EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: SONS OF APOLLO – ‘SUPERGROUP’, It’s just a term and it’s not an offensive term.” RON ‘BUMBLEFOOT’ THAL

Posted on by Oran



Sons of Apollo and ex-Guns n’ Roses guitar wizard Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal took some time out of the band’s recent tour to talk to Overdrive about the formation of the band, their unique sound and his thoughts on being referred to as a ‘supergroup’. Get it all exclusively below;

© Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

© Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

I find myself inside a very dark and humid venue watching five good friends jam out a selection of tunes before tonight’s debut Irish performance ahead of my interview time with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal.

The thing is, these five guys happen to be some of the best musicians on our blue planet and literally live each day to play music – real live music! With the soundcheck over, I’m greeted by a very laid back and pleasant Ron, who chats about the journey to the Irish capital and their show in Belfast the previous night before we settle down in the worn out velvet red seats of the Tivoli Theatre.

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OD – When it comes to ‘supergoups’ there are few and far between that have such an impressive who’s who of fellow musicians. I know how you guys came together as it’s been covered, my question is with all the different genres linked to each musician, how did the ‘Sons of Apollo’ ‘sound’ come about?

BUMBLEFOOT–  It’s more a thing where we knew each other for years and played together. Like, Mike (Portnoy) shot me an email and said ‘Hey – you know the way we’re always talking about putting a band together? Well, me and Derek (Sherinian) have this idea’. I jammed with Derek, Mike, and Billy (Sheehan) a few years back at the Prog Nation at Sea cruise. Me, Mike, and Billy have done a million jams, we toured together at Metal Allegiance, there’s tons of history there.

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OD – When I hear the word “Supergroup” I just think, no matter what, it’s really a bunch of friends getting together and making music that they enjoy. Do you find the labels/media beef up the ‘Supergroup’ line way too often?

BUMBLEFOOT – I don’t mind it really, it doesn’t bother me at all. ‘Supergroup‘ – It’s a term and it’s not an offensive term; it’s just a one-word way of letting people know that it’s just a bunch of guys who’ve done a lot of different things in different bands that all came together, as opposed to a bunch of guys from high school that played together for 20 years, and we all did that with other bands and all knew each other and formed this.

The thing that might be an issue with a term like ‘supergroup’ is that it could suggest (or people might assume), is that people mightn’t know each other and that it was fabricated. Like ‘Oh here’s someone from this band, and here’s someone from that band’.

OD – There’s no doubt that each of you are bringing your own influences to the table with a multitude of flavours from The Who, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin to name but a few. Were there any points where it was a case of ‘overkill’ with the mix of styles/genres and if so, how did you feel your way through it without causing any friction?

BUMBLEFOOT – We do what we do, we play the way we play, we write the way we write. If anything, it should be the opposite. Every band should have an unfiltered inclusion of their personalities. Every member of the band should give 100% of their identity, and part of that is also the things that influenced us and inspired us.

© Down the Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

© Down the Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

So, I find that, with this record, you don’t just hear us, you hear the things that inspired us, you hear moments of Van Halen and The Who for exampleWe just did our thing, from the beginning. It was just a bunch of guys jamming in a room together and it was like ‘Oh that’s cool! What if we go to this part next?’ or ’Oh nice! Let’s do this part! Now go back to this bit!’ and by the end of the day we have a song recorded. It was just very spontaneous and not over-thinking it and going by our guts. It’s very honest – that’s where you get the honest stuff.

OD – I know that you Mike & Derek started working on the foundation early on and then as Billy came off tour and then Jeff they put down their parts. My question is, did you guys record in Mike’s place where he did the Metal Alliance stuff or was it somewhere else?

BUMBLEFOOT – We all flew out to Burbank in California to this beautiful studio, Ocean Studios in Burbank and we set up camp there with all our gear, and we would just jam in the room and Jerry Guidroz was there in the control room hitting record and playing stuff back that’s just how we got it done. It was the real deal.

OD – Since all of you are so busy with your own projects, did you feel that the album took an easy and comfortable amount of time to put together, or was it a case of rushing to get stuff done to accommodate everyone’s schedule?

BUMBLEFOOT – I think it was easier for me and Mike to fly out because three of the guys were living in LA. It was better for the two non-LA guys to fly out and got a hotel right next door to the studio and every day morning-to-night, we just play and see what happens.

We did everything in the studio from March 1st to March 11th I think. Then I flew home and started laying down my guitar solos because I didn’t wanna do it on the studio clock, I wanted to wait until after, just trying to write the bulk of the song and get the main parts down and the little icing on the cake we did later. So, after that, after those ten-ish days, I laid my stuff in my studio in New Jersey and Derek laid his stuff, like overdubs and things, just the little extras, and then Jeff (Scott Soto) got off-tour and started laying his stuff down. At that point, I’d say it was April, and it must have been either May or June that Jerry started mixing. I think by June it was done.

© Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

© Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for Overdrive.ie 2018

OD – Having been in GnR and now the Sons of Apollo project, do you find that it’s been an epic journey, to say the least?

BUMBLEFOOT – Not really! I don’t think about that stuff. I think about ‘Oh damn – do I have clean socks?’ or ‘Oh I gotta take a shit!’ or ‘What’s for breakfast?’ (laughing).  Normal stuff you know? You live your life every ‘now’ moment at a time.

I never look back and pat myself on the back for this or that or condemn myself for this or that. We’re just specks of cosmic dust that just happen to be around at the same time as Van Halen. I don’t think about that stuff,  in four billion years it’s not gonna mean a damn thing. Just enjoy yourself and make people happy now and enjoy the experience of being alive when you’re living.

