Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Back in October of 2017 Sons of Apollo released their formative masterpiece Psychotic Symphony. A powerful progressive metal CD with technical playing on guitar, bass, keyboard & drums married with the perfect blend of melodic verses & choruses. Though the CD is only one hour in length, Psychotic Symphony will leave the listeners breathless by the time it reaches the last power chord.
The progressive metal supergroup features a multitude of musical virtuosos including Mike Portnoy [drums] and Derek Sherinian [keyboards] of Dream Theater, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal [guitar] of Guns N’ Roses, Billy Sheehan [bass] of The Winery Dogs, Mr. Big & Dave Lee Roth and Jeff Scott Soto [vocals] of Journey & Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force.
Sons of Apollo will be heading out on a headlining tour this February of the US then following up with several European festival dates over the summer.
I had the opportunity to catch up with guitarist, “Bumblefoot,” to discuss this impressive new band, the challenges of performing these technically diverse songs live, and how the fans hold the key to the band’s future!
Robert Cavuoto: Congrats on the Sons of Apollo CD, Psychotic Symphony, it’s a great CD and quite intense!
Bumblefoot: You create music and put it out there to the world in hopes that people like it. I’m glad you are digging it.
Robert Cavuoto: If you get a lot of success from this CD will the band continue to make more albums?
Bumblefoot: I hope so! Management and the label are very supportive. The band is dedicated, and we just have to get out there and see how it goes. It’s not easy to keep a band going economically these days. It relies so much more than ever on the fans; it’s very direct; artist to the fans. If there are enough fans then we can keep it going. This will be our first tour, and I hope that people come out to the shows. That will be the launching pad and make a big difference on how everything goes from there. The first tour is very important as promoters are going to look at the numbers to see how many people came to the shows and decide if they want us. It’s up to the fans to make or break us. [Laughing] I look forward to seeing how it all goes.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it more lucrative to go out headline theaters or as a support act for a larger more established band?
Bumblefoot: Either one is good, and both have their benefits. When you are doing a headlining tour, you have more options on how long you can play. Also, there is usually more money in the pocket. When you are opening for a band that is further along than you, you are getting access to a big venue they have earned and their fans. You get to showcase yourself not just to your own fans, but a new group of people that will discover and hopefully like you; ultimately becoming fans. When you are opening for a band, it is more promotional than if you were headlining.
Robert Cavuoto: Sons of Apollo have written some pretty expansive and technically challenging songs. Does the band have to rehearse longer and harder to get everything down prior to a tour?
Bumblefoot: Well we haven’t rehearsed yet! [Laughing] I’m flying out to Burbank this weekend for a few days, and we will start rehearsals. I’m sure everyone is prepared and able to play the stuff. We wrote it, so that’s not the issue. The challenge is remembering the parts. I painted myself into a corner with this album! The hardest part is not the physical aspect of performing, it about the switching from the fretted neck to the fretless neck of the guitar. I don’t leave a gap in the playing and have to jump from one part on one neck to another part on the other neck without stumbling, fumbling or bumbling! [laughing] That’s the tricky part of what I have been practicing. Its the timing of switching from the fretted neck while playing chords in the chorus then having to jump to the fretless neck to do a riff while changing the pickups on one of the necks for a different sound. I have to do this little dance that I have to do with the toggle switches and pulling down of the volume. That is what I have been putting all my time into.
All of those little switches were spontaneous or improvised when it was recorded. When you do something that was improvised, it’s harder to replicate it later. It’s unnatural until you get it down, you have to think about it, and then hopefully it becomes natural to you.
Robert Cavuoto: The new CD is only about an hour, what other songs do you plan to fill the set list with? Are we going to hear Winery Dogs, Guns N’ Roses, or David Lee Roth songs?
Bumblefoot: [Laughing] We will throw in some covers and will fill the time with solos. I’m not going to give anything away. As we tour, we will find new songs and fine-tune others. I won’t be doing any Guns songs.
