INTERVIEW: Bruce Soord (THE PINEAPPLE THIEF)
In a world full of one-hit wonders and digital mayhem, it's a refreshing rarity when niche and unique artists can not only thrive but survive the so-called sophomore album slump and beyond. And for UK experimental rock wizards The Pineapple Thief, not only have they continually grown and expanded their enchanting tones that ripple between light and shade, post-rock and prog; they have also withstood close to two decades in the ever-volatile industry and now stand on the brink of releasing their twelfth studio album 'Dissolution' later this month.
Starting out as a musical outlet for frontman Bruce Soord in 1999, The Pineapple Thief have since faced international success, lineup changes and countless live shows that have established them as one of the true luminaries of the European experimental rock world.
But while the word "experimental" may spring to mind pompous and self-indulgent rambling, the true hero behind The Pineapple Thief success story is their continued humility and pure passion for what they do. And before their latest baby 'Dissolution' unveils later this month, The Soundcheck stole some time with Bruce himself to chat collaboration, the highs and lows of technology and how the band sees themselves in a genre-obsessed industry (plus - as if we weren't gonna ask him to settle the pineapple on a pizza debate once and for all). Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Bruce, how are you?
BRUCE SOORD: I'm good, I'm good! Very good, thank you, I'm just making coffee, it's first thing in the morning, so it's good.
TIANA: I've had about ten coffees today, so I feel like we're balancing the caffeine nicely here. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, there's some huge exciting things on the go for The Pineapple Thief right now, especially because at the end of the month we're finally getting the twelfth studio album 'Dissolution' coming out into the world! You guys have already released a little glimpse from the new album with 'Far Below'...how has the reaction been for the track so far from an insider's perspective?
BRUCE: I tend to not really go online anymore because it's such a (laughs)....a can of worms, I suppose, going in and looking. But, when I've been doing all the interviews, and also the rest of the guys have been telling me - it's been really good! So it's been really positive. There's always the odd person that goes " (poshly) oh, I don't like it", but generally it's been really positive, so I've been really happy.
'FAR BELOW' (THE PINEAPPLE THIEF)
TIANA: I'm a big believer, and it may be a cop-out because you have to adapt to keep your sanity, but I think it's a sign you're doing something right if you warrant someone to publicly says they don't like something. It's resonated enough to even warrant a reaction, so perhaps it's a good thing!
BRUCE: (laughs) That's true! That's true. I remember there was a point I think in the band's progress...when you're quite small and underground, you have a really loyal following and they just love everything you do. Even when...I remember some people would say "oh, I loved it when your laptop used to blow up at your gig", so those were the days! (laughs) So now it's good that we're fair game, you're right!
TIANA: A good way to be indeed. And on the topic of the album, I believe it was a labour of love across a fair few months of writing and recording, and once again you guys obviously collaborated with Gavin Harrison (King Crimson, Porcupine Tree), who you previously worked with on 'Your Wilderness'. But this time round, Gavin was there from day one...did this make a significant impact on the final 'Dissolution' product?
BRUCE: Yeah! When we first started working with Gavin, that was the last album and he didn't come in until pretty much at the end, and really as a session. So as far as Gavin was concerned, he was just a session drummer on that album. But as soon as we met, and as soon as we started working together on that record, I think he admits now that it turned into more than a session thing, because he got really into the music and he started to suggest things, he's chopping up some songs and he helped me finish a couple of the tracks on the record. And when he then agreed to tour, which was a big deal because I don't think he'd ever toured a session, we got to know him really well over the last couple of years. So when we started this record, it was a very different sort of process because we knew what we wanted to do and he was in it from the start. So, rather than me writing a song in my dark studio on my own and taking it to the guys and saying "oooo, here's your new song, I've finished it", this time it was really a case of...I just came up with a riff or an idea, a verse or a chorus, and I'd send it to Gavin and if he liked it he'd go "oh, I've got some ideas for this!" then put the sounds down and send it back to me and then I would take the song a little bit further. So it was really a lot of...very much more of a collaborative band approach to writing, so that was a big difference for this record.
TIANA: And you touched briefly there there on my next question, even though there was a lot more creative collaboration this time round, I've read that a lot of the parts for 'Dissolution' were recorded extremely far apart at the various studios. Was this a strategic move, or just one born out of necessity?
