By Andrew Catania
The shredtastic Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal took time out of his schedule to discuss the new Sons of Apollo record, how he got recruited and his exit from Guns and Roses.
How did you get the nickname Bumblefoot?
RBT: My wife was in Veterinary School. Hearing about things flying overhead in the world all post-apocalyptic destruction all these creatures and any creature will be a depiction of a visual of what the song is and every song is named after a different animal disease. So from a disease to a song to a record and then, it’s like oh I got to get out there and hit the road and start touring and everything. So the music was pretty wacky So Bumblefoot seemed like a well fitting name for the band. So I started putting out Bumblefoot albums beginning in 1995 and doing everything as Bumblefoot, And when you do that for 20 years, it becomes like a nickname. So it’s a band name, but it’s become like a nickname.
How did you get involved with Sons of Apollo?
RBT: Well I have jammed with Mike, Billy, and Derek in the past over many years, and I’ve laid tracks for Billy for stuff he’s produced, and I’ve laid tracks for Mike with the Metal Allegiance. Mike and I spent a week on a tour bus together, so we have a history with Derek on the Progressive Nation At Sea Cruise. Mike hit me up and told me about the idea of it earlier this year and asked if it’s something I’d be into doing. The plan was to get together from March 1st to March 10th 2017, record the album and then tour. So Derek and I would be on this thread with Mike, and we would just be sending each other riff ideas, ” Hey I just came up with this.”
We just made a stockpile of riff ideas that Derek would make I would go and then when it was time to start recording we had something, to begin with. We would just put our hand in the hat and pulled out a riff. Let’s start with this one and let’s start making songs, and we would jam. By the end of the day, three of us would be recording together, playing live, tracking the album and making songs. Halfway through Billy got off tour and he joined us. It was the four of us then. When Jeff got off tour, the music was all recorded, and Jeff started laying the vocals down.
I went back to my studio playing my guitar solos, and that was just pretty much the way a band should do it and the way the last few albums that I’ve done have been that way where a bunch of guys get in a room and write and record.
Did you have any preconceived notion about what the music would sound like? Some people were thinking this was going to be sounding a lot like Dream Theater.
RBT: I think everything that we do is going to sound a little reminiscent of the things we did because we’re part of those other things as part of this. So there’s always going to be some similarity or something that reminds you of. But to me, it’s just a bunch of guys going in doing what they do. So for me, I knew it was going to be some crazy ass playing by everybody. It would be a lot of metal, a lot of rock, a lot of prog and just everything that we are.
When Billy says something with his bass you understand what you’re going to get. I think the same thing with Mike on the drums, Derek on keys and with Jeff on vocals. God bless him that fantastic voice. What a great guy. And somehow they managed to let me in the room and were kind enough to make me go out and play some guitar notes.
When did you first pick up the guitar?
Well, I heard the KISS ALIVE! Album when I was five years old. And that’s what I wanted to do. So I borrowed a neighbor’s guitar, and I laid it on my lap, and I would strum it like a kick drum and smacked the strings on the neck like a snare drum and play beats on it. And that’s how I saw it. Then someone showed me the proper way where you kind of put it upright reaches your arm around and hold the pick. Honestly, it made no sense. It was much more comfortable just to smack it like a drum. From there I started writing songs and going into lessons and had a band together. By age 6 with eight or nine years old and we had our big logo hanging on the on the wall in the basement and we would do concerts and figured out how to do multi-track recording using cassette recorders where the drums would be 10 feet away, or a little acoustic nylon string guitar is just a foot away playing.
And then we would play that back facing another cassette recorder that would be recording, and we would sing with our faces next to the playback cassette so that we could overdub vocals and we did everything a band should do. So we had our studio recordings of our songs that we played shows at the school across the street, in our basement, backyard and we would sell tickets. We would have cups of confetti to throw up at the end of the show that we would make and everything that KISS was doing. We were just following what our idols did as our role models and following that template and never stopped.
You were highlighted in Mike Varney’s spotlight in 1989.
RBT: He had the spotlight column in the magazine. Everybody kept telling me I should send a recording in. I was making all these funny little guitar songs just for my amusement. So I sent it into the spotlight, and he put me in the August 1989 issue and said some beautiful things, and we stayed in touch. And over the years and five years later I told him I think I’m ready to make a move and we put out Adventures of Bumblefoot in 95 and Hermit in 97 which now the catalog was sold to Orchard. So the Orchard record label now owns the entire Shrapnell catalog. And they rereleased those two albums.
We worked on it together where I remixed the Hermit album and remastered it. I’ve been waiting 20 years to remaster it as it needed it. It sounds so much better. Sounds like a brand new album and they put out on vinyl and CD. We added bonus songs to each record. So now people can go look on Orchards website site they’ll find the Adventures of Bumblefoot and Hermit.
How did you get involved with Guns And Roses?
RBT: Joe Satriani recommended me; I got an email that was in 2004. And then we started talking to the producer of Chinese Democracy. A year and a half later they had a tour lined up, we got together in New York, and we jammed seven times and hit the road for three months and kept on going for eight years.
What made you leave?
RBT: I left because it was time to go and I was burned out, in the end, it was time. I wanted to get back to doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of years. While I was finishing out the shows that were booked, that’s when I started hearing about the details of what was to come with the reunion with Slash and Duff.
Is your cancer still in remission?
RBT: Just had my checkup two days ago and I’m clean and clear.
You can order Sons Of Apollo Psychotic Symphony here
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