Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal is a working class musician. Over the past twenty years, Thal has worked with numerous bands and artists as producer, engineer, writer, arranger and performer. He has also written, and continues to write, TV jingles, theme songs and background music for various media formats. Thal joined Guns N' Roses in 2006, filling the position vacated by guitarist Buckethead. What some would consider a "dream gig," never really garnered Thal the success and status one would assume would go hand in hand, with such a high profile gig. Recording on GNR's sixth studio album, the heavily anticipated 'Chinese Democracy' (released in 2008), was somewhat of a double edged sword, as while Thal played on what is perhaps the biggest album of his career, his six string prowess got lost in the mix. With there being no clear credits on the record, attributing who played what on the songs, many assumed most of the exotic soloing on 'Chinese Democracy' was provided by his similarly styled predecessor, Buckethead. And when it came to tour for the record, Thal wound up taking the back seat in the lead guitar dept. to the 'dreamy eyed'
Slash fill in, DJ Ashba.
In Late 2014, Thal announced that he was 'focusing on his solo career,' as he stated in response to being asked about Guns N' Roses. He said he was "avoiding the whole subject [right now]" and that he was "honoring a request to not make any public statements" about his status with Guns N' Roses, adding that it "continues to put me in a very awkward position that I don't want to be in." So while the whole GNR thing seems to be up in the air, Bumblefoot released his 10th solo CD entitled, 'Little Brother Is Watching' in February of this year. The album is an eccentric, upbeat collection of modern epic rock with haunting melodies, huge choruses and witty lyrics about life in the digital age and beyond. Specifically, his own life and coming to terms with what we all face - beginnings, endings, and moving on. The album was composed, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Bumblefoot at his studio in New Jersey. In addition to promoting his current solo CD, Bumblefoot has current collaborations that include the band Generation Kill & DMC from the iconic rap group Run DMC, and his recent teaming up with Scott Weiland, in the supergroup Art Of Anarchy.
RockMusicStar.com: Thanks for calling in today Bumblefoot, and I'd like to start off by telling you how impressed I am with your recent solo release, 'Little Brother Is Watching.' But before we fully get into the CD, I'd like to rewind a bit and go back to the first major release you played on, Guns N' Roses 'Chinese Democracy.' After really being able to hear your guitar playing on 'LBIW,' it dawned on me how much of the lead guitar playing on 'Chinese Democracy,' that most people (including myself) probably credited to Buckethead, was actually you.
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal: We've both been edited the same way on the album. There's A LOT of guitar playing on that album. There's Paul (Tobias), there's Richard (Fortus), there's Robin (Finck), there's me, and there's Bucket(head), and the way the album was recorded and produced, there's not one linear line when you can point to the right speaker and say, "That's THAT guy playing," or on the left and say, "it's THAT guy playing." It's a very unique album. comprised of 10 years of people adding different layers and things to it. It's very full, but it's also like trying to point out members of an orchestra, because it's that full.
RMS: But as a guitar player and as an artist, where you try to establish your identity and your style, was it frustrating to be playing on a record that also had someone like Buckethead, who plays a very similar style to yours, and have people not being able to easily differentiate your guitar playing from his?
RBT: There were a lot of times where Bucket would be playing something and someone would say to
me, "I love that solo that YOU did" and I would be like, "Well, that was hiiimmmm." (Laughs) I never wanted credit for something I didn't do, as much as I don't want to lose credit for something I did. It was definitely a unique situation, it was a different kind of scenario...not the usual thing. But I think all of that is what makes the album sort of special.
RMS: Being the exceptional guitarist that you are, I imagine it would have been easy to write to some basic bed tracks to showcase your lead guitar playing, but with 'Little Brother Is Watching,' it really comes across as the album being about the 'songs' first, and guitar playing second.
RBT: Unless it's really a guitar instrumental song, I never approach a song from a guitar point of view. From day one, when I first picked up a guitar at 6 years old, it was a tool for making a song, along with your voice. For me, it was always about being a songwriter. With anything that's flashy or technical, a little goes a long way, or it tends to overpower or overshadow any other melodies and anything else going on in a song, because it's just like a strong spice. It tends to overpower the whole 'meal' if you use too much of it.
With 'Little Brother Is Watching,' the musicality is more spaced out on the record. It wasn't like I was making a conscience effort to make it more spaced, I just felt like it was more important to just tell the stories.
RMS: When listening to 'LBIW,' you can hear influences - from the Beatles to Bowie, from GNR to Queen - was it intentional to have these influences so evident in the final production, or was it just a natural evolution throughout the recording process?
RBT: It just happened naturally where your influences...just show up. They're hard to hide when they're in your blood, they're in your DNA. The stuff that you grew up and the stuff that is meaningful to you, you tend to tap into that stuff when you try to give back what you received.
