How would you describe the songs on this album?
A more aggressive, ambiguous snapshot of my soul.
To me, this album has a, not heavier but a sort of edgier sound. Was this deliberate?
Yes, definitely. We wanted to capture the energy of the live show. Previous releases were more layered and softer around the edges. There's nothing wrong with that, but after 7 albums we wanted to make your ears prick up.
The choruses to the title track of SHIM recalls "Prey For Me" from 10 Stories Down. Was this deliberate, or did it just happen?
Trust you to notice that! Yes, I remember thinking about that at the time, but I thought 'what the heck' and let it pass. It's a favourite of mine, the off beat chorus melody. So, no it wasn't deliberate, it was only afterwards that I noticed.
Do you have many leftovers from the SHIM sessions, or did pretty much everything get used?
There are a lot of ideas left over. Riffs, beats, sounds. In fact, I resurrected one for a digital b-side for the 'nothing at best' single. One decision I made early on was to ditch any ideas that didn't have that magic sparkle right away. I have wasted too much time labouring over songs when I should have just ditched them. I have a folder on my studio PC called 'crapbag'. It's full of the stuff...
How have you found the initial response from people who have heard this disc so far?
So far, it's been universally positive. What surprised me was that people who really rated our early stuff, specifically 'Variations on a Dream' really rated this album (even though they maybe didn't put our other recent releases up there - I include you in the category!). So, that's pleased me a lot. Maybe I've managed to get the balance right this time...
How did you get signed to K-scope?
About 3 years ago (I think), Steven Wilson mentioned on his page that he wanted ideas for a support band for Porcupine Tree. Luckily, I have a band of very dedicated fans, so dedicated in fact that after bombarding Steven's website he emailed me to tell me to call my army off! I sent Steven a copy of Little Man and he really liked it. He put in a good word for me at KScope and before I knew it, I was on the phone to them negotiating a deal. Steven is an unbelievably generous guy - he didn't have to take the time to help me, but he did. And he still sends we words of wisdom as our career progresses. I owe him big time.
How much more pressure is it being signed to a larger label than a smaller one?
To be honest, there is no pressure. They are such a nice bunch of guys, if anything the pressure seems less. I think knowing that my music will get the promotion and packaging it deserves gives me even more motivation. Plus we hooked up with a manager last year (Rob Palmen) and he has helped enormously.
How did you come to get Storm Thorgeson to do the artwork?
I have Scott (the chief designer at KScope) to thank for that. He met Storm at one of his exhibitions in London and asked him if he'd ever consider working for smaller labels and bands. Storm's reply was 'yes, if I like the music'. So, Scott sent Storm some early mixes from SHIM and before I knew it, I was on a train to Storm's studios to discuss the concepts! It was surreal. As a child I marvelled over the Hipgnosis designs. I never imagined I would have Storm design one of mine.
Was it at all intimidating working with him - I mean, he's worked with bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Muse, Yes, Mars Volta, and so on, and has created some of rock music's best known album covers.
He's a unique guy, that's for sure. He doesn't take any shit and why should he? The guys a legend. Luckily we got on really well but yeah, I was pretty apprehensive before we met. I had a beer at Waterloo station after we met to calm down!
*While I find the songwriting on the first few CD's (137 and Variations, in particular) to be excellent, sonically, I've found that your last few released have sounded far better, production-wise. Is this a result of just having more production experience, or working with more people, or better technology?
It's a mixture of all those things. My studio is much better, I have better instruments and better gear. Technology has really progressed so computers can emulate classic analogue gear much more accurately now (although I use analogue compressors and pre-amps too). But I think the biggest improvement has come from just being a better engineer. Also, I called in some help during the final mixing stages for SHIM - Steve Kitch and an old friend Mark Bowyer applied the final polish to the mixes.
I especially find the drum sounds to be much better. On this album, the drums sound almost Bonham-esque in parts, while on some earlier records, I found the drum sound to be a bit thin. How would you account for the difference?
Yeah, I'm really pleased with the drum sound. It sounds real, like a kit in a room, which is what I always loved about 70s records. Again, it's just having better gear and better ears. Plus I'm older and slightly wiser.
You've already re-released Little Man, what do you find the schedule to be for the re-release of the remaining back catalog? Is this something you've wanted to do, or did K-scope approach you about it?
Kscope really want to get it all out there, especially after SHIM has bedded in. To be honest, I only focus on the 'here and now' so I'm not to bothered about the back cat, but I know it infuriates fans that most of the Cyclops era stuff is out of print.
Why did you pick Little Man as the first CD to be remastered?
