Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal continues the illuminating conversation which sheds light on how he came to join Guns N' Roses, the album "Chinese Democracy", touring, the band's 2010 lineup, and notions surrounding the group and frontman Axl Rose. The beginning of the interview can be found at the following location.
When you originally joined Guns N' Roses, how far in development was 'Chinese Democracy'?
I would say 'Chinese Democracy' was pretty far along. Everything was written, and a lot of things were recorded. 'Chinese Democracy' wasn't completely done; there were still more guitar tracks to be done, and some other drum ideas that Frank put in. Recording wise, it's hard to say, but about eighty to eighty-five percent? Maybe something like that. Eighty-five percent, from what I heard.
On what parts of 'Chinese Democracy' would you say your guitar playing can be particularly heard, and how would you describe those parts?
I think before I played on 'Chinese Democracy', it seemed very tight and more industrial when I listened to it. I felt like the album needed sleaze, and just more sloppy rock 'n' roll (laughs). I put on rhythm tracks that were more riffy; if you listen more towards the right speaker, you just hear this kind of brown toned Marshall rhythm track which just throws a lot of riffs in there and stuff. Things like that I put in there, and all the fretless stuff. I could go through every song, and tell you what I did. Let's see... "Chinese Democracy"; rhythm tracks, and all the fretless stuff in the verses I came up with... "Shackler's Revenge"; riffs during the verses, rhythms, and all kinds of bends and tapping melodies at the end of the last chorus, and the guitar solos. Live I sing the chorus and play the tapping solo at the same time... "Better"; rhythm tracks, and a little slide in this one empty spot, on the fretless. In the second verse, I added some kind of bluesy riffs under the vocals... "Street of Dreams"; rhythm stuff and riffs... "If the World"; little solo riffs during the verses, and the chorus and rhythm tracks, and a couple of little solo things going into the choruses and under the choruses... "There Was A Time"; rhythms in the choruses with a riffy little lift towards the end of each, rhythms throughout... "Catcher in the Rye"; I came up with little parts for the guitars and melodies throughout the verses, rhythm tracks, the solo, the end solos, going back and forth with Axl's vocals... "Scraped"; rhythm tracks, solo on the fretless guitar... "Riad N' the Bedouins"; the main solo in the middle of the song, and rhythm tracks throughout... "Sorry"; rhythm tracks, and at the end of each chorus there's a solo guitar going on, that's my soloing there... "I. R. S."; just rhythm, and sleazy stuff throughout, riffy stuff throughout the song... "Madagascar"; rhythms in the choruses, and just slight riffy shit to the rhythms every once in awhile, breaking out in the choruses... "This I Love"; just rhythms underneath it all... "Prostitute"; just rhythms throughout... Yeah. That I believe is everything. I think (laughs).
Yeah (laughs). 'Chinese Democracy' has been available to purchase since November 2008, so now you've had time to fully digest the album and everything, what is your view on it?
My view on 'Chinese Democracy'? Well first, I think it's so different from the music that the band started with. To me, it's like comparing 'The White Album' (1968) to 'Meet the Beatles!' (1964). I always think of everything in terms of The Beatles, because I'm just a big Beatles fanatic. To me, 'Appetite For Destruction' came out, and that was everything up until 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964) - it was the thing that just blew everyone away. Shea Stadium, 1965, couldn't even hear the band; it was just the audience screaming, and pissing in their pants. As they then started getting more into the musical side of things with the 'Use Your Illusion' albums, that is equivalent to getting more into 'Revolver' (1966) and 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967), where it was becoming more musical. It wasn't just attitude and rock 'n' roll - they were starting to really compose. Now The Beatles, they kept on putting albums out and you can chart the changes as the band morphed into what they became in their last few years, with 'The White Album', 'Let It Be' (1970), 'Abbey Road' (1969).
