On the Art Of Malice, John 5’s solo record back in 2010, the Rob Zombie guitarist paraded out the meanest country licks you’ve ever heard and jacked them up with overdriven guitar and a mean attitude. On God Told Me To, he pulled out his nylon and steel string guitars to create an album swimming in acoustic instruments and covering styles ranging from Flamenco to fingerpicking. But he didn’t want to forget the metalheads in his audience so there are also some blinding electric guitar tracks stamped with John 5’s signature Telecaster.
Produced by Chris Baseford
(Rob Zombie) and Bob Marlette
(Black Sabbath), the CD is accompanied by a DVD that takes a look into the creation of the album. There is footage of John working in the studio and a remarkable glimpse at the photo shoot for the Remixploitation
album. The 10 instrumentals on God Told Me To
showcase the platinum-haired shredder ripping it up on electric and acoustic originals as well as a six-string orchestrated version of Michael Jackson
’s "Beat It
UG: When we talked about the Art of Malice album you said, “I did try to create this unique voice by adding country style playing into hard rock.” What elements did you bring to God Told Me to give this album an identity?
John 5: People have heard me do the country thing and all that stuff so what I wanted to do was always keep the listener on your toes so you never know what you’re gonna get type of thing. I said, “OK, I want to do something completely different and of course I don’t want to disappoint. I want to have the heavy rock guys happy and I want to have this, that and the other thing happy.” What I did was I said, “Alright, I’m gonna do acoustic a type of thing but really interesting acoustic work.” Some Spanish style and knocking on the body of the guitar and making the rhythms on the guitar. Just keep it very fresh; use violin bows and mandolins and all sorts of stuff like that. I think it came out really well.
You talk about keeping your listeners on their toes but is it possible to go too far in a direction where they might get turned off to you playing acoustic guitar for example?
My fans are smart and educated and they know what they want. I don’t think I could ever go too far as long as it’s a good product. As long as it’s good people will understand and I don’t think they’re so one-dimensional. I never worried about that.
The album opens with a pretty frantic track titled “Welcome to Violence.” Your guitar playing is so interesting because you manage to convey this sense of mayhem and insanity through the riffs and these little bursts of staccato picking.
I just wanted to create something that was so frantic and just that uneasy feeling. It feels like it’s gonna fall apart at any time. There’s a little video that goes along with it and it’s frantic so that’s how I start out the record with that kind of thing.
In the video you smash up some guitars—where did your guitar demolishing chops come from?
Actually it was a Pete Townshend thing because I was on tour with Rob and we were watching a lot of Who videos and I just thought, “Wow, that looks fuckin’ rad.” It just looks cool especially the way he did it. And I took the way Pete would smash ‘em. What he would do is he would bounce ‘em off the stage and I just thought it looked so cool when he did that. Of course we’ve seen it but it was such a pure aggression and it’s a sacrifice. I really liked how that appears and I’ll do it for some big shows.
You covered Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
It was such a big part of my childhood. When did that come out? Like ’83 or ’84 or something around that time? I was 13, 14 years old and it was so massive as you remember it. Just for the readers, it was bigger than any song today of course. So it was just a huge part of my childhood and growing up and I loved it. I loved Eddie and I loved Michael and I wanted to play a real good tribute to both.
The way you orchestrated the harmony guitars to simulate the backup vocals on the original was cool.
It took so much work; it took so, sooo much work. Because if you’re going to attack a Michael Jackson song and especially “Beat It” with Eddie Van Halen, it’s gotta be so perfect and so great where no one’s gonna say anything.
What was that like having to recreate Eddie’s solo? It’s not the easiest solo in the world to play.
It’s not but I knew it. It’s kind of like I knew it so well—not technically how to play but I knew it. Just like you would know anything you listened to all your life. So I knew the sounds and I knew the harmonics and the attack and the phrasing so well so it was a lot of fun. It was just like visiting child again.
You use the whammy bar for the “Beat It” solo.