It wasn't me - it was KScope. I know Little Man had a mixed reception but it was the one release that originally got me signed to KScope. Originally, they wanted to kick off by re-releasing Little Man, but due to some 'issues' with Cyclops it all went a bit pear shaped.
You have the 3000 Days compilation and a song on the new CD called "3000 Days." Was the song at one point going to be on the compilation?
I think I wrote 3000 Days as a one off for a KScope sampler, but it came out so good I had to keep it! When they asked for the retrospective it seemed such a natural title. I'd been labouring over TPT for over 3000 days...
You've been around for over a decade now and have been growing a steady audience over that time. Have you ever got frustrated over that span and thought "I'm going to call it a day and just go back to my day job?"
Never. I've always counted my lucky stars that I could make music, get it released and have a fan base (although that fan base wasn't always very large!). The fact I'm still doing it and still on the up just makes it sweeter.
As far as a day job, do you still have a "normal" job in addition to being a musician? If so, how do you manage being able to write, record, and most significantly, tour while holding down a job?
At the moment, yes. But it's getting very challenging holding down the 'two jobs'. If things keep going the way they are, I'm going to have to jump to full time music soon.
About a decade ago, if you said the words "progressive" and "music" together, you'd almost guarantee yourself not to get any exposure. But with bands like Radiohead, Muse and the Mars Volta, prog has almost sorta become cool again. Why do you think there's been this sort of shift over the past 10 years?
I think those 3 bands have certainly helped to dispel the 'capes and goblins' association with 'prog'. And don't forget Porcupine Tree are now pretty much in the mainstream too. Nowadays I've no problem with using the 'p' word. But to be honest, I regard TPT as rock band. But yeah, the shift has certainly helped us.
Lyrically, where do you get your song ideas? They seem largely personal - are they drawn from what's happening to you now, or are some drawn from past experiences, or from other's experiences? Is there ever any concern that you're maybe putting yourself out there too much?
Yes, it's a dilemma and a contradiction. Which is why I try to keep my lyrics ambiguous. But I can't write about anything else - at least if I try it just sounds bad. The one thing I enjoy is putting my heart and soul into the live performance. If I'm singing about something I haven't personally experienced, then I can't do that.
How do you decide which lyrics to attach to which piece of music? Have you had many (if any) instances of a song that ended up being on a Pineapple Thief CD that originally had completely different words (or words that ended up being on another song)?
No, I haven't. Lyrics always come after the song. The music is always inspired by an event in my life, so the lyrics have to come from the same source too.
Is it hard to not repeat yourself?
After 8 albums, it gets more challenging. Lyrically, a lot of my songs cover similar ground. Musically, it's much easier to invent something new.
What music do you find influences you these days?
Modern melodic rock always influences me, bands like Biffy Clyro get it spot on. I still find influences from my old 70s collection - early Supertramp, Ambrosia, Colin Blunstone, Al Stewart among others and a lot of other modern dance and electronica stuff. Basically, anything that makes my ears prick up.
Early in your career, some thought (myself included) that you sounded somewhat like Billy Corgan. But since probably Variations, that similarity has largely disappeared. Is this something you were even aware of?
Yeah, I have no idea why I was trying to sound like a more whinny and nasal Billy! At the time of Abducting I was obsessed with a Smashing Pumpkins album called 'Adore' so I think I was just trying to sound like that. I tried to tone it down on 137 and thankfully I've now just sound like Bruce Soord.
What would you consider your career highlight so far? And on the flip side, what would be the most disappointing moment of your career?
We've had a lot of highs to be honest - our first headline tour of Holland was one. We moved from playing small venues to decent clubs. The first time we saw a rider was a great moment. And when we first met our manager on the same tour. We ran out of beer and being English we were too polite to ask for more. Rob, our manager clicked his fingers and two more kegs appeared. Rock and roll!
The worst moment? Rosfest. Our first USA appearance. We were dreadful, it was embarrassing.
What's next for you and the band?
A few gigs and festivals in the summer including NEARfest (USA) in June, then a full European tour in the autumn. Then world domination, obviously. So far, these are the confirmed dates but we're waiting on 2 in France too:
Oct 17 Amigdala Theatre, Trezzo d'Adda (near Milano) Italy
Oct 18 Z-7 , Pratteln, Switzerland
Oct 20 Colos-saal, Aschaffenburg, Germany
Oct 21 Substage, Karlsruhe, Germany
Oct 22 Zeche Carl, Essen, Germany
Oct 23 De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
Oct 24 De Pul, Uden , The Netherlands
Oct 25 Logo, Hamburg, Germany
Oct 26 Magnet Club, Berlin, Germany
Oct 28 Spirit of 66, Verviers, Belgium
Thanks again for the interview. Is there anything that you'd like to add?
Nah, I think you've got me covered!