Recently, I reviewed the latest album by Art of Anarchy called “The Madness”. Which you can read here. Needless to say I was blown away by it. When I got the chance to interview guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, I was thrilled. After talking with him, it was easy to see that’s he’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He carefully answered every question that I asked, with not only great attention to detail, but a sort of real honesty that’s not often evident during a casual interview with many artists. Art of Anarchy is the definition of a super group. The band featuring Scott Stapp of Creed on vocals, John Moyer of Disturbed on bass, Bumblefoot ( Ex Guns N’ Roses) on guitar and twin brothers, Jon and Vince Votta. My interview with Bumblefoot is easily one of the best that I’ve done for XS ROCK. We discussed many things including previous Art of Anarchy vocalist Scott Weiland, his thoughts on Axl Rose and the making of “The Madness” album.
XS ROCK: So there’s a lot of different personalities at play in a band like Art of Anarchy. I mean you guys are all stars in your own right before forming this band. How’s everyone doing with that? Are there any kind of ego issues within the band?
Bumblefoot: Oh, Fuck No! Our tour manager was just saying how he wishes this tour was longer, because he’s having some much fun with everybody. This has been the most fun and the most laughter, across the board with band and crew. You’ll find that most people that have done a lot of stuff, don’t have egos. They don’t have anything to prove. We’ve all been through enough experiences in life to humble us. Life humbles you. Shit happens. But, we are about as normal as it gets. And as fun as it gets. We have been having so much fun. I really didn’t know what to expect on this tour. This is the first time that we’re all locked in a traveling little house together. First time on a tour bus together, doing our first tour. It has exceeded any expectations that I could have imagined as far as how much we have just bonded and how much we are enjoying this.
XS ROCK: So tell me about putting The Madness album together. Did you guys all write together or did you work on material separately and bring it together later?
Bumblefoot: When it first started we spent a week and half with just all five of us in a room. We started from scratch and wrote from scratch. One of us would start playing something and then another person would add in. And it just started turning from ideas into songs. We kept a recorder going in the corner of the room. And then we went back through them and decided which ones that we would like to move to the next level. We had about two dozen little ideas for songs. It was as organic as it can possibly be. We did half of the record that way. We wrote half of the record in that first week and a half that we were together. After that, I had to split because I had to do this guitar clinic in France which then overlapped with Moyer doing the Disturbed tour, which then overlapped with Scott doing a solo tour. So when I came back in December, we started tracking drums and guitar parts for the songs that we started out with and then re-wrote, redesigned and let it evolve from there. Then we spent seven weeks where Scott was with us and we really just focused on the vocals, the melodies and the lyrics. Then for the rest of 2016 it was just a lot of juggling touring schedules and we got together whenever we could to shoot some videos, take some photos or do more writing and recording and get what we could done.
XS ROCK: Well it’s a fantastic album, so you guys did something right with that process.
Bumblefoot: Great! Thank you.
XS ROCK: Having been in another successful and high profile band, how different is it to start a band from scratch like you did with Art of Anarchy?
Bumblefoot: Each one has something great about it. Something the other one didn’t. Art of Anarchy is truly as much of a real band as I’ve ever been in, in my entire life. This just hit me recently. This is the first band that I’m in the band that it’s exactly like what I dreamed about when I was a kid. I imagined a bunch of dudes that are a team, that are friends that make decisions together, that all contribute, write together and build things from the ground up. A lot of bands have key members. They make the decisions and everyone else is sort of hired. That’s how most bands are. Some of them are more evident than others. I’m not even talking about any band that I’ve been in. I mean, just in general. Bands that you know that there’s one main dude or two main dudes and the rest are either hired guys or just not the main dudes. Some of them, it looks like a team, but behind the scenes it’s one or two people calling the shots. But Art of Anarchy is truly, an absolute equal team effort where there’s a certain purity about it that I hadn’t experienced in a lot of other bands. I think that’s why it works.
