By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
Throughout an interview punctuated with observations about serial killers, Rob Zombie’s on-stage pyrotechnics and air hockey, John5 played his guitar.
He picked quietly. The tune was bluegrassy, richly twangy and complex, and hardly distinguishable but for the mellow plucking that escaped into the ear piece of his phone between breaths. It came in fits and starts, sometimes starting over from the beginning, sometimes picking up in the middle of a note as if the melody were running in his mind alongside the answers to my questions.
You must be carrying your guitar right now, I wondered aloud.
“I always do,” said the lead guitarist for Rob Zombie. “I always have my guitar right next to me.”
So, where are you?
“Just laying in bed,” he said. “I’ve got it right here.”
The moment felt like something from “Deliverance,” a scene taken straight from the banks of the Cahulawassee River.
On the surface, all was placidity. John5 plucked bucolically on his instrument. The interviewer scribbled noiselessly with his. The casual afternoon interview proceeded languidly with the musician delivering thoughtful answers in mild tones.
There was no outward indication that in just a few days, John5 would be wearing leather and makeup, wielding his Telecaster like a battle axe during Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson’s Twins of Evil Tour that stops Tuesday in Mankato.
“It’s a massive, massive show,” John5 said. “Pretty spectacular.”
In case you’re not familiar, concerts for these poster boys of contemporary shock rock are famously over-the-top and unpredictable. Eric Jones, marketing manager for the concert-hosting Verizon Wireless Center, said the show’s pyrotechnics are “out of this world.”
Mankato is the only Minnesota stop on the 38-date tour that includes a national leg followed by a round of international dates beginning in November.
Jones said Rob Zombie’s Mankato concert with Anthrax in 2006 was a success; but he couldn’t think of any other fast explanations for why the tour’s managers gave Mankato, and not the Twin Cities, the first crack at an exclusive tour stop.
“It kind of seems like it would have ‘Twin Cities’ written all over it,” Jones said. “But they brought it to us.”
Jones added that he had his own somewhat surreal experience with Rob Zombie and John5 back in 2006.
While making the rounds just minutes before the concert was to begin, Jones found the band in what is usually the home locker room for ice hockey games. Though they “looked like something from a horror movie,” Jones said band mates were blasting Buck Owens at top volume.
“That’s one of my favorite stories,” Jones said.
And Rob Zombie has lots of stories to tell.
As a filmmaker, he has produced a handful of gore-soaked, but cleverly derivative horror films. His latest work -- “Lords of Salem,” which debuted to glowing critical reviews during the Toronto Film Festival in September and should be in theaters in 2013 -- tones down the gore in favor of a more surreal cinematic experience.
John5 created the musical score for the film and said he continues to be motivated by Rob Zombie’s creativity.
“Rob is very inspiring to say the least,” he said. “I’m really honored to work with him.”
In addition to films and music, Rob Zombie is also a painter. He provided the cover art for John5’s 2012 instrumental record, “God Told Me To” and is as articulate about his craft as any artist anywhere.
But John5 did get the best of him in a game of air hockey. Though there were no witnesses that fateful day in a movie theater in Rochester, N.Y., John5 swears it’s true.
“I beat him by a point,” he said.
John5 made a name for himself first with Marilyn Manson. He replaced his given name, John Lowery, with a stage persona that includes masks, makeup, skulls, long coats, leather -- all the requisite shock rock accouterments.
After departing from Manson in 2004, John5 joined Rob Zombie where he has remained.
But he’s also an accomplished session player, having compiled an impressive resume of collaborations including significant roles in the solo work of David Lee Roth and Paul Stanley. In addition, he’s released six instrumental albums.
Most of his instrumental discography lands squarely in the hard metal realm. Many song titles contain references to serial killers, a nod to John5’s fascination with those who “make chopping someone up to be just part of their routine.”
But the most recent instrumental release -- this year’s “God Told Me To” -- is an impressively diverse collection that illuminates John5’s broad talents. From unapologetic shredders like “Welcome to Violence,” to flamenco-infused Latin ballads like “Noche Acosador” to ethereal acoustic showcases like “The Castle,” it’s clear John5 could play with just about anybody.
“I have the best of both worlds,” he said. “I’m able to be in this massively huge rock band, and I also have the privilege of doing my own instrumental work.”