Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal: 'Anybody's Normal and Everyone's a Human Being Making Music'

artist: Guns N' Roses date: 07/02/2014 category: hit the lights
I like this
60
voted: 6
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal: 'Anybody's Normal and Everyone's a Human Being Making Music'
When the phone rings the first time in Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal's Las Vegas hotel room, there is no answer. A second call is made 15 minutes later and it is picked up immediately. The guitarist is in Vegas for a residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for "An Evening of Guns N' Roses: Destruction - No Trickery." The gig is at night and during the day Bumblefoot's time is his own. On this particular Thursday, the native New Yorker doesn't answer because he is in the middle of one of his favorite pastimes - engaging in a spicy foods eating contest. When he's not onstage with GN'R, he is consuming the hottest, spiciest, mouth numbing foods he can find. He is a champion of this particular type of gourmet event and the reason he didn't answer the call the first time was because he was still ingesting fiery foods in the competition. "I just ran a little bit late," he says. "I'm so sorry about that. Do you still have time?"

He will apologize several times over the course of our lengthy conversation. Of course there's still time. I ask him if he won and he explains, "I would've won but there was eight plates of food and these were not small plates. After the seventh plate, I ran to the bathroom and tried to puke but couldn't. The last course was a whole fried ghost pepper smothered in hot pepper sauce."

Just hearing the description of the food sets my mouth ablaze. Ron didn't win but his wife did and would donated the money to an animal rescue organization in New Jersey. "It was a fun time," he declares. Fun for Bumblefoot is different than fun for the normal person. Anyone listening to his music knows he works from a different side of the brain than everyone else. His unique guitar solos and riffs are all over the "Chinese Democracy" album but he is so much more than simply the main riff guy in GN'R. Thal is a solo artist, songwriter, producer, and remarkable singer and here we find out a bit about those various things.

UG: It's hard to imagine back in the day that Guns N' Roses would be playing a residency in Las Vegas.

RT: I think years ago, the whole idea of a residency seemed not rock and roll but it's changed. Honestly looking at it from a practical point of view of what's good for everybody, it is the best thing. Let's just start with the crew - they don't have to break down and set up every night and they work harder than anybody. They're setting up at eight o'clock in the morning and the show finishes at four in the morning and they have to do it again the next night.

That's right. You really don't think how great this must be for the crew.

They don't have to do that and I'm so happy for them. The band? We walk downstairs and we play. We can perform better because we're not worn down from travel and lack of sleep. But the real main thing is if the fans wanna see five shows, they don't have to travel five times. They don't need five separate plane tickets and five different hotels to book. They go to one place and they camp out for as long as they want and see as many shows as they want.

This must be paradise for a Guns fan.

We're all there and we get to see them at the center bar. It's fantastic. So it's better for them and because there's less overhead, it's not like we have to 50,000 pounds of gear from point A to point B every night. It should in theory make ticket prices cheaper.

Are ticket prices less?

That's not for the band to decide what happens with that. If it was up to me the places would end up being a lot cheaper because there's just less expenses. So that should be better for everybody as well. The whole environment is more personal and it's not like people watching you on this two-dimensional movie screen and there's this big separation between you and the audience. Everybody is just right and I love that.

Have the level of the performances elevated since you began playing at the Hard Rock?

You can definitely tweak things better. It helps. It's not like you're in some room and not familiar with things. It's not like the front-of-house engineer or monitor engineers have to accommodate and change everything because this particular venue has more low end or bounces more or things like that. Here everything is very consistent and you know what you've got and you can work with that and fine tune it. You have a second, third and fourth chance to fine tune everything to make it even better.

How challenging is it for you as a guitarist to play the music of Guns N' Roses?

I don't think the Guns music is different from any music when it comes to that. Anything you're playing, your heart should be in it. That should always happen. You've just gotta be good enough to play whatever songs you're playing. Actually I need to be twice as good so this way you don't really have to think about it and if you're not at 100 percent, it's not gonna really ruin anything, hah hah hah. You're not gonna cause too much damage. You always have to be twice as good as whatever you're doing.

That's a unique way to look at it.

Definitely with GN'R because it's not my own music, there are a lot of things you have to consider. For one thing, you don't want to go reinterpreting a song that people came there to hear a certain way they've grown with and are attached to. They don't want to hear you improvising. They wanna hear the melodies they love and wanted to hear. So you can't go rewriting a song just to be self-indulgent.

