John 5 on Shredding, Diversity, and Keeping Audiences Engaged

“This is entertainment—that’s what we do.”
Publish date:
Updated on

“This is entertainment—that’s what we do,” says John 5, who just released the new John 5 and the Creatures album, It’s Alive (his first to be offered on vinyl).

John 5 certainly knows how to entertain. His stage persona, his inventive videos, and his other gig playing arenas with Rob Zombie certainly attest to his larger-than-life charisma. But there’s much more to John 5’s performances than showbiz. He is a consummate technician who can shred some metal, and then zoom through Joe Maphis-inspired country swing—all on his signature Telecasters. Obviously, maintaining such high-level chops takes commitment.

“I play about three hours before each show, so that I’m nice and warmed up,” he explains. “It sounds like a lot, but I’m always playing. I also use a very light touch, and that helps with speed and accuracy. I’m constantly trying to reach a pinnacle of perfection, so I actually play little musical games with myself to break the repetition of doing shows on tour—which, in turn, makes playing every song so much fun.”

John 5’s multi-stylistic circus is a big part of his creative DNA, but it also delivers new and exciting experiences to his fans.

“We all have this instrument, and we all have guitar heroes,” he says. “But we have to take the instrument and go in different directions, because it’s time. We have to do something else—new sounds, new beats, and new textures. And people will react positively to ‘new’ if you’re playing from your heart. For example, at my all-ages shows, there are these little kids who want to go crazy, and when I start playing western swing, they can’t believe it. Usually, it’s something they’ve never heard before, but they’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s incredible, but I think that’s what they like about the show—it’s so diverse. They can’t walk in, and go, ‘Okay. Okay. We get it,’ because I’m always throwing them curveballs, and there are so many peaks and valleys to each performance.”

Beyond technique and genre gymnastics, John 5 feels one essential element keeps his audiences wanting to hear more.

“When I started doing instrumental music, I knew that if I did shred, shred, and more shred, it would go over people’s heads,” he says. “But I also knew that the most important part of any musical piece is melody, and when you compose an instrumental track with no lyrics and no vocalist, melody is even more critical. Look at most hip hop—it’s all rapping until the chorus, and then the artist typically sings a hook line. So I spend as much time on melodies and phrasing as I do on tone and speed. I want to construct strong riffs and a seductive melody first, and then I’ll put some crazy stuff in there. Ultimately, it’s about having a little bit of everything in an instrumental track that everybody can enjoy.”