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29th May 2013
After a few tantalizing years of speculation and promise, in 2012, fans of innovative and genuinely progressive music were finally able to sample the combined talents of a much touted collaboration between Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt in the form of 'Storm Corrosion'. A year on and another intriguing Anglo-Swedish alliance has arrived. This time, The Pineapple Thief mainman, Bruce Soord, and frontman of Katatonia, Jonas Renkse, have joined forces to deliver a finely balanced electronic-analogue amalgam that manifests enrapturing sonic emotion through the potent combination of Bruce's exquisitely crafted instrumentations and Jonas' affectively moving vocals. The resultant music from these two men is both a captivating and exhilarating listen from start to finish. A few days before the album was due to be unleashed, Metal Discovery spoke to Bruce about this exciting new venture...
METAL DISCOVERY: First, I want to say it’s a great album you’ve made there, really impressive stuff.
BRUCE: Thanks.
(Bruce Soord on working with Katatonia frontman Jonas Renkse)
"...he was nailing them so quick that a day in the studio was about a four hour session, I think. Then we’d just go and chill out, drink some beer, cook some food and argue over who was getting Spotify next to share the music we like!"
Wisdom of Crowds - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2013 Ross Bolidai
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Were there any particular creative goals you were aiming for when you started composing the songs?
BRUCE: No. The way this came together… it started with a conversation with the label about four years ago and it just evolved into what it is now, over years and years. And even though I’ve always loved Jonas’ voice, it wasn’t until late on in the game that Jonas came on board and put the last big bit of the puzzle in the project. So, yeah, it was weird. I think the main thing was that I could just play with all the influences and toys I’ve got in my studio that I couldn’t do with The Pineapple Thief.
MD: So more experimental in that sense?
BRUCE: Yeah, exactly, it was like anything goes. I think the main thing was that there just weren’t any rules.
MD: Did that make you feel freer in the whole process?
BRUCE: Yeah, completely. The good thing about the label is that they didn’t say, “it must sound like this”; it was just, “go ahead and do it.”
MD: Obviously, as you said, it was a matter of four years which is quite a long gestation period for an album to develop over…
BRUCE: Well, I’m not used to doing it that way. Normally, when I do Pineapple Thief stuff, it’s an eighteen month process from start to finish and it totally engulfs me for that entire period. But this one was weird; it started off as an idea and I spent a couple of weeks on it and then it would die because we were doing other things, and then it would come back, and then there would be other ideas. There’s a guy at the label who was sort of influencing how the songs started so, really, there were three of us involved in it. That’s why it’s called Wisdom of Crowds, I think, because it was actually three… the last man was a silent partner. So, yeah, it was four years and it made the whole thing quite different because every time I’d come back, even though I’d think “I’m really pleased with that”, I’d come back six months later and go, “oh, let’s try this” or “I don’t like that anymore, let’s put this on.” I think that’s why, when I listen to it, I don’t think I’d change anything because it’s been so long in the pot.
MD: I guess having that longer period enhanced the creative freedom even more?
BRUCE: It did actually. And because there was never any pressure… we didn’t even know if it’d be released. It was one of those “let’s just do some music” kind of projects. And, another thing, we weren’t even thinking about, “are we gonna play this live?” or “what kind of reviews is it gonna get?” I didn’t ever really think about what would become of it.
MD: In terms of the actual songwriting and the core structures of the compositions, did you approach that differently in any way from how you generally approach composing music for The Pineapple Thief?
BRUCE: Yeah, because it wasn’t a blank canvas. With The Pineapple Thief, I always start with a blank canvas and it would just be me writing the songs, but this was… Johnny at Kscope, who was sort of feeding me ideas and starting me off on little chord changes and words and phrases, it was quite refreshing. That’s why I went running off in different directions as opposed to whether I started it just myself. I think if it had just been me, it would’ve probably sounded like The Pineapple Thief but there are lots of beats and distorted breaks and things like that. And, also, it made it really easy because I always find the hardest part is starting with a blank canvas, but starting with a little seedling growing is really simple.
MD: So now you’ve had that working experience of going through a four year period of making an album, is that something you’d want to do with The Pineapple Thief now?
BRUCE: [laughs] No, I don’t want to spend four years on an album again, no way! But it did prove that collaborations can work if they’re the right people.
MD: I’ve read in all the press materials that you wrote the material with Jonas’ voice in mind…
BRUCE: No… that always comes back to me and I’m going, “did I, really?!” I think that was Kscope trying to give it a bit of a marketing kick. When I first joined Kscope, I nicked a load of CDs from Peaceville and I remember when I first heard Katatonia, I was pretty blown away to the point where I emailed Jonas just as a little crazy fan, telling him how great he was; I remember he replied and said, “oh wow, thanks”. So it was always a dream to have his voice on it but it wasn’t ever, “we must have Jonas on this project.” But when it transpired it could happen… I don’t think the album would ever have been finished without having Jonas coming on board.
MD: Did he remember you sending that email when you got together?
BRUCE: No, I didn’t ask him… [laughs]… I’ll have to remind him and tell him to dig it out!
MD: Once you decided you wanted him singing on there, in case he said “no”, did you have a plan B?
BRUCE: No, we were pretty stuck, actually. I knew it wouldn’t suit my vocals, and we tried another vocal and it just didn’t work to the point where the label said, “well, look, we really like it but you need a strong vocal.” So we were stuck; really stuck. To be honest, when it was all organised… because, at the time, I think Katatonia had just come back from touring the States and they were recording the acoustic version of ‘Dead End Kings’ which is coming out later in the year, so they’d just finished that and I think he had about a three week window before he was getting sent off on another tour, I think Australia with Opeth, so we just managed to slot it in. He just jumped on a plane and came down to my studio and we didn’t have any idea whether it would work; we’d never met each other before. So it was quite an apprehensive time but, as soon as I met him, he was such a lovely bloke. We got on really well and the sessions… because we allowed five days to do all the vocals for the album but he was nailing them so quick that a day in the studio was about a four hour session, I think. Then we’d just go and chill out, drink some beer, cook some food and argue over who was getting Spotify next to share the music we like! So we had a really great time.
MD: A very chilled affair, the whole thing then…
BRUCE: It was and that was such a good sign because I was expecting it to be a real hard slog over five days of nailing the vocals because it’s very different to Katatonia, it’s different to The Pineapple Thief, so we didn’t know what was gonna happen.
MD: Presumably you sent him the files before he came over?
BRUCE: Yeah, exactly, so obviously he was confident it was all gonna work out. But, as you’ve heard, I don’t think you’ve heard Jonas sing on that style of music before…
MD: It works so beautifully though.
BRUCE: I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.
MD: Did you have any input in his performance in terms of the vocal melodies or his general delivery, or did you just let him do his thing?
BRUCE: I really let him do his thing. We recorded it in my studio at my house funnily enough, in my attic room, so he’d be sat with his headphones on and I’d be engineering as a loosely termed phrase, just pressing start and stop. And, occasionally, we’d discuss, “do you think that works or do you think this works?” but, generally, he just sailed through. It was probably, at the most, four or five takes before it was nailed.
MD: Wow, that makes it even more incredible.
BRUCE: Yeah, it was really surprising. I say surprising but I’d never worked with someone so chilled out and so relaxed in delivering what he had to deliver.
MD: I think that’s his persona generally, isn’t it… I interviewed him a few years ago and he seemed to be a very chilled, nice guy.
BRUCE: I think he’s the most chilled out bloke I’ve ever met.
MD: I read in an interview you did recently that because you’re not singing on the album, you said you ended up playing a lot more guitar solos.
BRUCE: I did, yeah.
MD: So do you find it easier or more of a challenge to express yourself emotionally through guitar compared to singing?
BRUCE: I guess that was the thing because, although I didn’t have the voice, I was thinking, to put my stamp on it, it was all very well with my production and all that kind of stuff but I thought, “when Jonas has finished, I’m gonna do a solo, I think.” And I think it did remind me how hard it is to put a decent guitar solo together and it’s probably just as hard as coming up with a hooky vocal melody. But I think that’s why I don’t do it so often because it’s so bloomin’ hard! [laughs]
MD: There’s some very nice guitar playing on there - it’s not shred or anything like that, which would be technically impressive but that’s not about expressing emotions so much… it’s more difficult to play a few notes and make them sound impressive.
BRUCE: Yeah, and I think I’ve always grown up with the more melodic players; the ones that can really make the guitar talk and play a note that brings the emotion out. Yeah, so if I got anywhere close to that then that was a success.