Do you get a chance to rip once in a while?

There are moments for that where if there's a long outro solo where it just goes and goes and however long it's gonna go. You can take liberties and just do your thing. But you definitely don't want to rewrite the melodies to the songs that make the song what it is. So when it comes to those, it's just like any other melody whether you wrote it or not. You're playing it and when you're playing, you want to give everything you have to it. You want all your emotions and it's not just about technically playing it well. Sometimes that's the least of it.

It's not what you play but how you play it?

It's more the attitude, the personality and the spirit you give everything.

You keep pretty faithful to Slash's original solos?

Definitely, yeah. It's a respect thing and a respect for the music and the audience. You have to realize it's not all about you - it's about them and what they should be getting.

When you first joined Guns N'Roses, how aware were you of joining this iconic band and replacing Slash?

I looked at it not as pressure as in, "I need to be better than anyone" other than just being better than myself. For me my attitude was, "OK, I've been handed the torch and it's up to me to run with it as long as I can until it's time for me to hand over the torch or until the torch goes out or whatever's gonna happen. I've been handed the torch and now I need to run with it." That's how I look at it. You don't compete with the last person that had the torch. You just say, "Alright, we gotta keep this thing going and keep it alive and just make it as good as you can make it."

Has that approach worked?

Of course the fans don't look at it that way. They look at it like suddenly a new addition to the family was brought in without their consent. Or they look at it more like sports teams or superheroes - good versus evil and deciding, "Which is good? Which is evil?"

Were you the good guitar player or the bad one?

I think the fans forget we are all one family of musicians and people's times come and go in different things they do. It's almost like I guess you could say different sports that are also playing the same game and have the mutual respect for each other. It's just the fans are gonna root for one team or the other or favor one team over the other or maybe they like both. But it's a different perspective I think that fans have than the actual people have. They see the superheroes. They might see the guy with the doubleneck and the beard and the guy with the iconic tophat and the mane of curly hair. They see not the objects but just the personas.

Did Joe Satriani originally recommend you for the gig?

Yeah, ten years ago. Joe emailed me and said, "Hey, I just recommended you for the band. They're looking for somebody. Just so you know if someone reaches out that it's legit." A few hours later Chris Pitman [keyboards] reached out and then I started talking to the producer of "Chinese Democracy," Caram Costanzo and the manager at the time, Merck. We spoke for about two months just emailing and conversations. Then there was a long period of nothingness.

What happened?

There was a reason for that. I told 'em no.

Did you really?

After having some dealings with the management, I didn't like how they were doing things. It was something I didn't want in my life 'cause at that time my life was totally good. I didn't need it. I was putting out albums. I was touring the world and I was an adjunct professor at SUNY Purchase College teaching Music Production. I had my own studio and a whole entire second house I turned into a studio. I was producing a ton of bands and making music for TV shows, video games and indie films. I was doing so much and was so gratified doing it all, I knew if I joined Guns I would lose a lot of that and I wouldn't have the time.

It's understandable why you didn't immediately jump on the gig.

I didn't want to give all of that up. I wanted to just keep nurturing everything I was doing and let it keep growing. The way things were going with management at that time, I just didn't like the way they did things and the way they handled situations. And I told them, "No. I just don't want that in my life." I felt it would be toxic.

What was their response?

It ended up turning into a whole big thing with them and we didn't talk for a year-and-a-half. Then they reached out and said, "Can we work this out?" We got together in New York and we jammed. Did like three songs and got together and it was like, "Alright, cool. We'll get tomorrow night and do another three." We jammed seven times and hit the road and that was it.

When did that happen?

May 2006 was when it officially began.

How did those first jams feel to you musically?

I jammed with a lot of people at that time. I would jam with people. I always just did my own band and I would do other things on the side and random stuff. I think I had just played with Nancy Sinatra. She was so cool. So I was like, "Yeah, let's jam." I just got together and we jammed and it was fun.

You weren't look at it like a sort of audition for Guns N' Roses?

Without sounding belittling, I wasn't thinking of it like a huge deal. I was thinking, "Alright, these are just another bunch of guys. We're gonna jam and go out and do some stuff and have some fun." I figured we would be playing - I didn't know where we'd be playing - the House of Blues-type places. The next thing you know we go to Europe and festivals for 100,000 people where we're headlining. We're like, "What the hell? Alright, it is what it is." I didn't think it was at that level but obviously I was wrong. It was an experience.

