The Pineapple Thief: The beauty of a fleeting moment

Like some of their elders, Pineapple Thief are a progressive rock band that have decided, with their new album Magnolia, to reduce the length of their songs. For the combo’s singer/guitarist, Bruce Soord (who’s also recently distinguished himself alongside Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse in Wisdom Of Crowds), this is not so much about changing styles as it is about questioning the band’s music. The songs are shorter, but that doesn’t mean they’re less rich, and the album as a whole is no less progressive. Soord even admits that some of the band’s older compositions could have done with a little more concision. Could this be a sign of wisdom and maturity in a genre that’s known for stretching out songs forever?

In a way, this debate is quite close to the one Danko Jones raised in our recent interview – namely, the easy path is not always the most obvious. Conversely, is writing a long song always a sign of accomplishment and artistic inventiveness? To Bruce, this new album is an answer to that question, up to and including its title, Magnolia. We talked about all this and many other subjects below.

« Although this album is only 47 minutes long, I think I’ve never put so much effort into writing songs than with this one. »

Radio Metal: In the promotional biography provided with the album, it is said that “The band started as an experiment, really early on, and I had an ‘Anything goes!’ and ‘Throw it all in the pot!’ philosophy”. After 15 years of career and 10 albums, do you think that you still have this philosophy?

Bruce Soord (vocals/guitar): Yeah, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years… I mean in the early days, it was very much a DIY project, it started at a very low level and it took us a long time to have even a right sounding record. So yeah, with each new album I do I seem to get more… If anything, I get more energy from moving up with every album, especially after 15 years with this new one. I’ve still so much to learn, and especially we had more money, we could work with string sections, and learning all these new things is just… And I have still a lot of energy. I think there are still a few more albums to come next…

What is striking about this new album is that the songs are shorter. Did you want to focus on writing good catchy songs?

Yeah, but I think the new album, even though it’s got shorter songs, it’s still very progressive because in goes through so many moods, delicate string sections, acoustic passages and also some quite heavy rock sections. But I didn’t set out to write shorter songs, I just felt the songs could move forward a bit quicker. I wanted to get more into a shorter space of time and I think it makes it a more immediate record. I think people can probably get into it quicker, but at the same time, I’d like to think that after multiple listens it should unravel itself as well, which is to me the sign of a good record.

Did you have to restrain yourself to write long songs or did those short songs come naturally?

Yeah, I can genuinely say that I didn’t go out of my way, I didn’t set out for them to be short. I didn’t think: “Oh, if it goes over five minutes, then I have to shorten it up!” In the old days I’ve done a couple of tracks that went through a very different middle section and then moved on to a pretty long outro with solos and things like that. I just got bored of that. I’ve done all that. I think the closest song that comes to this old format is the closer, “Bond”, which lasts about 4 minutes I think, but it still has the chorus, a middle section with the trumpet and then a sort of roving outro. And this outro, it stops a lot sooner than maybe I would have stopped it a couple of years ago and still, it gets the same kind of impact. It just makes you wanna play it again, that’s the the idea.

Is it harder to write a long and epic progressive song or to write a good 4 minutes catchy song that stays with people?

That would be harder to write short, interesting songs. I could have written a 60 minutes long album with 6 tracks, it would have been much easier. If you come up with something which you’re really proud of, like a riff or a vocal motif, then you can make it go on for as long as you want, but what I wanted with this record was to come up with a lot more of those moments, with songs that flow with more melodies and hooks and interesting passages in a shorter period of time. So yeah, but although this album is only 47 minutes long, I think I’ve never put so much effort into writing songs than with this one.

I guess that’s why you decided to put the song “As Simple As That”, which is also the single, in the beginning of the album. Is that a statement saying: this is what this album will be about?

I guess so, yeah, although it’s really hard. I mean, when the label says: “Right, let’s put a single out.” I say: “What are you trying to achieve by putting a single out?” Trying to say “here’s the kind of sound you’re gonna get” is impossible because obviously the album goes through lots and lots of different sounds. I think that maybe what they want is just to try and get a song that catch people quickly and hopefully the people who haven’t heard of Pineapple Thief will hear it and go: “Oh, this sounds interesting!” without having to sit through a 7 or 10 minutes epic; they can listen to a 3 and a half minutes song and pretty much understand what we’re about.

