Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal Talks Art of Anarchy, Solo Album, Guns N’ Roses + More
Guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal is a man of many projects. He's been the guitarist for Guns N' Roses for years now, but is also a player in the new band Art of Anarchy and has been working on a solo album. Bumblefoot recently spoke with Loudwire Nights host Full Metal Jackie about his many projects and his work with Guns N' Roses over the years in the interview below.
How ya doin?
Good. I almost didn't get to the phone, I was sitting on my couch and doing just a million things instead of making music. I'm everybody's go-to guy so the guys in Art of Anarchy, they'll hit me up and ask me to be in videos. Then it's like, "Yeah, I'll get right to that. Then it's someone else is like, "Hey we need to register with ASCAP," so I'm doing that. Then I realize my leg is completely asleep and I have to run downstairs and grab the phone. I run down, hobbling, stumbling down the stairs and get the phone. Then, you know what? I haven't peed. I forgot I drank a gallon of lemon water so I'm looking at the clock and peeing for three minutes straight thinking, I'm gonna be late! Finally, anyway, way too much info! Great to be here, how ya doing!?
Good! You touched on this new band of yours, Art of Anarchy, tell us about it and the solo work you've got going on.
There's so much I can't tell you! [laughs] That started in 2011 with some friends of mine, Jon and Vince [Votta] -- these two brothers that play drums and guitar and for the last 18 years. I've been producing every band that they've had. We stayed friends and they wanted to get heavier into music again and they put together a music company. They were going to release their own thing and wanted put out a supergroup album. I brought them into the studio and recorded the songs and laid my parts down. Then John [Moyer] came in and crashed out at the studio for a couple of days and laid all the bass parts. In looking for singers, Scott [Weiland] agreed to do a song. Then he agreed to do the album. There seems to be a disagreement on the word "bandmember." We did two videos and the album is coming out on Century Media. That's coming out June 2 in the U.S. and June 8 in Europe. Video and the single should be toward the end of this month.
The Votta brothers, total metalheads -- old school Metallica and Megadeth and music definitely has those roots. It sounds like classic Metallica. Then I'm throwing my nylon string, classical guitar parts and weird fretless guitar and Moyer is putting in these great bass lines and then Scott adding all of those kind of vocal melodies that only he comes up with, that great singable and memorable, sticks-right-to-you kind of stuff. It's interesting combinations when it all comes together.
What's your oldest recollection of Guns N' Roses, back before you joined the band?
That goes back to being about 17- or 18-years-old. Going through the channels on MTV about 3AM and I see this video of this freaky haired dude getting off a bus and went, what's this? Listening to this, wow, this one guy is this bluesy shinkari, Gary Moore kind of player and then you've got this guy who's all punkabilly, rockabilly vibe. Then you've got a punk bass player and this singer where I haven't heard anyone sing like that. I remember the next day, telling my friends I saw this video from this band Guns N' Roses, it sounded -- they had a song "Jungle"-something. It seems as if everyone just happens to be up at 3 in the morning and caught it. The next thing you know, boom. That was it. It grew from there and I remember having a million cover bands while doing the original stuff and teaching and doing everything else as a teenager. We did "Brownstone," "My Michelle," a whole bunch of covers. I remember it well.
What kind of production work have you been doing lately?
I've been working with Darryl DMC McDaniels from Run-DMC, who has a band, rap metal collaboration with the metal band Generation Kill, which has Rob Dukes, formerly of Exodus. Rob Machette of Propane, etc. I've been old friends with Rob Dukes for years and he hit me up and said, "Hey we're looking for someone to do the mixing and producing" and asked me to lay some guitar stuff too. So, I've become the seventh member of this thing. We put out a song called "Lot Lizard" and have another one coming out called "Fired Up." For that one, I'm doing all the final mixing, some recording of my own guitar stuff and the mastering and just all the final production of everything
I did that, the Art of Anarchy stuff and working on some horror movie music for an upcoming little low budget horror movie called Clean Cut that'll be out next year. I have a scene in it. I'm going to get killed. I get my throat cut, stabbed in the chest. Looking forward to dying on screen.
Then my own album, which has been in the works since the middle of last year finishing up a tour with Yngwie Malmsteen. Bouncing around doing a tour between the U.S. and Canada, jumped into the studio, just cleared the schedule of touring and finally just devoted my time and the momentum in getting this new album done. I'm really happy with the way that everything has been coming out production wise. I'm really happy liking how everything is sounding. So it was just trying to keep getting better every time you record an album. You want it to sound better than the last one.
