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Prolific/Progressive: The Pineapple Thief Get Back To Their Roots On 'Your Wilderness'

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

In the 2000s, progressive rock enjoyed something of a revival. Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta and Tool wore the prog tag with pride. Even bands as big as Muse accepted the label as a compliment rather than an insult, something that would’ve been unheard of only a decade earlier.

Bands like The Pineapple Thief, initially a solo project by Somerset songwriter Bruce Soord, had been largely ignored until the rise of the internet. His sound bore more resemblance to Radiohead than Rush, but the long songs and extravagant concepts were hardly money spinners.

That changed with the release of 2004’s ‘Variations on a Dream’, as Soord found his audience. Since then, The Pineapple Thief’s growth has been steady and enthusiastic prog-heads have never really left their side. The old hands have reason to rejoice, too. After years of tinkering with more accessible styles, the band’s new album, ‘Your Wilderness’, is a return to their roots.

The record features a four-piece choir, new instrumentation, guest features from members of Caravan and Supertramp and drums courtesy of current King Crimson sticksman Gavin Harrison.  It’s not quite a three hour symphony about The Lord of the Rings, but Soord acknowledges it’s their “most progressive album in years”.

“On our last album we deliberately wrote a few songs in a traditional rock format,” he says. “I was conscious that we needed an accessible, instantaneous track to kick off the album so that Spotify listeners would check us out because they enjoyed the first thirty seconds of a track.

“This time around I didn’t give a shit. I had no aspirations for it to be successful and just wanted to write songs. It doesn’t mean I’m writing massive, long tracks. One track called In Exile is only four and a half minutes but has such a strange arrangement. I’ve always had an ear for that kind of thing.”

To be naturally inclined towards such a daunting style of music is uncommon, but it certainly fits Soord. Much like Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Soord started The Pineapple Thief as “more of a pretend band in his bedroom” than a full-blown project in 1999.

But his work rate in that time has been phenomenal. ‘Your Wilderness’ is the band’s 11th album, and it’s arrived right on time when you consider they’ve uniformly released an album every year or two since their inception. Soord, meanwhile, also released an album under his own name last year and collaborated with Swedish metal icon Jonas Renske for the surprise Wisdom of Crowds project in 2013.

Again, like Wilson, Soord’s musical achievements mark him out as restless creative animal. The production on each of his albums is immaculate, his technical skills are impressive and his songs always carry an air of unpredictability. Yet, outside of music, Soord comes across as extremely mellow and personable.

“I’ll admit that I did feel a bit jaded when we first decided to do this one,” he says. “It’s not the songwriting but the hard work and effort that goes into everything we do. When we started, though, it was quite a quick process. We started in November and finished in May. Previously, I’d write a bunch of demos and the rest of the band would add their parts. This time around I let everyone do their thing. Last year’s solo record let me take a step back and not worry about what they were doing. When I came back it felt more collaborative.”

While ‘In Wilderness’ definitely feels like a more unified effort, with strong instrumental performances across the board, Soord still retains an element of creative privacy. He’s remained tight-lipped when it comes to explaining the concept.

“It’s not a pretentious thing,” he says. “It’s only because I hate people to know too much. It’s always annoying when I love an album and then find out it’s about a cat or something. The album does deal with some personal stuff: my perspective of growing and witnessing things that happen, family bonds and child-parent relationships.”

Soord’s less shy in his praise for Harrison, who’s pretty much the granddaddy of progressive rock drummers at this point. Recording all of his parts in his own personal studio, he was so good that the band went back and re-recorded everything.

“He’s such a perfectionist but that was a good thing,” Soord says. “When we heard his recordings we were like ‘holy shit’. He scores everything out and so every hit is sympathetic to the song. It forced us to raise our game and get up to his level. It was an honour to have him.

“I guess I underestimated how established we are now. I remember sitting in my kitchen daydreaming about guest musicians before realising I could actually email them. Suddenly, we had John Helliwell playing clarinet on one of the tracks. I’m not even sure the track needed clarinet but I loved it anyway.”

As Harrison isn’t a full member, The Pineapple Thief now face the eternal conundrum for an experimental band: how to perform the songs live. Soord, though, doesn’t seem remotely worried about the prospect. After years of treading his own path, he’s unfazed by limitations. It’s the typically progressive attitude that there’s always a way.

“It potentially could happen with Gavin,” Soord says. “The band have had a chat so watch this space. We’re not a big band that goes on 12 month tours so there’s always plenty of time to plan things.  We’re lucky I suppose. I was talking to Steve [Kitch], our keyboardist, about how music is free and available.

"Bands on the bottom rung really have to work hard and play shows to get by, but for us it’s more relaxed. We initially only had about 20 or 30 fans on mp3.com and just had to graft hard to get noticed. Luckily, prog is one genre where fans will go and buy a physical product because they like it. That’s amazing.”

'Your Wilderness' is out on August 12 via Kscope


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