A Chat with Mariusz Duda of Riverside


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I recently got the chance to talk with my musical hero, Mariusz Duda of Riverside and Lunatic Soul.  The more questions I asked, the more I realized that we value the same things in music.  I can safely say that this was one “hero meeting” that actually made me respect him even more.  I hope you enjoy reading.

August 12, 2015

Mariusz Duda: So sorry that I’m calling in late.  Little things here took a few minutes, and little things there, and there never seems to be enough time.  So I hope you still have a little bit of time.

Jason Spencer: Oh, I definitely do.  My day was the same way.  I actually almost didn’t get off work on time, honestly.  Well, I really appreciate the chance to get to talk to you.  I’ve been a Riverside fan for a long time, so, this is—you know—something I’ve really been wanting to do.

MD: Hm, thank you!

JS: I know you guys are getting ready to come over to the US, right near where I live—Cleveland—so I’m excited to get to see you live soon.

MD:  Thank you!  Yeah, we are excited to get to play in some places that we’ve never been to.  This will actually be our second American tour…

JS: Yes, I did get the chance to see you in Chicago a couple years ago with Jolly.  My wife and I are both really big fans, so I think it was about an 8 hour trip out there, and it was totally worth it.  This time, I think it will be about a 20 minute drive.

MD:  I’m really happy about that.  Great!

New, but Familiar

JS:  Okay, I guess I’ll get right to it.  I was talking to the guys over at Inside Out, and they wanted me to talk about the new album obviously.  Now, I have all of Riverside’s album, and they sent me a promo for the new album a couple weeks ago.  After hearing it, I can’t help but feel like it represents something of a departure from, but also something of a revival of the original Riverside sound.  Was that your hope?

MD:  After recording the album, we sat down and listened to it, and we noticed that each of the tracks was kinda similar to the debut album; not necessarily the sound, but the melodies and the approach to the melodies—this more spicy way of playing.  So, yeah, I guess it’s like a return to our roots.  Everything is totally different, but it’s like the original Riverside.

JS:  Yeah, the album feels, I don’t know, maybe warmer and more uplifting?  Some of Riverside’s older albums were very dark, but the warmth is something I appreciate a lot, especially as I get older.  Riverside was the first progressive band that really got ahold of me and made me want more, but I’ve always seen Riverside’s music as ultimately hopeful, even if it is melancholy in the details.  Would you say that Riverside has a history of being depressing, or do you view it as ultimately hopeful, as well?

MD: Well, everything that happens in Riverside’s music is like something that’s happening in my head, then I talk to the guys about the lyrics and the music.  I recently realized that the last album was really dark, and that would include my solo project Lunatic Soul, where the last album was about suicide.  So, it was pretty bad.  I remember when we started talking about the new Riverside, it was like I wanted to go more into the light.  I wanted to write songs that were more like the light at the end of the tunnel.  It seemed like it would be a challenge to create an album like that—more optimistic, more positive. 

JS:  The Reality Dream Trilogy albums are some of my favorite albums.  I always saw them as presenting the situation in the guy’s head and in his relationships, but I never really saw them as offering a solution, or hope for a solution, anyway.  But that’s what I feel in this new album.  It portrays issues—human issues—but at the same time it’s offering hope and a light at the end of tunnel, just like you said.  That has really appealed to me, and I think it’s really going to appeal to the fans, as well.

*Phone call drops suddenly*

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The Personal Side

MD:  I’m so sorry, I lost my power.  I didn’t realize I didn’t have the adaptor.  But, yeah, I think you’re right when you were saying that the character would lose himself somewhere, but now, now it’s different.

JS:  The primary theme of “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” — I was told that it is an examination of the things that drive us to make decisions in life.

MD:  Yes!

JS:  Well, listening to it, I get the love and I get the fear, but I was wondering about the time machine.  How does the come into play here?

MD: Well, first I want to say that the stuff you mentioned about the previous albums— he was always the guy that was just trying to live life closed in his own shelter, and then, uh, I realized afterwards that that was me.  And I realized that there was too much of this recently, and I thought it would be a challenge to write something original to finally live out, um, to finally uncage yourself.  I wanted to show a lot of the transition of the hero that just could go from something in darkness to something more connected with hope.  And, with hope, he might find himself in the light.  He knows what he wants to do with his life this time. 

