John Lowery is J5
Guitarist John Lowery lives an interesting life. By day he is disciplined student of the guitar. He has a fondness for chicken-pickin' and recently acquired a "killer" banjo. By night, he becomes John 5, lead guitarist for the infamous shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, whose latest CD The Golden Age of Grotesque, was released by Interscope Records back in May, followed by a headlining slot on this summer's Ozzfest tour. Whichever personality he takes on, John's one constant is his love of the guitar. He never stops playing, practicing, or taking lessons. With his guitar by his side, John sat down with us during a break in his Manson rehearsals to discuss this passion. He played through the entire interview....
Guitar.com: How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
John 5: When I was around 6 years old, I saw a little kid on the TV show Hee Haw playing the banjo. He was about my age and he was crazy! I could not believe my eyes. That's why I picked up the guitar. I played in bars when I was in the seventh grade. Playing guitar is just what I have always wanted to do. I was ready.
Guitar.com: Were you raised in Los Angeles?
John 5: No, I came from Gross Point Michigan to Los Angeles when I was 18. It was 1988. I didn't know anyone at all. It was a crazy time. I slept in an office space. People from bands like Guns and Roses and Megadeth were around, it was a big drug scene. My money was stolen the first night I arrived in town!
Guitar.com: Did you begin working right away?
John 5: Yes, luckily I started working very quickly. My first professional session was with Robin Zander (vocalist) of Cheap Trick. Next I recorded with John Wetton of UK and Asia. Then the frequency of sessions started to snowball.
Guitar.com: How did artists discover you?
John 5: Word of mouth I guess. People found out that I was quick and cheap. After small sessions like Wilson Phillips and Rick Springfield, I did whatever I could do. I did music for television shows like Baywatch and Flipper, I played on a few movie soundtracks, anything I could get my hands on. Then I started getting better gigs and better tours like k.d. lang for example. I have been working steadily since I was 18. Thank god. Knock on wood!
Guitar.com: The artists you mention recording with are all quite diverse in their styles. Did you formally study various musical techniques?
John 5: Growing up, I didn't want to be a rock star, I wanted to be a session player and I knew that to do so I needed to be able to play all kinds of different styles. I would listen to all sorts of music because I wanted to do sessions. I listened to country, rock, R&B, anything I could absorb to strengthen my ears. I felt that as a session player I could be in a different band every day, instead of just one. I thought that was so cool.
Guitar.com: But now you are a full-time band member....
John 5: Yeah. When a session ends you are done and basically left scrambling for more work. After doing so many sessions I found that I wanted the stability and consistency of being in a band. I met Ozzy Osbourne and he introduced me to drummer Randy Castillo and we started a band named Red Square Black which was signed to the Zoo/BMG label. That was great. Next I started a band called Two with Rob Halford (ex Judas Priest vocalist). It was such a great experience for me. Working with Rob was such a breeze. He is so pro and such a great singer. Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) produced our record.
Guitar.com: Do you have a daily practice routine?
John 5: I have never stopped taking lessons. I still take them today. I just want to learn and learn and learn. I never want to be in a situation or a session where I don't know how to play something. When I am on the road and I can't go to see a teacher, I learn from videos or CDs or books. I learn all the time. This one year I taught myself so many crazy chords it was unbelievable. I haven't been able to use any of them yet but someday I will!
Guitar.com: If you ever need those chords...
John 5: I'll know them!
Guitar.com: What style lessons are you taking now?
John 5: Western Swing. (plays a bouncing riff). The stuff where you play the bass part and the melody simultaneously.
Guitar.com: Do you read music?
John 5: Yes I do. But there has not been much reading required in any of the work that I've done. Sometimes I have to read for TV and movie sessions and I did a bit for k.d. lang but in general not much. That reminds me, I should brush up a bit on my reading...
Guitar.com: So do you feel that you are hired for your sound?
John 5: Exactly.
Guitar.com: Is it true that you recorded with David Lee Roth?
John 5: When I was on a break with Halford, I wanted to play more so I called David Lee Roth's manager, I am a huge VH fan, and I sent them around eight or nine songs, very old-school Van Halen type tunes. They liked them and told me to send them more.
Guitar.com: Were the demos or just guitar?
John 5: Guitar, bass, drums. Basic tracks.
Guitar.com: And what happened?
John 5: I hadn't even spoken to Dave yet and he already had lyrics to the songs. He wanted to do a record so we did.
