JOHN 5 – “There’s A Little Sinner In Everyone”

November 14, 2021, a year ago

By Aaron Small

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JOHN 5 – “There’s A Little Sinner In Everyone”

“I had a lot of time to work on it, as a lot of people had in lockdown. It’s pretty much what I play when I’m sitting on the couch, so it should have been called Songs From The Couch,” jokes guitarist John 5 (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth) as he talks about his newly released solo album Sinner, available now on Big Machine Records.

But Sinner is a much more intriguing title. “I agree,” says John 5. “Being home, your mind starts to think, and there’s a little sinner in everyone – even kids! And that’s ok. Some people have it more extreme than others. But I think it’s fitting.”

In 1986, Ozzy Osbourne released The Ultimate Sin, and now in 2021 John 5 shares his ultimate sin. “My ultimate sin… let’s see, I was actually a really good kid growing up. I never drank, never did drugs, never smoked, or anything like that. But of course, just like anyone, I liked to skip school. I loved to be out of school! It was the most comforting, invigorating feeling that I had. Being out of school, when everybody else was in school, I just loved it! I had such an amazing feeling of that. And that’s a sin. Anything we do – a little white lie. I think everybody can relate.”

Sinner is John 5’s tenth solo studio album; a remarkable milestone. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. When people ask me, ‘What number is this?’ I don’t even know. I just really enjoy making music. I enjoy playing and picking and doing all that stuff; I don’t even keep track. I just try to write the best music I can.”

The cover art for Sinner is a vibrant piece, created by Jeff Wood, best known for his tremendous concert posters. “It’s a great story,” begins John 5. “I’m glad you brought that up. Jeff Wood – very interesting. How it came about was, I was at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) with my son, and my friend Hugo called me and said, ‘I’m with my friend Jeff Wood, he’s a great artist and he’s a big fan of yours. You should check out his work.’ When you’re at the DMV, you have a lot of time to waste. So, I checked it out, and I was like, whoa, this guy is incredible! I was blown away by this guy. I said, ‘Hugo (which is my friend I was talking to), get me on the phone with him.’ So, I said to Jeff, ‘I really like your work. Would you mind doing something? Maybe I could have it as the centerfold?’ He whipped something up, and it was the beginnings of the cover. I was so shocked! Him showing me this primitive version of the cover you see today. Sure enough, he ended up doing the cover. And the little symbols you see around my head, is the Witches hidden alphabet, and it says John 5. The very last letter you see is a V, which is the Roman numeral for five. That’s a little inside scoop.”

With the exception of John 5’s first two solo albums, Vertigo, which was issued in 2004 on Shrapnel Records, and Songs For Sanity, which was issued in 2005 on Mascot Records, the rest of his releases have come out on his own label, 60 Cycle Hum. Sinner is the first John 5 album to come out on Big Machine Records, home to Ayron Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Tim McGraw, to name a few. “That’s a fairytale in itself,” admits John 5. “Scott Borchetta, who is head of the label… I was doing the ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ song with Nikki Sixx and Rob Zombie (as L.A. Rats). We did it and it was great. Scott asked, ‘Who’s playing guitar?’ And they said, John 5, blah blah blah. He did a lot of research, and he goes, ‘I want to get in the John 5 business. I think this is out of the ordinary and really cool.’ He really got it! Next to Taylor Swift and all these huge ones, it’s like… you know it’s all instrumental and crazy. He’s like, ‘I love it!’ So, I’m on a major label which is crazy nowadays, even if I was just a rock band with a singer. But I’m on a major label with an instrumental, which I’m so proud to be.”

Speaking of John 5’s collaboration with Nikki Sixx, Rob Zombie, and Tommy Clueftos, we take a quick detour from Sinner. Is there anything more coming from L.A. Rats, or was that just a one-time only, one song deal? “I think it’s just a one-time, unfortunately. Well, who knows? We could get together and do another song, but there’s no plans. I’m the cheerleader. I’m like, ‘Hey dudes, let’s do something else. It took two weeks, who cares.’ I’ve always got a guitar in my hand, let’s do something. The other guys are so busy. Rob’s making movies, Nikki’s writing books and about to go on a huge tour. I can always find time. Whenever I have a chance to play guitar, I’m in.”

Joining John 5 on Sinner is Logan Miles Nix on drums, and Ian Ross on bass, collectively known as The Creatures. It came as a surprise to learn that Gilby Clarke, formerly of Guns N’ Roses, engineered the drums for Sinner at Redrum Recording in Los Angeles as Gilby’s a rhythm guitar player, not a drummer. “Right. He’s got a studio in his home, and it sounds amazing! It’s just incredible, it sounds so good. We got in there and he recorded those drums.”

