Bruce Soord and the collective known as The Pineapple Thief have been quite busy in recent years, with 2008's heralded Tightly Unwound, 2009's 3000 Days compilation, and the recent release of Someone Here is Missing here in 2010, all further cementing the positive reputation of this progressive rock band. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Jordan Blum spent some time with band mastermind Soord to get the inside scoop on the history of the band, the new album, his take on prog-rock music, live plans, and plenty of other topics.
Jordan Blum: So let me begin by saying that I really enjoyed your last record, Someone Here Is Missing.
Bruce Soord: Oh, thank you. I tell you it has sort of polarized the audience. Either people really like it or they're thinking "Oh no." But yeah it was a bit of fun.
JB: Well it's really good. So to begin, how does The Pineapple Thief compare with your earlier band, Vulgar Unicorn? Is there a different intention behind it? Do you feel that TPT is definitely your main project instead of a side project to Vulgar Unicorn?
BS: Well, Vulgar Unicorn got started in 1996, I think, or even earlier. It began when I went to school when I was fourteen and I met my best friend, Neil Randall. Neil was always the driving force in that band. He wrote the lyrics and wrote most of the songs. I used to come and give the melodies, the ambience and the guitars. It was very much sort of his baby. But the thing about Vulgar Unicorn was that Neil never wanted to play live.
JB: Oh, really?
BS: Yeah and it was kind of a big thing for me because I kind of felt a bit divorced from all the fans that were buying the new records. You know we couldn't go out and play it live and, um, I think that's where music should be heard. That's what caused me to start Pineapple Thief in 1999, as just a solo thing. Let's just try it once and see. And as I gradually built a fanbase and started playing live, it was clear that Pineapple Thief was the band that was sort of taking over. And then Neil, I think, got a bit disenchanted with the whole music industry because we weren't getting the success that he felt we deserved. He got a bit bored and moved over to other art forms. That's the trouble with Neil, I think; he was always too bright for his own good and got bored too quickly.
JB: [laughs] Well, that's a shame for him. Now, The Pineapple Thief has been compared to Porcupine Tree a lot, musically, and you guys sort of started out the same way. You and Steven Wilson both started bands as a solo project and then once the music got popular, you kind of had to find musicians to play it live.
BS: Yeah, that's true, actually. Ever since day one we've always had this comparison to Porcupine Tree (even though I don't hear it much). The music has changed so much and Vulgar Unicorn was a very different sound. But we've always had Porcupine Tree as a reference in the reviews and even when, you know, Steven Wilson was doing his more ambient stuff and now he's doing more heavy stuff, people are still saying you can hear the Porcupine Tree influence. I mean, I'm not denying that I listen to Porcupine Tree, but I don't hear them as much as I read in the reviews. But of course, that's just gonna be natural. The similarity between the whole thing is a bit stupid, what with it starting with the whole No-Man and Vulgar Unicorn thing and then the solo projects. And now that we're getting a sort of live following, it's a bit eerie.
JB: Well have you ever spoken to Wilson about maybe doing a project together or just the comparisons in general?
BS: It's funny you should say that. I haven't really thought about doing any collaborative stuff, but Steven Wilson has been really, really helpful ever since I met him and we've been exchanging emails about two or three years ago. He's always given me good advice. He came to our last gig in London and I think he could probably see that where we are now is where he was a good many years ago. For that reason, he can give us such good advice. You know, what we need to do to step up and move to the next level. But no, I've never thought about it but it would be quite interesting.
JB: Well I think the comparisons are there because the one thing the two bands share is how you juxtapose progressive rock compositions and technical music with simpler songwriting. It's usually that a band is either a song focused band or purely a technical band. But you guys combine those sides well.
BS: [laughs] I think that sums up our sound and my musical philosophy perfectly.
JB: So, how do you manage to combine the two styles so well?
BS: Well I love a good song and a good melody, a simple melody that gets you hooked.
BS: But I get bored if it's just the same old routine throughout the entire album. I mean, I grew up as a kid listening to Yes, which sort of always made my group at school be looked at as a bit weird. And at the time I was really influenced by Andy Latimer and Camel.