Oh yeah. I have a couple Telecasters with Floyd Roses on ‘em. I used to use the whammy bar a lot so I know how to use it quite well. I stopped using it a little while ago because I didn’t want to use it as a crutch.
Do you know Eddie Van Halen?
Yes, I know Ed well ‘cause David Lee Roth is a great friend of mine. So I’m pretty good in the Van Halen circle.
Any feelings on A Different Kind of Truth?
Oh, I love it. People weren’t really into “Tattoo” but I thought “Tattoo” has got such a great chorus. I think it’s a great chorus; I really do. I think the record is awesome and I love it.
“Ashland Bump” was one of the acoustic songs that had mandolin on it?
"What I wanted to do was always keep the listener on your toes so you never know what you’re gonna get type of thing."
Yeah, all sorts of stuff in there. Where I grew up in Grosse Point was an upper scale neighborhood but bad, bad Detroit was only 10 or 20 miles away or something like that. I remember if you were going into Detroit and if you wanted to go to a club when you were getting older you would have to go past Ashland. There’s a street called Ashland and that’s when you started getting into the bad neighborhoods. There was this big hill, this bump and you had to go over it really slow but you didn’t want to go over it too slow because it wasn’t a great neighborhood. So we always called it the Ashland bump and that’s where I got that name. And I just think it’s such a cool name.
God Told Me is the first album where you’ve ever recorded with acoustics this extensively?
Exactly. It’s the first time I’ve recorded with acoustics and put so much work into it. I wanted to make it interesting and I just didn’t want to make it strumming and play some melodies and stuff like that. There’s some crazy pickin’ and some good licks on there. I just wanted to keep it really interesting and not just, “Oh, here’s some acoustic guitar.” I just really wanted to get into the technical side of things.
Is there a little bit of a Jimmy Page influence with the mandolins and everything?
I used to score a lot and I’m scoring Rob Zombie’s new movie right now but I grab influence from everywhere. I love Led Zeppelin and my favorite Led Zeppelin was the acoustic Led Zeppelin. Oh, it was my favorite. Like Led Zeppelin III is my favorite record and I’d always skip “Immigrant Song” because I’ve heard it 10,000 times and go right to “Friends.” I just loved his acoustic work. I mean “Going to California” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I grab acoustic claim from everywhere: Doc Watson, Chet Atkins and things like that. I love that style of playing. I grab influence from everywhere ‘cause influence surrounds us so I make sure to look and read the signs.
“The Castle” was another amazing acoustic piece with that very ornate picking. On the accompanying DVD in the album you demonstrate some of that acoustic picking and you make it look so effortless.
To be completely honest with you when I’m doing these records I’m doing them with pretty big producers. They’re not getting paid a lot and it’s not their favorite kind of stuff to do—they’d much rather be doing bigger stuff. So what I did was I would practice so much. I would practice, practice, practice so when I walked in the studio I could just knock ‘em out really well. That’s what I do anyways but I really wanted to be prepared so I could walk in and not waste these guys’ time. Walk in say, “Oh OK, cool. Here’s how this goes.” What you’re seeing on the DVD is so, so, so much practice.
You play the acoustic guitar on “The Castle” with a violin bow. Where did that come from?
It came from one James Page. You always gotta look for inspiration and he did it so well. He was doing it in the Yardbirds and I just thought it sounds so good on an acoustic guitar because it really sounds like an orchestra tuning up because you’re hitting all the strings, which is really neat. You take a little bit of what Jimmy did with his bow on the electric and put it on the acoustic and change it up a little bit.
You talked about the producers earlier—what was it like working with Bob Marlette and Chris Baseford?
They get great sounds. I use people for things I cannot do. I’m not a tech head at all. All my time is put into playing guitar. I’ll go and just show up with a guitar and a shit amp and these guys are so good at getting sounds so I don’t have to worry about. And Bob Marlette is an amazing songwriter as well and he helped out a lot in that aspect of like, “Oh, you should try this there.” He’s really smart with music. I’m like the president and I surround myself with great people and it turns out OK.
