:: Interviews ::

Bumblefoot - Not Just A Sickness
By: Alon Miasnikov
Interview With: Ron Thal (Guitar), Bumblefoot

He may be playing with Guns N' Roses these days, but Ron Thal remains Bumblefoot, a creative and inventive guitarist that has been releasing challenging solo albums for quite some time.  I was quite content to talk to him exclusively about his own music.

What's the situation with your solo stuff now?

All is well, the fifth Bumblefoot album "Normal" was recently released, we did a European tour in October/November of 2005, made a video for one of the songs, got some radio airplay, some TV shows played the songs as background music - always funny when that happens, ya don't expect it, suddenly ya hear it and I'm saying "What the...?" as if I'm hearing things...

Are you still doing supporting gigs for "Normal"?

Yes, a gig here and there in NYC, maybe we'll plan some more light touring. Usually when an album is finished, I just want to start on the next one...

Some info about the album, why "Normal"?

Normal brings you into the world of an insane musician who takes medication and experiences what it's like to be 'normal' for the first time - but the medicine silences his ability to make music. Eventually he must choose which life he wants. The songs on Normal follow his journey, leaving you to ponder, "What's 'normal,' anyway?"

Is it an autobiographical album?

Yes, for the most part. Some of the silly songs that break up the story a bit aren't completely autobiographical, but the overall concept is.

The first time I heard your material was when I run into a copy of "Hermit" some six or seven years back, and was blown away by it, what can you tell me about that album?

"Hermit" was released in 1997, it was the second album released under the artist name "Ron Thal" - it's out-of-print along with the first album in 1995, "The Adventures Of Bumblefoot." So there are seven albums released, the first two are "Ron Thal" albums and near impossible to find, the other five are
"Bumblefoot" albums.

In what ways was it different than your debut album? What were you doing as a musician prior to that?

I had a band and got signed to a small indie label that released the two out-of-print albums. The band sounded like the stuff you hear on the "Hands" CD (debut Bumblefoot album released 1998). We were gigging in and around NYC, I was teaching music, playing in cover bands with friends and doing some photography on the side.

So I signed the deal, part of the deal was the label wanted an all-instrumental guitar album from me - that was the first album, "Adventures..." I guess that's the main difference - the first "Adventures..." album was all instrumental, the second "Hermit" album was more of what I do, singin' and band-oriented stuff. Never wanted to be a guitar hero, just wanted to make songs and be in a band.

Who would you say were the main influences on you as a growing guitar player?

Definitely Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. There were plenty of others, from Charlie Christian (old bluesy jazz) to Andre Segovia (classical) to Alan Holdsworth (fusion) to Yngwie Malmsteen (neo-classical) but the ones that had the most impact were definitely Eddie and Jimi.

When did the Bumblefoot name come up, and why did you choose to use it?

In the early 90s, my girlfriend was in veterinary school and I was helping her study - one of the animal diseases was named Bumblefoot. One of the treatments was to rub hemorrhoid cream on a bird's foot. It was all so bizarre that I wrote a song about some kinda fucked-up superhero named Bumblefoot. I used the idea for the artwork on that instrumental CD, then named my band Bumblefoot, eventually it became my nickname. It fit the band, kinda quirky experimental sometimes-Zappa-ish Mr.-Bungle-ish sounding...

Is there a difference between the album released under your real name and under the name Bumblefoot?

Yes - you can find Bumblefoot CDs anywhere on the internet. You can't find Ron Thal CDs - I don't own the rights to the albums, the label won't re-release them, your only choices are to buy them for $100 on eBay when someone sells one, or "illegally" download them. Although it doesn't seem very illegal to download an album, if the record label makes it impossible for people to buy.

How did your connection with Freak Kitchen start out?

I met guitarist Mattias Eklundh met years ago, don't even remember how or who introduced us, but we hit it off as friends quickly. I invited him to play on one of my songs, he did the same, we'd do shows together on tour, I'd torture young guitarists in the Swedish woods with him as a guest teacher at his Freak Guitar Camp - Mattias is a wonderful guy, one of the best people out there. The whole band is. Mattias and I have been talking about doing a "Freak-Foot" album together for years, but never can find the time to pull it together. Ah, some day...

How did you end up using a fretless guitar?

Vigier Guitars has been making one for 20 years, but very few people had embraced it. From the first time I heard it I thought it was the coolest thing and started using it. Been playing Vigier guitars since '97, got a fretless in '99 - gets such a unique sound, real fun to play.

I read that you had a signature guitar put out for you by Vigier guitars, can you describe the model and what makes it unique?

Yes, Vigier just put it out in January 2006. Nothing crazy, not a flying foot or a chunk of cheese - a 'Normal' guitar, customized with the pickups and wiring I use (split coil and out-of-phase settings,) non-floating vibrato (stays in tune when you break a string,) and a hole to stick your thimble when you're not using it :P

Yeah, about the thimble (metal cap used in sewing that you put over your fingertip so you don't get jabbed with the needle...), I keep it on the little finger of my picking hand and tap with it - after the neck ends and the string keeps going, I use it to get the higher notes.

How did you get involved with such different (and main-stream) projects as playing in a Jessica Simpson track?

Usually stuff like that is through a friend of a friend looking for a guitarist - I had a friend of a friend that was making a club re-mix of her song "Irresistible" and I laid down a bunch of guitar tracks and helped mix it. Did a few things like that... did it for a Turkish composer that was doing music for CNN-Turkey, for a few club/dance re-mixes of pop songs... man, I just like playing guitar, gimme some music to play to and I'm there.

On what label are your albums released? It's impossible getting them here in Israel...

I release them myself on the internet, but not in stores. They're at my site, Cdbaby , Amazon, iTunes - you can get them anywhere in the world , as long as ya can get on the internet...

Why did you decide naming your 2002 album "9/11" and how did the idea for donating the profits from that album come up?

The album was half-instrumental and was gonna be called "Guitars Suck," but as I was finishing it up, the terrorist attacks in the US happened, and I felt I needed to do something helpful with the album, so I donated all the proceeds to the Red Cross. I changed the name so people would easily identify it
as the benefit album..

How, and why, did you get involved with the MS Research Foundation?

My best friend, Ralph Rosa, was diagnosed with the disease in 1997 - he started a non-profit organization with the help of family and friends and we work together to organize benefit shows to raise money for medical research.

A friend of mine claims you're actually Jewish, and have actually visited Israel, if that's not complete bullshit, can you give more details?

Yes, I am, but I've never visited Israel - not yet. I hope to in the near future...

Why do you take the time answering every E-mail that you get?

If someone cares enough to send me a message, the least I can do is let 'em know I got it and appreciate what they have to say. People's thoughtfulness and kindness means a lot, it's what makes it all worth doing, knowing you're making people happy. It's not always easy to respond - sometimes there isn't enough time, and I get bad hand pain from typing that makes it hard to play guitar, but I try my best to at least send a small message letting them know I care.

What is the next step in regards to your solo career now?

Time to write more music. Got some song ideas brewing in the back of my head - gotta bring them to the front and do another album. Who knows, maybe Mattias and I will finally get our Freak-Foot album started...