What was it like meeting Axl the first time?

I had no preconceived ideas about the guy. You hear lots of things but I've learned the people with the strongest opinions are the ones that have the least experience and that's pretty much with anything. Even when traveling, people that had the harshest opinions about a place were the ones that have never been there as opposed to the ones that have and had a more realistic and not so scathing review. It's the same with people and I found that to be true with Axl as well.

He wasn't the way people described him?

The first time I met him, he came down to a rehearsal and we jammed to the song "Riad" and he was yelling in my ear, "This part of the song reminds me of 'Hey Bulldog' from the Beatles." I was like, "Yeah, you're right." Eating some burgers and it was just totally normal. That's the thing - anybody's normal and everyone's a human being making music.

Some are just more normal than others.

Everyone has their own personalities and own quirks and that's anywhere and anyone in life. I think people tend to build up others into these icons and idols and objects that aren't human. It's not a healthy thing to do but it can be a fun thing to do for a lot of people. But ultimately everyone is just an imperfect, normal, human being and that's fine. That's a good thing.

What was it like working on the "Chinese Democracy" record?

Those were definitely the most challenging I ever had in the studio. Usually I'd go in and bang something out and it would be great. But when we were doing the "Chinese..." stuff it was songs I never heard before. They wouldn't give me any listen ahead of times to get to know the songs and to think about them. To get to know the song and grow with it and learn everything else that's going on in it so that I could really find my own voice within it all.

That must have been unbelievably hard.

We would go to studios in LA or New York and it would be Caram and his assistant Eric [Tabala]. I'd be playing to the song I never heard before that is already completely full with drums, loops, bass and a multitude of guitar tracks from all different people over time. All different keyboards, strings, vocals and backing vocals. It's like, "How am I supposed to fit something in here without stepping on something else?"

How did you maneuver through the tracks?

I'm trying all different things and taking all different approaches. As I'm playing and doing it, I'll have one guy saying, "Yeah, that's perfect" while the other guy is yelling at me, "No, not that" at the same. This would go on for 14 hours a day. I would do things where I would play and just start with rhythm stuff. Maybe doing something sort of riffy or something more street or choppy. I'd grab the wah pedal or something where I'd do in on the fretless or more technical or spacious melodies. I tried all different stuff. I did a hundred things per song on some takes.

You just tried everything?

Caram would start going through them all and piecing things together. We'd be doing it in New York and Axl would be taking care of business in LA. We'd give him a call at two in the morning and play something over the phone. Then when it was time for the album to be done, they just went through it all and decided what fit best and what they thought was the best direction for the song guitar-wise with the different parts.

What did you think of the final tracks?

It was a surprise to me. I'm like, "Did I play that? That's right, I did." Some of the stuff came out really interesting.

"Shackler's Revenge" was a really great track.

That one's my favorite. I do wish I was given a chance to know the music better and developed a relationship with the songs before laying the tracks down. I think it would have been something even better. It would have connected even better and it would have had more of my personality to it.

Why didn't the producers allow you to live with the tracks beforehand?

Honestly, I think it was they were worried about leaks. They did not want to have any music out there. Even when I had to learn the songs to start touring in the very beginning when I was first joining the band, they wouldn't give me the music to learn. So I had to learn all the stuff on "Chinese Democracy" we were gonna play live, I learned it with a pen and paper and headphones on the road manager's laptop in a half-hour just writing while the band was taking a break from rehearsal in the next room.

That's pretty insane.

I was like, "Alright, let me just quickly in a half-hour take notes and make little cheat sheets and learn everything I need to learn." All that crazy stuff I had to get down in a half-hour with pen and paper and memory and that's it.

The title song "Chinese Democracy" was another cool track.

Yeah, I added the fretless riffs behind the verses and that was really the main contribution to the song.

There is also some great playing on "Better."

Yeah, I mean the trouble with that album is you don't really know who's doing what. In "Better" I actually did these background bluesy riffs in the second verse right before the second chorus. I did some fretless stuff about the big bridge before the last choruses. There's a lot going on. I'm trying to remember how many different guitars are on that album.

That is unfortunate that the liner notes don't more accurately indicate who is playing what on each song.

One thing I do like about playing it live is there is a very singular stream of sound coming from each individual, so it's very easy to pick out the people. It's not like trying to hear a certain viola player within an orchestra. You can hear each individual and that's important. For something to sound like a band, you need to hear the individual. You need to say, "Oh, that's this guy playing or that's that guy playing."

