An Interview with Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds
The collaboration between The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord and Katatonia’s vocalist Jonas Renkse is an intriguing one. It brings together two relatively unlikely bedfellows, one from the world of English prog rock, the other from a Swedish dark metal band. That said, the response from almost all quarters to the project known as Wisdom Of Crowds has been positive thus far. Keen to find out more, I find myself sitting opposite the duo in question, in a booth in one of the side rooms at the Highbury Garage in London ahead of their debut live show as part of the Kscope fifth anniversary celebrations.
“Wisdom Of Crowds was born about four years ago”, begins an affable and very talkative Bruce, “from a guy called Johnny (Wilks) who works at the label (Kscope) as the marketing director. We were talking about gear and studios and things like that. He told me he has some ideas and asked if I’d listen. He sent me these basic rough ideas with him singing and he asked me whether I’d be interested in producing it or at least doing something with the music. I took these ideas, stripped them down to nothing and then had some fun. There were no aspirations at that time and no-one thought it would be released. But over the years, it got a life of its own. The thing was that it never had any vocals; it was only guide vocals, so it never got finished. But that’s how it finally all came together when Jonas came on board.”
According to the press material though, the Katatonia singer had always been in mind for the project and many of the tracks had been written especially for Jonas Renkse.
“That’s probably a little bit of Kscope spin doctoring”, Bruce laughs with honesty. “I remember though that when I first joined Kscope, I nicked a copy of “The Great Cold Distance”. When I heard that, maybe in 2007, I emailed Jonas and told him how much I loved it. Jonas was always the number one but I never thought it would ever be possible, knowing how busy Jonas is with Katatonia.”
And yet here we are, proof if ever proof was needed that if you wish hard enough, magical things can happen. And, if that wasn’t enough, Jonas seems to have fit like a glove.
“I don’t know how you felt after the session”, Bruce asks of Jonas as he looks to his musical partner, “but I felt that it was so easy…”
“Yeah, I felt that as well”, Jonas agrees immediately and about as emphatically as he is able to in his laid back style. “I was a bit worried before because I really liked the music and I wasn’t sure if it would work out or if I would be good enough for it. But when we started recording, it all fell into place. Everything was so smooth and easy.”
‘Not good enough’, I mutter shaking my head. Jonas is blessed with one of the most iconic voices in metal and still he battles an undercurrent of minimal self-belief. Bruce rolls his eyes at me before smiling warmly, clearly agreeing with my slightly feigned incredulity.
“It would have been a long week though”, he offers, “if it had been like ‘take 65’ or whatever. But it was nailed within a couple of takes and we ran off a couple more just in case.”
Given his apparent concerns over his own abilities, I enquire of Jonas as to whether he had to think long and hard before agreeing to get involved with Wisdom Of Crowds.
“It was pretty much an instant yes”, is the thoughtful and quiet reply, “because I knew Bruce’s music from before and when I heard the songs I thought they were really good, really interesting.”
“I know he’s sitting here and everything, but I was really lucky”, Bruce interjects. “Katatonia had just come off a big American tour (with Devin Townsend and Paradise Lost) and were back working on the “Dethroned & Uncrowned” album. We just managed to find a week where Jonas could jump on a plane, so we were lucky and it was good timing. Also, there was no pressure in producing the album, it was always very chilled out and I think that’s why it came together so nicely. Our mind set was more like ‘ok, let’s just give this a go’.”
For an album that came together so smoothly in the final stages, it comes across as a remarkably dark record. There is a lot of warmth and accessibility within the compositions but the overriding atmosphere certainly borders on the bleak. Bruce suggests that, to a large extent, this was accidental.
“I don’t think that there was ever a point where I was thinking that it had to sound like anything”, he offers. “The bleakness is a result of how it naturally came together I think. There are some dark synths, distorted beats and lo-fi beats which help to make it sound like it does. And then I’ve always enjoyed the darker side of music both sonically and thematically.”
On the subject of the project’s chosen moniker, Bruce offers his explanation to me.
“Kscope and I were sitting there thinking ‘what the hell are we going to call this band?’ I hate coming up with band names. I mean”, he smirks, again looking over at his colleague, “I bet you’ve not had to think of a band name in years…oh, except Bloodbath of course.” Laughter ensues before Bruce continues. “I was sent a list of possible names and when I saw ‘Wisdom Of Crowds’ I thought that was perfect. It is interesting because a lot of the time, there is no wisdom in a crowd.”
“The response has been really good”, nods Jonas when I venture that the project has been received favourably for the most part. “Speaking from a Katatonia point of view, I don’t believe that they all know about this project yet. Not everyone pays attention to the news and our posts, so I think there may be more fans to come. But the fans that I have been in touch with, they have given a really good response so far.”
“I have been really surprised actually”, Bruce adds eagerly. “We have got a lot of press that we wouldn’t normally have got because of the Katatonia angle. There have been a lot more metal journalists reviewing the album and in general, they’re saying that they really like it, which is cool. If anything, people have been very open-minded to this music.”
Given the feedback and the apparent popularity of Wisdom Of Crowds, it would be a shame if this was just a one-off. Fortunately, it seems like I’m not the only one who thinks this, as Jonas confirms.
“We hope there will be more from this band, yeah. It is something that we talk about all the time when we see each other. Again, it is about finding the time to do it because we really enjoyed working together, so there’s no problem there.”
“Also”, Bruce offers, “because Jonas came quite late to the process, next time I hope that it will be much more of a true collaboration. That’s what we hope for anyway.”
And the good news is completed when it transpires via Bruce, that more live shows are definitely on the agenda too.
“We hope so. We’re meeting our agent soon to discuss this very subject. Fingers crossed we can organise some kind of tour. A lot of it depends on the album’s penetration and how far the album gets out there. It has had good press, but we need to see how the album goes down with the fans to a certain extent and gauge the demand for more shows.”
“We will see how this gig goes first too”, Jonas quietly chuckles, before allowing Bruce to continue.
“We’ve been cramming for the past two days in a little sauna of a rehearsal room. So you may have to interview us after the show as well because it might be our last ever gig!”
“We’ll keep saying that after every song: “Remember, this is our first show.” Cue more laughter from the apparently-relaxed duo before Bruce ends things on a slightly nervous note.
“That’s the worrying thing in a way because everyone keeps saying ‘it’ll be great, they’re pro’s, it’ll be great.”
And you know what? They were great. Who would have thought it eh?!
“Wisdom Of Crowds” is out now on Kscope.