Calling from a tour stop "somewhere in North Dakota, I think," John 5 is delightfully cheery and energetic for a man who's spent the better part of this year touring, recording, cranking out videos, and finally dropping a new solo album. Throughout our chat, his tone is calming, a light in the obviously chaotic storm of the Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson "Twins of Evil" tour production going on around him, a true testament to the serenity he maintains that allows him to juggle his various projects while barely taking time to set down his guitar.
John 5 moved to Los Angeles when he was only 18 and promptly had all of his money stolen within a few hours of arriving. Despite the early setbacks, he knew he wanted to work as a professional musician and stuck to it until he got his big shot auditioning for K.D. Lang and beat out 2,000 other shredders for the coveted spot.
That position eventually led to a gig playing with the Nineties' Public Enemy No. 1 Marilyn Manson, with whom he shared some crazy and chaotic years before settling into his current role as mainstay six-stringer for the Hellbilly King himself Rob Zombie. This year sees John 5 juggling the release of what he calls a "very heavy" new Zombie record with his own recently unleashed solo record Invasion, for which he plans to release a separate music video for each track.
Following a successful spring solo tour and the aforementioned Twins of Evil tour, John 5 will be out on the road with his backing band the Creatures for the Invasion Tour 2019 that sees him booked through the end of November. Read on to find out how he's managing this breakneck pace without, you know, actually breaking his neck.
INVASION HAS FINALLY ARRIVED! IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE THE VIDEO FOR "ZOINKS" DROPPED BACK IN JANUARY.
JOHN 5 I'm glad you brought it up because it's true how, like, music is promoted or bought and sold or listened to — it's so different now! I'm just trying to get music out there. I'll release singles, videos, things like that, but just imagine: I've been keeping up and talking about Invasion since January. That's been a long time, but if someone puts out a full record and just says, "Here's our record!," it's gone in three weeks.
But I've been doing this since January, so it's pretty cool that we're still talking about Invasion coming out. That's what you have to do now with music. It's not just me, it's all artists that are doing that — releasing singles with videos, this, that, and the other. It's a great way to do it, at least I think.
I REMEMBER SEEING "ZOINKS" THE DAY IT CAME OUT AND TRYING TO FIND THE ALBUM RELEASE DATE TO NOT AVAIL. THEN WHEN I WAS RESEARCHING FOR THIS INTERVIEW, I REALIZED WE'RE JUST NOW GETTING THERE.
Yeah, but there's been so many singles that came out, too!
EACH SONG IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE ITS OWN VIDEO, RIGHT?
Eventually, yes. I'm trying to do that, and it is expensive ... It's definitely a lot of work, but it's working. You know, so far so good. I've had a lot of stuff: "Zoinks," "Crank It," "I Am John 5," "Midnight Mass." These are all videos and singles, and the new video "I Want It All" that came out on the album release date. I'm just trying to keep the record alive because it's so much work to do a record, and every song to me is special. Every song to a band is special.
YOU'RE REALLY RESPECTING THE MUSIC BY TAKING YOUR TME AND LETTING PEOPLE ABSORB IT.
Yeah, and it's not just me, it's other bands, too. Every song that a band records is very special to them, and it's a lot of work to create and write something. I'm pretty proud of it.
YOU'VE TOLD THE STORY OF COMING TO L.A. WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER TO WORK AS A SESSION MUSICIAN. YOU DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING, THEN ON THE FIRST OR SECOND DAY, YOU HAD ALL YOUR MONEY STOLEN. DO YOU EVER THINK BACK ON THAT TIME AND REMEMBER WHAT "SUCCESS" LOOKED LIKE TO YOU THEN?
Well, there was no success. [Laughs] I didn't think that people would ever know my name. I didn't even dream of, you know, even doing an interview with you! I just wanted to be a session guy, but I never gave up. It would have been really easy for me just give up thinking, "Jeez, I'm here one day and my money gets stolen. What else is going to happen?" But there was no way I was giving up. No way.
AND WHEN DID YOU FINALLY REACH A POINT WHERE YOU THOUGHT, "HOLY SHIT, I'VE SURPASSED MY WILDEST DREAMS?"
It was my very first professional gig. I joined KD Lang, and our first show was called the VH1 Fashion Awards. The curtain opened — I'll never forget this — and there was Prince, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, all sitting in a row in the first row. I was playing for them and it was shocking. I was playing for them, and it was shocking. I played just a couple of feet away from Prince and it was incredible.
THAT IS A MIND-BLOWING FIRST SUCCESS STORY. SO NOT TOO LONG AFTER THAT, YOU JOINED MARILYN MANSON.
Yeah, I joined in '98.
YOU'RE CURRENTLY ON TOUR ALONGSIDE HIM NOW, SO HOW IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP THESE DAYS SINCE YOU LEFT HIS BAND?
Oh, we're close, really close. I mean, we talk every day. I see him all the time on tour, and we do a little chitchat every day, and you know? It's great. We're friends.
SO NO ANIMOSITY FOR MOVING ONTO ROB ZOMBIE! GOOD TO HEAR.
Yeah no, nothing weird. I know people love to hear stories and all that stuff, but there was nothing weird.
I THINK IT'S A NICER STORY TO HEAR YOU'RE STILL FRIENDS. HOW'S IT DIFFERENT PLAYING WITH ZOMBIE THAN WHEN YOU WERE IN MANSON'S BAND?
It's, uhh, well. Songs are different! [Laughs] No, it's just that with Manson, you never knew what was going to happen, but with Zombie, it's like, "This is what we're going to do. This is what is going to happen at this point, blah blah." With Manson, you never knew.
There was this one time we stopped in the middle of the show. I don't know what, but something wasn't working. There was a massive riot. Not like, people yelling and things like that, but a huge riot where people stole the equipment and trashed the stage. I think [a photo of the incident] was on the back cover of a magazine. I mean, it was crazy. The imagery — it was just insane.
DO YOU EVER MISS THAT KIND OF INSANITY?
Oh, no.I don't think I'll ever miss that.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE NEW ROB ZOMBIE RECORD?
Heavy, very heavy. It's just a heavy Zombie record with great hooks. It's very, very musical, and a hard-hitting Zombie record. I think people are really gonna dig it. I'm a Zombie fan, and if I heard it, I'd be like, "Oh my God, this is brutal." I'm really excited about it!
DO YOU THINK THIS IS YOUR FAVORITE OF ZOMBIE'S RECORDS YOU'VE PLAYED ON?
Well, this is definitely the most musical, meaning there are a lot of different changes, and it's very unorthodox how the structure is, you know? I have to be careful because I know people will take a little snippet of what I'm saying, so we'll go with "a very heavy, hooky Rob Zombie record."
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DO THIS TOUR AND ALBUM CYCLE WITH HIM AND ALSO YOUR OWN SOLO ALBUM AT THE SAME TIME WITHOUT RUNNING YOURSELF INTO THE GROUND?
I can do it. I love playing guitar, so it's a treat and a gift, and I don't look at it as work. I'm just very thankful for doing what I'm doing.
ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE TRYING TO BREAK INTO THIS INDUSTRY WHO MIGHT WANT TO FOLLOW A SIMILAR PATH AS YOURS?
I would say get on YouTube, get on Instagram, and show the world what you have. If you're great, show us! The world is watching. You don't have to go on America's Got Talent — you have your own TV channel in the palm of your hand, and if you're great, people will listen.