I’ve been fortunate to have the privilege of having interviewed lots of artists from lots of different genres – from Americana to Alternative and everything in between. After I interviewed Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal from Guns N’ Roses a couple of years ago, I had come to the conclusion afterwards that he had to be one of the nicest and most genuine artists I’ve ever met from any genre.
I can honestly say that, after this interview, my opinion of the man has grown exponentially. Kind, polite, informative and considerate, one might think that he has a Jekyll and Hyde personality when one sees the mad guitarist persona during a GNR show.
What you see on stage is a man who is intensely driven and passionate about his craft; a man who throws two hundred percent of himself into anything he does.
When I called Ron recently at his home in the Northeast, it was to talk about his new CD, “Little Brother Is Watching.” Before we drilled into that subject, though, I asked him how his venture into the hot sauce business was coming along and what the latest was with his charity work.
“Going great! It’s spreading to all parts of the world, and I have distro from Dubai to all different places. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a whole other little subculture- the hot sauce subculture. It’s funny how similar it is to music, just a different passion. You find that when people are passionate about something, it doesn’t matter what it is. It’s people that are passionate about something. At all these food festivals, you see familiar faces, and we’re just enjoying what we enjoy.”
When I mentioned that I spotted a couple items from his hot sauce product line at a local hot sauce specialty store here in East Tennessee, he said, “I’m glad to know they were there. You know, the distributors have to want to buy it from the manufacturer. The retailers have to want to buy it from the distributor and put it on the shelves. A lot of people have to really want it before people come in and see it.”
As for the latest in his charity work, Ron shared, “I just came back from Pattaya, Thailand. I headlined the big bike festival- it’s like Sturgis. It was three days of doing gigs, and the guys that run the whole event have been doing it for eighteen years. They have a children’s charity, Jesters Care for Kids, that provides care for disabled kids, orphans, any kid in need. They help with their education, getting food in their stomachs, and clothes on their backs.
“We did all these events there, which raised $163,000. In Thailand, the dollar is worth a good chunk of change, so this is really going to make a huge difference in a lot of lives. I want to come back next year, and see if I can bring some more international artists into it. I was the first international artist they ever had, and it doubled the attendance of the event. I want to see if I can help them step it up even more and keep trying to make a difference.
“After that, I came home, released the album, and ran out for the UK. I just got back from that two days ago. Out there, I worked with an organization called 7Cs based out of the town of Witney in Oxford. It supports kids in music, and it gives them a creative world to work in.”
Segueing to the subject of the new CD, I asked if I was correct that this was his tenth solo project and to tell me a little bit about the album.
“Yea, it is, not including all the collaborations and producing and everything else. With all of that, I’ve done probably a hundred albums. In 2004, I was working on twelve albums at once. That was a tough one, but I tend to do that. I work until I practically collapse, then I pull back just a hair. It’s not healthy, and I shouldn’t do that. But honestly, I love what I do so much to the point that if it’s going to kill me, what better way to go?”
I asked how has this album been different for him from the others, to which he said, “For this one, I forced myself to write while I was touring. For me, I always had to choose between touring and writing, because they’re just two different mindsets. You exist for two different reasons, and I always found it hard to flip the switch. When you’re on tour, you are there for everybody else. Your time belongs to the fans, and I would always try to give every minute I could. That’s not something you can just quickly shut off. I couldn’t just shut it off, go into the hotel room, and start writing a song. I always need a minute, sort of, to decompress and reboot. I’d get that going and build momentum. I would never get a chance to do that on tour. I’d been doing so much touring over the last year that I’ve just not been writing.
“Finally, I just forced myself. It felt like driving with your foot slammed on the gas and your foot slammed on the brake at the same time. But it needed to be done, and I think good stuff came out of it. I was really able to tap into everything I wanted to say and do. Compared to other albums, it really seemed that there was a more direct line - the connection, the root, the little line from your insides to your outsides - was very uninterrupted. Exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it freely flowed. It worked out well.
“I’m happy with the album. I’m happy with the way I sang what I wanted to sing, the way I wanted to tell whatever story I wanted to tell. I had more room, and I left myself more space for melody and production. I just let the song come through, so it didn’t get overshadowed with a fancy guitar riff. With the technical guitar stuff, it’s almost like a very strong spice. A little goes a long way. Even if you don’t do it that often, it just jumps out. It can overshadow all the other flavors. I pulled back a little bit. Those moments are there, but I found a better balance between the melody and any technical stuff. I think it helps the song come through more. “
I mentioned that I thought this project seems to be a very complex, intricate album with an almost rock opera feel to it. Was that his intent?
“I think it does sound like that. You can hear plenty of influences that are easy to point out from Queen to George Harrison to David Bowie. You’ll always hear classic rock and a little bit of old punk, a little bit of old metal. That’s just what’s in my blood, and it ain’t coming out.
“It’s not that I had the intent of, ‘I want the album to sound like this’. I just wrote the songs and thought, ‘I’m going to sing them the way I feel comfortable singing, and play the way I feel comfortable playing’. Most of the melodies and most of the ideas were from the one take scratch track that I made just to demo the songs when we were laying the drum tracks. Afterwards, I said, ‘You know what? These are very honest ideas that aren’t over thought. I’m just going to go with a lot of these and not change something that feels right.’
“A lot of the melodies that were going on, like at the end of the song ‘Argentina’ where they are sort of dancing around the vocal lines, was all spontaneous stuff. I think it was the right thing for the song. I didn’t over think it or preplan very much. I wrote the song, recorded it, and just let it come out the way it was going to come out.”
