John 5: 'I Have The Worst Personal Life, But I Have The Best Career'

artist: john 5 date: 06/09/2007 category: interviews
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John 5: 'I Have The Worst Personal Life, But I Have The Best Career'
Those who don't know any better probably think John 5 did his first real string breaking with Brian Warner's altered ego, Marilyn Manson. John Lowery, his unaltered identity, did spend six years with the singer with multi-colored eyes, but only after cutting his teeth with an assortment of other artists. He performed aural surgery and extracted the most hellish and original guitar tones from his jacked-up Telecater for everyone from John Wetton and Robin Zander to Wilson Phillips, Salt-N-Pepa, and David Lee Roth. After leaving the Manson family in 2004, he ventured out on his own solo career. He released Vertigo, his first instrumental record that same year, and twelve months later issued Songs For Sanity. Now with The Devil Knows My Name, the man with the blonde hair, black fingernails, and battle-scar eye shadow is back once again with his new guitar record - on his own label, 60 Cycle Hum. He has blended violent country picking with even more savage shredding to create a record that truly rips at the seams of conventional instrumental CDs. Ultimate-Guitar: Is there a conceptual thread that ties all these song titles together? There's the obvious aspect of dead and dying things but does it run deeper? John 5: All of the song titles are (taken from) serial killer quotes except 'Welcome to the Jungle' and 'Young Thing', which are both covers. 'First Victim,' 'The Werewolf of Westeria,' and '27 Needles' are all references to serial killers. For an example, 'The Werewolf of Westeria' is a title they gave to Albert Fish; he was a cannibal and someone who ate his victims. Also '27 Needles' is a reference to Albert Fish because when they put him in jail, they gave him an x-ray to see if he was healthy and stuff, and there were 27 needles in his groin. He used to put these needles up inside him for pleasure and they stayed there for years. You're obviously attracted to the darker side: serial killers and death and the occult and the Gothic. It's the main theme of the album and it's also the graphics concept for the CD. What is it about the evil nature of man that so intrigues you? I'm not one that supports death or killing. I would never do that and people that know me know I'm very nice and very outgoing. Why I'm so interested in it is because of how someone's brain works like that to perform these kind of acts. It's intriguing because it's real. Let's jump right into the new album. The opening track, 'First Victim,' is a pretty insane piece. It's all done with a violin bow and the doubleneck SG/Jimmy Page thing on that. And I have a (Electro-Harmonix) Bass Micro Synth pedal and it sounds really wicked and scary. On a track like 'The Werewolf of Westeria,' you were trying to use the guitar as a tool to give a musical voice to this serial killer concept you'd developed? Yeah; I just wanted to try and make it so crazy sounding and just so frantic. It is long and crazy and out of control. I did want to do that musically but I wanted the titles and the record to have a little meaning. The name of the album, The Devil Knows My Name, that's because I've had so much loss in my life. I've lost all of my family except for my sister is still with me. And I had this divorce and all this stuff. I have the worst personal life but I have the best career that anybody could ever want. I just wrote with the Scorpions, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meatloaf, Paul Stanley; I play with Rob Zombie, I'm doing these instrumental records so everything couldn't be better. But my personal life couldn't be worse. So that's why it kinda feels like there's a deal with the devil. This is the track that features Joe Satriani swapping licks with you. Did you write the song and think, 'This would be perfect for Joe' and then did you try and find him? I kind of wanted to take Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson (who plays on The Washing Away Of Wrong) and take them out of their comfort zone and give them really heavy, crazy tracks. So, yeah, I kind of had this really heavy track for Joe Satriani and I was like, 'Let's put him on this because I know he'll do something great' which he did. And the same thing with Eric Johnson; he is such a bluesy, amazing, incredible guitar player, but what he's playing over is crazy heavy metal. He did a phenomenal job. Did the know the exact sections you wanted Joe to solo over? Did he offer his own suggestions about where he heard the guitar going? Those are really good questions. We did a lot of this record like on off hours during the middle of the night. And I had to do it the old Pink Floyd way and send him his tracks because he was in San Francisco and Eric Johnson was in Texas. And Jim Root (appears on 'Black Widow of La Porte') was on the road so I had send all of them their tracks. I said (to them), 'Here's where your parts are.' And I think it makes the artist feel very comfortable because there's not someone going, 'Mmm, I don't really like that, I think you can do better.' It's someone saying, 'OK, do whatever you want and go for it and just be the incredible guitar players you are.' What was it in particular that drew you to Satriani? When I was a kid and still learning, I heard 'Surfing With the Alien' and 'Satch Boogie' and all that stuff and I thought, 'Wow, what an amazing guitar player but what a great songwriter, too.' On '27 Needles,' you run the gamut from that really speedy single-note muted playing to that insane kind of bluesy fingerpicking style you do so well. I wanted to do something a little different; I wanted to have a heavy country thing but still keep it uptempo like rock. I wanted to keep that country flair to it that a lot of guitar players enjoy me doing. I think it puts me where I have my own little style. And again, that story I told you about the 27 needles? It sounds kind of frantic and what it would sound like if someone had 27 needles stuck inside their groin. Yeah, that's just a live rockin' thing with a little bit of that country in there. The last track, 'Werewolf of Westeria' was pretty heavy so I wanted to change it up a little bit. The song really does mutate when it drops into that fingerpicked section. Yeah, that's all really fast fingerpicking. Everything is doubled on the album. I did it on the first song ('First Victim') and I was like, 'Oh, cool, well I'm gonna do something different.' Because Randy Rhoads did it back in the day and he had that great sound. He doubled all of his solos and I always thought was so impressive to me so I wanted to double all of the solos and all the melody lines on the album. I did it on the first song and stuff and I said, 'OK, let's do it on this song too' and so I'm doing it and thinking, 'Oh, my God, this is really hard.' 'Cause it's got to be in perfect time and in perfect tune and especially that fingerpicking stuff. It was challenging. On the doubled part, did you pick up the same guitar? No, I would use different guitars; it just adds a little different sound. And it would phase if it was the same exact guitar.