In “The Hill of the Seven Jackals” you created this call-and-response routine with the guitars.
Yeah, I tried to give a sense of melody as well because I love instrumental music as well. I’m a fan of other artists but I’m listening and I go, “Hmm, I would like a little bit of something here and I would like a little bit of something here.” So I try to make it interesting for everybody. Some people love a real melodic sense and some people love craziness so I try to put a little bit of both. I try to make a chorus that is melodic and memorable but the rest of the song has crazy playing. It’s a lot of fun to do and it takes a lot of work ‘cause you listen to stuff and you do trial and error but in the end I think it turned out really, really well and I’m really happy with it.
Are you looking for different guitar tones to characterize each song?
It’s kind of like I bring my Telly in and maybe we’ll mess around with tones and things like that. I wish had some cool mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein type of thing where I’d bring all this stuff. But not really. I just kinda plug in and we mess around a little bit. But I have the whole song and every note completely worked in before I walk into the studio so I’m not wasting someone’s time.
You know every note that every guitar is playing on all the overdubs before you begin a song?
Absolutely. Every harmony, the bass parts; everything.
You played bass on God Told Me. Would you like to bring in an outside bassist and see how he might interpret your music?
I would. I brought Billy Sheehan in on Art of Malice. I love having outside bass players so I don’t have to worry about anything. I’m not by any means like, “Yeah, you know, I played all the bass.” I’m not that guy. I would love a great bass player to come in and just rip apart everything. But to be completely honest with you—completely, completely honest—a great bass player is going to cost me great money as well. These are not huge budget records so if any great and amazing bass players want to come and play on our record, you’re more than welcome. I would much rather have that.
Besides Billy Sheehan, have there been other bass players you’ve played with who were cool?
I played with a great bass player and it was the bass player from Weezer [Scott Shriner.] I was doing this benefit concert and they were like, “Yeah, this is the bass player from Weezer and he’s really cool and good and blah blah blah.” This guy was so good and I was really blown away. I was really blown away by him because he was just really amazing [laughs.]
Do you listen at all to bands like Weezer?
Absolutely. I listen to everybody; I’m such a fan of music. If there’s a great melody, I am a massive fan of just music in general. It could be one single acoustic guitar and it could be a great melody and a great lyric and I am there.
“Noche Acosador” was one of the nylon string tracks.
That is nylon string in one part and answering it with a steel string so it’s two guitars answering each other.
Is the touch on a nylon string different than the steel string?
Absolutely yeah. It’s like getting into a European car where your steering wheel is on the other side and it’s a stick shift and you haven’t driven a stick shift in a long time. But yeah, I played nylon string and it is very different. I think I’m most proud of that song because it came out so perfect. You know when you finish a song you sit back and you’re like, “Wow, that was pretty rad.” That’s a really good one and I’m really happy about how the call-and-answer thing for each bit.
You’ve also created that great sort of gypsy swing feel in the strumming, which is a very difficult technique to pull off.
"It means a lot of killers would blame God and said they would talk to God. But mine was in kind of a positive sense like, 'I wanted this so badly.'"
Yeah, and it was a lot of fun. And also that knocking thing; that rhythmic thing on the body.
Did you hear what Robbie Krieger played in the Doors’ song “Spanish Caravan”?
Yes, of course. Of course you grab influence from everywhere. He is so great because he’s someone with unique style. He never even used a pick and I really like that. I really appreciate people that have different styles and he was into that style and I thought it was so cool.
Is there a sequencer on “The Lust Killer”?
Yeah, there’s some sequencing and things like that in there. That one’s kind of more producer-friendly and a very big production. That’s one where I wrote the song and this one’s a little unorthodox because I had finished the song and would have a vocal on there and it would be like, “Whoa, that’s a great song.” I remember going, “Hmm, I should use this for an instrumental track” and that’s what I did. It was gonna be a song with just a vocal on it.
