“I was always leading a musical life from the beginning and wasn’t getting paid for it for a long time which is fine because, the payback is the pleasure you get out of it. Coz in the end, you can’t be buried with your bank account. The only thing that matters is the pleasure you had in your life when you look back and say that was a good ride.”
Guitar virtuoso, songwriter, recording artist – Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal is not a new name to the guitar fanatics across the world. His sheer technical prowess on his signature double neck Vigier Bfoot leaves everyone in awe.
Bumblefoot recently conducted a guitar workshop at CRCC Pune and mesmerized the audience by playing his signature tunes like Pink Panther Theme, Guitars Suck, Guitars Still Suck. and answering questions from the audience on studying intervals, how strings work, overcoming stage fright, improving technical skills, importance of dynamics, rhythm and developing unique phrasing and soloing style.
Post-workshop we had the pleasure of interviewing the man himself. We talked about his current visit to India, latest album ‘Little Brother Is Watching’, how did he become a full time musician, collaborations and so on.
The interview is published in 2 parts. You can find the link to the part 1 of this interview here: In Conversation with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – Part 1
Guitar Gabble: Any fond memories of playing music on stage all these years? Or a moment when you were overwhelmed just by the vibe of the environment.
Bumblefoot: A time when I was overwhelmed by it all? Umm, I don’t know! It is always fun, even tonight!
Guitar Gabble: Overwhelmed as in like, you got really emotional and feel grateful that you get to do what you want.
Bumblefoot: When I think to myself like if I’m lucky?
Guitar Gabble: Yes.
Bumblefoot: It was a lot of hardwork and a lot of compromises that I think a lot of people wouldn’t be willing to make. So, it’s a trade-off, it balances out in the end. Because the fact that you are getting to do what you love is an endless climb up a muddy hill with people throwing heavy furniture at you the whole time trying to get you down the whole time. So, it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. And it takes a lot of heartache, a lot of sacrifices, compromises and a lot of trade-offs and a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t willing to make. Even I think all of the bands I had, where every step we would take like recording the first album or doing the first tour, suddenly somebody would say, “This dream is getting too real, I’m out!” or “That’s a lot of sacrifice, I don’t want to give up my day job and take a chance on this and make this my life.” and things like that. So I think, there are a lot of people that could have been on that stage that decided that they weren’t willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks.
And then on the other hand, there are other people that could’ve done what it takes but life just gets in the way. We can’t pick and choose and there’s a plan for all of us and we don’t know why that plan what it is until we look back. Why did I end up playing with Guns N’ Roses? Why did I end making an album called Bumblefoot? Why am I here doing a workshop in Pune? You just go where life takes you and don’t think about it too much. If there’s any advice I can give to people is work had and don’t think.
Guitar Gabble: When you picked up the guitar, did the learning come easily? What was your early approach towards learning?
Bumblefoot: Some of it was easy, some of it was not. You just have to be dedicated, you have to be focused and you just have to be willing to do the work. My time would consist of studying the academics, and trying to learn my favourite songs on my own and then writing songs with my band and recording them and trying to get better at recording and then maybe play some cover songs with friends and maybe recording my friends too and teaching someone what I’d learned upto that point. It’s a combination of everything and I guess you can say that, I was always leading a musical life from the beginning and wasn’t getting paid for it for a long time which is fine because, the payback is the pleasure you get out of it. Coz in the end, you can’t be buried with your bank account. The only thing that matters is the pleasure you had in your life when you look back and say that was a good ride.
Guitar Gabble: As a musician, what is your philosophy towards writing music? What inspires you to write new songs? Do you noodle around until you find something interesting or do you work with an idea, concept, theme or anything concrete to create a new song?
Bumblefoot: First the inspiration. It usually comes from some unexpected thing that happens. Think of it like, you come home, someone says, “How as your day?” as I go, “You are not going to believe what happened today!” and you have a story to tell them. I think, I need those kinds of stories to tell in order to be motivated to write a song or be inspired to write a song. And it’s almost like baking a cake. Like there’s all these ingredients for it to be the cake. But it can happen in any order like, I can put eggs in bowl first then the flour, then the sugar or it might be the other way around. And for music, those ingredients are, a guitar riff, a drum groove, some kind of sound, the title of the song, a vocal melody etc. Any of these can come first and trigger the rest and it could almost always be different. But you find that all those ingredients end up getting thrown in the bowl to make it happen. So, it is always different but it always starts with, “Boy, I have a story to tell you!”
Guitar Gabble: Learning music is an eternal journey. Learning avenues were completely different 25 years ago compared to today. So how do you keep exploring new stuff lately? What changes have taken place in your practicing, writing and playing the music
Bumblefoot: It’s an endless journey. So, how do you keep it interesting? By acknowledging the fact that, it is an endless journey and if it endless, no matter how far you’ve gone in comparison you’re barely at the starting point and that’s kind of exciting. And if you have that mentality, it is always as exciting as when you first started playing and you just want to live it every moment and sponge up as much as you can and when you realize that no matter how much you have accomplished, no matter how much you know, you know nothing compared to what there is to know and accomplish and what you are capable of doing and that is exciting! And it keeps you with the young spirit where you just want to explore as much as you can.
Guitar Gabble: Any advice you would like to give to guitarists/musicians who are just starting out? And what are the things that every guitarist must learn?
Bumblefoot: They must learn patience and I don’t mean the song. I mean the actual patience. They need not rush and try to play as fast as they can even though technique and speed seems to a contest we have with ourselves and it’s the way we gauge how far we have reached. But, music is not a race and it is more important to sit and have a good groove, lay back and let the drums be in front of you. Don’t step in front of everything and try and rush ahead of the music.
Guitar Gabble: According to you, do things like the rockstar image, performance, the attitude matter? Or it is all about expressing what you think and feel?
Bumblefoot: I think people need to be real and honest and they need to be authentic. And if you truly act like a clichéd rockstar then be a clichéd rockstar! As long as it’s truly you. And if you are the type that wants to have an intellectual conversation, do that and don’t feel that you have to fit in a mould of what people expect of you. Be who you are and be authentic.
Guitar Gabble: Before playing a live concert, do you ever get nervous? And what is your secret behind delivering a super tight set?
Bumblefoot: Do I get nervous? No, not at all. I have been doing this my whole life and this is what I do and it’s a blessing to do it! And I look forward to the opportunity to make people happy and to have fun doing it myself.
The only time I’m stressed is if I’m really sick and I have to sing and I know that my voice isn’t going to be as good as it could be and that’s just more frustration and disappointment because I want to give people my best and know that I’m physically incapable of it. So that’s the only thing that stresses me but as far as getting nervous or like stage fright, no, not at all. I get on stage, start setting up and I just keep on playing and then I realize, “Oh wait! We’re supposed to start the show!” and I’m happy to do it.
How do I stay tight? Things we were talking about before. About not rushing, you’ve to listen to everybody else. Don’t think about yourself; don’t think about how am I playing? How am doing this and that? Listen to everyone else and really focus on their rhythm and pace and get synchronized. Don’t make your amp so loud that you’re not even hearing everyone else and don’t make it all about focusing on your playing. You’re better off being sloppy with a good groove than playing perfectly but not locking into your band. So, definitely, don’t worry too much about yourself and focus more on connecting with your band and giving that to the audience.
Guitar Gabble: Any artists that you would like to collaborate with?
Bumblefoot: There’s tonnes! Anyone who is cool and interesting. I would like to collaborate with anyone from an EDM artist to a hip-hop artist to opera to anybody you know! In fact, I like to step out of my comfort zone and doing something different and unexpected. Even now I’m working with D.M.C. from Run-D.M.C. producing his stuff and laying guitar for his rap-metal thing he’s doing with his band called Generation Kill. And we’ve put out one song, and we’ve another one to be out on May 31st. That’s gonna be on his solo album, the song’s called Fired Up. So, that’s rap-metal with D.M.C., Generation Kill, and ex-singer of Exodus (Rob Dukes). So, I have the pleasure of playing with a lot of great musicians, not just musicians but great people. And that’s really #1 for me. If we connect on a personal level then it could be any style of music and we’re gonna hit it off. And that makes all the difference.
Guitar Gabble: How has the advent of social media changed the music scene from an artist’s perspective?
Bumblefoot: It has connected everybody globally. Nothing is unknown anymore. We all can hear anything, we can find out anything about an artist. The artist keeps you updated in real time and it’s a huge blessing and we all are so lucky to have it.
And not just the artist but also the fans. In the old days, we had to pick-up a rock magazine, wait for the next month to find out what’s going on, or one of your friends says, “You gotta listen to this album, come over to my house.” It was very limited and you did not really know much personally about the artist. It has now become very direct and very personal. You really get to know the people behind the music a lot more and you see where the music comes from. And it gives the music more meaning too coz you see the source of the music. So, I think it is great for everybody.
It’s not perfect because we are human. So, social media is going to run the stretch of cruelty to everything. But the pros greatly outweigh the cons. And it’s become such an important means of communication for all of us.
Guitar Gabble: So what can the fans expect from you in coming future?
Bumblefoot: Well I want to do more music videos, play my new album with my band and as far as other people I’m working with like Art of Anarchy, D.M.C., Generation Kill, will we do live shows? I don’t know. Being guests with other artists, who knows? I’m always open to all kinds of things. I’m on Earth to make music and to do that as much as I can. So, I’m very open to any possibility.
Guitar Gabble: So here we come to the end of the interview. Thanks a lot for doing the interview.
Bumblefoot: Thank you so much!
Special thanks to Classic Rock Coffee Co. India for organizing the workshop and the interview.
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