INTERVIEW: DAVE LING
A discovery of guitar guru Mike Varney, Ron Thal had an underground reputation when Guns Ní Roses invited him to join them, as a replacement for Buckethead, in 2006. Fortunately, the New Yorker already had a silly nickname Ė Bumblefoot Ė and a string of neuroses of his own. Bumblefoot has just released his seventh solo CD, Abnormal. But although it features his playing, even he has no clue when GNíRís Chinese Democracy might achieve the same feat.
Bumblefoot is a disease that affects
birds and rodents.
Ulcerative pododermatitis is its full, fancy name. 15 years ago I was helping my wife study for veterinary school when we discovered it. It was the stupidest thing I ever heard, so I used it for a song title. Then an album called The Adventures Of Bumblefoot . Itís well-suited to my solo work, which is quirky and Mr Bungle-ish, but personally-speaking I mightíve outgrown it. I donít feel like Bumblefoot when Iím onstage with Guns. In that environment I feel like Ron. Does that make sense?
Well, I have this multi-personality disorder [laughs]. I put on my funny foot-shaped guitar and Iím being Bumblefoot. But Iíve got a Flying V and Iím playing with Axl and my name is Ron. Itís hard to explain.
Abnormal is a sequel to 2005ís Normal,
which told the tale of a musician whose creativity is destroyed by
Yeah, but itís like the evil Spock versus the good Spock in Star Trek Ė theyíre Ying and Yang.
Their stories are autobiographical,
Yeah. The music business was kicking my ass, so I took some stuff to help me out. And it felt as though someone pressed a Ďpauseí button in my brain Ė literally. And it lasted for a year and a half.
Then you ditched the pills to
I had to learn to be normal again, yeah. Iím still the same person, just a little smarter. Iíve learned how to get along.
Your musical direction has been called
'the Sex Pistols meets Queen with a twist of Zappa'. Are those
Very much so. I listened to a lot of AC/DC and Kiss, The Ramones and Dead Kennedys, some Yes and Jethro Tull albums. The 70s were a great time for music. I still remember picking up Iron Maidenís Killers randomly at a music store, it was the greatest thing I ever heard.
Were you a fan of Guns before joining
Right from seeing Welcome To The Jungle on MTV for the first time at three oíclock one morning, I knew they were special, that they would go on and do something magical. I felt the exact same way after seeing Vision Of Love by Mariah Carey, and Britneyís Hit Me Baby One More Time.
Talking of female popstars, youíve
apparently played on a Jessica Simpson record?
She did a long, club mix [of the song Irresistible]. I knew the guy that was working on it and he asked if Iíd play on it. I used a nylon-stringed guitar to add all these Latin riffs to its vocal melody. But I didnít get to meet her.
How did Axl make contact with you?
Joe Satriani sent an email, letting me know heíd recommended me for the gig Ė just so Iíd know it wasnít a joke. Two hours later, Chris Pitman [GNíR keyboards player], sent me a joke email, which was totally unconnected. I started talking to their manager. It took about two months and then some internet rumours got out, which derailed things. But we picked things up again, jammed, went out on tour and here we are, with Shacklerís Revenge about to be heard [on the video game Rock Band 2].
With your own career to consider, how
do things work? Do you have to be available when the call comes?
Everyoneís in touch with each other. Thereís a lot of texting about friendship-type stuffÖ whatever. And when the time comes to work Iím always updated. But if Iím not making music, I feel like Iíll suffocate. Everyone in the band is the same way; itís real musicians.
Has your life changed a lot since
becoming a Gunner?
Oh yeah. For a start, I dropped about 90lbs [around six stones]. I was a fat, sweaty, filthy bastard. You couldíve rolled me across the stage. But Iím healthy now. I also get the occasional death threat. None of that stalker-style stuff happened before, and it took some getting used to. Itís weird to be hated by someone youíve never met before, for reasons that donít make sense.
For all your new-sound fame, youíre
very approachable by your website?
Why wouldnít I be? Shit, Iím just a human being. No better or worse than the next person. I like brightening someoneís day by shooting them a message if theyíre written.
You seem like a grounded person. So
how does entering the GNíR protective bubble Ė where just about anything
goes Ė affect you?
If anything, Iíve been a pain their ass Ė not the other way around. Iím used to being a solo artist. I tend to be quite open about things, say things I shouldnít say and go places I shouldnít go. Now, of course, Iím working with people who might not want their business spoken about. I try to be respectful of that, but also talk to other people like a real person.
Have you seen things where youíve
thought, "Fucking hell, I canít believe something like that would
I was on the road for ten years before Guns, lugging my own gear around in vans for weeks at a time; I can honestly say that I saw more fucked-up things in those days than I do with Guns. Itís a very well-run band. If people donít believe that; they wanna be entertained with made-up dirt, thatís their prerogative. But itís true.
The perception, of course, is that W
Axl Rose is the Howard Hughes of rock. You must see the other side of
Itís funny you would say that about Axl. The Axl I know is a thoughtful, caring, fun person. He really is.
Do you read some of the things that
are printed about him and think, "What a load of shit"?
All the time. It makes me laugh. But people donít want the truth. They want to be entertained. They invent things, or they embellish. Anything to feed the fire. Some of them are definitely trying live vicariously.
How much have you contributed to the
Chinese Democracy album?
I donít want to say too much for fear of shaking the gift under the Christmas tree. Iíve played rhythm [guitar] tracks on every song and lots of [lead] solos, added parts to future songs. Over the 2006/7 tours, in between legs, we would hit a studio in New York or LA, just spend ten hours a day laying down guitar parts. Hopefully what I did will add something worthwhile, that will help the song.
Two of the latest tracks to be leaked
Ė If The World and another known simply as New Song Ė sounded
Those were demos and not final mixes, Iím happy to say. By that I mean, I want people to be surprised and thrilled when they hear the album Ė as opposed to something they heard on the internet. I donít blame the fans for wanting to hear it Ė they want music, and they want it now. The problem is that the guy who leaks it is getting in way of Guns Ní Roses getting the album out the right way.
Is the record even finished yet?
[After a pause]: The official word is that itís Ďin negotiationí. Thing are going well, and I wonít make further comment as it can Ė and will be Ė used against me on the internet.
Have even you given up asking when it
will be released?
I hear that question in my sleep, all the time, asked by a thousand voices. How can I respond the right way? The album will come out when all the pieces are in place, when itís best for the fans, the bandÖ everybody. I have complete faith in our new management [Irving Azoff and Andy Gould] making all those pieces fit.
What about some solo dates here in the
Iíve thought about it, but for the past few years Iíve been planning to do an instructional DVD. If I do book a tour, two things will happen. Either I will never get my DVD done, or Guns Ní Rosesíll hit the road again and Iíll have to cancel it, like I did with my tour in 2006.