There are some harmony guitars on “The Lust Killer.” Where does that orchestration element come from?
You know who did that so well was Steve Vai. Of course Brian May was the king of it but I really liked how Steve Vai would orchestrate his harmonies and all that stuff. It just sounded so big to me. So I would build all these harmonies and see what would work and see what didn’t work. You have this plethora of guitar players out there that you can go, “That’s really smart” or “That’s amazing. How does that guy do that?” I think that’s the world is—it’s just inspiration.
The guitars in “The Lie You Live” almost sound like pianos.
I think it’s just the attack. ‘Cause sometimes you’ll play and you’ll be like, “It just doesn’t sound right.” So I would go back and change things or try to make it have that feeling come out. Sometimes the producer would be like, “Let’s try it like this and really try to dig in.” Or lay back or hit a little harder or a little softer and really try and create that feeling, which is one of the most difficult things to describe let alone put out in your playing. Because it is just such a feel thing that it’s do hard to even describe.
Like describing the color green to a blind person.
Right yeah [laughs.]
The titles of the songs have a common theme.
All the titles including “Noche Acosador,” have a little dark sense to ‘em. It means nightstalker and Richard Ramirez was the Nightstalker. “The Hill of the Seven Jackals” was kind of an Egyptian mummy’s type of thing. “If you’re going into Detroit you’re not supposed to cross the Ashland bump,” and that’s why my mom always would say. “The Lie You Live” and “Welcome to Violence,” it all has really dark meanings. Except for the cover, which is “Beat It.” “The Castle” is a place and off the top of my head I forget the name of the serial killer and he built this place and would bring all these people to this place he called The Castle and just murder all these people. So they all have a little dark theme to it.
Even the title of the record—God Told Me To—has a darkness about it.
It means a lot of killers would blame God and said they would talk to God. But mine was in kind of a positive sense like, “I wanted this so badly.” I would pray like the little time that I did go to church maybe at Christmastime but I got my wish. It was like, “Hey, I’m so thankful for it” so I kind of take that title in a positive sense.
There are some synths and steel string in “Creepy Crawler”?
Yep, and creepy crawler is what the Manson girls would do. They would run around Mulholland Drive or Laurel Canyon and they would turn people’s patio furniture upside down and call it creepy crawling. They would go in and turn their furniture upside down or do whatever and that’s what they would call it.
Have you always been fascinated by the darker side of life?
I think we all are because I’m so not like that. I think it’s so fascinating to me that someone could do this. I’m the kind of guy where I’m giving money to homeless people or if this guy is cold you have to bring him a blanket. I have such a good heart but it is fascinating to me that someone could do this, which I could never do. I think it’s fascinating to everyone. If we’re gonna watch a movie about someone that just does great deeds through the whole movie, it’s not gonna be so entertaining. But every movie poster you’ll see is a guy with a gun or something like that. The next time you look around at movie billboards around town, most of ‘em have a gun in it or something like that. People are interested in that kind of thing.
There’s a great harmonic chord sequence in “Creepy Crawler” that transitions from a D major chord to a Dminor. Where did that come from?
Oh yeah, that’s right. You know where that comes from? You know when you’re listening to a song and you’re like, “Oh God, listen to that change. It’s so cool.” I’d always to learn those changes and a lot of it was old music. Even like a Glenn Miller thing where their changes were so smart because they were educated in music. Even when I’m writing with people and I throw something like that it’s like, “Oh, that’s so good.” But you have to know your chords and know how they go with each other and how they complement each other. God man, that’s a good one—that’s a good call that you made. The Beatles would do that a lot and I just love that stuff. You hear it and it’s like, “Oh man, that’s so cool.”
You mentioned you were doing the music for Rob Zombie’s next film, The Lords of Salem. What has that process been like?
