Ex-GUNS N' ROSES Guitarist BUMBLEFOOT On 'Chinese Democracy': It Was 'A Deep Album With A Lot Of Layers'

October 1, 2023

Former GUNS N' ROSES guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal has once again reflected on the experience of playing on the band's much-maligned 2008 album "Chinese Democracy".

Thal joined GUNS N' ROSES in 2006 and appeared on "Chinese Democracy", an effort which contained music that had been written before he came into the group. The disc took 13 years to make and was only a modest seller, moving just around half a million copies.

Thal looked back on the making of "Chinese Democracy" during a brand new interview with Scott Itter of Dr. Music. Regarding his contributions to the effort, Bumblefoot said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "The music was so close to finished and it was so full and there was so much going on there, I was just trying to find the thing that would fit best. And that's where [producer] Caram Costanzo, he was there and he would guide me and he really made it happen so that I was able to contribute something to it. So it was the two of us in the studio, just going at it. And then he and Axl [Rose, GUNS N' ROSES singer] would just go through the stuff and decide what works, what doesn't and what they wanna keep and what will be in the background and what will be in the front."

He continued: "I'm glad I could be part of that history. [It was] a deep album with a lot of layers. You can listen to it a few times and hear more even things you didn't notice. Like [a great] movie, when you watch it a third time, it's, like, 'Oh, I didn't even notice that.'"

Thal previously talked about the making of "Chinese Democracy" during an August 2020 interview with Rob's School Of Music. At the time he said: "It's a historic album by a historic band, and I'm grateful that I was given the opportunity to contribute to it and be part of it.

"When I joined the band, we started playing some of the songs live. From there, I got to know six or seven songs. But then, going into the studio, I was hearing a lot of things for the very first time, and you're really on the spot, and you're dealing with music that's already full — it's almost done. There's so much going on. I mean, it's so jam packed. Wherever you turn your ears, there's something going on in those songs — between drums and loops and bass and keys and other keys and percussion and vocals and backing vocals and orchestra and any kind of synth stuff and all the layers of guitars and different guitar players from different periods; there's so much going on.

"So, I remember I would be playing different ideas — for each song, maybe a hundred different ideas — in a day; in, like, 14 hours, working on a song, from start to finish," he continued. "And I would try something that was just kind of nasty, and then something that's a little more tight, something that's technical, something that's with a wah, something with a fretless, something that's melodic, something that just feels almost like industrial [and] robotic or whatever it is — just different vibes. And the hard part to that was there was so much going on musically that you don't wanna step on the toes or clash with anything that's already happening. So you might make a melody, but then realize there's already a melody there in the strings, and at one point in your melody, you might be clashing with something that's happening in the string melody. So it was, like, 'That won't work.' Or you go into a higher range, so you don't clash with it, and then it's, like, 'Oh, wait. There's that synth thing happening there.' Or you go lower, and it's, like, 'Ah, it's kind of getting eaten up by the rhythms and the bass.' So it was a challenge to find the right place. But you've gotta give all credit to Axl and Caram Costanzo that produced the record and made those decisions on which guitar parts they wanted to use, which ones they thought were best, which ones to mute. I would spend all day with Caram. We would play something for Axl — either send him something or whatever it was. And then, after I gave them a lot of choices to choose from, they would choose what they thought fit the song best.

"It was a different way of doing it for me, where usually I was part of the writing process," Ron added. "So I know the song from its infancy, and watching it grow up to adding each part and changing parts, and this part leads to this new part, and, 'Ooh, that melody. You know what? Maybe we should go back and make that chorus, let's make that the verse and [come up with] an even better chorus' — just the way songs grow when you nurture them. I was stepping into a fully formed, pretty much, song and had to come up with stuff."

In November 2020, Thal said that "Chinese Democracy" is a "one-of-a-kind" record that will be looked upon more favorably by fans as time goes on. He told Music Is Win's "Guitar Villains" podcast: "At the time, people were still just going on about how it took this long to make, and it took this much money, and all that nonsense. And I always said, wait 20 years. People are gonna forget about all of this stuff, all of this baggage that they're trying to attach to this record. And they're just gonna listen to it for what it is and just listen to it as music, and they're gonna hear so many layers of things and such an interesting combination of parts and people and changes in even style and technology that was happening over the course of many years — let's say 10-ish years, [from] when they started writing to [when] it actually was on the shelves in stores. And I don't think any other album in the history of rock went through those kind of changes. So it's a very special album with a lot of history just within each song that has layers to it. And I'm grateful that they had me on it."

Thal never officially announced his departure from the GN'R, but a source confirmed to Detroit music writer Gary Graff back in 2015 that the guitarist had been out since the end of the band's second Las Vegas residency in 2014.

Thal later revealed that he was focusing on his solo career and other projects after spending eight years playing in GUNS.

Thal is currently a member of SONS OF APOLLO, which also features drummer Mike Portnoy, keyboardist Derek Sherinian and bassist Billy Sheehan. SONS OF APOLLO released its second studio album, "MMXX" (pronounced: 20/20),in January 2020 via InsideOut Music/Sony.

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