You recently paid a visit to Dubai joining local band “Point of View” on stage. Dubai might not be the first place you think about when it comes to the rock scene. What can you tell us about that experience?
Life has a way of taking you places you don't expect. It was after playing there two years ago, Nik Uzi, singer of local Dubai band Point Of View reached out. They were working on their album, I'd give my thoughts here n' there, and we stayed in touch. When they were ready to release the album, we tossed around the idea of flying out to join them on stage. It was at a time between legs of GNR touring, so why not be spontaneous and have some fun, right? So glad it worked out, Nik, his band, family & friends all gave me a great personal love for Dubai.
While in Dubai you made a visit the Autism Center there. And there is a joint charity event planned, how did you get involved in this?
Nik made this happen. We went there, he & I performed for the kids & staff, and spent a lot of time talking and learning. The acceleration rate of children being affected by autism is staggering – last year the stats were 1 of 88 children, and it's growing. The Dubai Autism Center is having great success helping children and their parents live better. But they need support. They're a non-profit organization, and it's up to the rest of us to help them. So I'm hoping I can come back there soon and organize a concert to lend needed financial support.
You recently did a Skype class with Miss Z’s school of rock. Considering how the whole music industry/scene has changed. What do you think that more experienced artists can teach younger aspiring artists of today? And how can the new generation of artists inspire the older generation in return?
Artists that have lived most of their lives by old methods may have a hard time getting comfortable with today's direct connectivity with fans, and they can learn a lot by young bands raised in the 'Internet Age'. Young bands can learn from experienced artists about the realities of touring, performing, recording, business, but more-importantly about having discipline, patience, a good work ethic, respect, faith, building character that can help the young artist grow and develop themselves that can apply not just to music but to life. It's about having a good life overall. Success can be miserable without balance.
I know that you do a lot of producing when not committed to anything GnR, both your own stuff and others. I especially remember two young female artists from the past year, Poc and Alexa Vetere. What can you tell us about these collaborations, how do you choose which artists to work with? How is the process for this, you seem to have a talent for finding new young exciting artists?
Working with Alexa started back almost 10 years ago, she was the daughter of a friend of a friend. Her goal was to release an album, she had never sang, written a song or played guitar. It would be a challenge – and I like challenges. So we started on guitar lessons - she'd play until her fingertips were literally black. Gave her vocal lessons, songwriting techniques, started co-writing and demoing songs, my solo band backed her for recordings and live shows in NY & LA, all was going well. She got a guitar endorsement, we posted a song at iHeartRadio and the song ended up being #1 on the Rock charts with over 3.6 million plays. Then I started with GNR, she went to College, life happened. We always stayed in touch, and always planned to put life aside and release the music we made together. This year we finally did that. http://itunes.apple.com/album/breathe-again/id514980356
Poc is a female rock artist from Mexico. She flew up to to my studio in New Jersey and lived there for two months while we wrote, recorded, and kept a Livestream going to have fans watch, and participate – we had them Skype their backing vocals to us to include in the song “Rock N Roll Baby”, something I don't think has ever been done on an album. We'd spend hours late at night listening to the past 50 years of rock music, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, getting inspiration. And in the end you can hear that real singer/guitarist team in the songs, that duo of personalities, we captured that. I've never experienced so much making an album as I have with Poc. In those two months we had a heat wave, an earthquake, a hurricane, a flood that left 3 feet of water in the studio, and lots of personal challenges to deal with from family tragedies to extortion threats, all this while I was in rehabilitation from a car accident that had left me unable to play and in constant pain. It was one challenge after another. But instead of it stopping us, it added intensity and spirit to the album. That's where the album title came from – every time an obstacle would stand in our way, so we named the album “Rise Above”. http://itunes.apple.com/album/rise-above/id529724762
I remember reading about your car accident and thinking that you came off lightly but later there were some more serious side effects. You had to play most of the tour on painkillers. Fully recovered now? It sounds like a more life altering event than it might first have looked like?
It's a permanent spine injury that causes constant pain – the focus of my life is about trying to keep the pain minimized and living life around it.
G n’ R have a series of Las Vegas shows coming up soon, how is that coming along?
This is something different for us, I'm looking forward to it. We're playing two acoustic shows on Oct 20th & 21st with Neil Young and Jack Black at the Annual Bridge School benefit concert in San Jose, California. The Bridge School is a non-profit organization that helps people with severe speech and physical impairments through education and alternative means of communication technology. After that we rehearse in LA for a week, then Vegas for a month. A week after we finish we have plans to play some shows in India.