BRUCE: A bit of both, yeah! I guess nowadays with technology you're able to record really good quality stuff at home, you know, vocals, guitars, they're really easy to record now at a good level. But the one thing that is still difficult is drums. We still had to get a big studio to record drums, and that's where we used to spend loads of our money. But now with Gavin, he's got this great studio at his house, he's got an amazing sounding drum room with his drum kit permanently set up and mic'ed up. So we just knew that we didn't have to worry about camping out in a studio for weeks on end getting the album finished, we just spent as long as we wanted on the record, which I guess can be a curse, the fact that you don't have this deadline like the old days where a band would spend six weeks getting drunk in a studio and praying that they'd get the album finished in time. We went out of that, I think it took six months to get the album done. And I guess that people might think "oh, that's a bit sterile isn't it, you're so far away". But it was so quick, and we were talking every day online and we were sharing songs. So it really was about as close as jamming an album together as you could do, but being so far apart. I think it was the best of both worlds, but like you said, born out of necessity because it meant that we could spend as long as we wanted getting the album how we wanted it.
TIANA: I do find that process especially interesting, and that the technology "allowed" you guys to do this. Some of the themes kicking around on 'Dissolution' as I've listened through it and read your press kits centre around the disintegration of relationships and the ironic emptiness that comes with being perpetually connected. But somehow you guys have harnessed that evil for good!
BRUCE: (laughs) Yeah, that's a bit of a contradiction isn't it?! The whole theme of the record is about how connected we all are and how technology has probably had a bit of a negative impact on everybody that I know. But without that technology, the band wouldn't be where we are, we wouldn't be able to connect to all of our listeners...I probably wouldn't be talking to you now if it wasn't for the fact that everything is so connected, and we were able to do what we have done over the last three or four years where the band has reached new heights!
TIANA: Well I think it's that whole adapt or die mentality again perhaps. But you guys have at least used it for good. And you are quite renowned as an innovative composer and lyricist, and it seems that with each Pineapple Thief album you do seem to embrace deeper themes and deeper collaboration...but for you personally, what was the biggest creative catalyst underlying 'Dissolution'?
BRUCE: Generally how my songwriting comes together is...it's a snapshot of the years that I spend between albums, a snapshot of how I'm living, the people I'm with and the life I'm living in this society. This time, I think for the first time, like you said, it had that underlying concept of how things have changed so over the last few years, probably sort of four years? There's been a real sea-change in how people communicate, even in the last six months there's been really quite a reaction against how we're living. We're talking about smartphone addiction for the first time, I think it was in the news yesterday that in this country they were talking about the rise in self-harm in young kids, and how it's social media that's driving it. And so, that was a real driver in thinking that what has happened...I think history when they come to revise this period will admit that the revolution we've gone through, we weren't ready for it. And we've gone a little bit too far down the wrong route. I'm not saying for one minute that all this technology is a bad thing, I just think that like anything without any rules it's been abused and it can be used negatively. I think, not naming any names, but that's exactly what this album is about.
TIANA: It's like giving a kid some lit fireworks and being surprised that they burn themselves.
BRUCE: (laughs) Exactly! What are you gonna do! They're gonna be mischievous with it aren't they!
TIANA: And as someone who has been a part of the music industry for as long as you have, I mean The Pineapple Thief has been going for nearly two decades...would you say that technology is the biggest aspect that has changed in the industry over this time?
BRUCE: Yeah, I mean when we started...it's funny you know, it was the real dawn of the internet and there was a website called "mp3.com". And this was like 1999, and to be honest without that - I don't think The Pineapple Thief would've existed, because even then I took the first song that I wrote up on mp3.com, which kind of then became MySpace which then became Facebook, that kind of thing. And that got me a few fans all around the world, little old me in my little studio in this town called Yeovil in South Western England, and I was able to reach out to all of these people. But obviously there was not very many people that were doing that kind of thing out there. But, yes, technology has changed remarkably. I used to have a day job in order to keep being able to make music, and it was in I.T...and you needed to know an awful lot about I.T to make music at home because it was a very raw technology. Nowadays, you can make music with an iPhone! You can make an album with anybody! But then on the flipside of course you've got the streaming, the fact that the revenues for bands....I don't know how bands starting out can make it now, it's so difficult. And the fact is, I've got 11 year-old twins and yesterday they were playing music on their mp3 players. And they were ripping it off YouTube. And I said to them "you can't do that! You're stealing people's music!" and but then I realised that with what those bands probably get paid from YouTube, it may as well be free! But as a band, we're quite lucky that we still sell quite a lot of physical product, and now we're touring, we're finally making money. We've crossed that line and coming back with a wage, but for years and years and years it was: touring costs money and everything costs money, and we all had to have jobs to subsidise what we loved, which was music. So it's hard, it is hard.
TIANA: It's mind-blowing, god knows what's going to happen in the next four years, or even two years the rate that we're going. It's going to be interesting to see how everything unfolds...
BRUCE: I think something has to happen, someone has to say "you can't give music away anymore". No one's been able to do it! I mix a lot of bands, and I can hear them struggling, saying how much work they've put in to get this album or EP that they've done, and they're all saying "if this one doesn't take off then we can't carry on doing it", because there's so much pressure for people to keep doing it. But you can't do that! You've gotta be in it for the long term, you've gotta have a 10 year plan, not a 1 year plan. But with no money coming in, and there's not record labels around like there were in the 80s and 90s reaching out with these huge record deals. So yeah - it's difficult!
TIANA: So true, and it's such a rarity for any band these days to get out multiple albums, let alone the twelve you guys are about to have under your belts. It's a pretty huge thing! And to focus a tad more on 'Dissolution' for a moment, without giving too much away is there a track that you just absolutely can't wait to bust out live?
BRUCE: Well funnily enough, we came back from rehearsal because we've just been rehearsing at Gavin's space for the last four days, and I think the one that was most fun to play was 'White Mist', it's a long track on the record but it's so much fun because it has all of these improvised sections and live I'm looking forward to running around onstage and enjoying that one!
TIANA: It's weird, lately I've been accidentally drawn to the longer songs on the proggier albums, and on my cheeky sneak peek of 'Dissolution', 'White Mist' was a huge standout for me. And it's interesting because those longer tracks tend to pop up more frequently with certain genres, and The Pineapple Thief obviously has such a melting-pot of sounds...you've got your prog, your post-rock and for lack of a better term some indie rock. And while you guys ultimately do seem to bear a lot of the hallmarks associated with the prog label, how do you actually see yourselves? Do you even classify yourselves in these genre-specific terms? Or are you just ultimately playing the music you love to listen to and play?
BRUCE: Yes, I mean personally we're just making the music that we love to make. But the problem is in this day and age, you need to have....when someone says "oh, what type of music do you do?", you need to be able to say something (laughs). So you can't just say "oh, we're a rock band". Because we're not like the Foo Fighters, you know, so that's a bit tricky. Then you say "well, we're not just a prog-rock band, because we're not like Dream Theater". We're not like some of the other, I don't know, symphonic rock like Nightwish. (laughs) We're nothing like that, we don't want to be associated with that kind of sound, it's nothing like what we do. So it's really tricky, but nowadays I just say "yeah, we've got a bit of prog rock, a bit of rock". Actually, "we're just a rock band" is what I intend to say, but with a little bit...ugh, again you say things like "with a little bit more depth", and then it makes you sound really pretentious! Like "what do you mean, are you saying other rock bands aren't deep?!" (laughs) and you have to say "no, it's not what I mean! But we cover a bit more ground, perhaps....". We're not really tied down to four-minute, or the three-minute recipe for writing a song, that kind of thing. It's difficult, but I think the prog scene has come forward in leaps and bounds since bands like Opeth and Porcupine Tree's been seen more. And I know that they've made it over to Australia touring.
TIANA: Yeah, us Aussies are pretty big on prog right now. But on the same side of the coin, I feel like people throw that phrase around when they don't know how to classify it. However - on the note of Australia...looking beyond the Pineapple Thief album release on the 31st of August, will we ever get to see you guys come out here in the near future? I know you guys have a huge amount of shows lined up already for the remainder of the year, and some for 2019. Will we ever get to have you guys jet-lagged and gracing our shores?
BRUCE: I really, really hope so! Because everytime I see bands that we come across touring, bands like Anathema and Opeth I know are bigger than us, but they make it work somehow, they make it work heading out to Australia.
TIANA: Well it's not a quick trip is it!
BRUCE: (laughs) No, it's not!! I'm hoping, I'm really hoping that we can do it, and I know we've got fans out there. We're looking at USA, so why not Australia?!
TIANA: Just in case you need a cheeky trip to the opposite side of the world on the way home from the USA, I'm sure we'll make it worth your while.
BRUCE: Exactly (laughs). Just a couple of stop-offs in Australia on the way home definitely.
TIANA: So last but not least: as the frontman for The Pineapple Thief, I feel like you might be the ultimate authority on a very contentious topic that continually pops up, particularly in Australia. Pineapple on a pizza, yes or no?
BRUCE: (laughs) Yes! Yes, I know it's very contentious. But I love making pizzas, I make it from scratch, I make the dough and it's one of my signature dishes, and I love putting pineapple on. I know that a lot of people will kill me for saying that, but: YES.
TIANA: I think if anyone is allowed to give this opinion, it's gotta be you, so I'm going with your wisdom. And I'm also going to have pizza for dinner to celebrate! Thank you so much for chatting, cannot wait for the 'Dissolution' release, and hopefully will see you over here sometime soon.
BRUCE: Brilliant, thanks so much!
THE PINEAPPLE THIEF'S TWELFTH STUDIO ALBUM 'DISSOLUTION' IS OUT AUGUST 31ST VIA KSCOPE.
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BY TIANA SPETER