Supergroup Sons of Apollo released their debut album “Psychotic Symphony” last October and recently completed an extensive tour of North and South America. Their European tour kicks off on 22nd June and includes a show in Limelight 1, Belfast on 3rd July. The band features Mike Portnoy, formerly of Dream Theater on drums, Derek Sherinian from Black Country Communion and previously Dream Theater on keyboards, Jeff Scott Soto from W.E.T. and formerly Journey on vocals, Billy Sheenan from Mr Big on bass and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal on guitar.
Bumblefoot is probably best known for his time in Guns n Roses, but he was also involved in another ‘supergroup’, Art of Anarchy, and has released many solo albums. I spoke to Bumblefoot via Skype on 20th June while he was in London preparing for the European tour. We chatted for about 35 minutes about Sons of Apollo, the new album, Art of Anarchy, his solo work and much more. That interview can be heard on the Friday NI Rocks Show for 22nd June along with tracks from Sons of Apollo, Art of Anarchy, Guns n Roses and his latest solo album. You can listen to it on our MixCloud page - https://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/interview-with-ron-bumblefoot-thal-on-the-friday-ni-rocks-show-on-22nd-june-2018/
Playlist for the Show
SCREAMING EAGLES – Screaming Eagles (Live)
GASOLINE OUTLAWS – The System Is A Lie
MASSIVE WAGONS – Billy Balloon Head
NEREIS – Two Wolves
SONS OF APOLLO – Signs of the Time
Interview with Bumblefoot Part 1 (10.5 min)
SONS OF APOLLO – Alive
Interview with Bumblefoot Part 2 (9 min)
BUMBLEFOOT – Don’t Know Who To Pray To Anymore
Interview with Bumblefoot Part 3 (7 min)
ART OF ANARCHY – Won’t Let You Down
Interview with Bumblefoot Part 4 (8 min)
GUNS N ROSES – Shackler’s Revenge
SONS OF APOLLO – Labyrinth
RSO – Blues Won’t Leave Me Alone
BEN GRANFELT – Weight of the World
BAD WOLVES & DIAMANTE – Hear Me Now
CITY OF THIEVES – Born To Be Great
TAD MOROSE – Apocalypse
BIG CITY – Running for Your Life
VAN HALEN – Panama
Check out the website for tour details etc - https://www.sonsofapollo.com/
The interview has been transcribed and posted below.
NI ROCKS – Hi Ron, thanks for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI. I wanted to start of course with Sons of Apollo. I’ve just played the track “Signs of the Time” for which you’ve just released a video today actually. Can you tell us a little about that track and the video?
BUMBLEFOOT – The video is a bit of a behind the scenes from our tour that we were just on. That’s pretty much it with that. Some quick shots of us setting up and playing and doing what we do. The song was one of the first things we wrote together if I remember right. I came up with that low riff (Bumblefoot sounds out the riff) and before we got into the studio, me and Derek would shoot a few ideas back and forth. He would send me videos of him playing keyboard parts and I would hop into the studio and come up with riffs and send them to him and Mike; just so that when we hit the studio we had something to start with. We did most of the writing on the spot, we’d just come up with something and jam on it and it would turn into a song by the end of the day. We’d all be playing live, just staring at each other in a room playing and locking in until it was recorded. Just to get the ball rolling ahead of time, we had a few riffs and that was one of them. That’s one of my favourite songs that one.
NI ROCKS – The Sons of Apollo album “Psychotic Symphony”.was released back in October; when did you first get involved with the band and how did that come about?