GnR s a HUGE apparatus. How is getting back to normal life after a tour? From an outside view getting back to normal life looks a bit like a semi controlled crash-landing. How do you cope with that? Do you have any special way of dealing with that whole process?
The best way to re-integrate into society, haha, is to jump right in and get busy. One time after a tour I unpacked quickly and spent the next three days doing home improvement, putting in recessed lighting in the living room, new sinks and faucets in the bathrooms. Another time I went straight to the studio and laid a bunch of guest guitar solos. But the best way is to get busy quickly. Otherwise you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling waiting for an imaginary 'day sheet' to slip under your door so you know what to do that day, haha.
What is going on at the moment – today, last weeks, coming weeks?
Every day is filled with 'life stuff' before hitting the road again – yesterday was a visit to my parents, today is a visit to the lawyer and to DiMarzio pickups, tomorrow with a music bizz assistant, following day to the doctor, day after is a fundraiser for Rock Asylum Foundation, using rock music to educate kids. Following day I'm playing a fundraiser in NYC for Foundation Fighting Blindness, the day after going to Downbeach Film Festival in Atlantic City, NJ for the screening of a horror movie I did music for and had a cameo in, The Meat Puppet. Then I pack my bags. Somewhere in there I need to lay acoustic guitar tracks for Tony Harnell's upcoming acoustic album, and lay a guitar solo for a film score. Typical week.
Some info about your background (upbringing/school, work/career)?
That's a lot to sum up. The long version is at www.bumblefoot.com/biography.php, I'll try to do a short version... started playing around age 6, had a band by age 7 writing, recording, gigging, teaching by age 13, producing by 15, and all continued – been commercially releasing music for 20 years, write music for videogames, TV themes, films, teaching music production at SUNY Purchase College, joined GNR in 2006.
What is your very first music related memory?
Earliest memories start at age 5 – being at my neighbor's house and he had Paul McCartney albums lying around the room, hearing KISS “Alive!” when it was just released and knowing this is what I wanted to do with my life, making a giant drawing of our band logo on a white window shade to hang behind us while we played, carving the band's name into my little acoustic guitar. All I ever wanted was to be part of a band where you know everyone by their first names – John Paul George Ringo, Gene Ace Peter Paul – to have that kind of band, and write a lot of songs.
Who are your biggest inspiration in music – at the moment and back over the years?
Guitar-wise the biggest influences have been Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. Musically, it was hearing KISS for the first time at age 5 that drove me to be a musician, and it was the Beatles that made me truly love music – the cello lines in the Beatles songs, the production, it never stops amazing me.
What – outside of the music field – inspires you?
Not a lot of time for anything outside music, aaahh!!! I spend time with family when I can. As a kid I would draw, paint, sculpt, I was into B&W photography & developing in my early 20's, but since then I've been doing half-a-dozen music-related full-time tasks at once, seems all my hobbies are music-related. The closest thing to a non-musical hobby would be watching obscure '70s movies and taking photos and posting them on Instagram, haha. (Instagram name: bumblefoot)
Where do you see yourself over the coming year and further on, in say 10 years?
In the studio more. The studio is my favorite place, the creative environment, I hope to have more time to spend there.
In-between all tour traveling, what’s your best ways of relaxing when being at home for shorter/longer period of time?
Staying off the computer and spending more time in the sunshine. We've become a Vitamin-D-deficient society, and I try to spend more time doing physical things in the 'analog world'. Exercise, healthy food, and fresh air.
You are working with new equipment as a producer and on tour with GnR you use the latest sound and live equipment. What are your thoughts about old versus new technique live and in the studio? Do you embrace everything new or do you look back with nostalgic eyes?
Old and new compliment each other and complete what each lacks. Analog sounds better, but has limitations in editing and processing – digital solves that problem. When we think in terms of 'OR' we exclude half of what we could have – think 'AND' and have it all.
10 favorite albums/songs from 1975-1985? (highlights, general impressions, related memories etc)
That list would be a few hundred albums long, and would need to start a dozen years earlier... starting at '75 here are ten albums that bring vivid memories and take me back to where I was, and who I was, as a young kid at the beginning of a life-long road... every one of these bands had such a strong musical identity and vibe, fantastic songs. I love every one of these albums as much as I did the first time, if not more.
KISS “Dressed To Kill” (1975)
Thank you for the interview, and thank you all for reading....!
~ Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal