Interview with Bumblefoot
In the middle of his solo tour that is bringing him across Europe, Bumblefoot had the time to answer to our questions about his songwriting, Guns and Roses and much more.
RYL: A tour just ended with GNR and you are hitting the road again by your own…. Aren’t you tired? Or is the stage that gives you that special energy?
Ron: I always say I prefer the studio, the endless creative possibilities, and prefer it above playing live. Until I'm on stage, and realize how rewarding the personal connection is with the audience and the energy from them and the band combining. It's been eight years since I did a Bumblefoot tour – I toured in early 2005 and again in the Fall after the release of the Normal CD, and had another tour planned in May 2006. But it was conflicting with the GNR tour and I had to cancel mine, which before that I had only canceled one show in my whole life (due to illness), so that was tough. I squeezed in a NYC show that year between legs of GNR tours and recording, and the next thing was going to be appearances in early 2007 in South Africa and Japan, everything was arranged – then on a few days notice the GNR shows were canceled, which meant I had to cancel mine as well... gaaaaaahhh!!!!!! When GNR touring finished in the Summer of 2007 I played one show in the Boston area at the Locobazooka festival, and then started writing & recording the Abnormal CD. At this point, I was playing with a lot of people as guests, which I had always done, but I was barely playing my own music live. For me, nothing is more demanding than my own music guitar-wise, vocally, doing both at the same time, and feeling natural doing it. Add to that, having to deliver fully at the highest level of what you're capable of when you're going for weeks without sleep, being touched by hundreds of people daily and getting sick, panicking every night about how you're gonna be able to sing with a torn-up throat, and in the end coming home after a month with as much pay as most people make in a day – solo tours were never easy. I was getting admittedly 'comfortable' with simply being a guitarist – there was less weight on my shoulders when someone else is the frontman and carrying all the burdens of the business, and it was a welcome vacation from the pressures of doing it on my own. Every year offers from all over the world would come in to have me perform my own music, and every time I'd always have a scheduling conflict where GNR was touring, and had a secret sense of relief. But in the back of my mind, I knew I was letting myself slip away. And as time went on it felt like it would be more of a monumental task to take on regaining what I had let go. The last two years were filled with health challenges that had me questioning if I could ever play my own music again – a permanent spine injury where it was painful to have a guitar around my neck, and painful to push out notes vocally. I got that under control, it's a second chance at life, as long as I live carefully – I had to re-learn how to move my body. So this year, GNR finished touring and the rest of the year is open, so I took the leap. I started practicing my songs hours every day, slowly getting reacquainted with my own music, not sure if I'd ever get the songs nailed, not sure if I had lost it for good. But by the time I hit Italy in August and was rehearsing with the band, it all felt natural, like I was doing what I always did. And it turned out to be the most fun, stress-free, comfortable tour I ever did. I'm ready to take the next step, bigger tours, more parts of the world, and write new music to play on those tours.
RYL: In few weeks you will be in Albania as part of “Music Matters” program, what do you expect from this visit?
Ron: It's my first time coming to Albania, I'm going with an open heart & mind, welcoming whatever it will be. :) If I go by the messages I've received from people there, I know it's going to be a great experience. :)
RYL: What was the most crazy thing that happened to you on tour?
Ron: I could write a book on that... it's all just 'another day at the office', nothing seems crazy any more, haha. There's the dude that fell through the ceiling climbing through the air ducts trying to get backstage... we gave him passes for his impressive efforts, haha. Or the time a woman kept smelling my sweaty armpit – she loved the smell of sweat and I had just gotten off stage, so I'd go room to room to say hello to people while she'd put her face in my armpit and take a deep breath in, and let out a big happy “aaaaaahhh” with a smile. I remember going in Axl's room, she does her thing, he just looked at me & shook his head... There's plenty of not-so-pleasant stuff – the fighting, biting, thefts, assaulting family members – some people will take extreme desperate measures to get attention. Just another day at the office...
RYL: Guitar playing and songwriting are, as far we understood, equally important for you…in fact you released over 100 songs. How do you write your own lyrics? What inspires you?
Ron: Let's think of a song like a planetary destination, where all the space in the Universe can freely lead to it. We carve our own course within that space, and the journey is never quite the same as we're always in a different place on our own travels through life. Lyrics start with a feeling, exploring the reasons for that feeling, and sharing it all. For me it has gotten increasingly difficult to navigate through the asteroid belt of distractions, pushing and pulling me off course. But I'm working on that. I'm trying to put more time into nurturing my life and having more creative output.
RYL: One of our favorite song is "Awake", released with the album Normal in 2005, can you tell us more about it? What do you mean with “Miss the pain of love and tragedy”?