So, this “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” is about three things that come to you when you want to change something in your life— when you want to change something important, or make an important, life-changing decision.  So, this is the moment to make an album based on some personal stuff again, mostly because it’s time to maybe move on to a little bit different set of colors this time.  At the beginning of our journey—the beginning of Riverside—we didn’t have those colors.  We made it darker and darker.  Now, with “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”, I really just found something good and a much more optimistic approach.  You know, it’s connected with the way I’m singing, too.  I didn’t have to be angry sounding.  I didn’t have to scream.  I didn’t have to—this is something new for us.  And this album is different.

JS:  I noticed on the new album that the vocal melodies are really, really strong.  Riverside’s music usually has a lot of atmosphere—which, this album still does—but I really feel like your vocals rise above all that atmosphere, and I’m finding that my wife and I really enjoying that.  I also feel like the journey from the first album to this new one is a reflection of your own personal mood and life at the time.  Would you agree with that?

MD: Everything in Riverside is a bunch of stuff going on in my head, so this is kinda where I’m at.  But, yeah, I’m in a different situation now.  There were some things in my life that I had to change, and I changed that.  But I also wanted to write about it, which helped me to understand something.  When I write music and write lyrics, I write this on purpose—I write this to be a better person; to be smarter; to have more wisdom about different things.  And this time I truly realized that there is a need—I needed to say that life doesn’t suck: You suck when you think life sucks!  You need to understand that you can’t blame someone else for your own failures.  You need to find the peace within!  When I did this album, I wanted to ask cliché questions about life and this and that—maybe I’m having a mid-life crisis, or maybe I’m sick and tired of some patterns that I had; ones I already wrote about.  When you’re twenty, you’re just simply stupid and dumb: That’s bad business.  You feel pressured to achieve something in this life. 

When you are older, you slow down, and you try to find your place in this world.  You don’t have this pressure anymore because you simply don’t care!  That’s my transition this time.  I think I became more involved and I grew up.  I think we as a band grew up and formed our own identity.  We turned into something that shows our character.  The band used to be like—Wow!—we can show you what progressive music looks like!  But now we just like to play good songs, and something more than songs: the theme, beliefs, subject, or whatever.  I always want to write about something that matters.  I wanted to write this time that I’ve finally found myself in this world, so basically this album is just the beginning of the adventure!!  That doesn’t mean I’m just going to write happy songs.  I’m not going to write about my flowers.  Should I write about my flower garden—I don’t have a garden.  I know shit about flowers!  This world is so much more depressing than it used to be.

JS:  I always felt like your lyrics were very personal obviously, but I thought they always had a lot of social commentary in there, as well.  That is pointed at individuals, too.  Is that something that is a passion of yours?  You know, trying to help people realize the cages they’ve put themselves in?

MD:  I always wanted to write that way, you know, based on my personal stuff.  I want people to be able to put themselves in my place, or maybe they can see the lyrics and find themselves in this situation.  This new album is kinda personal, but I didn’t want it to be like a self-help book, you know, “20 Ways to Do This”.  I wanted to find a different way.  I think we found something positive.  I think we have told people that they need to find time to make important life-changing decisions.  This subject is always kinda universal.  It’s like an unconcept and a concept album at the same time.  I think with this one I can maybe help more people to understand that they are not alone.  There is always someone somewhere who can help in someway.

JS:  Riverside has always released music that—it’s funny—it always addresses my own personal mood.  Each album as it’s released has really addressed things I’ve been concerned about or things I’ve needed help with emotionally.  It’s actually been a big part of my life, so I just wanted to thank you for that.

MD: Oh, thank you!

The Progressive Factor

JS:  If there were one thing or message—is there one concise thing that Riverside is all about?

MD:  We are a band that plays progressive rock, right?  We never wanted to be like other bands—Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, whatever—that’s not the core of our music.  The core is the emotional side; you know, trying to survive in life?  Everything else comes next and isn’t important.  That’s the basic stuff talking about Riverside.  That’s why I thought I could maybe even create this album without the progressive stuff—the jazzy solos or whatever—and make it about a message.  We didn’t include things like 60 minute tracks.  It’s all based on emotion this time, more mature emotions even.  I think this album is actually are most mature album.  I think some people will understand that we never wanted to be Dream Theater, or, well, that kind of band.  The most important part of Riverside is soul.  I’m not talking about clothes.  I’m not talking about body.  That’s not soul.  That’s why I have this kind of title and kind of subject.  I think we found ourselves, and we know who we are now. 

JS:  I think that Dream Theater is a band that Riverside used to be compared to, for whatever reason, but I never saw the connection.  I’m not even much a fan of them, as anyone who reads my blog would know.  So, for me, Riverside definitely has always been about emotion.  Now, that label of “progressive rock” that Riverside gets, is that something that you do want to maintain, even if it is a secondary concern?  Or is prog rock not that important to you?

