge. So, at the end of the year, I’m going to put together a CD, a physical CD of all the videos…a documentary…you know, everything you want. And the album is called Guitars, Tits & Monsters.
JOHN 5: Awesome!
BestRockList: I like that title.
JOHN 5: It’s great, huh?!
BestRockList: Exactly! Do you have any sense so far of the couple songs that you’ve released, how the videos are affecting the sales of the digital songs on iTunes, Amazon, etc.?
JOHN 5: It’s unbelievable. And here’s what’s going on: let’s say we buy a record off iTunes, ok? The record is…you know…we’ll only listen to maybe the popular songs, or maybe we won’t even buy the whole record…maybe we’ll just cherry pick the songs we like. So, here’s the deal: each month, here you go…here’s a new song by me…and you can check out the video for free, and if you like it, buy the song. And it’s per month, so every month you get a new song and a new video. It’s been really, really successful, and the next video is called Making Monsters and it’s crazy, crazy great! It’s stop animation, and there’s this action figure of me, and it’s really cool and fun to see.
BestRockList: Is the action figure going to be available?
JOHN 5: I don’t know. They want to make it, but it’s so funny because I’m so busy, I’m so unbelievably busy… right now as we’re speaking, I am on my way to another video shoot…and I have a video shoot with Zombie on Sunday (2/28), and then Monday (2/29) I leave for tour…so I have to get to the action figure thing, so hopefully, yes…the answer is yes, I’d love to do that.
BestRockList: So how would you describe the songs that you’re releasing this year?
JOHN 5: It’s a good question. It’s a wide array of music, because you’re not listening to the same thing over and over and over again. I think it’s just very important to have a different kind of vibe…I just want the songs to be really good, and I want it to be really cool guitar music. And when people come to the show, they’re like, “Oh okay, this is rad!” or something like that. Each song is definitely entertaining.
BestRockList: When you recorded this collection of songs, did you play anything besides guitar on it?
JOHN 5: No, I have this amazing band (The Creatures), just killer, killer guys. It’s a great band…Rodger Carter is playing drums, and Ian Ross is playing bass. And they’re just phenomenal musicians.
BestRockList: How long have you played with them?
JOHN 5: I’ve played with Rodger, the drummer, most of my life…on and off, like in the studio…but Ian, for about a year.
BestRockList: Do you write with The Creatures too?
JOHN 5: No, I’m the sole writer.
BestRockList: Do you sing?
JOHN 5: God no!
BestRockList: When you write, do you ever envision what you’re writing with vocals?
JOHN 5: Yeah, I’ll show it to Zombie…I’m his guitar player and he’s my singer, so sometimes if it’s cool I’ll send it to Rob. [Some of the stuff I write] is like little symphonies or orchestras, it’s so much work…there’s a lot going on.
BestRockList: What’s your songwriting process like?
JOHN 5: That’s a fine question. I’m not really sure to be honest with you. It’s such a strange process because I’ll be like, “I really enjoyed that…that’s cool…that sounds really good…let me try to turn that into something.” And then I’ll just work on it. But writing instrumental music is very, very difficult. It’s a lot of time and I just don’t want to get a riff or something and just improvise over it…I just want the whole thing to be interesting. I love it and it takes a lot of brain power, and I really enjoy that art.
BestRockList: How often do you write?
JOHN 5: Every day.
BestRockList: Do you record all your ideas?
JOHN 5: I’m kind like a fighter. I’ll train, train, train, and get it down so well, like perfectly…and that’s the time for the fight, and I’ll go into the studio and I’ll try and knock it out really quick because I don’t want to waste everybody’s time sitting there writing and trying to figure out what to do.
BestRockList: Tell me about your upcoming tour. Is it a warm-up for the Zombie tour, which starts the month after yours ends?
JOHN 5: Actually the drummer, Rodger, was like, “We should go do some shows.” And I was like, “Do some shows?! I’ve never done instrumental shows….I don’t know.” And he’s like, “Let’s just do a couple.” And so we did a couple, and they were so successful, I was shocked at how successful these shows were. So whenever I have a little time open, I’ll go and play. And we are coming up on doing some shows. I leave Monday. But the cool thing is we’re doing like 16 shows in a row, and you can’t really do that with a singer because you’re gonna blow that singer’s voice out…but if it’s just guitar we can squeeze as many shows in as possible.
BestRockList: I’ve watched some of videos of you and The Creatures from Ultimate Jam Night (an open mic night for professional musicians at Lucky Strike in Hollywood on Wednesday nights) and it was really good.
JOHN 5: Yeah, it’s fun. We just got up and jammed. We have a really cool show behind it (for the tour). It’s kind of like a little Alice Cooper instrumental show…there’s a lot that’s going into it. But that Lucky Strike, we just got up and played.
[But normally], we do stuff that takes a lot of practice. Anything you’ll see us do takes tons of practice because it’s like juggling chainsaws…it’s like, “Ooh, he’s gonna drop that chainsaw any time…” because there’s so much going on.
BestRockList: How long will the sets for the upcoming tour be?