John 5: Yeah, we cut the entire record, vocals and all, in two weeks. It was a crazy time. I was leaving for Europe with Halford so we had to do it quickly. It was all live, one and two takes. The drummer and I had never played together before the recording began. It was wild. I remember Dave saying "if you can't do it in one take then you can't do it." I was sweating! It was so exciting.
Guitar.com: Did those recordings get released?
John 5: Dave released it himself as the DLR Band. They all sold and that was it. Around 60,000 copies.
Guitar.com: Why did you stop playing with Roth?
John 5: I actually still write for Dave all the time. We have a good group of songs but I gave up DLR to join Marilyn Manson.
Guitar.com: How did you get the Manson gig?
John 5: I got off the road with Halford and my phone rang and it was Manson's manager. They heard I was interested in the gig. Marilyn and I met at Gaucho Grill in Hollywood, he gave me the name John 5 and that was it. It all happened so quickly.
Guitar.com: Why were you so interested in playing with him?
John 5: Because I knew that he was real. He is very smart and interesting. He is a true artist. It really is crazy playing with him. He is the real deal. It is a crazy life but the music and touring make it all worth it. I love being in the band.
Guitar.com: When did you officially join the band?
John 5: I joined in 1998 during the recording of Mechanical Animals. My photo is in the CD artwork but I didn't play on that record. The first record I did with Manson was a live album called The Last Tour on Earth (Release Date: 11/16/99). I was proud of that. There are no overdubs. Not one.
Guitar.com: What is the writing process like in Marilyn Manson?
John 5: With Manson we (the band) all present ideas and he decides what to work on. He is a hard one to please, so there are lots of ideas flying around. He is very involved in every pluck, every sound.
Guitar.com: Is his intense involvement stiflingly to you as a player?
John 5: No, it is really helpful. Writing and recording is a learning situation. It is a lot of work in the studio. As a producer, he has great ideas. I never knew he had those skills before I joined the band. For example, he may not know the specific chord names but he will suggest different chord voicings that really make sense.
Guitar.com: Have you grown as a player by working with Manson?
John 5: In terms of sounds and feel, absolutely. 100 percent.
Guitar.com: What do you mean by sounds?
John 5: Our goal is to create tones that don't sound ordinary. We don't want the guitar to sound like it is being played through a regular distorted amp. We have this joke were we say "it sounds too Guitar Center." The sounds on his records are so unique; we do a lot of experimenting. So the experience is helpful when I do a session with someone else and they ask me to make it sound original, I have a whole host of sonic colors to choose from. And I know the frequencies to place them in within the recording. I learned all that with Manson.
Guitar.com: What types of effects are you using live?
John 5: I can't give away all my secrets! I do use all the basics - distortions, wahs, etc. I use lots of Electro-harmonix stuff, and lots of vintage gear. I have an old Fuzz/wah pedal made by Fox that sounds incredible. I also have a few weird one-of-a-kind pedals that someone made in their basement. Those sound great but if they break you are screwed! Ibanez made me a Lo-Fi pedal that sounds like an old transmitter radio...it sounds unbelievable.
Guitar.com: What about amps?
John 5: I love recording with Fender Tonemasters...they sound so good. But on the road I use the Marshall JCM800 2203x reissue 100 watt head and a Mode Four MF350.
Guitar.com: Why the different set up?
John 5: Live the gear really gets beat up. The Marshall's really hold up and sound great. I don't want to take my old amps on the road because they will get crushed by flying mic stands.
Guitar.com: And guitars?
John 5: I play all kinds. I've been using Ibanez for a long, long time. They make great guitars. I have lots of guitars - Les Pauls, baritones, seven strings, teles, Taylor acoustics. I'm very proud to say that Fender is coming out with a Signature Model which I helped design.
Guitar.com: Tell us about that guitar.
John 5: It is a Telecaster body with a Bigsby tailpiece, Seymour Duncan Hotrail pickups, a black finish and chrome hardware. And the headstock is very unique....
Guitar.com: Fender changed their headstock?
John 5: Yes! They haven't changed the tele headstock since the '50's. I'm very honored. It's a cool-looking, great sounding guitar. It will appeal to both country pickers and rockers.
Guitar.com: What are your strengths as a player?
John 5: I try to do everything to the best of my ability. I'll work on something until I get it right. I am a perfectionist.
Guitar.com: Any last thoughts?
John 5: I don't know what I would do if I didn't play guitar. It is my life!