Tell us, what's foremost on your mind when you're playing Guns N' Roses songs, many of which that are so highly regarded as timeless?
Most of the time it's, ah - can't wait to eat! [laughs] I play for food. As far as the music goes, if you mean the approach I take because it's not the usual thing. It's not like I'm playing my own songs that I wrote and recorded. Unless you're looking at some of the Chinese Democracy stuff where I did write my own guitar parts, I did record them. So those parts were at least my own. But when you're doing classic songs that thousands of people came to hear, that they've loved for the last 20+ years and want to hear them just as they love them, you have to honor and respect that. So, you don't want to go and rewrite a classic song. You want something that the people know and are going to sing along with and not surprise them and make them feel like they have to suddenly unlearn something that they're in love with. So, definitely the melodies, the main parts, the integral parts to the songs, you want to do exact.
You can play it your way, it's coming from your hands, your spirit, your everything. It has to be you, there's nothing you have to prove by trying to change it, just do it the best you can do it that has the right feel and emotion that speaks it the best you can speak it so that people can really connect. Then, if there are free moments where there's room to go off, like the end of "Paradise City." We're all just circling around and taking turns doing solos at the very end of the song, then you can go and do your own thing. That's OK, but you don't want to change the intro to "Sweet Child o' Mine." [laughs]
Earlier Guns N' Roses lineups are remembered as almost bigger than life. What was the best advice you got about coming into a band with that kind of history?
I was given no advice. I basically had to figure it out on my own and make my mistakes and learn from them. It was being thrown right in and figuring it out. Definitely, I think I went into it a little bit more idealistically than, I won't say I should have. It could have went either way but I'm looking at it as a musician thing. Hey, this band is continuing and they asked me carry the torch and keep going. I'm proud to do so. I'll do it the best I can and the goal is to show people a good time, whoever comes to that show is there because they want to be there. Let's give them good music, let's give them whatever we can give them.
I didn't realize just how passionate [laughs] the fan base was about their lineups and how personal it was and how betrayed they felt by change and how you truly had to earn their trust or faith, or whatever it is which may never come. You can't please everybody and not everybody is going to lie you and it's not up to you. All you can do is be yourself and be real and hope for the best. You just have to charge through the hate, the death threats and people throwing things at you, the people harassing your family. The physical altercations, you just have to get through it and keep your eye focused on what matters, which is I love making music, I'm doing it with these people and we're going to do it together and this is for the people that want it. I'm not going to not do it for the people that don't want it, you have to do it for the people that do want it.
You have a new album Little Brother Is Watching available on iTunes. Tell us about that.
This is my 10th album. A lot of people don't know but I started in the early '90s. I was on Shrapnel Records, Roadrunner Records in Europe and Japan and had this whole solo thing where I was out making albums and touring and I was known as a guitar player but also as a singer-songwriter and someone that has this full artistic spirit and I do! When I joined Guns, when you join a band with that much history and name immediately it sort of deletes your old definition and replaces it with member of Guns N' Roses.
At that point I think people just thought I was this hired guitar player guy. It was the first band I ever joined other than doing my own thing. I played with a lot of different people, jammed with a lot of different people and I would do guest spots with different people but as far as calling myself a member of another band, this was the first time I was doing that. It sort of, at least in my eyes a lot of people tell me I'm wrong but in my eyes I've felt that it made people see me as a different entity than what I was. They didn't know that I sing, they didn't know I was a songwriter and didn't know I played melodies. They thought I was just this shred guy.
I think that putting out albums since then, I put out an album called Abnormal in 2008 and also an acoustic EP then. In 2011 I was doing a song a month that included backing tracks, mix-stems so people can make their own mixes and transcriptions of the music and all this different stuff for each song. I just kept trying to find ways of putting out music while doing all this touring and trying to balance it out with everything else. Finally, in 2014, it was time to take a break and do a full album. I can hear that I've grown up a little bit, [laughs] the music definitely has a better sense of space. Balancing melody to all the fancy guitar stuff where I always going to look at everything and always go back to food. It's like spices.