"The name of the album, The Devil Knows My Name, that's because I've had so much loss in my life."
While we're on the subject, what were the main guitars and amps you used on the album? Just my signature (Fender) J5 Tellys; and a subsonic Telly. On the album I played various prototypes: one had a humbucker; and one had a (Seymour Duncan SHR-1) Hot Rail and a Bigsby. I also used a Jimmy Page Gibson doubleneck ('First Victim'), a baby Taylor acoustic, and an electric Deering banjo. I used a Marshall Mode 4 head (The settings are pretty standard; I tweaked and messed around with them a little bit)and a Marshall JCM 1960 4x12 Lead cabinet with Celestions. I used a Fender Tonemaster head and cabinet. I didn't use a lot of effects: I used a Dunlop Crybaby wah-wah, a Boss CE-2 Chorus, the little blue one and the Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a Blood Drive distortion pedal (made by Coffin and Dunlop/MXR), and the Bass Micro Synth (Electro-Harmonix). Fender makes heavy picks for me and I use GHS Boomers, the normal .009 set. I didn't really go crazy on the effects; I just played, played, played. Back in the day with Marilyn Manson, you must have been running through some pretty elaborate effects rigs. That was a lot of effects and I had a lot of stuff. But I had a really great tech that knew how to do everything, programming, and stuff. I did use pedals at first with Manson; I had this pedalboard, but after being in the band a few months I was like, 'Wow, this is really crazy.' Because he would come up with the microphone and just smash everything, he'd smash all my pedals, and of course the sound goes off like that (snaps fingers). And then he looks at me like, 'Why isn't your guitar working?' and this is on TV and everything. So I had to get this all access Digitech thing so I had all my pedals off the stage and this was a controller. So that never happened again - but I didn't know how to use it. And I still don't know how to use it - it's in my garage. 'Bella Kiss' is maybe your interpretation of Jimmy Page's 'White Summer?' Yeah (uttered in a voice of discovery). It's all in an open tuning (E) and it's all a rhythm thing so I'm tapping it all with harmonics. It's all neck stuff (John picks up a Telecaster, re-tunes the guitar to open E and attempts to describe the technique). I'm tapping with my first finger on the 12th fret to create the beat and then I'm bouncing off with my third finger on the 5th fret, 5th string which is an E note. I'm going on/on/off with it and I answer it with the 2nd fret on the A and E strings. Then I take my first finger on the 7th and 12th frets of the higher strings (B and E). And then there are those behind-the-nut bends (pressing down on the string beyond the nut to change the string pitch). Talk about the John 5 Fender signature guitar coming out this year (he scurries into the next room and grabs one). The new signature series has three humbuckers (chrome-covered Enforcer Wide Range pickups). I love the three pickups, kind of like Ace Frehley on Alive! It's kind of designed after the custom pickguard on the 70s Tellys. It's a really cool and awesome sounding guitar. It has a tremolo like the Deluxe Telecaster and it has a headstock like a Strat or a Deluxe. There are a lot of cool things that are different that they haven't done in a long time. Why couldn't you just play a 1970 Telly Deluxe? What makes this instrument so unique to you? Playing in Zombie and when I was playing with Manson as well, I designed these guitars because not a lot of guys played Telecasters in heavy rock; they weren't designed for heavy rock, they were designed for country and things like that. But I loved the Telecaster so much and I wanted to make it be usable in a really heavy rock band. So it's designed for that kind of heavy, aggressive music. It won't feedback; if you plug in a Telly and you go play 'Thunder Kiss '65' (Rob Zombie), it's gonna be noisy and it's gonna feedback. But these are designed pickup-wise, that they can take that. It's fun to see certain artists playing them like Twiggy from Nine Inch Nails and the guy from Slade is playing one. Who ever thought you'd see someone playing a Telecaster in Nine Inch Nails? Jim Root appears on 'Black Widow of La Porte.' You were certainly already familiar with his playing and thought he would be the perfect soloist for this track? During Ozzfest a long time ago (2001), Slipknot went on before Manson and I used to watch them everyday. Everyday they were out there in the blazing sun in those masks, and I became friends with all those guys and I wanted to play with him. I asked Jim and he said, 'Absolutely.' I think he is a great underrated player. I wanted to give him a track and say, 'Go, do it, show everybody what you can do.' I love what he did. I knew Jim was going to play on this track (from the beginning) and we just went back and forth solo-wise. Again, I doubled all the parts but then I'd break off and go to another position and do the harmony. That happens a lot in that song; that song is crazy. Especially the tapping part in the middle where it kinda sounds like a computer. And then I did the harmony to it and it took a little while but it came out really neat. 