Bumblefoot Interview with Gaffa.dk (Denmark)
August 20, 2007

The same car on a bigger road

After more than a year as a member of Guns N’ Roses, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal looks back at his time with the legendary rock n’ roll band. Ron speaks of playing GN’R covers in a band called Leonard Nimoy, performing “Don’t Cry” with Axl in Japan, jamming with Izzy Stradlin, how he became a member of the band – and not least the culinary highlights of life on the road.

By Mikkel Elbech

The time is set, and when the clock strikes 11am, I phone up Ron – well-prepared with questions that should ensure an interview of a considerable length. I myself am placed in sunny Santa Barbara on the west coast, while Ron is three time zones away in his home in New Jersey. He is, in fact, busy recording in his home studio when I call him. He apologizes kindly for being busy and postpones the interview a couple of hours, and then calls me up and postpones it a tad more. Oh, well, no biggie – after all, Guns N’ Roses are notorious for being late, so no surprise that a little delay is occurring here.

It’s four o’ clock, and I give it another go. I’m in luck, and the interview can begin. He’s still in the studio, which is in the midst of thorough renovation. He’s clearly excited and gives a basic rundown of the activities happening.

- Me and Frank were just laying some drum and guitar tracks to a song for this rapper, and we’re doing it at my studio. I had my studio all taken apart while I rebuild this one big room, and I just put all the equipment back in there. You should see what it looks like where we’re playing! The walls are just wood with insulation hanging out of them and wires sticking out for the outlets that aren’t in yet. There’s no ceiling, it’s just beams going up to the roof, his drum set, a bunch of mics, my computer setup, and my amp, and it’s the complete opposite of everything you would imagine on MTV Cribs or anything like that. As ghetto a studio as you can possibly imagine! We don’t even have walls. But it sounds great, it sounds amazing. We got the coolest drum sound and everything just came out great. Frank might go meet with the record label, and I have to go to south Jersey and do a photo and video shoot for a guitar magazine, that’ll be coming out later in the year.

Who are you recording the song for?

- I can’t say. But he’s good and he’s got a cool song, and we had fun playing on it.

Only a few musicians get to experience a transition of the kind that Ron has experienced. A lot of less known musicians get to play with big legends, but not many fill out as prominent a position as Ron does in Guns N’ Roses, playing lead guitar alongside Robin Finck. It’s impossible to imagine that a rock musician as Ron didn’t encounter Guns N’ Roses around the same time as the rest of the world did – 20 years ago when “Appetite For Destruction” destructed the rules of rock n’ roll in the 80’s. And sure enough – his earliest memory of the band is not unlike that of many others.

- That would be about 3 o’ clock in the morning, watching MTV. I think I was 17. I remember seeing this video for the song “Welcome To The Jungle”, and I was pretty blown away. Every once in a while you see a band that you just know has something special about them, and they most definitely did.

Played GN’R songs in cover band

Back then, as a musician, did you rock out to the music and dream of, at some point, being a member of the band?

- No, I never considered it. To me it just wasn’t something that would have been a possibility. Especially, I mean, at that time – you know, if you see a band come out that you like, the first thing you say is not, “wow, I sure hope that band members leave and I get to join!”

Maybe not actually becoming a member, but more just dreaming about it, pretending that you were – playing cover songs and stuff like that.

- I did have a cover band back then. What cover songs were we doing at the time… We were doing covers of GN’R.

Yeah? Which ones?

- We’d do “Brownstone”, “My Michelle”, uh, what else… I think we did “Jungle”. A bunch of stuff off of Appetite. I had a band called Leonard Nimoy – you know, the guy on Star Trek? He played Spock – and we would do covers of AC/DC, Kiss and Aerosmith, Guns, and… It’s pretty funny, we would – no, I shouldn’t even get into that story, it’s too much! We just did some crazy shit.

The transition

Can you describe the transition from being a solo musician to quite suddenly being a member of GN’R, playing venues for thousands upon thousands of people?

- Oh man… How is it different... Strangely enough, it doesn’t feel that different. You know, I’ve been asked this a lot – how does it feel to be playing in front of a hundred thousand people after playing in front of, maybe, a thousand? And the funny thing is that the whole idea of playing music – everything you do when you play, it comes from within, and that doesn’t change. So, in a sense, it’s like I’m just driving the same car on a bigger road. If anything, you drive a little faster! (Laughs) But yeah, it feels the same. It never felt unnatural to play with these guys, especially because they’re a good bunch of people, and that’s what makes the difference in the band you’re playing with, whether you’re playing in some local band or with Guns N’ Roses or a band like that. If you genuinely enjoy being on stage with the people you’re on stage with, everything is okay.

