Guns n’ Roses
An interview with producer/Guns 'n Roses guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
by Tina Hall
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
photo by Jarmo Luukkonen / www.HereTodayGoneToHell.com
Guitarist, songwriter, producer Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal is best known for his work as the guitarist of Guns n Roses since 2006. He has appeared on many various albums as a quest artist with nine albums credits of his own. As writer his work can be found on various jingles, theme songs, and shows such as The Metal Show on Vh-1, Smallville, WWE Raw, Real World, Pimp My Ride, Hogan Knows Best, Osbournes, Made, Clone High, Road rules and countless others. With twenty years experience as a producer Ron has worked in a vast array of genres bring his unique musical vision to many projects. Thal is also a member of the MS Research Foundation Board of Directors.
Maximum Ink: Is it true that you could spell by the age of 2 before you could talk?
Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal: Yes, but with time it flipped around. Now I can talk but can no longer spell.
MI: What is your fondest early memory?
RBT: Hmmmm, the first thing that popped in my head…birthday party when I turned 1. Big cake, parents’ friends & their kids, and they put this pointy party hat on me, I hated the fucking thing. It had an elastic string that went under the chin, fastened to the hat by a staple on each side. My hair in those spots right in front of my ears kept getting caught and pulled by the staples, was pissing me off. And I couldn’t figure out how to get the hat off, that elastic string turned the hat into some kind of skull super-magnet. I’d lift, move, let go, smack back on my head. And if I was making progress some sadistic giant would reposition the hat and I’d have to start from scratch. I’ve kept my distance from such hats since. But yeah, other than that wardrobe malfunction it was a good night, earliest memory of some good partyin’.
MI: You have stated that from an early age you didn’t need most people. Do you think that is a good thing to learn considering the whole issues of trust and loyalty?
RBT: I’ve just never liked dependency. I’ve always been able to entertain myself just fine, stay busy, I usually flourish when I’m alone, undistracted, I’m more productive, body and mind both get stronger, my interests grow, get new skills. Only problem with that is in the end everybody is depending on you, you’re the ‘Go To’ Guy for everything, and if you’re not able to say NO for 99% of it you become nothing more than everyone’s life support system wherever you turn. And that’s when life becomes empty and questionable - when you slowly realize you’re just a fucking carcass getting picked at until there’s nothing left. I believe in being wanted, not needed. Being wanted is by choice. Being needed drains my batteries.
MI: What first attracted you to the worlds of art and music?
RBT: I’d go over my friends’ houses and would check out thier older siblings’ albums that would be lying around. I think the first one I spotted was Paul McCartney ‘Ram’ at age 5. I immediately started checking out the Beatles. It was Kiss ‘Alive!’ that really got me riled up though, it made me want to do what they were doing. Spent the rest of my life taking that road.
MI: You have also said music has been your medication. Why do you think that statement has held true for so many countless generations of society?
RBT: Music touches our soul. We’re both a particle and a wave simultaneously, our body and spirit. Music is a wave, it gets in, mixes and flavors up our soul, gives us what we’re looking for, patches the holes.
MI: What does it take to put on a really great show?
RBT: Passion, conviction, integrity, and being imperfectly human. It’s the same if you’re in a chair in your living room with an acoustic guitar, or if you’re surrounded by lights, video screens, pyro with 100,000 people watching.
MI: I know you have some very strong opinions on stress and negativity. How do you deal with such things? What advice would you give people in dealing with naysayers and the like?
RBT: There are two groups of people in the world - the ones that create and the ones that destroy. We choose which group we’re gonna be part of. People have no power over you, other than what you give them. The key to happiness is to not give a fuck. And the best revenge is living well. Been getting a lot of revenge lately, haha.
MI: What was the best advice anyone ever gave you in general? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you in regards to the music industry?
RBT: Best advice was from my mom, and it’s so true. Just a few years ago she said to me, A friend will be there for you when things are bad, but a *real* friend will be there for you when things are good. Yup. Best music advice? Had one lawyer tell me years ago, Ask for more Vaseline. (in reference to me being contractually fucked in the ass.) I’ve dispensed decades of advice to indie artists which was to *not* sign bad deals out of desperation - it empowers a flawed system that’s destined to crumble (it did), and it collectively takes power and value away from artists. All you need is the artist and the fans and an internal team to keep everyone connected.
MI: Where do you think you would be at this point in life if not for the music?
RBT: Patenting silly little inventions. Hard to say, music’s been my whole life.
MI: How have you changed most since your early days?
RBT: Less hair on top, more hair on bottom.
MI: Do you think as a musician the transition to producing comes easier? Do you enjoy one any more than the other?
