Here I am, connected by the mysteries of the interweb for a chat with the ever-busy Bruce Soord, all-round good bloke, singer, songwriter and guitarist with UK prog veterans The Pineapple Thief, currently in the throes of promoting their fine new waxing All The Wars. Bruce kindly finds the time to put down his guitar, and nuclear war, horse racing and tour-bus-croquet are some of the things not discussed… read on!
Interview for DPRP by Roger Trenwith – band photos by Rob Monk
Roger: As I type this I’m listening to a preview download of All The Wars, kindly supplied by kscope for the delectation of us scribblers at DPRP towers, and a mighty fine energetic thing it is too! Was it hard work fitting the writing, recording and mixing of the album into what looks like a very busy schedule?
Bruce: It’s extremely tough to be honest. TPT is doing pretty well nowadays, but we really need to be touring 3-4 months a year if we want to fund the entire thing. Four full time musicians don’t come cheap. So it’s a sad fact that we have to find other ways to supplement our income – for instance, Steve our keyboard player runs a mastering business (audiomaster.co.uk). TPT wages are the equivalent of slave labour! But it’s a still a nice challenge to have, I’d rather have that than no band at all.
Roger: Were the songs already written, or was it one those “on the road” albums? Is there any thematic link between the songs?
Bruce: No, the songs were written. I tried writing songs on the road but it was really hard. Tour buses and dressing rooms are not conducive to getting inspiration for writing – there is too much beer and hilarity going on for starters – I need darkness and silence to get motivated. Thematically, TPT has always been about experiences. I can’t make stuff up. As I grow older, different things are happening to me. No different to the average ‘you and I’ – which is why the people who get TPT often feel a strong connection.
Roger: Is that a real orchestra on Build A World? If so, who did the arranging? It works really well, by the way.
Bruce: Thanks. Yeah, 22 of them! It was a great moment for me. Ever since I first heard Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project when I was about 13 years old, I fell in love with strings on rock records. With the success of the band after we joined Kscope, we could finally afford to realise that dream. A real privilege. There is a diary on our website about our soirée in Prague to track the strings, it was intense but great fun.
Bruce: You might struggle with the rest of the band as they aren’t into classic 70s prog like I am. But I can tell you my favourites ‘classic era’ albums that I spent my childhood listening to, that’s easy:
- Dark Side of the Moon/Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd (can’t separate these two)
- The Geese and the Ghost Anthony Philips
- Crime of the Century Supertramp
- The first three Ambrosia albums: Ambrosia, Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled and Life Beyond LA
- Voyage of the Acolyte Steve Hackett
- Mirage Camel
Roger: Where do you see the band’s sound developing from here, or is that a natural process that can’t be second–guessed?
Bruce: It really is a natural process. Sometimes I want to write the heaviest TPT track ever, the next day I might feel calmer and want a softer approach. So it really depends how the journey unfolds. It drives the fans mad – we have TPT fans who love our softer side so hate it when we go hard, and vice versa. And there is a core in the middle who must share my musical tastes because they like both halves. I have no idea how many people are in each camp though…
Roger: I managed to see you guys live four times last year. The gig at Camden Underworld was quite something, but I also really enjoyed the set Bruce & Jon did at the Burning Shed 10th anniversary bash. In my live review at the time I mentioned that releasing an album of these stripped-down versions might be a good idea, and it’s good to see that something similar is occurring with the limited edition 2-CD version of the new album. Any plans for more acoustic versions?
Bruce: The acoustic bonus disc was a last minute idea and it came together really quickly and easily. It did make me realise an acoustic album would be a viable and fulfilling thing to do. Watch this space!
Roger: Marvellous! As I said in the intro, the band has been very busy since Someone Here Is Missing came out. Has all the hard work paid off to the extent that you now have a larger fanbase? You seem to be more popular in Europe that at home, unless that’s a misconception on my part?