The thing about Guns N' Roses is it all happened in a cocoon, where it went in as one creature and came out as something totally different. I think that because of that, when 'Chinese Democracy' came out, people thought "That's not the caterpillar I was expecting". It was like "Right. It's a butterfly". I think it took probably a good year (laughs) for people to start forgetting about the baggage that was attached to this album, like the issue that it's not the same band members, it's not all the same band members that wrote and played on it, and that it's not the same sounding music. Guns N' Roses is a different creature now, but that's what makes it special. Where else in the history of rock music are you gonna find an album that has a decade of all these different people contributing all this cool stuff? Robin, and Paul, and Brain, and Buckethead, and me and Frank, and Tommy and Richard, and Dizzy and Pitman, and Sebastian Bach too. Nowhere are you gonna find an album that has such a history to it, and that has accumulated so many building blocks from such a long journey.
To me, 'Chinese Democracy' isn't your typical album where you write it, record it, release it, promote it, and tour. This is a totally different creature, and I think a lot of people needed a minute to realize that for it to sink in, and to stop trying to fit it into the mould of a typical album because it's not a typical album. It's so much more experimental, and it's just a totally different thing. To me, 'Chinese Democracy' is 'The White Album' for G N' R in a way. Maybe I'm wrong, but to me it seems like the album is more accepted now than it was when it first came out, and that over time, people are gonna forget about the journey that it took to come out, and they're just gonna listen to the songs and the music and just take them as they are. Either they like them or they don't.
I found as we played these shows in Asia, that people are really responding to the new songs. I didn't know how people would react, because you know that they're gonna cheer like crazy for "Welcome to the Jungle", for "Paradise City", for "Sweet Child O' Mine", for "Nightrain", but now they're cheering for "Street Of Dreams", and for "Better", and for "Prostitute" (laughs). When the song kicks in, they know what song it is and they burst out, and it's good to see. I'm glad that that's happening, and I hope that in time, when this is all just history and people are looking back on it, that people will appreciate this one of a kind fucking genuine experience that brought this album to be what it is. For me, how do I think of the album? I just think of it as this long road that finally reached its destination. It's like driving a very long drive, and finally getting there (laughs).
Do you feel 'Chinese Democracy' was unfairly criticized?
I think that people definitely judged 'Chinese Democracy' without listening to it a lot of the time, and I think they based their ideas on what they thought of G N' R's current situation, or on their opinion of Axl and things like that. I think that definitely biased some people, but not all. I think with any album, people are gonna love it, people are gonna hate it, and some people will just be indifferent, and it won't mean anything either way. With the amount of expectation for the album though, I think that it definitely changed the way people viewed it, and they went into listening to it with ideas already in their heads. It's hard not to with an album that took longer than usual to be released, but then sometimes albums take time.
Do you feel that some hoped for 'Appetite For Destruction Part Two'?
I'm sure there were those expecting that, yeah, but again, they were expecting the caterpillar and not the butterfly - the whole cocoon thing. It's like where The Beatles became long haired, screaming hippie dudes, but people were still expecting the mop tops to come out, and go "WOOOOoooo". People just continued where they left off with it, so if they left off at 'A Hard Day's Night', they're expecting 'Beatles For Sale' (1964) next.
Have you had an opportunity to contribute to Guns N' Roses on a songwriting level yet?
Not yet. I have a whole bunch of ideas - we all do. But before thinking about the next album, I just wanna get the fuck out there and just focus on this one, the touring, and whatever kind of promotion there might be.
But having said that, do you feel fans can expect future Guns N' Roses albums?
Ya' never know what's gonna happen, and the thing about G N' R is just when you think you know what direction the storm is moving in, it does a 180 and just defies nature (laughs). You can never predict. I would love to get this band into the studio, and just bust out shitloads of music, and just keep putting it out. It's all about being prolific; if you're a music maker, you got to go out and make music, and that's my love anyway. I love the studio more than anything, and I would love to get in the studio, and really write together from scratch - not add my own parts to pre-existing songs, but just play them from the beginning. There was one time in the studio where I was talking to Frank, and I said "Right, time me. Two minutes. Let's see how many songs I can come up with in two minutes for the next album", which was six really cool riffs and things, and ideas and so on. We could definitely do it. I guess it's just a question of: does it feel right? Are all the planets aligned? You know what I mean? It's whether it feels like the right thing to do. We'll see, but I would love it. I think it would be a blast, and I think that we can easily bust out some really good music that people would enjoy. I would love to do it.