JB: Oh, cool. I really like The Snow Goose.
BS: The first thing that got me into being a music lover was when I heard Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Alan Parsons. That's what got me into progressive rock and then I moved over to, obviously, Pink Floyd, Yes, Camel, and Supertramp. The early Supertramp album, um, Crime of the Century, I've always praised really highly. And, like I said, it's juxtaposing all those influences with say, Close to the Edge, which, you know, the first time I heard it, I didn't have a clue what was going on. And then after, like, five or ten listens, all of a sudden it clicks and you realize that there is actually a method to their madness.
JB: That's certainly true.
BS: It was juxtaposing that with songs that I love. And, you know, even today there are modern bands that write really good rock songs but there are a lot that I just get bored of if it doesn't have a little bit of interest.
JB: Right. So how would you say the sound of Pineapple Thief has changed since its inception, since Abducting the Unicorn?
BS: Well, when I did Abducting, it was just me and back in those days the studio technology wasn't great for the home studios. So I had samplers and synths but it wasn't easy to get a good sound. A lot of the early stuff was quite experimental and, really, it's a bit difficult to describe. As I moved forward and got a live band, it became more of a standard rock arrangement with drums and guitars. I've always loved the classic synths sound and wanted to bring strings in. What's really happened lately is just that we've gotten heavier because of playing live. That's what sounds best and gives us the most energy. If you've got something to really rock out to.
JB: The new album is always noted for using more keyboards and sampling, which you can hear right off the bat with the first track. What made you record it that way?
BS: Honestly, I don't think I know. I think when I finished Tightly Unwound, which is much more of a traditional progressive rock album and you can hear the influences of Pink Floyd and modern rock, I realized that I kind of kept away from that modern, edgy synth-dance sound. And I thought "well I've done Tightly Unwound and I want to make the new one heavier and edgier." I was listening to a lot of dance stuff like The Pendulum and Prodigy and hearing what they did to make it your ears perk up. I took influences from that and that's where some of the drum programming and harder synths and dancing stuff on the tracks came from. And then I thought "could I fuse this with the progressive rock influences?"
BS: I mean, I didn't go out of my way to write like that. I didn't sit there and intentionally think "ok I'm going to go sit in my studio now and have a sort of dancing bit in this song." It was just in my mind and that was all I could pull out to write.
JB: Did you listen to a lot of Muse during that time too? I wouldn't necessarily draw a connection but I see a lot of people making the comparison and saying how Someone Here Is Missing has that Muse sound.
BS: Well the thing is you can't really get away from Muse. Over the last couple years they've become a bit of a super group, you know, selling out stadiums and all. I'm not a huge Muse fan. I've listened to their records and I like a couple tracks but I don't have a Muse album where I'll say "Yeah that's brilliant and I love it all the way through." I must confess that when I wrote the first track, the opening track to for the new album, with the arpeggio I said to my keyboard player "well are you sure it doesn't sound a bit too Musey [laughs]. Muse has really got the arpeggio synth down and we can't touch it." I was kind of toying with fire there but as far as stealing that Muse influence, it definitely wasn't conscious. Let's put it that way.
JB: And as far as the new album, have you seen any evidence of a larger fanbase or it making you guys more popular?
BS: Well it's definitely selling well. It's already sold more than Tightly Unwound, which is really, really positive. But again what I've noticed is that it's really quite polarized. Fans either absolutely love it or new fans are coming on board saying "well I never really liked them to begin with because they didn't rock out a bit and Bruce was too melancholy, but this new album has a new direction and I love it." But then there are those other groups that say "oh no I really liked Bruce when he was being soft and more traditionally progressive." It's sad because we've got such a good fanbase and I really hate to alienate anyone but you can't think about that when you write a new album.
JB: I think that makes perfect sense. Of course you want to keep the fans in mind but you can't write just for them. As an artist, you have to write for yourself.
BS: Yes but it is so tempting. I can see why some bands stick with their trusted, winning formula. You get this fanbase with people who are gushing "oh wow you guys are amazing" and think "Well I really can't stray from them." It's too much of a risk. But we're certainly getting a lot of gigs by sort of making it, dare I say a little more mainstream.
