Interview #3 with Guns N' Roses guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal  

Written by Steve Angell

Aug 25, 2010 at 02:49 PM

Ron Thal

We caught up with Ron (Bumblefoot) Thal just before Gun N' Roses headlined the Rock 'N Rev festival in South Dakota, prior to the kickoff of the next leg of their European tour. We spoke with Ron about his solo career; what it's like to be a member of, and tour with, Guns N' Roses; and the re-release of his debut album The Adventures of Bumblefoot.

Ron's debut album is available through his website's store and includes 5 additional bonus tracks that the original album didn't have. Purchases of the re-release through his website also come autographed with proceeds going to MS research.

WI: Let's talk about your debut album set to be re-released this month. Is it only going to be available to fans online or will they be able to pick it up at their favorite retail outlet?

RT: It will probably be available in stores through Shrapnel Records, that's the label that's putting it out, but the ones through my site are autographed with $5 going towards MS research.

WI: Are there a limited amount that are going to be autographed or will all that are purchased going to be autographed?

RT: I have the first batch that I got from them that I signed, and if those run out I'll just keep it going. I think I'll just keep it where all that are purchased are signed.

WI: And you're making a 200 page transcription book available with the album, is that going to be in the retail stores too or just online?

RT: That's just going to be online. So, with that, you can get the book, CD, or both, and that will only be on my site, or if I do a public appearance somewhere.

WI: That must have been a pretty daunting task to put together. How long did you have to work on it?

RT: Oh man, that was six months of work. I would just solo track one of a song and play it and record it onto a cassette, and then track two and play it on a cassette, and do that for every song and get every guitar part onto a cassette. Then I would listen to a few seconds at a time with a guitar in hand and relearn how I played, and what I played, and then I would go to the computer and use notation software or just write it down. Altogether, to do it for the whole album, it took about six months.

WI: At one point during the process, did you think "why am I doing this"?

RT: Oh yeah, yeah, like, why the hell am I doing this? It's one of those things where you just say, you know what, just do it. There's a reason and the reason will show itself some day, but it's not a waste of time. And it's just some bizarre labor of love that I just felt like I needed to do. It was just one of those things that was a challenge and I just needed to do it.

WI: Now, your debut album was released in '95, how would you say your musical style has changed since then?

RT: Good question. Well, the album is all guitar instrumental stuff and it's very Zappa-ish. Since then, I would say that a lot of my music, and since playing with Guns, has become a little straighter, a little more of the roots of what I used to listen to as a kid, which is classic rock stuff and punk. Also, anytime I do instrumental songs, they still go right back to that sound. Even instrumental stuff on my later albums sound like they could have been some kind of an extension off of this record, just better technology, better recording gear.

WI: A little bit more evolving then.

RT: A little bit, a little bit, but it definitely sounds like it's coming from the same place.

WI: Your last solo album was released in 2008, do you have any plans to work on a new album in the near-future?

RT: I would like to, I actually had some music I did last year that I'm just looking for a singer for. I'm looking for the right singer to get on. There are a few people that I need to get in touch with, but I'm hoping that during the next batch of touring that I can actually get music written. Because it's been too damn long. I can never write on the road, I don't know, I get a little burned out. I lose inspiration, but I'm going to really try to make it happen in the next few months.Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal

WI: Speaking of being on the road, you're going to be at the Rock 'N Rev festival with Guns N' Roses this weekend, are there any particular bands you're looking forward to seeing there?

RT: I always love seeing Alice in Chains. Definitely looking forward to that, hell yeah.

WI: That's the only U.S. concert for 2010 scheduled for right now, are there any plans to play the U.S. later?

RT: I hope so, but right now that looks like all we've got. I guess we'll see what happens after that. Right now it's just looking like we're playing in Europe, then we have a one-off in Australia, and we'll see what happens. Hopefully in 2011.

WI: As you mentioned, you're in the middle of a pretty long tour right now with Guns N' Roses, what's been your favorite stop along the way so far and where are you most looking forward to playing?

RT: Well, I always love Japan. That's always a great time, I just love it. Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, were probably the best times I've had on tour. South America is just as intense as fuck, the fans are fucking nuts down there, and it's great. Each place has its charming thing about it. I'm definitely looking forward to hitting Croatia and Serbia, I've never been there before, and returning to some of the places in the UK and Spain and France. Hopefully we can add a few more shows.

WI: You've mentioned before that you really enjoyed playing in Russia, what is it about playing there that you really enjoy?

RT: Definitely the people. I used to tour there myself with my solo band, before Guns, in 2004 and 2005. So by going out there and seeing old friends, it was a real good time. Maybe it's the fact that I've got a little bit of Russian blood in me. Maybe it's that too, there's just a little bit of bonding going on. I've got a little bit of Polish and Lithuanian blood from the grandparents, so maybe it feels slightly like home.

WI: And the Russian vodka probably doesn't hurt.

RT: You know, I don't drink on the road, but when you're in Russia you've gotta have the vodka. You have to, and damn that's some good shit. It just warms you the fuck up.

WI: In your opinion, what's the biggest difference between concerts with American crowds and international crowds?

