After 6 albums released on the small prog-rock label Cyclops, British band The Pineapple Thief have made the breakthrough of signing to K-Scope and their most recent album, Tightly Unwound, was released earlier this year. This may be the start of more recognition for this worthy band, led by its creator Bruce Soord. SoT writer Alex Torres recently caught up with Bruce to quiz him about various aspects of his music.
SoT: Tell us about The Pineapple Thief's history and what you see as the highlights of its career so far.
Bruce: I started it as a solo project with no real aspirations (I was just happy to be lucky enough to release an album on a label). That was back in 1999. Gradually, I built up a small (but very loyal!) fan base. Then we were offered gigs so I got a band together. It's quite a simple story really. The highlight has to be this year when we signed to Kscope. After 6 albums on a very small label (Cyclops) it was wonderful to have so many people working for us. It's already changing things for the better. I feel very fortunate to be here…
SoT: How would you describe your soundscape and your songs to readers of ours who may be unfamiliar with your music so as to persuade them to go out and buy, say, your latest CD, "Tightly Unwound"?
Bruce: I've been asked this a lot and I've never come up with an adequate answer. There's a lot of debate about having to 'pigeon hole' music. Frankly, I think it's necessary for this very reason so I've not got a problem with it, I'm just still searching for right answer! Ok, lets try it…. It's progressive but not prog. It has instant melody and appeal but hidden depths that only surface after repeated listenings. The production has it's roots in the 70s but not the song writing. I've seen our music described as 'nu-prog' but I have no idea what that means. I've also seen it described as 'bitter sweet progressive', which kind of makes sense. See, I told you I wasn't any good at it!
SoT: Which is your favorite TPT album?
Bruce: Blimey, that's a tough one! Each album has a special place in my heart but if I were pushed I would say Little Man (a controversial choice if you ask the fans) and the latest. Ask me next year and I'll say 'the latest one'.
SoT: What are the difficulties encountered by artists like TPT in the modern music market? Is it difficult to "break through" and make a living from your music?
Bruce: In a word, yes. But I count my lucky stars that we're as established as we are but it's been a long road. We have such a lovely fan base at the moment that I know we'll have listeners for years to come. That's something I'm sure a lot of 'mainstream' artists would be envious of. I'd much rather have 20,000 music loving fans than a million fickle, supermarket CD buying fans, that's for sure. But yeah, it's still difficult to break through. We've decided to stop worrying about it, get our heads down and do what we CAN do which is gig as much as we can and keep getting stuff out there. I'm not just talking about albums, we're also focusing on keeping our online presence fresh too, like remix tracks, podcasts, download only releases, documentaries and workshops on the 'pineapple tv' page. Things like that make a huge difference in today's world - or LastFM, myspace, facebook, Itunes and the like. I have to say, of all them, LastFM has been great for spreading the Thief.
SoT: Tell us about your aspirations for the band now that you have signed to K-scope.
Bruce: I could probably summarize that quite easily – to get our music out there to everyone who is missing out. Every time we play big gigs, we get so many new fans who seem to rave about 'discovering this great new band'. While that's nice, it's also frustrating that so many other people must be out there who don't know about us.
SoT: You started off TPT as a vehicle for your own music. Now that it has become a band is there any temptation or pressure to share the songwriting with the other members of the band? How much input into your songs do the other band members have?
Bruce: Not really. The guys know the music touches so many people because it's so personal, they know I wouldn't be able to write songs as a 'committee' (as Steve Hackett once remarked). That's not saying they don't have a musical input though. But as it is, they wait for me to turn up to rehearsal with a song and they add their respective colors to it. The studio process is still pretty personal but everyone has a production input. Oh and they also let me know if I've come up with a stinker…
Playing live is now a huge part of the Thief, it simply wouldn't work without the band and their input.
SoT: TPT's sound is rich in mellotronics. From where does your appreciation of that sound originate?
Bruce: No one's ever asked me that before. Ever since I first heard a mellotron (probably early Yes when I was about 12 years old) I fell in love with the sound. The mellotron strings and choirs are the most beautiful and haunting sounds I have heard from a keyboard. I'll always use them.
SoT: What instrument(s) do you actually use for the mellotron sound?
