Rob Zombie guitarist John5 wanted to write something simple yet scary when he sat down to compose the score for his band leader's latest horror film, "The Lords of Salem."
The trick, he said, was coming up with material that wouldn't distract audiences but also wouldn't be easily forgotten.
"I always say, it's music that people don't want to listen to, because you're watching the movie," said John5, whose real name is John Lowery. "It's tough. It's gotta be good enough, but it can't distract you."
John5 performs Thursday, Oct. 11, in Rosemont when Zombie co-headlines the Twins of Evil Tour with Marilyn Manson at the Allstate Arena. The guitarist, who previously worked with Manson and Van Halen singer David Lee Roth, spoke to the Daily Herald by phone Tuesday about writing spooky film music and how that factors into his career as a solo artist and guitar virtuoso for one of America's most horror-obsessed multimedia figures.
Q. Shooting for "The Lords of Salem" (due out next year) started almost exactly a year ago. At what point did you start working on the music, and what did you have to work with?
A. Rob would give me direction, like, 'I want it to sound like this, or I want it to sound like that.' It's very primitive, not your everyday-sounding instruments. I would use a violin bow across an acoustic guitar or clank on things or use other odd musical instruments. Then, of course, you have your bassoons and french horns and everything under the sun for other parts of the score. It's very unorthodox, if you will, but it really was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work and it was a big challenge. It turned out amazing, though. I'm very proud of it; that's for sure.
Q. You previously wrote music in the movies "From hell" and Rob Zombie's "Halloween II," but this was your first full film score. Why did you want to do it?
A. I like to do stuff that I haven't done before. I wanted to give it the old high-school try and, again, it was like, 'Wow, this is a lot of work,' because a lot of it wasn't in a certain time signature or key signature, so it was different for me than when everything is all mapped out.
Q. Horror movies have inspired some great music, from the band Goblin's work with Italian director Dario Argento to John Carpenter's self-scored films and Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," featured in "The Exorcist." Did you draw inspiration from these titles or any others?
A. Absolutely. Everything you just mentioned. I wanted the theme of this movie to be very simple, like "Jaws" or "Halloween" -- something that's so easy to remember. When you see the movie, you'll understand what I'm talking about. I really wanted to concentrate on the simple things that ring in your head. I wanted to do something easy in that sense so people could remember it and hopefully have fun with it.
Q. Did you have a lot of visual elements to work with?
A. We (John5 and producer Griffin Boice) would get visuals, or we would get a scene or two and just go off of it from there. It's really amazing when you see a shot with nothing there and then create this sound. It's pretty incredible to see how it all comes to life. It's funny, the power of music. I was watching "Dracula," the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi, and the only music you hear is at the very beginning of the credits. There's not one other piece of music; it's all silent. It's unbelievable and it's very effective too.
Q. On top of the film score, you recently released your sixth solo album, "God Told Me To," and started working on a record with Rob Zombie. How does it feel to be back out on the road after all that time in the studio?
A. Being out on the road is like vacation -- it really is. Here's what I did so far today: I woke up whenever I wanted, got up, had room service in my really nice room. Now I'm talking to you, and what I'll do is go to the venue, go to catering, sign some autographs, see some girls lift their shirts up while we're onstage, and have a great time playing amazing Zombie music, and do it all again the next day. So it's like being on a heavy-metal vacation.
Q. Your live show is supposed to be pretty outrageous. What can you tell us about it?
A. The live show is so big. I mean, when I'm saying it's big, it's big. When people come to see this show they will be like, he wasn't kidding. It is so massive. Last night, we have these little risers we stand on so the crowd can see us. And we have these huge, huge robots and machines come out onstage, and I have to get on these risers so these big props can come out onstage. So I got up on my riser last night and the thing was so big it knocked me in the back and I almost flew off the stage. That's how big this thing is. There's so much fire and so much production, I guarantee you will get your money's worth.
Q. What's the coolest stage prop you've seen so far?
A. To me, it's this, like, 14-foot devil puppet. I just love it. It looks really rad.