Art of Anarchy (AOA) is truly a force to be reckoned with as it is one of the rare rock bands where each member has a strong identity and together create something special. The band evolved organically out of an 18-year friendship between Bumblefoot and the Votta brothers. Jon Votta came to Bumblefoot with the idea of putting together a new band with a diverse group of talent and a uniquely melodic and aggressive sound.
It seemed like a match made it heaven. Collectively, the members have sold tens of millions of albums worldwide and have a rock pedigree most artists would be content to rest their laurels on. Lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal hails formerly from Guns N’ Roses, while bassist John Moyer rose to fame as a member of Disturbed. Twin brothers Jon Votta (guitar) and Vince Votta (drums), meanwhile, first gained renown as fixtures on the New York music scene. Art of Anarchy burst onto the radar of rock fans around the globe with the release their self-titled debut album, “Art of Anarchy,” in June 2015. The album featured the late Scott Weiland on vocals and showcased a gritty hard rock edge balanced by a focus on innovative songwriting and skillful musicianship.
However, after a tumultuous start stemming from the departure of the late Scott Weiland, the band soon found themselves without a frontman and unsure of their future. It seemed all hope was lost. Until 2016 when the members of Art of Anarchy crossed paths with Grammy Award winner Scott Stapp, the founder and lead singer of Creed. After a solid jam session, the addition of Stapp was inevitable and would open the door to an electrifying new musical direction. While AOA possess the star power and flash of a rock supergroup, the band’s focus is on meaningful songwriting and creating music with undeniable power. No filler, just raw talent and dedication to the music and being true to who they are. Art of Anarchy’s upcoming album, “The Madness,” is set for a March 24 release via Century Media Records.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal to discuss the making of Art of Anarchy’s powerful new album, the challenges they have faced along the way and what the future holds for them in the days to come.
What went into finding your creative voice as an artist?
When I first started playing, I was so young that all of those questions hadn’t even entered my head yet. I know I love the Beatles, KISS, YES, Blondie, AC/DC and Billy Joel. There were all of these different influences. You just draw from what you know. I was a 6-year-old kid and I heard “Fox On The Run” on the radio and the next thing you know I’m writing a song that sounds similar. It’s almost like the world gives you little building blocks to build with and the longer you live the more blocks you receive and the more you can build. However, at first, you have a limited set of blocks. Early on everything I was writing sounded like early KISS albums, whatever might have been on the radio at the time or whatever albums I discovered from my neighbor’s older brothers and sisters. I think the actual moment that created guitar awareness for me, even though I was a big Angus Young and Ace Frehley fan, was hearing Eddie Van Halen when I was 12 years old. I heard the intro to “Mean Streets” and I had never heard anything make a sound like that before, let alone a guitar. It was the coolest sound I had ever heard in my life and it probably still is! [laughs] That made me rethink guitar playing and made me realize there was more to this thing. I realize it was not just about laying the backdrop to telling a story.
We’ve followed your adventures online for sometime now through social media. It’s been exciting to see the places your career has taken you around the world. How has your exposure to other places and cultures impacted you as a musician?
I think, more than anything, it impacts you as a person. You learn so much from traveling. It’s a great education on reality, perspective and people. It’s an education on culture, architecture, history, food and everything in-between. Understanding people is a big part of it. You may go to one place or something you do might be taken as an insult but in another part of the world it might be a compliment. It really makes you humble in certain ways. It makes you realize you’re not the center of the universe. You really do learn a lot and it truly broadens your horizons. With that, it changes how you make music, the stories you want to tell, what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Your most recent project is Art of Anarchy. Last time we spoke, this thing was just getting off the ground. For those who don’t know, how did the ball get rolling?
It goes back to the mid ‘90s when I had a studio in the boroughs of New York City and some local guys, named John and Vince Votta, came into the studio. They’re twin brothers and, at the time, were teenage kids who played guitar and drums. They would come into to the studio with whatever band they had at the time and I would record them, as well as do some producing for them as well. They always kept in touch throughout the years. In 2011, they said they had written 10 songs, just the guitar and drums, and wanted to make the album they had always dreamed of making. I brought them into the studio and recorded them. As we were doing that, they said, “Hey Ron! Why don’t you lay down the guitar solo in the spot?” I said, “Yeah. OK!” I would just bust something out and then they would suggest adding another guitar part somewhere else. I soon found myself becoming the third part of this thing!