Why did Axl use so many different musicians to work on "Chinese Democracy?"

I think it was just the album had spanned such an amount of time where people came and went. He really felt their contributions were vital to the songs and didn't want to erase them just because the person wasn't there anymore. There's no album in the history of rock music that has had that kind of journey. This album had so many people coming and going and adding their contributions to it and technology changing and the whole life story of making that album is not like any other album.

Was that a positive or negative element?

People can look at it as a band thing or look at it as a good and unique thing and say, "Wow, there will never be another album that has these people doing these things in this way that took this amount of time and became this."

In a strange way, if this hadn't been a long-awaited Guns N' Roses record and was just a record from some new band, the reception would have been entirely different.

There was so much baggage attached, I think when it finally came out people were seeing the package along with listening to it. They're listening to saying, "Well, this took X amount of years and X amount of dollars" instead of just listening to it. And also saying, "Well, it doesn't have these guys but it still has this name."

It is very hard to separate the mythology from the music.

It's all of that instead of clearing their minds and saying, "Let me just listen to this with nothing added to it." And just say, "OK, this is music. How do I like it?" Not, "How do I compare it?" but "How do I like it?" I think it's the kind of thing where it's gonna take 20 years before people look back on that album and really accept it as it is without the baggage and whether they like it or not or are indifferent to it. However they feel about it, I think it would take 20 years after the album's release for people to truly judge it just on the music.

Talking about music, back in 2011 you started releasing one song a month as a solo artist. Where did that come from?

I wanted to do another album and the thing about doing an album is it takes a lot of dedication of time and momentum. I didn't have it with all the touring and everything else in life backed up from the touring you're trying to squeeze in-between the touring. There was just no way to devote yourself for nine months to make an album. So instead of trying to take on this whole monumental task, I figured, "Well, let me just take little bites and take it in small doses." So I set deadlines for myself of one song every month and I'd pick a different cover or original song and would record it. I would do a transcription of all the main guitar parts for it and make backing tracks and boosted lead tracks as a reference. I made stems for people that wanted to make their own mixes or make a version where they just used the drums and bass and they played the guitar to it. And just tried to make every month this song-released event than putting out a whole album where it just would've been too much to take on.

One of the first songs you released was "Strawberry Fields Forever." That's one of your favorite songs of all time, right?

That's the thing - you love a song because it's a great song and it's perfect the way it is and you could never do it better. And for some reason that's what makes you want to do a cover of it. Because you love it that much but no matter what it'll be better. So you just try and treat like a dedication and do it your way not for the sake of being different but, "This is me doing a song I really love."

Did you listen to every guitar lick in that song to get it right?

Totally. For that one I went back and dissected [everything]. I reversed the song so I could hear exactly what the reversed drums were doing then played them and reversed that so it would be correct. All of that, yeah. That one I really wanted to build it properly.

You also covered Herman's Hermits' "There's a Kind of Hush," which was an amazing song from the '60s.

I loved '60s and '70s feelgood kind of music. Everything from Motown to lounge music. I think I just kind of run a pretty wide spectrum 'cause at the same time I love Manowar and I'm a huge Manowar fan. So it's like I'm a huge fan of Manowar and Englebert Humperdinck.

Mickie Most produced "There's a Kind of Hush" and also worked with Donovan, Lulu, Jeff Beck and a lot of other '60s bands. Did you listen to his productions at all?

Definitely. I didn't try and copy the productions at all. But if that production wasn't there, the song would not have resonated the way it did.

One of your recent projects was Tony Harnell & the Wildflowers Featuring Bumblefoot, which was an acoustic thing with violins. "Burning Daylight" was a great song.

That was the one song we got to write together. The other stuff he already had and wrote with Jason, the other guitar player. I kinda got in there towards the last innings of the game and we wrote that together and I added my guitar tracks to the other songs.

You've played a lot of acoustic in your career. This feeds a different side of you than the electric stuff?

Oh, yeah. So much about the dynamics and the song. I mean it always is but it shines through more on an acoustic than an electric. An electric sounds a bit saturated and is not quite as dynamic as an acoustic. So yeah, there's a different approach to it all. I do like doing a lot of acoustic versions of things. To do an acoustic album of my own stuff as well. I did an album called Barefoot (the acoustic ep), a little EP and it was one of the favorite things I did.

You dug the acoustic thing?

I thought about it like, "Most of the time I'm playing, I'm sitting on my couch and doing 10 other things with an acoustic guitar in my hand. Yet I haven't done an acoustic album or a lot of acoustic music and I should." So I made these other versions of my heavier songs acoustically. Like the song "Abnormal," I took the craziest part of the song and made it the most melodic part of the acoustic version. It was to take a song and interpret it in a different way of acoustic.

The Wildflowers covered Queen's "Somebody to Love."

Yeah, that's a bold one.

Absolutely. Along with your acoustic playing, you're doing a lot of singing. You have an amazing voice.

It's what I've always done. It's weird. From the beginning, I just wanted to be in a band like Kiss. I wanted a bunch of guys you know by their first names collectively and making songs and being a band. It wasn't about guitar virtuosity or any of that or guitar hero stuff.

That's what you were known for but that's not really what you wanted to do?

What happened was people just started wanting that from me and you gotta give the people what they want. So doing things for Shrapnel records and guitar-oriented music. Guns wanted a guitar player - they didn't want a singer. But for my own music, I write songs and I sing 'em and I play guitar on 'em and that's it. I just sing the way I sing and play the way I play. People will take notice of whatever aspect of the entire picture they like to look at it. Some might say, "Oh, I like the way he sings" or "I like the way the plays" or "I like the song." Or some just, "Don't like any of it," hah hah hah.

In truth you really are much more than a very talented guitar player.

I think people don't realize especially once you join a high-profile band, it takes everything else that previously defined you and you become redefined. So I went from being a singer/guitar player fronting a band called Bumblefoot to the new guy in the new version of Guns that plays guitar. And no one even knows I do anything else. So they think I'm just the silent guitar player that plays the "Sweet Child O' Mine" solo as best he can and hopes the audience likes it.

Certainly you want to do more than that musically?

Over the last year, I've been going out and doing a lot more solo shows and letting people get to know me for who I really am and not just the one side of me that you see with Guns.

You mentioned earlier you always wanted to have your own band. Why do you think that never happened?

I think other musicians wanted to take it as far as I wanted to take it. That's really what it was. I wanted to live this and the people living it with me had a cutoff point where they would say, "I don't want to leave my day job. I don't want to travel for a month. I don't want to go on tour. I don't want to go in the studio." It was just one point where they didn't want it to become work or didn't want it to become their life.

You never had any early bands that might have had a chance for success if they could have made it to that next level?

I think if any of them were willing to see it through, they absolutely would have gone far. But they just didn't want to take that leap. They just didn't. If they stuck it through? Absolutely.

Was Bumblefoot first exposed to the world in 1995 when you released "The Adventures of Bumblefoot?"

Pretty much. That was when it became legitimate I guess you could say. That's when it was starting to be taken seriously. It was like, "Alright, he signed and just put out his fourth album. OK, this isn't just a basement shredder making demos on comp CDs. This is going somewhere."

Were you excited by the idea of finally breaking through to a larger audience?

Oh, I was excited. I was spending day and night in mom's basement when I lived with my parents and just banging out songs and coming up with anything I could. I remember - what's the word? - there was this freedom of expression and the freedom to just do what you do with no expectations from anyone or no guide. Just "Do what you do and be as much of who you are as you are."

You were happy with what you'd done?

I think it came out great. I think the songs on there were very kind of real. I mean they always are but it was in its own box and it was its own thing. There was nothing that really sounded like it and it wasn't trying to be different - it was just truly being itself.

There were remarkable songs on that album.

I think that happens more when I do instrumental music than when I do vocal music. If I want to do vocal music it becomes a little more normal, hah. Even now if I thrown an instrumental song on one of the later albums, it's just as whacky as something that would have been on that first "The Adventures of..." album. Like "Guitars Still Stuck" [Abnormal] is just as whacky as anything that could have been of "Adventures." Or the song "Spaghetti."

In 1997, you released the second album, "Hermit." Were you even more comfortable by this time as a solo artist?

It's funny because when I signed that deal, I was more under the impression my band was getting signed and that we were gonna be doing the songs my band was doing. Which is actually something similar to the first Bumblefoot album, Hands. [Mike] Varney ran the label [Shrapnel Records] said, "OK, well let's just do an instrumental guitar album first to introduce you to the world."

That wasn't your intention?

It's not really what I wanted to do and wasn't the plan I thought we really had. But we did it and I give him my all and I was really happy with it. Then when we were doing the Hermit album, it was sort of, "OK, now we're back on track and back to the game plan we're supposed to have." But he was very involved in the creative part of it in a way of, "Oh, you can't sing. You shouldn't sing about this or you can't say this. It sounds like this song is about this so we can't use it." Things like that.

That sounds like a nightmare.

He had directions he wanted the album to be in and I could spend six months in the studio slaving away at trying to make an album that fits what the label wanted it to be. Then the label decides that, "Oh, we changed our mind. Let's go with a different direction." It was like, "OK, well so that means I could be making 20 albums for you while living on 16-cent soups every day. And you never even released them because you changed your mind." We managed to get Hermit out and after that I started my own label where I would be able to make decisions not just creatively but business-wise. I needed to own the masters and own the publishing so if someone said, "Hey, we want to put this in a movie," I can say yes.

Which is where "Hands" came from?

Yeah, "Hands" was picking up where I left off after being signed. It was, "Alright. Let me get back to doing what I want to do and how I want to do it." With the Shrapnel releases, only a certain amount of albums were printed and when they sold out they didn't reprint and nobody could get my albums anymore.

That's ridiculous.

They would be selling on eBay for as much as $600. It was insane. Every day I would be getting messages from people saying, "Where can I get your album?" and I was like, "I can't even get my album. They don't exist anymore."

You started your own label?

A record label/production company so I can release my own music, which thankfully now is very easy to do for people. But in the mid- to late-'90s it was not quite as easy and there weren't as many avenues to get your music out. But I did it. Reaching out to distributors and selling online was a brand new thing and I was jumping all over it. Contacting Amazon, CD Baby and all these companies to get in on this new thing. I felt that was the way to go and retail was not gonna last against something so easy for people to get music.

Ease-of-access to your music was an important part of it?

I wanted it to be easy. I remember I had a computer that was permanently connected 24/7 to Napster in the basement. Where I had any song I wanted to consider a single I had on there for anyone to take plus any live versions of things and any other information. I was using Napster as a promotional tour to get people to know what I was doing.

"Brooklyn Steakhouse" from the "Hands" CD was the first song that included a solo played on the Vigier guitar.

Yeah. I was playing my own concoctions of modified guitars that I would chop up and turn into the Swiss cheese guitar or the weird doubleneck or a fretless with coins on the neck and all kinds of crazy stuff.

When you got the Viger, was that an important moment for you in your development as a guitarist?

I wasn't looking to hook up with any guitar company. I was happy with the guitars I was making and that was just part of what I do. I was touring in France and a Vigier rep said, "Please just try the guitar. Play it."

How did it play?

The thing played so much better than my guitars, hah hah hah. It did. It sounded better, it played better and felt better. Everything about it. I got to know the people at the company and they were wonderful. I've been with them now for 17 years and they're like family. They make wonderful guitars. They gave me that first guitar after the tour in '97 in France. I was working on the Hands album at the time and I took the guitar home and busted out the solos to "Brooklyn Steakhouse." So yeah, that was the first thing I recorded with the Vigier guitar.

In 1998, you were going to open for Van Halen in Paris but the show was cancelled. Was that a total bummer? You were a big Van Halen guy, right?

Oh yeah, a huge Van Halen fan. That was a bummer. Absolutely. Any time a show gets cancelled is a bummer. I remember back then it seemed like people were doing a lot of things and I was the last to know. It was like, "Oh wait, I'm supposed to play in July in Paris. Someone probably should have told me so I could be there." But that happens and still happens.

In 2002, you scored a publishing deal with Carlin and began writing for television?

It was good, yeah. It was a different way of writing. It was like writing with a purpose and a direction and intention as opposed to throwing paint at a canvas and then seeing what it looks like and taking it from there. You already have an idea of what needs to be done and guidelines and certain boundaries to stay within. Like if they say, "Yeah, we're looking for a poppy punky song. So write one that sounds like this or that." Then you have to find your inspiration for it and see what you can come up with. In some ways it's a lot easier because you already have the direction and in some ways it's harder because you already have a direction and have to stay within the lines.

Talking about inspiration, did you sort of lose your way a bit in 2003? Did you suffer from depression do you think?

Oh, yeah. I think I was just working too hard.

A lot of those feelings ended up on the "Normal" album?