RT: I don't know, it's been a while since we've been in front of an American crowd (laughs). I think that the American crowds can be more demanding from the artist. You'd better be good, you'd better have your shit together and you'd better be closer to on-time or they're going to throw shit. They're less tolerant of bullshit. They want to get what they came there for. Bumblefoot Australia

Where I think some other places are a little more lenient and relaxed on that kind of stuff.

WI: It's more about the experience then?

RT: Yeah, it's like if you go on at one o'clock in the morning in South America, they're going to be pissed but they're still going to have a good time. I think if you go on at one o'clock in the morning in America they're just going to be really fucking pissed.

WI: Do you feel that it's been easier to tour, or more relaxing at least, since Chinese Democracy came out?

RT: I think that playing the Chinese songs since the album came out is better. I don't know if touring is any different, but playing those songs in particular you now have everyone singing along. They're more familiar with the music, so that part of it is better. People know the shit now, or some of them do, hopefully they do.

WI: What's the most bizarre thing that you've seen a fan do to try to get your attention?

RT: There's one thing that always come to mind from back in 2006. I think it was in Norway, a fan was crawling through the air ducts in the ceiling and fell through the ceiling into the room, opened the door and was like "hi."

WI: Was that in a hotel room?

RT: At the venue, he was trying to get back stage. I don't know, nothing surprises me anymore.

WI: You've seen it all pretty much?

RT: Maybe not all, but a lot.

WI: The last time we spoke with you you were in the process of making your own line of hot sauce, is that something you're still working on?

RT: I gotta move on that, yeah. That's something that I've been meaning to move forward with. The ideas are there, everything is there, I just need time. It's so much tougher now with the touring. I get back from a tour and I just spend all my time chasing every minute just trying to fucking get everything done that's been waiting to get done along with new shit, and it's just like a huge race that I'm losing against the clock. So it's been really fucking tough.

WI: Does your wife go with you when you travel around the world or does she stay back home?

RT: She travels for a lot of it and she's loving it. She got to see all sorts of parts of South America and Central America, she went to Taiwan, South Korea, all around Japan, and she's been to Australia, all around Europe, a lot of shows in the U.S., she did Puerto Rico, and spots in Canada. She's getting to really do a lot of traveling and see a lot of the world and she's loving it.

She loves to travel and it's a good situation where she gets to pick and choose where she wants to go. We buy a plane ticket and see her there.

WI: Are there plans already in the works for the next Guns N' Roses album?

RT: Right now the only thing we've got going on is looking at touring. There's nothing to be said yet about anything beyond that. I know it sounds cryptic and like I'm holding back or something. It's no secret that there's other music from the Chinese Democracy days, it's just a question of what's going to happen with them. I guess that's up to Axl and what he wants to do with them.

WI: Is the plan currently to tour through 2011?

RT: Hopefully, hopefully we'll keep it going. At this point, shit man, I want to make some fucking music. I'm itchin'. I need to make something that comes from this band, in this decade. I've been telling them for a long time that before every leg of the tour I would love to just go into the studio for a week together and just bust out a song and give it to radio stations, make it available for downloads, and play it live. After a couple of legs we'd have a good batch of music of our own.

WI: Is that something that has happened at all as far as you guys working on your own music, or is it still all from the Chinese Democracy days?

RT: We all can write, but we haven't done that yet.

WI: What was your initial thought when you were asked to join Guns N' Roses?

RT: It was about 6 years ago; I got an e-mail from Joe Satriani saying he recommended me. At the time I had no idea what GN'R was doing. So I was like, "Ahh, they're probably just playing some nice big bars or something." I had no idea so I was like, "Yeah, no problem. Cool, we could do some playing as long as everyone is cool." And it was a year and a half later when we finally got together and started jamming that I saw how big everything was. I was like "damn, that's a lot more than I had thought." That was fine, and at the same time, I was wondering if I was going to feel different on a stage in front of 100,000 people compared to the last gig I did in front of 100. And you know what, it feels the same, because you're still doing what you do. It's still coming from the same part of you. So it didn't really feel that different from anything else I was doing. So when they first offered it to me, I was just like "Yeah, sure, I guess we could do it." We spoke for two months and then we didn't speak for about a year and a half and then they had a tour coming up, so we got together and started jamming for a couple weeks and hit the road.

WI: And your first time playing was right before Hammerstein?

RT: Yeah, Hammerstein that was my first stuff with them. And we just jammed and we'd play about 3 songs a night at a soundstage in New York and that was it. We just went through the stuff, a quick bust-out of it. For the Chinese stuff, I didn't have a copy of it. They wouldn't give me a copy of it, because at that point the leaks were an issue. Stuff had just leaked, so the only way I could learn the stuff was I had a half hour and a piece of paper and a pen. I had to pretty much learn the album in that half hour just by listening.

WI: Luckily you're known for being able to hear music and instantly be able to play it, right?

RT: (laughs) I tried my best. Eventually it was nice to be able to record my own parts on there so at least I have my own idea of what I can play and what I should play. So now I just take on all the tough stuff, I do the Buckethead parts, I do my own parts.