The original idea was to get different singers to sing on different songs. Scott Weiland was the first person to do it and he did the song ”’Til The Dust Is Gone.” Nothing was written vocally, melodically or lyrically. The idea was that whoever was going to sing would get to do whatever they wanted on the song. That is what Scott wrote for it and came up with and it was great! From there, it evolved into him doing the whole record. Then, John Moyer (Disturbed) joined us. Now, this dream album they wanted to make was becoming something much more and had taken on a life of its own. The next thing you know, we got the album out on Century Media. At that point, Weiland very publicly distanced himself from everything. For us it became a question of if we just wanted to call it a day or find a new singer. Next thing you know, two months after the album came out in August of 2016, we were meeting up with Scott Stapp. We hung out in the rehearsal room and jammed a bit. We just made some stuff up on the spot and started jamming to see how it felt. It went well! A month later, he came up to New York.
It was just the five of us in a room building from scratch and rebuilding this thing. It actually evolved into a band in the way you would traditionally think of it, where it’s five guys in a room writing from scratch together. Half of the album happened that way. Half of the album happened in that we can have two weeks where it was just the five of us slogging away in a room. We were busting out a song or two every day with a little recorder in the corner of the room capturing all. From there, it became a whole lot of us trying to get our schedules to align for the next year-and-a-half. Everybody is on tour at different times and it was difficult to find the time where we could get everyone together to shoot a video or do recording and writing. That happened all the way until this past January.
As we all know Scott Weiland passed away in 2015. What did you take away from working with him as an artist?
Any dealings I had with him were good. They were friendly and I felt like they were good. It’s tragic how it all ended and disappointing what happened with the band and all. Honestly, I kind of have a hard time talking about him. I have so many … there is just so much to say that I don’t even say. I just wish things had ended up differently, just him, his wife, his family and his world.
Were there reservations about bringing Scott Stapp into the band in light of what you experienced with Scott Weiland?
Anytime you bring someone into your life, I think it’s normal in any circumstance that everyone is going to enter into it with a bit of caution. I’m sure he was extremely cautious and concerned about us as well. He was bringing four people into his life that he didn’t really know. How’s that going to work out? For us, it’s the same.
Understood. How did the addition of Scott Stapp alter your vision for the band?
I knew when he was going to come into the band that he was going to bring what he does naturally, which is bring ear friendly melodies and a very identifiable sound within his voice. It came down to putting all the ingredients into the bowl, mixing them up and baking it! It’s really that simple! We’re letting everyone be who they are. If we’re being as much of who we are as we can possibly be, then this thing is going to be pretty interesting!
What did members of Art of Anarchy bring to the project and “The Madness?”
What was interesting, and I didn’t realize it until after-the-fact, was that my whole life all I ever wanted was to be in a band where everybody is known on a first name basis and their name means something musically. For example, John, Paul, George and Ringo or Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace. These names made up the bands that were my first loves in music. We can’t forget Axl, Slash and Duff! And let’s not forget Izzy and Steven! I wanted to be in that kind of band. I realized, after doing this album, this was the first time in my life that I actually had something like that, where everybody was contributing and what they contributed was never diluted or whittled down. We all got to contribute to who we were and you can hear it in the music. It’s not reinventing rock or anything. We just made songs together but in those songs you can hear Scott being Scott, me being me and Moyer being Moyer with all the grooves and everything. You can hear John and Vince being themselves, which is like this old school kind of attack with the way they play and the riffs that they come up with.
What can you tell us about the writing process for the album?
It was all just a long growth process. There was a lot of digging deep, tasting the floor, re-writing and moving things around. In the beginning, like I said, it started with us jamming in the room and throwing out ideas. Then we took those ideas and started building them out. Once the vocals are on the songs, you have to start changing things up, letting the song take on a life of its own and being careful not to get in its way. There were times we said, “Okay. We thought this was the chorus but it works better as the verse. Here’s a new chorus that works even better because of these lyrics.” There was a lot of re-writing and re-structuring the songs. I wouldn’t say any of it was easy. A lot of work went into it! In a year-and-a-half, we found ourselves having to have the growth of other bands that might normally be around for a few more years than that and we did it!
As an artist, what was the most satisfying part of working with these other talented musicians?