MD: Well, I grew up on that kind of music.  I like that style of music.  I like that there are no boundaries, and that you can connect many styles in one piece.  You can do long tracks, short tracks, instrumental, vocal, or whatever.  So, I love that.  I have nothing against calling this prog rock.  But we are never so focused on the technical side.  We are always going for less chords rather than more chords, and we focus on the melodies.  We want to create something that people play so they can cry, and it’s much more important than them saying, “WOW!  You’re so fast” or “How did you do that?”  For me, the most important thing is, if you can feel this or you can cry, that means I did a good job.  And I’m not just doing this to make people cry, either.  I’m doing this for myself.  I have something to say, and I want other people to understand.  It’s all part of the beauty of being an artist.  I don’t know if I’m an artist, but I think that I have something to say that people will like.  So, I’m doing this from time to time, as long as I have the ability.

JS: The music is obviously a lot softer on the new album than on, say, “ADHD” or “Rapid Eye Movement”.  One of the questions I get all the time on my blog, believe it or not, is about “ADHD”.  The progressive metal crowd collectively considers it Riverside’s best album.  Was that a one-off deal, or are you looking to revisit that in the future?

MD: I don’t know that yet.  On this album, I didn’t have to scream or be angry because of the subject.  It is all about finding the peace inside of you.  So, that was truly not necessary.  There are some harder elements, but just in a different way.  I do want to say that this album is about a certain kind of music.  But, we wouldn’t be ourselves, would we, if we didn’t change something later on?  But, yeah, we’ll probably lose some metal fans, but we’ll probably gain some new fans, too.  That’s how it is always.

JS:  You can’t please everyone!

MD:  Exactly.  You can’t listen too much.  You can’t think too much.  Otherwise, you’ll end up creating only one album, and that’s it!

The 80’s?

JS:  Okay, I have a couple more questions.  You mentioned an 80’s influence on the album.  What specific 80’s bands would you say are your favorites?

MD: I’ve mentioned The Cure because I like to play the bass like that.  I remember I was listening to the radio when I was ten or twelve, and I heard the songs on the charts, like U2, Peter Gabriel.  So, I wanted to go back to the 80’s to songs that had something unique.  There were no iPhones or iPads, so the 80’s were kind of different.  So, I didn’t want to give the 80’s in this electronic way with plastic sounds of drums, etc.—-no, not at all.  I wanted to achieve mostly rock: 80’s rock, good 80’s.  You know, Peter Gabriel, Talk Talk, and that sort of thing.

JS: I noticed on the new album that you brought back the vocal inflections that you used to do a lot on the early albums.  Is that something you’ve been wanting to revisit?

MD:  You mean the sounds I make?  I think this time it was just personal.  I thought a single voice would have more strength this time.  We had them on earlier albums and even on “ADHD”, too, but I didn’t think they would work on the last album, mainly because of the subject matter.

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Steven Wilson Collaboration

JS:  Okay, one last question.  This is something people have been asking me—like I’d know—everybody was excited about the collaboration you did with Steven Wilson on “The Old Peace”.  It seemed like a labor of love—that song, and I was just wondering how much that fan’s devotion meant to you, and it all came across really well.

MD:  Actually, I was “in two minds” (chuckles).  I used to listen to Porcupine Tree in the 90’s.  I am a huge fan.  And I know that people compare each of us.  But it’s great to work with the guy that inspired you.  And it’s great to be a friend to him.  Good relationships.  So, I was very excited that I could work with Steven, but the subject matter behind this was very sad.  So, yeah, I was in two minds.  That was something different.  Let’s say that we have some plans for some “B-sides”, and we are going to get together again. 

JS:  Wow, that’s really exciting to me!

MD:  And maybe we’ll release these songs in some sort of compilation.

JS:  Well, I know you have to go, so I’ll let you go.  I’m going to be writing my review for the new album tonight, so I’ll be sure to shoot you a link for that and for the interview when I have it ready.

MD: Alright!  Thank you so much for doing this.  I hope I didn’t go on too long.

JS:  Oh, no, I enjoyed every minute.

MD: It was very nice talking to you, and maybe meet you on tour soon?  I would love to be able to shake your hand offline.

JS:  I’ll look forward to it.  Take care of yourself [sounded like he was sick].

MD:  You, too.  Say hello to your wife for me.

JS: I will—she’ll love that.  Goodbye.

MD: Goodbye.

Be sure to preorder “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”!

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One response to “A Chat with Mariusz Duda of Riverside

  1. Pingback: A Chat with Mariusz Duda of Riverside | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla·

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