JOHN 5 REALLY LOVES PLAYING guitar. It might seem like a redundant statement; he’s a professional guitarist being written about in a guitar magazine, after all. It’d stand to reason he enjoys picking up the instrument every now and again.
But this can’t be stressed enough: John 5 really, really, really loves playing guitar. Put aside the fact that instead of taking well-earned vacations when he’s not on tour with Rob Zombie, he collaborates with artists as varied as Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ricky Martin and puts out solo albums, including his latest, Sinner. Ignore the fact that his Instagram is peppered with tour preparations consisting of running scales while trotting on a treadmill.
Let’s put it this way: When most guitarists sit down for an interview, they get on the phone and answer the questions. Sometimes they gush about a new project or a new signature axe, but the format is consistent. When the man born John William Lowery sits down for an interview, he insists on a Zoom call and appears on the screen holding his signature frost gold Fender Telecaster. It’s a guitar that’s been so well-loved that he recently had to replace the pickguard because of wear and tear.
“I’m just mostly comfortable with this guitar,” he says. “The metal was worn in. And now, already you can see it’s getting worn away again and it’s only been a month or so.”
Throughout our interview, John 5 doesn’t just answer questions about Sinner: he offers an intimate and unprompted playthrough of favorite tracks, demonstrating riffs and solos (and only occasionally getting distracted by one of the Sphynx cats strolling over his coffee table).
So, yeah: John 5 really loves playing guitar, and that love is all over Sinner. Which isn’t to say this is the typical shred album. Sure, there’s mind-blowing technique sprinkled throughout the 10 tracks; lightning-fast arpeggios on album opener “Welcome to the Island,” sweeps and taps galore on the verses of “Euphoria,” and, of course, the country runs that have become a John 5 signature on a demented version of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “How High the Moon.”
What’s most noticeable on Sinner is just how concise everything is. On previous solo records, John 5 would go off on whatever tangent his fertile imagination would take him, which resulted in some very inventive, if somewhat unfocused, music. Here, that cerebral chaos has been finely honed. The album is eclectic (this is a guy who spent an early portion of his career backing k.d. lang, after all) but keeps from meandering.
“I love rock, mostly, but I just love music — and that’s what’s most important. I just love all these different kinds of guitar playing there is. All these different kinds of guitar players and styles, I try to use that in my records. It’s just what I watch on TV, it’s what I do and I try to incorporate all these cool licks with heavy rock music. People really enjoy those parts of the show because it’s not just metal, metal, metal music in your face,” he says, veering off into a quick chicken pickin’ run.
It’s entirely possible that the blade sharp songwriting on Sinner is a result of John 5, like the rest of the world, not having a ton else to do while working on it.
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