"My view on 'Chinese Democracy'? Well first, I think it's so different from the music that the band started with."
Is there a particular musical direction you'd like to venture in?
A direction I'd like to go in? I don't know... just loud, nasty rock 'n' roll with good melodic stuff, and just ... I don't know. I just wanna write good shit (laughs), whatever it is. If I had to compare it to songs on 'Chinese Democracy', I guess songs like "Scraped" - ones that just have good lines, energy, that get you amped up.
What is it like to work with Axl Rose? You obviously have those who comment on forums, thinking they know everything, saying "Axl acts like this" and all that rubbish. But what is it actually like to work with the man?
All the people that don't know anything are the ones who do all the talking (laughs). They try to fool everyone into thinking that they have an idea about how things are. It's like working with anyone else - it's fine. It's just normal, at least to me. It's just pretty normal, and the funny thing is if I say something positive, the response to that from the sceptics is "Oh, he's getting paid to say that" (laughs). One thing I've realized is there's no truth in this; it's only entertainment, and people believe what entertains them the most. Truth is irrelevant; I can tell the truth, and if it's not entertaining enough, people will call you a liar. The truth, as boring as it is, is that it's fine. Since I've joined the group, we immediately went on tour, and we finished recording 'Chinese Democracy', and the album came out. That's it.
So basically then, you feel that there are lot of misunderstandings out there?
Well, the thing is people believe what entertains them, and that's what it is. I remember one time me and my wife were at some party, and some guy followed me and my wife around for an hour and a half, asking us questions to the backs of our heads. All these stupid things he asked, like saying to my wife "Do you have to drive in a separate car behind the tour bus like in that movie 'Rock Star'?", stupid things like that. We just laughed at the guy, but I think he was serious. People just want to be entertained, and that's what it is. Truth doesn't matter, because what's entertaining is what people are gonna gravitate towards.
Some disgruntled Guns N' Roses fans make the comment that the group's current lineup isn't Guns N' Roses, but is actually Axl Rose's solo project. What is your response to that?
They're right in their own mind if it isn't Guns N' Roses as they define Guns N' Roses. If you don't like calling it Guns N' Roses, call it G N' R, and if that makes you feel better, then good. That's what I like to call it - G N' R. If you feel Guns N' Roses is so strongly defined by the members that were on its debut album, fine, call this G N' R and find something else to cry about - something worthwhile. There's bigger problems in the world than what a band is calling itself. Jesus, it's fucking rock 'n' roll. We're just going out there, playing, and having a good time. Call it G N' R and enjoy it, that's all. That's my suggestion if the name's really a problem for anyone - if you wanna listen to Guns N' Roses, put on the 'Appetite' album, be happy, and if you wanna listen to G N' R, put on 'Chinese Democracy' and come to a show.
Definitely. So basically then, what you're saying is the following: contrary to what some people say, whatever you call this band, it's still a band?
Yeah. It has people that have been in the band for... I mean, Dizzy has been in the band for a good eighteen fucking years or so, going on nineteen years, and Tommy's been in for.. What? How long now? Eleven years is it? Or ten years? I don't know - I lose track. But you have people that have been there for a very long time, that have written songs, that have recorded songs, and have toured, people that have done everything a band does. Again, it's about entertainment and perception, not truth. The truth is it's a band, just like many other bands that write and record and tour, but if people don't wanna see that, it doesn't change what we are. It just changes how they look at it, and that's fine. It doesn't make any difference, because we're still a band going on tour, promoting the album of songs we wrote and recorded.
Where do you hope the future will take you with Guns N' Roses, G N' R, or whatever you want to label the band as?