JB: So are there any plans to tour the U.S.?
BS: I wish we could, I really do. At the moment we've got U.K. dates and a European tour in October. But no upcoming U.S. dates because we played NEARfest in June. A lot of fans traveled a long way just to see us and it was a little bit of an eye opener for how important USA is to us. Your country is so massive that we wouldn't know where to begin [laughs].
JB: [laughs] Well I can't deny that.
BS: We definitely want to play New York and I'd love to go to San Francisco as sort of one end to the other. I don't know. Do you have any ideas for good places to play in the states?
JB: Well I'm in Philadelphia so I'd love for you guys to come here, you know.
BS: Oh cool. We played Rosfest there about four years ago. But actually the gig was kind of terrible. We were very bad that night.
JB: Well keep it in mind if you ever come back to the U.S.
BS: Oh yeah I'd love to come back to Philly.
JB: Now the new album has a track called "3000 Days," which was also the name of last year's compilation. Was the song written before or after that record came out?
BS: It was really written at exactly the same time I was doing it. I was spending all this time getting all of my old mixes out, which meant sometimes I had to get out my old gear. It was quite the bore so in the middle of it, I wrote the song. And all the time I kept trying to give it a different name but I just couldn't. That's just what it was called and it's terrible how it's sort of confusing. But the compilation and the song are about the same thing, really. It's about, you know, just how much time has passed since Pineapple Thief began and what it all means.
JB: Well it's a great collection, man.
BS: Hey well thanks.
JB: So how did you come to work with the Storm Thorgerson, who designed the album cover?
BS: The main designer at Kscope, our label, went to one of Storm's exhibitions in London and met Storm, luckily, and said to him "look would you ever consider working for smaller artists?" He worked with Biffy Clyro, Muse, and Pink Floyd and, you know, we're not there [popularity wise]. And he said "well if I like the music, yeah, so just send it out." So the next thing I knew I got a phone call and Storm wanted me to go up and meet him in his studio. The way he works is that he always interviews you and finds out what you're about with the lyrics. Then he goes away with his crew and they play the demos really loud and they stretch out five or six ideas and then send it back to me. Five or six ideas that they'd sort of photograph.
BS: Yeah so that's how that happened and I tell you, it was such a surreal experience because Storm is really a hero of mine.
JB: He's worked on many classic albums.
BS: Yes, and I always find that Dark Side Of The Moon, along with Sgt. Pepper of course, is always touted as the greatest album cover of all time, you know.
JB: And that's kind of ironic since one is perhaps the most complicated album cover of all time and the other is one of the simplest.
BS: Exactly. Whoever thought that just a prism would be such an iconic cover?
JB: Now earlier you mentioned that you have a trademark sense of melancholy when you write songs, and there's even a hint of violent retaliation in some songs, I find. Does that come from your personal life or do you sometimes write outside of yourself?
BS: No, no, I've tried going outside of myself before but I can't. It just comes out as rubbish. The subjects have always been my life and the things I experience but I always try to keep it as ambiguous as possible because, you know, you don't want to share your deepest, darkest secrets too literally.
JB: That's true.
BS: I think it'd be a big turn off. And that's probably why a lot of times it's melancholy. The sadder, darker things are the things that generally influence more or require more.
JB: Well I mean the songs don't sound the same necessarily but it's clear that they're coming from the same part of you. You're really good at it though and you've written a lot of great songs with it.
BS: Well, thanks. Cheers.
JB: I think there's a quote from George Harrison about how he admired Paul and John for being able to write songs out of thin air, whereas he always had to write from his own experiences and such. So I can totally relate to that idea.
JB: Do the subjects on Someone differ a lot from the previous albums? Was there a specific message or theme you were trying to get across?
BS: I think the subject matter has always been very similar but it's that as I've grown older, the albums have come with me. If you look at all the albums I've done, it's kind of like an autobiographical journey. When I did the 3000 Days compilation, it was such a weird, weird experience to go back to my mind and life when I did those albums. But the new album is still about the same old concepts of life, love, death and angst but with a different edge, like we're all getting older and we've experienced so many different things.
