THE PINEAPPLE THIEF - Enduring perseverance

25. August 2016

The Pineapple Thief

THE PINEAPPLE THIEF - Enduring perseverance

The George Hotel in Hamburg. The lobby exudes the flair of the British Empire, a London club in Victorian times. Bruce Soord, mastermind of The Pineapple Thief, is ready for an interview a few days after the Brexit referendum and just before the England vs Iceland European Championship round of sixteen. There is a lot to tell about the new album "Your Wilderness" - and about football and the Brexit.

eclipsed: Are you a football fan?

Bruce Soord: Oh, yes. I'm going to watch the game here in Hamburg today in a pub. The whole country's excited. I think England is the favorite. But it's gonna be hard. We don't score a lot of goals. We don't have a real goal scorer.

eclipsed: Iceland plays surprisingly well at this EM.

Soord: Yes, they are well organized. I'm guessing 1-0 for England. It's gonna be tight. England always finds it hard. Or 0-0 and then penalty shootout.

eclipsed: Did England ever win a penalty shootout?

Soord: Yes, once. At the 1996 European Championships in England. In the quarter-finals, we beat Spain in the penalty shoot-out, but then lost to Germany in the semi-finals.

eclipsed: Your new album "Your Wilderness" will be released in August. Are you excited yet? What reactions do you expect?

Soord: Now everything is done. I'm not that excited. When we started, I didn't have any expectations. Things just developed in a way I wouldn't have guessed, especially through the drums. Recently I've been listening to the album again for a long time, and yes, I have to say I'm proud of it. So I'm looking forward to what's coming. I don't know what to expect either. After eleven albums I don't really care about any reactions. Of course I want people to love the album, but I know that with every album we split the fans. Two years ago, "Magnolia" was more of a rock album. The prog fans didn't like that much, while others thought it was one of our best albums. The new album has again more progressive influences, although it is still very melodic. So it could please both the people who like "Magnolia" and the fans of our old progressive material. Gavins [note: guest drummer Gavin Harrison] Drums add another facet. It will be interesting to see what reactions there are.

eclipsed: The new album may be progressive. But for some years now you've been saying goodbye to old school prog rock and creating a new kind of progressive. Is it just this new way that distinguishes "Your Wilderness"?

Soord: I think that "Magnolia" has little in common with traditional Prog Rock. I hardly listen to old albums anymore. I haven't lost interest in it. There's a lot of great details there. But I've gained some distance. Even if "Your Wilderness" is a bit more progressive again, you won't find any longtracks there. They're compact songs. But when you hear it, you realize it's probably one of the most advanced albums we've made. The arrangements are broad and varied, there are different tunings, we vary the instrumental passages. The drums are an essential part of the sound - much more than ever before. Until now the drums were rather a functional part, but now they are an integral musical component. This takes the music to a higher level.

eclipsed: The same was said by Steven Wilson when Gavin Harrison joined Porcupine Tree as a drummer.

Soord: Yes, that's right. I have to admit that when I wrote the new album I didn't have Gavin on my screen yet. The only thing I had in mind was to get back to our old way of production. This time I wrote the songs on a very basic level and presented them to the band. A crucial point was that I gave Gavin the demos and told him, "Do what you want with it." I had no idea what kind of drums I wanted on the album. So I surrendered control. I'm usually a control freak. So that was pretty nerve-wracking for me. But when he sent the first drum recordings back to me, I could hardly believe it. The whole band was all excited when they heard his drums.

eclipsed: He doesn't just play one or two pieces. He's playing the whole album.

Soord: Yes, except for the last song which has no drums at all.

eclipsed: With John Helliwell from Supertramp and Geoffrey Richardson from Caravan you have two more prominent guest musicians on board.

Soord: It was an honor for me that they both have their share in the album. Especially John Helliwell, because I'm a big Supertramp fan. I just sent him an e-mail. You can find his address on the Internet. I wrote him, "Here, this is my band. If you feel like it, just listen to the demos." He did. Three weeks later, an answer came: "Hello, that sounds interesting." He liked the demos. He invited us to Manchester to record something in his studio. That was a great moment for me, just like for a fan: "John Helliwell, oh." He's a totally nice guy. He invited us to dinner and told us some stories from his past. From the recordings to "Crime Of The Century", or how Supertramp flew in a private plane from concert to concert. That was very interesting. He is still active and plays in a small jazz band that improvises a lot. They perform in small clubs.

eclipsed: Pineapple Thief is currently a trio. Next to you are Steve Kitch (keyboards) and Jon Sykes (bass). You don't have a permanent drummer. Are there any plans to get a drummer back in the band as a permanent member?

Soord: We are actually very satisfied with the current situation. We're doing good with using session musicians. We've been doing this a long time now. There was some discussion as to whether Gavin could go on tour with us. But he's busy with King Crimson this year. But who knows what next year will be. There is no reason to make hasty decisions. We're not our prime minister.

eclipsed: You're the clear bandleader. What influence do the other two have?

Soord: Up to now I have always worked out the demos very extensively. I programmed the drums, I played the bass. This time, however, I made the conscious decision not to do so. Only the basis is recorded on the demos, and thus the others have an even greater share and influence. I think it helped me a lot that I recorded my solo album last year. This allowed me to give up control a bit. I was Mr. Control freak on the solo album. It was just me. Now on "Your Wilderness" the band is really a band, even though I wrote most of the music. Only Steve wrote two songs. I feel good about it.

eclipsed: So have your solo album and your collaboration with Jonas Renkse of Katatonia freed you from ballast in some way?

Soord: Yes. I used to want to put all kinds of things on the Pineapple-Thief albums. It should be rocky, it should be gentle. Now I can separate them. I could limit myself to exactly what I really wanted on a Pineapple-Thief album. This made it much easier to give the album a flow and an identity of its own - with the knowledge that I might make another solo album next year.

eclipsed: The lyrics on the new album are general. They seem to revolve around the relationships between two people, maybe lovers, maybe friends. Did you intend this ambiguity?

Soord: This freedom of interpretation has always been part of my texts. I know that there are people who don't like that. But I don't care, because I always liked it when the lyrics have this blurry character like in a dream. The cover and the album revolve around life itself. The journey through life that we all embark upon. Especially the relationship between two people.

eclipsed: But for you the lyrics have a very special meaning?

Soord: Yes, but I like it when people have their own point of view. It often deviates completely from my point of view. Sometimes people come to me and tell me their view. People have had different experiences from me, so they draw different conclusions from the lyrics. This is normal and exciting at the same time.

eclipsed: There are some musicians who write about general things in their young years, but later become very concrete, name things and people by name, so that there are no more doubts about what it is about...

Soord: I could imagine that one day I will do the same. But it would mean that I would have to completely change the way I write songs.

eclipsed: You're not just a singer and guitarist in a band. You also produce other artists. You mix other albums in 5.1 surround sound. You have other projects at the start. In the meantime, you have acquired a good reputation in this field. That's a similar development to the one Steven Wilson went through

Soord: Yes, right. That's an observation I made, too. Before Pineapple Thief I had the band Vulgar Unicorn in the 90s. Even then there were comparisons between Vulgar Unicorn and Porcupine Trees "The Sky Moves Sideways". Steven has since gone through an incredible development that I can't compare myself to. Especially not with regard to the status he has now achieved. But we always shared the same spirit, were always on the same journey. I think Steven lived for music from day one. He gave his all for it. I don't think there was any conscious parallelism. Steven also started on a small label. On Delirium Records. I started at Cyclops Records. Later, we were both signed by Kscope. It's a subconscious commonality, but I'm aware it's there.

eclipsed: Both bands also had to work hard and the career went slowly but continuously.

Soord: None of this happened overnight. It took 20 years. But the good thing about it is that once you've worked on it for so many years and you're still there, you don't disappear overnight. There are enough bands that were successful very quickly, but then nothing came from them anymore. With The Pineapple Thief, however, we have acquired a permanent audience that always gives us a chance. She doesn't really like every album, but she's always there. Unless we're producing something really bad.

eclipsed: How do you see your own development as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, lyricist? As a musician in general?

