Guitar virtuoso Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal has worn lots of musical hats over his 20-year career, including his role as lead guitarist in Guns N’ Roses, but his solo career has been where he’s been able to best flaunt his skills as a singer-songwriter. Thal recently used downtime from touring to produce his 10th solo album, Little Brother is Watching, released in late February via Bumblefoot Music. The album features drummer Dennis Leeflang and a group of 100 fans as the backing vocals.
Thal spoke with us about his mind-set during the recording of Little Brother Is Watching. He maintained a certain cheerfulness in his voice throughout the entirety of the interview; a rare quality to find in someone whose career includes releasing ten solo studio albums, a role as a guitarist in Guns N’ Roses, and non-stop touring and recording with other rock icons. The artist had this to say about the meaning behind the title track and album. “It’s just kind of pointing the finger at one aspect of how we all live. Where we all have this connectivity to technology, but how it has changed things socially. Like how the government used to ‘watch us’ and we’d have this paranoia of this all-seeing eye. It was always ‘The government knows where I’ve been and what lane I took!’ and all that. But no one really foresaw where it was heading… you know, where we would have the technology as individuals where we could catch each other doing anything and share it with the world. And that’s a serious power. If the police are beating someone down, 100 people are gonna see it and they’re gonna put it on YouTube. And there’s no denying that we have the power now. So ‘little brother’ is watching now instead of ‘big brother,’” said Thal.
In press materials, the album was described as “an eccentric upbeat collection of modern epic rock with haunting melodies, huge choruses and witty lyrics about life in the digital age and beyond.” With each track being so different from the next, one might certainly add uncommon to the list of descriptions for this album. When asked how this album compared to his past solo albums, Thal explained, “I think on this one I really let the songs shine through even more. Just a lot of melody. It still has its wacky guitar moments, but I find that those tend to overshadow melodies and other things so much that they really need to be used sparingly or it creates an imbalance. And I think that I achieved a better balance on this album,” Thal explained.
Thal is well-known for his creative tendencies and often has a wide array of musical styles on his albums. Thal justified his reasoning behind his musical experimentation. “No one wants to keep writing the same songs ten times over! Or telling the same story ten times over. It’s best to live life and experience it in all different ways and keep growing as a person! You wanna grow musically and express that growth musically.”
Who inspires such an inspirational musician? “I’d have to say the Beatles. From that I would say George Martin, their producer, had the biggest influence on me as a producer. It was things he added to their songs. Instrumentation– the classical instrumentation– that had such an influence on me. I would say that more than anything else,” said Thal. According to Thal, aspects of some of his favorite artists can also be heard in Little Brother is Watching. “David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and Iron Maiden… all the things that I love! You can hear all those little building blocks that gave me so much pleasure in my solo-projects. It becomes part of your DNA and you can’t get that out of your system. It stays in there. It’s evident which musicians love from their music,” continued Thal.
As such an accessible, kind and truly giving musician, Thal often extends and connects himself to his fans in unique ways. This was what led to his unconventional method of acquiring group vocals and noises in Little Brother is Watching. Bumblefoot spoke about his recently held album listening party/crowd recording session in New York, “We were at a venue in Brooklyn and they were kind enough to let me carry on my shenanigans there [laughs]. I was almost done, we weren’t quite done yet and I wanted to bring in all the people. When I do shows, I like to bring people on stage to sing, I jump into the audience, I play guitar right in the audience, I like to be very connected. I don’t like the separation that happens sometimes between the audience and the stage. I like us to be together. I like when people sing along and I wanted to capture that on the album. So I had 100 people join me at this little pre-listening party. I would play a song, talk about the song a bit, and then I would show them the parts to sing and then everybody would sing together and we would record it. And we mixed them in the next day. It was fun! We all had a great time and there was a lot of laughter and good stories,” exclaimed Thal. The album credits over 100 names under “backing vocals.”
On top of being a talented musician and song-writer, Thal is also involved with many national and international charity efforts. The guitarist supports the Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation, performing benefit concerts, visiting patients during disaster relief operations and even donates a portion of the proceeds he raises through his line of hot sauce. In the US, he often visits hospitals and children’s hospitals, guitar in hand. According to Thal’s website, a portion of the proceeds from the Bumblestore also go to charity. When asked what goals he still hopes to achieve, Thal selflessly said, “I want to do more things that make a difference! I’m involved with a lot of charities, but I want to take it to the next level and really start doing more. I also want to do a lot of things that help support the international indie rock scene. There are so many phenomenal bands out there that you really get to see. And just because the infrastructure of where these people live doesn’t support it, and allow for it, they don’t get the recognition they deserve. And I want to do things that bring more attention to these people, because they deserve it! They should be sharing and we should be hearing.”
With 2015 shaping up to be his busiest year yet, Thal has still found time to collaborate with other musicians. He went on to talk about what’s next on the Bumblefoot agenda. “I just want everyone to know it [the album] exists and I hope they enjoy it! Right now I’m looking to the next releases. The next release will be a collaboration with Darryl “D.M.C” from Run-D.M.C. and a metal band Generation Kill, which has members from Exodus and Pro-Pain, and it’s this rap-metal thing that I’m adding guitar solos on and doing the mixing and producing. So, I’m like the sixth member of this thing. We should have had the first song out by Saturday. It’s a song called Lot Lizard and D.M.C. will be at that show to correspond with that. So we’ll keep blasting those songs out till we finish that album,” Thal said excitedly.
Along with his correspondence with rap legend Darryl “D.M.C” and metal band, Generation Kill, Thal will also be working on an album with hard rock band, Art of Anarchy. Thal went on to describe that experience. “Then there’s Art of Anarchy, which is a ‘supergroup’ thing! We’ve got John Moyer from Disturbed on bass, we’ve got Scott Weiland on vocals, I’m on guitar. We’ve also got Jon and Vince Votta on guitar and drums, they’re sort of the salvation of it all since they created it. That should be out by early June,” said Thal.
With all of these plans currently underway in the world of Bumblefoot, hopeful fans might wonder if there will be time for a Bumblefoot tour. With this in mind, Thal said, “I’m hoping to do a full tour for the Little Brother solo-album. Until that happens, I’m just doing a lot of fun little things!”
Bumblefoot, armed with his trusty double neck guitar, has managed to take his fans on a pretty incredible 20 year journey… and he’s not likely to stop anytime soon. With his ability to create high-energy music and his dedication to making a difference in the world and in the lives of his fans, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal is sure to continue making his mark on the world. If you’d like to keep up with Thal’s schedule, his tour and appearance dates are frequently posted on his website.