JB: That's very poignant. A trademark that you sort of have for each album, though it's not true for every one, is that you end with a kind of longer, complex and epic track. It's usually more of a traditionally progressive rock track.
BS: Yeah, you're right. I think I've done that for every album, apart from 137. That's because the thing I always loved about progressive rock was how they didn't care [laughs]. The movement did whatever it wanted, no matter if it took twenty minutes, ten minutes, a half an hour, it just did it. If it had all these time signature changes and it worked, great. But I also loved the fact that we had songs that were short and would hit you, and by the end I just felt that we needed something that was longer and more absorbent to finish the album. And I always thought that if you didn't dig that, if you weren't a progressive rock fan and liked Pineapple Thief doing the more rocky stuff, then fine you can't switch it off when it gets to the end.
JB: Yeah, that's true.
BS: For me, the album is complete if it leaves you thinking "Oh yeah, right, that's the sort of substance behind the band."
JB: That's what you guys excel at doing. I was just listening to What We Have Sown the other day and the closing track, which is also the title track, is fantastic.
BS: Oh yeah, yeah, and that really was me sort of indulging myself. That was literally a really quick album to finish my contract with the head of Cyclops before I moved over to Kscope. He said "give me live album or something like that" and I just felt that that was a bit disrespectful so I thought "I'll just spend four or six weeks and indulge myself." I went in the studio and said to myself "Right, ok, let's just write a really long progressive rock track."
BS: And funny enough that track has gone down really well with fans.
JB: Well it's a really good track [laughs].
BS: [laughs] Well thanks. That's good.
JB: So have you begun writing new songs for an upcoming EP or LP, or are you just letting the new album settle a bit?
BS: I did have a kind of break mentally when I finished writing back in…January, but now, um, I've started to think about where I'm going to go next. The whole process for me takes about 18 months from when we start writing to when we finish, so maybe the next album will be out around spring of 2012. Now is when I have to start warming my brain up [laughs] and it's a really long process. I think we have an EP coming out for Kscope in September and I've got to sort through some bonus tracks for that.
JB: You seem quite prolific.
BS: Yeah, well, I guess the one thing is that I don't really do anything else, you know? I only do The Pineapple Thief and I don't do any sort of side projects in between albums. Also, we don't spend twelve or fourteen months of the year touring.
BS: So I've got time to sit down and write.
JB: Now, if you could tour with any artist or collaborate with them live or in the studio, who would it be?
BS: Wow, that's a tricky one. That's a really tricky one.
JB: [laughs] That's a question I always ask people.
BS: Does it have to be live?
JB: Well live or in the studio, whichever.
BS: Um, I think if I were touring I'd like tour with a British band called Biffy Clyro. I don't think they've broken through in the states. They write brilliant pop/rock with a little bit of a Rush progressive rock influence. That'd be a dream come true.
JB: I'll have to look them up.
BS: I know it's a very weird name and I have no idea where they got that from [laughs]. But they're just a three piece rock band that sound a bit like Rush, although more commercial, but then again Rush are pretty commercial these days.
JB: Yeah I'm not a big fan of Rush, honestly.
BS: Oh, you're not?
JB: Nah. I mean I'm told I should be but…
BS: I'm not really either. I've heard a few tracks and I've watched the Rush in Rio DVD
they did a few years ago and I thought, you know, "what's all the fuss about?" Technically they're good.
JB: Well I've always liked the music and thought they were excellent musicians, no question, but their songwriting was always lacking to me. Or maybe I'll just have to listen to some more of it.
BS: It bores me a lot when you get an album of just four or five minute songs and that's exactly where Rush went. I would think "Oh, come on Rush, you used to be a progressive rock act in the 70s." You could get away with being a bit more indulgent.
BS: But in the studio, going back to the original question, I have no idea. That's a really…I'd have to really give that a lot of thought.
JB: Ah, so I've stumped you.
BS: [laughs] What I'd really like to do is find someone who is really different but still progressive and sort of fuse it with what I'm doing. One of my favorite bands, on Peaceville [records], is a band called Katatonia. They're very heavy but progressive and I'd love to know what would happen if I, maybe, collaborated with the vocalist from that band. That's the kind of thing I'd want to do if I had to do a studio collaboration.
