John 5′s resume reads like a who’s who of hard rock and heavy metal frontmen. Having held down jobs with such diverse acts as Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth, Rob Halford, and now Rob Zombie, John 5 is well versed in the art of playing on other peoples’ records – check out his killer work on Zombie’s latest CD, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, where he adds all sorts of greasy blues-influenced licks to Zombie’s brand of dark rock. For his own solo work though, John 5 combines his equal loves of metal, rock, shred and even country into a distinctive sound, capped off with the stunning displays of guitar technique that he rarely got to show off in his various high-profile day jobs (well, maybe with DLR). I caught up with John 5 to discuss his fifth CD, The Art Of Malice, which is out now.
Did you start with a concept for The Art Of Malice?
Well it was my fifth instrumental record, so it was very special for me. It was something that was… I wanted everything in there. Everything and the kitchen sink. All kinds of music, all bits and pieces going everywhere. Country, heavy rock, metal, acoustic, Spanish flamenco, everything is in there. So I wanted to do it all.
And also, Steve Vai’s got his whole ‘seven’ thing, how the seventh track on each of his albums is the big ballad and all that stuff. You’ve managed to beat him by having your number be five!
(Laughs) That’s true!
One of my favourite things on the album is the title track, where we can hear you flip the pickup switch…
I love that because usually you’d edit that kind of thing out, but hearing little details like this is just great!
Oh yeah! I like doing things in one take, not chopping them all up but just doing certain things and not overdubbing.
What can you tell us about that track?
The true story is, I was doing a clean guitar part for the song The Nightmare Unravels, and I was testing the clean sound and I was playing around with some licks and stuff like that, and we were recording it to see how the clean sound was, and so I could listen back to it, and it sounded so good the engineer was like, ‘We should make this a little track.’ I kept working on it and doing a couple of different things to make it a little longer, but I think it came out really good. So it was kind of an improv thing, a spontaneous piece of music that really came out really nice.
How much of your work is improvised?
None! (Laughs) None! Really, it’s all, everything is planned out and everything is thought out and tried and turned around, and things like that. WIth this kind of stuff it’s very difficult to do so I don’t improvise at all!
Where did you record the album?
What I did was I would write at home, then I would rehearse, rehearse, rehearse at home. I would just get it all down, then I would go into a studio, and usually the track would get done in somewhere close to an hour because I was so rehearsed. I knew what I was doing, so it was mostly getting it down at home.
I hate being one of those journalists who is like ‘Well I read on Wikipedia,’ but…
(Laughs) No, that’s fine!
But I read that with David Lee Roth, when you recorded the DLR Band album, that was only two weeks?
Yeah! We recorded and mixed it and everything in two weeks. And it was all done at like 6 o’clock in the morning, too! I was playing with Rob Halford too, so we would rehearse at noon, and Dave would want be before Rob Halford, so we would rehearse at six in the morning. True story!
Speaking of DLR, your track Ya Dig, with Billy Sheehan, has a bit of the same vibe as Slam Dunk from the DLR Band album.
Yeah! And the reason it’s called Ya Dig is because Dave’s a good friend of mine, and when he talks, when people say ‘y’know,’ they say ‘y’know’. But what Dave says is ‘ya dig?’ like ‘Maybe we should go to the beach, ya dig? They have this great food there, ya dig?’ And there is nobody but Billy Sheehan who does the Billy Sheehan bass playin’. It was incredible. Incredible. Oh man, he’s the best.
There’s a bit of slide on the album. When did you get into slide?
I love slide. I’ve always been into slide. I love Pink Floyd and David Gilmour, but everyone always looks at me as this crazy shredder and stuff like that. But I really wanted to show people that I love music, and I love guitar playing, and I love guitars. Can I Live Again, with that nice melody and all that, that’s one of the most popular songs on the album. It’s really cool because I’m reaching everybody. There’s everything on there for everybody.
I love the little honky midrange tone at the start of Steel Guitar Rag.
I’m using my Fender Broadcaster on that. We just took a lot of the lows out in the studio, and then it kicks in with that nice steel guitar rag, and it’s one of my favourite tracks on the record. It’s hard to play with a clean tone but it’s one of my favourite things to do. When I’m on tour I always have a guitar in my hand, and I have a little battery powered amp, and it doesn’t get a lot of distortion, so it’s always clean.
There’s a cool cover of Ace Frehley’s Fractured Mirror…
I loved KISS when I was a kid, and that was my introduction to instrumental music. It’s my tribute, saying thank you to Ace.
And Last Page Turned sounds like a tribute to Jimmy Page?
That’s right. My favourite stuff was always his acoustic work on Physical Graffiti and Led Zeppelin 3. That’s where I got it. He’s amazing. I love him.
Now: guitar talk! The Fender J5 Triple Tele Deluxe is awesome!