Bruce: Sadly, I haven't the time, space or money to use a real one. Luckily, mellotrons are fairly easy to sample (as they are actually sample based instruments, they just use analogue tape instead of memory chips) so I use a virtual instrument called 'M-Tron'. G-media (who designed it) have released three volumes of rare mellotron samples. The only issue is that it can't replicate one of the most endearing features of the mellotron – that fact that they are a bit rubbish. You know, not rubbish in a RUBBISH way, but in a 'tape warble, flutter and chew' way. With the sampled instruments, you get the same 'warble and flutter' with every note. Once I have my utopian ranch and studio, I'll definitely get some real ones in.
Sot: You've been prolific over the last few years - an album release a year from 2004 (actually, this is what someone of my generation was brought up to expect from a band!) - do you envisage this continuing?
Bruce: I really hope so. Right now I feel like I can carry on writing for ever and it helps that we're not constantly touring, just doing regular dates. This means in between, I can go to my studio or pick up my guitar and write. I don't think an album every 12-18 months is too much to ask for. It also helps that I have a nice studio at home and technology has become an inspiration, not a hindrance.
SoT: From where do you draw the inspiration for your music and your lyrics?
Bruce: Always personal experiences. That's the only place I can get passion from and I'd like to think that translates into my music. Yeah, not everyone 'gets' the Thief, but the ones that do often email me to tell me how much the music has 'touched their soul'. If it doesn't touch mine too, that would never happen.
SoT: You're clearly keen on music developed in the studio, even having the wonderful idea of putting the individual instrumentation tracks for "my debt to you" on your website to give your fans a sense of its feel by making up their own re-mixes, but tell us a little bit of detail about how you view the different approaches for studio and live working and what you like about each.
Bruce: I love both places. The studio is more of a personal, isolated island. I have control over pretty much everything but obviously I get the guys in when I need them. Steve also lends his ear towards the end of a mix as it's not healthy to record, mix and produce your own album. I sometimes suffer from studio blindness! During the recording process, I will take a song to rehearsal and we'll figure out how we are going to make it work live. Rehearsals and gigs are great fun – the 4 of us are a very close unit. When we venture out on the road, we're like a bunch of kids.
SoT: What are the difficulties involved in bringing TPT's rich album sound to a live audience?
Bruce: As a four-piece, it's definitely a challenge, especially as I really hate backing tracks. Most of the time we manage to replicate the album quite well, even it means changing the instrumentation slightly. I don't think there is anything wrong in giving a song a 'live' angle. Having said that, we have a few sections of songs where we use a click track. But we keep it to an absolute minimum. Playing to backing tracks is just another name for karaoke.
SoT: Which do you prefer:- playing live or creating songs in the studio?
Bruce: Man, I really don't know! The feeling I get, alone in my studio, when I know a song is coming together is indescribable. It's totally different to the buzz you get from playing live. It's a solitary emotion in the studio, but an incredibly warm one. The live experience seems to make the thing 'whole'. And meeting the fans, seeing them sing along – it's very humbling.
SoT: TPT's live appearances outside of the UK have been limited. Is this likely to change in the future? What plans/hopes exist for concerts outside of the UK?
Bruce: What ever we can get! If the demand is there we will come. We've already booked quite a few European dates early next year, I'm hoping a tour across the pond will be inevitable. We desperately want to play live more.
SoT: Who are your musical heroes?
Bruce: As far as guitar playing goes, I grew up listening to a lot of Camel (Andy Latimer) and Ian Biarnson (Alan Parsons) – the both share my philosophy of well played, melodic guitar playing (as opposed to shredding randomly up and down the fret board). I guess you could put David Gilmour in that category too. As far as true musical heroes goes? Hmmmm…. Can I be naughty and say I don't really have any? I respect and like a lot people though. The usual suspects from the 70s, not a lot from the 80s but plenty from the late 90s and naughties.
SoT: And three albums to take to your desert island?
Bruce: You don't make this easy do you? OK, 1) Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd). 2) Mobile Home (Long Pigs) 3) Ideal Crash (Deus). I'm not saying these are the greatest albums in the world (maybe 1 is the exception) but they mean a lot to me due to association.
SoT: Bruce, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and, also, thank you for the music!
Bruce: No problem!
(Click here to read our review of Tightly Unwound)