“Not that I needed any extra passion or energy, but it’s just given me an extra boost knowing that it’s not just going out on a tiny label and that only those in the know will get to hear it.” Bruce Soord is talking about the release of his band, Somerset quartet The Pineapple Thief, and their forthcoming, as-yet-untitled studio album.
It will be their eighth in 11 years but the added excitement comes from it being the second to be unleashed from the wholly prog-oriented Kscope label.
“People used to deride prog because of the capes, wizards and pixies but Kscope knew there were a lot of bands out there with progressive influences doing good stuff,” Bruce explains. “It was just a different world from [former label] Cyclops. I was on there for eight years but as much as I owe them a lot for pressing stuff and getting us known, it was just one guy and he had no money to promote us.”
Kscope is also home to solo albums from Richard Barbieri and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, and it was Wilson that initially pointed the label’s attention toward Soord. Comparisons have been made between the bands over the years and it’s not an unreasonable link for they share initials, a prickly protagonist within their names and, of course, a similar musical style.
“If there’s one thing I regret, it’s picking that name,” laughs Soord ruefully, when talking about the association. “I’ve met Steven a couple of times and we exchange emails and he gives me a lot of good advice because I think he can relate to our journey.” Interestingly, another parallel is that both bands signed to Kscope around a decade into their careers – Porcupine Tree on their fifth and The Pineapple Thief on their seventh album.
This level of endeavour and perseverance has led to The Pineapple Thief’s fanbase growing gradually but solidly over time – something that Soord is very grateful and appreciative of.
“The fans you get from building up from nothing are not fickle and are really dedicated,” he says affectionately. “We’re so grateful because I know we wouldn’t be on Kscope now if it wasn’t for the fanbase we built up.”
Simply by engaging with their fans via the message boards and the wonderfully-titled Brucey Blog on the band’s website, The Pineapple Thief have ensured a level of relationship that demands the fans put as much love and attention into listening to and consuming the music as it does from the band to write and create it. This rapport led to a band-versus-fans five-a-side football competition before a hometown charity TPT show, in Yeovil, late in 2009 but as the band’s profile grows, Soord fully understands the need to keep a little bit of distance – for the music’s sake, of course.
“It’s whether you want to maintain this illusion that you’re some superhuman being. The past 18 months where we’ve been playing bigger venues, it’s been different,” he explains. “When we were playing to 50 people you’d just go and have a chat by the bar but I think there’s a line where the performance and the anticipation are more important. It’s not an arrogance thing, it’s just about making it a good show.”
Quality control is something important to Soord as Kscope have set about realising the potential of that back catalogue and he is undertaking the task of polishing that material himself. “My studio’s so much better now so I’m not going to change the songs,” he explains. “I’m just going to make them sound more transparent and hi-fi because some of the early mixes… blimey.”
Luckily, as time has passed, The Pineapple Thief’s output has remained rather ‘blimey’ but any negative connotations have been replaced over time with the kind of ‘blimey’ one might emit upon hearing a glorious slab of modern progressive rock with the level of studio expertise that fits such eloquent songwriting. “Some of the engineering I did was mainly out of necessity. In an ideal world I’d do as much as I could here and then take the files to a studio,” Bruce explains. “After you’ve listened to a track 100 times then you can’t see the wood for the trees and everything you do seems to make it worse. That’s when it’s time for someone else to finish it. This time I’ve got some friends who are good engineers.”
That’s good news for everyone hoping to hear the finest album yet from The Pineapple Thief. Even better news for TPT fans is the reissue of the much sought-after bonus discs of 12 Stories Down and 8 Days Later. “Because we gradually got bigger and bigger they got very collectable,” Bruce explains uncomfortably. “It’s pretty depressing because they’re changing hands for hundreds of pounds and I don’t like seeing fans paying stupid amounts of money for stuff.”
With one track written and recorded per day, 8 Days Later was music written under pressure that maybe wasn’t as important as the songs that had been toiled and tortured over on the parent album it was accompanying. However, it was a process that Soord took much from. “The one thing I’ve learnt is that writing a good song doesn’t mean you have to spend ages on it,” he says knowingly. “I used to go in and just get a couple of chord changes in six hours because I thought you really had to work at it to make it sound great. That’s actually a load of crap,” he deadpans. “The best songs I’ve written took 10 minutes.”
When asked about the flipside of releasing an album on a larger label, however, Bruce Soord is slightly more apprehensive. “I do wonder at the back of my mind what people are going to think about it. I love the progressive scene because the fans are so eclectic and open-minded. There are also some closed-minded prog fans that need 18 million time signature changes and the drum solo in the middle, or they’ll hate you but you get that in every genre.
What I love about the progressive world is that it’s just full of music lovers.”
Those music lovers have got a bumper 2010 to look forward to. With all those reissues and a brand new album to boot, The Pineapple Thief have it all to play for.
This article originally appeared in issue 13 of Prog Magazine.