Thanks! Everybody knows I love my Telecasters. It was the first solidbody electric guitar in 1950, and I just started playing Teles early on in my life, but no-one really played them in rock and metal that much, so I kinda wanted to design them so more people were able to enjoy this incredible instrument. So that’s why I designed the Triple Tele. It’s kind of like the Black Beauty Les Paul. And there’s a lot of chrome on it and it looks amazing and it sounds incredible. But I just put out a Squier version of my main model, and it’s priced to sell. Everyone can afford one of those, and they’re great guitars. You’ll have those forever. I have one with me in the studio. All the guitars Fender produces for me are unbelievable.
Yeah, the quality of Squiers is so much better than the stuff I started out with!
Absolutely, of course! They’re great, great guitars, and they’re very inexpensive so everybody can afford them, but they’re fabulous guitars. I’m online playing them, and I love it. I love it.
And the Telecaster in general is such an immediate-sounding instrument. Why do you think they’re not so much associated with rock?
I think because when it came out in the early 50s, rock n’roll wasn’t even around yet – y’know, rock n’roll didn’t really come in until 1955 – and everybody played Teles and they just played country music. So I think they got pigeonholed really quickly as being a country guitar. But y’know, in the 60s and 70s, Steely Dan played a Tele… the Stones of course, the Beatles, Jimmy Page. I started playing it in Manson, and Jim Root plays one in Slipknot and Stone Sour, so it’s my favourite guitar. It’s the best in the world.
The J5 Bigsby Telecaster is very cool.
I just play with the Bigsby a little bit for vibrato and things like that, and at the ends of songs you’ll hear me shake it and things like that. But I love the Bigsby, y’know? I really love it. I think it looks rad and I think it sounds rad, y’know?
And I believe you’re using DiMarzio D Activator pickups?
Yeah. To be completely honest, I’m not a huge tone chaser. I love guitars, but I’m not a huge amp guy. But pickups …Larry DiMarzio’s a friend of mine and he’s always like, ‘Oh you’ve got to check these out.’ And they just sounded so good. That’s how I am in the studio: if it sounds good, ‘alright, cool!’ Some people will fiddle with sounds for hours and hours but I just don’t think I have the patience for it, for just trying to find that perfect sound. But I think that’s why I have great engineers to do it for me. Because I’ll plug into a little battery-powered amp and play, just as long as I can play. Your fingers will get that tone for you. Eddie Van Halen says ‘I can pick up any guitar and I sound like Eddie Van Halen,’ because it’s in his fingers.
Any guitars on your wish list that you don’t have yet?
Yes! A Fender Nocaster. What the Nocaster was is, Fender came out with their first guitar in 1950, which was the Broadcaster, and they got sued by Gretsch, who had the Broadcaster drum set. So Fender had to take the Broadcaster part off of the headstock. So the collectors call them Nocasters. This was in 1951. So that’s what I’m looking for!
Do you have any plans to come down to Australia any time soon?
Actually yes! We might come down there with Zombie in February. I’m hoping, because it’s one of my favourite places in the world, but that plane ride’s a son of a bitch! It’s a long one.
Aaah, Rob Zombie. There’s hasn’t been a more prolific musician/filmmaker since… well, since the 80s when David Lee Roth claimed Van Halen were getting up to all sorts of adults-only hi-jinx on video. Interestingly, like Roth and his reunion with Van Halen, Zombie has also looked to the past to define his present. Nope, he’s not reforming White Zombie, at least not any time soon: rather, this album is a sequel to 1997′s ‘Hellbilly Deluxe.’
‘Jesus Frankenstein’ opens with a riff that my ears hear as a nod to Black Sabbath, followed by ANOTHER nod-to-Sabbath riff, before John 5 unleashes an epic, mournful note of doom from the deep (check it out, between 1:28-1:29 – something about that one note is just so friggin’ cool!). Finally – almost2 minutes into the song – the slightly bluesy, totally rocking’ main riff kicks in. The syncopated riffage in the verse actually sounds a little like Dream Theater. There’s a bit of a Sabbath vibe in ‘Sick Bubblegum’ as well, or maybe ‘No More Tears’-era Ozzy. Cool! Yet at the same time, for all the ‘sounds like this’ and ‘sounds like that’ comparisons flung about by this reviewer, the results are unmistakably Zombie.
‘Mars Needs Women’ includes more bluesy playing from John 5 (this time on acoustic) before morphing into another stomping, Ozzy-esque rocker. Oh and ‘Virgin Witch’ also sounds like something by Sabbath, especially with the clanging church bells at the start. And yet again it still sounds like Zombie. Seriously dude, every track on this album has at least some element which makes me think “Well… I love Ozzy but his best work sure hasn’t been included on his last three albums… maybe Rob Zombie’s the heir apparent to that sound now…’ If we ever see Zombie hurling himself off quad bikes, biting the heads off stuff and living in a house overrun by a litter of pomeranians, we’ll know I’m right.
Of course, being a Rob Zombie recording there are all sorts of samples, sound effects and ear candy. It all adds to the colour and spectacle, and makes it kinda hard to treat Hellbilly Deluxe 2 as background music. It demands either your complete attention or maybe to share your attention with the highway as you blast along in your converted dune buggy.