And I assume you do enjoy being a member of the band?

- No, I hate them! (Laughs as he’s obviously joking) It’s been well over a year now, and we’ve become better friends, and I’m just more happy to see them every time we get together.

I was gonna ask that – how is the atmosphere in the band? Is it professional, friendly, partying, or what?

- I was just over Frank’s house for a barbecue, hanging out, enjoying ourselves. And then yesterday and today we were in my studio recording stuff (no, not for Guns N’ Roses), and while we’re doing that we might make a call to Chris Pitman to say hello and see how he’s doing. It's great.

So did you know any of the members of the band personally before you joined?

- I didn’t know any of them personally. Surprisingly, because a lot of us have backgrounds where we have the same friends. I’ll be talking to Frank’s friends about people I hung out with 20 years ago that I still talk to, and they still talk to them. Frank was around back then in the same circle of friends, and it’s funny that we never met before we were playing together in Guns. It’s strange how that worked.

Recommended by Joe Satriani

Do you have a story of how you became a member of the band?

- Actually, I got an e-mail from Joe Satriani saying “Listen, I just recommended you to Guns. They’re looking for a guitar player – so if they get in touch, just so you know, it’s not somebody playing a joke on you or anything.” I was like, “alright, cool.” And Chris Pitman e-mailed me this funny e-mail, I gave him a call, we talked for a while, and he was a great guy. Started talking to management, and everything looked like it was on track. And then some Internet rumors came out that sort of delayed the process, haha.

So when were you first in contact with the band?

- It had to be around summer, late summer of 2004, that we started talking.

Your latest solo album deals with the concept of normality. Is Guns N’ Roses a normal band to be in?

- Haha, what do you think?

I thought it was a clever question!

- You know, I don’t have many other bands as big as Guns N’ Roses that I can compare it to. So it (the album “Normal”) is supposed to say, “what is normal”? And normal is just what you consider normal.

“Don’t Cry” with Axl in Japan

So, if anyone ever had a hard time telling the many guitar players of the band apart, then you have been noticed for your rendition of “Don’t Cry”. And then on the tour you just did in Japan, then that part of the show where you did “Don’t Cry” suddenly became the extraordinary encore with Axl singing the song for the first time in 14 years. Can you tell me about that – how it came about, and how it felt to be on stage during that song?

- Yeah… We were heading off stage, and then turned back around, went up there and did it.

How come you hadn’t done it during the actual part of the show, like you usually do?

- It’s always different. It may not seem like it when you read the set lists online, but it's never the same show. A lot of times the things that seem significant to you go very unnoticed by other people, then something subtle like, “let’s do “Don’t Cry” in a different spot”, people take a big notice to that – especially with Axl singing it, of course.

So, was it planned?

- It was kind of spontaneous. It was just like “let’s do it”, and I was like, “Yeah? Alright. Let’s give it to them.”

Culinary highlights

What have been your highlights of touring the world with Guns N’ Roses for well over a year now?

- Things that stand out… First thing that popped into my head when you asked me that was when we were playing in Poland. It was a little Mexican restaurant across the street from the hotel, and me and Frank and a bunch of us went. We sat down at the table and they brought Frank a nice bowl of black beans, and usually black beans are just the beans in a little bit of sauce. But this time they pureed the beans, and it was the most delicious black beans I’ve ever eaten! And he was saying that’s how his mom used to make them. That’s the first thing that popped into my head – the pureed black beans at a Mexican restaurant in Poland. Next thing that pops into my head would be backstage when we were playing in Oslo, Norway. They had this salad that had cashews and hot red peppers in it. It was a spicy, Thai-style cashew salad. It was very good. That’s the second thing that popped into my head. In case you’re wondering, yeah – I am a little bit hungry!

Oh yeah, apparently! So, do you have any onstage highlights?

- Oh, onstage, alright… I don’t know, man – every night just being there is a fucking highlight. And you can’t even compare – people say, “which show did you like better?”. It’s like asking “which child do you love more?”. It’s just one, big, collective great fucking time.

What’s your favorite song to play live?

