Shed A Light: A Chat With Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief

One of the hottest guitarists and songwriters in modern UK art rock sits down with the Rock & Roll Globe ahead of their upcoming show this Saturday in the Netherlands

The Pineapple Thief 2019. (Photo by Lidschlag / remix by Ron Hart)

Be it with revered English art rock troupe The Pineapple Thief, his own solo recordings, or in collaborations like Wisdom of Crowds, Bruce Soord has continued to be one of the best songwriters of his generation.

Couple that with his highly evocative and distinctive voice, as well as his equally characteristic guitar work, and it’s no wonder why Soord is so revered by so many fans.

Ahead of their upcoming show  at De Cacaofabriek in Helmond, Netherlands, I spoke with Soord about the band’s recent very first tour of North America, his latest albums (The Pineapple Thief’s Dissolution from 2018 and this year’s solo set, All This Will Be Yours), British pop culture, how drummer Gavin Harrison adds to their dynamic, future plans, and much more!

 

Since you recently embarked upon your first U.S. tour for The Pineapple Thief, I’ll start by asking how it went. Any highlights? Issues with visas?

Well, let’s start from the beginning [laughs]. The visas are such a bizarre thing to have to go through. I mean, I understand that you have to get a work visa and everything, but the bureaucracy you have to go through is incredible. You’re talking months and months beforehand, and the evidence you have to get to prove that you are who you say you are and all that. Even then, it went right down to the wire; we didn’t get the permission to apply for the interview until right at the last minute. Then, you have to go to the American Embassy at 7:00 AM and queue up outside and have an interview. Our front of house sound engineer was refused for some stupid reason.

 

That sounds like way too much of a hassle.

Yeah. Luckily, the guy who interviewed me was a guitarist, and he also interviewed Gavin [Harrison, drums] and had heard of King Crimson. I managed to put a good word in and he expedited our front of house sound engineer. He just about made it on the plane. It does put off a lot of European bands from coming to the States because it is so difficult and so expensive to get visas. Anyway [sighs], that’s all done, and it seems like a distant memory now.

 

Fortunately.

Right. Once we got to the mainland, the atmosphere was incredible. The American audiences are just—I’m not saying that the European and English ones are bad, but they’re just so much more electric. As a frontman, you get a lot back from the audience straight away. It’s great to have a crowd that’s so up for it. All three shows we’ve done so far have been equally good.

 

That’s wonderful. I wonder if anything special went into making the setlist for America. Any favorite or least favorite tracks to play live?

Um, I think we knew that we’d get the set really quite tight from the European tour, so we wanted to keep it like that and give people a set that we know works well. Getting a set to flow takes some trial and error; for me, there are different highlights. We do a song called “3000 Days” from Someone Here is Missing and that’s a lot of fun. I get to use my killswitch and the crowd claps along. There’s also “Part Zero,” an old song that’s just a lot of fun, too. The one I probably find the most satisfying and moving to play is “The Final Thing on My Mind.”

 

AUDIO: The Pineapple Thief perform “The Final Thing On My Mind” live at Islington Assembly Hall

 

I noticed that the latest live release, Hold Our Fire, you play the entirety of the newest studio album, Dissolution, out of order and with “3000 Days” replacing “Pillar of Salt.”

We never play “Pillar of Salt” since it’s just a sort of short acoustic album track. We wanted to put on “3000 Days” because it wasn’t included on the Where We Stood live album. I wanted people to hear it since it’s an example of how the back catalog is reinterpreted live.

 

Especially with Gavin on drums and possibly rearranging it. Something I’m always interested in asking people who are touring is how they keep it interesting and keep from going a bit mad on the road.

[Laughs] We’re lucky because we’re touring on a bus, so we fall out of the venue, have some beers, and then wake up in the next town. We tend to soak up the local atmosphere in the mornings by walking around and getting a coffee. Today, we walked around Philly and enjoyed the area.

 

Something the fans online wanted me to ask is why the show is billed as The Pineapple Thief feat. Gavin Harrison.

Ever since he came onboard—and it was a gradual thing for him to come onboard. When he came on for Your Wilderness, it was as a session player. He didn’t really know us; he started to know me, but we’d only spoken over the phone. Then, we convinced him to come on tour, which was a big deal because he didn’t really know us or know what it’d be like. Eventually, we got on so well that we talked about doing the next record together and I said, “Well, I suppose we should just consider you a member of the band.” He said, “Yeah, Bruce. I’m up for that. For the long-term.” So, it happened naturally, and I announced that he was a full-time member now.

