The Pineapple Thief: Alternative facts… alternative truths… alternative prog

Interview by Alain Brunet

Versions of the Truth is the 13th album from English prog band The Pineapple Thief, which is entering its golden age after 21 years of existence. Paradoxical?

Genres and styles : Prog Rock

Additional Information

(Photo: Diana Seifert)

On September 4, 2020, The Pineapple Thief launched Versions of the Truth on the Kscope label, directed by singer and guitarist Bruce Soord, keyboardist Steve Kitch, bassist Jon Sykes, and drummer Gavin Harrison. The songs are permeated with the theme of truth in these troubled times, when alternative facts abound and daily supplant objectively demonstrable facts. Joined in England, Bruce Soord told us more.

PAN M 360: The Pineapple Thief has existed since 1999, and many prog fans hold the band in high esteem, for its songwriting qualities, and the arrival of super-drummer Gavin Harrison around 2016. In 21 years of existence, The Pineapple Thief has only performed once in Montreal, at the Corona Theatre in November 2019 – why is that?

BRUCE SOORD: For years, that was just me putting out songs and records. As time went by, we started performing in front of an audience. For years, The Pineapple Thief remained more or less confidential, but our operations grew a little bit larger with each new album release. Things really changed four years ago when drummer Gavin Harrison (King Crimson, Porcupine Tree) joined my band. Yeah, it’s been a long road, but I’m certainly not complaining.  

PAN M 360: So Harrison’s impact is considerable. How do you see his contribution to the group?

BS: When Gavin joined The Pineapple Thief, we thought we were pretty good in what we did. Then we realized we had to step up, we had to get better, so we worked really hard on our live shows. I worked hard on my voice, I got singing lessons. We just knew we had a real chance to get some success, and we just took it. When we first toured with Gavin, I observed the reaction of the audience watching him playing. I was outstaged! (laughs) Then we spent a lot of time together touring and exchanging ideas.  

Now I know Gavin Harrison as a person and as an artist, not only Gavin Harrison the world-famous drummer, bla-bla-bla. It’s quite a natural relationship we have now. On stage, Gavin is playful, he likes teasing me when I make a mistake. The Pineapple Thief has not only a great new drummer, but also a creative partner. When I write a new song, I deliberately stop and send this work to Gavin, who sends it back to me with his comments, and so on. Yeah, this relationship came to blossom.

PAN M 360: After several years of work, the levels of composition and execution have therefore been raised considerably within Pineapple Thief – can we speak of a rebirth? 

BS: Absolutely! And this Pineapple Thief revival is not just about me, but a whole group, I think it’s really important. It’s no longer the way I used to work, and it leaves less room for me as a solo artist. The new Pineapple Thief is the result of a collective work, but it’s not a committee or a democracy. You have to find the right people to associate with, and then the songs can go further if other people work on them. That’s what comes out in our new record, our performance is that of a more cohesive group.

PAN M 360: Can we even speak of a golden age for The Pineapple Thief, so long after its founding?

BS: It seems incredible to me that we are achieving worldwide success after so many years of existence. For a 21-year-old group, that’s certainly unusual. With our new album, we feel like we’re listening to a more cohesive band. It’s quite incredible that we’ve recently become a successful band all over the world. That must be pretty unusual for a 21-year-old band. I’m touching wood because it’s a great time for The Pineapple Thief. Yes, we’re taking full advantage of it, despite the pandemic. Since our North American tour is inevitably postponed, we’re going back to the studio for a project that will be released in about a year’s time. Also, I will probably record a new solo album. So we have to make the most of this situation.

PAN M 360: The Pineapple Thief is associated with prog rock style, what does that mean to you?

BS: Today, I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been about my allegiance to progressive rock and what it represents. I’m happy to be part of a progressive rock band, but it’s such a vast territory, there are so many sub-genres, so many styles! For my part, the approach hasn’t really changed since I started: I take my guitar, a song is started. Personally, I like for a recording to hook you. For that, you need a song, you need a hook. That’s why I don’t like music that’s too technical, I don’t like to patch up songs with long instrumental sections just to call it prog.

At the same time, I don’t want to be a simple author of superficial pop songs. I want depth, I want to reveal the substance of a song. Finding the balance is a real challenge. Now I’m happy because I feel that we have found our sound. We don’t venture into progressive metal, for example, we don’t rely on shredding on the guitar. Some bands do it very well, not us. We wouldn’t be very good at it. In fact, we’re a more conventional rock band, but it’s similar to current progressive rock. That’s what I’ve been trying to perfect for 20 years of my life, creating visceral songs that connect with people.

Gavin Harrison (drums), Bruce Soord (guitar/vocals), Jon Sykes (bass/vocals), Steve Kitch (keyboards)Photo: Diana Seifert

PAN M 360: So The Pineapple Thief wouldn’t correspond to the idea of progressive rock that many fans subscribe to, would it?

BS: Progressive rock fans would see their style on top of other styles. You have to be more complex, smarter, lead the listener into more demanding areas… Personally, I’m wary of this perception of superiority, even though our style allows us to venture into any musical territory. In fact, I would remind you that we have already recorded with large string sections. I know that prog often involves crossovers with classical music, that it integrates long and complex instrumental sequences. But that’s not what we do. We have to create a good song before we package it. Of course, some of the productions on the latest album are quite atmospheric, sometimes dramatic, they also have electronic advances but… I always have to be able to play each song with an acoustic guitar. That’s the key.

PAN M 360 : Critics of prog denounce the relative immobility of the form, often bogged down in the ’70s and ’80s, how can that be escaped? What are the possible advances? 

BS: The advancement of electronic music is important to us, we’re trying to take advantage of this innovative knowledge.  As such, we can’t do much new with the forms of the ’70s, with guitar, analog keyboards, bass, drums, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw everything away. All these instruments are just tools. On this new album, in fact, I was interested in new ways of recording and treating the guitar, in the atmosphere, I wanted to make a traditional band relevant in today’s world, without falling into overproduction. 

Because we’re playing live, in the studio, I always have in mind how it’s going to work on stage. It has to be great live because Steve is going to do this on the keyboard and Gavin is going to do that on the drums, and it’s going to work. I keep adding things, trying things until everybody in the band agrees. Sometimes I’d try things that didn’t work, and then I’d come back and choose what I did originally. It’s a bit of a trial and error process to get to the song where we wanted it to be. The electronic beatmaking and the instrumental recording kind of come together.

PAN M 360 : The lyrics of Versions of the Truth were written in a troubled period for the West, to say the least, how were the themes expressed?  

BS: The title song of the album was written in October 2018. The idea for Versions of the Truth came up, a theme that seems today relevant to me given the state of the world, disinformation, social polarization, and the fragility of human relationships. It’s a very strange time, where different people’s visions of the truth confront each other. They firmly believe in their perception of reality, but this is only one version of the truth, which is why they argue, fight, break up their relationships of love or friendship. Everything is distorted, and that inspires me. There is a lot to write about.

Alternative facts… alternative truths… alternative prog.

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