BUMBLEFOOT – It started with our backgrounds. We all knew each other and played together for years and years. I had jammed with Billy so many times and Mike so many times, and Mike and Billy so many times! One time we were the house band, the three of us, for the Eddie Trunk 30th Anniversary concert in New York. We were the core band and guys from Kiss and Anthrax joined us on stage. Things like that. I played with Mike and were on tour together with Metal Allegiance two years ago. I’ve worked with Billy, laying guitar tracks for an album that he produced and a lot of times when we played together; years ago at Progressive Nation On Sea Cruise, me, Mike, Billy and Derek played together. So we all had a background and Mike hit me up in January of last year and said you know how we always talked about putting a band together? Well, me and Derek have this idea for a band and we’re going to hit the studios in March; just for ten days and we’re going to bang out everything spontaneously, just whatever we can and see what we come up with. And that’s what we did. It was very much a bunch of guys who knew each other and had all been friends and played together; that got together and said let’s make an album and a band.
NI ROCKS – The album was produced by Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian – you mentioned it was recorded in ten days. Where was it recorded?
BUMBLEFOOT – It was at a studio in Burbank, California; was it Ocean Studios or Ocean Wave Studios? I haven’t slept in a while so I don’t trust my own brain and I’m going to Google it right now! Ocean Studios, Burbank!
NI ROCKS – The band have just completed a big tour through North and South America. How did that go and were there any concerns around transferring the studio sound to the stage?
BUMBLEFOOT – No; because we recorded it live as a band we knew that it would work live. That was no problem. There were some over-dubs and things like that sure, but not a lot. It works live. I think the biggest difference live was that we’re all used to doing rock stuff in a rock band. A lot of times in the Progressive scenario the priority might be more on the playing. We still prioritise that, but we put on a definite rock show. There’s a lot of energy, laughing, having fun, fucking around with each other and joking around. The attention to the audience and the energy of a rock show. That’s the one thing that I think is different from the studio where we all sit down and look at each other, just lock it in and play. We’re still doing that, but now there’s a lot of running around on stage and really working up a sweat.
NI ROCKS – You’ve probably covered part of my next question which was if someone was debating whether or not to buy a ticket for one of the shows, what would be your sales pitch be to get them there?
BUMBLEFOOT – I would do the opposite, I would say ‘DON’T GO’ in big letters, because I’m too much of a wise-ass! Sales pitch – if you like the album, you’re going to love the show because it’s everything the album has, but even more raw and in your face and everything you get from a high energy rock show. It’s personal; we’re connected to the audience. We don’t ignore the fact that we’re on stage and we’re all there together. The audience is there with us and we’re all part of one big thing. That’s what we were raised on; we’re a bunch of rock kids, so the things that we love, from Kiss to Van Halen and all that is in our blood and it comes out when we perform. All the things that we love about going to a rock show, the personal interaction that you might have, the spontaneity and all that is there.
NI ROCKS – The band obviously draws the label of being a supergroup. As did of course Art of Anarchy. Are you comfortable with those kind of labels or indeed with the focus on trying to label bands in general?
BUMBLEFOOT – I guess you have to call something, something to identify it and give people a general idea of what it is. So I’m fine with that. Would I call it a supergroup? Depending on who I’m talking to, if it got the point across. I would probably use more words and say – a bunch of guys who have played in a bunch of different bands, who all knew each other, that got together and made a band. But that’s a lot of words, so you could shorten it and say ‘supergroup’ and people know what that means. They know that it’s guys from different backgrounds. Let’s put it this way, if you say a ‘group’ it could mean a bunch of guys that went to high school together and have been doing it together since. When you say ‘supergroup’ it lets people know that it’s a bunch of people who did that, but just not with each other and now we’re getting together and doing it with each other, but they’re not strangers to each other. I guess that’s the one thing that you can say, that sometimes if it’s a fabricated boy band, kind of supergroup of people who were just thrown together but didn’t really know each other that’s one thing! But this is people who know each other and have a true friendship and relationships, and it’s something real; we hang out, we talk everyday and we’re friends outside of this and we’ve known each other for many years.
NI ROCKS – We’ll play another track from “Psychotic Symphony” now. This time I’ll let you pick one and tell us something about it?