Bruce: We are certainly selling more units, which is great, but with this comes more hype and more expectation. That means more pressure. More people are writing about us now and subsequently there are a large number of TPT ‘haters’ out there. A lot of the ‘prog’ scene is really negative towards us now and I really don’t understand why. One thing All The Wars has done is polarise the online bloggers too. Some comments I have seen have been extremely vitriolic. I really don’t mind – as soon as I decided to release music, I knew I had to accept people have every right to hate it. It’s all in the game. But that’s not to say it doesn’t hurt – I’m a sensitive soul who should learn not to google…
Roger: I’ve never seen any vitriol aimed at TPT, but at the end of the day there’s good, bad, or indifferent music, whatever pigeonhole it gets shoved in. We need to develop thick skins, both as an artist or as a critic I guess?
Bruce: Yes, you have to! I think TPT for years was a small band that only our core fan-base cared about. They supported us, no matter what we did. And the fanzines did the same, it was all about promoting the scene. Then all of a sudden I think TPT poked it’s head above the parapet and became ‘fair game’ – people would come along to find out what all the fuss was about, and with them we had a string of ‘haters’ – people who would pro-actively spread vitriol about us. Obviously it’s all in the game, I can’t expect to stand up and shout ‘come and listen to us, we’re great’ and not take the rough with the smooth. We split the traditional prog base and also the rock base, but that’s inevitable doing the kind of music we do. But no matter how thick my skin is, it’s not impenetrable.
Roger: Presumably, joining a well respected label like kscope has opened a few doors too?
Bruce: Completely. It also upped the bar. It’s great to be surrounded by other great artists, especially Steven Wilson and Anathema. I have learnt so much from them. It’s been well documented how much Steven has helped me over the years, but similarly, watching Vinny perform on stage with Anathema was inspirational – he’s the best front man I’ve seen in the ‘progressive’ scene.
Roger: kscope have a reputation as a “prog” label, but with a more post-rock inclined roster. Do you feel that the band is part of any scene?
Bruce: That’s a killer question! I think you are alluding to the fact that we’re not in a scene and I agree with you. We’re not prog enough to be progressive, we’re not rock enough to be rock. Where are we? I don’t know. Ultimately, I think we’re a rock band. But anyone who says All The Wars doesn’t contain any progressive influences is just plain wrong.
Roger: It was good to see you on stage supporting Amplifier not so long ago, who I’d imagine are a band with a similar sized fan-base. This goes back to my previous question; is there a kinship between the bands? Not so much a scene but a mutual support network?
Bruce: Completely. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all ambitious but at the same time everyone wants to help each other. Amplifier are no exception. Sel was very kind when we opened for them last year in the UK. He gave me, personally, lots of advice. He knows so much about the music industry. Matt Broben (their drummer) struck up a great relationship with Keith, (our drummer) and hooked Keith up with Sabian, who now endorse him. So now Keith has loads of shiny new cymbals that sound amazing thanks to Amplifier!
Roger: Although you do occasionally write longish pieces, the band is more known for its short and punchy songs, which is no doubt why they also work so well in an “unplugged” setting. The one exception to this is the massive What Have We Sown? from the almost identically titled album, reissued in marvellous style recently. What led to you recording a 24 minute epic? Love it by the way!
Bruce: Ha yes – that song has certainly become a favourite with some fans. I wrote What We Have Sown as a thank you album to Cyclops, when I was leaving to join Kscope. It really was meant to be a very low key release, almost like a solo album really. But it has developed a life of its own…
Roger: Have you ever played it live?
Bruce: Yeah, we played it once in a weird gig we did in a village hall in the UK years ago. I think about 50 people turned up. We never played it again (the rest of the band hate it). There are a bunch of fans who printed up some t-shirts that say ‘I was there when they played ‘What We Have Sown’ live’…
Roger: So, you’ll never play it live again then?…he says, wistfully…
Bruce: I’m never saying never! What I’d really like to do one day is a proper ‘evening with The Pineapple Thief’ where we celebrate our entire history with a long 3 hour set. At the moment, we are touring the new album because that’s what we’re doing and excited about. As a band who have massive ambitions, there is no point playing 8 year old songs all night. But that’s not to say those songs aren’t relevant, it’s all part of TPT’s DNA. One day we will celebrate that on the road.
Bruce: I’m not sure to be honest. I think we are going to give All The Wars plenty of time to bed in first. The only albums remaining are the first two; Abducting and 137. Very old stuff now, but they need to be out there to complete the story. Maybe they’ll come out with the 10CD box set which I am going to order Kscope to release in a few years time!