- Oh, god… I don’t know, I don’t have a favorite! I suck at doing interviews, ‘cause when it comes to those questions, it sounds like I’m not answering, but it’s the total truth when I say I enjoy playing them all. There’s not a song that I don’t like. There are certain songs I like because of the energy and you get to run around, and others where I can just close my eyes and listen to the melody, as if I’m listening to the song and not even playing it. And other ones might just be more self-indulgent, because I like my own guitar part in it or something like that, or even just a singing part.

Don’t you have one song, though, that you’re looking forward to during the show?

- Hmm… I like doing “Chinese”, ‘cause I get to play the fretless. And what else… “Nightrain” is fun. I love when Robin first kicks into Sweet Child O’ Mine and does that intro riff and the whole audience just, you know, erupts. And every time I have to smile, I can’t help it – it just puts a big smile on my face, ‘cause I know that the people are happy and enjoying themselves. That’s why we’re there.

It seems inevitable that some people, including both fans and critics, won’t be truly happy about GN’R until the Appetite line-up gets back together. What are your feelings about that?

- How can I even answer? I mean…

More in the terms of if it’s something that you think about, get frustrated about, or just don’t even care about?

- It’s not something I think about. I don’t think about the past. I respect everything that the band was in that time, as well as any time – any time before I was in the band, I have the utmost respect for the band and what they accomplished, but you can’t keep thinking about the past. I have to think about what we’re gonna do next and what we can do better right now. I just don’t think about that stuff. It was great then, and it's great now.

Playing with Izzy

So, how did it feel playing with Izzy, who’s kind of a bridge between the two eras of Guns N’ Roses?

- Izzy’s a sweet guy, I really enjoy spending time with him. He’s a cool guy to hang with. We always had fun playing on stage. It was funny – one of the last shows that we were doing together, we were backstage and we were working out a song – “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. It’s a southern song from the late 70’s, and it has this really fast violin stuff in it, and we worked it out. I was doing the violin part, and he was strumming the chords. It was cool, but we didn’t play it on stage. He’s a real nice guy and I definitely enjoyed his company.

Do you have any funny anecdotes about touring with Sebastian Bach?

- Oh man, what can I say, so many... but I shouldn't, haha! They’re too funny and… You just had to be there! He’s a fun guy. On the last tour, we went out to dinner a lot, Sebastian and his band, hanging out… And, he’s a very funny guy. He’s like a light switch that’s always on! And if you try to shut it off – it has two settings, on… and on! He’s just non-stop. Love the guy, and his band!

What are your views of rock n’ roll today?

- I think I have a biased opinion about it, but I think it’s in okay shape. Everything will not be the same as it was. There’s always gonna be a time in your life where the music meant something to you and the music represented a time when you have the best memories and you were just… And that can never come around again. You know, I will always love grunge. So, at a time when Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Nirvana – to me, that was a very special time, and when I think back on it, I don’t always think of the music. I think of how I felt and it brings me back to that feeling, and it was a good feeling.

So what are you feeling today, when you’re listening to contemporary rock?

- There are a lot of good bands out there. There’s so much music that’s accessible to you, so sometimes it can be harder to find new bands that you really dig. But there are some great fucking bands out there. It’s not bad, you know – any time in music, there are certain styles that are so strong that they make such an impact, and five years later, you’re laughing at the way everybody did their hair and stuff like that. You know, people might be laughing at emo haircuts in a few years, but then 20 years later everyone’s gonna have them again.

Do you have any current favorites?

- Muse will always be a band that I just love. As far as, like, modern bands today… Well, Chris Cornell’s solo work I love. I don’t know if that really counts – that might just be a bridge to all the grunge stuff that I was talking about! I don’t know. I’m trying to think about, what are some cool bands that are out there… I like My Chemical Romance. They write great songs and put on a great show. There's an album I just finished mixing of a band called Return To Earth – they're friends of mine, Chris Pennie from Dillinger Escape Plan, Coheed, and Cambria on drums, Q*Ball on vocals, Brett Aveni on guitar. The music is kinda like a Queens Of the Stone Age vibe, very cool stuff – nice vocal harmonies. Can't get their songs out of my head!

So how do you think Guns N’ Roses fit into the current rock n’ roll scene?

- How do we fit in? I think Guns fits in the way a lot of bands that have been around a long time fit in – they’re an exception to the rule. You know, bands like U2, Aerosmith, Kiss, The Rolling Stones – they can do whatever they want for the rest of time, and they’ll always be Kiss, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith… You know, I think that Guns N’ Roses – and again, I’m biased – I think we fall into the category of standing the test of time, and if you go to a Guns show today, you won’t be disappointed hearing songs from 20 years ago or one that leaked a few years ago!

