The Gown (Ireland)
July 16, 2010
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INTERVIEW: Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
It’s official, Guns N’ Roses are lined up to play their first ever Belfast gig. Formed in 1985, Guns N’ Roses became one of the defining rock acts of the late 20th Century, selling over 100 million albums worldwide. However, tensions within the band would see the original line-up slowly crumble away, and by 1997 vocalist Axl Rose was the sole remaining original member. Despite this, Guns N’ Roses soldiered on with a new line-up and in 2008 made their comeback with the highly anticipated album Chinese Democracy. Speaking with The Gown, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, who joined the band in 2006, talks about Guns N’ Roses coming to Belfast, playing Chinese Democracy material live, how he got started on guitar and more.
BY ANDREW SCOTT
Guns N’ Roses’ debut in Belfast marks a trend of popular rock/metal acts playing the city. 2010 has already seen Metallica perform in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1988, and Deep Purple’s first ever Northern Irish show. Bumblefoot was surprised to hear that Northern Ireland has often received the short straw when it comes to gigs. “My question is, why hasn’t it happened sooner? I have no idea why, I’m just glad it changed. I’m glad GNR and all these other bands are coming to Belfast now.” And as a music fanatic, he had a few kind words for some of Northern Ireland’s hottest emerging talent, “‘The Continuous Battle Of Order’ is cool, a real head trip! ‘Not Squares’ can get pretty ‘out there’. Then we have ‘Putrefy’ – sick fucking vocals! (laughs) Yeah, ‘The Answer’ are real good, great singing, and a real nice feeling ya get from their songs.”
When asked what role he felt music could play in times of conflict and transformation, highlighting the success of The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers during The Troubles, Bumblefoot said, “Music can be a strong voice in tough times. Whether it’s a voice of tolerance or to heat up the fight; it unifies people, fuels the fire, whatever your fire is. It can also be an escape from all that, to take you away from what’s weighing you down.”
Bumblefoot is looking forward to checking out the sights in Belfast, if G’N'R’s busy touring schedule allows for it. “I would love to check out the Waterfront, maybe go see Belfast Castle as well. My favourite thing is the real stuff, finding random local places, eat what y’all eat, drink what you drink, hang out and get a better sense of how life is.” Bumblefoot is refreshingly frank about life on the road, explaining “My favourite touring experiences are usually the ‘normal’ moments, when you’re with calm people having a nice conversation and you’re not getting bombarded. Then there’s the opposite extreme, and I won’t get into details of that! (laughs) I’ve had some great times in Russia, Japan, Latin America, and the UK as well. Whether it’s naked table hockey or a relaxing cup of tea, it’s the people you’re with that make the moment great.”
Concerning the Chinese Democracy album, Bumblefoot confirmed that fans in Belfast can expect some of the album’s finest tracks to be played live, including the thunderous title track, the hook-laden ‘Better’ and piano-ballad ‘Street Of Dreams’. It is abundantly clear that Bumblefoot loves to perform live. “Ya know what I’d love to do? Write a song every time we do a leg of a tour, record it, make it available to people, play it at the shows, and do that every time. Ya never know which one will really have a big impact on people.” However, fans looking forward to the next Guns N’ Roses album may be waiting a while longer. Bumblefoot admits he would love to make new music next, “but we will have to see what the future holds. For now I’m just looking at the immediate future, coming to Europe, coming to Belfast.”
While plenty of classic Guns N’ Roses material is played live, Bumblefoot does not feel that additional material will be taken from the band’s more experimental Use Your Illusion albums, released in 1991. “I’ll play any of ‘em, but right now it doesn’t look like we’re adding any more ‘Illusions’ songs to the set. Anything could change at any time, but that’s how it’s looking’ right now… I do sneak in a little piece of ‘Estranged’ during my solo.”
Of course, Guns N’ Roses are synonymous with Axl Rose, the band’s enigmatic vocalist and frontman. Chinese Democracy was worked on for a decade at an estimated cost of over $13 million, making it the most expensive album ever made. Rose has often been negatively portrayed by the media, accusing him of ruthless perfectionism and claiming the singer responsible for the break-up of the original line-up. Bumblefoot, however, insists that Axl does not deserve such a reputation, adding, “We’ve had plenty of fun times, some tough times in the trenches, but it’s all good.”
Aspiring guitarists need look no further than Bumblefoot for inspiration on how to reach the top of the rock n’ roll ladder. ”The first song I learned was a riff in ‘Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo’ from Rick Derringer. The riff before the first verse, and after each chorus. That was back in ’77, I was 7 years old. After that I think it was ‘Barracuda’ from Heart that I learned next, the intro riff. I got the sheet music for it, and man I had such a crush on the Wilson sisters. I was 8, they were sisters – perfect. Okay, it may not have worked out…I was big into the Beatles, KISS, AC/DC, Yes, Sex Pistols, Ramones as a kid, then got into Zep, Floyd, Who, Queen, Rush, Priest, then a lot of old-school metal.”
Famed for his unusual guitar designs, including his famous ‘foot’ guitar, Bumblefoot revealed that even his first guitar has received a unique makeover. “It’s gone through a few changes. I used to do a lot of guitar re-building as a teenager.”
It is apparent that Bumblefoot is a true rock star and a technical guitar
maestro who is sure to give his all when Guns N’ Roses, once dubbed the world’s
most dangerous band, perform in Belfast’s Odyssey arena in August.
interview (July 2, 2010)
This is Guns N' Roses first time
in Belfast, and it helps to mark a recent trend of popular
rock/metal acts performing in the city. Deep Purple recently
performed here for the first time ever, and Metallica played their
first gig in Belfast since 1988. What is it that attracted GN'R to
perform in Belfast?