Roger: What drives you on? Do you write primarily for yourself?
Bruce: I’ve forgotten what drives me, all I know is that life would be much worse if I wasn’t making music. I definitely write for myself, there is no other way to approach it, but that’s not to say I am not immune to opinions. We spend our lives building ourselves up to say ‘we’re The Pineapple Thief, you should check us out’ and then moan when we can’t cope with the outcome. I am painfully aware of the contradiction.
Roger: Could you sit down and write a hit single? I only ask because your songwriting is full of hooks and it would be great to see The Pineapple Thief in the charts alongside all the auto-tuned crap!
Bruce: I could certainly try! I’ve always felt I had a knack for a hook. You’ve given me an idea. TPT10 can be a 15 track, 40 minute pop album!
Roger: Great idea! Do you remember a band called The Wedding Present who released a single a month for year, and then put it out as an album called Hit Prarde? You could do that – no pressure!
Bruce: Ha, that would be great. I’ll start today! Sometimes I do feel a bit schizophrenic. I love long, evolving songs. I also love hard hitting short songs. That’s why TPT albums always have a mix of the two. I’m toying with the idea of doing a double album to separate my two characters properly, but it may be too long. I actually think 45 minutes is the perfect length for an album, but there’s no harm in having a bonus disc if people want to delve in deeper.
Roger: What is your view of download culture, and do you think that the CD is dying?
Bruce: Yes and no. I am amazed how many people choose to buy music using legitimate outlets such as itunes, when lets face it, it’s not too difficult to steal it for nothing. That has really impressed me. And also we’re shifting more CDs than we’ve ever shifted before. All The Wars has only been out for a short while and it’s our most successful launch yet, which is encouraging for the industry and VERY important for our label.
Roger: Although it must be annoying that it is relatively easy for someone to download your songs without paying for them, what of the old chestnut that if one person downloads a TPT album, likes it so much that they buy something, be it a gig ticket or an album, then that’s a customer you would not have otherwise got?
Bruce: The honest answer is it benefits us much more if someone downloads for free but ultimately comes to a gig and ideally buys a t-shirt! But the flip side is we need the industry to survive – as we discussed earlier Kscope has been instrumental in moving us forward over the past 3-4 years. It’s a similar argument with Spotify. Play our album 1000 times on Spotify and I may be able to afford a penny chew. But come to a gig? I could buy the whole jar. But remember also, not every artist tours.
Roger: That was getting a bit heavy, so a lighter one now: Who are/were your musical heroes, and who would you like to play with?
Bruce: Too many to mention! Andy Latimer, Beck, Gilmour, Waters, Ian Biarnson (a core member of The Alan Parsons Project), everyone in Ambrosia (the first 3 albums), Alan Parsons. I would have loved to have worked with Alan Parsons but Steven Wilson beat me to it!
Bruce: March of Ghosts by Gazpacho.
Roger: Great choice and a truly marvellous album. The Scandinavian music scene is vast, given the small population, and there’s so much interesting stuff over there. We won’t mention death metal… Do any of you have side projects, or musical ambitions that would not fit into TPT?
Bruce: I want to do a really soft, dreamy acoustic album. I also want to do a really aggressive, noisy, industrial album.
Roger: What’s next for TPT after the UK tour? Is a rest out of the question?
Bruce: We are coming to France and Holland late November. Then early next year, a full European tour. As long as ATW does ok that is. Then it’s total world domination, followed by the entire known and unknown universe.
Roger: Love it. Keep thinking BIG! Well, thanks for that Bruce, and best of luck with All The Wars and subsequent cosmic domination. Remember to send me an invite to the 3 hour “An Evening With TPT”!
Official Home Page: http://www.pineapplethief.com/
Upcoming Pineapple Thief Shows – with InMe:
28/11/2012 Le Complexe, Bordeaux, France
29/11/2012 La Maroquinerie, Paris, France
30/11/2012 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands
01/12/2012 Metropool, Hengelo, The Netherlands
02/12/2012 Cultuurpodium Boerderi, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands