[James Ulbrah] First of all thank you Bumblefoot for taking time to answer a few questions from us.
[Ron Thal] Thank you!
[James Ulbrah] How have you been?
[Ron Thal] I've been pretty fucking well! Back from a quick run to LA for NAMM...
[James Ulbrah] How was NAMM
[Ron Thal] After so many years, NAMM is a big re-uniting of old friends, plus a chance to check out some new music toys - saw some good stuff this year. A lot of hanging at the Vigier guitar booth, had our traditional Guthrie-and-me-sittin'-on-the-floor-playing-for-hours moment together, which I always look forward too, been friends over 20 years now. Did a signing at Engl amps too, good stuff.
Guthrie Govan & Ron Thal (Bumblefoot) jamming at NAMM 2011 with Crystal Fawn & Fofi Lancha
[James Ulbrah] You were seen playing with a weird corkscrew pick, tell us more about that?
[Ron Thal] Yeah! Some dude made these funky picks, I tried one out, it felt pretty natural. Whole thing is that ya gotta stay right at the very point of it, if ya dig in too much it tends to screw itself down between the strings – I spoke to them about that, an idea to maybe widen the sides after the twist to help with that. Most unique pick I ever used.
[James Ulbrah] GnR are on a break at the moment I believe? So what are you dong while that’s happening.
[Ron Thal] Still feelin' a high from the last touring, was such a good time. Soon as I got home I just hit it hard in the studio and have been finishing up years of music that's been waiting to get done, solo music, cover songs, guest solos, all kinds of stuff. Thinkin' about squeezing in some teaching while I've got a second, hopefully I can do a bit of that as well.
|Sept 24, 2010 - Zagreb, Croatia (photo by Miro Majcen)|
[James Ulbrah] What is planned for 2011?
[Ron Thal] Making a lot of plans for the next few months. The next thing coming up will be an auction I'm working on, a fundraiser for flood relief in Brazil, Australia, wherever it's needed. It'll be “A Day With Bumblefoot” where the winning bidder will get to pick from a list of things to do, things like jamming and a guitar lesson, writing and recording a song together, going to my favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, and I'll pick from a list of things the winner gives me. Just gotta look for more sponsors, and make sure everything is ok to move forward. I'll post the info on my website, Facebook & Twitter.
[James Ulbrah] Album in the works?
[Ron Thal] Not gonna do an album, just gonna release a song at a time. With all the touring I can't devote a chunk of time to a whole album, I can't get the momentum going. But taking on one song when I can, that's doable. I released the first one “Bernadette” in mid-January, it's a cover of a Motown song by the Four Tops. The next one I release will be an original, called “Invisible”. I'm hoping I can get a video together for that song too.
Ron Thal & Guthrie Govan Jamming at the Vigier Booth NAMM 2011
[James Ulbrah] Is there going to be a consistent release time, or just whenever?
[Ron Thal] I'm gonna try and get something out every month if I can. That's the goal.
[James Ulbrah] When writing for TV shows, if they say, hey write a theme song for MXC, how do you go about doing that? Could it be a song already written and you think it will fit the show?
[Ron Thal] Sometimes I'll give people a batch of pre-written music and see if any of them fit what they're looking for. It worked that way with “That Metal Show” on VH1 Classic, they liked the song “Day To Remember” and the instrumental of that song became their theme song. The MXC song was called “Puke” and MXC picked it from music I wrote for the publishing company Carlin in the UK – they went with the instrumental of Puke, which the publishing company re-named “Firebrand.”
[James Ulbrah] Have you got a secret stash of your videos of your playing?
[Ron Thal] No, but there's a lot of videos of my playing that I *wish* were hidden in a secret stash, haha...
[James Ulbrah] Have you got a favourite album that you wrote?
[Ron Thal] Normal and Abnormal. Those two.
[James Ulbrah] Obvious question then, why?
[Ron Thal] Those albums feel the most autobiographical. They're more than just songs on an album, they're linked to each other and to the events that made them come about. Other than that, it's usually the most recent album that I feel the strongest connection to - as time passes I start to outgrow albums and feel like they don't represent who I am.
[James Ulbrah] Do you feel as if you are still as wacky and odd as the ‘adventure’ years?
[Ron Thal] Yes. If you listen to the instrumentals on Abnormal - Guitars Still Suck, Spaghetti, The Day After – the production is better but the spirit is the same. But that's not all I am, it's not all I'm about.
[James Ulbrah] Are songs always in your head from the go, already complete, or do you have to find them?
[Ron Thal] For full albums, I'm usually having a year-long dry spell and then the songs just explode out of my head at once, all fully formed, and I can't write down the lyrics and demo them fast enough. Half the album is arranged and ready to be tracked within 2 days, and I write the rest of the album while recording the first half.
|Oct 3, 2010 - Arnhem, Netherlands|
[James Ulbrah] Do you ever plan an album theme?