Soord: Certainly I have grown up. I notice that, for example, when I produce a younger band. Then I'll see myself when I was young. I thought I'd be great, become famous. I loved my music. It won't come by itself. You have to work hard to get better. The minimal level that I am now setting for myself is much higher than that of the band I am producing. I'll tell them this and that has to get better. When they say, "That's good," I say, "You can do better than that." I was never the guitarist who spent hours polishing his technique. I'm not a guitar hero. I see myself more as a songwriter and singer. When I listen to the old Pineapple-Thief albums, I only think how weak my singing was back then. I can barely listen to this. I think I've learned to use my voice like an instrument.

eclipsed: Is there a special method you use to write the songs?

Soord: Yes, I do. It's evolved over the years. When I have an idea, I try it out on the acoustic guitar. If the idea doesn't work only on the acoustic guitar and with vocals, then it doesn't work with the whole band. Then we don't need to elaborate and take up the idea any further. Every idea must pass this test. I also learned to separate the wheat from the chaff relatively quickly. In the early days we spent weeks and weeks working on things that ended up in the trash. Now I can identify the bad songs early. This helps to save a lot of time.

eclipsed: So you have a lot of songs that you didn't release.

Soord: Yes, with every album a lot of such material is created. My computer's full of this garbage of unfinished ideas.

eclipsed: Maybe you can use it sometime.

Soord: Yes, maybe I should listen to it all again. Who knows, maybe there's a pearl under there.

eclipsed: Are melancholy or sadness a good inspiration?

Soord: Clearly: Yes. Maybe that's my only inspiration. I always think it's a Hollywood formula: You must first pass through the valley and then ascend again. You have to go the dark ways to get good material.

eclipsed: Is it easier to walk the dark paths when you're a cheerful person yourself?

Soord: That is absolutely true of me. I'm basically a completely positive person. I wasn't always. I used to be a very angry, angry teenager. But I have evolved into a position where I can enjoy life and every day. From this position you can more easily write about sad things like loss or death or problems in relationships. This is also a purifying, redeeming process for me.

eclipsed: Steven Wilson once said to me, "You don't want to hear the songs I write when I'm happy."

Soord: How true. I can sign this.

eclipsed: Pineapple Thief have released an album every two years. Sometimes an EP in between. You seem to be a very reliable, constantly working musician.

Soord: Yes, that'll work. It's a cycle. You do the album, you release the album, you do a little promotion, you go on tour. We're not one big, world-famous band. Our tour lasts one month at the most. Then this cycle stops. As a songwriter you start writing new songs again. Just like that, not with the thought of the next album or a certain goal or date in mind. You just write songs. It's a natural thing for a songwriter.

eclipsed: Do you also write songs while on tour?

Soord: No, it's never worked for me before. I always have my keyboard and computer with me, backstage or at the hotel, but that's just not the right environment for me to write songs.

eclipsed: You're from Somerset and you still live there. Are you a close person?

Soord: Yes, definitely. I also set up my own studio there. At my place. I'm very solitary about this. A loner. I have nine-year-old twins to start the day with. I'll take her to school, and then I'll go to my studio.

eclipsed: So you work there from 9 to 5? Not exactly the life you'd expect from a rock musician.

Soord: That's it. I can work there during the day. The productions, the mixing, the work for The Pineapple Thief. It's very comfortable. When I used to have a regular job, I worked from 9 to 5, then came home and had my head full of musical ideas. Then I spent the evenings and weekends in the studio. It's not good for family life. This is a pleasant situation now. Of course I'm away from home for a long time when I'm on tour. But that can't be changed.
eclipsed: What job did you work in?

Soord: In the IT industry. I led a group of developers. We have programmed web applications. Then I ran a service desk for a while. Developing it was fun, but in the end, it was awful. I always had to help the customers with their problems.

eclipsed: One more word about Brexit.

Soord: When we met with the band the day after the referendum, we all felt like the world had ended. That's not what we wanted. It's terrible. It's terrible. We feel betrayed.

*** Interview: Bernd Sievers