Ron: "Awake", from the Normal CD. The album was telling an autobiographical story about overcoming depression, along with events happening in my life at that time. I was on anti-depression medication, and it helped a lot. The only draw-back was that it silenced my creativity, and eventually I had to choose whether I wanted to be “normal”, or if I wanted to feel the full range of emotions and be musical again. The song Awake was about coming to that pivotal point. I'll break down the song lyrics...
“I miss me.
When I'd close my eyes and focus, I'd see changing patterns in the darkness, soon glowing colored rings float toward me and dissipate, then a fast subtle rocking back-and-forth as the center of gravity falls back. Happened all my life. That's “the noise, colored dreams, and rings.” Sometimes but not very often, I'd hear a quick burst of yelling as well, could never make out what was being said, but it resonated as if it came from elsewhere – the “screams.” No, I'm not 'completely' insane, haha (sure, that's what they all say...), just scenes from a mid-dream state of mind. When medicated, it shortened how wide the emotional pendulum could swing. But when you're free to fully feel, you could be so in-love or so sad that it 'hurts' – that's “the pain of love and tragedy” that I was missing.
“How should I live each tomorrow - like the first day or the last
“You make me wanna live again
I needed to make the decision about going off the medication and becoming my complete self, for better and worse. And I had faith that no matter what happened I'd be ok as long as I had the one I loved by my side.
“How should I live each tomorrow - like the first day or the last
It was time to let go, to leave the safety of the shell I was in, time to be born. I stopped the medication and allowed the emotions to come through like a flood of water that would crash away the wall of medicine that held them back – it was like feeling “the floodgate start to break and crash away the wall.” It was like the first day of life. And the first sight I wanted my eyes to see was the woman I loved, who loved me.
“The first sight in these eyes I want is you
RYL: In your career you released several albums, which was the most rewarding (for you as a singer/musician) so far? When do you plan to release a new one?
RYL: What about “Simple Days" from the album Abnormal of 2008, what inspired the lyrics of the song?
Ron: "Simple Days" was one of the only songs I ever wrote on the road. I have a hard time writing while on tour. But one time in 2006, I saw one of the guys in GNR looking pretty sad, missing family, and just the look on his face, I really felt for him. It feels like life starts to unravel while you're on tour. I was going to offer this song to GNR, but found its home on the Abnormal album.
“You and I – since you've gone all the flowers have died
How could I survive
You and I – from a distance we're just shapes and lines
What can I do?
You and I – disconnected and falling apart
How could I survive
A thousand miles, a thousand miles, I go a thousand more
RYL: How important for you is teaching guitar? We see that you dedicate quite a lot of time to it…
Ron: I try to teach when I can, but there's not always a lot of time and it's hard to make plans for it, especially while touring. I gave Skype lessons two years ago, but soon after life got very erratic. Now I'm trying to add teaching into my solo touring, planning to also do workshops on tour, not just shows. I'm teaching for a week at www.CorfuRockSchool.com and loving it! Classes and discussions during the day, jamming with the students at night, and playing two shows with the students at local pubs during the week, all on a beautiful Greek island. We're having a great time and I hope to do it whenever possible...
RYL: The best guitar you played, not owned by you?
Ron: There was a beautiful acoustic guitar Paul McCartney had, strummed it in his office about 10 years ago – was told it was a gift from Richie Sambora. Don't remember who made the guitar but it played and sounded beautiful.
RYL: Starbucks versus ITunes…..In a world where a song costs like a double macchiato, how difficult is to make music?
Ron: Making music is easy. Making a living at it isn't so easy. Thankfully, there's the support of fans who step up and donate to the funding of music. Fan-funding has saved music.
RYL: What does it means for you being a member of GNR? Do you remember the day you joined them?
Ron: Joining GNR was a long story that began two years before we actually met up. When we starting playing together, we jammed seven times and hit the road. The biggest pleasure in it all was the wonderful fans I met and got to know. With over seven active years of being with GNR, it feels normal. Normal, like extreme turbulence on a long flight. (Joking...)
RYL: Tell us something that you never said to Axl…. We promise, we will not say this to anybody ;-)
Ron: “Hey dude, can I comb your mustache?” Never said that to him. And never will.
RYL: You recently announced the winners of the context for the design of a new hot sauce (fantastic design, by the way)…..How will be the world without it?
Ron: Such fantastic artists that entered the contest, couldn't be happier with the outcome...!
RYL: You know, The Who in a interview done by the end of the sixties said: “The only thing we apologize for, are the haircuts!” We don’t think this applies to you, isn’t?
Ron: Haha, that's great...! Hey, thank you so much for the interview, and a big thanks to everyone who took time to tune in :) Take care!
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal