Bruce Soord – Looking for the Light

Bruce Soord, frontman of The Pineapple Thief, releases his third solo album “Luminescence”, in September 2023. A few weeks before release, we met up with Bruce in London for a chat about the new record, working with Storm Thorgerson, how things changed when Gavin Harrison joined The Pineapple Thief, and what records he would love to mix in Atmos, where he says you need to completely disconnect your brain from traditional stereo.

Text and photography: Anne-Marie Forker

When and how did you become involved with music?

I grew up in a completely non-musical family. Maybe a little Cliff Richard and the Shadows, but that’s about it…

Not sure that counts!

[Laughs] That’s about it. When I went to school, that’s when I found a group of friends who were all really into music. I had a best mate, and I went back to his house, and his Dad has this amazing record collection and a posh turntable, a Linn Sondek, where this needle would drop so slowly onto this record. I just remember that moment. He played some Alan Parsons, and I can pinpoint that moment. I was looking through this big Hipgnosis designed booklet and everything, and that was it. That was the moment I fell in love with music. I bought a guitar, and I remember my friend who was already a Grade 8 pianist, and I thought “Ah, it’s too late for me, I’m 14” [laughs]. He said to me: “It’s never too late, Bruce”. To think now that 14 is too late is absolutely ridiculous, but in those days, before now where it’s social media and streaming and you don’t need to get that big record deal to do it, back then, you had to be “it” by 18, 20, 22 to get signed. That was the pressure. That’s basically when I got in to music.

So you love vinyl…

I do. I’m getting all nostalgic now. There was a group of us and we always used to go off on trips to cities like London and Liverpool, because there were so many second hand record shops. We would spend all day looking through records, and I’d get things for 10 pence. We were probably a bunch of weirdos at school because this was in the 80s, the birth of manufactured pop like Stock, Aiken and Waterman, but we were turned off by all that and were really into 70s music, and quite a lot of progressive rock. It was really easy to get loads of cheap vinyl.

I would love a time machine to be able to go back and shop then. Leaping forward to now, what has inspired a third solo album?

I think that it was just the progress of your life, especially with the solo stuff I focus on the passage of time, and everything that happens and all the feelings that happen. It’s not unique, everybody has these existential worries, and tries to figure out what they are doing as time gets increasingly more rapid. We were just talking now and looking back to when I was 14. That was a really long time ago. How much time is passing, quickly? And then you look at everyone around you and try to figure out if you are doing it right.  I try to think, in a positive way, of when I’m on my deathbed and hopefully I can think and reflect and say goodbye to everyone, if I’m lucky enough to have that.  It sounds really morbid, but hopefully I will have as few regrets as possible.  If you think about that, it’s really positive, because if you take it back to the here and now, it keeps your perspective right.  That was inspiring me to write every morning, just to try and understand it a bit better.

I do this thing which I shouldn’t do, when I look back to 14, and then think of the same amount of time going forward…

I know! I was 50 last year so I’m clearly over the half way mark. It’s a different perspective on life.

I’m in my 40s. Definitely the second half of the football match. So what inspired the title “Luminescence”?

It was just this word that appeared. This natural light, a scientific phenomenon. I thought it suited the mood of the record.  I think it’s easy to take it on face value, because it has melancholy themes and is introspective regarding making sense of life, that it’s dark, but it’s not, it’s the opposite.  It’s about finding happiness in the here and now.  Sometimes you’ve got to look at the darkness in life to understand what the light is and to appreciate it.

You get that kind of feeling from it. I haven’t had that specific feeling since Beck’s “Sea Change”.

Oh really! Thanks! That’s funny you should say that because when I was looking at the strings I thought I wanted them to sound like the strings on “Sea Change”, because they are so amazing.  When I was mixing it there were specific bits where I thought “Yeah, I’m going to do that Sea Change thing!”. Nigel Godrich who engineered it did such an amazing job. It was really inspirational for me, that record.

The stringwork is outstanding on the record. I particularly love the strings with your acoustic guitar on “Olomouc”, but I have no idea how to pronounce that word…

It’s a town in the Czech Republic. I had a day off, and I had my acoustic guitar, and I came up with the melody and didn’t know what to call it. The name of the place stuck.  That’s all down to Andrew Skeet who did the arrangements…

From Divine Comedy?

