Interview: John 5 Talks New Solo Album, 'Careful with That Axe' and Rob Zombie Projects
John 5 and Rob Zombie live at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Photos by Rob Fenn.
John 5 is one busy dude. In between touring with Rob Zombie, making a new Zombie record, and scoring Zombie's latest film, '31,' he has found time to craft his eighth solo album, ‘Careful with That Axe,’ which will be out August 12 via 60 Cycle Hum. The guitarist–who has also known for playing with Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth and others--recently chatted with Revolver about each of those projects, as well as serial killers and playing guitar in the bathroom.
REVOLVER Your new solo record, 'Careful with That Axe,' is almost out. How do you feel now that it's done?
JOHN 5 It’s really exciting for me because this is what I think music is really about. I fund this whole thing by myself and I don’t do it for money, it’s just for the love of the guitar. I think people really understand that. I’ve been doing instrumental records now for a long time and built up this little fan base which is worldwide and it’s incredible how big it’s gotten. People really enjoy these records. Even the title, 'Careful with That Axe,' when you get a guitar when you’re a little kid, you don’t know where that guitar is going to take you—if it’s going to bring you happiness or sadness, success or poverty. I’m going to be doing three live streaming concerts—one for America/Canada, one for Europe, and one for the Pacific Rim. That’s going to be in October and I’m going to play the record live with the band. It’s going to be cool. The guys from 'The Tonight Show,' the Jay Leno one, are putting it together. I’ll have someone host it. People will be able to call in.
Can you tell me about that single, “This Is My Rifle?”
That is the beginning of the record and introducing when I was a kid like, “OK, this is my guitar and I love it and I sleep with it. I play it all the time and it’s my whole life.” That’s where “This Is My Rifle” comes from. It is performed live, which is really cool, because a lot of people go into the studio and overdub and blah blah blah. I do it for the love of the guitar and hopefully to inspire people to play because that’s what happened to me—I was inspired by these players and it was such an epiphany for me. It ended up ruling my life and I have such an obsession with it. There are so many other styles of music on this record that people will enjoy—there’s bluegrass, Western swing, and flamenco. If this was the last instrumental record I was ever going to make, I’m so proud of this record.
In the past, you had themed song titles after serial killers—is that on here, too?
There is. Like I was saying with the title, you never know where this guitar is going to take you, so the song titles, “Villisca,” “Portrait of Sidney Sloan,” and “The Dream Slayer”—these are all references to axe murderers. “El Cucuy,” the Spanish-style one, means boogeyman in Spanish. There’s not one title or one song that’s just thrown in there. Everything has a lot of thought to it—even the intro, “We Need to Have a Talk About John,” because I would just sit in my room and play guitar and watch movies when I was a little kid. My parents got so worried about it and they would talk to me and tell me to go outside and play, which is fine because I would do the same thing as a parent if my kid just sat in a room all day. If you really get into certain records, then they have a certain meaning to them because you really let it get into your life and starts meaning a lot more.
How much do you play a day?
Well, here’s the best example--if I wasn’t talking to you right now, I’d be playing guitar. I play every chance I get—even if I go to the bathroom. I play all the time, all the time. The reason why is it’s very comforting to me. I don’t do any drugs or drink so it’s kind of like having your blanket with you.
Considering how much music you’ve created, how do you continuously find inspiration?
Yeah, I always look for inspiration. If I find something that’s inspiring, I’m so excited because it is very hard to find something inspiring. I can get inspired, like anyone, from movies or music or TV or a certain way people think. I’ve always liked people that were obsessive with something. I love watching documentaries on people like clean-freaks because it’s just so interesting to me for some reason. [Laughs] Sounds weird, but it’s the truth.
And you’re doing the score for Rob’s next horror film, right?
Yeah. His next movie is called '31' and I’m actually doing the score with Rob, which is exciting. I did the last score to 'Lords of Salem' and it’s a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot of work so it’s going to be really fun. We’re also working on a new record. All of this going on and I feel like I have to take a nap or something.
Besides the obvious, what’s the difference between writing a record and writing a film score?
It’s so challenging because what it basically is, is music that people are not going to listen to. Because it cannot distract the person from watching the movie, because you have to watch the movie. If something distracts you and you’re listening to the music and your brain stops concentrating on the movie, you’re not doing the right job. I always say it has to be music that people don’t listen to. Sometimes it’s not even in a key signature or a time signature, but other times you write these beautiful classical pieces with strings, oboes, bassoons, and bassinets. But a very memorable theme is so imperative. It’s so challenging. I think on the last movie, there was 63 pieces of music from 'Lords of Salem.' That’s a lot of work. That’s like doing six records. It’s very intense work, that’s for sure.
Is it hard working on so many projects at once?
You know, it’s hard doing all this. Actually, because it’s getting so busy I had a talk with my wife. She’s a hairstylist in Beverly Hills and she doesn’t really need to work but she loves it. But we’ve finally come to the understanding she’s going to come with me when I have to do a record or do a score because I’m so busy. But I am very thankful and fortunate to be this busy because when I was a kid, and this is the truth, I never ever dreamt of doing anything like I’m doing now. All I wanted was be a session guitar player—play on some records and TV shows and make enough money to live comfortably. That’s it. I never dreamt I’d be doing interviews or playing big concerts or having anyone know my name. So it’s too far beyond my dreams. So I’m very happy, lucky and fortunate.