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OD – I’m sure there have been so many moments that have resonated with you, but at the moment do you feel that you are in a comfortable/happy place with regards to the business side of the industry?

BUMBLEFOOT – One thing I can say is that we are part of the most wonderful label (Inside Out Music). We are a team and we talk all the time, and they care so much, they’re everything a label should be. Things are a lot different with some other labels who don’t have the financial numbers to work with anymore, so they’re struggling. It’s like ‘Okay,  band: Do you wanna sign to us? Go and record your own album on your own dime and bring it to us and we’ll distribute it for you, and if it’s good, we’ll do it again’. If it works out, that’s the end of that.

Our situation is different. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that there is so many moving parts, so many pieces to the machine, so many links in this chain, that what makes it so much easier and probable for something to go wrong. That’s really what it comes down to. If one thing goes wrong, a lot of people that are involved in it are screwed, and that’s what makes the music business so difficult. There are so many moving parts to it If it was a simple thing, it wouldn’t be such a big mountain to try and move, and that’s what really messes people up. It’s like 90% torture to make the 10% of the good stuff happen.

OD – You did a run of US dates back in March and now with the European/UK dates under your belt, I’m sure that you’re all familiar with each other’s ‘tour mode’. Would it be correct that this is the first time that all of you have been on the road together collectively?

BUMBLEFOOT – Yeah. We’ve all dealt with so much snoring! (laughing) Me personally, I love the purring of the bus engine, the rocking of the bus, lying in your own little coffin, in your bunk. I sleep like a baby. I keep joking that I’m gonna build a bunk in my bedroom and record the sound of the bus. I call it a big man-crib… because bands are a bunch of babies. We become ten-year-old versions of ourselves. That’s what music does: it brings out your useful spirit.

OD – Can I get your thoughts on the current state of rock/guitar music as a whole. It’s a little more popular in some countries rather than others, but from the inside do you think things are changing for the better or for worse?

BUMBLEFOOT – As technology changes, it brings out new styles, and when it’s a new style, it’s gonna be the first style to people that are paying attention to music. They’re gonna feel like it’s the most modern thing that represents them, that they can connect to.

So, sure there’s a lot of electronic music now, and that’s what I think a lot of younger kids are listening to. Yet, every time I’m in an Uber, there’s gonna be some 20-year-old kid driving it, and he’s listening to an oldies station and I ask him why, and he says “Ah music today is so disposable. This stuff has substance”.

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So, if people want their art to taste like art, they’re gonna add substance and flavour, and if you think that guitar music is dead, or I should say ‘physical’ music, because you have to physically play the instrument at that time to make that sound, go to any school of rock anywhere on the planet, and you’ll see a bunch of 10-year-old kids kicking ass, and forming bands and writing songs. You’ll realise ‘Hell no! It’s doing just fine!’. Is it the thing that mainstream is putting their funding into, or things like that? Maybe not so much, and there’s a lot of reasons for that: One problem is that funding isn’t quite where it was.

The second thing is it’s not the most current fashion of music that’s out there today. But it’ll never disappear I believe because it is still the most current form of physical music. The only thing that came after rock and metal was electronic music. Rock and metal is still the height of what current music has reached so far.

There was classical, blues, country, jazz, rock and roll, classic rock, and most of that just changed as electronics changed. Even the types of guts inside a man might allow for a different type of music with more intensity, and types of studios allowing more of that. So, is rock gonna die? Not as long as people want to have an instrument in their hands that they wanna use to make music and express themselves with as a true extension of themselves.

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OD – When you hear about the likes of Gibson, a trusted and long respected beacon of the very essence of rock music, in financial trouble, did that surprise you at all?

BUMBLEFOOT – It might just be a shift in the overall… I dunno how to say it… economic structure, I guess? What people are going for right now. It could be that big stuff is too big right now for where the economy is, where the music economy is, where everything is, and they’re struggling to maintain what they’ve built up.

Everything ebbs and flows; everything rises and falls, rises again and falls again. So right now, this could just be the fall of things. I mean, hell – there was a time a while ago where nobody would touch a Les Paul. It was out of fashion. But all it takes is one fantastic band to be playing one type of guitar and it just revitalises that guitar.

OD – Of all the mistakes and triumphs you’ve experienced since playing music for a living, what it the one memory that stands out the most for you when you look back on your legacy?

BUMBLEFOOT – That’s a tough question to answer only because it’s like taking over four decades of memories and sticking them in this funnel and only one drips out. It’s like ‘why do you even go in there?’ (after a long pause…) Ok after one of our recent show, there were two young kids with their parents watching the show in the front row. So, I took my pick and another pick and gave it to the two kids and kept on playing.

Those moments where you give something, especially to kids. You remember your first show, so if you can do something special for a kid at those shows that they’ll never forget, and it doesn’t take much; sometimes it’s the simplest thing. So, any chance to do something like that. Maybe bring them onstage or reach out and let them strum my guitar as I’m fretting the right notes or something like that. Give them the pick, or something-something to make them feel like they were part of it. You don’t forget that. Any time I get a chance to do that, they’re the moments that I enjoy.

Check out the album via the stream link below:

Sons of Apollo’s debut album ‘Psychotic Symphony‘ is out now via Inside Out Records. You can purchase your copy via this link.

Sons of Apollo album cover

Oran O'Beirne (Overdrive.ie) & Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (Guns n' Roses, Sons of Apollo)

Oran O’Beirne

Transcription – Shaun Martin

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