BUMBLEFOOT – Now my brain is going blank! I don’t know; what can I tell you about just one song! How about the song “Alive”? That one, the first half of the recording was me, Mike and Derek in the studio working together because everyone else was still on tour. Then Billy got off tour with Mr Big and joined us. We were sitting down and we were all there with instruments in hand in the studio and he just started strumming cords on his bass (Bumblefoot vocalises the cords). That’s the way it was in the studio, anyone who played in the studio, everyone else immediately had ideas and we expanded on it and then everyone else would expand on that and it was very quick turning everything into songs. I remember he did that and I said cool, take that and let’s do it twice, three times and then the fourth time let’s change the cord and give it something different. So came up with the next bit (again vocalised by Bumblefoot) and then to the low and back. Then the other guys said, no instead of going back to that same cord let’s go (vocalised notes) and take it from there and build from that. I remember that after everything was recorded and done, that was when I was laying my solos on my own and Jeff was laying his vocals and taking this very open, spacious approach. I was thinking something like Jeff Beck or David Gilmore where there was a lot of space and giving it a lot of build, and doing everything on the fretless. I think just the vivid memories of it being the first song that Billy wrote with us and just all sitting down and just building it so quickly and comfortably. All the songs did, but that one had that! Then Jeff writing the lyrics; it was just real nice the way that came together.
NI ROCKS – Sons of Apollo will be playing a series of shows and festivals over the next few months. You’re on the road from now until mid July, then there are a few festivals in August before you hit the road in Japan and Europe again in September and October. Will you get some down-time between those tours or are there other plans?
BUMBLEFOOT – There’s never down time. Everyone’s always doing something. We finish the middle of July and then we don’t come back until Wacken Festival. During that time we’re all going to be doing something – Billy is doing some Mr Big shows, everybody has things planned. I’m going to be running out to Malaysia, meeting with a food company that we’re starting up out there. I have my own line of hot sauces and we’re expanding on that. We’re going to get into some foods and we’re incorporating a company in Malaysia to handle the Asian market, so I’m meeting up with the partners. After that I’ll be home maybe for a week and do some studio work and then run out and continue the tour. Then in August we have Sons of Apollo shows and I’m probably going to fill it up with some clinics and other things and just bounce around Europe and Asia.
NI ROCKS – Then off to Japan and Europe again after that.
BUMBLEFOOT – Yeah, we go back to the US and play one show at a Prog Festival and then we go out to Japan and do a bunch of flying around France, Russia, Israel, Greece and then back on the bus and keep going until the end of October.
NI ROCKS – The headline tour includes a date in Belfast on 3rd July. You played in Belfast back in 2010 with Guns n Roses. Is that the only other time you’ve played here?
BUMBLEFOOT – I’ve done a lot of stuff in the neighbourhood. I go to Donegal a lot, Inch Island, ‘Derry and that whole area, but as far as playing at a club in Belfast, I think that might have been the last time. It doesn’t feel like it; it doesn’t feel that far away and I feel like I’ve done more, but that might be it. So this is long overdue for me personally. I think the other guys have been there; I haven’t asked them but I think they have.
NI ROCKS – Your guitar solo on the “Chinese Democracy” tour in Belfast featured the Pink Panther theme and you later released that as one of a series of digital singles. What was the thinking behind releasing nine singles over the course of 12 months rather than an album?
BUMBLEFOOT – I found that doing an album from beginning to end usually takes a good chunk of time and I didn’t know when I was going to be back on the road. So, rather than waiting to have twelve songs and put it out and knowing that there’s a chance that I may never get to that point and I would lose momentum, I did it in small bites. Every month I set the goal to release one song. I would record the song, whether it was a cover or a original, and then I would transcribe all the guitar parts to it and release that as well. It would take one week to make the song and three weeks to do the transcription. I put out one a month and was able to pull it off for nine months. I did eight of them and then had to tour and then was able to do a ninth. Sure enough if I’d waited to get twelve songs done, none of it would have come out. I wanted to put out everything fresh, I didn’t want to put out something that I had recorded years before, I wanted everything to be freshly recorded within that month and for the most part that was what I was able to do.
NI ROCKS – Your last solo album was “Little Brother is Watching” in 2015; which was released on your own label and recorded in your own studio. Are we likely to see another solo album anytime in the near future?
BUMBLEFOOT – I’d like to. Since then I’ve been very busy working with Art of Anarchy with John Moyer from Disturbed and Scott Stapp from Creed and we put out the album last year. I spent of 2016 in the studio working on that album and in-between I was doing a lot of solo shows. 2016 and 2017 – just a ton of solos shows. Really four different types of shows – I would do things with a full band, just a normal full band show; I would do acoustic shows, just me on a stage with a looper pedal and an acoustic guitar; then I would do these one-man shows that were similar to the acoustic shows, but with the electric guitar and a lot of singing and playing and sometimes I’d also do things to backing tracks for some of my crazier guitar stuff; then I’d do clinics, similar to the one man show with the backing tracks and everything, but with less singing and more getting into what makes music work and all of that and a little more instructional . So I’ve really filled a lot of 2016 and 2017 with that, in between getting Art of Anarchy’s album out and getting Sons of Apollo up and running.
NI ROCKS – I thought we’d play a track from “Little Brother is Watching” now. Do you want to pick one and tell us something about it?
BUMBLEFOOT – We could the song “Don’t Know Who to Pray To Anymore” but it is kinda long, it’s about seven and a half minutes.
NI ROCKS – That’s fine, the Show can be up to two hours long!
BUMBLEFOOT – Ok then let’s go with that one. “Don’t Know Who to Pray To Anymore” was originally written when I was in Guns, thinking that if we did some writing together, that was something I was going to bring to the table. It eventually just ended up on my solo record. It’s a pretty deep song about losing your way and losing your faith in everything that you believe. When you’re in that dark place where you feel like everything is a lie and you don’t believe in anything; and you’re angry and you haven’t got past that point and you’re in that angry place. That is pretty much what the song is about. The video that I made for it; if you go on YouTube and check it out; I filmed it in three countries and had twelve sets built. There were fifty people involved and it was a massive undertaking with a fantastic director called Vojan Koceic from Croatia. While I was filming at the most elaborate Roman bath-house ruins in the north of Israel by the Jordanian border; it’s the only video ever to be filmed there and I got access to it; Vojan was building a set to look like a hospital for the scenes there. Then I went to this 4,000 year old ring fort in the north of Ireland (The Grianan of Aileach Ring Fort at Inishowen in County Donegal) and filmed there, but it was so windy that I couldn’t use the footage because we couldn’t get the drone to fly and the cameras couldn’t stay stable because it was so windy. So sadly we couldn’t use the footage that we shot up there. So I did film things not far from you guys.
NI ROCKS – Typical Irish weather then!
BUMBLEFOOT – (Laughs) Yeah, it was up on a 800 foot hill so we were really getting the wind.
NI ROCKS – You mentioned that the Art of Anarchy album “The Madness” was released last year. Scott Stapp from Creed has replaced the late Scott Weiland on vocals. Where was that album recorded and were you all together in the studio this time?
BUMBLEFOOT – The album was all recorded in my place in New Jersey. I have a studio where I recorded “Little Brother” and pieces of Sons of Apollo. I recorded all of the Art of Anarchy album there. I did the recording, mixing, mastering, everything there. I’m a studio guy and I would teach studio stuff – I’m an adjunct professor, Professor Bumblefoot, for real at SUNY Purchase College, a real university; and teach music production there. So I’m all about the studio, I love the studio. That’s where the magic happens, that’s where the impossible can happen. That goes back to my love of The Beatles and George Martin and everything they did; making sounds that people had never heard before. That inspired me so much and gave me a deep love for the studio and producing. So, everything pretty much, I do out of there.
NI ROCKS – Did the other guys come to you to record or did they do their bits elsewhere and send it in?
BUMBLEFOOT – No, everything was recorded there; although most of the bass was recorded there, but some bass parts that John wanted to re-do and did on his own and sent to me. I can’t remember which ones we used and which we didn’t. There might be have been one or two that he did that, but originally all his bass was done at my place and all the vocals were done there.
NI ROCKS – The Art of Anarchy unfortunately hadn’t really been able to promote the first album. This time around that changed and you went out on tour last year. How would you describe the differences between the two albums in terms of sound and experience?
BUMBLEFOOT – The interesting thing about that, the very first album it didn’t start off with the intention of being a band. It was two old friends of mine that I would produce their stuff and we’d been friends for twenty years and they wanted to make the album they always wanted to make. They had ten songs that they’d wrote themselves, the drums and guitar; and the brought it into the studio and started recording it. I started laying a few extra parts to it, so then it was the three of us. Then the idea was to get different singers on different songs. Scott Weiland was the first person on board and he did the song “Til The Dust is Gone” and did a great job with it. His people actually recommended , his manager actually said why don’t you make this a band. So we did. From there, John Moyer joined on bass and it became a band. But, I think “The Madness”, the second album sounds more like a band, because that one we all wrote together ; the five of us in a room every day, morning to night, hanging out, eating, jamming, recording and writing the songs together. Nothing beats that. That’s the difference that you can hear from the first album to the second. The first album didn’t start as a band, the second album did; it started with everyone fully there. You can hear that; there’s a definite continuity and something solid about it that you only get when the five people are all part of it, equally together from beginning to end.
NI ROCKS – Are there more tour dates planned for Art of Anarchy and is there any chance of a third album?
BUMBLEFOOT – We did two tours and put out two videos for the second album and right now the focus is Sons of Apollo. That’s my main focus, more than anything. I don’t know what is going to happen with Art of Anarchy. If there is ever a third album there will probably be some line-up changes because sadly things came apart with that band. I shouldn’t say anything really, there’s actually legal stuff going on so I’ll shut the fuck up!
NI ROCKS – That’s OK, I can understand that.
BUMBLEFOOT – All I can say is that we made two great albums. We were able to put out the final music of Scott Weiland, even though he did not want to be involved with and just wanted to continue with his solo thing. The last music he put out was that Art of Anarchy album. With Scott Stapp I can say that we put out a great album together and I think it’s the best he ever sounded. I love his vocals on it and I love what he wrote and I love how he sang. I think we did something great together.
NI ROCKS – We’ll play something from that album now. Do you want to pick a track to play?
BUMBLEFOOT – That’s a tough one. We could do either “Echo of a Scream” or “Won’t Let You Down”. Let’s do the song “Won’t Let You Down”. The music to that in the verses and choruses, was actually a song that I had when I was about 18 or 19 years old, that I just never found the right home for and right place for. While we were all jamming together, I played that to them; I’ve no idea why it popped into my head, but I just started playing it and we started jamming on it and it finally after decades found its home.
NI ROCKS – We’re around about the same age; I’m actually a few months older. There’s a question that I always like to ask. Can you remember what the first gig was that you went to and first album that you bought?
BUMBLEFOOT – Oh yeah. The first real concert that I went to was Kiss, the Dynasty Tour in 1979 in Madison Square Gardens.
NI ROCKS – Excellent.That’s some first gig!
BUMBLEFOOT – That’s a good first gig. It was the original members in the make-up and full blown everything. The big show. I was in the first balcony and I remember when the flames on the sides of the stage would shoot up I could feel the heat of them on face even from that far away. I will never forget that show; it was the best.
NI ROCKS – And the first album you can remember buying?
BUMBLEFOOT – That’s a trickier one. I was five years old and I had just moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, one of the other boroughs of New York City, to a block where there were just tons of kids my age. We all had older brothers or sisters who were about two or three years older and they were all buying tons of albums. I would go and play in my friends’ houses and there would always be incredible albums lying around the house. There would be Yes, Elton John, Billy Joel, Ramones albums and all kinds of things. I remember picking up a Kiss album; I’d never seen it before, it was the Kiss “Alive” album, and putting it on. That’s what made me want to become a musician. I remember there were Beatles solo albums and Beatles albums too. I was exposed to such great music at such an early age.
I don’t remember which was the first album I actually bought. I think it might been Boston, their debut album; it wasn’t Blondie “Parallel Lines” that was later on, it wasn’t Yes “Going For The One”. I was a weird kid, into a lot of intellectual things. I was fascinated with astronomy. I remember one of the first albums that I got was the soundtrack to the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. It wasn’t because I liked the music. I didn’t know! I thought that if I put on the album that I might be able to listen to the movie. This was before VHS and any of that, so other than going to the theatre you had no way to watch the movie. I thought in my young mind that that was it. I went and bought the “Close Encounters” soundtrack and I listened to it and it was all this orchestral music. I went ‘Shit!’ and went back and bought another version of it that there was, and it was the same thing. ‘Fuck!’ So I went back a third time and got one and had three different versions of the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” soundtrack, just trying to gamble and hope that I would be able to listen to the actual movie. Finally, after that my parents said you’re not buying any more of these “Close Encounters” albums; you’re a weird kid!
I listened to all of the music that was out at the time – Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Beatles solo stuff, The Stones, the Sex Pistols everything; all the music that was around at the time. Judas Priest and AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, everything; there was so much great music coming out in the ‘70s – the later ‘70’s.
NI ROCKS – What do you find yourself listening to now when you have some free time?
BUMBLEFOOT – Now I still listen to a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s stuff, a lot of Motown and classic stuff; a lot of lounge music. I like the feel good stuff. I’m not afraid to say I listen to Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck; I like music that makes me smile, stuff that feels good. Then at the same time I’ll go and listen to Manowar. So a little bit of everything.
NI ROCKS – Looking ahead, are there any other projects that you’re involved with in the near future; obviously apart from Sons of Apollo?
BUMBLEFOOT – No, I’m focused on Sons of Apollo. I want this to be a continuing thing. I’d like to keep it Sons of Apollo and Bumblefoot; those two circus acts going out and doing it. Will something else come up? I’m sure, because as musicians we just love making music with as many people and in as many ways as we can. But I want to stay focused for sure. I don’t want to get to the point where I’m over-doing it and can’t put proper time into anything. So we’re touring a lot for this first album. After that we’ll do a second album. I don’t know how much touring we’ll do for that one, but we’ll keep on going and then we’ll do a third album and probably tour a lot for that one.
NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions I have, but we’ll pick some more music to play. We haven’t really talked about Guns n Roses really, but I thought we better play something from “Chinese Democracy”. Which track would you want to play and why?
BUMBLEFOOT – Let’s do “Shackler’s Revenge”. There were certain songs on that album that I put a lot more guitar tracks into than others. I think “Scraped”, “Catcher In The Rye” and “Shackler’s Revenge” – in those I played a bigger role in the final recordings of the songs. So let’s do “Shackler’s”; you can hear a lot of my crazy fretless guitar stuff and all the two handed tapping stuff at the end.
NI ROCKS – And finally, another Sons of Apollo track to play.
BUMBLEFOOT – How about “Labyrinth”. It’s another long, Prog epic but it’s an interesting one. It almost has a Zepplin-ish type verse to it, or Rush kind of chorus then goes into all the crazy stuff in the middle where it goes off into groove that could be like a UK kinda thing. There is definitely a lot of our inspirations going on there. Then the guitar solo hits and it’s one of my weirdo, wacko guitar solos and then goes into a double thing where me and Derek are playing this neo-classical thing. There is a whole lot of everything going on it that song.
NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions I have. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. I look forward to seeing Sons of Apollo in Belfast on 3rd July.
BUMBLEFOOT – Thank you so much, absolutely a pleasure. Thank you for your time and I can’t wait to see everybody very soon.