Ok, back to the songs. I dig the tom-tom assault on ‘Werewolf, Baby’ and the slinky, slidey flair added by John 5. In fact, Mr 5 is really kicking ass with the rhythm guitars on this album. He’s known as such a phenomenal soloist that it’s kinda easy to forget the intensity of the muscular riffage he unleashes throughout his work with Zombie and with Marilyn Manson.
‘Death And Destiny Inside The Dream Factory’ reaches back to early 70s glam of the Bowie/Bolan variety – I don’t know if you could picture RobZombie in skintight, spangly lycra with a red rooster mullet, but you don’t really need to picture it because you can hear it here. Or at least, a Star Wars cantina bar version of it.
‘Burn’ has a killer downtuned riff that kinda sounds like Tool if they get drunk on the wine Maynard makes these days and started grooving on the dancefloor. There’s also a great 70s-style pentatonic riff section which must be loads of fun to play, followed by more John 5 slide work. I haven’t heard this much slide guitar on a metal album since… wait, I’ve never heard this much slide on a metal album. The song itself probably isn’t one of the standouts but the idea was worth exploring.
‘Cease To Exist’ has another sample-heavy intro followed by an almost shuffling groove – truly this album is space blues for the year 3000, and this track is like Pink Floyd got gothed up for Halloween and forgot to dress back down to civvies again on November 1.
‘Werewolf Women Of The SS’ – Now there’s a song that writes itself. I dig this one for its energy and overall outrageousness, even if it kinda leans on a similar chord progression to ‘Death And Destiny.’ Cool guitar solo with lots of true melody and composition.
Finally we come to ‘The Man Who Laughs’. Pretty fast, rockin’ song to end on, and it’d make a great gig opener. It’s hard to pinpoint what I dig so much about this one – I think I’m just a sucker for those symphonic strings over the top of such a straightforward metal riff. In all honesty I think a better vocal melody could have been found for the chorus – it’s kinda a letdown compared to the rest of the song – but meh, I forgive them this time because the rest of the song is so cool. Did I mention there’s a drum solo? Cos there’s a drum solo.
This is a tricky time for Rob Zombie. With his increasingly successful film career, he can’t afford to take too much time out from that in order to tend to his music career, so he has to really make each musical moment count. There are some great standout moments on this CD, and while some of the songwriting is a bit derivative and some of the tracks are verging on filler, it’s still a pretty strong effort that will hopefully keep Zombie at his current level of success so he will continue staging those huge stage shows full of robots and monsters and stuff.
Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is out now on Roadrunner.
MOVES TO ROADRUNNER RECORDS
LOUD & PROUD IMPRINT TO RELEASE HELLBILLY DELUXE 2 IN EARLY 2010
New York, NY – In a sudden and unexpected move, multi-platinum hard rock artist Rob Zombie has inked a new worldwide deal with leading rock label Roadrunner Records through its Loud & Proud imprint.
This shocking announcement comes as Zombie exits his former label of eighteen years, where he sold fifteen million records as a solo artist and with his former band White Zombie. Zombie’s new album, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, previously set for release on 11/17 will now be released by Roadrunner / Loud & Proud Records in early 2010.
“It certainly wasn’t an easy decision to make after all this time, but it had to be done,” states Zombie. “I love this new record and wanted to surround myself with an excited new group of people who can reignite my enthusiasm for working within a hard rock record label. Roadrunner seems to be the perfect place.”
“Roadrunner is thrilled to be involved with Rob Zombie on a worldwide basis as he is a multiple-threat artist whom we’ve admired for many years,” said Roadrunner president Jonas Nachsin.
Tom Lipsky, founder and president of Loud & Proud echoed Nachsin’s sentiment, “Rob Zombie hits hard on Hellbilly Deluxe 2 and the fans expect nothing less. We are excited about the monster mayhem that he is certain to create!”
The first single from the new album, “What?” recently launched at all rock radio formats and is quickly climbing the charts. This latest album marks the follow-up to 1998’s triple platinum Hellbilly Deluxe.
The track listing is as follows:
1. Jesus Frankenstein
2. Sick Bubblegum
4. Mars Needs Women
5. Werewolf, Baby!
6. Virgin Witch
7. Death and Destiny Inside The Dream Factory
9. Cease to Exist
10. Werewolf Women of the SS
11. The Man Who Laughs
In support of this release Zombie, will kick off his first headline tour since 2007 in Phoenix, AZ on October 29th. Shows in Las Vegas, NV on the 30th, and a very special Halloween event on October 31st in Hollywood, CA are set to follow. Zombie will be accompanied by his longtime band mates – guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D and drummer Tommy Clufetos.
Visit http://www.robzombie.com/ for Hellbilly Deluxe 2 World Tour updates, including the official blog, Twitter feed, photos, and videos directly from the road. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 World Tour
In addition to his illustrious recording career, Zombie has also written and directed five feature length films. Most recently was the animated cult favorite The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto based on his successful comic series. This season’s Halloween 2 (August 2009) followed up Zombie’s record breaking blockbuster re-imagining of Halloween in 2007. In 2005, Zombie assaulted the film world with the critically-acclaimed The Devil’s Rejects (Lionsgate), the follow-up to his already cult classic House of 1000 Corpses (Lionsgate 2004).