In 2016, John 5 kept fans intrigued for what he would bring when he spent the year dropping new songs and music videos that ranged from heavy, fast-paced rock to jazz fusion and Western swing. Now the renowned guitarist and longtime Rob Zombie collaborator is bringing his ambitious project to full fruition with the release of his genre-spanning Season of the Witch album with his band The Creatures, plus an intense accompanying tour.
Fuse spoke to John 5 ahead of the release to find out where the inspiration for so many sounds comes from, what to expect on tour, his issues with collaborating and more.
Fuse: Season of the Witch is out now, following a lengthy rollout. In your own words, how is your eighth solo album different from your past material?
John 5: With the changing times, everybody's scratching their head, they're spinning plates, they're trying to figure out what is going on because it's changing so much. We're never going to go to CDs or albums or vinyl—yeah, everyone's talking about vinyl right now but it's a nostalgic thing, you don't see people going, "Hey! I'm going to bring over my records!" Everyone's done with downloading, people are just streaming and they're watching music on YouTube. So I said, "This is really interesting." Back in the '50s, people would just put out singles, you know? So, what I did was I put out a song a month with the video, because everything is YouTube, and it worked so well. It worked really well because collectively there's certain amounts of views on these that I would have never gotten now—and I don't know anyone who is getting a million spins on radio.
And I'm doing this for the love of music, the love of guitar. This is instrumental music, it's not like it's going to sell a zillion copies. It's for the love of crazy, crazy guitar music. People understand that and I think that's what they dig about it because I do it for the love of guitar and music. I think people know its genuine.
The range of music on this record is remarkable. Do you think trying different sounds and genres kept
the intrigue high?
I'm going to do what I love: I love playing country and bluegrass and Western swing and all these different styles that I was educated on my whole life with my guitar teachers. I thought, "Why not be who I am: this crazy rock guitar player, but throw in this different style of music." And the music is traditional. It's not fake or anything, this is traditional and played how it should be played. I think that's why I'm still around after so many instrumental records. It's something different, it's completely different from what my other heroes are doing.
What do you think people might still be surprised to
hear influences you?
That's my biggest thing: I'm always looking for inspiration. A lot of people don't find it. There could be that one epiphany that changed their life for forever. A lot of people have not found that, which is a bummer.
There's a guitar player named Joe Maphis that I found on YouTube and he was this old picker in the '50s...and I was so psyched! I was like, 'This is awesome!' He did this song called "Pickin' & Singin'," this guy was playing live—everything was live, it was the '50s—and he was singing, he was playing guitar, then he switched from guitar to mandolin and then he switched from mandolin to banjo, then banjo to fiddle and then fiddle to standup bass. It was in a minute, 50 seconds while singing. I was like, "Now, that's entertainment." That's where I got one of my songs "Black Grass Plague" where I'm switching instruments in the song, you can see it in the video, and that's where I got it. Inspiration is everything. When I do that live, people lose their mind.
What other parts should people look forward to on this tour?
We're going to bring some monsters that are going to come out onstage. We're going to do a lot of interaction with the crowd and the monsters will hand out little gifts to the crowd—just a lot of crowd interaction, which I think is important. These are smaller places, which is great because we've played these larger venues and there are quiet comedowns and those places we have had to say, "Oh we can't play these kind of songs because the sound only travels so far." A lot of people say this because they can't play massive places, but I play massive places with Zombie and stuff like that—but I really enjoy playing the smaller places as well because you get to be right up with those kids. And I was that kid! And it is fun and I really enjoy it. I want to see the people's reaction to "Hell Haw," it's such a fun song and it's so crazy.
For a while, you were known for doing a lot of collaborating and writing with other artists. Are you still doing that?
I'm glad you asked that because I used to do that all the time. That was my gig! I would write with Rod Steward, Ricky Martin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meatloaf, Scorpions, Steve Perry, the list goes on and on. And it's great, you get with these guys—you get with your heroes—you know their songs, you know their catalogue, you write some songs and you're part of history. But I'll tell you: The business has changed so dramatically that you're like, "Wait a minute. This was a No. 1 record and you're saying it made this much?" I'm just focusing the instrumental thing, on writing for Rob Zombie and writing for Rob's movies. I've pulled back from writing with other artists because it's not really there anymore. I'm just being honest!
“It's for the love of crazy, crazy guitar music.”
I appreciate the honesty!
All the people I just mentioned, I love hanging out with them, they're all my friends. It's wonderful, just hanging and writing with guys. I do that, but I don't have a publishing deal anymore where you need to get a certain amount of songs cut a year. That was the hard part. You get an advance from a publishing company, you have to turn in a certain amount of songs.
I'll give you an example, I was signed to a certain publishing company, and this was just a few years ago. I was like, "Well, I got all these songs cut by some major, arena-selling artists. I had a great year! Here are your songs!" I thought they were going to high-five me. But these publishing companies were sinking so fast and they're like, "Well, we can't really count this as what's in your contract because we need these bands to be with major labels." And it's like, "Well, these bands are No. 1-selling band and arena acts?" And they'd say, "We're not going to count it because in your contract it says it has to be with a major label." There's no major labels hardly anymore. All these bands aren't with major label anymore. Here's what so bad about the business: They took the money though. They took the money, but they wouldn't count it for me, I would have to have 10 songs a year with a major-label artist. They'd take the money, but I wouldn't get the credit. It's just such a bad, bad business. I've never been happier without a publishing company—no wonder they're all going under.