All the fancy guitar stuff is like a very strong spice and a little goes a long way. When you're adding it in you don't know just how sensitive people might be to it where it was truly overpower the whole meal. You find that, I feel like I'm on a cooking show now! But that's what happens, a little goes a long way. I've found I have a better sense on when to let those moments happen in the right places where it's not going to overpower the whole song and take away from the melodies that are in there. It's definitely more of an melodic album and not as punky, just jackhammering through like a lot of the past albums might have been at times. Songs are longer and go through bigger highs and lows and dynamic changes. I guess people just have to hear it, check it out and see if you like it.
Musically, what aspects of your style and the way you play have served you best as a member of Guns N' Roses?
They needed someone that was going to replace Buckethead and I was going to be able to keep up with his incredible guitar playing. So, they needed someone that could handle that kind of stuff. I'm not by any means calling myself incredible. I'm calling him incredible and saying they needed someone that could [laughs] do that stuff. They needed someone that, could of course play melodies and someone that could play technically. Just by coincidence, I had a funny name. From what I was told, the song that made them interested was off my very first, or second album -- a song called "I Can't Play the Blues," which made fun of shred guitar players. It was a light-hearted, poking fun at ourselves as guitar players. Just always having to be a little bit louder and play a little bit flashier and all the little tricks and things, just that was the song that I was told they heard and said, "Oh this guy would be right."
It was Joe Satriani that recommended me. From what I understand it came from two places, one of the guys in the band was surfing the Internet and found me and was like, "Oh, him." Then from a second source there was Satriani that reached out and said "Hey they're looking for someone to replace Bucket and I recommended you so they might be getting in touch." A few hours later they emailed and got in touch and funny thing, that email was from the band member that hadn't talked to Satriani. It was just odd timing that it kind of happened that way. So I'm still putting all the pieces together on how I ended up in that band [laughs]. It's a mystery to myself. I've gone off on a tangent.
In what ways has playing in Guns N Roses changed the way you think about the music you make with artists and your own solo music?
It definitely had an effect. You can't play in a band that you're emotionally attached to and that you're just living it for a good decade of your life just about and not have it be a major building block in whatever you're putting together, sound wise. I think it made -- just an overall thing. It wasn't even a musical thing. It was the whole experience of just being thrown in and having to fight through it [laughs] in so many ways. I think it made me take a more serious look at myself that had to get my body in better shape to run around for three hours on a show.
I remember that first tour I dropped 30 pounds, and I needed it! [laughs]. I started getting a better idea how the world was seeing me. I was figuring out what I wanted to show them, who I wanted to truly be or not be and make whatever changes i needed to make in myself to be a better version of myself. Whether it was musically or just someone on stage or as someone, someone doing what I'm doing. You learn a lot, I would learn these things anyway. You learn from life. You learn from living, whatever is going to happen, you're going to learn from it. I just happened to be learning it -- doing this because this is what I was doing. But these were lessons that needed to be learned. Before Guns, I was a little more clownish, and some people like that. People that were more into the Frank Zappa-ish side to what I was doing, they love that stuff. I think they all think I got a little too serious. You grow, change, and you become who you become. I think I would have become like that anyway. I would have gotten a little more serious. I think when you're in the your 40s, you're not going to act the same way you do as you did when you were in your 20s, or at least approach life and things, yourself the same way. So, what did I learn?
I learned that your skin needs to be thick. I learned that once you say something on the Internet, it's there forever and may go through some changes for the worse as people spread it around. I've learned what matters to me and what doesn't by the end. I definitely had a good sense of why I wanted to be a musician and what I want to pursue more and just put more of my time and effort into and what I want to nurture more. Truly, I found that it's more about charity and doing things that make a different and using the music and being a musician to make a bigger different for people. To do more things to help kids, to help education, to help veterans, everybody. You have the power just by doing what you do to motivate and inspire people and to take the action yourself to do these things. To make people's lives better, not just entertain them. That's what matters to me and that's what I see as far as the future of putting more of my time into, if not most of my time.
Thanks to Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal for the interview. Keep an eye out for Art of Anarchy's debut disc coming June 2. Tune in to Loudwire Nights With Full Metal Jackie and Tony LaBrie Monday through Friday 7PM through midnight online or on the radio. To see which stations and websites air ‘Loudwire Nights,’ click here.
Watch Art of Anarchy's ''Til the Dust Is Gone' Video