After having spent an hour on the phone with Ron Thal a.k.a. Bumblefoot, the first thing I thought to myself is “Man, this guy is excellent!”. This being because of his crazy dreams, his theory that Jägermeister is the solution for everything, the t-shirt he wears on stage to tease his colleagues, but also his work ethics and fairness. In fact speaking of fairness, we can say that Ron was incredibly generous with this interview! It’s full of anecdotes, humour, honest answers, and information on his current activities be it his own band or Guns N’ Roses. Indeed, since the departure of the strange but no less talented Buckethead in 2006, Ron Thal, recommended by Joe Satriani, became the new leading light guitarist of the iconic Californian band. It is in all honesty that he spoke about behind the scenes, even sometimes offering some surprising answers.
If you’re interested in Ron Thal himself, you are also guaranteed a load of information! There is Ron Thal, the very unique guitarist or Ron Thal, the teacher advising students to go live their lives rather than practice guitar playing all day and Ron Thal, the wise and sensitive man behind the appearance of a joker... Basically, a really fascinating character!
"If I’m talking about very serious stuff, but then I make some kind of light-hearted joke about it, the joke is what is going to stand out (laughs). [...] They will be like 'that’s such a funny song!' so I’m like 'funny song?!' (laughs). It’s like 'I’m talking about how I’m on the verge of killing myself and you think that’s funny' (laughs)."
Ron Thal : Bonsoir!
Bonsoir and good morning to you!
(laughs) Ca va bien?
Très bien. Did you sleep well?
Yeah, but I had the weirdest dream though. It was just one of those nights when you have a bunch of dreams and they all make no sense, so the next morning you’re wondering what kind of drugs someone slipped in you before you went to bed... (laughs)
So what was the dream?
Let’s see. They were all related to things going on. One was about the workers that I had at my studio today who were finishing the basement and they are doing the final touches of turning the dirty old basement into a nice work area. I had a dream that they were down there and they had kids with them. One of the kids was this girl that was probably about 6 inches tall, on a little bicycle, like the ones that they had in the 1800s with a big wheel in the front and a tiny one at the back. She was speeding really fast into a wall and then she bounced off the big tyre in the front and just laughed. Then some other little kid who must have been about 5 ran up to me and said “feel my hair! I have a lot of hair!” and I saw that he had a really big head of hair. It just made no sense! (laughs) Then I had another dream... I had the TV on so that’s probably what screwed up my head while I was sleeping. It was something about Alzheimer’s, but I think that this was actually true; where I think that they figured out how to diagnose it and find it, like they can do a brain scan to tell you if you have it or if you are getting it. I guess that this affected me because my dad was just diagnosed with it. So just like one weird thing in my head after another.
Doesn’t these kinds of dreams inspire you to write music?
Usually they do, if I can get to a guitar and get to that musical way of thinking. But most of the time, I wake up and I have about 50 emails to get through and a couple of fires to put, so I wake up being more like a manager rather than a musician for the first couple of hours of life. Usually round 2 in the morning until about 5 in the morning or whenever it is, that is usually when I get to be a musician. It’s usually around 11 PM and onwards. But I’m trying to be good and I’m trying to be better to get to the studio every day to work on music and get things done.
You’ve been touring with Guns N’ Roses for the past few months and it’s still going on. How has the tour been going so far?
Man it was great. We started this last run of touring in December 2009 and we finished it in 2010, so with some breaks in between. It was a solid year of touring. It was fantastic. We came to France and we did Amneville in the east, Lille up north, Bercy in Paris and then we did a little acoustic show. It was a great time and it was probably my fifteenth time in Paris, because I would always go there on my own as a solo artist before the Guns. That was the main place that I would tour. We played everywhere from Strasbourg in the East and to down on the coast, like everywhere and all kinds of places. We did the whole country between 1997 until November 2005 which was the last tour there. I was going to do more in 2006 but that’s when I started playing with the Guns and I had to cancel my tour. Since then, I haven’t really been able to tour on my own because G’N’R takes priority. So the last tour was fantastic.
That was a pretty long tour. Are you always happy about going on stage or do you sometimes have moments when you feel down?
Oh yeah. I mean, we are all human and there are times when I’m just feeling really foul! (laughs) There’s time when we are getting on stage so late and the audience has not been entertained at all for like two hours and so they are all angry and upset. I’m angry and upset with them. There are times when I just can’t let it go and there have been a couple of shows when I was really fucking pissed off on stage. Sometimes I even had to walk off and cool off to calm down because I was just going to fucking freak out. I found out the way to resolve that for me, because it’s not something that I am going to be able to change and it isn’t helping anyone as they are just watching some angry miserable guy on stage, it’s not like “well we waited for two hours to see the band and now we get to see the band but the band is pissed off”, we have to give them a great show. I found that half a shot of Jägermeister before I go on stage and I am the happiest motherfucker in the world! (laughs). It took me 40 years to figure that out! Yes, Jägermeister, I call it my liquid smile. No matter how I feel, I take a shot of Jäger and I feel wonderful. It takes away all of the aches and pains. That’s another thing! Sometimes you’re on stage and if you have the flu or you are sick, you barely have the strength to stand up and I’m up there trying to run around for two and a half hours and sing and I have a 25 pound double neck guitar around my neck so I’m just praying that my heart will stop so that I can just drop dead and just end the agony (laughs). Or there are a lot of times, you know, where I am always banging my head around because I’m an old metal head so I’m doing that on stage and then the next day I can’t get out of bed because my back is all fucked up. On this last tour, there were a lot of spine injuries. Jäger helps that too! Jäger helps everything! They should get rid of all antibiotics, they should get rid of casts, they should get rid of hospitals and all kinds of medication and surgery and just give everybody Jägermeister! And everything will be fine. Wars will end. Everything will be cool. Domestic disputes will end in nice dinners. Yes Jägermeister! Or at least it does for me.
Do you think that it could be the cure for cancer?
I think so. I think that it will fix any problems, like global warming or global cooling. I think that the dinosaurs would still be here if there was Jägermeister around. I think that all diseases would be pretty much eradicated like malaria. I think that it would cure world hunger and poverty. I think that the sky would be bluer if everyone just had a little shot of Jägermeister to start their day (big laugh). There might be truth to that you know because stress will kill you more than anything! If you get rid of a bit of your stress then you are cool and then everything is ok.
"So we are not presenting ourselves to the world as a band even though we are one and because of that peopleare just going to say 'alright all of the famous pictures of Guns N’ Roses, they have the five guys from the Appetite line-up' and, yeah, that doesn’t help us (laughs)."
As you mentioned, at some concerts the crowd was angry because the band went on stage late. What was the reason for that?
Well first thing, people don’t realise that it is such a big show with so much going on that at minimum there has to be 45 minutes between bands. Because the previous band has to clear off everything off of their stage and then we have to get everything ready on ours. Even though the stuff is already on the stage, they have to test everything, they have to fix any problems and there is always something that breaks at the last minute like suddenly the Teleprompters aren’t working or it’s the video screen. Something will happen like the mixing board for the monitors shuts down or whatever it is. Things happen. So it’s always a good 45 minutes of just tests and getting everything ready to go so that we can come on stage and the show will run right. That right there alone is 45 minutes. What happens after that? I don’t know! (laughs). I mean I’m there. I get there early. I take the earliest van that I can take to get to the venue from the hotel and I eat dinner with the crew or the other band members that arrived there early. I play my guitar, I warm up and I watch the opening act. That’s it and then I just make sure that I’m ready and that I’m there. Then I just wait to get on stage.
As far as what delays the show? I know where the finger is pointing but I’m not going to get into that! (laughs) I mean sometimes it’s for stupid reasons! There have been times where Axl is on his way over and the driver got lost for like a half hour. He gets there and everyone is pissed like “what the fuck! How does that happen?” You can literally see the venue from the hotel and it’s a five minute drive but the driver got lost for a half... fucking... hour. So he delays him getting there and then once he gets there... You know if you plan on getting there early and doing all of your warm-ups, exercises and prepping for the show at the venue, and then the driver makes you late and then you first have to do all that at the venue so it delays the show. You can’t go on stage when your voice is not feeling elastic because you haven’t warmed it up and your body is not elastic either as you haven’t warmed it up. If you hurt yourself, then you are jeopardising the next twenty shows. So you have to make sure that you are taken care of and ready, but then you think “damn, I could have done that at the hotel if I knew the driver was going to get lost!”. I mean random things happen, it doesn’t explain twenty years of it (laughs) but in our times stupid things happen where we are at the mercy of someone else and get screwed. So yeah things do happen, I’ve seen it!
I know that Guns N’ Roses really is Axl Roses’ band now, but nevertheless do you feel that there is some real band chemistry going on there?
I do yeah. I mean we do, we hang out, we play together in and out of Guns N’ Roses you know. We are always texting and emailing and calling and hanging, and with Axl too. We text corny jokes to each other (laughs). I mean I can’t control the history of what has happened before me. The band... People came and went. I’ve been in the band for almost 5 years now and I’m becoming a veteran at it I guess if you look at it that way (laughs). So yeah...
People don’t want to perceive it like that and part of the reason is that we don’t do press. Like if we had band photos, then people would say “oh yeah, they’re a band”. But we haven’t had a fucking real band photo or anything like that! So we are not presenting ourselves to the world as a band even though we are one and because of that people, unless they know us or they have been to twenty shows or hung out with us after shows and stuff, they know but the rest of the world is just going to say “alright all of the famous pictures of Guns N’ Roses, they have the five guys from the Appetite line-up” and, yeah, that doesn’t help us (laughs). You know, having some good real band photos just to start with and then maybe people will say “oh yeah, they’re a band because they look like one”. I mean it’s perception. It’s not about what is the truth; it’s about what is perceived. Personally I think that we should be doing more to make the perception closer to the truth.
As a solo artist you released Abnormal and then an acoustic album before going on tour with Guns N’ Roses and having a full schedule. Is it harder for you to take care of your solo career now or is it just a matter of organisation?
It’s harder just because there’s less time. Just because I’m physically at the place where I can’t get everything done like the airport or on the tour bus or on the stage or sleeping off whatever I did the night before (laughs). Yeah it is a lot harder because time is a lot more limited. Time is this evil monster that I am in this race against constantly. It’s a lot tougher so yeah.
I did Abnormal and it came out in the summer of 2008. Then I started banging out the acoustic stuff because I knew that Chinese Democracy was going to be coming out soon. Chinese came out in November and I put out the acoustic album in December. Then in January 2009 I was in L.A. and I was there for a couple of months, we were auditioning guitar players and we got DJ Ashba in the band. Then we started working out all of the musical parts, basically all of the arrangements of how the three guitar players would coordinate so that it’s cleaner and more sensible on stage. We were also working out our gear as well and trying out every possible amp and guitar to see what works best. We took a break for the summer and I toured with Lita Ford. Then we came back in L.A. to do another bit of prepping. Then we hit the road and that was it, we did that for a year and here we are. So now that we have a bit of time off, unexpected time off actually because I thought that we were going to be touring the US next month but it looks like that is going to be held off for a little while longer. So now I’m putting out my own music again and I got a chance to kick the ball and run with it.
This week I just put out the song “Bernadette”, which is cover song from an old Motown hit from 1967 by The Four Tops’. So I put that out in all of the high resolution formats: WAV, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3 HD, MP3 320 and AAC. I did an instrumental version and then I did things just for guitar players. It’s a backing track mix which comes with a complete transcription of the guitar parts of the song which is like 12 pages of all of the fingers, the picking, the tabs, musical notations and even little hints about how to do things. I also did something for studio geeks like myself which I would have loved to have for various albums and songs. I put out stems which are like a mix of just the drums, just the bass, just rhythm guitar, just lead guitar, just the vocals and just backing vocals. You can load it into your software and play with the mix. You can also edit and play with the levels to see how the song was made. I did that this week and every week is going to be something crazy. I’m going to get something done because now I’m here and I know that I’m not running on tour next week or anything so I have a chance to get shit done. I’m just going to do as much I can and try to get as much of my music out there until we hit the road again.
"Every singer I got was impossible to get anything done with. I don’t know... I’m scratching my head man! [...] I have to say that in my life the most sane, most stable, secure and everything has been Axl. There has been no other singer that I have ever worked with in my fucking life that cares as much and that gives as much and that kicks as much ass on a stage and that works as hard as that guy."
I read somewhere that for the next album you wanted to have someone to sing instead of yourself. Why? Aren’t you happy with your singing?
Well you know it’s a lot to do on stage. When it’s my own music and I’m playing all of these crazy guitar parts and then singing all of this crazy stuff and I have to do both at once! It’s a lot to think about on stage! I guess that I got a taste of the easier life with Guns N’ Roses where all I had to do was shut up and play guitar. I thought that I would love to go on tour, playing my own music or original music, where I could just be a guitar player and not have the weight of everything on my shoulders. I had started putting a band together in 2009 and from there...(sighs) There were some singer issues (laughs) and so once again it just became me singing because that is the only way that things will get done. It just works out that way in my life. This is the hand that I am always dealt. I try to hook up with a singer and the singer does not want to do his end of things. And it’s not like I’m telling anyone, it’s not one of those situations where it’s like I’m a controlling guitar player kind of thing. This band was complete equal where everyone recorded their own parts and mixed their own parts and made their own parts the way they wanted them to be and no one can say shit about it. The singer would write his own words to the song, sing it his own way and record it himself and whatever he decides is it. Everyone had complete freedom in the music to do whatever they wanted. Everything was an equal split. And it was good to go!
Who was the singer you were talking about?
I’m not even going to say. There was one guy and then another guy... There was actually four singers that I looked into and either they would just disappear or they would just pull all the stuff that made me say at 15 years of age, I remember, I was 15 and I said “I just can’t deal with singers anymore! So I’m going to have to sing myself”. That’s what made me start singing. Every singer I got was impossible to get anything done with. I don’t know... I’m scratching my head man! And I guess that these were the cards that I was dealt and I have to say that in my life the most sane, most stable, secure and everything has been Axl. There has been no other singer that I have ever worked with in my fucking life that cares as much and that gives as much and that kicks as much ass on a stage and that works as hard as that guy. Without a doubt!
So are you saying that you’ve abandoned the idea to have a singer in your solo career?
For now yeah. Actually I took those songs that I had written and I started laying my own vocals on them. And you know what? I’m glad I did, I should have done it from the beginning. They absolutely came out better than they would have with anyone else. So I’m going to be putting out those songs this year. The first one is a song called “Invisible”. It’s about 6 minutes long. It sounds like a band; it has drums, bass, one guitar and vocals. This stuff was made to be played live. When people hear it they say that it sounds like a mixture of Led Zeppelin and Pantera. So it should be interesting and I hope people like it. I would like to put out that song next. I just put out “Bernadette” and it’s just a song to put out there, but the next song that I really want to put out there is this song “Invisible”.
By the way, Abnormal had better sales than any other of your albums, partly due to the Guns N’ Roses effect, I guess. Is this one of the things you expected to happen when you joined the band?
I figured that it was going to have some kind of effect, but it’s not something where I was thinking to myself like “wow! Joining G’N’R is going to really boost my solo career”. I wasn’t thinking like that. In fact, when I first joined the band, any press I did, I had told them ahead of time that if they mentioned Guns N’ Roses then I was hanging up because that is not why we are doing this interview. But it reached the point where I can’t deny and not acknowledge the fact that I’m in the band and touring and recording etc. So finally I decided that I couldn’t keep doing that and denying that I’m in Guns N’ Roses. I couldn’t keep my two lives separate and it didn’t make sense to try and do that.
By the time I put out Abnormal, I think that the sales would have been better just because the Normal sales were really good and I toured so that makes a big difference. So I was out there already growing on my own. But by being in Guns, I mean you can’t even compare the exposure. Before that album came out, I probably had a million people who watched me play live on the last G’N’R tour between all of the festivals and shows that we did for the years 2006 and 2007, during those 12 months or so. So yeah, it’s inevitably going to have an effect because you’re out there more. I mean if I was on some stupid reality show, that would have had an effect too. It’s just that if people know that you exist then more people will check out your stuff and decide if they like it or not. You are just getting more people to know that you’re alive and to make that choice.
Now on another subject. You play with Vigier guitars and it’s always a great sense of pride for French people to see such important musicians as Roger Glover and yourself play on Vigier guitars or basses. So what do you like about them? Why Vigier and not another brand?
Oh man. All I use with G’N’R is Vigier. You know, that double necked guitar, the fretted and fretless. On Chinese Democracy it’s all Vigier fretless guitar on all of the songs. And I use the G.V. Single Cutaway for other stuff. What do I like? Well let’s go way back to 1997. I was touring in France doing a little clinic tour and one of the reps from the company came to me and said “hey I brought a guitar over for you to check out” and at that point all I did was play my own handmade, weird, swiss cheese guitars or whatever they looked like. So I tried it out and then as I learned more about the guitars, I was really impressed. First of all, they felt good to play, that’s number one. Then the fact that the necks don’t have the truss rod and they have a sheet of graphite that goes through it keeping the neck perfect all of the time. I was sceptical at first but after a dozen years of beating on these guitars in all kinds of crazy conditions, from hot to cold and wet to dry, and the necks always stayed perfect. They never needed adjusting because they never bent or warped. A lot of the other guys playing a Les Paul on stage, when you step to a different point on the stage like if you are near the pyro and there are flames going off, suddenly your guitar is flat or sharp depending on where you stand because the neck is bending quickly depending on how cold it is on that stage in various spots (laughs). I don’t have that problem with Vigiers. They are in tune all of the time and they feel good all of the time. They have a zero fret which makes the first fret more balanced and comfortable and better tuned. What else? They use DeMagio pickups which is my pickup of choice. And they will make all of my crazy guitars that I ask them to make (laughs). They made the Flying Foot guitar, which was the one with the giant foot and the wings that pop out (laughs). They also made the Double Necks with the fretted and the fretless. They are just the perfect company for me because they have the greatest guitars that I have ever played and they put up with my crazy ideas (laughs). In fact, I just saw Patrice Vigier, I was hanging with them a couple of days ago over the weekend out in California for the big music trade show. I just hung out with them and played guitar for hours. It was a good time.
"If you want to make interesting music then you have to live an interesting life and feel a lot more than what you are going to get from living with a hand in your guitar."
You’re known for being one of the rare guitar players to play on fretless guitars. Are they as interesting sound wise as fretless basses can be?
Yeah. I mean if anything I think that you can probably do more with a fretless guitar than you can with a bass because there is more... Let me think about all of the things. You can do all the Tony Franklin dragging harmonics the way you do that on a bass, you can do that on the guitars. You can do more chordal stuff because it’s just a higher pitched instrument and it won’t be wavering all over. You can solo like crazy with it and the fact that if you’re using a saturated distortion, you get more sustain out of it. So I think that it makes more possibilities of what you can do with it. But yeah, it’s fun as hell (laughs)!
Last October while on tour, you took a bit of time to give advice and perform with kids from the Witchwood School of Rock in Witney in the UK. It seems that sharing knowledge is something that is important to you, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I did it for many years and I was really studying hard. By the time I was 13 or so, I started giving guitar lessons myself and I was always into sort of paying it forward and sharing it. I kept on teaching from there, I was teaching at home and then teaching in a music store, then a music academy and then I ran a whole music department at a private school. I set up a choir, a jazz band and music for kids. And then I started teaching at national college in New York State. So teaching for me is always something that I love doing and sharing. I love seeing students go on to do things with it (laughs). In fact that’s something that I’ve missed while being on tour and it’s something that I would love to get back to doing more teaching.
You have actually been quoted saying to young guitar players that they should not practice too much. This is a contradiction to what we usually hear from most teachers.
Yes and I stand by that statement! (laughs) People practice too much. If you spend 10 hours a day, every day for years playing, then in those 10 hours you are not going to get as much out of it as in a very concentrated 2 hours. The rest of the time you should be spending living your life. It’s wrong to be sitting in your room, not experiencing life and just slaving away. That is not going to do anything for you musically; you’re not going to have anything interesting going on. You need to be an interesting person and be experiencing things in life. You need to feel things, the good and the bad. You need to get out there and live life to the fullest. And that is stuff that you get to share in your music. Those are the feelings that you will have to give in your music and your lyrics and your writing and your everything. If art is the reflection of the artist, then the best way to expand and broaden the art is to broaden the artist. And nothing would be worse than after 30 years of playing guitar, for someone to look back and say “what have I done with my life? Well I’ve sat in my room and I’ve played” (laughs). They should have seen the world and done lots of things and had other interests and connected with all kinds of different people and everything. That’s what I think will help somebody’s music because it’s not just about the playing, it’s about the writing. The song is more important and you only have to be good enough to play the song that you are playing. And I think that musicians forget that. They get so caught up on having the best technique that they forget that it’s about making music. If you want to make interesting music then you have to live an interesting life and feel a lot more than what you are going to get from living with a hand in your guitar.
I’ve heard you say that one of the biggest misconceptions about yourself is that everything you do is a big joke and that all that you want to do is make people laugh. Do you think that the fun side of your personality tends to overshadow the serious side in people’s eyes?
I think so, yes. I think that there are certain things that stand out and grab the attention more than others. If I’m talking about very serious stuff, but then I make some kind of light-hearted joke about it, the joke is what is going to stand out rather than me pouring my heart out or at least 99 percent of it (laughs). If I’m playing a nice melody and then I throw in some crazy riff, everybody is going to point out the crazy riff and they won’t think of the nice melodies and they will think “oh he’s a shredder!”. That happens and that’s just how it is. That’s not something I can really control. How people want to perceive and what affects them and what grabs their attention. But I did notice that over the years. Like I will be singing about something that is very serious and they will be like “that’s such a funny song!” so I’m like “funny song?!” (laughs). It’s like “I’m talking about how I’m on the verge of killing myself and you think that’s funny” (laughs).
"Like if you ask me about my stuff, I can tell you all kinds of plans for the future and what’s going to happen. If you ask about G’N’R, it’s all a big question mark and it really is. It’s not like anything is being hidden, it’s just that nothing can be predicted (big laugh). It’s a weird fucking thing man! "
Back to Guns N’s Roses. You joined the band in 2006 and only two year later the long-awaited album Chinese Democracy came out. It almost seems like your arrival in the band is what triggered the album. Do you think that Buckethead leaving the band made Axl fear the departure of another one of his musicians because the band was not moving on, so he finally did what was left to do, to make the album come out and the band could move on.
I don’t know. I don’t know why it came out then and not sooner. Everything that happened before me I can’t really comment in because I wasn’t there and I really don’t know. All I know is that I got in the band, we toured and in between legs we recorded and then the album came out. So for me, it wasn’t that long of a wait. I think what happened is that the music is done, the album is done and then trying to work things out with the label and trying to come out with a marketing plan or just figuring out the right business when you’re dealing with something so big. I think that when you’re dealing with something that has a potential to bring in a lot of money, people start thinking about their own pockets. This is not just in G’N’R, this is in general. Like if people are going to make a song for free and give it out, I think that everyone will just say “Ok well what looks best for the art?”. Whereas when it’s something where a lot of money was spent, then people will start coming up with plans for how they are going to make money. This isn’t necessarily about G’N’R , this is about anything in life. I think that it gets in the way and it causes conflict, distrust and a lot of battles when it’s me looking out for me versus you looking out for you. In my experience of dealing with record labels, it’s usually not a good experience (laughs). I can only assume that once the album was done, it was not a simple task to work out all of the business between the band, the label, management and any other hands that may be trying to get into the cookie jar. I’m sure that it’s like that for any band that’s making a lot of sales and there is a lot of money invested, spent and planned to be spent. That’s just how it is.
Life is a lot simpler on a smaller level. Like for me, I can call up a small club in Brooklyn and say “hey I want to play next month, do you have any dates available?” – “yeah sure!” So then I show up with my gear and play. Guns N’ Roses can’t just call up Bercy and say “hey, you guys have a free date? We feel like playing next month!” (laughs). It’s a little more complicated, like “alright, how are we going to transport 55 thousand pounds of gear and 60 people and how are we going to do this or that...”. So I think that the bigger a band gets, often the more complicated everything become and the harder it is to get things done and the more time it takes and the more headaches you get. It wears you out and you just don’t want to think about it. I don’t know. This is all speculation mixed with things that I have seen from just living life you know. Not necessarily G’N’R, just anything. I mean why did Chinese take so long? I’m the wrong guy to ask because when I got in, it didn’t take that long. By the time I finished my guitar parts and then the following year the album came out.
Axl has also been criticised by his own record company for not promoting Chinese Democracy resulting in disappointing sales according to them. It seemed almost as though this album was a heavy weight on his shoulders and once released he didn’t want to hear or talk about it anymore in order to move on. Is this what happened according to you?
Well I know that I feel that way about my own albums (laughs)! By the time it’s done, the last thing I want to do is think about it or play it or anything. You know, when it comes to that it’s like, I’ve seen everybody blame everybody. The record label says it’s this person’s fault or the distributors will say that it was this one’s or the band will say it was this one’s... And I don’t know! I would have loved to go out there and immediately start touring and immediately start promoting. In fact I kind of did you know? A few weeks after the album came out, I went to Europe and I did a meet & greet in Paris and London and Berlin. I also did some interviews and stuff. I just did that myself, just to be supportive (laughs). I can’t answer, I can’t get into other people’s heads and I don’t want to speak for anybody else because it’s not really my place to go and do that. People have got to go out there and speak for themselves about things. But for me, I would have loved to get out there and start promoting immediately. So here it is, like it or not. We are exposing it and giving it to you. Check it out, that’s all. You don’t have to like it, just check it out. If you like it then great, but not everybody is going to like everything. That’s how anything is, whether it’s food on your plate or an album that you’re checking out or a piece of art hanging on a wall. So yeah... I mean, despite any lack of promotion, I think it still did 4 or 5 million sales around the world. But you know what? Imagine if we did promote it! (laughs) I think that there is so much controversy about the album that it’s going to be twenty years before people can look back on it and say “alright, what do we think of the music?”. Because at this point, I mean like in this conversation, we haven’t even yet talked about the music on the album (laughs)! We are talking about how much it cost and how long it took, because those are real things that are part of the baggage that come with this album. I think that it’s going to be a while before people stop feeling the weight of that baggage and look back at it thinking “hey check out that album! What a weird experimental introspective album they came out with! And look how many people contributed! No album has ever been like that!” It’s just that kind of album that people are going to talk about and have opinions about before even hearing it. It’s an interesting album with a lot of things to talk about.
Sebastien Bach who is a close friend of Axl’s said that Chinese Democracy was supposed to be the first in a trilogy and that two more albums were supposed to come out after it and that the second one in the trilogy was supposed to come out in 2012. Do you have any details about this and can we expect some Ron Thal signed compositions?
At this point? (laughs) Erm... You know I really can’t say because there’s nothing to tell. It’s frustrating for me because there is nothing to tell about the future of G’N’R because it changes minute to minute. As far as a trilogy is concerned, I don’t know. There is enough music for another two albums, but these are all 10 year old recordings from the Chinese Democracy sessions. Those songs are not new songs and this current band, this relevant band that contains me and DJ and Richard and Frank on drums, we have yet to get in a studio together and sit down on the floor with guitars and just start writing. We have not done that. The only music that is going to be coming out at this point that I see from G’N’R is going to be from 10 years ago with players that have been gone for 5 years and maybe alternative mixes of songs. So it’s like a big chapter in Axl’s musical life that has yet to be closed. I have no idea. I mean shit! We are supposed to tour the US in February and it’s the end of January and no one has even like.... yeah. You can’t make plans. You cannot make any plans when dealing with Guns N’ Roses. Things are just going to happen and they are not going to happen when you think that they are going to happen. That’s just how it is and it can’t be controlled, it can’t be changed. This is just how it is in G’N’R world. And you just roll with it and say “alright”. We were going to tour and then now we are not. It will happen when it is going to happen, and it does. It’s not the kind of thing where... Like if you ask me about my stuff, I can tell you all kinds of plans for the future and what’s going to happen. If you ask about G’N’R, it’s all a big question mark and it really is. It’s not like anything is being hidden, it’s just that nothing can be predicted (big laugh). It’s a weird fucking thing man! (big laugh again)
"I would be doing solos, playing live and the whole time he would be saying stuff into my ear monitors that only I could hear. He was like 'when are you gonna get rid of that fucking toy?! Get a real guitar!' and just like fucking with me, trying to make me trip up and screw up (big laugh)."
There have always been questions, talks and rumours in the media and amongst the fans about a Guns N’ Roses reunion with Slash. Isn’t it a bit frustrating to be living in the shadow of another musician in the eyes of other people despite your obvious talent and contribution to the band?
It’s kind of frustrating, but the reason that it is, is not because of other people, it’s because I feel that we could do more to establish the current band as its own band. It shouldn’t be in the shadow of the past. If a reunion ever happens, I would hope that they would give me some free passes so that me and my wife could go (laughs). You know, that doesn’t bother me. I have no problems with anybody. I mean shit! I just did a signing last week end with Duff! I mean, on my end there’s no problem. Of course I don’t have the history that Axl has with these guys, where he has been through things that... you know... They’re been through war together and for me it’s more like “hey! How are you doing? Let’s go sign some autographs together” and there’s a big difference. So it’s not for me to speculate or say what can happen and what can’t.
So does it bother me that people want a reunion? No! You know what? I love Kiss, I love a whole shitload of bands and if there was a line-up that did an album that I totally loved, I would love to go see that line-up do those songs. It’s normal. And it doesn’t mean that I hate what’s going on now. When I grew up, it was part of the time stamp of my life, for that moment and part of my memories and something that I would love to feel again. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t fault people for feeling that way. What that has to do with my contributions to G’N’R’s current history? It’s two separate things you know. I don’t know, I mean honestly, I don’t think about it much. I’m too busy! I’m making music! (laughs) I’m getting things done. And I don’t think about people wanting a reunion. That’s like the farthest thing from my mind. I’m thinking about putting my new song out and everything else that I have to do this week.
Now on a more humorous note. Has Axl ever had problems with replacing a guy who plays with a KFC bucket on his head and a mask with another guy who plays a foot shaped guitar with bees wings and who goes under the name Bumblefoot?
Figure that one out! (laughs) Axl has diverse taste. You know, it’s like he can run a full gamut by having a bluesy guy playing in the band with a guy who plays a guitar shaped like a foot, and he loves it! Actually, he hated that foot guitar.
Yeah. I would be doing solos, playing live and the whole time he would be saying stuff into my ear monitors that only I could hear. He was like “when are you gonna get rid of that fucking toy?! Get a real guitar!” and just like fucking with me, trying to make me trip up and screw up (big laugh).
Are you still using it?
No, you know, after the 2006 tour, the thing got beaten up pretty badly and I didn’t want it to suffer any more damage so I put it away. I didn’t even know that he hated it until about two years later! Someone told me and I was like “dude! I wouldn’t have used that guitar if you told me you hated it so much!” and he was like “nah, it’s your thing. Do your thing”. That’s what people don’t want to know about him you know. Everyone wants to think of his as this kind of dictator just because he’s the last man standing from... I mean he started the band and he’s still there and he’s not going to end the band no matter who leaves until he decides that he wants to stop. You can do anything. I’ll wear whatever I want, I’ll play whatever I want and he’s got no problem with it. He’ll come on stage and I will quickly change my shirt, he’ll walk on, he’s about to start singing, I just open my jacket and show him a funny shirt and he will just start laughing (big laugh). It’s good man! It’s fine. But I know that because we don’t do a lot of press as a band, people don’t see that side of things. They don’t see us joking around or having fun. Either that or they don’t want to see it, because it’s more fun to talk about the character that people have in their own minds about others than the people that they truly are. It’s interesting you know, I could probably give a good psychology course after playing in G’N’R, just on so many different aspects of life and interaction (laughs).
Interview conducted in january, 2011, by phone.
Transcription : Isabelle
Bumblefoot's Website : www.bumblefoot.com
Guns N' Roses Myspace : http://www.myspace.com/gunsnroses/
This post is also available in: French