Optimistic about the future

What’s in the cards for Guns N’ Roses now – are you all asking Axl that question from the Sweet Child O’ Mine outro; where do we go now?

- (Laughs and sings) “Where do we go now…” I can not talk about future plans or anything like that. Those things need to come out when the time is right and everything is confirmed, so… That question I cannot answer. That question will be answered, though, in time, by the right people, and I’m looking forward to things coming up.

So you’re optimistic about the future?

- I think whatever is going to happen is meant to happen, and you can’t spend time wishing for something else, when it’s not possible. You have to flow with life, and whatever happens, you've got to accept it and say “this is what was meant to be”. If that makes me optimistic, then yeah, I’m optimistic! It’s basically just accepting that which we cannot change.

And with an answer as delicately unspecific as expected, the interview comes to a close. What remains is an image of a man who remains with both (bumble)feet on the ground, although he has fairly suddenly become part of the big rock n’ roll machinery that is Guns N’ Roses. The general attitude that once in a while makes Ron seem a tad unimpressed – such when he’d rather talk about pureed beans than playing Madison Square Garden – only makes him a tad more human.

Becoming a member of Guns N’ Roses and then turning into a prima donna could have been one way to go – but for Ron, it appears to have had somewhere near the opposite effect. On top of the chaos that surrounded the original line-up as well as predecessor Buckethead, Ron appears to be a stabilizing factor. Fans around the world are encouraged to adopt Ron’s optimism, cross their fingers and await the next move in the world of Guns N’ Roses with the same calmness.

Interview: Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal fra Guns N' Roses

"Den samme bil på en større vej," kalder Ron skiftet fra at være solist til at være medlem af Guns N' Roses

Indtil 2006 var Ron ”Bumblefoot” Thal kendt som en guitarvirtuos, der prydede guitarmagasiner verden over, mens han indspillede og optrådte med sit soloprojekt. Så blev han medlem af Guns N’ Roses og en del af det omrejsende stykke rockhistorie, der fortsat føres an af Axl Rose. Godt et år senere gør Bumblefoot status over sin foreløbige tid med det sagnomspundne band.

Tidspunktet er sat, og da klokken bliver 11 om formiddagen, ringer jeg Ron op. Velforberedt med spørgsmål, der nok skulle kunne holde snakken gående et godt stykke tid. Selv er jeg placeret i det solbeskinnede Santa Barbara på vestkysten, mens Ron er tre tidszoner væk i sit hjem i New Jersey. Nærmere betegnet i sit hjemmestudie, hvor han er i fuld gang med at indspille, da jeg ringer. Han undskylder og udsætter interviewet et par timer, for derefter at ringe mig op og udsætte det lidt yderligere. Nuvel, Guns N’ Roses er jo notorisk forsinkede i al almindelighed, så ikke overraskende, at der også bliver en lille udsættelse her.

Klokken bliver fire, og jeg gør endnu et forsøg. Denne gang har jeg heldet med mig, og interviewet kan starte. Han er stadig i studiet, som er i et stadie af omfangsrig renovation. Da jeg ringer, er han i gang med at bore nye vægge op efter en dag med veloverståede indspilninger med Guns N’ Roses-kollegaen, trommeslager Frank Ferrer. Sammen har de indspillet spor til en rockudgave af et hiphop-nummer, der oprindeligt er fremført af en rapper, hvis navn indtil videre må hemmeligholdes. Men han er tydeligvis begejstret for resultatet, der tilsyneladende lyder fantastisk, på trods af, at det er indspillet i det der pt. er ”så ghetto-agtigt et studie, du kan forestille dig”.

Få musikere oplever en transition af den type, som Ron har oplevet. Mange mindre kendte musikere har fået lov at optræde med store bands, men de færreste får en så prominent placering, som Ron har fået i Guns N’ Roses, hvor han er leadguitarist side om side med det tidligere Nine Inch Nails-medlem, Robin Finck, der anno 2007 har været medlem af bandet lige så mange år, som Slash var det. Som rockmusiker er det umuligt at forestille sig, at Ron ikke stiftede bekendtskab med bandet på rundt regnet samme tidspunkt som resten af verden – for 20 år siden, da debutalbummet ”Appetite For Destruction” destruerede normerne for rock i 80’erne. Og ganske rigtigt – hans tidligste minde er ikke ulig det, massevis af andre også har.