 

VIDEO: Gavin Harrison performing “Threatening War” by The Pineapple Thief for a Vic Firth drum clinic

Sure.

But then every time we’d say that we’re going on tour, people would ask if Gavin was going to be there, too. Even now, if we don’t outright mention it, we get so many messages about it. It’s like, yes, he’s part of the band. So that’s why we still do that. There’s no ego in the band about it; he’s been drumming for decades, and he’s drummed with everyone, primarily Porcupine Tree and King Crimson. He’s a star drummer so we’re quite happy to put his name up there if it means that people will notice.

 

I’m sure. Moving onto your new solo album, All This Will Be Yours, was it written concurrently with Dissolution? How’s writing a solo album differ from writing a Pineapple Thief album?

We finished making and touring Dissolution and then Gavin went on tour with King Crimson. This year was one of the busiest for King Crimson live, and I didn’t want to write for The Pineapple Thief without Gavin. One thing’s that’s happened with the writing process for us—I mean, you know that after these twelve or so Pineapple Thief albums, I was really happy for it to take a different direction when Gavin joined. He really gave the band a new beginning and lease on life, rather than it still just being me writing songs on my own and then saying, ‘Here you go, guys. Here’s the songs.” I could’ve carried on like that, but it would’ve run its course after a while.

 

It’s good that you can recognize that.

Yeah. For Gavin and me to be able to work well together is a good thing, so I’ve embraced it. If I’m writing, I won’t write a song anymore; I’ll just write a riff or an idea or a verse and then he’ll come up with something over it and send it off in another direction. Then it will go off elsewhere, which is the beauty of a proper band collaboration. So The Pineapple Thief is completely different now in terms of process, which I love, and John [Skyes, bass] and Steve [Kitch, keyboards] equally take the songs in a new direction.

 

I’m sure.

It was quite easy for me to put my solo hat back on. When Gavin was away for four months with King Crimson, I decided to lock myself in my studio and do the solo album. That writing process was very much in my studio and on my own, coming up with songs and ideas. It was a bit like the early days of The Pineapple Thief.

 

Plus it was probably a bit more personal and introspective.

Definitely, without a doubt. I was very comfortable being that person and giving a deep, personal perspective. It’s gone down really well.

 

Deservedly so. Any plans to remix or rerelease any old material, including Vulgar Unicorn?

I’ve talked to Neil Randall, my old buddy from Vulgar Unicorn, recently and—well, that stuff was recorded on tapes and I’ve got the tapes, so we just need to find a tape machine to convert it. There are companies to do that, of course, so, you know, never say never [laughs]. We’ve recorded some of the Pineapple Thief back catalog with Gavin, too, and rearranged it. We might put that out at some point, like reimagined highlights of the back catalog.

 

That’d be very cool since he’s got such a distinctive way of playing.

Absolutely. With the first track that we released from Your Wilderness, “In Exile,” the comments on YouTube straight away were about him. I don’t think that there are many drummers who’d be so recognizable like that.

 

AUDIO: The Pineapple Thief perform “In Exile” from the album Your Wilderness

Do you have any opinions on streaming services and/or the loss of the album as a whole statement?

The loss of the album—it’s difficult. The resurgence of vinyl says something about people wanting to listen to albums as a whole. If you buy vinyl, you’re not just going to dip in and play a track; you’re going to hear the whole thing. We’re certainly seeing a huge upward trend in Pineapple Thief vinyl sales. As for streaming, I’ve not really got a problem with it, personally. I’ll play an album on Spotify and play it through, but I know that my kids are only interested in songs. The concept of an album doesn’t exist for them, so it’s a bit sad. Maybe it’s because we’re in this progressive bubble that the album format seems alive and well; people who come to see us want albums and they talk to me about the whole collections in addition to individual tracks that connected with them.

 

Of course.

A lot of people are doom-mongering about streaming, and the model is pretty bad in terms of money for artists. You pay £10 a month or whatever it is, and you get unlimited to access to any song you want. That kind of model is never going to make it viable for an artist to live. Also, YouTube Music is the worst. What they pay is unbelievable. The model has to change. I was reading somewhere about the fact that if someone pays £10 a month, then that £10 gets spread across all of the artists. If someone paid that and only listened to The Pineapple Thief for that month, it’d be nice to have a model where that £10 would only go to the band. If that happened, emerging and independent artists would get treated more fairly.

 

That makes sense. Maybe if there’s enough pushback or something. So, many months ago, I spoke to Nick Beggs about the new Mute Gods album, Atheists and Believers and we got to talking about Brexit and touring.

Oh, I know that Nick Beggs is very outspoken about it. It’s an absolutely tragedy. I was doing some opening acoustic shows for Steven Wilson in the States a while back, and I was with Nick. It was shortly after the referendum. Everyone was still in shock, and pretty much everyone the music scene are Remainers. None of us want it. We think Brexit is an absolutely disaster and tragedy for the country.

There’s similar polarization in America in other ways, too.

There’s no middle ground anymore. Here, you’ve got Bernie Sanders on one end and Donald Trump on the other end. It’s the same in England, with polar opposites. I’d love to have a Bernie Sanders world that could work, but—

 

Me too.

People have gotten angry; you can feel it in the society. There’s so much polarization and anger. It’s really sad. It did influence how I wrote All This Will Be Yours because I’m so worried about the future. My youngest daughter is only just a year old, and I’m thinking, What is the world going to be like for you? I hope we look back on this period and think, Well, that was mad, wasn’t it? Thank God that’s over and everyone’s sensible again.

 

I thought of my niece, who’s now nine-years-old, when Trump won. I couldn’t believe it, but I’m kind of glad that I’m at least living through such a ridiculous time.

I landed in LA and drove through the night when those results came in. When Florida went, I thought, Oh, wow, he’s actually going to win. It was unbelievable.

 

Totally. Outside of the newest stuff, what’s your favorite album of yours, under any name?

I wish I could re-record some of the earlier stuff as I would do now. They’ve got programmed drums because I did everything and my studio wasn’t particularly good because I didn’t have the money and the technology wasn’t great. There are bits of everyone album now that I adore; it’s difficult to look back objectively. You always look at your most recent work as your best. Your Wilderness was probably the album that surprised me the most because none of us thought it’d get finished. We didn’t have a drummer and I said to John, “This will be our last record. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Should I just program the drums and put it out and say goodbye?”

 

Really?

Yeah, so when Gavin came on board, our stock went right up and it was a real surprise. All my life, I’m thinking, I’m really ambitious with The Pineapple Thief. I’ve got lots of plans. Then I kind of accepted defeat in a way, but then things changed. For me, that time is quite a good memory.

 

Years ago, we were talking about if you’d ever make it over here.

Right, so to be here now is amazing. Gavin was saying that when Porcupine Tree were touring during the In Absentia days, they were starting at the very bottom. Playing to fifty or one hundred people and losing money, so for us to be here for the first time and get an average of—tonight, I think we’ll have about three hundred people. In Europe, we’re doing between 500 and 1,000, so maybe we’ll get around 1,500 when we come back. We’re desperate to come back now. The reactions from the crowds, promoters and venue owners are wonderful and eager for us to return. When you get that reaction—and you’ll have your reaction later and see what you think—you know there’s a bit of a buzz.

 

Definitely. Can you say anything about the next Pineapple Thief record?

We’ve already written a lot of the next one, so when we’re done this tour, we’ll finish it and hopefully get it released before Summer 2020. We’re not desperate to get it out quickly, but if we do, it means we can start touring for it in September in Europe and maybe come back to America in early 2021.

 

That’s a fast turn-around for new albums.

You say that, and I guess eighteen months is a bit faster than the typical two years, but remember that in the 1970s, bands put out a new LP every year. Sometimes twice a year! We’ll only release it if it’s ready, but we’ve got about forty-nine minutes worth of it already that we’re happy with.

 

So it won’t be a Tool situation?

Oh, my, what was that? Thirteen years? And did it live up to expectations? Was that even possible?

 

It was good but not the masterpiece some people expected. Well, those are all the questions I have, Bruce. Thanks for speaking with me, and congrats on having such a warm welcome in America so far.

Thanks, Jordan. I’m glad we could finally meet in person and chat a bit.

 

 

AUDIO: Bruce Soord All This Will Be Yours (full album)

 

 

Jordan Blum

Jordan Blum is an Associate Editor at PopMatters, holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and is the founder/Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an independent creative arts journal. He focuses mostly on progressive rock/metal and currently writes for—or has written for—many other publications, including Sonic Perspectives, Paste, Progression, Metal Injection, Rebel Noise, PROG, Sea of Tranquility, and Rock Society. Finally, he records his own crazy ideas under the pseudonym Neglected Spoon. When he's not focused on any of that, he teaches English courses at various colleges and spends too much time lamenting what Genesis became in the 1980s. Reach Jordan @JordanBlum87.

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