[Ron Thal] Not before songs are written, the theme usually results from the first few songs. It was the song Normal that opened the door for the album theme. The same with the Uncool album, I wrote the songs T-Jonez and Delilah and that opened up the whole 'croon core' style of the album. Even my first album The Adventures Of Bumblefoot, it was the song Bumblefoot that sparked the concept for that album.
[James Ulbrah] What would you suggest to people who are struggling to ‘grow there own moustache’ as Mattias IA Eklundh would say?
[Ron Thal] Don't think about it. Stop struggling. Struggle happens when you try to put a leash and harness onto something that's meant to be free.
[James Ulbrah] How did you learn about mixing, and where did you used to record before you bought that house and made that studio?
[Ron Thal] I went from recording in the basement where I lived with my parents, to a basement studio in Brooklyn, to one in Staten Island, to another, to eventually getting an old house that I use just as a studio, a place to focus without distractions, to just eat and breathe music. Everything I learned through doing. Every time you record you learn something, you get better. It's all about the ears. That's the only piece of gear that matters. No one hears what board you mixed on, they just hear if it sounds good or not. Listen. Use your ears.
[James Ulbrah] You have said that you never really practiced technique, how did your interesting tapping and over all style come about?
[Ron Thal] I think it was just the way a lot of people were all playing in the late 80s, early 90s – there were a bunch of guys all coming into their own at a time when there was a musical open-mindedness and a lot of style mixing and experimentation. There was me and Guthrie Govan and Mattias IA Eklundh, Buckethead, Christophe Godin and a lot of others, that all pushed boundaries without being stiff and snooty about it, it was quirky, uplifting and fun.
[James Ulbrah] Do you think that your ear enjoys more dissonant sounds?
[Ron Thal] My ears enjoy resolution of dissonant sounds, the journey, the music has to go somewhere.
[James Ulbrah] What do you notice in your own playing when analysing it that you tend to do a lot?
[Ron Thal] I guess I use a lot of dynamics in the picking, that's about it. And hopping around to different neck positions...
[James Ulbrah] Do you like when people cover your songs?
[Ron Thal] Yes, I love it! It's pretty flattering that anyone would want to, it surprises me and I love watching YouTube videos of it...!
[James Ulbrah] Guitars suck, how did that song come about what the story behind it?
[Ron Thal] I was gonna do a clinic in Holland in 1998 and wanted to prepare a special song for it, that was the song. All groups of five-notes-per-beat extending beyond the fretboard, using the thimble. Know about that? I keep a metal thimble on the tip of my little-finger on my picking hand and use it to tap notes higher than the fretboard. Here's a video:
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal Demos The Thimble
Later it became the song “Guitars SUCK”, the intro was a phone message from fellow guitarist Joe Bochar who put out some very cool instrumental albums of his own (aka “Joboj”), and now builds these fantastic boutique guitars, http://www.jbguitars.com/
[James Ulbrah] At what age did you realise you could sing so well?
[Ron Thal] Thanks! I always sang and wrote songs, from the day I picked up a guitar. It was at the age of 15 or 16 when I started singing for real. Had a lot of singers that inspired me, I think the strongest influences were Rob Halford, Ian Gillan, Tony Harnell of TNT, and Eric Adams of Manowar.
[James Ulbrah] Did you take lessons for singing?
[Ron Thal] Yes, for about a year and a half when I was 19. I had some bad physical habits that developed from singing the wrong way, it started becoming a problem. Vocal training fixed everything, I learned how to control the voice and keep it healthy.
[James Ulbrah] Do you think people can be taught to sing like you or is it innate?
[Ron Thal] You can train yourself and shape yourself to sound reminiscent of other people, but it's best to just be yourself, sound like you naturally sound. Have your own voice.
[James Ulbrah] Any plans to start doing gigs outside of GnR?
[Ron Thal] For now I'm just gonna get as much music recorded as I can, so I can continue to release music while I'm on the road with GNR. At some point I'd love to start doing solo tours and clinics, but only if I know for sure that it wouldn't conflict with GNR's touring plans.
[James Ulbrah] You have said that you have perfect pitch; do you think that helps with playing the fretless?
[Ron Thal] Yeah, it helps. I think? I guess, haha.
[James Ulbrah] What’s your favourite thing about fretless and what makes it fun?
[Ron Thal] I like that the neck is shiny.......... umm, I like the imperfect doubling of notes, it's expressive. And that you can drag harmonics and get a sound you can't with frets. Fretted, fretless, making music is the fun part.
|Sept 24, 2010 - Zagreb, Croatia (photo by Miro Majcen)|
[James Ulbrah] If you didn’t do guitar as a living what would you be doing that isn’t to do with art?