I was there for every step because I was pretty much the producer, the person doing the mixing and mastering, along with being a band member doing the writing and the playing. There was so much to do on this project. Building everything from nothing was a challenge. We literally started with nothing. It was just all of us looking at each other like, “Okay! How do we start this?!” [laughs] Someone would start playing the groove and Moyer might say, “Check this out” as he starts playing a beat. Then we all jump on that! Meanwhile, Scott is hanging out on the couch with the microphone. When something peaks his interest, he starts singing some melodies to it. Seeing it go from that to having the entire album done and knowing how much went into the production of it is amazing. For instance, the intro to “Afterburn.” There is so much going on in that song as far as different sounds and layers of things. There’s a little scream in the background that fades off into something else with a different sound on another track. It’s very detailed. Seeing it all done, knowing what it took to get to that point and having us get to that point is pretty amazing! [laughs]
Just to be clear, for fans who may be wondering, there was no material from the Scott Weiland era of Art of Anarchy which came forward into this new age, correct?
No. With that album, it was just those 10 pieces of music that became that first album. There was nothing else. That’s the thing, it wasn’t like this is this new second album. This new album happened truly like a band. That’s nothing against the first one. Things happened however they happened and you can’t change that. With the first album, everything evolved into a band. With this new album, we truly started as a band.
You have been focused on this album for Art of Anarchy. Have you looked to the future?
We have to do another video. We will be shooting that at the end of March. We have touring to do as well! We are starting to get some shows together for April, which should be announced soon. Then we will take it from there. At this point, it’s hard to think about next year or anything down the road because there’s so much to do in the next four weeks. However, I can assure you, there will be more videos, touring and everything a band should do. We’re really looking forward to getting out and playing.
When you look back at the making of the album and bringing it to life, what are the biggest lessons you took away from the experience?
Ya know, I think I learned all the lessons in the past, before doing this record, and they all came into play. It’s things like, “Don’t force it, just let it happen and it will all fall into place the way it’s meant to. As much as you would like to rush it, you can’t rush it.” Things like that.
Was there anything you wrote during these sessions that didn’t make the album and we might hear in the future?
Musically, we had like 20 other things that we just decided not to move forward with. If we didn’t use them for this, we probably won’t at all. Any writing we do moving forward will probably be fresh writing; at least that’s what I’m guessing.
Which songs from the album resonate with you the most and which are you most looking forward to sinking your teeth into in a live setting?
For a listening standpoint, I like “Won’t Let You Down,” “Changed Man” and “A Light In Me.” When it comes to playing live, I’m thinking “Echo of A Scream” and “Somber.” I’m just looking forward to getting all 10 songs out there!
You experienced the music industry from all sides. What is the best part about being a working artist in this day and age?
The Internet! It’s a double-edged sword in so many ways. Having Internet available has decimated the old structure and economy of everything. However, this is what we dreamed of our whole lives — having the means of getting in touch directly with your fans all across the world. To get them to hear your music and have a relationship with them that is so one-on-one is an amazing thing. That was impossible in the past. In the 1980s and early 1990s, if you wanted people to hear your music was a difficult task. Getting your music into a store meant that you had to get a record deal, put it out and have a distributor who was going to spend $500 a month for every little listening booth in the front of one music store in one place for one month. It was a ridiculous amount of investing in hopes of capturing the attention of someone and having them take a listen. Almost no one got to hear your music and now everyone can hear it instantly. That is an amazing thing!
What else do you have in store for 2017? It’s been awhile since you released solo work. Any movement on that front?
It’s been two years since the “Little Brother Is Watching” album came out; the last Bumblefoot album. I think this year I would like to do another solo record. I’m thinking maybe something along the lines of an instrumental album. I’m not sure but definitely something that’s a lot more about the guitar. Will there be time to do it? I have been thinking there would be for the past 12 years but something always comes up! [laughs] I have been wanting to do another guitar album for a long time but right now my focus is on the Art of Anarchy.
You lend your voice and talent to great charities. What can we help shine a light on?
I just came back from playing in Thailand. There is a big Sturgis-style biker festival that happens out there. It’s called Pattaya Burapa Bike Week in Pattaya, Thailand. I headlined it doing solo stuff. I think it was 50,000 people there in the week. It all goes toward a children’s charity called Jester’s Care For Kids, which provides a safe place for children who come from unsafe environments. It gives them a way out and a place to go where they won’t be hurt and will be taken care of. They provide education, clothing, food and everything so that they will have a better life. All the proceeds from this biker festival go to support the charity. I have visited the kids and seen to work that they do and it’s wonderful! Locally, I support Calling All Cats! It’s an animal rescue in New Jersey that’s really worth checking out. They are a wonderful organization that has done a lot for New Jersey. Those are two great charities to check out!
Awesome! As always, we appreciate your time and are excited to spread the word on all you have going on!
Thank you, Jason! Have a great one and I will talk to you soon!