RBT: Being a musician absolutely helps in being a producer. Everything helps everything - after a lifetime of writing & co-writing, playing live & in the studio, studying the math, singing, recording mixing & mastering, doing everything from jazz, classical, rock and metal, punk, hip-hop and R&B, electronic, and teaching it - all these things allow me to step into the shoes of whoever I’m working with and relate to what they need and what they want to accomplish. I can hear a when a singer is tensing up the back of the tongue or trying to reserve air in the chest and how to resolve the issues and bring the comfort and focus back. Someone can say, it needs to sound more orange and because I get their vibe I know they want a boost up n’ around 1.8Hz. I love producing.
Little memories that still lift me up, over a dozen years ago working on Pat O’May’s “Breizh-Amerika” album in Bretagne, France - an album that combined hard rock with their traditional music. We had two-dozen local dancers meet us at a wooden barn which we had fully mic’d - from above, on the floor, from the room below facing up. They did a traditional dance, all stamping their feet in unison to the music. They held hands in a wide circle that slowly rotated as they danced, while clouds of dust rose from their feet only seen through two rays of bright sunlight through the side windows. Beautiful.
MI: What was it like to be recommended for your current job in GnR by Joe Satriani? Had you been a fan of both prior? What is Joe like as a person?
RBT: Joe’s a great guy. Besides being best of the best musically, he’s a good-hearted person as well and I’ve enjoyed the times we’ve gotten to hang and chat. Definitely a fan of Satch and Guns from day one, they both knocked people on their butts right out of the gate. It was Summer of 2004 when he recommended me and GNR got in touch. I had a lot going on at the time, between solo albums and tours, TV music, producing, teaching, guest playing for other artists live and on recordings, and I managed to balance it all as each was steadily growing. I wasn’t looking to drop anything or change anything, figured if I was gonna start playing with GNR it would just work itself out. Here we are seven years later…
MI: What is like to be a part of Guns n Roses? What have you learned from your time there?
RBT: It feels normal, your life is always your life. What have I learned? That there is no truth, only entertainment. If a lie is more entertaining than the truth, people will go with the lie.
MI: Do you enjoy having the chance to teach others through your various clinics,etc?
RBT: Yes. Don’t get to do clinics often, but enjoy doing them when I can. Last year I gave Skype lessons as well, loved it, but then life piled up, producing, touring, traveling, couldn’t schedule anything in advance, didn’t know when I’d have decent internet access, had to stop. Hopefully I can start up again in 2012, if possible.
MI: What does it feel like to hear your work so many widely varied television programs?
RBT: For me it feels like the kids have left the nest and are doing something with their lives. Sounds extreme, exaggerated, crazy, and it is - I care about my music in an extreme, exaggerated, crazy way.
MI: How did you come to be involved with the MS Research Foundation? How can your fans find out more on contributing to the cause?
RBT: I got involved when a close friend Ralph Rosa was diagnosed in 1997. With the support of family and friends he started a non-profit organization “Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation” www.msrf.org, run by us, all volunteers, no paychecks, all proceeds have gone directly to researchers.We set up fundraising events, I’d donate a piece of my merch sales. I have a feeling this year there’s gonna be some big developments in treatments.
MI: What projects are you currently working on?
RBT: Throughout last year I released original and cover songs, one at a time off my site www.bumblefoot.com. Each release would include hi-quality audio formats, instrumental versions, a ‘Player Pack’ that has a detailed lead guitar transcription, reference mix with the lead guitar boosted and a mix without any lead guitar to play along with. Also released a ‘Producer Pack’ of mix stems, stereo mixes of each instrument and vocals so people can make their own mixes and edits with whatever multi-track software they have. It’s something I wished I could have had growing up, and something I know people today would appreciate having. Maybe it’ll become a new way of releasing singles, who knows?
Producing-wise, there’s a talented rock singer from Mexico named Poc, right before leaving on the 2011 GNR tour I produced her soon-to-be-released debut album ‘Rise Above’. I did all the music, Frank Ferrer from GNR laid all the drums, had fans Skype in their backing vocals as we’d livestream the recording sessions, had her open for GNR in Mexico and it went over well, now we’re just prepping for the album release and whatever can come next for her. Most of the album is in Spanish, we’re still building her sites and organizing, I’m handling her bizz meanwhile. You can hear the first song we’re putting out “Rock N Roll Baby”, fun anthemic arena-ish song, it’s at www.pocnation.com.
MI: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
RBT: Thank you for the interview, and thank you all for reading! I’m at www.twitter.com/bumblefoot and www.facebook.com/bumblefoot , say hi any time. Happy 2012 !!
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