Bumblefoot Interview / "Adventures" CD review
Translated by Justynia Galinska
For four years he is a guitarist of Guns N' Roses. In between one and another visit of the band in Europe, he found time for a phone conversation with Teraz Rock. The reason was a new edition of his debut album "The Adventures Of Bumblefoot", which hit the stores in August.
with Ron Bumblefoot Thal
MK: How would you rate today your debut album, "The Adventures Of Bumblefoot"? Apparently you recorded it with very simple equipment?
Ron: I remember it all like it was yesterday. I lived at home with my parents. I had all my equipment set up in the basement, where I would be sitting on the chair, the mixing board in front of me and a little foot switch under my foot. It was a summer time (laugh) I remember how the air-conditioning would go on and it had really loud motor. It cooled down the whole house, so I couldn't record every time it went on. And I would have to wait for it to shut off for 10 minutes and then lay tracks and then go back until it would stop and wait. Sometimes I would go upstairs and turn up the thermostat, so that the air-conditioning wouldn't go on (laugh) and my mother would realized some hours later that the whole house is so hot and start yelling at me. I remember it all completely, very vividly. Writing the songs for it, the excitement for doing my first solo album. Before that I was just doing single songs for different guitar compilation CDs. I started doing this in 1991, 1992, 1993. So this was 1994 and I was finally doing my first album.
MK: I read that the first inspiration for this album was the bird desease ulcerative pododermatitis, in English called bumblefoot?
Ron: Yes, it was my wife, when she was just my girlfriend and she was studying to be an animal doctor, veterinarian and I was helping her study and that was the name of one of the diseases. It was very strange disease, where a turkey or different birds can get it. It's infection on the bottom of their feet and one of the ways you treat it was to rub hemorrhoid cream on their feet, which I thought was so stupid and make me laugh. It's just so ridiculous, that inspired a song and I wrote a song called "Bumblefoot" and that song led to another song, which led to the album, which led to the band, which led to my nickname. From there it just inspired the other songs, where I would take different other animal diseases and write songs around them. That was sort of direction, the concept, I guess, just as I was making the album.
MK: When I listened to the song "Bumblefoot", I had the impression, that you must have had back then a large fascination in fusion music, I mean jazz rock or possibly experimental music like King Crimson. Am I right?
Ron: Yeah, it definitely has a lot of jazz feel to it, like it has the jazz cords and harmonies. So there's a lot of mathematics and jazz theory behind the compositions.
MK: In "Q Fever" you disclose funk fascinations...
Ron: I think that just came to me from screwing around with some flapping patterns and funk patterns. There's a lot of different things that's coming to play in the album. The foundation of the album it's rock, but there's definitely jazz going on and funk and a lot of different things. It just takes you to all different places.
MK: In Limberneck you reach out for classical guitar, on which you play a bit in the style of Steve Howe of Yes...
Ron: Yes, there's something of the "The Clap" atmosphere...
MK: And in "Ick", also with help of acoustic instruments, you introduce a bit of Latino atmosphere...
Ron: I think that a lot of things on the album might have just been inspired from things that I've listened to and they've just inspired me. When I was 10 years old I have got "Electric Rendezvous" album from Al di Meola and a song "Passion, Grace and Fire". I just loved that so much. I think it probably that had been of inspiration.
MK: Sometimes the music on this album is light, funny, as in case of Limberneck or Q Fever, sometimes it's serious, as in Strawberry Footrot, Fistulous Withers or Rinderpest.
Ron: Because it's honest. It's truly just expressing who I am and how I feel. One person can not be the same all the time. So a lot of times I'll be cracking jokes, but I can be very serious about things. If you're gonna have 50 minutes conversation with me, you would probably get the same things that you would from listening to a 50 minutes CD from me. So sometimes I'll be cracking jokes and and being obnoxious, other times I'd be touching on something that is more serious. I guess it's the same with the album. I tried not to box it into just one thing.
MK: Among additional songs added to the new edition of The Adventures Of Bumblefoot there is quite remarkable song called "Poem". Apparently you created it at the age of 16?
Ron: It was just a poem or lyrics and what I did, I made sort of a code on the guitar and then it was just translated to a different language and then set the poem through this other language on the guitar. It was just one of those crazy things (laugh). It was a poem about how I felt at age 16 at that moment: misunderstood, alienated. A lot of people feel the same, specially at that age, misunderstood when you're just trying to understand yourself. I converted the words into some musical language and than played it on the guitar.