WI: I know a lot of people at Hammerstein, myself included, we were a little bit familiar with you from previous rumors, and I think, you can tell me if I'm wrong, it seemed like they were really welcoming to you as far as you joining the band.

RT: I guess, it's hard to say. It's a change, it's like suddenly someone brings home to the fans, "Hey here's your new baby brother" and they're like, "What, I didn't even know you were pregnant, what the hell is this? Who's that?" So there's going to be a lot of skepticism, no matter who it was, there would be skepticism, there would be resistance and resentment. It's like "Hey, this wasn't my choice, and this is my band, I'm a fan. Where's my say in this?" So I think that some people were just happy, "Oh good, they got a new guitarist and they're going to be active again." Other people would be like "No, we don't want any more change. Go back to whatever time period I deem I like the most." So there's a lot of "You need to die, Slash needs to come back,", or "Bring back Bucket."

Fighting the past is a big waste of time. There's nothing you can do to change the past, it's not possible. It's just a waste of energy. It's like, ok, I'm here now and I have a show to do, so here we go. And that's it you know, no crime, I'm just trying to fucking keep shit going. That's it.

WI: Of course, DJ Ashba just replaced Robin Finck recently, do you think the fans have been more receptive with that? Or do you think he's kind of going through the same thing?

RT: At first he got a lot of that until we started playing shows and they saw how much we had prepared and made sure he was ready to be out there. And he put on a great show and the band was tight and people couldn't deny that he was doing a great job. So at that point I think that his period of people fighting it wasn't as long as mine. We got to rehearse with him for a good year and work out gear and work out parts. I had two weeks, and they wouldn't even give me a fucking microphone. They said there was no room in the mixing board to include me. So that was my fucking experience coming into this.

WI: You mentioned that playing was about the same with your solo work as well as with Guns N' Roses, as far as being up on the stage, but as someone who has always been very interactive with their fans, has that changed at all? Is that harder now with how big Guns N' Roses is?

RT: The only thing that's hard with it is that I want to do more and I have the potential to do more, but it's made very difficult for me to do because with GN'R everything happens at the last moment. I can't make plans for things if we're going to suddenly be staying in a different city and I find out hours before. It fucks everything up. I dealt with that the last tour where I made all these meet and greets and in order to keep them going it was really difficult because suddenly our itinerary changes, and it changed in a way where I would have had to cancel them. And I wouldn't, so I always wound up staying in different cities than the rest of the band and traveling at different times and it was really tough.

With this next tour I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do anything because I'm at a loss. I want to, but I can't if I don't know where I'm going to be. And it sucks, because to me you have that opportunity finally. We're going to be in this city, and there are all these fans there, and the ones who really give a shit, the ones who would come out to a meet and greet to say hi, the ones that are going to be in the front row and singing every word. It'd be great to meet these people and to get some personal time together where we could just hang out, shake hands, take pictures, and whatever. I like doing that and then seeing them at the show and waving to a face that I know, and that I just met. It's just a personal connection.

WI: If there was one thing you could change about the current music scene what would it be?

RT: I could go on for hours about the music business, but as far as the music scene, if I could change one thing: lower the fucking ticket prices. Whatever it takes, find a way. Stop gouging people. I won't go to a fucking concert, it's too expensive. Almost on principle, this is fucking ridiculous. Three hundred dollars? Fuck that. I remember when they were fifteen bucks, call me old, I don't give a fuck. To me, once you're getting into triple digits for a ticket, unless that show comes with a "happy ending," I don't know. That's the one thing I'd change in the music scene, find a way to lower the fucking ticket prices.Ron Thal w/Axl Rose

WI: Going back to you guys in Guns N' Roses, do you guys have any nicknames for each other? Obviously you have your nickname, Bumblefoot, but do they have any other ones for you, or do you have any for them?

RT: They usually call me Bumbles. Let me think, nicknames I can say out loud, nicknames that I can reveal.

WI: We don't want to get you in trouble here.

RT: Exactly, which I tend to do often. Nah man, I don't think we have any nicknames. I started to think of a bunch, like Frank could be Frizzy because he's bald and the FR is in Frank. At one point Axl was calling me Shank.

WI: Really? Where'd that come from?

RT: Because I tried to stab three people on stage at a show in 2006.

WI: How'd that come about?

RT: How do things like that happen? They just happen.

WI: Do you ever stay in contact with the former members of Guns N' Roses? Is (Brain) Mantia still in the band?

RT: Brain, I might have e-mailed him once or twice. Robin, once in a while we get in touch with each other. Let me think, who else is not in the band anymore. Am I still in? And for how long? (joking)

If anything, the one that I would be staying in touch with the most would be Robin. Like when he was playing with Nine Inch Nails I went to shows and we hung out afterward. If anything, we probably got along better at that point than we did when we were playing together because we didn't have the stresses of the band stuff on us. That stuff was free and clear and we could just enjoy each other as just two human beings.

WI: If you had never picked up a guitar, what do you think you'd be doing now?

RT: I'd be playing bass.

WI: We end all of our interviews with the word association game, so I say "wombat" and you say...

RT: Tomato (to-MAH-to)... That should be Tommy's nickname, tomato.

Originally posted at: