When it was announced that the highly-published
new album by Guns N' Roses would (finally) be released worldwide on 23
November and in the UK on 24 November 2008, nobody was quite sure whether
to believe it or not. Of course the new album is 'Chinese Democracy' and
it took over a decade to make; in 2005 the New York Times claimed it cost
$13 million to finance, which as you know is an unbelievable sum of money
for a CD that will sell for a tenner each. The question is: will sales
recoup all that cash? Various members have come and gone since 1993s 'The
Spaghetti Incident,' the last studio album to feature the iconic line-up
of Slash, Gilby Clarke, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Dizzy
Just three weeks before the release of 'Chinese Democracy,'
Neil Daniels interviewed guitarist Ron Thal – aka Bumblefoot – about his
role in the band and on the new album. The New Yorker joined the band in
mid-2006, replacing Buckethead.
Can you tell me about your
music career before joining Guns N' Roses?
Man, that's thirty
years! I'll condense it down: I started playing, writing, recording and
gigging at the age of six. I was producing and teaching by the time I was
a teenager; and I was putting out albums since the early to mid nineties.
I toured Europe a lot; everything kept building ... all was
How did you become the guitarist for Guns N'
We flipped a coin – heads I'm in the band, tails I'm
not. It landed on heads.
What were you doing when you first got
a call about joining the band?
It was July 2004. I was teaching
Music Production at a College in New York, and producing and co-writing
for a bunch of artists. I got an email from Joe Satriani. He said he had
recommended me to Guns N' Roses. Soon after I was chatting with the
management and band members, getting to know each other a bit ... making
some plans ...
What were your initial thoughts about the
I had some concerns about things I'd inevitably have to
give up – the teaching, producing; my own touring. I had my life on my
terms, which was something that took a long time to make happen. But
sometimes it's better to not over-think things; you can think yourself
right out of meeting your own potential. It's better to just jump in, and
life will figure itself out. I jumped in, and have no
Had 'Chinese Democracy' been completed before you
joined the band?
An album is never completed. You just pick a
point where you stop working on it and release it. And even then, you're
still working on it in your mind, haunted by a growing list of things
you've outgrown and wanna change (laughs.) That's how I am with my albums;
I can't speak for anyone else.
When did you first meet Axl
When we were jammin' in April before the first New York
Your first gig with the band was at the Hammerstein
Ballroom in New York City on May 12, 2006. What was going through your
mind during the gig?
Man, that turkey sandwich was good ...
maybe I'll make another one after the show ...
What was the
feedback like from the fans and critics about the gig?
each show I'd sneak out of the back of the venue and hang with any fans
that were waiting outside. We'd take photos and talk…it was good. They
were happy to see the band; they had a good time.
After the NYC
gig there was a tour of Europe, America, Mexico and East Asia. What was
being on the road like for you?
I loved being on the road.
There's not a single place I didn't like. The only hard thing about it is
adjusting to life when you get back home. Weeks where you don't know what
your purpose is. The last time I came home I immediately started doing
home improvement stuff, within twelve hours I was cuttin' holes in the
living room ceiling and spent three days re-wiring outlets, switches,
putting in new lighting, sparkling and painting, installing new faucets
and sinks. It kept me out of trouble.
Which shows do you
remember the most?
I remember them all, but not for what
happens on stage, for everything else. The people you meet, everything
surrounding the actual gig. I can tell you stories about little things
from every gig. In Greece there was a dog at the venue. I laid my jacket
on the ground so he could sleep on somethin' soft. After the gig we were
by the sea and the moon was reflecting so brightly on the water, it's
stuck in my brain. I stayed friends with people I met there; we meet up in
LA or New York once in a while.
Are there any pre-show rituals
for you and the rest of Gunners?