« I wanted it to be a celebration of beauty and happiness and, at the same time, trying to come to grips with the tragedy that we are in for such a short time. »

You declared: “It’s just that as time went on, I discovered I could say everything I wanted to say within a shorter period of time”. So how do you look at the long songs you wrote in the past? Do you think that they’re too long and that you could have said what you had to say in a shorter way?

Yeah, you know what? When we were touring this year, we went back to our back catalogue to play quite a few songs that we didn’t play before and, especially in our first four-five records, I was thinking: “Why is this song still going? Why is this outro still…” I can understand at the time what I was thinking, I was thinking that you can immerse yourself it, that you could lose yourself in a long passage, but now, I don’t know whether my attention span has left or changed but I just found myself [a bit bored]. So you’re right, I think some of my older songs could definitely be shortened up.

Is this how we know that a progressive band has reached some kind of wisdom: when they end up writing more concise songs?

Yeah, because a lot of progressive bands did this. The bands that I followed like Camel, Rush, Supertramp, even Yes to a certain extent, they all gave up the long songs and went to shorter songs. Some of them like Camel went back to the other side and came back to the long song format as well… But I don’t know what it is! I don’t know why we’ve done that. We did the 70s’ long, long epic songs, and now we wanted to work on shorter songs. But yeah, it definitely feels like a turn for me and, personally, I think it’s a more mature approach to songwriting. I’m not saying that I will never write long songs again, but I think if it’s long, it’ll be a different kind of long, it’ll be an interesting long as opposed to taking a theme and stringing it out and repeating it, which is what we tended to do in the past.

The album is called Magnolias. Magnolia is one of the most peaceful and beautiful flowers. Did you want your songs to be the musical illustration of the flower?

Yeah, I really did set out to make a beautiful record, even though it has some heavy, hard hitting sections. When you listen to the acoustic elements and the string sections, I’m very proud of that, and I think the magnolia on the album cover, it sorts of complement exactly what I set out to do, to make an album of light and shade, and of beauty as well, yeah. At least, I hope so.

The specificity of that flower is that it grows for a very long time, but it stays on its tree for only a few days before dying. It is often said that “the beauty of a moment is that it’s fleeting.” Do you agree with that, and is that why you chose the metaphor of the magnolia?

Yeah and I guess it’s a metaphor for life as well, you know, how fleeting is the time we have on this planet and how beautiful it is. I think that sums up the record. I wanted it to be a celebration of beauty and happiness and, at the same time, trying to come to grips with the tragedy that we are in for such a short time. I’m trying to make sense of that. That’s generally what a lot of my songs are about: the things that I can’t make sense of. And I hope it comes across in the music.

The mix was done by engineer Adam Noble who previously worked with artists like Placebo, Guillemots, Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and dEUS. Did you want a more mainstream and alternative rock feel to the songs?

I think I certainly wanted a more hard hitting mix, a better sounding mix. Obviously, during the production, the songs were all written already, so there’s been no danger they would turn into a Robbie Williams sounding song. Robbie Williams, sonically, makes great sounding records, and I knew when I first met Adam that we could take the sound of the Pineapple Thief to the next level. Yet I think that the sound of a record has a massive part to do with how you connect to it. [What kind of impact does] the heavy bits have? Does the delicate section sound as peaceful as they should? That’s all in the mix. I was very, very happy with what Adam did on the songs, it was great.

The sound of the album and the shorter song format give it a strong commercial potential. Do you actually feel that way about this album?

A lot of people say that, that it’s more directed to the mainstream and that it’s more accessible, but I genuinely say that it didn’t cross my mind. When I wrote, I wasn’t thinking like: “Man, I’ve got to do something that’s gonna go mainstream, it’s gonna get us out of this little underground world that we live in!” But I guess the more feedback I get and the more people who didn’t really get us before are now getting us, it’s a good sign. You can always say that you just write music for yourself, it’s still very pointless. By making music I can share what I’m saying with other people. So obviously the more people hear it, the better for me. And it would make life running a band a lot easier because it’s not easy to make a band financially viable these days, with downloads and… Fingers crossed.

« You can always say that you just write music for yourself, it’s still very pointless. By making music I can share what I’m saying with other people. »

On February 8th of 2014 the band announced that Dan Osborne had replaced Keith Harrison on drums. Can you tell us what happened?

Yeah, I mean, I can’t say too much because Keith’s not here to tell his side of the story but it wasn’t a very nice experience to break up with him Keith in the band, we’ve been playing together for 10 years… But unfortunately things happened and we thought there was no way Keith could commit to the music and to the album, and I think we had no choice but to find a different drummer, purely because he just didn’t have the ability to commit to the recording of the album. You have to be there all through the making of an album, it’s very difficult. This time last year the change happened and we didn’t announce it until a lot later. It was a traumatic time for the band. So when Daniel came in, it just brought the band back to life and it brought back some energy and ideas that we were sort of missing. So yeah, it was a tough time.

Was it hard for you guys to recover from that, since this was the band’s first lineup change in nearly 10 years?

Yeah! We’ve done a handful of gigs and festivals since then and it’s very, very strange, you know, sitting around and Keith not being there, but at the same time, it’s really exciting having Dan. He’s bringing his new style and a new energy to the band. So it’s very, very mixed feelings. It wasn’t nice but I don’t regret what happened. I guess that’s something that had to happen for the Pineapple Thief to be where it is today.

You said about your new drummer Dan Osborne that “unlike most drummers, he’s got a really good musical ear!” Did you have some bad experiences with drummers that preferred to show their skills rather than listening to the song?

Yeah, I think my experience with drummers is that they were happy just to turn up and drum. The only input that they would have would be: “Well, I wanna play this thing.” Dan is a drummer who is so energized into listening to the songs and telling me what he thought worked. He pushed me to come up with better parts, he pushed my voice and made me play my guitar a lot more. So it’s really, really good to have a new focus on me. If anything, the best thing Dan did was to give me a huge kick up in the ass and get me to use my guitar more and develop my vocals a lot more. So yeah, it’s refreshing having a drummer like that.

You recorded an album with Jonas Renkse from Katatonia under the name Wisdom Of Crowds. Can you tell us more on how this project started and about the experience of this collaboration?

Yeah, I was talking about how I discovered my voice a lot more and that has also to do with meeting Jonas. When he came over, the Wisdom Of Crowds album was pretty much finished but we didn’t have any vocals. It had been languishing for about four years, but then I managed to get Jonas to fly over to my studio. I’ve never met him before but working with him singing on that record, we had a wonderful time, we got along really well and we became good friends since then. Then I played with Katatonia on the acoustic tour which was very fun. We also did a short tour a year ago. We played the Batofar in Paris for that tour. I know that Katatonia are about to record another album and he just finished the Bloodbath record. I know that in between all these things, the plan is to do another Wisdom Of Crowds album. Commercially, it’s nowhere nears our own bands, but we definitely wanna do another one, and I think Jonas is quite keen to take more of a creative role and you can expect the next Wisdom Of Crowds to sound different. I think we could expect another album and maybe another tour if we can make the finances work.

Considering the busy schedule of both The Pineapple Thief and Katatonia, how do you guys make this project work?

I know! It shouldn’t work, should it? It just… Everything fell into place, we didn’t have to work, it just happened. Jonas has got such a… Even though he sings in a metal band, he doesn’t sing like any metal vocalist I know. He’s got a very, very soft, delicate and at the same time very powerful voice that somehow works over a massive wall of heavy guitars with Katatonia. And I know that Jonas has such a broad musical taste that it’s a pretty [effortless collaboration].

You joined Katatonia for their Dethroned & Uncrowned unplugged European tour, what is your relationship with them?

I didn’t know them or Jonas before that but I think they had some line-up changes, the drummer and the guitarist left. They had to cancel some shows but they didn’t want to cancel their acoustic tour, so they basically asked me if I wanted to fill in for that tour. So I flew over to Stockholm to rehearse with them and they are the nicest and funiest guys, we had such a great time. They’re hilarious. I was quite intimidated at first because I’m a big fan of Jonas and Katatonia and here I am playing the guitar with them. The tour was great fun because for once I didn’t have to be the front man, so I was just sitting in the tour bus, getting my guitar out, going on stage, doing my stuff and then getting back on the tour bus. It was a wonderful experience.

Interview conducted by phone 12th, september 2014 by Chloé Perrin.
Retranscription: Chloé Perrin.
Questions and introduction: Philippe Sliwa.
Traduction: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promos Pics: Tom Barnes.

The Pineapple Thief : pineapplethief.com.

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