Barry Pointer, who produced and mixed Sinner, also plays guitar for Hillbilly Herald. “Now this guy, Barry Pointer, is so talented. He did my Invasion record (2019), Live Invasion (2020), now this record. It’s incredible what this guy can do. We had nothing but time (due to the pandemic), and we were finishing everything really fast. I was like, hmmm, well, what else should we? Then we just kind of tore everything apart again – what if this was like this? Just because we had so much time. But what I did was, I recorded it kind of like – I was listening to a lot of ‘40s music, and I just wanted to do it as a full take, everything as a full take. And that’s how I was doing it. Starting from the first note, all the way to the end; I’d just record like that. I was imagining myself if I was in the ‘40s; you can’t mess up. It was a lot of fun.” So, there’s no punch-ins or splicing together of tape. What listeners hear is one performance, from first note to final note. “Right, all those songs you hear were live recordings, which was fascinating to me. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun too.”

There’s three big name guest appearances on Sinner. Going in order of appearance on the album, Carla Harvey from Butcher Babies is up first. She sings one word on “Euphoria”, that being euphoria – not exactly your traditional guest vocalist appearance. “Well, I’m no lyricist, that’s for sure. There’s a reason why I don’t write lyrics. I really love those little vocal hooks in songs, like Fat Boy Slim, or something like that. It just fits so well, just that little ‘Euphoria’; it’s just so cool. I had a couple other girls do it, and it didn’t work out as well as how Carla did it. She just nailed it with that whispery voice.”

That brings us to Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, who gets a few more words than Carla did, on the song “Que Pasa”. And “Que Pasa” is a Spanish phrase, which translates to “What’s going on?” in English. “I like to work with vocal hooks when I’m writing, and Barry found this really cool hook of James Brown talking to the crowd in one of his live performances. He was like, ‘Que pasa people, que pasa.’ Like, what’s going on crowd, what’s going on people? He put it in there and it was really cool – it’s super funky, even when he’s talking. We were just using that. And then we had to get someone to do it. They said, ‘Who do you want?’ I said I would love Dave Mustaine. I was listening to a lot of Megadeth. I knew his assistant, and I shot it over to him. He said, ‘Dave really likes this.’ So, he did it, and it’s just so perfect! It’s that Dave Mustaine growl, it’s so cool.” And Mustaine appears in the video for “Que Pasa”. Not alongside John 5, but on the screen behind the band playing up front. “Right, which I think is actually cooler than him physically being there. He looks so much bigger, and everything like that. I really like how it came out.” And that video has a very unexpected ending with the pillow fight! “Yes, of course. That’s how all of my days end usually, in my head, with my wife having a pillow fight with somebody.”

Rounding out the guest appearances on Sinner is Peter Criss from KISS on “Georgia On My Mind”. It’s no secret that John 5 is a massive KISS fan and has an enormous collection. This must have been an absolute dream / fantasy come true. “It was wonderful because we had… I’ve known Peter for decades, and he loves jazz. I was just going to have a solo guitar playing ‘Georgia’, which was beautiful. Then I was like, could I have Pete play drums? Barry flew down there, put up a couple of mics, and that’s why you hear Peter talking – that conversation is about 15 minutes long. We just picked a couple pieces and put it out there. Peter played it a few times, because the way he plays, he grew up playing that jazz. It just took him a couple takes; it’s like breathing to him, it was so effortless.” Obviously, “Georgia On My Mind” was made famous by Ray Charles in 1960, but was actually written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930. “I love that ‘30s and ‘40s style. I think it’s one of my favorite tracks on the record, it’s very special.”

Just as there are three guest appearances on Sinner, the album contains three cover songs. In addition to “Georgia On My Mind”, John 5 puts his own unique spin on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen from their 1980 album, The Game, as well as “How High The Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford. “I got a chance to jam with Les Paul (before his passing in 2009) – one of the most incredible times of my life! That’s why I put it on there, just a tribute to Les, and what an incredible player and inventor, I mean incredible human he was.” It’s rather eerie that the originators of these cover songs have all passed away. Freddie Mercury from Queen, Ray Charles, and Les Paul are no longer with us. “But that’s the thing. Music, and these artists, are immortal. And that’s what’s special. Music will never die. These artists will never die, they’ll never die. And that’s what’s magical.”

