Latest album: Nothing But the Truth (KScope)Website: https://www.pineapplethief.com/
British progressive rock band The Pineapple Thief have always produced high quality music but they are most certainly improving with age and are currently experiencing a notable, well-earned upwards career trajectory. Following the exceptional brilliance of their last few albums that reinforces both the band’s legacy and their substantial discography, the pandemic hit. Clearly, just like everyone else in the music industry, that put their tour plans on hold for the tour cycle for Versions of the Truth. As a result, an almost cinematic filming of a single live performance in April 2021 was directed by videographer George Laycock for on demand viewing.
Now, with borders opening up thanks to widespread vaccinations, The Pineapple Thief are embarking on their rescheduled tour of the UK and Europe, with North America to follow into the middle of 2022. Loud had a chinwag with the band’s founder and front man, Bruce Soord about creating music in a post-truth age.
The latest release Nothing but the Truth is a testament to how your band copes with pressure. A one-off performance in light of COVID is a fair amount to contend with, surely?
Well, that’s an interesting question because no one is really prepared for something like this until it happens. We released our last studio album, Versions of the Truth obviously we were supposed to tour it. But, this was right, smack bang in the middle of the pandemic. So, we all went and said, ‘Well, this doesn’t feel right,’ and so were just got together and decided to do this thing. When you talk about pressure, it was – it was massive pressure because it all came down to this one day. We had the place for two days but we only had one day because we could only really afford one day of filming. So it all came down to performing on that day on probably the coldest day of the year and in the middle of the pandemic. We had to form a bubble, we had all had to make it safe so there was all of that extra stress on top. We can laugh about it now and when we met about pre-production for the current tour, and now that it is all done, it all came out so well we all said, ‘Yeah, it was great, what a great idea that was,’ but at the time, we were all pretty anxious.
What about doing some of the older material since you go back as far as 10 Stories Down?
Yeah, I know, but do you know what? It just seems like yesterday when I was writing 10 Stories Down which might have been 2004 or 2005, when I was doing all that stuff, but then I realised that this was fifteen or sixteen years ago. When I met Gavin [Harrison – drums] in 2016, having someone like him in the band is obviously like having a Mercedes engine in your Formula One car, it is just an amazing thing to have. So, when he said, ‘Oh, do you mind, Bruce if I have a listen through to the back catalogue and see if we can, you know, see if there are any that I like?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can go down that rabbit hole, that’s fine with me.’ He sent me a list of all these songs that he liked but with a view to changing them, or at least for Gavin to re-arrange and try some things. Back in those days, it was synth, samplers, breakbeats and drum programming. So, to have Gavin rework them was just fantastic. They did feel like new songs when we played them.
Even for the material performed from All the Wars, it is a similar approach.
Yeah, exactly. I think that anything pre-Gavin or before 2016, we gave Gavin a blank slate. I said, ‘Look, do what you want,’ and the last thing that I would want to do…I will say this because it is probably true; when you’ve got one of the best drummers in the world in your band, then I am quite happy for that person to just run off and do what they like. Well, he hasn’t actually done anything that I hate or that I don’t like so far so it hasn’t been tested but yes, I am very spoilt.
Getting Gavin [King Crimson] in itself is a masterstroke. Did Steven [Wilson – Porcupine Tree] object to what might be perceived as taking his drummer?
Ha-ha, well that was the thing, it was the label, Kscope. When we were doing Your Wilderness, I said to John [Sykes], our bass player, ‘I think this will be the last record,’ because I didn’t know what we were going to do about the drumming on that record. It was Kscope that said, ‘Why don’t you call Gavin Harrison and ask him?’ and I was thinking, ‘Porcupine Tree’s drummers? That Gavin Harrison?’ It just never crossed my mind to do it, so I dropped Gavin an email and I got his standard email back saying, ‘Yeah, if I feel like I can connect,’ but he didn’t have to and the thing about Gavin at this stage of his career is that he doesn’t have to do sessions to earn his living. He has done the hard slog but when he heard it, he replied and I think we instantly sort of has this rapport and I think that he just had a connection with the way that I wrote songs. Also, because it was so late in the day for The Pineapple Thief, to have our renaissance, you know, it was fifteen years since I had started it before Gavin came along. I think that the sense of ego had gone, we were just happy that we’d had this new lease of life. So the pressure was always there but it was always a really good atmosphere to work with and I think that he really appreciated that. Yeah, it was something that just worked, it just worked when we met and so, you know, we’re still going strong after five years, so that is alright.