That’s been great dealing with bassoons and trombones and cellos. It’s a great challenge and I’m just about finished. I’ll be finished probably by the end of March and it’s really been a great, great time. I’ve seen the movie with the music with bits and pieces and it’s just incredible. I’m so excited because I haven’t scored a complete film myself so it’s been a blast. It’s really been a fun, fun time.
Does writing music for the film connect at all to your songwriting on a solo album?
It is completely different. There are some things that are similar such as themes and things like that but sometimes there’s not a time signature. You’ve got to really think, “How is this gonna go with this?” and it is a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun as well. It’s a lot more intense and time consuming ‘cause there’s so many instruments. It’s a challenge but I’m so happy and honored that I got a chance to do it and everybody’s really, really happy with it so far.
You played at Dimebash, the benefit for Dimebag?
Yes, it was fun. I love doing things like that especially celebrating such a great guy and such a great life and such an amazing talent. You get to go up there and play songs with your friends like Sebastian Bach and Duff. It’s fun, man. I like doing it because you’ve got to have a little fun in your life and what I enjoy doing is going up and playing with your friends and celebrating such a great, great life. I wish I didn’t have to do it because I wish that Dime was still here so we wouldn’t even have to be doing this.
What is it you loved about Dime’s playing?
"Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was bigger than any song today of course. So it was just a huge part of my childhood and growing up and I loved it."
Like we were talking about, he’s like another Robbie Krieger, Brian May or Eddie Van Halen. They all had their own voice and I really believe that Dime just had his own voice and touched the hearts of millions of people. On top of that he was such a cool guy. He was such a rad guy and a kind soul. You just kinda scratch your head and go, “What happened? What gives?” Sometimes life isn’t fair and that’s a perfect example.
You auctioned off some of your guitars including a Gretsch Falcon 613BK, an ’81 Fender Stratocaster and a 1964 Gibson Thunderbird II bass. Why?
I’m cleaning house a little bit. I was like, “I want to weed these out and give ‘em to some people that really appreciate ‘em.” Now could you imagine just between you and me when you were a kidf if your guitar hero like Eddie Van Halen was selling a guitar? I would do anything to get one. So I just thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could sell these and just make someone so happy?” I couldn’t even imagine if Ace Frehley was selling one of his guitars back in the day. Oh my god, forget it.
You would have been the first guy to bid?
Oh my god, if we even had that back in the day.
Rob Zombie is touring with Megadeth—are you looking forward to that?
I am. There are a couple reasons: I’ve been working so hard. I mean really, really hard and when I go out on tour it’s gonna be May and it’s gonna be nice weather. It’s gonna be incredible and just to get out there and play these shows for people and have fun. It’s kinda like a vacation for me. It really is just like a vacation going out there and having fun and being with your friends. The other this is when I was growing up, I loved Megadeth. I got into Megadeth right when Peace Sells came out and I stayed a fan for a long, long time. I never got to play a show with Megadeth so it’s really gonna be a lot of fun sharing a stage with ‘em.
You came out with your own instructional guitar book called The Book of John.
Yeah, Book of John. Good title, huh?
Brilliant title. If a guitar player picks up your book will they sound like you after two weeks?
Absolutely. Exactly like me. No, the whole reason I do this is I love to inspire and there’s nothing more gratifying than when you see a guitar player and they are playing some of your licks. I love that. A lot of people are like, “He’s ripping you off” but I love it. I think it’s so cool.
Have you seen other guys doing your licks?
Sure and I love it. I’ll give ‘em high fives. I think it’s so rad.
On the DVD in the new CD, there’s some footage from the Remixploitation photo shoot at Neil Zlozower’s studio. That looked pretty fun.
Did you know all those girls?
No, but what that was and you’ll appreciate this—that was a spoof off of the Electric Ladyland cover.
You’re a genius. Except the girls in your shoot made the girls on the cover of the Hendrix record look like guys.
Yeah, those girls were pretty rough. The girls on the Remix album were smokin’ so it was good. It was such a good idea. You get a lot more physical CDs on that record than downloads. That’s for sure and it wasn’t the artwork.
Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2012