Ron’s answer to my question of if there was a song from the album that he would point to as the calling card for the entire album, he offered, “I would go with ‘Don’t Know Who To Pray To Anymore’. It shows the guitar playing, song writing, and singing. I don’t know if it’s the definitive song that someone could listen to and get an idea of what everything sounds like on the album. But, to me, that’s the one that something about it resonates. It’s about something we’ve all felt when we’ve all felt challenged and tested to the point that you really question, ‘what is good? Is it a real thing?’ When you’re left angry, and you know you need to get past that anger, but you’re just not over it yet. You tell yourself, ‘I know that things are okay, but I’m just not healed yet. I’ll probably get there someday, but I won’t let myself. I feel like I need to punish God by denying the faith I had, because I feel betrayed myself.’ I think we’ve all been in that place at one point.”
In sharing what the response to “Little Brother Is Watching,” Thal said, “So far, I think the people who would like it are liking it. The haters are gonna hate; the lovers are gonna love. I hope that people like it. All you can do is just put it out there, and the world will decide.”
I knew that fans would want to know if Bumblefoot would be touring in support of the album, so I asked him.
“I’m not doing a tour yet. I want to let people know it exists and let them get to know the music a little more. Put out some videos, do some things to just let people get familiar with the music. Then I’ll book a tour and see where people want me (and where they don’t). I want to book the right kind of tour. I don’t want to rush into it and go out there without a plan, playing everywhere and torturing my band. ‘Alright, we’re doing a 100 dates where people don’t even know who we are!’ I want to have a good plan so that the people who would want to see me get to see me.”
I’d heard some rumblings about another project that Ron was reportedly working on called, “The Art of Anarchy,” so I asked him about it.
“That’s an interesting one. We started in 2011 with Jon and Vince, the guitarist and drummer, who are twin brothers. They started the whole idea of it. They were musicians in bands I’d been producing for the last eighteen years, and they wanted to make a very special album. They wanted to make a super group. Really, they wanted to start a music company, and the first thing they were going to put out is this super group album. They came into the studio and laid their parts. I laid my parts. [John] Moyer came in and spent three days hanging out playing his stuff. Then Scott joined. He recorded at his own place; at his own pace, just did his thing. He came up with some very interesting stuff… things I never would have thought of for these songs.
“That’s what’s great about it. When you’re collaborating and creating something with different people, they’re all going to bring something you never would have thought of. It makes it very special. He added fantastic vocal melodies to a lot of the songs. Moyer had great bass lines. Everything he does is great. It’s an interesting rock record. Century Media is releasing it June 2nd in the US, June 8th non-US. I hope people like it. I think people who have not heard Scott doing heavier stuff for a while will enjoy hearing him in this. A lot of the music sounds like old Metallica or Disturbed with a lot of dynamic changes musically. It goes from heavy, double bass metal riffs to nylon string acoustic solos.”
Just as with “Little Brother,” I asked Thal if there are any touring plans for that album or will he approach it the same way he is for his solo album.
“That’s pretty much the plan. Just letting people know the music exists, and let them share the music we made together. If there is a demand for touring, we’re going to cross that bridge and figure out what we need to do.”
Bumblefoot also revealed what is on his radar for the next year.
“I have a whole bunch of things coming up and a lot of blanks getting filled in between. Besides the eventual Little Brother Is Watching tour, I’m going to be doing a two-month guitar festival tour throughout France. All the big Le Zenith arenas, a couple thousand people. That’s going to be a nice one. It’s called ‘Autour De La Guitare.’ That’s going to be October/November.”
“I’m going to continue working with all the U.S. embassies on cultural events. I’m going to do a couple days at SXSW. At the end of the month, I have Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Vegas. We’ll be doing it with Glenn Hughes, Michael Schenker, Bill Ward, Rudy Sarzo, and Brian Tichy. That’s going to be a fun one. Then I’m going to be acting in a horror movie called Clean Cut which we’ll be shooting in early April.
“I’ve got to finish up the video of ‘Little Brother Is Watching’ and start thinking about the next video. Then I head out to Asia to do some stuff. It’s looking like, tentatively, we’re doing Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei. I have to run back in time to do a USO benefit in New York on May 1st. I think that’s it- at least, all that my brain can remember. Oh, and all the producing. We shot two great videos for the Art of Anarchy stuff, so we’ll roll those out with singles and then the album.
“Right now, I’m finishing up two more songs with DMC and Generation Kill. They’re all going to a metal show today to film, but I have to stay behind to take care of mixes and get everything on schedule. We’ll get the first song on iTunes by Saturday, hopefully. Darryl McDaniels from Run-D.M.C. is on vocals with the band Generation Kill which is great stuff. You’ve got Rob Moschetti from Pro-Pain and Rob Dukes from Exodus, a real cool metal band. They have this rap/metal collaboration that they’re doing. I’m producing, mixing, and adding some guitar to it. I’m sort of like the sixth member. We have one song called ‘Lot Lizard’ that we’re going to be putting out on Saturday to coincide with D.M.C. airing ‘That Metal Show’ episode. We’re working on another song called ‘Fired Up’ which will be on DMC’s solo record. It’s going to a very musical year.”
With all that’s going on in Bumblefoot’s world, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to see him in person somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours. To make sure that you have his latest news and itinerary or to purchase merchandise like “Little Brother Is Watching” or some of Ron’s scorching hot sauce, visit www.bumblefoot.com.