John 5 has seen almost everything in Rock music. He's toured with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie (with whom he's currently rockin') and been credited on songs from a wide range of artists — from Saliva to Salt n Pepa to k.d. lang to an upcoming collaboration with Rod Stewart. The guitarist has gained the reputation as a musical genius and one of the most action-packed guitarists in the world. He has just released his sixth solo album, God Told Me To, which mixes acoustic Spanish guitar along with Metal riffs.
CityBeat caught up with the guitar player to talk about the new album and some of the darker aspects of what goes into his writing, as well as the lighter aspects help put him to sleep every night. John 5 will take the stage with headliner Rob Zombie this Sunday at Rock on the Range in Columbus.
CityBeat: Can you tell us about the name of your album, God Told Me To?
John 5: The name, it is funny because … I am from Michigan, I am from Grosse Pointe. I was upper class growing up there. I was brought up in a really nice environment and home and I remember the night before I was leaving for California to really give it my shot saying, “I am going to try this. I am going to try to be this musician type of thing.” I remember I was saying my little prayer. I never wished to be a “rock star.” I just wanted to be a working musician. My dreams didn’t even go past a session player or a working musician. It was too far beyond my dreams. That’s kind of what the title means, that kind of thing, but also you can look at in the negative way, like when someone does a horrific murder, they always say, “Oh, God told me to.”
CB: I have read a lot of discussion in your recent interviews about serial killers and even the song “Night Stalker” being written about Richard Ramirez. Do you have an interest in serial killers and the history and stories behind them?
J5: I think it is interesting to me about how the mind works and how someone is wired, how their mind works, how it is completely OK to do these things, which I could never even think of doing something like that. It was always so interesting to read about this or watch documentaries. It is so odd for something like that to happen, so I have always had this little fascination with it — not that I am pro-for that kind of thing or anything but it is just very interesting to see something like that.
CB: I got a copy of the album and have been listening to it today. I love the acoustic Spanish-style versions on some of the songs. I know you are a lifelong learner. Did you take specific lessons around Flamenco or Spanish-style guitar lessons?
J5: Yes, I have always tried to learn, it is what keeps me sane. I love to learn and I started doing a lot of studying of Spanish-style music and really started getting into it and how it is just a completely different form of guitar playing. It is just like if you started speaking in a different language like Japanese or something. It is something that you have to study and work at a lot. That is what I enjoy because I love the guitar so much. Yes, I did a lot of studying and research on that.
CB: What current music is inspiring me right now?
J5: What current music is inspiring? You know what, and this will be a surprise, but I usually am very honest. I have had a little epiphany and this is very shocking. I was watching some movie or something like that and a N.W.A. song was on and I am no fan of Rap music, I really am not because I like the guitar. So I heard this N.W.A. song, I think it was “Gangsta Gangsta,” and I was like, “This is really, really, really good.” It was eye-opening to me and I appreciate it now. I was pretty taken back by it. I would have to say N.W.A. (is a current inspiration), which I can’t believe I am saying but it is the truth.
CB: There are a lot of bands right now collaborating outside their genres. Korn has collaborated with Skrillex and trying to create a lot of different sounds which would traditionally maybe not be in Metal music.
J5: Sure, and I think it is very important for that to happen because of the fact music has to always evolve and if it doesn’t, it has failed. It is good that it is evolving.—-
CB: I know that you are always writing constantly. How did you narrow the songs for the album?
J5: I kind of would write a certain thing and I would say, “It would be really cool if I had something like this next…” because I like a nice flow to the record and a lot of people don’t like the shredding thing all the time — I don’t even. This is coming from me. I like a nice even flow to everything and the acoustic stuff is a nice breather to everything that is going on.
CB: I know you have worked with Country music in the past. Is there any chance you would get involved with Country music more than just writing?
J5: I don’t know because I love Country music … maybe. Maybe when I am too old to jump around stage like a monkey, (then) maybe I will because I really love Country music. I love Loretta Lynn and I love Roy Clark and Johnny Cash, everybody. I just really appreciate it a lot, for sure.
CB: Every year you play the Dimebag Bash tribute (to late guitarist Dimebag Darrell) out in L.A. Did you do that this year and why is that important to you?
J5: I did do that (this year) and it is important because we are celebrating a great talent and a great human being. He was a friend of mine. It gives me a good feeling. I knew Dimebag and I loved him. It gives me a good feeling to do that so why not.
CB: Getting back to the new album, my favorite song was “The Lust Killer.” Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind that song?
J5: The Lust Killer, that was, I forget where he was from, but he was this serial killer and that was his nickname, the Lust Killer. I love that song. It was a lot of fun, great production in that one. That one took a lot of time writing, I took a lot of time and attention to it, harmonies and melodies. It was one of my favorites, too.
CB: Last week was the anniversary of Columbine and I know that you and the band went through a hard time when you were with Marilyn Manson following that event. Does that affect you in any way every year when the anniversary rolls around?
J5: Well, whenever I hear about it, it does affect me and it is just (that) I think it was so traumatic to the parents and the loved ones of the people that perished and it must be the worst thing in the world. They live with this every day. When we hear about Columbine, we always hang our heads a little bit, it is an awful travesty but these people that have lost their children and they deal with this agonizing loss every single day. It must be the worst thing in the world.
CB: I know you are playing the same day as Marilyn Manson this time at Rock on the Range. When was the last time that you saw him? I’m sure you will run into each other that day.
J5: I saw him at the Golden God Awards and I didn’t say, "Hi." Ginger, his old drummer is playing with us in Rob Zombie. It’s fine. We don’t have any bad blood. We are adults; it’s fine. We have no problems with each other whatsoever. I know it would make a great story if we did, but we don’t.
CB: I do have a few fun questions, just the first thing that comes to your head as we finish up. What was your worst job you have ever had?
J5: Worst job I have ever had, I know, I was cleaning carpets. It was terrible.
CB: Do you have any scars?
J5: I was bit by a dog when I was little and I have a scar on my right arm, but my arm is so tattooed I haven’t seen it. I guess it is still there, it has to be there.
CB: What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
J5: That is a great question. Great question. Some people say brush their teeth or masturbate, whatever they say, but what I do, this is great. I watch horror movies, the Frankensteins, Dracula, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invisible Man, Wolf Man. I watch those Universal old horror movies, every night, every night before I go to bed. So I watch 20 minutes when I am really tired, I turn it off and go to bed. That is exactly what I do before I go to bed.
CB: Do you do that with (Rob Zombie bassist) Piggy D, because I interviewed him last year and he said he loved the horror movies as well.
J5: I know he watches movies but I don’t think they are horror movies. They have to be the Universal horror movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, Creature of the Black Lagoon, Invisible Man. It has to be that series.
CB: What is the best guitar solo of all time?
J5: Maybe (Eddie Van Halen's) “Eruption.”
CB: “Beat It” did make me smile on the new album.
J5: “Beat It” is a close second.
CB: Are you planning any solo touring on the new album or are you going to use the Zombie dates to promote it?
J5: I’m so busy, maybe, I don’t know. We are so busy. We are going to start making a Zombie record after the tour. I don’t know but if I get some time I am definitely going to do it.
CB: Are you going to be playing any new stuff at Rock on the Range?
J5: No, we want to keep that under wraps. I have been also doing that Lords of Salem soundtrack, but we have a ton of ideas for the new album.