JOHN 5: I’d say probably an 1:20. But they’re really interesting, and here’s the reason why: we’ll be doing heavy stuff, and then we’ll break into bluegrass stuff, and then we’ll break into flamenco, and things like that…and there’s a show behind it, and if you don’t like guitar instrumental music…and most people don’t…but you will definitely be entertained. That’s the whole key to it. You know, people are bringing their girlfriends, and these girls don’t want to sit through this, but nobody leaves and people really, really enjoy it. You know, they’re like, “Oh cool! This is really fun.” We’ll do an instrumental cover of Beat It, and all this stuff, and it’s a really fun, cool show.
BestRockList: Do you guys change up the setlist from night to night?
JOHN 5: It’s a well oiled machine, but let’s say we go to Chicago, you won’t see the same setlist if we come to Chicago again, I guarantee that! It’ll be different songs…not all different songs…but it’ll be probably 3 or 4 different songs, so it’s really always a fresh show.
BestRockList: What part of the upcoming solo tour are you looking forward to the most?
JOHN 5: I really enjoy talking to the fans. So of course, playing is #1, but I love interacting with the fans, and I love listening to what they have to say. I, being a fan of certain things, I like to listen to what these kids are saying, because I’m a fan and I was one of those [kids]. And I think it’s really imperative to do that…I enjoy it, myself.
BestRockList: When does the Zombie tour start?
JOHN 5: The Zombie tour starts April 29th.
BestRockList: Tell me about the new Zombie album.
JOHN 5: What we did with that record is…you know, you have a lifetime to make your first record, and with this record, we really took our time. We were like, okay let’s really live with these songs, and we didn’t rush through it. Because the label’s always like, “Where’s our video?” or this, that or the other thing. [So] we took our time and it came out great…and we’re so excited to get some new songs under our belt, and play those new songs.
BestRockList: So who comes up with the crazy Zombie song and album titles?
JOHN 5: That is allllll Rob. He comes up with everything.
BestRockList: What is the collaboration process like with Rob when you make Zombie music?
JOHN 5: I usually go to his house and we’ll just start writing riffs. I’ll come up with a riff and he’s like, “I like that,” and we’ll work on the music together. And it’s great…it’s a great writing collaboration. We write together, and we work on every single bit together, and it’s really a wonderful, wonderful writing process.
BestRockList: Has the way you write with Rob changed at all over time?
JOHN 5: It’s always stayed the same. You know, if it’s working, stick with that formula. It’s great.
BestRockList: How long will the Zombie tour last?
JOHN 5: A long time…they’re usually like 2 years.
BestRockList: I saw there are Midwest dates already announced, but Chicago isn’t on the list. Will there be a Zombie show in Chicago?
JOHN 5: Of course, it’ll come. We’ll probably be there in the summertime, or somewhere like that. We’re gonna hit every place that has electricity!
BestRockList: Tell me about the movie score that you just did for Rob Zombie’s new film, 31.
JOHN 5: I’ve done tons of movie scores, but this is my second Zombie film. I’ve done Baywatch, I’ve done all these things like that throughout my life…and a lot of weird things that people don’t know about. I’m not a big fan of scoring films or TV shows, but I’ll always do it for Rob because I love his movies and he’s my great friend and I respect him so much. [Scoring] is a TON of work, but it’s so rewarding to see it on the big screen. Now I just saw Rob’s movie…he had a little viewing of his new movie, 31, and I will tell you, this movie is SO good. It’s my favorite Zombie movie. It’s an amazing movie. I remember sitting there going, “It’s over?!” You don’t even know that time is going by because you’re so engulfed in this movie. It’s crazy. I’m so proud of him.
BestRockList: What’s it about?
JOHN 5: It’s a bunch of people travelling in the 70’s and it’s Halloween night, and they get stopped, and they get captured, and they’re in this warehouse thing and they have to survive the night, Halloween night, [from] these brutal killers, and they have to try and survive. It’s like a game. And it is SUCH an amazing movie. You’re on the edge of your seat. It’s great.
BestRockList: I’d like to ask you about your work with David Lee Roth. Is it true you got involved with Dave just by sending 6 of your songs to his management?
JOHN 5: Yeah.
BestRockList: How long had you been writing them before you sent them in?
JOHN 5: Well, I sent 2 songs to him…I think I sent Slam Dunk and Little Texas. And then he said he really liked them, can [I] send more? And so I went into the studio and wrote more. [And this was through] management, I hadn’t even talked to Dave yet…so that’s 4 songs. And then they said, “Hey, Dave likes these, can you write some more?” And I was like “Ok.” But money was tight, ya know? It’s expensive to record these. So I recorded 2 more, and he’s like, “Great, can you record more?” And I said, “Well, I don’t really have the funds to keep recording…” And [management] is like, “Ok, well come to Dave’s house.”
I went to Dave’s house, and he said, “We’re gonna make a record!” and I was like oh my god, this is incredible! So, it was kinda that fast. Everything, all of that happened, like, I was probably writing those songs for like a week or two, and they’re just how they are, how you hear them without vocals.
BestRockList: So the arrangements were complete at the time you gave them to him?