XS ROCK: The first track on the new Art of Anarchy album, Echo Of a Scream is an amazing track. It seems like it has elements of Disturbed, Creed and Chinese Democracy era GNR.
Bumblefoot: Everything on this record sort of happened naturally. No one had a set style in mind. Scott (Stapp) is going to approach music the way he does as Scott. The things that he’s done for Creed and things that he’s done for Art of Anarchy still has his soul in it. John Moyer, the way he plays has a cool modern vibe to it. If you want a sense of modern metal rock and groove stuff, he’s the guy. In fact he wrote Echo Of a Scream. That’s what was cool about this album. We were all just ourselves. We didn’t have any ideas of what we should sound like. We decided salt is going to be salt, pepper is going to be pepper and let cayenne be cayenne. When you put it all together in the dish, it’s going to taste like that combination. That’s what I loved about the bands that I listened to. There will never be another, George, John, Paul and Ringo. When you put them all together they created something greater than they were individually.
XS ROCK: So let’s step back just a bit and discuss the first album. On the first album, you had Scott Weiland as the vocalist. Did you guys work together face to face with him, or was he simply a hired vocalist as he stated in some of the interviews?
Bumblefoot: The interesting thing is that with the first album, the band didn’t really start as a band. This thing started in 2011 when Jon and Vince just wanted to make their dream album. In the past they were always being told to comprise and being told that they should be something other than what they really wanted to be, what they wanted to sound like and the kind of music that they wanted to make. They had ten songs written with just the drums and guitar parts. So we laid that down and I started laying some guitar on top and then we were going to get different singers to sing different songs. Scott Weiland was the first one and he did “Til The Dust Has Gone” and after that he ended up doing the whole record. Then John Moyer joined as the bass player and now the thing is growing beyond it’s original intention. Then we got a manager and a record deal and now it became a band. It started off as just an album that they did just for the love of making music. So it evolved into a band. So with that, Scott Weiland was recording at his own place in L.A. He would send me things and I went put them into the songs. Scott and I would talk on the phone once in a while, but not much. You know little things, like he told me about the song Aqualung, his inspiration for it and how he wanted it to be the first single and things like that. We did the videos together and photo shoots, but unfortunately, he wanted to focus on his Blaster album for Scott Weiland and The Wildabouts. It’s a shame that he didn’t want anything to do with Art of Anarchy as well. So, he very clearly distanced himself from it. The night before those comments came out, we were going over which logo to use for the Youtube site and what we’re going to post on Twitter about the release and we thought everything was okay. The album came out in June and in August we met up with Scott Stapp. He flew down and hit a rehearsal room with no plan in mind. And it really worked out. Scott Stapp was the key ingredient that we needed to pull this all together.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band, what type of career do you think you would have had?
Bumblefoot: That is impossible to know. I’ve been doing this since I was six years old. So, my whole life has been in bands, making music and doing something in music. If I wasn’t doing that, I’d probably be teaching. What would I be teaching? I don’t know. The essence of sharing music and teaching music and performing music is very much the same spirit as teaching. You learn something. You teach something. You want to enlighten people and lift their spirits. You want them to be better for the experience that you’re sharing with them. So, probably I’d be in some aspect of teaching, which I do as well. I love doing clinics and all that kind of stuff. I don’t think I would be happy if I was only performing in a band and wasn’t doing clinics and things like that.
XS ROCK: So for all of the guitar players and gear heads out there…What type of equipment are you using for the live Art of Anarchy shows?
Bumblefoot: I am using an Engl 100 Watt Invader Head. I’m using a 4 x 12 Engl cabinet with Celestions. Through the back end effects loop return, I’m sending an AX8 Fractal for a lot of different sounds, swells and tones. I have a Dunlop 95Q Wah Pedal, the kind that you don’t have to stomp on it to turn it on or off. It’s almost like a bad horsey where you simply just press forward and it activates. You can adjust the strength and boost of the wah. It’s a fantastic wah pedal. It’s the one that makes you say, why didn’t they make this sooner? I’m also using a Shure GLXB16 wireless, which has been very dependable and reliable. And what’s really great about it is that the receiver on the ground is also a stomp box tuner. From there, I just have one guitar with me. I have the newest Vigier Signature Double B Foot fretted neck and fretless with a marble like finish.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
Bumblefoot: There’s a lot of great stuff out there.I think that the music economy has definitely changed things in a way, at least as far as labels, radio and what is being invested in. It’s become more formulaic. But, outside of that, there is so much phenomenal music out there and so much diversity. All you have to do, is a a little bit of homework and you’ll find the most amazing bands. The first one that I always recommend to people is a band called Thank You Scientist. This band is drums, bass, lead singer, two horn players and a violinist. It’s the craziest over the top, progressive, technical something that Mike Patton would only dream about. Yet, they’re able to mix that with the most touching, absorb-able , melodic music that kicks you in places that you don’t expect it to in a really good way. It’s the most phenomenal music that I’ve heard in decades. And another great band is J and the 9’s. It’s sort of punky, garage, rock band. She has an incredible visual style to her. Almost like a punk Lady Gaga. Not only does she have a great singing voice, but she also plays the flute. She’s the greatest performer as far as her energy and freedom that she has. They are a band worth seeing. They are a lot of great artists out there. Don’t look at the media machine, radio or mainstream to provide you with these things. Do your homework and you will easily find fantastic stuff out there.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what do you think they would be surprised to know about you?
Bumblefoot: Probably that I don’t do drugs. I don’t know what people don’t know about me. I’m pretty open about everything, so I feel like there’s not much left for people to know.
XS ROCK: I think the fact the you don’t do drugs might be surprising to some people, given that you’re a rock star.
Bumblefoot: I don’t know about that. I think what you find with that, is most musicians, once they get into their forties or so, the ones that are still alive are completely clean, because the only way that you can still do this and keep up with the pace is to be 100%physically and mentally. You’ll find that all those guys that were drunk and drugged up 30 years ago are clean and sober now. I was always clean and sober. I never did drugs, wasn’t a drinker or never even smoked a cigarette. For me music is the drug. I think you have a responsibility that the people are counting on, for you to give them a good experience when they come to your show. That matters more than how I feel. If I do that right and give them 100%, then that’s my high. I was never in it for the drugs. I was in it because I loved KISS and I loved the Beatles.
XS ROCK: Which artists or bands inspired you to want to perform?
Bumblefoot: Wow! If I was going to make a list it would have to be written on a roll of toilet paper and it would fill the entire roll (laughs) Growing up in the mid to late 70’s, I was exposed to good music at a very young age. All of my friends in the neighborhood had older brothers and sisters who would leave their albums lying around and we would pop them onto the turntable and there was nothing but good music to listen to in the 70’s. There was no shit. No matter where you looked it was the best of the best. Whether it was funk, punk or even disco. Which at the time we felt like it was a war against our way of life. You know, you go to school and write Rock’s #1, and then someone crosses it out and writes disco rules and then you cross that out and write disco sucks. Looking back, it was good stuff. The orchestration and the singing was great. Wherever you looked, Fleetwood Mac Rumors just came out, followed by Queen News Of The World, everywhere it was nothing but great music. The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Sex Pistols, Ramones everywhere you looked. At that time the A&R guys could fund the nurturing of these bands to make something magical. Now, you’re on your own..throw it against the wall. If it sticks great, if not you’re on your own…and even if it does stick…you’re on your own.
XS ROCK: I’m sure that being a professional musician and touring in front of millions of people changes your perspective on rock stars just a little. Are there still any artists or bands out there that you are starstruck by or would be nervous to meet?
Bumblefoot: Maybe not nervous. Because at the end of the day people are just people. I mean, I get the feeling of being welled up with emotion because you meet someone who’s created something that’s meant so much to you. I briefly met Ringo Starr not too long ago through Steve Lukather of Toto, who’s a wonderful guy. Maybe, Dave Grohl. I would love to jam with him some day. He’s someone that I think across the board, people have tremendous respect for that truly has musical spirit. That’s the attraction to me. Not how many albums that they’ve sold or anything, but just that they love all aspects of the world of creating and sharing music.
XS ROCK: Whenever, I do an interview I always ask this question…What is the strangest request that you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
Bumblefoot: Well, there’s been some strange requests. Everything from raising their children if they die… to…. there was one person who just wanted to repeatedly smell my armpit after a show. And basically, I just walked around with my left arm raised.
XS ROCK: Ha ha ha So you obliged them?
Bumblefoot: I did. And her face was just in my armpit the whole time taking deep breaths. I would walk around the venue and she just followed with her face in my armpit. There was another person who gave me a gift of animal testicles. And yet another person, who bit me in the stomach and left some serious teeth marks.
XS ROCK: So you’ve definitely had your share of weirdness…ha ha ha.
XS ROCK: So tell me about what happened at the end between you and Guns N’ Roses? Were you let go?
Bumblefoot: No. It was me. I was really burned out. I felt like I had contributed everything that I possibly could as a performer, but my heart was in more things where I was creating, writing, producing and teaching. All of things that I was doing before the heavy touring of GNR. I really felt that it was definitely time for me to go. I felt like I had taken it as far as I could and I was reaching a point where I was stressed and unhappy. And that’s not good for me and it’s not good for them. So in early March of 2014, we were rehearsing for the next 3 months of touring. The first thing that I told the band when I walked in was that this is going to be my last run. I finished out the shows and I did try to recommend people to take my place. I didn’t want to stop them from moving forward or anything like that.
XS ROCK: So is Axl Rose as difficult of a guy to work with as people make it sound in the press?
Bumblefoot: He’s a human being and he has a big heart. The press doesn’t give him the same consideration that they would some other people. You know, they try to hold him to a different standard, where he’s always supposed to be happy and smiling, nothing should ever be wrong and he’s always supposed to be in a good mood and do the right thing and that’s stupid. It’s bullshit. It perpetuates a lot of negativity and incites a lot of negativity that isn’t deserved. He’s dealt with a lot of that. I had a great, great time working with him. Is everything perfect? No. I’ve probably pissed him off more than the other way around, but he’s just a human being.
XS ROCK: So have you spoken with him since you left?
Bumblefoot: No. The relationship is over between me and them. They’re doing fine and I’m doing fine and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t regret leaving. I wish it could have smoother on a personal level. I’m happy to see what they’re doing now and I’m glad I was able to be part of their world that makes people so happy at the shows. It was a gift. I’m grateful and I thank them for it.
XS ROCK: So tell me about this Art of Anarchy tour for The Madness album?
Bumblefoot: With this band we’re like a bunch of happy kids on a road trip. And the things that happen on tour. Like showing some of the crew members scenes from the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy movie, Bruno. One scene in particular where Bruno goes to a fortune teller and he talks to his dead ex-boyfriend’s spirit and he gives him an imaginary blowjob that goes all over his face and afterward he makes the sound Ak-ee-ya! Ak-ee-ya! So you might find during a lot of radio interviews, you’ll hear one of us suddenly blurt out in the background Ak-ee-ya! Just making the others laugh. The immature silly stuff that happens on tour when you get a bunch of guys on tour for weeks on end. Sometimes if we’re up too late we’ll get a text from John’s guitar tech with a picture of a really scary clown face that just says “go to bed!” He says every time that he sees me I’m eating some kind of cashews or nuts of some kind. So at all hours of the day or night, I’ll text him a picture of just an open bag of nuts. The stupid kind of things that friends do, it’s that kind of vibe in this band. It has been a blast. It’s the opposite of all business. And the shows have gotten better and better.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans out there?
Bumblefoot: Ak-ee-ya! No, I’m just kidding…ha ha ha. Thank you for listening to us and reading this interview.