Robert Cavuoto: When you were recording the CD, did the band record it live?
Bumblefoot: Most of it was live! It started off when we were writing. Derek and I were trading riff ideas before hitting the studio to get the ball rolling. On the first day, we were all looking at each other; how do we begin? We picked one of those riffs that and started jamming. Then we determined where it should go next? What if we change the key or change the chords or what if it takes this weird left turn? Each of us would come up with ideas, agree to it, and keep moving. As we jammed, everything solidified very quickly and turned into songs. By the end of the day, we were rolling tape and playing what we created. The next day I would go into the studio and double the guitar parts to have a rhythm guitar on the left and another on the right to get that stereo effect and give it that wide span of two guitars playing the same thing. Derek would also add layers of keyboards as well. By the afternoon we would start a new song idea, and by night it would be done. Then Derek and I would repeat our process. We just kept doing it. We would write stuff on the spot and then run with it. There is a lot of spontaneity to the CD. It was written and recorded the way it used to be in the old days like real bands. These days with technology it’s easy to take the shortcuts and email parts for people to record their part. Doing that you lose the natural pocket that people have when they play live. You lose a little bit of the spirit that you can only get when feeding off each other’s energy and making something together in the moment.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any discussion among the members prior to entering the studio that this would be a progressive metal band?
Bumblefoot: I think it’s in our blood and playing the way we play. Everyone knows each member’s abilities and what they are capable of playing. We do what we do, and this was what we came up with. I can hear how it balanced out for each person to have more of a melodic balance while taking away from being too technical. Everyone balances each other out to make it what it is. Just like any band; you take all the members and mix them in a blender to create a flavor that you only get from these guys.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there ever a time where you had to self-edit on how long the song would be?
Bumblefoot: There wasn’t too much of that. Every once in a while, someone would say we should do this part twice or three times, and we would make it one time. [Laughing] Everyone listened, trusted, and respected each other. People weren’t fighting the wrong battles. People can get very attached to a piece of music, and the littlest thing could cause a fight. That wasn’t going on with us. We’re all too old for that shit. The goal is to advance together, or you will be stepping over everyone feet.
Robert Cavuoto: How does writing straight-ahead rock songs compare to writing progressive metal?
Bumblefoot: It taps into the different influences I have. One of the first bands I heard was Yes Going for the One in 1977 when I was just seven years old. I fell in love with it. For me to put on my Yes, Jethro Tull, and ELP hat, but at the same time, I still have Manowar in my blood. You are the same cake with just a little different icing on top. The only difference between progressive metal and straight up rock is that progressive metal gets a little more mathematically coordinated with the riffs and measures. Straight up rock is just four on the floor. That’s just a groove thing. With progressive metal, you are taking a good ole rock song and remove some of the limits that you may put on yourself. Listen to “Spoon Man” by Soundgarden, its straightforward yet grooves and not four / four for four measures.
Robert Cavuoto: What is the meaning of the CD title Psychotic Symphony?
Bumblefoot: That came from a lyric in one of the songs. When we heard it, we said, “We have the album title!” [Laughing]. Anything with the word “symphony” in the title just sounds so fucking total progressive to me! We have a lot to live up and be even more psychotic.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about what you were thinking once the CD was finished?
Bumblefoot: By nature, when the album is done, I’m thinking how we can do better on the next one. I’m the same with my solo albums. I never listen to it again, and I’m on to the next project. It tough when you have played the songs live, then you have to go back and relearn the songs.
Robert Cavuoto: You spoke about your influences in progressive rock, how important is it for a musician to be open-minded to other types and styles of music?
Bumblefoot: I think it helps in any situation. Its vital to growing, understanding, and relating. You have to have an open mind in just contributing to a better part of humanity. You have to listen to the people that disagree with you. You have to learn things you don’t know, and you’re not always right. It will get you further in anything including music.