'Welcome To the Jungle' is one of the two cover songs here - there must have been some special meaning behind this one for you to include it. When I was a kid, I came from a nice upbringing and had a big house and everything I ever wanted. I just went to school and played guitar. I wanted to move to California but I was a little scared because I wouldn't have my maids or anything. I saw the 'Welcome To the Jungle' video and I decided to move to California. I got in my car and lived in a warehouse and was really poor and that song is what really pushed me to do it. It was a chore because we played it just like the CD; there are even tempo changes in the original that we did. In the beginning, you hear kind of like a siren but it's Axl doing that with his voice and I'm doing that with a slide. The intro was really tough to get that delay time right and all that stuff. I used the white Boss Digital Delay (DD-2). I do a lot of his vocal things with a slide; I really planned this out for a long time and said, 'Well, alright, how am I going to do this?' I used a brass Dunlop slide on my third finger and regular tuning. I'm really happy about it. Guns is actually going to be rehearsing here and I'm going to go down and give them the track. So it'll be neat. Your performance on 'Dead Art in Plainfield' is an insane tutorial on playing country fingerpicked licks, arpeggios, and muted string techniques at superhuman speed. It goes into that country thing again but it's heavy country. Ed Gein wore one of those deer hunting hats, he was in his 60s, and he would take his victim's faces off and wear their faces. That's where we got Leatherface from in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He took the bones and made art in his house, all the furniture and everything. That's why this is a crazy, heavy country thing and the dead art is the bones and the art from his house. And it just sounds like a mean country song and it's an aggressive song. I know people are going to really enjoy that track because it is different from your really heavy metal type of shredding. It starts off with a harmonic bouncing on and off and what makes it sound a little twisted, when I doubled it I wanted to double it in a different position of the harmonic so it starts off sounding kind of strange. And the picking is kind of like Brent Mason who is an amazing country player and it's kind of done off of his style - a lot of open strings and chicken pickin' and double-stops and banjo rolls. Things like that you don't hear in a lot of heavy rock guitar playing. I wanted to do different things that were out of the ordinary. For an example (picks up the Telly), when I pull the G string with my 3rd finger at the 11th fret (any fret works) and I pull the B string at the same time (a sort of doublestop - both strings are being pulled with one finger), one note goes down (G string) and one goes down (B string). I'm laying for those things; I know where they're going to happen, so that's a very unique thing that not a lot of people would think of. Can you give us some more John 5 playing secrets? There are tons of things I'm doing all over this record. In 'Black Widow of La Porte,' I have my 3rd finger on the E note of the G string (9th fret) and I'm bouncing off the 7th fret of the first string with my 1st finger (pulling off at the 7th fret and then striking the open E); then I go up to a C (8th fret) on the E string and then going down to a Bb (6th fret/E string). But it's all this picking with your thumb and first finger. It's an Em chord with your b5 so it makes it sound like that (raises his right hand in the devil's horn salute). That's your Black Sabbath note, your b5, and I'm combining that with bluegrass. And muting it (with his right-hand palm) gives you that really tight (sound). In 'Black Widow' there's a tapping thing that I mentioned. I'm skipping strings and it kind of sounds like a computer, very broken. Then I do that in a harmony and it sounds totally whacked. I'm playing D (12th fret/D string), F# (16th fret/D string); then I'm jumping to the B string and hitting B (12th fret) and D# (16th fret); then I go to the G string (12th fret) and B (16th fret); then the E string I hit E (12th fret) and G# (16th fret). Then you add the tapping notes with your 2nd finger of your right hand and those notes are: G# (18th fret) on the D string; F (18th fret) on the B string; C# (18th fret) on the G string; and A# (18th fret) on the E string.