– Det må have været engang omkring klokken tre om natten, hvor jeg så MTV. Jeg tror, jeg var 17 år. Jeg kan huske, at jeg så videoen til den her sang, ”Welcome To The Jungle”, og jeg var ganske overvældet. Fra tid til anden oplever man et band, som man ved har et eller andet specielt over sig, og det havde de helt sikkert.

Spillede Guns-numre i kopiband
Rockede du løs og drømte om engang at blive medlem af bandet?

– Nej, det overvejede jeg aldrig. Det var aldrig noget, der virkede som en mulighed. Altså, hvis man ser et band, som man godt kan lide, tænker man jo ikke ”wow, jeg håber, der er nogen, der forlader det band, så jeg kan være med!”

Måske ikke rent faktisk at blive medlem, men mere bare drømmen om at være det – ved at lade som om, ved at spille covernumre og den slags.

– Jeg havde faktisk et kopiband dengang, og vi spillede Guns-numre. Vi spillede “Mr. Brownstone”, ”My Michelle” og hvad ellers… Jeg tror også, vi spillede ”Welcome To The Jungle”. En masse af sangene fra ”Appetite”. Jeg havde et band, der hed Leonard Nimoy – du ved, ham fra Star Trek, der spillede Spock – og vi spillede numre af AC/DC, Kiss, Aerosmith og Guns.

Kan du beskrive skiftet fra at være solist til pludselig at være medlem af Guns N’ Roses, og så spille foran tusinder og atter tusinder af mennesker?

– Underligt nok, så føles det faktisk ikke så anderledes. Det er jeg blevet spurgt om tit, og det pudsige er, at selve det at spille musik – alt det du foretager dig, når du spiller – det kommer indefra, og det ændrer sig ikke. Så på en måde er det som om, at jeg bare kører den samme bil på en større vej. Skulle der være en forskel, kører man måske lidt hurtigere! Men det har aldrig føltes unaturligt at spille sammen med de her folk, især fordi de er nogle alletiders mennesker. Og det er det, der gør forskellen, i forhold til at spille musik sammen – uanset om du spiller i et eller andet lokalt band eller med Guns N’ Roses eller et band af den slags. Hvis du oprigtigt nyder at være på den samme scene, så er alt som det skal være.

Så jeg antager at du nyder at være medlem af bandet?

– Nej, jeg hader dem!

Ron griner, og der er ingen tvivl om, at han laver sjov. På trods af en vedvarende tendens til at beskrive Guns N’ Roses i det nye årtusinde som blot værende ”Axl og hans hyrede hænder”, lyder det som om, der oprigtigt er et godt venskab medlemmerne imellem.

– Der er gået godt et år nu, og vi er blevet bedre venner, og jeg glæder mig til at se dem mere for hver gang, det sker. Den anden dag grillede vi ovre hos Frank, hvor vi bare hang ud og nød livet. Og i går og i dag har vi så indspillet, og mens vi har gang i det, kan det være, vi ringer til Chris Pitman (keyboardspiller, red.) og hører, hvordan han har det. Det er alletiders.

Kendte du nogen af medlemmerne i bandet personligt, før du blev medlem?

– Nej, overraskende nok, for mange af os har de samme venner fra år tilbage. Det sker, at jeg snakker med nogle af Franks venner om folk, jeg hang ud med for 20 år siden og stadig snakker med, og det gør de også. Frank var at finde i de samme slæng som mig, og det er pudsigt, at vi ikke mødtes, før vi begge to spillede i Guns.

Anbefalet af Joe Satriani
Tager man Guns N’ Roses medlem for medlem og hvem, der har erstattet hvem gennem tiden, må Robin Finck siges at have været erstatning for Slash, da han forlod bandet i 1996. Ron er således erstatning for Buckethead, der blev medlem af bandet i 2000, da besætningen blev udvidet med endnu en leadguitarist. Buckethead – der altid bærer en hvid plasticmaske og den Kentucky Fried Chicken-spand, der illustrerer hans navn – røg dog ud i 2004, og det var ikke positive ord, han fik med på vejen af Axl Rose, der i en pressemeddelelse beskrev hans ”utilregnelige opførsel og engagement i bandet” og ”flygtige livsstil, der har gjort det så godt som umuligt for selv hans nærmeste venner at føre nogen form for kommunikation med ham overhovedet.” Hjælpen til at finde en mere pålidelig erstatning kom kort efter fra en af guitarverdenens legender.

