“When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you” – Walter Payton
Undoubtedly, John 5 is one of the most predominate and talented guitar players to grace the music industry in a long time. To call him the Beethoven of guitar would only be a start as he has mastered the art of playing anything that he tries so effortlessly and with complete brilliance. From playing heavy metal guitar music with Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson to a more classic rock genre with Lynyrd Skynyrd as well as country, jazz or Spanish guitar riffs, John 5 is truly a legend of our time. As he prepares to go out on two tours, one with Zombie and one with his own band John 5 & The Creatures, two albums about to be released and a film score in the works, we were fortunate enough to get some time with him.
John 5 came to Los Angeles, CA as John Lowery from Gross Pointe, MI when he was 18 years old. “My family was well off and I never even had to work, just had things done for me but when I moved to Los Angeles, I had no money and was living in a small rehearsal space and I was just so happy. It was really exciting because I knew I was starting my life. I just started playing clubs and learning the do’s and don’ts of the music business and it was the best time of my life.” His love of playing the guitar started at a really young age when he became obsessed with watching Universal monster movies and TV shows like Happy Days, Heehaw and The Monkees where people would pick up a guitar and start playing really inspired him and made him want to do exactly that. At the age of 7 is when John started taking music lessons and when he saw the band KISS, John 5 tells us “they were like monsters with guitars and it was the best thing ever. From then on I started practicing every single day, even when I’m sick. The only time I don’t play the guitar is when I am traveling. I am glad I found music, or better yet, it found me.” His stage name was established during a meeting with Marilyn Manson, an industrial rock artist. “We met at Gaucho Grill on Ventura Blvd. I showed up and Manson was sitting there in a Loverboy t-shirt and red sunglasses. This was the first time I had met him and he hadn’t even asked me to play a note but he loved my work and so we just started talking. Manson asked me to join the band and he was very much into numbers at the time so when I agreed, he told me my name would then be John 5 and so I went home and started practicing my autograph as John 5 because I knew I was going to have to start signing my name that way and it was a total name change and I have kept it since.” It became quite unclear as to the reason behind John 5 leaving Marilyn Manson but he recalls certain things that did occur and could be a tell-tale sign of what was happening. “To be honest, I think it all started when Tim Skold was in the band and it was kind of like a relationship where someone stirs their tea a certain way it gets on the other person’s nerves and I was basically the guy stirring the tea and it just seemed to happen.”
When one door closes an even bigger one opens and that was exactly what happened next in John 5’s career. “It was very exciting! I have always been a huge fan of Rob Zombie’s and once we played a few shows together at Ozzfest, he asked me to come into the studio and play guitar on the album Educated Horses so I said absolutely and from there we went to Scott Humphrey’s house to record. It was really cool and then I just joined the band and we became writing partners and it just progressed.” When it came to writing with Zombie, John 5’s first experience was on the Venomous Regeneration Rat Vendor album that was released in 2014 and another album coming out soon but the release date is not quite set yet. “This new album we have coming out is really something special to me” John 5 conveys. “I love it so much and listen to it a lot. It’s really fun because it’s heavy. It has that Zombie sound that is cool and heavy and has great hook parts. People are going to love it and I cannot wait for it to come out and for everyone to hear it. Since Zombie not only does music, he is also a preeminent horror film writer and director, this has given John 5 the chance to work on film scores. Most recently, Zombie’s 2013 film The Lords Of Salem was the perfect vehicle for John 5 to write and score a film so he jumped at the offer when Zombie asked him to do it. “It was a lot of work with the movie work and the orchestra work, it was crazy. But it came out so well” John 5 raves. “There are some great themes in the film. I am currently working on the score for Zombie’s new film 31 and it is going to be incredible. It’s different from doing a record because of so many instruments and time signatures and keys and stuff like that. My days are so crazy but as the movie is edited, I will receive scenes and pieces to put music to but it changes frequently” John 5 says. As a fan of horror films himself, John 5 is also a super fan of the Universal monster and creature films. “They’re very comforting to me, like a warm blanket” John mentions. “I could never see myself acting in any of those films or acting in general because that is not my comfort level. I am a crazy guitarist and I don’t want to do anything that I can’t submerge myself in 150% but to do the music and the scoring for a film like that would be ideal.”
As a guitarist who has played with many different artists in various genres and styles, John 5 feels that he is now able to utilize his most inner creative genius in working with Zombie. “I would say all of the music I have written for people over the years, I have been comfortable with it and I love all of the artists I have been able to work with over the years but none more than with Zombie” he confirms. “I did feel a little uncomfortable working with Ricky Martin since everything was in Spanish but with all of the people I have worked with, I knew their catalog sometimes better than they did and knew what they were talking about so even if it was a little out of my comfort zone, once I started to play guitar, it all came together.” John 5 goes on to say that with Zombie, he is the most comfortable he has ever been and it is something exceptionally special and everything fits like a glove and is everything he loves to play.
