Some of life’s unforeseen journeys are always the most spectacular. For Michigan born guitarist John 5, rock-n-roll music has been an undying passion since his youth spinning KISS and Van Halen records in his room. Moving out to Los Angeles, CA at the young age of seventeen, his undeniable talents landed him a variety of gigs until his biggest break in 1998 when he became guitarist for Marilyn Manson. Pursuing a solo career after his departure from Marilyn Manson in 2004, John 5 opened the eyes of many with his multi-genre bending guitar style on his solo album debut Vertigo. Now as guitarist of Rob Zombie for almost a decade, he continues to dazzle on the grand stage all while crafting his own blend of music for audiences to indulge amidst an established solo career. Recently we sat down with the passionate axman for an in-depth look at his formidable years as a guitarist, his time in Marilyn Manson, being apart of Rob Zombie, his new solo album Careful with that Axe, love for horror cinema, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have had quite an exciting professional music career, first playing with David Lee Roth, then spending a number as an intricate part of Marilyn Manson, and now part of Rob Zombie since 2006. What has the wave of success been like for you over the past two decades?
John 5 – Here is the honest to god answer and it is not the answer I give everybody. When I was a kid, we all dream of what we want and what we want to do, I can tell you honestly that I never even dreamt of being a rock star or anything like that. What I wanted to do, I just wanted to be a session guy; just play on records and live in California. That is all I really dreamt about because seeing the rock stars when I was a kid, there just seemed no way that was going to happen, so I really appreciate everyday that is going on and what I do for a living. I do not take it for granted at all because it is crazy what has happened. I am very happy with what is going on. That is why if life ended tomorrow I would think, “Wow, that was so awesome.”
CrypticRock.com – That is unbelievable and that is a good outlook to have. Taking each day as that it is a gift you realize that you cannot take this for granted as you are touring internationally with some of the biggest bands in the world, and also making your own music as well. That is truly amazing.
John 5 – I know, I am very happy and very lucky because I never even dreamt of this when I was a kid. It just kind of fell in my lap and it was great. I remember the first fling. I think Lita Ford asked me to go play; she needed a guitar player and she said we are going to open for KISS and I said OK(laughs). I was just a studio guy, so it all started to go on from there. It was incredible.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it sounds incredible. Interestingly enough you actually tried out for Marilyn Manson two years prior to joining the band in 1998. Many would say you were part of the best line-up the band ever put together. What was that experience like over that six year period?
John 5 – It is funny cause that is true. I heard they were looking for a guitar player, and this was before they got Zim Zum, I heard they got rid of Daisy, so I called the studio in New Orleans. I was the kind of person that would go out and do crazy things that I probably would not do today, but I called the studio and said, “Hi, my name is John Lowery and I heard you may be looking for a guitar player.” They said, “We found somebody”, hung up the phone, and I thought, “Well, I guess they found somebody.” I loved the band and I was a big fan so when I got in I made sure, it is so funny because I’m telling you things I don’t usually tell people, but I made sure that all my live performances were next to perfect. I wanted to play perfectly because this is when YouTube and the internet was all starting to happen. All these performances were going on and every time I played a show I wanted it to be perfect. I took it extremely seriously when I was in Manson.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and that was a great time for you and the band as well. Obviously the departure from Manson allowed you to being your solo career with 2004’s Vertigo. That record has followed with seven studio albums. This has given audiences a chance to see a wider range of your abilities from metal, to blues, country, and even some Latino influenced guitar playing? Is it safe to say your solo material is the best example of what your all about musically?
John 5 – Absolutely 100%, because it is what I play backstage. Anybody that knows me really well where they are sitting in a room with me, that is how I play all the time. If I was not talking to you right now I would be playing just like that. It drives people fucking up a wall, but that is how I can be described, just how you said it with those instrumental records. It is just fun, I do not do it for money, I do it for the love of the guitar. This is very interesting, a lot of people ask me if I am ever going to do live shows. In October I am going to do three live shows, they are going to be streaming concerts, one for America, one for Australia, and Japan. The reason there are three is because of the time changes. They are going to be all live performances, you can stream them on the computer, and I am going to release that information very soon with tickets sales and all that stuff. People can read their questions; it is going to be a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds really cool, it sounds like it will be an interactive experience for fans, and will be worldwide so that is phenomenal and exciting.
John 5 – It is going to be really cool. Just imagine if you were too young to go to a show, or it was too far, or too much money, or if your mom won’t allow you. You can watch it on your computer and it is your personal concert. If I had a chance to do that when I was a kid and watch Van Halen or KISS, oh my god, forget it, it would be incredible.
