The Pineapple Thief are one of the UK's most successful modern progressive bands. Alongside bands like Porcupine Tree and Sweden giants Opeth, The Pineapple Thief have made a career from producing music that is by turns challenging and accessible. In mainstream terms, they have managed to release records and tour internationally whilst staying largely out of the limelight and are perhaps indicative of the way successful rock bands currently operate: on the down-low and on their own terms. Currently on tour to promote their latest album, Dissolution, we caught up with bandleader and vocalist/guitarist Bruce Soord to get his take on touring, writing and being in a band.
It's an old fashioned album (concept wise) about relationships. You know, love, hate, regret, death etc etc. But with a modern twist as I became obsessed with the negative aspects of the technological revolution were are living through. This hyper connected world that causes so much confusion and damage.
Do you try to make sure that whatever gets recorded can be replayed live or do you see them as fundamentally different animals?
I used to forget about the live show in the early days when we didn't get out much. But recently, now we are playing to larger crowds and doing longer tours, I've realised just how important the live aspect of the band is. So when I write a song or a riff, the first thing that goes through my mind is how am I gonna feel in front of 1000 people saying 'and this next song is blah blah'. You've got to feel excited otherwise the riff goes in the bin.
What countries in particular are good for you guys when touring?
The UK is great, especially London. Our biggest show on this tour is at Shepherds Bush Empire. The Netherlands is great - they have great venues all over the country because the government really supports live music. Paris is electric but we die on our arses in any other town in France. But the really big market for us is Germany. It's a huge market (maybe bigger than UK?) and it's really taking off for us there. We always have people calling for us to play USA or Mexico so we're going there next year.
Awesome! There are a lot of Prog rock references throughout your career: are you okay with being called a Prog band?
The term 'prog rock' can be a curse and it can (and has) been a blessing. It's a vibrant scene and we really got off the ground because of the fan base. However, like any genre there is a lot of music being made and labelled as 'prog' that we wouldn't want to be associated with. But I grew up liking melodic prog rock - bands like Supertramp and Floyd. At the end of the day though, it's really about the melody. What ever genre you say you are in.
Defintely. Now, this is your second tour with Porcupine Tree/King Crimson drum maestro Gavin Harrison. That is quite a coup to get him not once but twice! How did that come about?
We didn't have a drummer for 2016's Your Wilderness and Gavin agreed to play session drums on it. We got on really well immediately so Gavin agree to tour. We got on so well on tour he joined the band! So here we are...
The Pineapple Thief are originally from Somerset. Do you guys still stay down that way? And what influence has Somerset played in your creativity over the years?
Yeah I live in Yeovil in Somerset so I absorb a lot of the vibes from the place. It's can get pretty rough, it's a typical small town with problems. There is a crack den two doors down from my house. Police are there at least a few times a week. People firebombing it, smashing the doors down. Makes for some good songwriting inspiration. It's actually very sad seeing the desperate people come and go. I'm also really close to the Jurassic coast in Dorset which is a wonderful part of the world. We shot the 'Try as I Might' video there. The other guys are scattered about. Gavin is near Watford, Steve in Devon and Jon near Nottingham.
Do you tend to bring songs to the band in a semi-finished form or do you all jam it out in the studio?
I used to semi-finish them but recently I just bring riffs, ideas, melodies etc and we build the songs together as a band. We actually do this remotely in our own studios but it's not as sterile as it sounds. We are sending things back and forth all the time. It's like jamming in a studio but without the pressure to come up with something shit hot instantly.
Lyrically, are there themes that recur to you time and again?
Love and regret, All the time.
You also produce the band’s records. How do you approach producing your own band?
Actually the band produces the records. As I am so close to the songs I rely a lot on our keyboard player and mastering engineer Steve Kitch to tell me when something sucks or if I'm taking the song in the wrong direction. But ultimately the songs reach a sound that everyone is happy with. Everyone chips in.
You’ve also remixed Opeth’s masterpiece Deliverance. What did that come to happen? What challenges arose in putting that back together and what insights did you gain for the process?