Not taking anything away from prior works but would you then say that the inclusion of Gavin helped put Dissolution up at a higher level of musical quality?
Yeah, I think so, absolutely and I am happy to admit that. Your Wilderness was a breakthrough and I think that when Your Wilderness came out, everyone just assumed that it was just another The Pineapple Thief record. So, it was hovering around, as we used to do, in the underground, you know, we did well in the progressive rock underworld and whilst that was good and it felt good doing that. But gradually, when Your Wilderness came out, people went, ‘Hold on, have you heard Your Wilderness?’ and especially with Gavin playing and gradually the word of mouth spread. So, when we did Dissolution, which was a true collaboration with Gavin in terms of song writing and arrangements, I think we were then in a place where people knew what was happening, they knew what they were going to get, they were going to get The Pineapple Thief with Gavin Harrison playing drums, which was obviously the missing link. Well, I say missing link but I feel like it is a new band since Gavin has joined. So yeah that did give Dissolution that big, kick up the arse and so we did really well then.
Both Dissolution and Versions of the Truth are very impressive. Has that completely altered your live set list?
Ah, yeah, yeah it has, and we’ve just come back from pre-production for the tour. The new set list is really good. We were discussing how long a set should be and some bands; I won’t mention any names, but they will play for three hours and my wife says, ‘There is no band on this planet I love enough to sit through three hours of a gig.’ I probably agree with that because I think that three hours is a long time to be focussed on live, especially for a rock band. So, we were kind of thinking, ‘Okay, we will play for about an hour and a half, plus, if we are lucky enough to have an encore, yeah, we’ll do that,’ blah, blah and then we think that there are all of these songs that we are leaving out. That is a really nice problem to have – this dilemma of, ‘Which songs do we play?’ I do not feel like I have ever been in that position before. We’ve got five tracks from Versions of the Truth, and similarly from both Dissolution and from Your Wilderness. Plus, we have got all of the older tracks that Gavin has reworked. So, it is about sixty percent new set which is really fun to play.
The comment about the three hour mark is funny because I took my other half to see Steve Vai and she wanted to implode at the two and a half hour point, whereas I loved it.
Ha-ha, three hours of Vai, blimey. If she isn’t a guitar nerd then that doesn’t help, does it? I took my wife to see The Aristocrats [with Guthrie Govan on guitar] which is instrumental mind-blowing stuff and she is not into the guitar nerd stuff. I remember they asked the audience to put their hand up if they were a musician and virtually everyone in the audience had their hands up. She might have been bored for a while at that one.
Speaking of guitars, that brings me to the solos in the recent live version of White Mist. It was perfectly executed.
On the studio album, it was Gavin’s old mate, David Torn, who did the White Mist solos. On the last couple of tours, we’ve had a Greek guitarist called George Marios, who has played with us. I believe that Guthrie is one of his heroes but technically, he is an amazing player. So, to have come in and to add to the live work on Nothing but the Truth is really cool. Unfortunately he couldn’t join us with this new tour because of a lot of COVID issues and things like that. So, we’ve got a different guitarist for this tour who is just as good but in a different way.
Some of the guitar solos have a link to the lyrical theme. So, instead of the usual improvised blues rock, it might be something with a very brittle sound or some dense, warm sound.
Yeah, and I think there is section in White Mist where we do a question and answer between the vocals and the guitar and things like that. So, yeah, it is nicely integrated into the songs, definitely.
How did you approach the lyrics on Versions of the Truth given how deep they were on the previous album, Dissolution?
That’s a good question because I think, at the time, and I came up with the album title really early: Versions of the Truth. That was because the whole world just seemed to be going bat-shit crazy, to be honest. The whole Donald Trump becoming President, us [Britain] having to go through Brexit and to live in this country during Brexit was hideous because it was so full of lies and it completely polarised the country. It has been disastrous and I am not being pro or anti, although I didn’t want to leave, I think it was a disaster. But, regardless of how you voted, it has been a disaster because it has completely polarised our country. I was watching people in their suits, in front of these grand building like the White House or the Houses of Parliament, just talking absolute rubbish. I remember when Donald Trump’s advisor or spokesperson started talking about ‘alternative facts’. As soon as you have somebody talking about ‘alternative facts’, I was thinking, ‘Oh My God, what is happening?’ You know, you’re a parent too and it starts putting a different perspective on the world. Really, what is going to happen? Are we going to get over this crazy time? Then you have the social media aspect and all of the conspiracy theories and fake news going around. So that really informed the lyric writing. But, the caveat that I have to that is that it was real based on a personal experience. I had brought it right down to some personal relationships. There was a really dear friend of mine that we were having a pretty major falling out, and he said to somebody who I know, ‘I don’t know which seven versions of the truth Bruce has been telling you but this, this is the truth, this is what happened.’ I thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing sentence,’ you know to say what is seven versions of the truth and I wondered, ‘What is a version of the truth?’ and it just made me think so much. That is just an example but the track, Versions of the Truth, that is actually about this person so it goes backwards and forwards between, ‘That’s not how I remember it,’ and it is the other saying it and then me saying it. That is how conflict happens. So, when I sing that, it comes from the heart, quite definitely.
That makes sense. The Pineapple Thief is always interesting with spatial dynamics so whether lyrics are maybe acerbic or introspective, or even dealing with confrontation, these different layers of musical intensity make the message more powerful.
Yeah, it is funny that you say that. I remember when I released my last solo record [All This Will Be Yours], a journalist said to me, ‘Tell me Bruce, how do you feel about or explain your use of negative space?’ I must confess I had to look up what negative space meant but in the art world, it is about being minimalist in order to get that drama. Recently, especially playing live, when it drops down to nothing, so there are quite a few moments like that, especially during Versions of the Truth where there is a bar of silence and you can just hear this reverb tail going and then the singing starts again and that is just as dramatic as having this wall of sound hit you. The reason, I think that one of the big reasons why I’ve really gotten into, and I’m going to have to use the term ‘negative space’, so now I am a bit pretentious. But that is the truth that I have started to really understand that power because of how I can see how it affects the audience when we play live. They’re taken aback, you can hear a pin drop and the lights come down. Now, obviously, it means that when you do with them with that wall of sound, it is all the more effective.
Where do you think harnessing and developing that idea came from initially?
I don’t know. I think that, especially in the early days, there was always a sort of feeling that when you are writing, that you just have to throw everything at it, you know, layer it up and then layer it up, and that is how you got that sound, In those early days, I was thinking, ‘How do people make these amazing sounding records where you can hear everything, and it is really chunky?’ I just thought, ‘Let’s layer it up with all sorts,’ like mellotrons, guitars, acoustic guitars and layers of vocals on. Then I think that in the last four or five years, I have sort of realised that the opposite is true, if you do it correctly. I don’t know what the answer is but we just managed to be able to get it sounding, getting that big sound and that drama with a lot less. The more that worked, the more that I enjoyed doing it. We’re writing now for the next record and we’re really pushing it even more.
It works really well. The song Our Mire is very reminiscent of Rush.
Oh right, yeah. Obviously we are very lucky to have Gavin playing on that but of all the drum parts he has put together, I remember when he constructed that track and it went through quite a lot of back and forth between myself and Gavin. Yeah, he was all explaining about how every verse has got a different approach for the drums. But, I think what I love about that track is John’s bass parts. You’re probably right, they are really not what you would expect. They are running all over the bass, a bit like, I guess, how Geddy Lee would play. So yeah, I am happy with that comparison.
Over the years, how have you learnt to develop combining singing with playing guitar?
I’ve learnt that the hard way. I remember that I’d met John, our bass player, when I was a student, when I was eighteen or nineteen. God, that was a long time ago, and we’d started this band. I answered a guitarist wanted ad and that is where I met him and we started this band and we just wanted to be the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and there was a band called Living Colour back in those days. Those were the two bands that we really worshipped. It was a three piece and I was forced to sing and obviously, when you are doing these quite technical guitar parts and sort of like funky sort of stuff, singing and playing was really hard. We just rehearsed and rehearsed over and over and over. That is when I really beat it into me that that is how you play and sing. Then, it just gets better the more and more that you play. I think the more we toured; the more we started touring a lot, that is when it really, really became more natural to the point where now I wonder what is a more important instrument, my voice or my guitar? It is probably moving more towards the vocal side of things.
Overall, you’re probably more recognisable as a vocalist.
Yeah, yeah and people tell me that my voice is quite distinctive. You can tell it is me when I start singing and I know that is what Gavin really likes about the music, is the style of my voice, which is quite soft. You know, I am not an Axl Rose, that is for sure, and if I tried to do an Axl Rose, I would just sound like a whiny Billy Corgan. So, yeah, I think…and that is certainly what I am writing now. I was writing some songs which had guitar and vocal and I thought, ‘No, actually, I’m going to take this guitar and I am going to play it on the piano,’ so it is just piano and vocal, instead. So yeah, it is certainly moving that way.
Was there a particular song on this live release where everything gelled perfectly?
Well, I am just trying to think, White Mist worked really well and I remember when we played that and I finished it, I was like, whispering but it felt like we had played it in front of a massive audience because I was really buzzing and also, there was a track from 10 Stories Down called Wretched Soul. That just came together really, really nicely. It was just nice to rock out with that one.
Being that The Pineapple Thief has a bit of a studio band level of quality reputation, are you closely following the developments in digital technology?
Well yeah, we are. In the early days, we were in studios and it was all analogue. So I grew up, sort of, through the revolution into the digital world. In my studio, I just invested all I could into the highest quality converters and pre-amps because I only ever record either my vocal or a stereo. So I’ve got a stereo pair for my acoustic guitar or I am recording vocal. All of the guitars go through a Kemper [digital amplifier profiler and effects processor] to record. So, I was really conscious to get that as good as possible. Then, when it is in box, I am very careful to use the analogue emulations, you know, the tape emulations and the console emulations that I’ve got. I don’t know if it was a mixture of me becoming a better mixing engineer or the plug-ins or both, but the mixes just sounded an awful lot warmer or more 3D for the last five years. It is fun because our keyboard player [Steve Kitch] is a mastering engineer so he has got, I don’t know how much money’s worth of analogue gear. He is always taking photos of and showing me the new valve that he is putting in his EQ and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, we do talk about it a lot.
In that light, when you go into do these various tasks, do you have to put your producer hat, or your mixing and mastering hat on?
That’s the weird thing, isn’t it because it is a bit of both. That is because you’ve got such a high quality recording environment so I’ll play a demo guitar that is going through a Kemper and it is good enough quality, if I play it well, it is good enough quality to get there to the final mix. It is the same with vocal, quite often the vocals, when you are not really thinking about it, they’re the best. I remember last time I thought, ‘Right, I am going to go back and I am going to re-record those vocals as if I was in a six week session,’ like, ‘Here you go, Bruce, today we’re doing the vocals,’ and I’m going to do it as best as I possibly could and no matter what I did, it didn’t sound as good as the original that I had just belted out. I probably had a door open and you could hear the birds tweeting and things like that but it didn’t matter, because it was just a better performance and that is what I have understood is the difference. But you’re right, getting the producer, mixer, writer head, it does mess with your brain a bit and I guess that was one of the nice things about Nothing but the Truth, when we mixed that, that was it, I was just a mixing engineer. I was just trying to make that sound as good as I possibly could.
You have a huge tour planned. Is there any chance, if everything opens up and stars align, that you might tour Australia?
Yes, we are talking about it. Actually, I am really gutted because we had it planned. We had a plan that was going to bring Australia into the mix but then the pandemic put pay to that. So, yes, watch this space, when it all settles down. I heard that King Crimson were due to do Japan and Australia and they had to cancel those so, maybe in another year, or so, if we’re lucky. But like everywhere, it is a nightmare. So once this blasted little bug has gone, or it is just lingering, then yeah, I think we will be able to come over.
Finally, is vinyl the preferred format for you?
Yes, absolutely, I am in my lounge room at the moment with my record collection and player over there. It is just such a nice thing, if there is something really special that I love, then I’ve just got to have it on vinyl. Kscope are really great at really making the vinyl look amazing, and there’s the special editions that people want to hold. I’m looking at the sales of vinyl and it has become such a big part of the business which is just as well because it is not easy to make money in the music business. So, for vinyl sales to be going up, I am very pleased about that.
This latest album has numerous formats releases so I presume there will be something tasty in the vinyl side.
Yes, it is a really nice gatefold, double vinyl with a big booklet inside. This is a proper 70’s style release so yeah, it is going to be nice.