JB: You don't have to do any collaboration if you don't want to. If you prefer working by yourself.
BS: Yeah, I think generally that I do. I think that because it takes me so long to write an album, because I get so absorbed in it, doing a collaboration would be too much of a distraction.
JB: That's fair. So what are your hobbies when you're not writing or recording? What do you do for fun?
BS: Um, I still play a lot of football, you know, soccer, but music has taken up so much of my life that it's hard to think of what else I do [laughs].
JB: Well you're living your dream though. Nothing wrong with that.
BS: Yeah, exactly. I love to cook. In my kitchen I've got a pretty good stereo and that's where I always listen to new music. I'll spend the evening making a curry or a pizza for a couple of hours with a bottle of wine and I'll play music really loud. That's the moment in my life when my brain is totally switched off. When I'm in songwriting mode, you know, all I'm thinking about are songs and lyrics and inspiration. Sometimes it gets really tiring.
JB: Now to ask an even harder question and make you think more [laughs]. If you weren't a musician, what would you be?
BS: Oh, no [laughs].
JB: Maybe a cook?
BS: Yeah! That's absolutely right and very creative. I reckon that's right. Yeah, a cook.
JB: I ask a lot of people about their artistic integrity versus their sales.
JB: What do you think of bands that have kind of given up their artistic vision to sell records? Could you ever see yourself doing this or are you happy to keep your vision for the level of success you have?
BS: I wouldn't ever risk trying to sell out, which is lucky. The good thing about Pineapple Thief is we're not a huge band but we've got such a loyal fanbase. Because of that, we can always do a gig around Europe and people will come watch us. That for me is humbling enough. To know that all these great fans will come up us after the show and say how much they adore us is such a humbling feeling. I actually think that if we did sell out and all of a sudden turn into the stadium selling pop band, which would be an amazing experience too, but we'd come off from it feeling a little bit cold.
BS: I tell you, at the moment I get such a satisfaction from the level of success that we've got that I don't think I'd really need to think about selling out like that and ruining the whole thing. I know that people are with me so I'm just going to keep doing it and if we lose a few people along the way and gaining people along the way, that's just how it works. I want to keep that going. That's what matters to me.
JB: I recently spoke to Gary Green from Gentle Giant about the same thing and he said he didn't think his band was very good at intentionally writing commercially. I guess you don't think you'd be very good at purposely writing to sell and appease people.
BS: Yeah we'd be rubbish. Total rubbish. It's funny; our drummer is actually the nephew of their keyboard player.
JB: Oh, Kerry Minnear.
JB: Oh, wow. That's quite a coincidence.
BS: Yeah, it is.
JB: I actually discovered you guys in college when "Tightly Wound" appeared on a compilation disc called Prog Spawn.
BS: Oh, right. How'd you find that?
JB: It was in the radio station where I did my show. During a song, when I was walking around, I found a stack on the table. It had a radio edit of "tightly wound" and I loved it instantly. I think that's actually your best track. It's brilliant.
BS: Thanks. I remember when I found out we were on that I was kind of annoyed that they cut the song up.
JB: Oh, you didn't know they were going to do it?
BS: No. We heard it and I thought "hey, where's the instrumental bit at the end? That's the best part."
JB: Yeah, it is. When I got the actual album, I remember being surprised that the song ended like that because I'd only heard the radio edit. It's definitely better on the actual album.
BS: Absolutely. When we play it live, we play the full version.
JB: Oh, you have to. It's really a shame when they edit songs like that for radio or compilations.
BS: Yes, it is.
JB: Didn't they ask you for permission?
BS: Well it was the label who gave them the song.
BS: Yeah and we were all surprised at the cut.
JB: Oh. Well hopefully it led listeners to discover the studio albums and all.
BS: Yeah let's hope so [laughs].
JB: Well Bruce, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me about all this. I'm a huge Pineapple Thief fan and it was a great honor to talk to you.
BS: Oh, sure. Thank you, Jordan. Take care.
Photos courtesy of The Pineapple Thief website & MySpace Page.
Prog Spawn Photo courtesy of Classic Rock Online
(Click here to read our reviews of Someone Here is Missing