What I would love to see happen is that we buy a big compound (laughs), our headquarters, somewhere to work - Metallica has a cool place like that. A place where we can record, where we can write, where we can rehearse, where we can take care of business, and can do everything. This is just my imagination, what I would love to see happen. I mentioned this to them before too, saying "We should get a studio". I think they looked into it years ago, but it didn't happen. A studio though where we can be our own record label, and put out G N' R albums as well as anything else that anyone else wants to do, and when we're on tour, make the studio available for whoever else - if Caram for example, the guy who did 'Chinese Democracy', wants to work with someone in there. I would just love to see a place where we can just make music, and just take care of things. That would be my happy little scenario, if I had one, kind of like what I have in New Jersey - just it's very small (laughs).
In New Jersey, I have this small house that is just a place to write, record, rehearse, and do anything I wanna do musically. It's my bat cave, my headquarters, my compound, my escape (laughs). My place to make music. It's just a hundred year old house that I've been improving, and making nicer and nicer. We did the bathroom, which is now beautiful, put in a tankless water heater, and now you have instant hot water that never runs out... an electric tankless water heater - it kicks ass. Just stuff like that. I would just love to be more independent, basically, and that's what I'm saying. I would love for G N' R to be very independent, where it just does its own thing its own way, and however it wants to. It's like that already, and I think conflicts come when you have such a unique situation that is in a cookie cutter record business.
I'm not a fan of the music business, or the music industry. I am very much not a fan of it, and I think that every musician should be self-sufficient, and do things their own way. I think G N' R kind of does that, but it ends up being a battle with a music industry that wants it to follow the same mould. I can't say for sure, because I have not been in meetings with management or the label, and I don't want to be. I just wanna play guitar and make music - everything else is a headache that I don't want (laughs). Just tell me when to get onstage. But that would be what I would love to see happen; I would love to see G N' R be very independent, and just do whatever the fuck it wants to do, however it wants.
Do you have a message for the fans of the group?
Oh Jesus... There's so much I wanna say. Thank you so fucking much for being part of this trip with ups and downs and everything, and thank you for coming to the shows. Thank you for enjoying the music, thank you for your thoughts, thank you for your support, thank you for caring, thank you for listening, thank you for going the extra mile, and for the flags you've made and the big banners you hold up at shows, thank you for the kindness and the good time you've shown me, and for having a good time with us when we're onstage... I could go on and on. It's just one big love fest (laughs).
"The thing about Guns N' Roses is it all happened in a cocoon, where it went in as one creature and came out as something totally different."
So you feel indebted to the fans, really?
Oh, hell yeah. That's why I'm always trying to come up with things, like for the Canadian shows I'm working with these radio stations and websites to give free tickets and backstage passes, and guitar lessons. Yeah, we make the music and they get something from that. They come to the shows and buy the albums, and we get something from that, but there's a lot of them that really go the extra mile, and I want to go the extra mile for them whenever I can. It's definitely acknowledged and appreciated, and we're very grateful. Tomorrow, I would think back on it all with a very big smile.
Thanks for the interview Ron.
It's been a pleasure. We finally got to talk. I know we were thinking about doing this months ago, but the thing is, at that point I really had nothing to tell. There was no tour yet. It would've been just a lot of unanswered questions, and I wouldn't have wanted to waste your time with that. Now we're touring and things are happening. I'm glad that we finally got a chance to chat, and hopefully one of these days we'll do it in person, and it'd be in Wales.
Yeah, that'd be great. If not though, we'll have to talk on the phone again sometime.
All the best then Ron.
Thank you very much for your time. Thank you for calling, and for very thoughtful questions.
Have a good time up in Canada, by the way.
Oh, I will. It's gonna be cold as hell, but I heard that you guys are having some freezing weather too now?
Oh yeah - it's snowing. It's freezing here in Wales.
Oh damn. Well, it's just a few more months 'til spring (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, I can't wait. Anyway, take care Ron, and have a great evening.
You too. I'll talk to you soon.
Interview by Robert Gray
"I'm not a fan of the music business, or the music industry. I think that every musician should be self-sufficient."