Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal talks about the art behind Art Of Anarchy, and more
By Gary Graff
March 24, 2017
Ron Thal — aka Bumblefoot, named after a bacterial infection in one of his wife’s veterinary textbooks — is one of those guitarist’s guitarists. He has an abundance of technique and can scorch the earth with his shredding, but never at the expense of taste, dynamics and melody. The Brooklyn-born player established his rep back in the mid-’90s with solo albums that won him a cult following amongst guitar lovers. He then leapt to worldwide fame when he joined Guns N’ Roses in 2006, after being recommended to the group two years earlier by Joe Satriani to replace the departing Buckethead.
With GNR Thal toured the globe, played on the 2008 album Chinese Democracy and appeared in the Appetite For Democracy 3D home video before leaving in 2014 — just in time for GNR’s reunion with Slash and bassist Duff McKagan. During that time, however, Bumblefoot also joined longtime friend Jon Votta, his brother Vince on drums and Disturbed bassist John Moyer to form Art Of Anarchy; The group’s first album, with the late Scott Weiland singing, came out in 2015, and now the group begins a fresh era with Creed’s Scott Stapp out front and a new album, The Madness, just out. Throughout it all Bumblefoot has kept it artful…but still unapologetically anarchic.
FGPO: This is Art Of Anarchy’s second album, but with Scott out front now does it feel like a new band?
Bumblefoot: It absolutely does. It also feels like the actual start because we never got to really take it anywhere; we released the [first album] and made some promotional material, photos and videos, but that’s it. It never got past that. Now it feels like a band is supposed to feel. It’s unified. Everyone is on the same page. We communicate. We all have the same goals and we all want the same thing, and that’s the way a band is supposed to be.
FGPO: What lessons did you learn from the first go-round? Even though Scott bailed, did the four instrumentalists get a sense of identity about what you wanted Art Of Anarchy to be?
Bumblefoot: We had an OK idea of where it would go, and looking at it, it was good. We knew we had the definite ingredients here — the old school metalheads, me with my weird, artsy side. You have Moyer, who has a cool, modern groove, a good metal/hard rock groove going on. And you can take a guess if you’re familiar with Scott Stapp’s work and know what he brings into a band as far as the sound of his voice and his writing style and things like that. We knew that it would be adding that to it. So I guess it wasn’t that unusual or unexpected or unpredictable. I just feel like we have a band that has all the personalities and individuals and you can hear them in a song, and that’s something I’ve always wanted as a musician, as a guitarist, as someone in bands; I’ve always wanted a band where you can hear everybody’s personality in the music and how they’re contributing to the overall identity of the band.
FGPO: Where were you when you heard that Scott died?
Bumblefoot: I was actually at home. It was in the evening when I heard it and my wife was upstairs. I think she was sleeping, and I remember just reading it and just checking 10 other places to make sure this was correct. My eyes just welled up, and I said to my wife: “Scott Weiland died.” I mean, I’m not gonna pretend I was very close with him or a friend or anything like that, but even as a fan of everything he’s done and to think of his family and loved ones, it sucks.
FGPO: You went from one singer who was destroyed by his issues to another that was almost destroyed by his. Did you pause a second and wonder if you wanted to face that threat again?
Bumblefoot: If you mean were we concerned he would have any kind of relapse or anything like that, no, we weren’t. We have faith in him. We believe in his character and his strength and the people he surrounds himself. with. When we met him…it was obvious he’s on a good path, on the right path. He has a strong support system. He’s been clean and sober and good for over two years and is doing great. We we’re a drug-free band; me and the Votta brothers, we don’t drink. So he’s not in an environment where people will be trying to party with him or trying to undo his hard work. We’re all on the same side. We all want the same things. We want to be healthy and happy and do our best. so, no, no worries there.
FGPO: Did Stapp integrate pretty easily into Art Of Anarchy?
Bumblefoot: Oh yeah. The third song on the album, “No Surrender,” that was the very first song we wrote together. That one has a guitar part Jon Votta came up with. It was a song that just keep evolving. I came up with this little filler thing going into the guitar solo, and that became the main riff of the chorus. It has kind of a Queensryche-inspired guitar harmony solo to it that Jon and I do. The working title of the song was “Braveheart” and it had these marching drums and toms and that vibe to it, and it’s obviously different now. It’s always interesting how songs start one way and different parts become something more prominent and other things became more of flavor or something.
FGPO: How do you and Jon work as a guitar tandem in this band?
Bumblefoot: We’ve been friends for 20 years, so it’s so natural and easy. He’ll be like, “Hey, I came up with this riff, do one of your crazy things.” It’s not ever thought-out at all; it’s very spontaneous and spur of the moment and like: “Hey, want to grab a solo on this?” “No, you do one.” “OK, cool.” Or: “Why don’t you do a harmony here?” “OK, cool!” The solos mostly fall to me; I think the only one Jon really felt in his heart he wanted to have a solo on was “Changed Man.” I had a solo on that song, and for some reason Jon just connected to it and felt like he needed to do that solo. So we got rid of mine and he laid down the solo and it was killer.
FGPO: Why is it that Bumblefoot and “crazy” are so often said in the same breath?
Bumblefoot: [laughs] It’s just my erratic mental energy. I don’t know; What is it? It’s just my life experiences all summed up and spit out — but it’s not all that. If you listen to the album, there’s a lot of melody and moments where a little goes a long way. But there’s absolutely plenty of guitar playing on the album, and when it comes to the solos, I think some of the more shreddy, technical guitar players will still enjoy the album.
FGPO; So how does the craziness happen?
Bumblefoot: Y’know, I usually start off just playing a melody and whatever comes to mind, completely off the top of my head. I don’t plan out the solo. In this band almost all the solos I did were spontaneous, random; “Oh, it needs a solo. Lemme throw something down,” and it sticks. There’s something very honest about that. I always put everything back to Kiss, y’know?
Bumblefoot: Yeah, it all goes back to Kiss because if not for hearing Kiss Alive when I was nine years old, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. That’s what made me want to do what we are doing. It all goes back to that. Even the way I look at a band, what I like about a band when it’s a first-name basis with each of the guys and each one has a strong personality in the music and in the band. To me that’s what makes a band, absolutely.
FGPO: You were still part of Guns N’ Roses, even as Art Of Anarchy was getting started. Did you know the reunion with Slash and Duff McKagan was coming?
Bumblefoot: I did, and I didn’t talk. I didn’t even talk about it with the other members. We all heard it. We were all being told things, but it was not for me to go around repeating. If anybody else is going to know about it they’ll find out some other way. That’s part of our world, part of being professional musicians is we all coordinate what we’re doing with each other and respect the fact that information needs to be put out at the right time in the right way by the right people. It’s not for us to go around saying: “Guess what I heard!”
FGPO: Your thoughts? It kind of put you out of a job.
Bumblefoot: I’m very happy for the fans, and obviously it’s going well — it’s going wonderfully. Would I have wanted to be part of the reunion? No, because I wasn’t one of those members that belongs in the reunion. I don’t want to be the meatloaf on an ice cream sundae, if you know what I mean. I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now, being in this band and being creative together and doing everything as equals in a band, which is what I always wanted to have.
FGPO: Art Of Anarchy is more yours, in other words.
Bumblefoot: Exactly. The best way to put it is I could’ve easily been replaced in Guns N’ Roses by anyone else to do what I was doing, and that was fine. But I can’t be replaced in the things I’m doing right now. That’s how you know you’re doing the right thing and it’s valuable and important even if it’s not on the level of $3 million a show. The fact is there’s one of each of us on this Earth to be doing what we’re supposed to be doing and filling the void that would be there if you weren’t here.