With the release of John 5’s eighth solo album Careful With That Axe on August 12, 2014 as well as scoring the film 31, two upcoming tours in support of both his new album and Zombie, time management is key and it is not always easy. John 5 tells us “the Zombie tour is first and then I will be home for a day, then I will be off on my instrumental tour. It will be challenging but I will do it and it is what I love. Sometimes it is hard though because I miss things at home but it is what I do and I would never ever take it for granted.” John 5 loves to meet new people because he remembers when he was just a kid in the crowd so he thoroughly enjoys being able to engage with his fans and to hear the reactions and applause when he performs. “Meeting a fan, well it could change their life like it did for me when I would go to concerts.” One thing John 5 made sure to mention is how he has always been a fan of Zombie’s and that even before he was in the band, he would bring headphones with him every time he visited the dentist and listen to Zombie. “It was my thing, so when I was asked to join the band, it was a real honor because I was just a fan at some point and now I am playing with one of my favorites so it is important to always take the time to meet those people who support you” John 5 says. With having to balance so many projects and still make time for people, John 5 has a philosophy and a method similar to that of the President of the United States and how he schedules his itineraries or tasks in 10-15 minute intervals and it helps a lot but also gives him a more clear idea of how to make things happen in the smoothest way possible.
In an ever-changing music industry, John 5 discusses how he feels about this era where people don’t pay for music much anymore. He says “it is strange to say but it’s like saying people don’t pay for food anymore. If you are hungry, you buy food. It should be the same with music. If you want to have something, you should pay for it.” Even with his own kids, there is a confusion on the whole matter because they come from the digital age and when he recalls the days of having to wait in line at Tower Records for an album to come out, they just sit there in disbelief. “It is foreign to the younger generation because they can just go on the internet and get music on demand” John says. We agreed that music seemed to be more of a special thing when you had to wait for it to come out and wait in line and if it sold out, you went to another store. The process of opening an album and seeing the artwork, holding the music in your hand, there is something to be said for that. With John 5 working on his next album, his plans are to go about things in a different way and release a song and a video each month rather than an entire album at once. “Since people can just go online and pick which song they want, I find it more exciting and inspiring to come up with all different styles of music, almost like having your iPod on shuffle mode. One song can be like Metallica and another might resemble a Steely Dan tune but what I love about writing is to come up with music that is exciting to me and to release it in a way the listener can keep finding ways to be entertained” John 5 tells us.
Previously, John 5 and Zombie were on VH-1’s That Metal Show and there was discussion about how they recorded Zombie’s most recent album Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor at Zombie’s studio which is at his home which was such a wonderful environment to work in as opposed to having to fight traffic on the busy Los Angeles freeways or put up with so many distractions and everyone having to do this or that which delays or shortens the session. “You’re already there so once you’re there, it’s easier to concentrate and it’s very important and the album gets done and it is done well” John 5 says.” While there weren’t as many distractions, there was one and that was between Zombie’s dog and John 5’s pajamas he would wear to the studio and around. John 5 laughs and says “it was so weird because the dog and I got along, we were buddies but for whatever reason, maybe the color, I don’t know, it made him crazy and he would bark and try to bite my pajamas. It was totally bizarre.” John 5 goes on about how he loves to wear this skeleton onesie and owns a few of them. “I will wear them for an entire day and people will come over to the house to do some work and I’ll have them come in and I am sure they think it’s insane and it’s hilarious. But I love those things and since they stopped making them I have to be careful not to rip them.”
Writing music is one thing John 5 is a known genius for and John 5 does his best to come up with a good hook, something aggressive, good melody, something that gives you that feeling inside. Working with different artists over the years to collaborate, John 5 says “I am just so content right now working with Rob and that whoever comes along, I am grateful and happy to work with them. I mean after working with the people I have worked with how can I even wish for more?” As for the future, John 5 would be excited for any opportunities and being such a diverse guitar player, his favorite style to play is rock music followed by country and Spanish but he practices all different styles every day to keep it fresh so it doesn’t get stale and because it is so exciting to learn new things he just enjoys it all. John 5 remembers his very first guitar and it was a Fender Stratocaster, one of the greatest out there today and it was such an amazing guitar. “I met Stevie Ray Vaughn and he signed the guitar, regretfully, I traded it for a Kramer guitar and I felt like such an idiot” John 5 says with disbelief. “ I always kick myself for that every minute but my wife bought me the same guitar, same look and style and it was so incredible. My signature guitar is a Fender Tele. I play it so much and I love this guitar so much, it’s my whole world, my everything. It’s exactly what I have always wanted for my guitar and it is such an honor to be with that company.”
John 5 and The Creatures is John’s solo band and was inspired by his love of creature films. I just thought of the name and about the old movies in the 50’s so I just figured it would be so cool to take from that” John 5 says. With a packed schedule of shows coming up John 5 plans to do kind of like an instrumental Alice Cooper kind of show. He tells us “I love instrumental shows but I wanted to do something a little different, something that was a little more of a show. Because there is so much going on during an instrumental show with the different musicians have trouble dragging their girlfriends out to the shows because they’d rather do anything but so I thought why not put together a really cool show so everyone can enjoy it.” The first show will be in Ramona, CA which is near San Diego on November 4th and then on November 5th at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood. John 5 says “we are doing the tour with Doyle from Ex-Misfits and I love Doyle, he’s awesome. He is like a real life superhero, he is incredible, he is one of my favorite people.”
With so much going on for John 5 this upcoming year, it is crystal clear that he deserves a vacation once everything is done. John 5 says “it has been a long time since my wife and I have gone on a vacation and I think we deserve one.” On such a sentimental note, as we ended the interview, John 5 made sure to thank us for such a fun interview full of great questions and that he appreciated our time. Well John 5, we appreciated yours too and we look forward to all of your solo work, films and projects with Zombie.