CrypticRock.com – I agree, it sounds like a great experience and it is something to look forward to. Now you just released your newest record Careful with that Axe and it continues the journey of the prior records. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
John 5 – I always try to change it up a little but keep the same vibe, with this one I got two knucklehead, great musicians; Matt Wilson on bass and Rodger Carter on drums. We played everything live and it just was grutal. The musicianship on this record is crazy. Before I would get a drummer and say play this and stay out of the way type of thing, I would usually play bass, but now I got these guys and it is just ridiculous, over the top, and a lot of those song were played live in the studio; we captured some great stuff. I used two guitars on the whole record, one amp, and it is just such a live sounding record and performance. It was just practice and more practice. I would practice like crazy at home and then we would get together and play. It was really a lot of fun making this record.
CrypticRock.com – The record is very entertaining, there are no dull moments, and everything just flows together very nicely. Fans are really going to enjoy it.
John 5 – I really hope so. Everything means something on this record, even the title. When I got my first guitar, you know, be careful with that ax, you don’t know if it will bring you happiness, sorrow, pain, or poverty. It also has another meaning, a lot of the song titles revolve around some ax murderers and things like that so everything has a meaning with this record. I really put a lot of thought into it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that double meaning is definitely evident. You can see that it is something deeper than what the titles read and that you really have to look into it, which is intriguing as well.
John 5 – If you look into the titles, if you Google some of the things that you don’t know what they mean, like “Flight of the Vulcan Kelly”, Vulcan Kelly is a brand of an ax in the early 1900’s. Villisca is a place in Iowa where there was a horrible ax murderer. “Portrait of Sydney Sloan”, all these things mean something so it is really cool when people get into it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, definitely. It is nice and refreshing to see something that is so deep like that, especially in modern music. You do not see it too often now a days. Now you are balancing writing and recording solo material and also being an important piece of Rob Zombie. Your career with Rob Zombie has really been special over the course of three albums and consistent touring. How would you describe the working relationship on and off the stage with yourself and Rob?
John 5 – I look at Rob as my brother, best friend, and things like that, so it is such an honor to be a part of such a great band, and to have him as such a great friend as well. It is going to be 10 years coming up and it is just stronger and better than ever. I would not give this up for any band in the world. It is such a great situation and I could not be happier.
CrypticRock.com – The relationship is obviously working extremely well considering your longevity in the band. You are currently on tour through September to support Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (2013). There seems to be few breaks for yourself and the band year after year. What is your approach to staying physically and mentally healthy through all the time on the road and managing the time to write as well?
John 5 – These are questions that people really want to know. I want to know these things, I want to know how these bands stay healthy and how do they keep going. It is so important, the health part it. I eat really well, I wash my hands and I try to get really good sleep because there is nothing worse than being sick on the road. When you are sick, obviously everyone can relate to this, you want to be in your own bed, you want to have someone taking care of you, all of those things. When you are on the road, it is grutal because you have to get up on that stage and give it all you have. I try to eat really well, I am a vegan, but I am in Europe right now and I have not been getting enough of the good stuff I like to eat. It is tough and really hard. That is how I try to stay healthy. I wonder this about these other bands, about how they stay healthy. I guess they don’t, they get sick, they party, all that stuff, and it wears on them.
CrypticRock.com – You are absolutely right, balancing life and staying healthy is extremely important. If you are in this for the long haul, you cannot be partying every night. You have to get your rest, eat properly, exercise, and take care of yourself otherwise you are going to be crashing really fast.
John 5 – Right, exactly, just imagine people or your friends that go on little weekend vacations and they travel and say, “Oh my god, we just flew from New York to Florida, we are exhausted.” Imagine being in a different country every single day, doing a show at night, and not eating great. It is really tough, but I love it so we have gotten into a groove and we are just going strong.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great thing to hear that you have that balance. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and horror films. If you are a fan of horror films what are some of your favorite horror films?
John 5 – OK, here is the deal. I love Universal Monsters; Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Invisible Man, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and The Mummy. I love it. What I do before I go to bed every night, no matter where I am in the world or how tired or not tired I am, is I watch a little bit of each one of those movies. I am talking about the whole series, for example: Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Dracula (1945), Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), House of Frankenstein (1944), Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge Of The Creature (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), the list goes on and on. I will watch about fifteen or twenty minutes of one of those films and it will relax me and put me to sleep. I know those movies better than anyone (laughs). That is what I love, that is what is comforting to me. I love those movies so much and I am so lucky to have found this. Everything is from when you were a kid, what relaxes you, and you have fond memories of certain things whether it was a bike or a toy or something like that. Those are the things that were comforting to me.
CrypticRock.com – Those were some great film there. Those are classics obviously, and the Universal Series had so many good movies and there is something endearing about those old films.
John 5 – They are incredible. They are great films and are really relaxing for me. I just love them.
CrypticRock.com – With that said what is your opinion on modern horror film and all the CGI being used and that nature?
John 5 – I really enjoy movies that are realistic. I’ll see everything, but I really enjoy movies that are realistic like The Shining (1980), that could really happen. I go see everything though, I don’t pick it apart, if it is entertaining I love it. I am not a critic or anything, I just go for the entertainment and I enjoy it.