As Rob Zombie’s musical partner in crime for the past eight years, an accomplished solo artist, a sought-after songwriter and, now, the composer of a full-length film score, John 5 has become one of the most prolific purveyors of rock music, long ago shedding the label of “former Marilyn Manson guitarist.” With his two latest endeavors—Rob Zombie’s new album, “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” (April 23) and the musical score of Zombie’s new film, “Lords of Salem” (April 19)—due out soon and Zombie’s just-announced headlining stint on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival coming up this summer, John 5 recently checked in with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: Well, first thing: It’s official that Rob Zombie will be headlining the Mayhem Festival this summer. You did that a few years ago, too. Can you talk a little bit about your experience the first time around and how you feel about doing it again this year?
JOHN 5: The thing I love most is touring in the States at summertime. It’s what gives me the fondest memories. I love it. It’s like a kid going to camp when you’re little or something like that. I really love playing the Mayhem Fest. You get up, hang out with your friends, you get to see all these great bands, you get to see all these cool people, chicks in bathing suits, and get out and play live music and people scream your name. It’s the best. It’s such a great time, and luckily, we get to do it all summer. So I’m really excited about it.
You also just recently shot a video for the first single off the new album, “Dead City Radio.” I’ve seen some photos online. It looks like your typical, crazy Zombie video. How did it go shooting that?
Oh my god, man. The video is completely crazy and cool. There’s so much cool stuff in it. I don’t know how to explain it, but just watching it from playback—some scenes that we filmed without any editing or anything—it looks so rad. Luckily, everything is going really well with this “Dead City Radio” song, and then the video’s gonna come out. We’re having a great time, and people are really responding well to the song. We’re loving it. We’re having a great, great time.
The new Rob Zombie album is “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor.” It comes out April 23. You’ve been playing with Zombie for about eight years now. When it comes to writing and recording music, how has that relationship evolved over the years?
We just click really well when we write. We just click, and we have a great time. I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on anything. He’s obviously the boss and what he says goes, but I’ve never really said to myself, “Oh no, it should be like this.” So it’s such a great writing relationship—and touring relationship. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get asked all the time to join other groups and things like that, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s really something else.
Before you started working on the songs for this new album, did you ever have a discussion about any kind of direction to go in or did you just start writing and see what came out?
We just start writing and see what comes out. With Rob, he doesn’t want it to sound like anyone or anything like that. To me, it sounds like some early White Zombie, because I was such a fan of White Zombie and Rob Zombie before I was in the band. So it really reminds me of that early White Zombie. What we did was we locked ourselves up in Rob’s house—and he’s got tons of property back east—and there was no phones, no Internet. We just sat there and just were writing all day. We had no distractions, and it was incredible. It’s amazing how much work you get done.
I’ve got to say, I kind of loved this album even before I heard it just based on the song titles. They’re just so ridiculous. When he comes up with these things and some of his lyrics and you hear them, do you ever just kind of shake your head like, “Where are you getting this stuff from?”
I see some of the song titles and I’m like, how is he going to make that into a tune? And he’ll come up with the best hook. The record is super hooky. It’s really got great hooks on it. He’s a great songwriter, too. People talk about him being a director and all this stuff, but he is a great songwriter, too. It’s hard to write a hook that’s gonna stick in your head and resonate for years to come. So I think he really did a stellar job on this record.
I really want to hear a big crowd chant the chorus of—
The “Ging Gang Gong (De Do Gong De Laga Raga)?” (laughs) Yeah, me too. Oh gosh, that’d be great.
This was your first time in a while recording with Ginger Fish, right?
Yeah, first time in a while, since (Marilyn Manson’s) “Golden Age of Grotesque” (2003) or something like that. He’s great. It’s funny how it all worked out. Joey (Jordison) from Slipknot, we were using him when he had a break from Slipknot, and he had to go back to his band. We were kind of without a drummer. I’ll call Ginger every once in a while, and—I’m being completely honest—I wasn’t even thinking of Ginger being in Zombie. I was just like, “Hey, Ginger, what are you up to?” Because he was in Marilyn Manson, and I wouldn’t ever try to steal anybody away from a band or anything like that. So I was just like, “Hey, what’s happening?” He was like, “Oh man, not so great.” So I think he was already on the outs. So I said, “Hey, why don’t you come play with us?” And it was such a perfect fit because I’ve known Ginger forever, when I joined in 1998. He just fits perfect, and he’s such a great guy, great drummer. So we’re really happy.
How did you decide to cover “We’re an American Band?” It doesn’t seem like an obvious choice, but then you hear the song and it seems to fit really well.
Yeah, ‘cause we are such an American band. We were thinking about covers, and I can picture me and Rob talking about this. I was like, “Yeah, what if we did this one or this one?” We were going back and forth for a little while, and Rob goes, “Man, ‘We’re an American Band.” And I was like, “That’s it. We have to do it, we have to do it.” And a cool part of that song is, in the original, there’s a lyric that goes “Up all night with Freddie King, poker is his thing;” in the Rob Zombie version, it says “Up all night with Kerry King.” We kind of snuck that in, so the next time you listen to it, listen for Kerry King’s name.
(Laughs) Awesome. What songs off this new album are you really looking forward to playing live?
Boy, that’s a great question. Of course, “Dead City Radio,” “American Band.” “American Band” because everybody knows it, and it’s so rad. I love “Lucifer Rising.” I love “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy.” There’s so many songs that will sound great live, too, because the album was recorded so live. It’s gonna sound really, really cool.
We’ll switch gears a little bit here. The other big thing you’ve been up to is the musical score for Rob Zombie’s new movie, “Lords of Salem.” What was that process like for you working on this?
I’ve done scoring before. It’s challenging. I’ve worked on TV shows like Baywatch, things like that. But I’ve never scored a full-length feature film, and I’ll tell you, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because all the orchestra and all the instruments, and sometimes there’s no key signature or time signature, and it was really a challenge. It turned out great, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. When people see the movie, they’ll witness how much music is in this movie. And everything you hear—everything, even if they’re in a radio station and they hear background music—that’s me doing that. So there’s so much music in this movie.
Did you wait until you were able to see scenes from the movie before you started writing music or did you get an idea of what it would be about and go from there? How did that all work?
Rob gave me direction, of course, on every cue. He was like, “Come look at this scene,” or “I want it like this.” I’d get a cue sheet from him, and he would guide me to what he wanted. So that helped immensely.
Is this something you’d like to do more of in the future?
Well, only if it’s a really big film like “Titanic 2” or “E.T. Part 2” or something like that. (laughs) Yeah, I guess. If it’s the right film, sure.
You probably got this question a lot last fall, but you toured with Marilyn Manson last year. What was it like being out on the road with him again?
It started out a little shaky, but at the end—and I’m being completely honest—it was such a great tour. Manson was awesome. We came out there and we played, and I think people really enjoyed it. We would be in the middle of nowhere in Europe, and it would be packed. It was such a successful tour. We had to open up more seats because people were buying tickets like crazy. It was a really successful tour.
In the past few years with Zombie, you’ve done a lot of tours with some really big acts—Alice Cooper, Slayer, Megadeth, Manson. Has there been one of these tours that’s really stood out as being your favorite?
That’s a great question. To be honest, I really love the summer festival tours. I love ‘em. I love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em. So those are my favorite, and luckily, I get to do it in a couple months.
Yeah, that’s awesome. I don’t want to take up a ton of time here. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Come out and see us on tour. Check out the new “Lords of Salem” movie, April 19, and the new Rob Zombie record on April 23.