[Ron Thal] I don't know, I'd still be involved in music, but maybe more on the promotion, PR or management end. There's an art to everything though, people have to be creative in whatever they do, even in business.
[James Ulbrah] I heard you say that Buckethead asked you to sing on his album, what happened and have use jammed?
[Ron Thal] That was before he had joined GNR, we met at NAMM '98 or '99. He's the only guy out of the guitarists I mentioned that I haven't made music with - I've played on Guthrie's music, Christophe's music, Mattias's music, played with all of them on stage as well...
[James Ulbrah] So Guthrie Govan and you used to be pen pals when you where younger, how did use meet with no internet?
[Ron Thal] I think it was when I was in a guitar magazine in '89. We wrote back n forth, would send each other cassette demos, little riffs we'd transcribe, always stayed friends, stayed in touch.
[James Ulbrah] Why haven’t you too done anything together apart from Rhode Island Shred?
[Ron Thal] Good question! I think I need to start making some more instrumental music and have my friends as guests on the songs, yes?
[James Ulbrah] Yes!
[Ron Thal] OK then. Yes. Another year of tasks added onto the To Do list.
[James Ulbrah] Any plans to do something together?
[RonThal] No, but it's as easy as one of us emailing the other...
[James Ulbrah] Do you think that it is even possible now that your in GnR and your schedule is extremely busy?
[Ron Thal] It's not about GNR, it's about touring in general. If I'm on the road, my resources for doing other things are limited.
[James Ulbrah] Have the Bumblefoot hot sauces came out?
[Ron Thal] Ah, no. That's another thing I need to get to. It's on the list, the To Do txt file on my desktop that stares back at me every day.
[James Ulbrah] Speaking of the txt file, do you think the ‘Bumblefoot instructional dvd’ is any closer to being started?
[Ron Thal] Nope, not yet.
|Oct 12, 2010 - Witchwood School Of Rock - Witney, UK (photo by Michael Dove)|
[James Ulbrah] What else is on that to do list?
[Ron Thal] Stuff. Ya know, stuff.
[James Ulbrah] What did you used to practice when you were young?
[Ron Thal] In the first few years it was all academics, reading every page of the beginner Mel Bay books with a metronome. I started learning songs, learning music theory, and it was years before I started working on technique.
[James Ulbrah] What did you start to work on when you did work on technique? It’s interesting because you defiantly have had your own distinct sound since day 1.
[Ron Thal] The usual things – picking patterns, this-many-note-per-string-patterns. That stuff is like exercising, it allows you do be more physical, but you're still gonna make your choices based on who you are and how you feel. It's about making music, can't stress that enough. You only have to be good enough to play your own music well – if you can do that, you have good technique.
[James Ulbrah] Strings, picks, amps?
[Ron Thal] Yes, I use all of those things.
[James Ulbrah] Haha, what strings do you use Mr foot, what picks, and what amps?
[Ron Thal] Ernie Ball strings, usually 9 or 10 to 46, and 12 to 56 on the fretless. I use an Engl Invader100 amp. Still got the Line6 Vetta2 and Line6/Bogner SpiderValve in the studio.... Picks? Usually a normal shaped heavy gauge with a gritty texture.
[James Ulbrah] Do you have a guitar collection?
[Ron Thal] Not a big collection, but an unusual one. Some of the guitars I built myself, sort of an Island Of Dr. Moreau of guitars. A Swiss Cheese guitar, a Flying Foot guitar with wings that spread when you bend the vibrato bar, a Giant Hand guitar, a guitar with a fretboard surface made of coins, a fretless/fretted double-neck... I have pictures and stories online at http://www.bumblefoot.com/gear.php
[James Ulbrah] How come we don’t get to see the flying foot any more? I thought it got repaired?
[Ron Thal] Repaired, but it's not the same. I put that guitar through enough – a good 8 years of abuse on the road, it earned a nice easy retirement from here on.
|Oct 23, 2010 - Barcelona, Spain|
[James Ulbrah] Wasn’t there a competition for people to design a new unique guitar? How did that go?
[Ron Thal] Went well, that's the fretted/fretless double-neck I'm usin', came out of that contest.
[James Ulbrah] Top 3 favourite movies or books? Favourite Genre of movie?
[Ron Thal] Can't ever pick favorites, I like too much stuff. I love 'B' movies, horror movies, comedies, weird stuff... ok, here's three not-so-typical movie picks: Slingblade (1996), The Rapture (1991) and Gummo (1997).
[James Ulbrah] What has your main goal always been and has it changed now?
[Ron Thal] For my songs to be remembered.
[James Ulbrah] Do you ever listen to your songs?
[Ron Thal] Not by choice. It's like looking at myself in the mirror for 4 minutes. Don't really wanna.
[James Ulbrah] Most technically challenging thing about guitar?