JOHN 5: Yeah… you know, of course, Ray Luzier killed it on drums (when the songs were recorded for the album)…but it’s pretty much the same thing that you hear… I probably wrote it in a week, maybe two weeks at the most. And then we’d make a record in two weeks, mixed and mastered. So it was such a fast, fast process. It was incredible.
BestRockList: Was Dave writing the lyrics on the fly as you were recording?
JOHN 5: Yes, never seen anything like it. They guy is a genius. And if you listen to these lyrics, they’re UN-believable! These lyrics…I can’t believe it…like ‘From shack to chateau.’ You know, it’s like, so cool.
BestRockList: Or “Little Elvis is combat ready.”
JOHN 5: Yeah! Brilliant…brilliant! I was watching him just create and it was genius. But one thing he said to me that scared the hell out of me…now this is David Lee Roth, who is my hero, your hero…he said, “We’re going to record this just like Van Halen. We’re going to record it live.” And I was like, “Okay.” And he said, “If you can’t get it in two takes, you can’t get it.” And I was like, “Oh my god!”
So, we did it, sure enough…all those songs on one or two takes.
BestRockList: What’s Dave like personally? Is he always electric and “on,” or have you seen a regular guy side to him?
JOHN 5: You know, that’s a fine question. He’s so smart…I mean scary smart, this guy…so we’ll talk and just hang normal, but then that other part comes on. So it’s like 50/50. He’s so brilliant, this guy. I think he might even be too smart!
He does so much stuff, he will gather all this information, and he knows a little bit about everything. That’s what I love about him. He’s brilliant.
BestRockList: How come you guys never toured the DLR Band album together?
JOHN 5: I joined Marilyn Manson….but [Dave and I] did make another record.
BestRockList: I’ve heard that you guys have a completed, but unreleased album. How many tracks are on it?
JOHN 5: I think like 11. And they’re so good! There’s a song called “Nothing Could Have Stopped Us Now”…I think that’s the title… and this song, I’ll listen to it just as like one of my favorite songs…it’s so good, man. This guy, like his talent, his voice and everything, just sounds like Van Halen[‘s third album], Women and Children First. His voice is just unbelieveable. And we did this record and I’m so proud of this record, so hopefully it’ll see the light of day one day.
BestRockList: Are there any other song titles you could share?
JOHN 5: There’s one called “Somewhere Over The Rainbow Bar & Grill”. It’s genius!
BestRockList: Who played on that album?
JOHN 5: Gregg Bissonette, who played on Eat ‘Em & Smile and Skyscraper, I played bass on it, Brett Tuggle…he played keys, and he was also in the [EEAS & Skyscraper band]. It’s a great album, but it’s not like crazy rock music, that’s the thing.
BestRockList: Is there any intention to release it?
JOHN 5: It’s totally up to Dave.
BestRockList: Have you had any discussions about it?
JOHN 5: Yeah, we always talk about it, you know? It’s so good. And I’m so happy I have a copy…it’s really, really something else!
BestRockList: I heard you moved out to LA from Michigan when you were 17. Did you go out there by yourself?
JOHN 5: Yeah. I was by myself, but I had one friend who lived out here. Luckily I got to stay with him, and I started my life and my career.
BestRockList: How’d you get the balls to do that?
JOHN 5: Well, I just knew I was not going to…I was a pretty wise kid, I guess…I knew that opportunity knocks a lot louder out here.
BestRockList: How did you get involved in playing on Ace Frehley’s new album of cover songs?
JOHN 5: Ace called me and said, “Hey, I’m doing a covers album and I want to have you on it.”
And I was like, “I’m there!” And I was going over the Hendrix song, and we were gonna do Space Truckin’ as well. [Then] he called me and he goes, “We’re going to do ‘Parasite’.” And I was like “Oh my god!” I was [thinking] this is unbelievable. You know I love KISS and I’m like, I’m gonna do Parasite with Ace! You know…KISS Alive…Hotter Than Hell!
So here we are, we’re in the studio, we’re doing it, we’re playing together and he said, “Why don’t you improvise, and I’ll improvise.” And me, being the fan, said, “Ace, why don’t you do the Parasite solo, and then I’ll come in after you?” And he played the solo, and he plays it in one take…but it’s so Ace, it’s so great…one take, boom! And that’s what went on the record. And I was like, “This is awesome!”
BestRockList: Had you ever played with Ace before?
JOHN 5: Yes. Luckily I have had the privilege to play with him.
BestRockList: How did you guys decide on Spanish Castle Magic?
JOHN 5: It’s a classic Hendrix song. It’s one of his favorites and it’s one of mine.
BestRockList: Thanks for your time today, John.
JOHN 5: See you on 3/6 [in Chicago]!
See the photos from the show here: John 5 Concert Photos
Watch Black Grass Plague
Watch Behind The Nut Love
-You can follow John 5 on Facebook (www.facebook.com/john5official), Instagram (@john5official) and Twitter (@john5guitarist), and purchase his music on iTunes and Amazon.
-Bradley Todd is a Chicago based concert photographer who also shoots people (only w/ cameras), events, places & things. You can follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bradleytoddphotography), Instagram (@bradleytoddphotography), and Twitter (@bradleytphoto)