We try not to quote any lines
from the movie 'This Is Spinal Tap' (laughs.) I don't wanna tempt fate,
you know? When I first started playin' with Guns, I'd take cookies and
pastries from catering backstage and go out into the audience before the
show start saying, "Assorted pastries, courtesy of Guns N' Roses" holding
a big tray of them (laughs.) A few daring folks would take some. But most
people probably thought I was just some nut. They were right! A few hours
later they'd see me on stage ... (laughs.)
Buckethead's guitar parts on the new album. What was the process
I added my own parts to songs, as many things as I could,
and in the end decisions would be made on what's best to keep in the song
and what isn't. There's still plenty of Bucket's playing on the
What else can you tell me about your part in the
recording of the album?
I'd just experiment, different kinds of
rhythms, harmonies, solos, fretless guitar stuff, just see what evolves. I
did a bunch of tracking at Electric Lady in NYC; I used my old Marshall
'800, Les Paul, fretless and Wah Pedal and [thought let's] see what
Do you think the album will fulfil
It depends on the individual: for some yes [but]
some will be indifferent; for some others, nothing could. It may take a
minute for some people to accept the new sound of Guns N' Roses. I always
think of The Beatles, how in a few years they went from 'She Loves You' to
'Helter Skelter,' a totally different sound, which can also be attributed
to changes in technology – amps with more drive, studios with more
multi-tracks and FX…but you grew with them, hearing them change from one
album to the next. With Guns N' Roses, we're talking about big changes in
technology, band members, and a longer chunk of time. And all the growing
and changing happened without albums to take you along that journey, a
step at a time. There wasn't a 'Rubber Soul,' 'Sgt. Pepper,' 'White Album'
in-between. We're jumping straight from 'A Hard Days Night' to 'Abbey
Road.' So yeah, this is gonna have some impact, and there will be plenty
of strong feelings. Art and music should bring out strong feelings,
How have Guns N' Roses fans treated you?
been supportive, and I'm so grateful. They're very passionate about the
band. I've learned a few things from them, about what they loved about the
music, and I kept it in mind when I hit the studio.
your favourite Guns N' Roses tracks from previous albums?
always liked doing 'Don't Cry.' I did it as my solo and would have the
audience sing along - love that kinda stuff, connecting with the audience.
Whatever gets a rise out of the crowd is what I dig. My band used to jam
to 'Welcome To The Jungle,' 'Mr. Brownstone' and 'My Michelle' back when
'Appetite For Destruction' just came out. 'Down On The Farm' [from 'The
Spaghetti Incident'] and 'Nice Boys' [from 'G N' R Lies'], stuff with
attitude and energy.
And this album?
'Catcher N' The Rye,' 'This I Love,' 'Scraped'… [there are] so many great
songs! The production on 'Chinese Democracy' is fantastic; the care that
went into it is undeniable. It's such a unique album, in every way. Not
just the music, but the history, the years of events that made it become
what it is. There's no other album that developed the way this one did;
it's not just a "write it, record it, release it" story. There are so many
things that make this album one of a kind.
Have you ever met
Slash or any other former member?
Had some good times hangin'
with Izzy when he joined us on the '06 tours - great guy! He and I had
worked out a guitar version of 'Devil Went Down To Georgia' - good stuff.
We almost busted it out at one of the LA shows in December, 2006.
Finally, you've just released your latest solo album
'Abnormal.' Given that you've been busy with Gunners and that you write,
record, produce and play on your own albums how long did it take you to
make the album?
I rarely write on the road, so it was a good
two months home before songs started kickin' in. But once it started it
came together quickly. I started writing the end of last year, had it on
iTunes and Amazon by this past July 1st. [It] will be hitting retail about
a week before Chinese Democracy does. I'm almost finished with an acoustic
EP as well – took a bunch of songs from the last few albums and recorded
stripped-down versions of them. When I had one song left to go, I asked
the folks on my forum what song they'd like to hear, and I recorded the
song that was picked the most. The music is for them as much as me, maybe
more – I like including them in the process, and have them be part of how
things go. We're in this together, ya know? I'm glad we are
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