MK: In this new edition of The Adventures Of Bumblefoot is also included your music to the video game "Wild Woody". What was the experience for you to work on it?
Ron: That was wild. I had to write and record 28 songs in one month. So I would wake up and I would start writing a song, by the afternoon I would be recording it and by the evening I would be sending it over to SEGA to check out. And just do that every day and there was no room for anything go wrong, there was no time. I had to do all the levels of the game. I had to do if you win that level or if you loose that level and intro, bonus tracks. It was the entire soundtrack. This was 1995 and the game out in 1996. This was one of the first games that would use real audio and actual sounds, as opposed to just little beeps and midi sounds. Strange little game. It was pretty similar to a lot of music that was on the Adventures CD, so it was a good fit to put it as a bonus track.
MK: Until now, your latest release was Barefoot - The Acoustic CD. Where did the idea to prepare the acoustic versions of several songs come from?
Ron: I've done Abnormal and then Chinese Democracy came out and I knew I was about to get very busy with Guns N' Roses. I figured out it would be a good time to just quickly release some more music, while I could. And most of the time I'm playing acoustic guitar. Like I'm just at home or on the tour bus or on rehearsal. I have an acoustic guitar in my hand. A lot of times I pick songs and just turn them into like funny little one guitar versions of the songs, that I'm bringing the guitar parts, the vocal parts, the rhythm, any other melody lines all at once. And I just do that very spontaneously. So when it came the time to do this album, finding ways to do that for my own music, it was actually very easy and very comfortable. The songs were already written and all I had to do is just find the ways to make them work for acoustic instrument, instead of electric.
MK: In July last year you went on tour with Lita Ford, as her guitarist. How did this cooperation begin?
Ron: She called me and asked with a playful tone, what I would do over the next ten years. I said that I'll be little busy... Then she asked, if we can talk about this summer, as she needed guitarist for a tour. I had no plans at this point, so I said there's no problem. In about two days I learned around 15 songs. She needed a drummer and a bassist, so we took together with us my bands' drummer - Dennis Leeflang and bass player, PJ Farley, who appeared in such bands like Trixter and Ra. First we flew out to California, started doing shows and then we went to Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, then back to the US. It was really a good time. It was very spontaneous, it was different than Guns N' Roses. We might extended songs for like extra 5 minutes, when me and Lita and keyboard player we just be trading solos back and forth. And just come up whatever on the spot. It's been such a long time since I toured doing something that wasn't Guns N' Roses, where it was just me playing guitar a bunch of songs and if I wanted extend the song I could. It was just plugging my guitar and amp. I wasn't all wired up, I didn't have wireless, I didn't have in-ear monitors. It just felt so normal! And it was what I needed (laugh). Definitely, I probably would not been able to stay with Guns N' Roses and tour with them, if I didn't do that, because I needed something that was just low pressure, just very simple. We go on on time, we plug in to an amp and we play. It was a good experience and for me it was definitely something that brought my brain back to were it needed to be.
MK: It sounds a bit dramatic. Does it mean that you have considered leaving Guns N' Roses?
Ron: There were times. Yeah, there were definitely times. When you missed the rest of your life. When you add to that, the baggage that comes with Guns N' Roses, which is always being compared to past band members. And the fact that Guns N' Roses doesn't really promote, so we are always just viewed as something less than we are, we are viewed as just hired hands, instead of people that have written and recorded and toured and are friends and everything that the band is. So a lot of times it could really wear you down. And between all that, for me I need to be productive. At that point, the last thing we did was tour two years before and the album came out and we didn't do anything in 2008. Two years have passed and the only thing we did were rehearsals. I was in a hotel room for 97 days in California. It seemed like the tour just pushed further and further away. And it was really just breaking me. I started feeling like there was nothing there. I've started thinking about the future and do I wanna keep doing this, what's my life want to be. But I'm glad I stayed. Course I think, the touring we did starting in December, it's been the best touring I've ever done and the best touring we've ever done. The band never sounded better. Shows have been great. I finally found a chance to interact more with the fans. I've set up my own contests, where fans could win tickets and backstage passes. And I do all myself. Guns N' Roses doesn't do any of that. To me it's two puzzle pieces that form the whole picture: the band and the fans. You can't have one without the other. You can't have fans screaming at an empty stage and you can't be onstage playing for no audience. We need each other. I always had a strong connection with my fans. On one of the last tours I did before Guns, I had the fans to pick all the songs that we would play on tour. I would have hundreds of people sent me set-lists and then I would keep 25 the most picked songs and that was the set that we played. Even on my album Barefoot, I asked on my forum, what song would you like to hear acoustic version of and the song that they choose, is the one that I recorded last and put it as the opening track for the album. So for me it's always been something that have to be, sort of connection and with Guns N' Roses I do that myself. And it doesn't always fit, because they change travel plans at the last minute and it would screwed up the things that I've organized, so it's definitely been difficult trying to do these things.
MK: I wonder if you keep in touch with other Guns N' Roses musicians, when you're not touring together?
Ron: Yeah. Actually I just played a show in New York with our drummer, Frank Ferrer, last week. I'm just always sending jokes back and forth with the guys. Things like that. We're in touch.
MK: Last year Guns N' Roses once again changed its composition. What was the reason that Robin Fink left the band?
Ron: That's something that I probably shouldn't comment on. I don't wanna speak for Robin and it's his role to say what he wasn't happy about and what his reasons were. There's always something that, if you can't work it out, you can't. But it's usually a valid reason. I don't think he was just bored, I know he cared. I've seen him after he left the band and when he was with Nine Inch Nails. I came to a show where he invited me. We hung out aftershow and we even got closer friendship after he left.
MK: And how do you work with DJ Ashba, Robin's successor?
Ron: We spent a lot of time, working out our parts and our sound and our gear to make sure that everything sounded as good as they can together. I think it's fantastic. I think the fans are really happy. We put on a great shows. He's doing great.
MK: I read that on December 19th, last year at the Tokyo Dome you played the longest concert in the history of Guns N' Roses. Almost four hours! How do you remember this show. Was it planned, or just came out spontaneously?
Ron: Nah, we were just playing and playing. When you're onstage, you forget how long you're there and it all becomes a blur. It could be a 4 hours and you know it for one hour or four. I'm used to be in rehearsal room playing for 10 hours. But yeah it was good. We just kept playing more songs. Axl would say "What do you feel like playing next?" and I'd played intro to "Whole Lotta Rosie" and we started doing that from AC/DC. "What do you feel like doing next?" So someone would say "Let's do this one off Chinese". We ended doing 13 out of 14 songs of Chinese Democracy. It's a lot of fun playing the Chinese songs for me. I have a double neck guitar with the fretted and fretless and I'm switching from one neck to the other one, while singing, so it definitely keeps my brain busy. If anything is harder for me is running on the stage, because I have a 30 pounds guitar. But yeah, it's very solid, strong musical show.
MK: I saw that during this tour you had unusual guests on stage. I mean Mike Smith and the cast of Trailer Park Boys...
Ron: (laugh) Mike is a good friend of ours. He's a friend of Axl's and become friend of mine. We met in Canada in 2006. He came up and did one of his own songs and we played with him "Liquor & Whores". And then he went with us through Canada, through the US, into Mexico, to Australia, New Zealand, Japan. And when we were in Canada again, he become like a 9th member of the band (laugh) Then for a one show in Chile my wife played tambourine in Patience, I think. She got called up on stage, she was up on the riser near Frank and played tambourine, so she's the member of Guns N' Roses now too (laugh).
MK: Is it true that you recorded your last US tour? Can we expect the DVD or other releases?
Ron: We recorded almost everything, but I don't know what's been done with any of the photos or videos or sound recordings. I don't know if we have a DVD or anything of it. Personally, if it was me, I would love to record every show and then stream it at the web site, so peole can see the show, from wherever they are or make video files, that people can download. Personally, that's what I would love to do with all of that footage. What's the point of having it, if we are not sharing it.
MK: You say that this is the best tour, which Guns N' Roses ever played. But I read it also abounded in some unpleasant events. What happened in March during the concert in Rio de Janeiro?
Ron: Oh my God. Sometimes it just seems like someone put a curse on us during that tour. And that angels were just trying to reach down and protect us from the curse. Like tings would happen followed by something where it could have been a lot worse. So what happened in Rio was: first the bus that had our crew broke down and they were late for 2 hours, so they were 2 hours late getting to the venue and setting up. And then Sebastian's bus with his gear on it went of the road and smashed pretty bad. All of their gear got busted up, so everything was running late for that show. So they prepared the stage, they got everything going and then a storm hit. It was actually a tornado. It started knocking the stage down. And there were pieces of huge chunks of sheet metal flying through the air, which could cut people in the half. So everyone had about 10 seconds to get off the stage. One guy had cut himself and drop 20 feet and broke both his legs. It was really dangerous. Stage started collapsing and it would have landed on the first 30 feet of the audience and it definitely would have killed people. So I guess the fact, that the bus broke down is the only thing that saved the audience from getting killed, because it delayed the doors from opening for 2 hours and if the doors have been open the people would have been there when the stage came down. So the stage was just a big pile of destroyed equipment and twisted metal. The crew just barely make out of there, covered in bruises and scratches and we met up with them. They were shacking up, but they were OK. Then I went back to the hotel and there were a few dozen G N'R fans crying and upset. There was an acoustic guitar, so I played a two hour acoustic show outside the hotel for G N'R fans.
MK: Unbelievable story...
Ron: Yeah and there's tone of stories like that. At one point, the van that was carrying crew in it, got hit them really hard and people needed stitches, all the windows got blow out and smashed. Then when we were leaving for Puerto Rico, for the last show we'd be late, cause another plane crashed on the runway. I mean, it was endless things like this, that would happening. It was really a tough tour, yet it was one of my favorite tours I was ever on. Because just when all of this stuff is going on we have so much support from the fans. They're just so passionate and happy to be there. Having that support makes everything OK and makes not feel like you're alone.
MK: I can not ask you about the next Guns N' Roses album. Sebastian Bach once said that he had heard a lot more material than was included on Chinese Democracy. Axl however, commented recently: "There is not as much as it appears to Sebastian Bach..." How do you see it?
Ron: There's a lot of music from 10 years ago, when Chinese Democracy songs were written. But my feeling is that we need this current band to be in the studio now, writing music now. Even the new songs are 10 years old, so we should really writing something current, with the band members that are actually playing in it. There should be me, Frank, Chris, Dizzy, Axl, Tommy, Richard and DJ in a studio and spending a week there and walking out with one great song. And I would love to take that one song and when we go on tour, give it to radio stations, have fans downloaded and we play it live. And the next time we do a leg of a tour for a month or two, before we go, we go in the studio again and we record one song for a week. Every time we play we'll have a new song, that we wrote, that's us playing on it and that's current and that reflex the world today and who we are today. These are my ideas, but it's not up to me.
MK: Did you record anything after the release of Chinese Democracy album?
Ron: No. But after the album was released, the only thing we did is rehearse with DJ and then hit the road and tour. As this point there's nothing. The only focus we've got right now is more touring.
CDs there: COMBACK
3 & 1/2 stars: "worth listening" / "must listen to"
The album was recorded in rather Spartan conditions, about which the artist says in the interview a few pages earlier. You can not hide this fact, when it comes to sound, as one can hear severity. Especially in parts of a programmed drums. But this do not change the fact that Ron already on his debut shows that he is a true virtuoso of the guitar. In a rather bizarre, starting the whole CD, somewhat experimental song "Bumblefoot" he serves us sounds under the sign of fusion. With typical for jazz rock melodic and harmonic solutions. But all this was played with the rock or even metal strength. A bit jazzy in places, though more subdued and melodic is "Orf". A similar in climate also seems "Scrapie", although when there are more powerful rock sounds coming in, Thal shows here that he would find himself well in the projects of any Dream Theater members.
Swinging and jazzy pieces also appear in the "Blue Tongue". But the whole song is a kind of venture to the areas characteristic for Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Anyway, on this CD, Ron shows that he is an outstanding guitar player as the said virtuosos. Examples of that can be raised by tracks such as "Rinderpest", or whether the "Stranglers" or "Strawberry Footrot" (more bows towards the fusion), in which can be heard several different techniques of the guitar playing. And since I mention the techniques: what Ron is doing in "Malignant Carbuncle", mainly by tapping, it's hard even to describe!
Sometimes what the artist offers us is uniquely fun character. How else can we perceive a cheerful acoustic miniature "Limberneck"? Musician also likes to play with the conventions. "Q Fever" begins and ends as a dynamic funk, with the whole impetus behind the thick bass line (something in the climate of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). However, in the middle, by contrast, appears part of the blues. This song features also a vocalize dubbing the guitar solo. And since we are talking about the diversity of the album, in melodic and subtle "Ick" Latino fascinations speak out. Basic repertoire of the CD closes with very melodic "Fistulous Withers". But that record does not end here. There are many more recordings. The strange "Poem", of which the author himself says that is a poem translated into the guitar language. There is also a composition "Shell On The Sand", and completing the whole album are the themes from the game "Wild Woody", that Ron created at a more or less the same time as the "Adventures" album.