[Ron Thal] Trying to tune in a noisy room.
|Dec 3, 2010 - Sydney, Australia - jamming with FOZZY (photo by Katrin Bretscher)|
[James Ulbrah] What is your Favourite piece of music?
[Ron Thal] I'm definitely a Beatles guy, if anything it would be something by the Beatles. Or something off Yes “Going For the One”. It's an absolute fucking masterpiece.
[James Ulbrah] What theory did you learn?
[Ron Thal] As much of it as I could, studied a lot of it on my own... beginning at the Diatonic Major Scale in C, to how people crave re-direction in a song at phi (61.8%) of the song's length. phi is Phi -1, Phi is a number that has relevance throughout nature, from music http://goldennumber.net/music.htm to quantum physics http://goldennumber.net/quantum-E8.htm to biology http://goldennumber.net/life.htm to astronomy http://goldennumber.net/solarsys.htm
[James Ulbrah] What scales or modes do you know, and what do you use the most?
[Ron Thal] I know all that horse crap, it's just a way to define what we all do. Do whatever works for the ears. After the fact, go back and say “Oh, that worked because the lift in the Lydian over that Augmented7flat9 chord connected with the blah blah bliddie blah...” Don't worry about all that - it's in your head, it's not leaving your head, ya don't need to focus on it while you're playin'.
[James Ulbrah] What is the most important thing to work on?
[Ron Thal] Work on *not caring too much*. Don't make things out to be a bigger deal than they are. Is it really worth getting in a band fight and halting progress because you can't agree on how many times a chord in the 2nd chorus of a song you probably won't even be playing a month from now should be strummed?? Flow with things, it'll come together in the end. If a three-legged dog doesn't complain, neither should you.
[James Ulbrah] Favourite style of music to play and to listen to?
[Ron Thal] I'm a metalhead but I love playing it all – funk, jazz, whatever ya wanna throw at me. My favorite stuff is 60s/70s rock and soul, and old school metal. And grunge – Soundgarden, Alice, they were just so fucking good...
[James Ulbrah] Most enjoyable songs to cover?
[Ron Thal] Anything from the Beatles, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Stevie Wonder and Manowar
[James Ulbrah] Approach to improvisation?
[Ron Thal] Don't think. Just follow your ears and your gut, that's it. It's very simple. The more you complicate it the more unnatural it'll be. Don't think.
[James Ulbrah] Do you play licks?
[Ron Thal] Sure, you start forming your own licks and patterns, that's part of it.
[James Ulbrah] What should aspiring guitarists practice?
[Ron Thal] They should practice slowing down, and letting the drummer lead. Guitarists tend to rush the beat – ya gotta pull back, slow down, even lag a hair behind, and let the drummer set the pace and the flow, then flow with it.
[James Ulbrah] What is a good approach to developing your ear? How did you develop yours so well?
[Ron Thal] Just listen without thinking. Don't force it. Clear your mind and feel what's going on. It's the reaction of one sound hitting another, the clashing, the waves they create when they combine, listen to those. You almost have to listen in-between the sounds.
|Dec 16, 2010 - Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. (photo by Roldan Macahiya)|
[James Ulbrah] What do you think is your signature style or sound?
[Ron Thal] I think it's more about the songs – the writing, arrangement, vocals, and guitar playing all together. I don't know if I have a signature sound, I try not to think about it, I don't want to put myself into any mold, I wanna be free, where whatever I do is me being me, and when you put it all together you get the full picture.
[James Ulbrah] What are you influences, Younger and now?
[Ron Thal] As a kid it was Kiss and the Beatles mostly, but I was into a lot of classic rock, progressive, and punk as a kid. I never stopped liking it, I just found more things I liked - could be Tchaikovsky, Busta Rhymes or Paco DeLucia. Whatever it was I heard, it had some kind of impact, some kind of effect. We're the sum of our experiences, our music is the sum of what we've heard, felt and absorbed.
[James Ulbrah] What do you listen too?
[Ron Thal] Not much, other than whatever songs I'm working on at the studio. When people give me CDs during a tour or while I'm out somewhere, I listen to them all in my car while I'm driving, that's when I get to listen to other music. So that's it – my unfinished songs, and people's demos.
|Sept 4, 2010 - Rome, Italy (photo by Sonorika.com)|
[James Ulbrah] Do you play any other instruments?
[Ron Thal] Bass... I learned to play the flute when I was 15, was going through a big Jethro Tull phase. Can stumble my way around keyboards and drums. I play them until I'm forcibly removed from them.
[James Ulbrah] Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions with us, would you like to add any last words to our readers?
[Ron Thal] Thank you James for the interview, and to all you readers, for reading! If you want to keep up on what I'm doing, here's some links:
[A special thanks to James Ulbrah independent interviewer for Truth in Shredding.]
Originally posted at: http://www.truthinshredding.com/2011/02/ron-thal-james-ulbrah-interviews-ron.html