I knew Mike from Opeth via Katatonia (we all got very drunk one night in Stockholm). Steven Wilson was away on tour and he mentioned me to Mike about Deliverance. When you mix a record you get to know every piece of the puzzle in detail. It was amazingly well played and you could tell every part was very considered. The big thing for me was making more of Martin Lopez's drumming on the record. The original mix (which I actually liked) had a lot of drum reinforcement, with a lot of big kick and snare and not a lot of overheads. I decided to bring out the nuances of Martin's drumming a lot more and also extended the low end of the bass guitar. It was just a different approach.
For the uninitiated, where does the band’s name ‘The Pineapple Thief’ come from?
A film called 'Eve's Bayou'. A girl nicks a pineapple and is branded a 'pineapple thief'. This was back in 1999. I had no idea I would still be doing it 20 years later!
The band has been around for nearly 20 years now: how do you sustain a career and a business for so long in such an unstable industry?
Good question! We've had to be smart and sensible. As a band we do a lot ourselves. We don't have or need a manager - bands don't need to give 20% away to get their arses wiped. Figure it out yourself. Obviously a decent label is very handy and we have one in Kscope - they do a fantastic job of selling physical records in this day and age plus vinyl is making a huge comeback of course. There is also money to be made in touring if you do it right. So I would say to bands that worry about how to make a living - it is still possible to do it.
Okay, let’s talk guitars: you seem to be a Telecaster man, is that right? What is it that draws you to the Tele?
Yeah I love my black Highway One Tele
. It's so naughty and really responds to being giving a good bashing. Mine has a kill switch installed by my guitar tech too which is great fun to use live.
What guitars do you take out on tour with you?
What are your preferences for strings and plectrums?
I've always used Dean Markley 10s since I can remember. Plectrums? I have to admit to using really light plectrums - .60mm nylon Jim Dunlops. I know this is not the done thing for proper guitarists but I love the way I can play rhythm guitar with these plectrums. I really give my guitar a good bashing live and when I used heavier plectrums I just bust strings left right and center.
You are also an advocate for Kemper Profilers. Do you see this type of technology eventually replacing valve half-stacks for touring bands?
I think for touring bands yes. I've been using the Kemper
for years now and I personally would never go back to amps. You can make a Kemper
sound crap of course! You have to find the right profiles...
Acoustic guitars are also a major element of your sound: do you tend to write on acoustic first?
Yes always. I've got three Taylors
: a 510
set up for standard tuning, a 514CE
for low open c# minor tuning and a ltd edition 8 string baritone which is really inspiring to write with.
What do you look for in a great acoustic guitar?
A tight sound, especially low end. Something that responds to dynamic playing ESPECIALLY when plugged in. The Taylors
sound great plugged in through the PA.
What is today’s Prog scene like?
Considerably better than it was when I started! It's no longer a dirty word. People probably think more about Opeth and Steven Wilson when the term is coined than keyboard players with capes or concept albums about hobbits. At least I hope so!
There's nothing wrong with capes! The Pineapple Thief have enjoyed considerable success whilst flying somewhat under the radar of mainstream music fans: is this actually the perfect career?
We started about as small as a band could be and we have been lucky to steadily grow with each album. I'd certainly recommend that route rather than starting high and gradually disappearing.
What advice would you give to musicians looking to enjoy a similar career to yours?
Patience. I talk to so many young bands who tell me they have a 1 or 2 year plan. 'If we don't make it by then, we'll get a job'. You need a 20 year plan - treat it as a life's passion. If you find success then that's a bonus. Focus on loving the music.
And finally, Bruce: after the Dissolution tour is wrapped up, what’s next for you and the Pineapple Thief?
A Soord Solo album and then we're gonna start writing the next TPT. Plus a tour of the USA. So plenty to do...
That's brilliant Bruce, I'm glad to hear you have plenty to occupy you! Thank you for the chat, we'll be hearing from you soon!
The Pineapple Thief's latest record Dissolution is out now and is available here.
We'd like to thank Bruce for talking to us and Simon Glacken for setting things up for us.
Interview by Ray McClelland.