Interview by Robert Cavuoto
One of the hardest working musicians on the planet has to be guitar virtuoso, John 5. He is currently on tour this summer with Rob Zombie, he released an innovative and dynamic new solo CD, Invasion, on July 31st, and he just announced a solo tour starting October 30th.
John 5’s guitar abilities are unsurpassed to most guitarists with the perfect combination of brilliant technique and style. A visionary player that can sculpt sound and bend minds in equal measure. He is a true innovator and virtuoso on the guitar. Together with Roger Carter on drums and Ian Ross on bass of The Creatures, John and his band explore every sonic highway possible; from the shredding on “Midnight Mass” to the country picking on “Howdy” to EDM on “Crack It – Living with Ghosts!”
I caught up with John to talk about his impressive new solo CD, the importance of creating a highly entertaining live show, and his Fall solo tour with Jared James Nichols.
Robert Cavuoto: The new CD is inspirational as you always find a creative way to be musically diverse from shredding to country to electronic to a beautiful moving song. Tell me about the importance of not being a one-dimensional guitarist?
John 5: I enjoy music and love it no matter what kind of music. I don’t categorize music like some people. I have such an appreciation for all types of music, even opera. If my son is listening to EDM (electronic dance music), I can appreciate it too, but it just has to be done well.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you try to evoke emotion with your songs, or do you leave that for the listener to discern?
John 5: Every individual is affected differently by music based on their life and what they are going through at the time. Some songs may put them in a really great mood as they are having a great day. It depends on the individual and how it affects them; so I leave it to them pull out the emotions.
Robert Cavuoto: On “Crank it – Living with Ghosts” tell me how you came up with the idea of blending those two different musical pieces together to form one cohesive song?
John 5: There are these guys doing EDM music and selling out arenas. I thought how cool it would be to do that with just a guitar! The riffs they do are great and that goes back to my appreciation of all style of music. For “Crank it” I was working on the song using my Mac Book Pro and if you select “translate” it will talk back to you. So I was trying to figure out the hook and the translation came back as “Crank it.” That’s where I got the voice from. Where “Crank It” is a party song with everybody jumping around, “Living with Ghosts” is the end of the night after the party, and everybody is like “Oh boy, here it comes!” That is where the inspiration came from for those two pieces.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you ever come up with a unique technique on guitar then built a song around it?
John 5: It does happen. I love to learn, and if I do something that I enjoy, I’ll look to incorporate it into my songwriting so I’ll never forget it. I would have all these cool licks which I would forget because I wasn’t playing them. Now if it’s in a song, I’ll always play it live on tour.
Robert Cavuoto: On “Cactus Flower” is that you playing above the nut and where did that idea originate from?
John 5: Yes, that’s above the nut. My favorite instrument was the pedal steel when I was a kid. I thought it was such an incredible sounding instrument. You use your arms, your legs, and your feet to play it. I always wanted to take that approach with the guitar. I have a song called “Beyond the Nut Love” with opening tuning just like a pedal steel. With “Cactus Flower,” I used regular tuning, and it worked! I love that song so much as it’s a beautiful tune. It has a western vibe to it.
Robert Cavuoto: I noticed that you don’t use a locking tremolo system live.
John 5: I don’t use it live or in the studio. I like to do a lot of things behind the nut, and with certain bends on the neck, it doesn’t work if you have a locking tremolo system. I like to keep things old school and a Telecaster is a hard guitar to play. I use Humbuckers, but that’s mostly for volume. I have a tremolo system on one of my Telecasters when I need to play Michael Jackson’s “Beat it.” I use to play it all the time but not so much now.
Robert Cavuoto: I’ve seen you perform live three times over the past few years and have always walked away so impressed. Instrumental performances can sometimes have connotations of someone staring at their fretboard while meticulously playing a perfect piece of music, yet your shows are quite the spectacle?
John 5: There are a lot of guys who bring their wifes, girlfriends, or friends to a show and I’m aware of that. I want to give someone who has no idea about the guitar a good time at the show. Now we have the TVs on stage playing MTV, monsters coming out, inflatable props, and I use different instruments. I want it to come across as entertainment and for the people to be entertained. It’s really turning into an instrumental Alice Cooper show. It’s supposed to be fun, and I want people to have a good time. The next tour is going to be even crazier!
Robert Cavuoto: You recently announced a tour this Fall with Jared James Nichols. What can we expect from it?
John 5: Jared is a perfect fit and has a completely different style of playing with his blues power. People love it, and I love it. I think he is so talented. The difference between the last tour and the future tour will be more crazy props; as many as we can fit into the venues. We will also change the set list like we do every tour. We will be back in your area; NY and NJ again in 2020.
Robert Cavuoto: When writing songs do you write them for a possible stage performance or does that creative process come after the song is completed?
John 5: It comes after the song is written. I have such a great team of creative people. I always give credit where credit is due, and I don’t have all the answers. We all collectively throw ideas in the pot, which makes for a great team. Everybody including the President works with a team of people. Nobody has all the answers. When I do a tour or CD, I look for ideas that I would never have thought of.
Robert Cavuoto: Nikki Sixx is one of your closest buddies do you have any plans to collaborate with him on a full CD?
John 5: We worked on the soundtrack of The Dirt and on Sixx AM songs. He is my best buddy, and we talk about 100 times a day. We will always work together in the future.
Robert Cavuoto: When will the new Rob Zombie CD be released, and what can we expect from it?
John 5: I don’t have a sense of when it will come out as I would like to know myself [laughing]. It’s an incredible record, and we just listened to it again in the dressing room yesterday. It’s heavier than any of the other record with more melodies. I’m super excited for people to hear it. Then can do a tour to support it.