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Interview with Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief)

Starting with their 1999 debut album, Abducting The Unicorn, The Pineapple Thief have released a total of eight albums, delivering their unique blend of progressive and alternative rock that effortlessly weaves bursts of power with more meditative and serene moments.

In 2008, the band signed to record label Kscope and with them have released a handful of EPs and singles, a 2-CD compilation of their earlier work and two new studio albums, most recently 2010′s Someone Here is Missing, their heaviest, most immediate album to date.

Also since signing to Kscope, they have started the process of re-mastering and re-releasing their older albums, the latest of which, Variations on a Dream, is released this week.

Founding member and main man Bruce Soord talks about the re-issues, the next Pineapple Thief album and mentions some of the songs that he is most proud of.

24 October will see the re-release of your 2003 album, Variations on a Dream. How do you think this compares to the original release? What are the main differences we can expect to hear?

I wanted to keep it true to the original but at the same time inject some life into the old thing so I could actually enjoy listening to it again! In the 8 or so years that have passed since I mixed that record, I’ve improved so much as a mixing engineer (and I’ve been able to buy some nice gear since then) so it was pretty easy for me to give it a much classier sound. The problem with the original was that it sounded pretty thin and narrow. I’m really proud of the sound of the re-issue. I did swap some sounds and samples out but definitely no over-dubs. That was the rule.

This will be the latest in a series of re-mastered albums. Have you enjoyed going back and re-working your older material?

It certainly was a bit weird getting the old sessions up after all these years. The overriding emotion was one of relief and pride, that I’m still here doing this. I remember at the time of recording Variations, I had no idea we would have grown so much as a band, it all felt so futile at the time and this sometimes spilled into my song writing (like Part Zero). We weren’t gigging and sales were pretty low, so to still be here giving the old albums a new lease of life is a great feeling. Having said that, I’d much rather be working new stuff, that’s where the energy is. And are they the definitive versions? You know, I don’t think I could ever say that about anything I do. Everything will always be imperfect to me.

You have stated previously that you weren’t entirely happy with the new mixes of tracks from Variations on a Dream that appeared on the compilation album 3000 Days.

There you go, it was imperfect! I think at the time I didn’t give it the love and attention that compilation deserved. It was really hard to find enough time to get everything done. We had just signed with Kscope and I was working on Someone Here is Missing as well as trying to mix a huge 2 CD compilation. Most of the disc sounds great, but if I did it again now, it would sound better.

In a blog you mentioned that you weren’t sure about the track order for Variations on a Dream and were considering altering the order for this reissue?

Yeah, that was a weird one. If I had written the album now, I would have probably not opened with Subside and stuck the longer, space Vapour Trails towards the end. I put the question on my blog and got a host of different opinions. In the end, someone said ‘hey man, don’t mess with history’ and that was that! There’s still a slight contradiction, I mean I remixed it, that’s messing with history isn’t it?

The bonus discs for Variations on a Dream and 10 Stories Down are wonderful albums in their own right.

Thanks! In retrospect, it was a crazy idea (sanity wise) but one thing it did was force me to write and record in an entirely spontaneous way, with really tight restrictions. This forced me to write and record stuff I would never do normally. When I remixed these bonus discs this year, I was amazed how they stood up. I hadn’t listened to those discs for many, many years, so it felt like a new experience, listening to them. At the time, when the band was relatively unknown, it didn’t feel like a big risk. I felt it was a little treat to the fan-base we had.

The only reason I did it was because my label at the time phoned me up and said ‘Bruce, my pressing plant have made a cock-up and they’re giving me a thousand free CDs. So you can have a bonus disc for the first thousand presses, it will help us shift them if we can make it limited. Just give me some live stuff or something.’ So I thought about it, I didn’t want to churn out some naff demos or live stuff (well, there wasn’t any live stuff!) so I had the idea to do an album in 8 days. Would I do it again? I’d be mad to put myself through that again! But never say never.

Will you be re-mastering 137 next? Will there be any bonus material for that album?

It’s either going to be 137 or What We Have Sown. There is quite a lot of bonus stuff around the 137 era, probably enough to make up a whole disc. There were lots of songs and demos I was sending around when I was dancing with the industry, trying to get a ‘major’ record deal and playing with my 3 piece band around Camden. In retrospect, thank goodness I didn’t go the xfactor route. The majors would have spat me out in no time. I wouldn’t be here talking to you now if that had happened.

This year you recorded a cover of Pink Floyd‘s song Money. Did you enjoy that experience? Are there any other songs you would like to cover in the future?

Yeah, I enjoyed it but it was nowhere near as satisfying as writing your own stuff. It was interesting though, to push me into the Floyd zone. One thing it reminded me was how underrated David Gilmour is as a vocalist. When I got into the detail of his performance, it was extremely nuanced. It reminded me to take that level of vocal perfection to the new album we are recording and rehearsing up now.

Would you ever consider including a cover song as part of a Pineapple Thief album, or do you think they are better left to compilations or as stand-alone singles?

No, I don’t think a cover should ever be on an album. I am a romantic at heart, I see an album as a cohesive statement of a band or a songwriter. Sticking a cover in there ruins it for me. Definitely for B-sides!

2007 saw the limited release of the album What We Have Sown, which made use of older, previously unreleased material. What can you tell us about this album?

What We Have Sown is a little oddity. When I left my old label to join Kscope, I was still contractually obliged to deliver another album. This is where most artists would churn out a live album. I got on well with my old label so I decided to give them something a little more special. I got some unfinished tracks and wrote a few new ones. But I was still way short of an album’s worth of material. So I deliberately set out to write a LONG track. I thought, what the heck, let’s have fun and see where it goes. Setting out with a long song in mind changes the writing process completely. It then becomes ok to spend 5 minutes building to the verse, or modulating into a lengthy middle section. That track turned into a 30 minute beast, but some fans really digged it.

In 2008 you released your first album for Kscope, a label that is home to many great artists and that seems to care about music as an artform – are you enjoying being signed to this label and do you think it has helped bring your music to a wider audience?

Without doubt, moving to Kscope was the single most important thing that has happened to the band. Being on a label with so many great artists has been a massive boost for us. When I meet people now, most people say ‘I can’t believe you’ve been around since 1999, I only discovered you when you released Tightly Unwound. So yeah, it’s definitely got our music out there.

How is the new album progressing and have you got a date in mind for the release?

I am really, really excited about the new album. Every time I finish an album, I always think ‘I can’t put myself through that again’. Writing is really emotionally draining. I’ve been writing for 8 months now and the band is literally getting together now to rehearse and produce them, ready for a residential studio session up in Lincolnshire in January (I’m hoping that doesn’t turn into too much of a party). We are pushing the production values up massively for this album. I’m talking to our management now about when this is going to be released but I haven’t got a date I’m allowed to share yet. But definitely 2012!

There is a noticeable variety in The Pineapple Thief‘s work. Will the next album mark another change for the band or will it be a continuation of the style found on Someone Here is Missing?

It’s hard to explain in words where the sound is going. It’s definitely not Someone Here is Missing, but at the same time it’s definitely a progression. It’s hard hitting but I’ve also tried to give it more depth. There are a lot more guitars on this album too.

How does it feel to play material live for the first time?

It definitely does affect the final product. Playing songs live on stage puts a totally different complexion on them. The atmosphere, the emotion of playing it live, you hear different things which leads me to try different things out. You realise what bits work and what doesn’t. Or what bits work but are too short or too long. And obviously, when a new song gets the right reaction, it’s also reassuring knowing the song is going in the right direction!

Pineapple Thief

Pineapple Thief

Do you already have a setlist in mind for your next gigs? Do you find it hard to decide which songs to perform? Are there any songs that seem to regularly bring the most positive reaction from the crowd?

Yes we do and yes it’s very hard to choose. We’ve already rehearsed 6 new songs and want to play them all! Regarding the ‘money’ songs as we call them, our live set is pretty dynamic, so the most positive reactions tend to come when we hit them hardest – So We Row, Too Much to Lose, Nothing at Best, Preparation for Meltdown. So it’s tempting to go away and write an album of hard hitters. But this wouldn’t be the right thing to do as I know the softer songs hit a chord too, it just doesn’t get the audience jumping up and down waving their arms in the air.

Which of your songs are you most proud of or mean the most to you, and why?

Lots of different songs for different reasons. Part Zero, because we still play it live and reminds me how lost I felt back in 2002 when I wrote it. It’s a good feeling to stand on stage realising the whole The Pineapple Thief idea wasn’t such a ‘suicidal plan’. Snowdrops is a deeply emotional song to me, when the crowd join in the clapping outro, it’s a huge and complicated emotional rush. Right now though, all the new songs I am writing mean the most to me. It’s all I think about 24/7, which is why writing an album is such a love/hate experience for me.

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