An Interview With Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
Band Photo: Guns N Roses (?)
Somewhat of a child prodigy, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal has been playing, writing and recording music almost since he could walk. Though he never graduated high school, he now teaches music at SUNY, when he's not busy touring with Guns n Roses that is. Between that and the re-release of "The Adventures of Bumblefoot" and his first hand-written tab book, Ron and I had a lot to discuss.
Nichole Nash: You're about to embark on the final leg of the "Chinese Democracy" tour with performances in Europe running through mid-October. How has the experience been overall, and are you looking forward to the end or would you be willing to sign up for another leg if it was proposed?
Ron Bumblefoot: It's been the best shows I've been part of; this band is at its best. Looking forward to coming back to Europe, been four years since we toured a lot of the continent. It's been a wild fucking ride, we'll keep it goin' 'til we can't go no more.
Nichole: What were the best and worst shows of this tour and why, and which city are you still looking forward to?
Ron: A lot of great shows, I think the show in Aalborg Denmark (June 14, 2010) was my favorite. It was just one of those shows where everything felt right, it felt like a fine-tuned machine. Then there are the shows where you can't connect to what's going on, for whatever reason. It's a weird thing, you feel like you're not really there, and you can't get yourself there. Sometimes those are the shows the audience likes the best, the ones you think weren't good. But that's how it is, no two shows feel the same, and anything can happen.
Nichole: You weren't initially psyched about joining forces with GNR, and it was a year and a half from the initial contact before you signed on with them. It's easy to understand given their colorful background, but looking back, what's been the most positive aspect of working with Axl and the rest of the band?
Ron: The comradery that's grown in the band - a lot of fun and joking around, but also weathering the tough storms together.
Nichole: "The Adventures of Bumblefoot" is being re-released and autographed copies will be available on your website. What provoked this decision, when the original album had reached a certain collector's status because of being out of print?
Ron:Shrapnel Records owns all the rights to the album. They reached out last year about re-releasing the album, and we worked together on updating the artwork, adding additional bonus tracks. We worked out a deal where I'd be allowed to sell them on my website, and make it exclusive where they'd be autographed and I'd donate proceeds to medical research.
Nichole: The new release also includes tracks you wrote for a Sega CD video game called Wild Woody, and you're putting up songs for Rock Band. What made you get involved in producing music for the gaming industry, and how do you think the birth of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band has affected the music industry in general?
Ron: I've always been into writing for TV, film, video games, anything visual. I've done theme songs and background music for TV shows, I'm really into different ways of writing. Collaborating with artists, writing for a video game, spontaneous jams that turn into songs, but usually it's a flash that goes off in my head and a song comes flyin' out. Rock Band, Guitar Hero, they're great – they've exposed people to all kinds of music they never would have heard, and they get to physically connect. It's fucking great. I have the song "Guitars SUCK" in the Rock Band Network, available for Xbox – looking to get a lot more songs in there, from the Normal and Abnormal albums.
Nichole: A portion of the proceeds from "The Adventures of Bumblefoot" will be donated to Multiple Sclerosis research. Your link to MS is personal, but you've also used your music to help raise money for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, tsunami relief, just to name a few. How do you decide which causes to get involved in and what inspired you to become an activist?
Ron: Usually it's something personal that raises awareness. In the case of Multiple Sclerosis, my best friend was diagnosed in '97. He started a non-profit organization, Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation, www.msrf.org, we set up concerts and fundraising events. His friends and family work as volunteers, so all the money goes to research, no salaries. For any autographed CDs and merch I sell, I donate $5 to MSRF.
Nichole: The bigger part of this undertaking is the tab book you've released - 200 pages of your own transcription of your music. I've seen the samples online and the notations actually make it fairly simple for an amateur to follow. What was the goal behind producing the tab book?
Ron: Years ago I worked as a transcriber for instructional lessons, and when I gave guitar lessons I'd do a lot of music transcribing "on the fly" as a song was playing. That stuff helped when I was re-learning all the parts of the "Adventures" album, but it was still 6 months of work to transcribe it. It was probably another 6 months of typesetting and arranging all the art and pages for the book. It was something I felt guitarists would enjoy, seeing what went into the album musically, physically.
Nichole: You've basically had your hands in all parts of the music field since an early age - writing, playing, producing, teaching, and not just in one genre. What's your favorite aspect of the music field and why?
Ron: I love being in the studio. Anything is possible. I love producing, making all different types of music. It's the most creative environment.
Nichole: What do you say to those metal fans who sneer at the idea of musicians like Jessica Simpson or other mainstream artists you've worked with?
Ron: When a friend comes to me with some unusual situation that's diverse or challenging, I'm into it, something different. I played Latin nylon-string neo-classical riffs over a kind of music I usually don't have anything to do with. But that takes nothing away from the music I write and was raised on. A musician's love for making music isn't limited to the kind of music that represents who they are, or their favorite kind of music. I've worked with hip-hop, jazz, Latin, classical, funk, punk, opera, hardcore, all kinds of music, I've grown from it and enjoyed every bit of it.
Nichole: Unlike a lot of musicians, you make yourself easily accessible to the fans. Has this ever put you in any kind of danger? And what was your best experience with a fan?
Ron: I've had some great times with that (laughs). Before Guns the big thing was oven mitts. People would bring oven mitts to my shows for me to sign and as gifts. It started when someone brought one on the way to a show – they wanted to bring something for me to sign and didn't have anything, so they stopped at a store and the only thing they could find was an oven mitt. It became a tradition; people started bringing oven mitts to my shows (laughs). Has anything put me in danger? Any moment of life we could be in danger – but ya can't stop livin'. I'm just gonna live how I wanna live.
Nichole: Professor, musician, photographer, handyman, is there anything you're not willing to try? How about something you'd like to try and haven't had the chance to yet?
Ron: (Laughs) There are more things I can't do than can. And there are plenty of things I know I'll never be good at so I don't waste my time or anyone else's. Plumbing. I'm great at electrical, but I don't fuck with plumbing. What would I like to do but haven't yet? Voices for cartoons.
Nichole: You say you take oral hygiene and fire safety very seriously. So how many toothbrushes did you go through on the "Chinese Democracy" tour?
Ron: (Laughs) Plenty of toothpaste and a shitload of floss.
Nichole: One of the things you say you want to do in the future is come out with your own line of hot sauces. As a resident of the home of Tabasco I have to ask: how'd a NYC boy become a fan of hot sauce?
Ron: I don't know how the hell I got into hot sauce and pushing the limits, but yeah, I'm a hot sauce junkie. Or maybe a pain junkie. The stuff I've built up to now is 3 or 4 times hotter than pepper spray, the weapon. I bring it on tour with me, everyone gets a little first-time hit.
Nichole: The CD and tab book come out this month, "Chinese Democracy" comes to an end in October... what's next for Bumblefoot?
Ron: I'm gonna hibernate a bit during this upcoming tour, gonna stay in and try and get some writing and recording done. Hopefully will have some solo music done by the end of the tour. After that? More recording? More touring? We'll see.
Nichole: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Ron: Just a big thank you for checkin' out what I've been up to, and hopefully I'll be seeing y'all! Have a great one!
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