BUMBLEFOOT: 'Chinese Democracy' Is 'The White Album' For GUNS N' ROSES

Robert Gray of Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with GUNS N' ROSES guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: "Chinese Democracy" has been available to purchase since November 2008, so now you've had time to fully digest the album and everything, what is your view on it?

Thal: My view on "Chinese Democracy"? Well, first, I think it's so different from the music that the band started with. To me, it's like comparing "The White Album" (1968) to "Meet the Beatles!" (1964). I always think of everything in terms of THE BEATLES, because I'm just a big BEATLES fanatic. To me, "Appetite For Destruction" came out, and that was everything up until "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) — it was the thing that just blew everyone away. Shea Stadium, 1965, couldn't even hear the band; it was just the audience screaming, and pissing in their pants. As they then started getting more into the musical side of things with the "Use Your Illusion" albums, that is equivalent to getting more into "Revolver" (1966) and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967), where it was becoming more musical. It wasn't just attitude and rock 'n' roll — they were starting to really compose. Now THE BEATLES, they kept on putting albums out and you can chart the changes as the band morphed into what they became in their last few years, with "The White Album", "Let It Be" (1970), "Abbey Road" (1969).

The thing about GUNS N' ROSES is it all happened in a cocoon, where it went in as one creature and came out as something totally different. I think that because of that, when "Chinese Democracy" came out, people thought "That's not the caterpillar I was expecting". It was like "Right. It's a butterfly". I think it took probably a good year (laughs) for people to start forgetting about the baggage that was attached to this album, like the issue that it's not the same band members, it's not all the same band members that wrote and played on it, and that it's not the same sounding music. GUNS N' ROSES is a different creature now, but that's what makes it special. Where else in the history of rock music are you gonna find an album that has a decade of all these different people contributing all this cool stuff? Robin, and Paul, and Brain, and Buckethead, and me and Frank, and Tommy and Richard, and Dizzy and Pitman, and Sebastian Bach too. Nowhere are you gonna find an album that has such a history to it, and that has accumulated so many building blocks from such a long journey.

To me, "Chinese Democracy" isn't your typical album where you write it, record it, release it, promote it, and tour. This is a totally different creature, and I think a lot of people needed a minute to realize that for it to sink in, and to stop trying to fit it into the mould of a typical album because it's not a typical album. It's so much more experimental, and it's just a totally different thing. To me, "Chinese Democracy" is "The White Album" for GN'R, in a way. Maybe I'm wrong, but to me it seems like the album is more accepted now than it was when it first came out, and that over time, people are gonna forget about the journey that it took to come out, and they're just gonna listen to the songs and the music and just take them as they are. Either they like them or they don't.

I found as we played these shows in Asia, that people are really responding to the new songs. I didn't know how people would react, because you know that they're gonna cheer like crazy for "Welcome to the Jungle", for "Paradise City", for "Sweet Child O' Mine", for "Nightrain", but now they're cheering for "Street Of Dreams", and for "Better", and for "Prostitute" (laughs). When the song kicks in, they know what song it is and they burst out, and it's good to see. I'm glad that that's happening, and I hope that in time, when this is all just history and people are looking back on it, that people will appreciate this one of a kind fucking genuine experience that brought this album to be what it is. For me, how do I think of the album? I just think of it as this long road that finally reached its destination. It's like driving a very long drive, and finally getting there (laughs).

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Do you feel "Chinese Democracy" was unfairly criticized?

Thal: I think that people definitely judged "Chinese Democracy" without listening to it a lot of the time, and I think they based their ideas on what they thought of GN'R's current situation, or on their opinion of Axl and things like that. I think that definitely biased some people, but not all. I think with any album, people are gonna love it, people are gonna hate it, and some people will just be indifferent, and it won't mean anything either way. With the amount of expectation for the album though, I think that it definitely changed the way people viewed it, and they went into listening to it with ideas already in their heads. It's hard not to with an album that took longer than usual to be released, but then sometimes albums take time.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Do you feel that some hoped for "Appetite For Destruction Part Two"?

Thal: I'm sure there were those expecting that, yeah, but again, they were expecting the caterpillar and not the butterfly — the whole cocoon thing. It's like where THE BEATLES became long haired, screaming hippie dudes, but people were still expecting the mop tops to come out, and go "WOOOOoooo". People just continued where they left off with it, so if they left off at "A Hard Day's Night", they're expecting "Beatles For Sale" (1964) next.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Have you had an opportunity to contribute to GUNS N' ROSES on a songwriting level yet?

Thal: Not yet. I have a whole bunch of ideas — we all do. But before thinking about the next album, I just wanna get the fuck out there and just focus on this one, the touring, and whatever kind of promotion there might be.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: But having said that, do you feel fans can expect future GUNS N' ROSES albums?

Thal: You never know what's gonna happen, and the thing about GN'R is just when you think you know what direction the storm is moving in, it does a 180° and just defies nature (laughs). You can never predict. I would love to get this band into the studio, and just bust out shitloads of music, and just keep putting it out. It's all about being prolific; if you're a music maker, you got to go out and make music, and that's my love anyway. I love the studio more than anything, and I would love to get in the studio, and really write together from scratch — not add my own parts to pre-existing songs, but just play them from the beginning. There was one time in the studio where I was talking to Frank, and I said "Right, time me. Two minutes. Let's see how many songs I can come up with in two minutes for the next album", which was six really cool riffs and things, and ideas and so on. We could definitely do it. I guess it's just a question of: does it feel right? Are all the planets aligned? You know what I mean? It's whether it feels like the right thing to do. We'll see, but I would love it. I think it would be a blast, and I think that we can easily bust out some really good music that people would enjoy. I would love to do it.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: What is it like to work with Axl Rose? You obviously have those who comment on forums, thinking they know everything, saying "Axl acts like this" and all that rubbish. But what is it actually like to work with the man?

Thal: All the people that don't know anything are the ones who do all the talking (laughs). They try to fool everyone into thinking that they have an idea about how things are. It's like working with anyone else — it's fine. It's just normal, at least to me. It's just pretty normal, and the funny thing is if I say something positive, the response to that from the sceptics is "Oh, he's getting paid to say that." (laughs) One thing I've realized is there's no truth in this; it's only entertainment, and people believe what entertains them the most. Truth is irrelevant; I can tell the truth, and if it's not entertaining enough, people will call you a liar. The truth, as boring as it is, is that it's fine. Since I've joined the group, we immediately went on tour, and we finished recording "Chinese Democracy", and the album came out. That's it.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: So, basically then, you feel that there are lot of misunderstandings out there?

Thal: Well, the thing is people believe what entertains them, and that's what it is. I remember one time me and my wife were at some party, and some guy followed me and my wife around for an hour and a half, asking us questions to the backs of our heads. All these stupid things he asked, like saying to my wife "Do you have to drive in a separate car behind the tour bus like in that movie 'Rock Star'?", stupid things like that. We just laughed at the guy, but I think he was serious. People just want to be entertained, and that's what it is. Truth doesn't matter, because what's entertaining is what people are gonna gravitate towards.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Some disgruntled GUNS N' ROSES fans make the comment that the group's current lineup isn't GUNS N' ROSES, but is actually Axl Rose's solo project. What is your response to that?

Thal: They're right in their own mind if it isn't GUNS N' ROSES as they define GUNS N' ROSES. If you don't like calling it GUNS N' ROSES, call it GN'R, and if that makes you feel better, then good. That's what I like to call it — GN'R. If you feel GUNS N' ROSES is so strongly defined by the members that were on its debut album, fine, call this GN'R and find something else to cry about — something worthwhile. There's bigger problems in the world than what a band is calling itself. Jesus, it's fucking rock 'n' roll. We're just going out there, playing, and having a good time. Call it GN'R and enjoy it, that's all. That's my suggestion if the name's really a problem for anyone — if you wanna listen to GUNS N' ROSES, put on the "Appetite" album, be happy, and if you wanna listen to GN'R, put on "Chinese Democracy" and come to a show.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: So basically then, what you're saying is the following: contrary to what some people say, whatever you call this band, it's still a band?

Thal: Yeah. It has people that have been in the band for... I mean, Dizzy has been in the band for a good eighteen fucking years or so, going on nineteen years, and Tommy's been in for.. What? How long now? Eleven years is it? Or ten years? I don't know — I lose track. But you have people that have been there for a very long time, that have written songs, that have recorded songs, and have toured, people that have done everything a band does. Again, it's about entertainment and perception, not truth. The truth is it's a band, just like many other bands that write and record and tour, but if people don't wanna see that, it doesn't change what we are. It just changes how they look at it, and that's fine. It doesn't make any difference, because we're still a band going on tour, promoting the album of songs we wrote and recorded.

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