It’s not often you get the chance to interview a Guitar God once, let alone twice in a calendar year. Yet towards the end of 2017 that is EXACTLY what happened. I had previously spoken with the one and only Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal back in March about his band ART OF ANARCHY’S latest record The Madness (a favorite here at A&GS HQ!). And this time I was fortunate enough to get him on the horn to discuss SONS OF APOLLO, the band of extraordinary musicians he’s in alongside bassist Billy Sheehan, drummer Mike Portnoy, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, and the legendary Jeff Scott Soto on vocals. Psychotic Symphony is the name of the powerhouse debut record they released a short time ago, and it. Is. AWESOME!! we talked about it in great detail as well as what 2018 holds in store for the band. Have a look:
Amps: Wow, you never stop! SONS OF APOLLO is outstanding, and it just seems like you never stop working.
Ron: (Laughs) I like making music! Between BUMBLEOOT, ART OF ANARCHY, and SONS OF APOLLO I’m not joining any more bands! Seriously, if you do too much it gets so watered down you can’t focus and devote yourself. So I would rather give a bigger percentage of myself to less things. I think that’s the key. And that’s hard to do as a musician because you don’t want to say no to anything.You wanna do it all, but there’s only one of you.
Amps: My big thing with anything remotely prog-rock has been that a lot of it sounds like hot air. But I love the way this band has managed to find that perfect balance between playing that esoteric stuff and keeping it pleasing to the ear that craves hooks, like mine. How did you manage that with the pedigree of the musicians in this group?
Ron: Good, good. Thank you. As long as it’s catchy that’s cool. Honestly, we’re just doing what we do and not thinking about it. I keep using the analogy that every member of every band is a spice. One person is a salt, the other pepper, and so on. All you have to do is be yourself and the ingredients work together. You got a bunch of guys here who are prog guys, but they’re also metal and rock guys, and they have backgrounds from the proggiest of prog to the catchiest rock.
You got Billy coming from MR. BIG, which blends killer songs with over the top playing, as well as THE WINERY DOGS, and you have Jeff who’s such a phenomenal singer, Mike and Derek from DREAM THEATER, and somehow they let me be in the room with all of them (laughs). But it’s not something you pre-plan or worry about being too much this or that. Whatever we bring to the table, that’s what we work on.
Amps: Interesting choice opening the record with the 11-minute “God of the Sun” by the way. That was right up my alley.
Ron: We decided, “Let’s cut the bullshit and get right to the 11-minute stuff!” And that one is really Derek’s baby. He pretty much wrote the whole thing. He’s a music machine and he’s already sending me riff ideas for Album #2!
Amps: How did the band actually come together? It was Mike and Derek, and then what? Then they reached out to you guys?
Ron: Pretty much. Billy, Derek, and I have played together and recorded together over the years, and I’ve jammed a million times and toured together with Mike in METAL ALLEGIANCE. We’ve all worked together over the years. We talked about putting a band together one of these days, and then we finally were able to make it happen. Derek, Mike, and I jumped in the studio and started shooting ideas around. We’d pull a riff out of the hat and see where it would take us, and by the end of the day we’d have a rough song. Then when Billy got off tour halfway through the recording session he joined us so it was the four of us banging it out. Then after all that was done I would go home and lay my solos down so as not to do that while we were watching the clock. Then Jeff started doing his vocals when he got off tour and that was it. It was an absolute 100% collaboration on these songs.
Amps: I assume you plan on bringing this stuff to the masses in a live setting?
Ron: We’re planning to devote 2018 solely to SONS OF APOLLO. We need to. We have made a contract with humanity. We have given them music and now humanity will have a relationship with us through this music. And with that we have a duty to come see those people.
This can’t just be an online romance. We need to get in the same room, and we’ll do that wherever and whenever we can. That’s what a band’s gotta do! We’re doing Cruise to the Edge with YES and THANK YOU SCIENTIST, and we have more to come.
Amps: I gotta ask…favorite tracks on Psychotic Symphony?
Ron: “God of the Sun” for sure. I have so many great memories of me and Derek laughing in the studio while we were doing this one, likening it to the Planet of the Apes soundtrack, and quoting lines from the movie as the music is playing. “Coming Home” is such a cool rock song. It’s very VAN HALEN-like. You can hear the inspiration there. “Signs of the Time”, that’s definitely one of my favorites. I wrote a lot of that one.
Amps: What are you listening to right about now?
Ron: most of the time I’m listening to songs I gotta learn! But on those rare occasions when I’m not, I keep a stack of CD’s in my car that every time I get off tour, all the bands that gave me their CD’s, I listen to them. I’ve been listening to bands from Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Romania, all over the place.
Amps: There some great, great bands from those parts of the world. I get so much killer metal from Transcending Obscurity Records in India. Kunal and Moni over there are such great people and they do great work with their bands.
Ron: Yeah, I have seen some killer metal bands in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and India. They got some heart there!
Amps: I guess it’s gonna be awhile before you do another solo record, huh?
Ron: (Laughs) yeah I just get so busy. I gotta do something, though. I have that itch and I think the next solo album I put out will be very heavy, more progressive, and more wacky. I think after getting the peaceful side out with Little Brother Is Watching I have the urge to get crazy.
Amps: What would you like to say to all your fans out there in the world?
Ron: I hope you enjoy what I’m doin’, and I hope to see all of you soon. Let’s get in a room and make some noise together!
It’s always a pleasure chatting with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. In addition to being a phenomenal guitar player, he’s also a class act. Last time we spoke I mentioned that Mini-Amps was a big fan. So the first thing he asks me right out of the gate this time was how he’s doing. There aren’t many people out there who genuinely care about their fans. Well, Ron is one of those people. Make sure you all go out and get your copy of Psychotic Symphony from SONS OF APOLLO if you haven’t already, and at press time there’s a handful of U.S. tour dates, which you can find HERE. This is only the tip of the iceberg, my friends, with much more to come. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!
BAND IMAGES: HRISTO SHINDOV