Yeah, I was really just burnt out on life. And yeah, everything for a reason. That was my best album out of those dark moments. I picture songwriting like this human meat grinder you put all this raw stuff into and then you churn out something that is delicious for people. I guess it works that way where a songwriter will take their deepest and darkest or lightest or their most personal experiences and feelings and put 'em out in a way that connects people or speaks for people or makes people feel understood.

If you had to name check your songwriting inspirations, who would you mention?

Oh, there's been so many. Anything from old Charlie Christian jazz blues to Muse. All the classic '60s and '70s bands and the Motown stuff. Definitely the Beatles of course. They were a huge inspiration and the greatest songwriters. Every one of 'em and combined just huge. Lennon is amazing and McCartney is amazing and put the two together and it's exponentially greater than they were on their own. Two plus two equals 10,000.

What about your guitar influences?

Definitely Eddie Van Halen. Eddie was huge and probably had the most impact out of any guitar player. Definitely Jimi Hendrix and then you've got guys like Brian May, Ace Frehley and Angus Young. Brian for the musicality and melody and Ace Frehley for the most singable parts of a song. His solos are more singable than the vocal lines. Angus for the relentless energy and spirit.

You're going out on the Guitar Gods Tour with Yngwie Malmsteen?

Yeah, he was an inspiration. I remember hearing the "Steeler" album with Ron Keel that he did for the first time. His guitar solo on that album and just trying to learn it note-for-note and going through all those harmonic scales and getting the picking clean. Yeah, huge.

What are your expectations of the Guitar Gods Tour?

That is gonna be fun. You've got my band with Dennis Leeflang who's been my drummer for a dozen years, Frankie Italiano on bass and Rocco Monterosso on rhythm guitar. They've been friends of mine for a good 25 years since we were teenagers playing in all kinds of bands together in New York. On our vehicle together with us in the traveling circus we're gonna be is Gary Hoey who I've jammed with in the past at fundraisers. He's a wonderful guy and a phenomenal player and singer and entertainer and his band. So we're gonna be on our own little bus just acting like a bunch of whacky, silly dudes. It's gonna be a lot of fun and I think our faces are gonna hurt from laughing so much.

The tour sounds amazing.

In fact we're just about to put out a little crowd funding thing just 'cause the gas and expenses to do this tour are pretty high. Besides taking care of the bandmembers, just the vehicle itself is gonna be about $13, 00 or $14, 000 just in gas. So we're trying to see if we can come up with something to help fund those expenses where in return we can do some whacky stuff. I remember just cracking up on the phone with Gary Hoey as I was off the top of my head coming up with the most ridiculous incentives. One of them is - I don't expect anyone to do this and I really hope they don't - for $5, 000 I will wear the same pair of underwear for the entire tour. I will write the person's name on the waistband and take a picture before every show so that they see it and then at the end of the tour I'm mailing them the underwear with a guitar pick.

You never know. People do insane things.

I mean ridiculous, bizarre things. You know how you're thinking of stuff and they just get weirder and weirder? Another one is I would tape a picture of somebody's mother or dog to my thigh for an entire show. Then there's normal stuff too like you get the whole discography or a signed guitar or you get to hang out with the band for a day. There was one where we'd call the person or give them any kind of audio message explaining why they were speeding so they can show it to the judge at traffic court. Or "It's not you - it's me" if they have to break up with their girlfriend. Or write a short little acoustic song on any topic of a person's choice. All kinds of fun, crazy things.

Are you working on anything new?

I can tell you I have the drums done to seven songs for my next album. The first chance I get, I'll be writing the rest of the tracks on those and writing more songs. I will definitely have a new Bumblefoot album out as soon as possible.

Vocals and instrumentals?

Probably all vocals but maybe I'll end up with instrumentals. At this point it's seven vocal songs and that's a sure thing. As long as I'm alive that thing is coming out.

Though playing in Guns N' Roses is an amazing gig, there are so many other things you do like write, sing and arrange that you're not able to do in that band.

Definitely in Guns I don't get to really show all that I am. I'm just one-eighth of what's going on onstage and not even writing unless we're just making up some jam on the spot onstage. If I had to say who I am it's like, "Look at my solo music" and then say, "It's that guy playing guitar in Guns."

Everything else is good with you?

Everything is great. It's all good.

The spiciness has gone away?

Whew. I'm feeling it.

Thank you for your time and play all the good notes.

Hahhh, will do. Thank you for your great questions and all your time. Alright, man, you have a great one. I'll talk to you soon.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
Comments
Your captcha is incorrect