There’s an original song on Sinner that has a title which was oh so appropriate last month for Halloween, namely “Creepshow”. Initially, Creepshow was a horror / comedy anthology directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King in 1982, spawning a pair of sequels. Now there’s a television series called Creepshow, and ultimately, a John 5 song called “Creepshow”. “Well, I was going to call the album Creepshow, and just have a really cool, that kind of vibe for the album, almost like a circus sideshow. But I was kicking around different titles for a long time. I was going to call it Land Of The Misfit Toys, but I went with Sinner because it’s something everyone can relate to.” Unexpectedly, John 5 reveals that he isn’t a huge fan of the original Creepshow movie. “Because I don’t like my scary movies funny. I like my scary movies serious and scary. Things like, you go to bed and – oh wow, that’s really insane! But I don’t like a lot of comedy mixed in with them. That’s just my opinion.”

Not only was Land Of The Misfit Toys a contender for album title, it’s also a song on Sinner. There’s been a lot of chatter on social media wondering if that track is inspired by Island Of Misfit Toys from the 1964 Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer television special. “Yes, it is,” confirms John 5. “I always thought, we live in a land of… everybody – people walking, driving right now – we’re all misfits. We’re all a little insecure. We’re not happy with this, or we’re not happy with that. We’re all really misfits. That’ why the first song is called ‘Welcome To The Island’. Nobody is really happy with themselves. That’s why there’s filters and plastic surgery, people who dye their hair, or get liposuction. Everyone feels a little bit not complete, and that’s why we’re all misfits – ‘Land Of The Misfit Toys’.”

A captivating video for “Land Of The Misfit Toys”, which has a child actor portraying John 5 as a ten-year old boy, was recently issued. The transformation from innocent school kid putting the grease paint on the misfit doll he finds, to looking like a mini version of who we know today as John 5 is gripping. “That’s right. That’s exactly how the video was supposed to be portrayed. Fun fact: that is our producer Barry Pointer’s ten-year old son, which is pretty neat. I think he looks like Tanner from Bad News Bears. And that’s how I wanted to portray it – he’s walking around this house, and kind of gets possessed. Mike Savage did the video, and he did the ‘Que Pasa’ video… I just really love how this video turned out. It’s incredible! They did such a great job, it’s really wonderful. And all this stuff is on a budget. I pay for everything.”

The first two videos from Sinner are so good, will there be a third? “Of course. I want to try to make one for every song. Cause every song is important to me, and every song is so different. ‘Euphoria’ might be next, but I would love to make one for ‘How High The Moon’, and I’d love to make one with Peter (Criss) for ‘Georgia’. Cool stuff like that.”

John 5 recently pulled out of Yngwie Malmsteen’s US tour that will run November 16 to December 18, citing COVID-related concerns. “The Yngwie tour… I want to go on tour, and I want to enjoy myself. I love being on tour, it’s not work to me, I love it. And I want to have fun. I want to be able to hug people and high-five people, talk to people. It’s just not safe yet. But we are putting together a tour for next year. We’re going to be doing lots of festivals, and we’re going to do a really great, proper Sinner tour.”

There’s some pretty important shows coming up from an artist John 5 previously played with, none other than David Lee Roth. The former Van Halen vocalist announced The Last Tour… Unless It Isn’t, at House Of Blues in Las Vegas. There are five shows in total: December 31, January 1, 5, 7, 8. Any chance of J5 joining DLR on stage for what could be his farewell performances? “I would join him; I just haven’t been asked. But every song he’s been releasing, it’s just me and him playing. We’re very close, we’re friends, but he hasn’t asked. I would do it; I’m not doing anything in January. And I’m so proud of him! He gave us a lot of music, a lot of great tours, and good for him. If he wants to retire, we should applaud him.”

In closing, focus shifts to John 5’s current boss, Rob Zombie, who is directing a movie version of the popular 1960s television sitcom, The Munsters. Unfortunately, J5 will not be contributing any music to the soundtrack or score of that film. “No, I’m not. I was touring and doing my own thing. But of course, if he wanted me to play any kind of guitars or anything I would. If he asked me to do any kind of theme, of course I would contribute.” The anticipation for this movie is immense. “It’s going to be amazing. He’s so talented, it’s going to be incredible. And he’s so passionate about it! That’s his KISS. The Munsters was everything to Rob, everything! It’s like if someone said to me, can you remake KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park? I would put my blood, sweat and tears into it. And that’s what he’s doing.”

(Photos by Matt Wilson)

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