"Everything is doubled on the album."
'The Washing Away of Wrong' with Eric Johnson is a really dark song but has a country feel at the same time. That has that heavy thing to it but it has a section in it that goes to like a country thing but over a really heavy metal type of change. I thought it would be a great song to put Eric on because he does that cool bluesy country thing so well and I wanted to put him on a heavy track. There are a lot of cool little guitar tracks that we did on that one. The song is like nine minutes long and I'm considerably and noticeably older after playing it. There is one part in the B section; the rhythm is really heavy metal, kind of a droney, Sabbathy thing, but I didn't want to just put some heavy metal thing over it. So I put like a country thing over it because I'm playing the lead in double time and the rhythm is in half time. The scale is like a country major scale but the rhythm is in a minor scale. It's a little fingerpicked and some bouncing but it is done with the pick. That's what I'm trying to tell people - you can play major in a minor key. It sounds really cool; Jimmy Page did it a lot, (so did) Jeff Beck. There's also a section where I'm playing a baby Taylor and a slide in the breakdown; and I'm using a banjo at that section where all the music stops. The final track is 'July 31st (The Last Stand)' - is there something significant about that date? That was Son of Sam's last murder and my birthday. So, go figure. I thought that was a little ironic so I kind of made it into this creepy sounding cool end track. The end of this weird, weird, weird trippy record. It's just a lot of weird broken chords; it kind of sounds like a tinkery piano but it sounds creepy. The chords I'm playing are: my 2nd finger on the E note of the D string (14th fret); my 3rd finger is on the Bb of the G string (15th fret); my 1st finger is on the B of the B string (12th fret); and then my pinky is on the G of the E string (15th fret). The low E is my root and then I take it off and have my first finger barred across the top on the 12th fret. And then it moves down a whole step. It's a weird Em with a b5 gain, that Sabbath note. There are certain things that just sound scary and strange; music to really slit your wrist to. But don't do it kids, I don't need to go to court. It sounds like a movie score. I used to do a lot of movie and TV scoring and it just creates a mood as soon as you hear it. So I was familiar with how to do that. I thought this would be a great way to end the record; not with crazy guitar shredding stuff but totally take it the opposite way. Starting out with the 'First Victim' which is scary slow and then ending with something similar. The end of the journey 'cause it's quite a journey. You need to go lay down after you hear it. After this section you just described, it melds into a really huge overdriven section. That's what I used on the 'First Victim,' the Bass Micro Synthesizer; I wanted to have the same kind of sound to it. That really big anthemic sound. Bookend sounds. Exactly. The album is really thought out; the titles and the artwork. On the cover is an old Ouija board and the oracle which is what you put your hands on. (On the back) there's a 5 carved into a hand. Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, when he was in court, he held his hand up and he had a pentagram in his hand and I just made it into a 5. And here (on the foldout) is part of the Ouija board, the letters, the 1-2-3-4-5, the Hello/Goodbye, the way it is on a Ouija board. And then it says: Place Your Mystical Viewer Disc On the Board To Witness The Crimes Of The Undead! And the CD is actually the Mystical Viewer Disc (using the middle of the CD as the viewing portion). And the skull and crossbones is actually guitars, the new signature guitar. And then there is a picture of the x-ray of Albert Fish's groin with the 27 needles in there; the skull is Lizzy Borden when she bashed her mom; and a picture of an old guitar. Now that you've finished the album do you have any plans to tour? Will you be going to the UK? No, not yet. A lot of people ask me about touring and instead of going out and playing record stores or in-stores, I'm going to put together a band and a tour that won't cheat people. When I'm finished touring with Rob Zombie or when he takes a break, I want to give people a show that they can walk away from and go, 'Wow, that was really cool.' Just like the record, I want to put thought into it and really do it right. I want to have cool production and great shows instead of going into a record store and fiddling with a backing track. Now that you can sit back and look at The Devil Knows My Name - from the playing and the concept, the various artists you invited - is it everything you hoped it would be? Yes, it is; it's pretty much the kitchen sink in this record. Everything is in there and it's pretty much topnotch. But I'm gonna try to beat it for the next record; I'm gonna try to get a little more crazy. I don't know how I can do it but I'm gonna try. 2007 Steven Rosen
More john 5 interviews:
+ John 5: 'My Fans Are Smart And They Know What They Want' Interviews 03/23/2012
+ John 5: 'The Music I Do There Is No Rules, No Format Or Anything Like That' Interviews 05/01/2010
+ John 5: 'Working With Rob Zombie Is A Blast!' Interviews 06/09/2006
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