– Jeg fik en e-mail fra Joe Satriani, hvor der stod: ”Jeg har lige anbefalet dig til Guns. De er på udkig efter en guitarist – så hvis de tager kontakt, ved du, at det ikke bare er nogen, der er ude på at lave fis.” Jeg tænkte, ”okay, cool.” Så sendte Chris Pitman mig en skæg e-mail, og jeg ringede ham op. Vi snakkede lidt frem og tilbage, og han var alletiders. Jeg kom i snak med bandets management, og alt så ud til at køre på skinner – men så opstod der nogle internet-rygter, der forsinkede processen.

Præcis hvad der skete, vil Ron helst ikke ind på – men uanset hvad, så gik der i hvert fald knap to år, fra han først var i kontakt med bandet i sensommeren 2004, til han så endelig var fuldgyldigt medlem og kunne få sin debut med bandet. Det skete den 12. maj 2006 ved den første af fire koncerter på Hammerstein Ballroom i New York City, der fungerede som en slags opvarmning til den Europaturné, der begyndte få uger senere, og som bragte bandet til Roskilde Festivals Orange Scene den 29. juni.

Det næste år stod på masser af koncerter, inklusive turnéer i USA og Canada i de sidste måneder af 2006 og i Mexico, Australien, New Zealand og Japan i sommeren 2007. Undervejs er det også blevet til bidrag til det enormt længe ventede album, ”Chinese Democracy”, der nåede at få en lovning på at blive udgivet inden udgangen af 2006, og derefter en foreløbig udgivelsesdato i marts 2007. Albummets status er endnu ukendt, men må formodes at være cirka lige så meget på trapperne, som det har været de sidste par år.

Ventetiden fra 2004 til 2006 brugte Ron på at udforske, hvad det vil sige at være normal på sit konceptalbum, der netop hedder ”Normal” og udkom i december 2005.

Dit seneste soloalbum handler om det at være normal. Er Guns N’ Roses et normalt band at være medlem af?

– Haha, hvad tror du selv? Faktisk har jeg jo ikke så meget at sammenligne med. Tanken med albummet er, at det skal sætte spørgsmålstegn ved, hvad ”normal” vil sige – det, der er normalt, er bare det, som du anser for at være normalt.

”Don’t Cry” med Axl i Japan
Rons faste soloindslag i Guns N’ Roses-koncerterne har været en udgave af klassikeren ”Don’t Cry”, hvor publikum har sunget teksten, mens han fremviste sit talent på guitaren. Da bandet spillede i Chiba, Japan, den 14. juli, fik både publikum i salen og fans af bandet kloden over sig en ordentlig overraskelse. Ron havde ikke fået sin solo som sædvanlig, og showet sluttede på traditionel vis med ”Paradise City” som sidste ekstranummer. Men stik mod alles forventning vendte Ron tilbage på scenen og gik i gang med ”Don’t Cry” – for så at blive akkompagneret af Axl, der sang nummeret live for første gang i ikke mindre end 14 år.

Kan du fortælle mig om, hvordan det kom i stand, og hvordan det var at være på scenen, mens I spillede den sang?

– Vi var på vej af scenen, og så vendte vi om, og så spillede vi den.

Men hvordan kan det være, at du ikke havde spillet den i løbet af koncerten, som du plejer?

– Det er altid anderledes. Det kan godt være, det ikke ser sådan ud, når du læser sætlisterne på nettet, men det er aldrig den samme koncert. Mange gange bliver de ting, som du selv har lagt meget mærke til, ganske overset af andre. Mens noget mere underfundigt som at spille ”Don’t Cry” på et andet tidspunkt i koncerten bliver lagt mærke til i stor stil – selvfølgelig når Axl så synger den, ikke mindst.

Så var det planlagt?

– Det var ret spontant. Det var bare sådan, ”lad os gøre det”, og så tænkte jeg, ”ja? Okay, lad os spille den for dem.”

Kulinariske højdepunkter
Hvad har været højdepunkterne ved at turnere verden med Guns N’ Roses i godt et år nu?

– Hmm… Det første jeg tænkte på, da du spurgte mig om det, var, da vi spillede i Polen. Der var en lille mexicansk restaurant på den anden side af gaden, hvor vores hotel lå, og mig og Frank og nogle af de andre gik derover. Frank bestilte en skål sorte bønner, og som regel er det bare bønner i lidt sovs. Men denne gang var de purerede, og det var de bedste sorte bønner, jeg nogensinde har smagt. Frank fortalte, at det var sådan, at hans mor plejede at lave dem. Det er det første, jeg kommer i tanke om – de purerede sorte bønner i en mexicansk restaurant i Polen! Det næste er backstage i Oslo, hvor der var denne her salat med cashewnødder og rød peber. Den var rigtig god. Det var det andet, jeg kom i tanke om. Hvis du spekulerede over det, så ja – jeg er en smule sulten!