You can hear George Harrison, you can hear Iron Maiden, definitely Queen...Bowie. I think part of that was because I had I just seen a David Bowie exhibit, where it had all these hand drawn sketches of album covers, clothes he wore, videos of interviews and things, and it was absolutely inspiring to see that, and it re-lit that creative flame (inside of me). I think that's probably why there's more of a Bowie-ish feel in some of the stuff.
RMS: Do you have plans to tour in support of the record?
RBT: Eventually. I haven't put a tour together yet. I wanna work the album a little bit more in the press and then go out and do a nice tour.
RMS: Can you tell us what the status is with the whole Art of Anarchy project with Scott Weiland?
RBT: Art of Anarchy is something we started in 2011. It's been actually 4 years in the making. It started with John and Vince Votta, who've I've been working with for a good 18 years - producing all of their bands and everything. We've always been friends. They wanted to start their own music company, and the first thing they wanted to put out was a 'supergroup' album. We went into the studio and laid down a bunch of songs and I laid my guitar parts and then John Moyer came in and laid down bass parts. After Scott Weiland came in (who was initially only going to sing one song on the album), after singing the one song, decided that he wanted to do the whole album, and signed on as a band member. The release date is June 2nd and will be announced very soon, as it will be coming out in a couple of months now.
RMS: Is this project meant to be a touring band as well - that you'll be working around your schedule for your solo tour - or is just about the album?
RBT: It's about the album, it's about the music. It is something that we all considered a 'band' and put it in writing and we did really nice videos, and I'm looking forward to sharing those too. As far as touring, if there's a demand for touring, then we'll cross that bridge and figure out with who (laughs).
RMS: What happened with the whole deal with Weiland distancing himself from the project in the press?
RBT: It definitely came as a surprise, especially since the day before (he made the comments in the press) we were all in agreement on what we were going to say as far as an announcement, even in our personal social media pages. Everything was mutually OK'd by everyone, down to the bio. Scott was great to work with and anytime we spoke, it was pleasant. I definitely enjoyed his company. Hopefully everything can be resolved nicely.
RMS: You make it no secret that you're a big KISS fan from the 70's and I wanted to ask you to recall what it was like playing with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley at Eddie Trunk's birthday party awhile back.
RBT: How great is it to be onstage with Peter & Ace, Scotti Ian & Frank Bello, with Mike Portnoy, jamming to a bunch of songs that you love - these old KISS songs? That was fantastic. There was only one moment when I was like, "Holy Crap!" Playing "Hooligan" where Ace was on the side of the stage, and I'm over by Peter Criss - who hadn't sang that song in 31 years he told me - and I'm playing Ace's solo, looking right at him, and I was kind of motioning to him, "You should be doing this!" I was thinking, "I'm looking at you, playing your parts - that YOU recorded with YOUR band" and it just felt weird. I felt like I was fucking someone's wife right in front of them.
RMS: That performance really stands out as a rare moment for Peter Criss, as not only was that the first time he had performed "Hooligan" in decades, but that was the first time he had played publicly since about 2003, and since performing with Rob Zombie in May of 2014, hasn't performed publicly since. Who knows when the next time we'll ever see Peter perform again?
RBT: I hope not. He means a lot, to a lot of people. And if he can grant them that pleasure, a lot of people would appreciate that. Hopefully the world will be seeing more of him playing, whether it be KISS songs or any thing else. I know he's been working on stuff with John 5, so that could be very cool.
RMS: That performance also seemed like a jettison for Ace Frehley as well. Although he seemed pretty rusty, shortly after that gig, Ace put out a new record and started becoming more active musically.
RBT: Maybe it was just part of the process of it all. No one plays perfectly. There's no such thing. And personally, I think there's a lot of magic in a lot of unrepeatable moments that can only happen once. My favorite parts of most live albums, are things that most people would consider a mistake. Like when a singer's voice cracks or the bass player hits a wrong note, and then you're jamming with your friends, and playing that song, and you emulate the mistake, everyone points and smiles. Because it's just like this little piece of humanity that you bond with.
RMS: Wrapping things up, is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to let your fans know about....anything else on the horizon they should be on the look out for?
RBT: Everyone should be on the look out for my collaboration with DMC (Daryl McDaniels from Run DMC) and the band Generation Kill. They have a great rap/rock thing that they're doing and I kind of signed on as the 7th member of the band. I'm laying lead guitars and I'm doing all of the mixing and the production. So I'm producing that and we have 1 song called, "Lot Lizard," which is a real nasty song and the next one will be this big anthem called, "Fired Up." And if anyone wants, they can go to www.Bumblefoot.com, there's always updates there on any upcoming shows and whatever shenanigans I'm up to.
Special thanks to Doug Weber for setting up this interview.