Guitarist’s guitarist John 5 has had an incredible run in his career so far. As foil to David Lee Roth, Rob Halford, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, he’s played with some of the greatest names in rock and metal. Donning his ever-present Telecaster for his latest solo album with backing band The Creatures, the man born John Lowery is in fine form as we sit down for a chat over Zoom. We caught up with John to chat ‘Sinner’, his work with some of the greats, and more. Que pasa; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi John, How are you today?
I’m happy to be here! It’s beautiful here today. It’s very warm, and it’s bright blue skies, so I love it. I’ve got a little bit of down time 'cause I wanted to promote the record with interviews and then hit the road.
You’ve been out on the road recently, haven’t you?
Yeah I did some shows with the Creatures, and also did some shows with Zombie, so I've been keeping busy that's for sure.
You’ve not been idle that’s for sure, as new album ‘Sinner’ attests; did you work on that during the pandemic?
Yeah, I really practiced and played and just did that; just played played played, and then I would go into the studio and play it as a performance, and if I messed up I would start at the beginning of the song again. I just did it as a performance, so everything you hear on ‘Sinner’ is done in just a complete take, so I'm pretty proud of that. It was a lot of fun because we had so much time on our hands.
That’s quite an old school way of working, isn't it.
Yeah, and it’s a challenge too, to do it that way. It really is a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun. That’s how those musicians used to do it back in the day; they would just go into the studio, play, and you had to be a great musician to be in the studio like that because they didn’t want you messing up.
You’re using a super clean tone on the album, particularly on ‘Welcome to the Island’ and ‘For I have Sinned’.
I always loved a super dry tone because I don’t like to use a delay or a lot of reverb. I just see it as a crutch, almost, so I just used a completely dry, and a very in your face tone, really. I’ve always just enjoyed that kind of tone where it’s just so clean and so dry. I just love playing like Paul Gilbert or something; it’s just so clean, and I have a fondness for that.
In terms of composition, you’re playing a lot of pre-planned, and repetitive patterns on these tracks, to amazing effect.
Yeah, there’s no improv. Everything was planned out, everything was thought out. Again, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I just wanted to make it nice, very perfect. I’ve always loved that repetitive feel; kind of like that, kind of loopy, electronic, kind of even Fatboy Slim approach. It’s so good, it’s like you just get that groove going. Even Pink Floyd used that; they do these arpeggios on the keyboard and they would just turn the speed up and speed down, and I just thought it sounded so cool.
Click here to read our 2019 chat with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason.
Mentioning Fatboy Slim, and your song ‘Euphoria’ could be described as “apocalyptic club music”!
Yeah, I really like that kind of music because it’s so like, you hear these riffs, and they’re so good. It’s electronic music, but the riffs are so good, and I thought; “well why not just put crazy guitar solos over those repetitive riffs”. I really like it. I have always liked that kind of thing.
‘Sinner’ is your 8th solo album, and it’s very much guitar players’ music, from the Vai / Satriani school, isn’t it?
Absolutely, and I love the Steve Vais, and I love the Joe Satrianis, and I love all my instrumental heroes. I’m influenced by all of them, and I think that’s very important. I just want to carry on this instrumental guitar music and get kids back to playing guitar, and playing drums, and playing bass.
Dave Mustaine’s snarl is unmistakable on ‘Que Pasa’; why did you choose him for that track?
That’s why; it’s because that snarl, that voice, that growl, is so Mustaine. I was listening to a lot of Megadeth at the time, and I was like; “I would love to get Dave Mustaine to do this”. I had a sample of James Brown in there, and they said; “who do you want to use?”, and I was like; “I want to use Dave Mustaine!”, and so we hooked that up, and it was great. He was really into it, and I was super happy, super proud he was so into it.
My personal favourite track is ‘Misfit Toys’; I love the hypnotic tapping that you’re doing; did that come first, or was the backing track written first?
Yeah, I definitely work out the pattern, and it’s like the new guitar players’ technique that everyone’s using. It’s that kind of style, and it’s so funky, it’s kind of like a keyboard. And that cool pattern, it’s cool because there’s no pull-offs; it’s all just tapping, kind of like a keyboard [John picks up the guitar and plays the lick]. That’s my favourite track on the record, and that’s going to be a video, so I’m super excited about it. It’s funny, with the video, there’s a new ‘Matrix’ movie coming out, and the camera that they used to make this ‘Matrix’ movie is the camera we used for the video. It’s really cool to be a part of that. It’s a great video, and I’m super happy with it.
With that track, it’s all about the melody; there’s no need for speed, is there?
Yeah. I just love to sit around and practice. That’s what I mainly do. I was doing that before I started this interview with you, and I’ll be doing it right after as well.
The album features Peter Criss on ‘Georgia on My Mind’; I love his spoken word intro on the track, it's so candid.
Oh my god, me too! It’s a really cool story. Peter loves jazz, and he is just an incredible jazz player. I said; “oh, I’m going to do a cover of ‘Georgia on my Mind”, and he was like; “oh, I love that song”, and I said; “would you mind playing drums on it?”, because I was just going to have the solo guitar doing it. And so he agreed, and my producer flew down there and did it very old school; put a couple of mics on the drums, and not like every drum, just like here and there. The mics were on and they were just talking, and I just thought that was such an honest, really cool thing. What Peter was saying, we had that whole conversation, and we just used that little bit, but I think it was such a beautiful way to start the song [picks up guitar and plays beautiful rendition the song]. It’s so beautiful. I wish I wrote it. It’s just a really cool tribute.
You also cover Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, which is an unexpected one.
Yeah. They wrote that as a tribute to Elvis, Queen did, and I did it as a tribute to Queen in a Chet Atkins style [plays note perfect rendition].
I wanted to mention the acoustic sound on ‘Creepshow’.
That’s my little tribute to Metallica, after all the crazy arpeggios and stuff.
Speaking of ‘Creepshow’, you’ve incorporated so many characters from horror films into your custom guitar picks.
Well, I love doing the designs, and they’re fun because people love to collect them. It’s just out of fun! People really enjoy it.
You’re a big fan of the Fender Telecaster which is unusual in the metal world; what drew you to Teles?
I think I got that from watching Hee-Haw [American television variety show featuring country music]. I know it sounds silly, but all those guys were playing Telecasters, and I didn’t even know there was another kind of guitar; I thought they were all shaped like Telecasters and they were all Telecasters! So, that’s why I played the Telecasters; seeing that as a kid, and I was so blown away by it. I was really into the Tele; I always wanted one.
Have you always played Telecasters, even going back to your recordings with David Lee Roth?
Yeah, I recorded all that with a Telecaster, yeah.
You first appeared with David Lee Roth on 1998’s ‘DLR Band’ album.
Yeah, and you know what’s interesting is the CD was pressed by Dave. Dave, in his guesthouse they were making all those CDs with a bunch of other people, so he was way ahead of his time doing that. It’s incredible. That CD you had was made in Dave’s back house.
So what was it like recording the album with David Lee Roth?
I was very nervous. He was my hero, so I was very nervous. I was around him a lot. We hung out a lot, and I was always nervous because David Lee Roth; it’s our hero. I’m really happy that that nervousness never went away, and it’s just a really cool thing that I still have that excitement when I talk to Dave and I hang out with Dave. That’s wonderful.
The lead single from the album was ‘Slam Dunk’ which you co-wrote, which was refreshing after the more mature sound on ‘Your Filthy Little Mouth’ .
I just did my best Van Halen impression. It’s what I love, and it’s want I wanted Dave to sound like. I presented it to him and he really dug it, so we ran with it. Luckily he was into it, and that song, it’s history. I’m so proud of it too. It could have went somewhere completely different.
I’m guessing you presented an instrumental demo to Dave, and had no idea what way he’d take it?
Yeah, no, it was just instrumental tracks and Dave really loved it. He sang over those songs, and we played it live in the studio. It was an incredible experience, one that I’ll never forget.
You must have been a fan of Dave’s prior studio albums, particularly ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’  and ‘Skyscraper’ .
Oh my god, the greatest albums ever; ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’, ‘Skyscraper’, ‘Your Filthy Little Mouth’; all that stuff, I love those records of course. The Vai and the Sheehan; it’s just really fantastic. It really took it to another level.
You never got to play any live shows with Dave, did you?
No, I was with [Marilyn] Manson at the time. It was just boom, and right away I was into doing the Manson thing. So, unfortunately I didn’t get to play any live shows with Dave, and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to, because he’s going to be retiring.
Moving on, and what was it like working with Rob Halford on the Two project?
Well, it was a great experience, I mean, we had so much fun together. We got to make that with Trent Reznor, and now, people go crazy for that record. Then they didn’t, but now it’s so well received, and I’m just super happy I had that experience with Rob. We did great live shows, we did great tours. We did early shows with Rammstein, and it was an incredible, incredible experience just working with him, and of course, along with Dave and everybody else, I’m still very close with Halford today.
You’ve been with Rob Zombie now for quite some time; you must love that gig.
Oh my god, it’s incredible. I wouldn’t change it for the world, it’s just the greatest feeling ever. I’ve been with Zombie for seventeen years now, and it’s just been an incredible experience just playing this music, playing these great songs and on these great albums, and these great shows. So it’s been a blast, an absolute blast and an honour.
You joined for ‘Educated Horses’ , which is probably the most un-Zombie, Rob Zombie album, on the surface at least.
I think that record rules. You know, it was one of my favourite records. The Lunar [Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy, 2021] is my favourite Zombie record, but the second one is ‘Educated Horses’. I love that record more than anything. It’s killer, I love it, and so does Rob. It’s one of Rob’s favourite records as well.
What was it like for you to perform White Zombie's ‘Astro-Creep: 2000’ album live with Rob Zombie?
We did that whole live album of the whole ‘Astro Creep’ album [Astro-Creep: 2000 Live, 2018], and it was unbelievable. It was so much fun. So killer, just like, wow, just everything; playing all those songs live that I loved and listened to hundreds of times, if not thousands.
What’s it like for you as a guitar player to tackle those songs, given that they’re very simplistic, yet so killer?
I love great music, and that’s great music. It doesn’t have to have a bunch of solos in it. You know, like ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ is just one note, but its so great. It’s incredible, so I love playing these songs so much because they’re a part of my history and a part of my growing up, listening, loving, and going to the shows. I saw White Zombie so many times, and Rob Zombie! I saw it so many times. Just wonderful, wonderful.
Do you think there’ll ever be a White Zombie reunion?
I don’t think so, but I can’t speak for anyone. In my opinion, I don’t think so.
You’ve worked with some of the greats, but have there been any others that have approached you over the years that you've not had the chance to work with yet?
Well, I’ve had a chance to join, or fill in for other bands, but anything that comes across, I’m so happy. If they want me to write, or if they want me to come jam, I’m so honoured. All of that, I just can’t believe my life and how lucky I am. I’m just very, very lucky, and very fortunate, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. So, anything that comes along in the future, I’m excited about. I don’t have like a bucket list. My bucket list has been full for a long time, and I’m very appreciative of it.
Finally, what’s next for John 5?
I am to be doing live shows and supporting ‘Sinner’, and going out on tour with Zombie as well, and living life and having a good time. Just keep doing what I’m doing; getting up, and play guitar and enjoy life!
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John 5 and the Creatures' 'Sinner' is out now via Big Machine Records.