Tilsyneladende! Har du nogle højdepunkter, der fandt sted, mens du var på scenen?

– Ah, den slags… Det ved jeg ikke – bare det at være der hver eneste aften er et højdepunkt. Folk spørger mig, hvilken koncert, jeg bedst kunne lide, men det er ligesom at blive spurgt om hvilket barn, man elsker mest. Det er bare én stor, samlet, fantastisk omgang.

Hvilken sang er din favorit at spille live?

– Åh, gud – det ved jeg ikke, jeg har ikke en favorit! Jeg er så dårlig til at lave interviews, for det lyder altid som om, jeg ikke svarer på den slags spørgsmål, men det er virkelig sandt, når jeg siger, at jeg nyder at spille dem alle. Nogle sange kan jeg godt lide, på grund af deres energi og muligheden for at løbe rundt, og ved andre kan jeg bare lukke øjnene og lytte til melodien, som om jeg slet ikke engang spiller dem. Og andre kan jeg måske bare godt lide på grund af mit eget guitarspil i dem, eller sågar bare et stykke, hvor jeg skal synge med.

Men har du ikke et nummer, som du undervejs i koncerten ser frem til at spille?

– Jeg kan godt lide ”Chinese Democracy”, for dér får jeg lov til at spille på min båndløse guitar. ”Nightrain” er også sjov at spille. Jeg elsker, når Robin spiller intro-riffet til ”Sweet Child O’ Mine”, og publikum så bare eksploderer. Jeg er nødt til at smile hver eneste gang – jeg kan slet ikke lade være. Det gør mig så glad, for dér ved jeg, at folk er glade og nyder at være til stede. Og det er derfor, vi er der.

At være medlem af Guns N’ Roses anno 2007 – eller for så vidt hvilket som helst år i løbet af det sidste årti – er ensbetydende med, at man ofte bliver konfronteret med både kritikere og fans, der ikke værdsætter den konstellation af bandet, der har Axl som eneste originale medlem. For de mest kritiske synes den eneste tilfredsstillende løsning at være, at den originale besætning fra ”Appetite For Destruction”-dagene finder sammen igen. Man kunne forvente, at det ville forårsage en vis frustration for Ron, men det synes ikke at være tilfældet.

– Det er ikke noget, jeg spekulerer over. Jeg har den dybeste respekt for det, de opnåede, men man kan ikke blive ved med at tænke på fortiden. Jeg er nødt til at tænke på, hvad der skal til at ske, og hvad vi kan gøre bedre her og nu. Det var fedt dengang, og det er fedt nu.

Gæsteoptrædener fra Izzy
Hvor nemt det end kan synes at skille de to æraer fra hinanden, så er der én person, der har formået at bygge bro imellem dem: Izzy Stradlin, bandets originale rytmeguitarist og en af de primære sangskrivere. Han dukkede op som gæst ved mange af de europæiske koncerter i 2006, hvor han spillede med på den sidste omgang numre, der ofte var ”Think About You”, ”Patience”, ”Nightrain” og naturligvis ”Paradise City”. Ron har kun positive ord at sige om Izzys hyppige gæsteoptrædener.

– Izzy er en alletiders fyr, og jeg nyder at være i selskab med ham. Han er cool at hænge ud med, og vi havde det altid sjovt, når vi var på scenen. Det var skægt – ved en af de sidste koncerter, vi spillede sammen, sad vi backstage og prøvede at spille en sang – ”The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Det er en sang fra sydstaterne fra slut-70’erne, og den har en rigtig hurtig violindel. Vi fandt ud af at spille sangen – jeg spillede violindelen, mens han spillede akkorderne. Det var rigtig fedt, men vi spillede det ikke til koncerten. Men han er en rigtig rar fyr, og jeg nød så afgjort at hænge ud med ham.

Et spørgsmål, som Guns N’ Roses også både direkte og indirekte må tage stilling til, er spørgsmålet om relevans. Hvordan passer bandet ind i den rockverden, der unægtelig har ændret sig en smule, siden Guns N’ Roses sidst udgav et album og var topaktuelle?

– Jeg synes, Guns passer ind på samme måde som mange andre bands, der har eksisteret i lang tid, gør. Bands som U2, Aerosmith, Kiss, The Rolling Stones – de kan gøre hvad de vil, og de vil blive ved med at være de samme bands. Jeg er forudindtaget, men jeg synes, Guns N’ Roses passer ind i samme kategori af bands, der har bevist, at musikken bliver ved med at holde. Hvis du tager til Guns-koncert i dag, vil du ikke blive skuffet over at høre sange, som er 20 år gamle, eller en sang, der blev lækket for et par år siden!

Ron laver en slet skjult reference til lækage-problematikken, som bandet har været plaget af de sidste par år. Miseren startede i september 2003, da den amerikanske radiovært Eddie Trunk spillede nummeret ”IRS” på sit program, men det var ikke før februar 2006, at mekanismerne rullede for alvor, og fire nye Guns N’ Roses-numre spredtes vidt og bredt over nettet. Udover ”IRS” var det ”Better”, ”Catcher In The Rye” og ”There Was A Time”, og det var alle ufærdige versioner, som dog kunne lade de mange hungrende fans vide, at der rent faktisk eksisterede ny musik fra bandet – som i vid udstrækning også lød som genkendelig Guns N’ Roses – og som kunne forventes at optræde på ”Chinese Democracy”.

Mellem februar og marts i år lækkede så nye udgaver af ”Better”, ”IRS” og ”There Was A Time”, titelnummeret til albummet, samt ”The Blues” og ”Madagascar”. Samtlige numre er, som hintet af Ron, blevet spillet live af bandet. Axl har flere gange omtalt sit publikum som ”downloading motherfuckers” – dog altid med et smil på læben, og da bandet spillede ved KROQ Inland Invasion i september sidste år, fik publikum æren for at have fået Guns N’ Roses på programmet, netop på grund af de lækkede sange.

Optimisme i forhold til fremtiden
Således er det altså cementeret, at både materialet til det nye album og efterspørgslen efter såvel albummet som bare bandet generelt uden tvivl er til stede. Hemmelighedsfuld som få afslører Axl ikke mere, end han absolut skal. Det synes usandsynligt, at Ron vil udtale sig om fremtidsplanerne for bandet, men det er da forsøget værd.

Hvad byder fremtiden på for Guns N’ Roses? Stiller I alle sammen Axl dét spørgsmål fra ”Sweet Child O’ Mine”-outroen – where do we go now?

– Hahaha, where do we go now… Jeg kan ikke udtale mig om fremtiden eller noget i den stil. Sådan nogle ting er nødt til at blive sagt, når tidspunktet er rigtigt, og alt er blevet bekræftet, så… Det kan jeg ikke svare på. Men spørgsmålet vil dog blive besvaret – til den rette tid, af de rette mennesker, og jeg glæder mig til det, næste der sker.

Så du er optimistisk i forhold til fremtiden?

– Jeg tror, at uanset hvad der sker, så er det meningen, at det skal ske, og man kan ikke gå rundt og håbe på andet, når det ikke er muligt. Man må bare leve livet, og hvad der så end sker, det må man acceptere og så sige, ”det her er det, der skal ske”. Hvis det gør mig optimistisk, så ja, så er jeg optimistisk! Det handler bare om at acceptere de ting, vi alligevel ikke kan ændre.

Og med et sådant svar, der var rundt regnet så vagt som forventet, afsluttes interviewet. Tilbage står et billede af en mand, der trods store omvæltninger holder begge ben på jorden og stadig godt kan sove om natten. Den generelle attitude, der ofte får Ron til at virke lidt uimponeret – som da han fortæller om at fremføre ”Don’t Cry” med Axl i Japan, og når han fremhæver purerede bønner frem for at spille i Madison Square Garden – gør ham samtidig en tand mere menneskelig.

At blive medlem af Guns N’ Roses, og så derefter lade alle nykker stige én til hovedet, kunne have været én vej at gå – men for Ron har det tilsyneladende haft noget nær den modsatte effekt. Ovenpå det kaos, der omkransede det oprindelige lineup, og efter den utilregnelighed, som forgængeren Buckethead åbenbart var mand for, så virker Ron som en stabiliserende faktor, der kan bidrage til at holde bandet på ret køl – måske endda så ret køl, at verden igen kan få et officielt, fuldlængdealbum fra Guns N’ Roses. Fans verden over kan adoptere Rons optimisme, krydse fingre og håbe på det bedste – dog endnu på ubestemt tid.