You have encyclopaedic knowledge!  I said to him that what he had done was so integral to the sound that he should get a writing credit, but he laughed and said I was the first person that had ever mentioned it.  He said that’s not how it works.  He came up with such beautiful parts. There were only 6 players. He does a lot of Netflix stuff, and got top players. When I was watching them play I had to take a deep breath. It was such an emotional moment. I had actually finished the record, without any strings on. But I always put the CD in the car so my family can hear it. An acid test.  One of my twin boys said “I think your album really needs some strings on it” [laughs]. I thought “No! It’s finished!”.

[Laughs] Just orchestrate the whole thing, Dad…

He was right. It was done at the very end. I contacted Andrew and luckily he really liked it.

It doesn’t sound last minute.

To be honest, if it had gone out without the strings, the album wouldn’t feel complete. I’m glad that that happened.

So your son is musical?

He is, he plays guitar, but he refuses to let me teach him.

[Laughs] I can understand that. Is the acoustic guitar your main songwriting instrument?

Yeah. I can work my way around a keyboard, but in terms of waking up to inspiration, and I want to channel it, it’s always the acoustic guitar.

You did almost everything on this album, including the electronic drum beats.  Why did you choose that sound, rather than ‘real’ drums?

I don’t know. When I started it, I thought of an electronic / acoustic mash-up. But as the album evolved I realised it was becoming a more singer / songwriter type of record. I liked the fuse of the electronic. I’m going out on tour in a couple of weeks and that will be a different interpretation because it will be acoustic drums.

Are you going to record that?

I am actually. I did one solo show just before the pandemic, so really this is a first for me, to go out on my own. I’ve got my band. Jon (Sykes) from The Pineapple Thief will be with me on bass, and a drummer. Post pandemic, you can announce a tour, but you don’t know if people are going to come. It’s always a worry, but now it’s nice to see that there should be a nice atmosphere.

I’ve seen that happen, as I photograph quite a few shows.

Yeah, I’ve seen! Didn’t you photograph The Pineapple Thief?

I did, in Oslo. I think that was during the pandemic, in 2022.

I remember. Smack in the middle. In Germany they had tents where you had to do a test to go into the venue. Kind of spoilt the vibe a bit. It was nice to get back out.  It’s only now when you look back on it you realise what a surreal time it was.

It’s an intricate record, but also beautifully simple in some places, which is a hard balance to achieve. There’s even a 2 minute track called “So Simple”. Was simplicity an intended goal of yours on this record?

Yeah. In the early days, it was layer upon layer upon layer. But simplicity is really difficult to pull off, especially that track. I’m going to play that live and it’s just going to be me on my own.  When I had the acoustic, I wanted to be able to take it to a place and just be able to sing a song. That was the mindset that I took. Some of the songs are layered, but I deliberately kept it very subtle, so the focus was always the voice, the guitar and the strings.

You have struck that balance perfectly. On to The Pineapple Thief – What changed for you when Gavin Harrison joined?

It was a weird thing because he was a session player on “Your Wilderness” but straight away it was more than just a session because we got on really well and I gave him almost like a carte blanche and said “Do what you want”. He said “Do you mind if we chop this up, and change things around a bit?” and things like that and right away it was quite a creative relationship, even though he was just a session guy.

And you didn’t mind that?

No. When we started “Your Wilderness” I was thinking it would be the final record, because we didn’t have a drummer. So I thought, “Right, let’s just do one more record” and I was really relaxed. It was easy for me to let go, especially when you have someone like Gavin Harrison, I’d rather not be the one telling him how to play.  So, if he comes up to me as says “This bit just loops in 4/4, how about we chop it up a bit?”, I said “Yeah, go for it!”.  In hindsight, that was a really good move.  Straight away, I knew it was something Gavin was really enjoying and it got to the point where I said to Gavin “Shall we just say that you are in the band?” and he said “Yeah, fine”.

So you didn’t have to do the “featuring Gavin Harrison” headline any longer…

That’s the thing, because he is a star drummer, even though people know he’s in the band, if you announce a tour, straight away people ask “Is Gavin Harrison playing?!”, so we end up putting “featuring Gavin Harrison” there anyway! Go on, put his name on, it’s fine! It changed an awful lot. It changed the way we approached the albums as musicians. Gavin knew he wanted to be a drummer since he was 6 years old and became a pro when he was 15 or 16. That’s his life. A high quality of musicianship and dedication is expected.  We thought we had that until we met Gavin, and then realised we had to up our game.  When I look back to the difference between pre-Gavin and post-Gavin is that as musicians and as a songwriter and a lyricist and everything, it just made me kick my own arse to get better. I think I was a bit complacent and thought I was doing alright.

You got comfortable…

Yeah. That’s a dangerous place. And when you look at the trajectory when Gavin joined, straight away the profile went up. I’m very happy with that.

I loved your live stream during the pandemic, especially your guitar playing on “Our Mire” (from Versions of the Truth album).  What was that like, performing without an audience immediately in front of you?

That’s a favourite part of the set, for me. It’s not a difficult solo, but it’s really good fun.  It was really weird. We did it, and planned it, when it was total lockdown, so you weren’t even allowed out of the house unless you proved you had to do it. We were driving up to the sound stage where we did the recording. No one around. Just delivery vans. It was so surreal. Then we had to do tests, by law. That was bizarre. Then when you get on the stage, the guy who filmed it had the idea of a circular thing, and we were all looking out, and there’s no one there. You are so used to engaging with an audience. Before that, I had done a load of solo acoustic streams in my studio, so I had got used to it. I would just look at the wall and picture loads of people there. Then I am lost in a fantasy that I’m not in an empty room, that I’m looking at a crowd and got myself in that headspace, and it was alright.  We only had one shot because it was quite expensive to do. We had to pull it off on that day.  It felt like a gig because so much was resting on it, and you only get one shot at it. If you pull it off, great. You had the nerves, which is also a good thing.  

Did you all stay away from each other?

No, but Gavin was nervous about it because he has asthma, so we all had PCR tests done to make sure we tested negative before getting together.

Storm Thorgerson made the cover for your album “Someone Here Is Missing”. What was it like working with him?

It was surreal. That was in 2010. Back then, the band was doing okay, but doing tours in vans. It felt amazing. But actually the band was still underground. The art guy at the label, Scott Robinson, got in contact with Storm’s studio and sent him the demos. He just really liked it, so he came back and offered to do a cover at a price that we could do. I just couldn’t believe it when they said he wanted me to come to his studio, because the deal he always has is that he interrogates the artists.


At the time he had been diagnosed with cancer, so he knew his time was limited. My father-in-law at the time had cancer so we had a long conversation. He was quite open and enjoyed talking about that kind of stuff. I remember walking out of there thinking “Oh My God, Storm Thorgerson is going to do a cover for us!” Having had that first formative moment when I was 14 looking at a Hipgnosis design, and then I’m in his studio, talking to the guy.

When you say “interrogate”, was it really intense?

He’s certainly not your normal kind of guy that you meet on the street. He was quite eccentric. He was just really interested in, like you are asking me, where does that music come from inside you, so he can go away and come up with some ideas.

You do production and mixing work for other bands and artists, with Atmos.  Steven Wilson told me there is a speaker above you?

That’s essentially what it is. For years it was just 5.1 where you basically have speakers behind you. With Atmos, it’s all above you, and you can put a sound anywhere around you, so it’s amazing. It depends, you can be in a cinema with 100 speakers, or in my studio, with 14. Any time someone comes to my studio I say “Come and listen to this in Atmos!” You have to completely disconnect your brain from traditional stereo. It takes it to a weird, new dimension.

Is there an album you would love to do an Atmos mix of?

“Sea Change” was remixed for 5.1 but I don’t think it’s been done in Atmos yet. I’d do that one, obviously. That would be a treat. And anything I grew up listening to. I was really into the melodic prog, like early Supertramp and Camel. If I could do those, that would be amazing. I did that with The Pineapple Thief. I just did a big box set of the first 6 albums, which was weird. I went all the way back to 1999, and remixed those in Atmos. I’m slowly going through all of The Pineapple Thief catalogue and redoing them. The next box set will be up until Gavin joined, and then the one after that will be the Gavin era. It does feel like that, when you look at the eras of The Pineapple Thief. There was the early years, when it was just me on a tiny little label called Cyclops, and then I joined Kscope, and we stepped up, and then Gavin joined and we stepped up even more. It feels like there are 3 epochs.   

Originally published in Norway Rock Magazine #2/2023