Although most of us familiarize the painted face of John 5 with his time in Marilyn Manson or his current gig with Rob Zombie, John 5’s guitar roots run deep. He picked up the guitar at age seven and rumor has it no one has seen him without a guitar in his hands since.
On May 11th John 5 offers up his new solo album “The Art of Malice”; a diverse yet cohesive collection of songs that depict his versatility and love for genre-bending with his tool of the trade. With sounds spanning from rock to country to flamenco to bluegrass John 5 offers up a technically mind-blowing instrumental cd with deeply personal songs that chronicle his life.
From the song “JW”, the nickname that his Dad called him growing up to “Can I live Again” a gut-wrenching song inspired by losing those around us and finding the will to go on to his personal homage to some of his friends and mentors in music, Ace Frehley and David Lee Roth, in “Fractured Mirror” and “Ya Dig”. Listening to this album from start to finish will give you a very intimate look into who John 5 is not only as a guitar player but as a person, his personality drives the songs while his guitar techniques continue to set new standards.
John 5’s current day job is on stage shredding with Rob Zombie. You can catch them live right now on a short co-headlining tour with Alice Cooper followed up by Rob Zombie’s headlining stint on the 2010 Mayhem Fest. We recently caught up with John 5 to talk about his new album, Zombie, Mayhem Fest and more.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette & Antonio Marino Jr.
Congrats on your new solo album “The Art of Malice” – we’re big fans. A lot of times when a guitar player releases a solo album it tends to be more attractive to guitar players rather than music fans in general. I think with your new album what you’ve accomplished is writing an album that draws in all kinds of music fans not just guitar players. Was that something you considered when writing it?
When I do an autograph session I get such a wide array of people that come to say hello. It’s hard to explain because you get the Goth kids and the shredder guys and then an older demographic and it’s great, people are just appreciating the music. I’m just trying to inspire some people and have people enjoy music. It’s not about making a ton of money, it’s just appreciating music. There’s not some big machine behind me trying to pump every dollar there is out of people, it’s not about that. This is really about music and hopefully people will appreciate.
Given your versatility and your fondness for many genres of music –how hard was it for you to rein things in and decide what you were going to put on the album given that you are drawn in a lot of different directions stylistically as a player?
I put a lot of time and thought and effort into it. I wanted to put a little bit of everything in there – some slide music that I’ve never done before, a lot of country stuff, a lot of rock stuff, a little Spanish style guitar playing. I really just wanted to have everybody be able to listen to this record and appreciate it. It’s kind of like when you have your iPod on shuffle, you don’t know what song you’re going to get and that’s the vibe that I wanted for this record.
Yeah I think you’ve really accomplished that, and even given that diversity, I still think that overall there’s cohesiveness and a definitive flow from song to song, do you agree?
Oh absolutely. It has to come from the same person – it’s all still me and my voice and that was the number one thing that I wanted to do. Have my own voice and my own style and not sound like Eddie or Jimmy Page, I just wanted my own voice.
You’ve described the album title “The Art of Malice” as a take on a good approach to still obtain a dark result. Do you feel that’s the approach you took with this album overall?
I think it’s the overall approach – it’s like “kill them with kindness”. That was my approach. The whole album is going back on my life. “JW” is what my Dad use to call me, “Fractured Mirror” is a tribute to Ace Frehley. He really inspired me and that song specifically inspired me to start playing guitar, “The S Lot” is a place at my old high school, so a lot of the songs and feelings are about my life. This is my fifth record so there’s a lot of meaning behind it. The song “Ya Dig” is a tribute to Van Halen, Dave Roth is one of my good friends. In instances where someone might say “um” or “ya know” he always says “ya dig”.
Speaking of “Fractured Mirror”, have you played that for Ace or do you know if he’s heard it yet?
I haven’t played it for Ace but he knows I’m doing the cover. I actually played “Fractured Mirror” with him before, we always have guitars in our hands so we jammed a little bit so that was really cool.
The songs on this album all seem quite personal but one of the standout tracks for me was “JW” which sounds like something that would have fit perfectly on a Danny Gatton or Chet Atkins CD. Where did that song come from?
It came from both of those styles – Danny Gatton and Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, Albert Lee – so yes it’s that kind of thing, that’s for sure. That’s who inspires me and what I like to play like. I like to put my little spin on it but there’s definitely a lot of Danny Gatton and Chet Atkins on that song.
I think “Can I Live Again” is my favorite song on the album. It’s a beautiful song that has an almost theatrical feel to it – what can you tell us about it?
That was a song that is about a time where I had so many deaths in my family and you’re just in this black hole and it really affects your life so dramatically when something like that happen. Things just kept on snowballing in a bad way. Businesswise things have always been good-knock on wood-but my personal life was so bad. It was almost a good vs. bad with the business side and my music career so good but the personal side was always so bad. It was only getting worse and worse and that’s what that song is about, “Can I Live Again”, can I be what I was before. It really was like I don’t think so. I don’t know if I can. I’m not all the way there yet, it’s still a question.
What song on the album was most rewarding for you to write, record, and complete?
I like “The Nightmare Unravels”, that’s the one that’s posted online now. I think it sums me up pretty good. The song “The Art of Malice” actually was just me checking my clean guitar sound and I did this little solo thing and it worked out really nice. Actually someone was videotaping me doing that, so that’s actually online how I recorded that too, and that was the take that was used for the record. I wasn’t really trying to record a song I was just checking my guitar and it sounded so good we just kept it.
This marks your 5th solo release (not counting the remix CD) I know you have your hands full with Zombie but do you foresee doing something like Satriani’s G3, where you tour exclusively as a solo act for a whole tour ?
I do, I think that would be a lot of fun. I was doing these clinics and they were a lot of fun because it was interactive; I got to meet fans and you can’t really do that at a club. I would shake everyone’s hand, listen to what they had to say and take their questions and I really enjoyed that. It was free, it was all ages, and I think it’s really the way to go. I think I’d like to do more of something like that because I was able to perform as well and people really enjoyed it a lot. Where else can you meet the artist, get a performance, shake a hand get an autograph – I mean if I could go to a Van Halen show like that…
Yeah that would be pretty special! Two of the bands you looked up to when you were learning how to play guitar were KISS and Van Halen –you’ve now recorded with Paul Stanley and David Lee Roth and you got to jam on Ace’s DVD – given those checks on the bucket list who would you still like to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Prince one day. I think that would be fun. He’s amazing.
You’ve always placed an importance on being able to deliver many different styles of guitar playing – what advice would you give to young guitarists that are still looking to find their niche?
I would say that if you’re still learning and starting out then definitely play what you love. If you love Metallica, learn a Metallica song, because that will make you want to play. If your favorite song is “You Really Got Me”, learn a couple riffs of that song and you’ll always have a guitar in your hand. You’ll learn those few notes and you’ll always have the guitar in your hand and you’ll get more and more comfortable with it. That’s what I did, I loved certain songs and that’s what I learned and I always had a guitar in my hand. That’s the most important thing, you don’t want the teacher to teach you something like “Happy Birthday”. That’s not very inspiring to play.
You’ve always been pretty clear about how influential country music has been to you and how much of a fan you are. Today there seems to be a real defined line between “old country” and “new country”. Are you a fan of both?
I listen to all country, it doesn’t matter if it’s new or old. I love when a story is told because I can’t write lyrics but I always appreciate when a good story is told, it’s so fascinating to me that someone can tell a story in three minutes and forty seconds. I like storytellers – Hank Williams, Doc Watson, Dwight Yoakam, even The Dixie Chicks, anything like that is just really good stuff.
I read an interview you did for Fender where you talked about “chicken picking” and how you liked to incorporate it into rock music. And it’s probably no secret that most rock fans in general are not huge country fans so how much fun is it for you to do that and maybe introduce people to something they haven’t heard before but might actually enjoy?
That’s the whooooooole point. People’s eyes are so shut about certain kinds of music but if you incorporate it into rock music in a different style people can appreciate it. People always want something different, you always want to evolve, you always want to move ahead and I’m just trying to inspire some people to open their eyes and open their ears to something new. There’s a whole world of music out there and you could learn some country licks and put them into a heavy rock song – which I’ve done. People enjoy it and that’s all I ever wanted. I’m not doing this to make a ton of money, I’m trying to inspire people – that’s what these records are about. I want people to expand their minds so I’ll be buying their albums in the future.
It was recently revealed that Joey Jordison from Slipknot will be joining the Zombie gang out on tour this summer on drums -– how did that fall into place?
Our drummer quit and we were like “Huh, let’s see, who do we know?” And I mentioned Joey, who’s a friend of mine, to Rob because I knew Slipknot had a little down time while the guys were working on the Stone Sour album. Joey said he was down and it’s great because I’ve known Joey forever, for probably ten years and it’s so much fun to have him up there. He’s a friend, so it’s really great.
I can’t wait, I’m really looking forward to that tour, and it’s going to be a fun summer.
I’m looking forward to it too! We haven’t played an actual show yet, we played the Golden Gods show but I’m really looking forward to the tour and the live shows.
The period immediately following your time in Manson, from a fan stand point, seemed chaotic. I was wondering if there was ever a point in the aftermath of that where you considered continuing your career as John Lowery and leaving the John 5 persona behind?
That’s a great question. I wanted to release an instrumental record and in doing that I wanted to keep the name because no one in Russia or Australia knows me as John Lowery, they all know me as John 5. It’s just like when Ace Frehley left KISS, he wasn’t going to go back to being Paul Frehley, he’s going to stay Ace Frehley. That’s what I did, I don’t have any bad blood towards Manson, we’re friends and I was proud of my years with him so I kept the name.