Losing a pivotal member can mean the death knell to many bands, but not Riverside. The tragedy that befell in February 2016 (co-founder and guitarist of the band, Piotr Grudziński, died suddenly just before his 41st birthday) called into question their very existence as a group. But they decided to carry on, and released “Eye of the Soundscape” later that year – a compilation of ambient and instrumental pieces, dedicated to Piotr’s memory.
The year of 2018 sees Riverside actually writing a proper successor to their last album with Piotr, “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. The decision to carry on as a trio has deeply affected the dynamics of the band and the composition process of the new album, entitled “Wasteland”. Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf spoke with their main composer, bass player and singer Mariusz Duda about the new chapter in their history, as well as some of his other endeavours.
Lotsofmuzik: Hello Mariusz, nice speaking to you! First of all, congratulations on the new album Wasteland – I guess this is one that the fans will receive with both excitement and relief, right?
Mariusz Duda: Yeah, I’m pretty excited with the final result, and thrilled that we made it this year! We had a deadline and at some point we doubted that we could make it, but we did it, finally!LOM: It seems you are tracing back a few steps and addresssing the loss of Piotr once again on Wasteland, in spite of having addressed that in your solo albums recently, right?
MD: Yeah, but this time I wanted to do this in a more symbolic way and not too literal as I did on the Lunatic Soul album. I wanted to focus more on “survivors” – not about the past, but about the people who were left. That’s why the post-apocalyptic story is focused on a new life in a new place. But of course there are some references to Piotr. His spirit is above the whole album. Riverside should deal with this too, and I thought it would be nice to have this influencing the album. It’s like the end of the world happened to the band, and that was the story behind the title.LOM: You can confirm my interpretation or not, but I guess there’s a general feeling of “ok, THIS has happened. How do we survive, adapt and make things work from now on?” with a positive vibe on the album, right?
MD: I’m continuing what I started on “Shrine of New Generation Slaves” (2013) when we changed the style a bit into more of a songwriting process, different kinds of arrangements and more melodic pieces. There was always something at the end that symbolized the light at the end of the tunnel – for example, songs like “Coda” [from the album “Shrine of New Generation Slaves”] or the song “Found” [from the album “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”], and now we have a song called “The Day After”, which is at the beginning of the album, but symbolizeds the fact that we have survived once again. It’s about surviving and about standing on two feet in the future ahead. I didn’t want to write about depression and “we’re doomed, that’s the end”. That kind of approach is really childish, and not proper for a grown up man. I turned forty, so now I have to deal with this fact, and not cry about that.
LOM: you debuted “The Day After” already at the Night of the Prog festival in Lorelei, with a slight variation of the album version – are you planning on changing the arrangement on other songs too?
MD: I don’t know yet, we haven’t started the preparations for the tour yet, but we’ll do it next week [late August]. But something that I always adore when it comes to live arrangements, is changing – doing slight variations on the songs. I’m not a big fan of playing the songs exactly how they are on the album. So likely we’ll change the songs here and there. But the basic ground will stay the same – we don’t want to subvert everything and, I don’t know, do Wasteland acoustic, you know? [laughs]
LOM: Understood! And there’s quite a contrast between the first song and the follower “Acid Rain”, right? Was that intentional?
MD: The first track is like the intro of the album. I always write albums so that you listen to them from beginning to end – kind of like watching a movie. So the first track is like the beginning credits, the last track is like the end credits, and so on. I always have at least two turning points – like an “earthquake at the very beginning”, and the plot continues. On “Wasteland”, we have a nice introduction with “The Day After”, and “Acid Rain” and “Vale of Tears” are like the boom at the very beginning – you’re sort of wondering “what happened?”. I wanted to mock the politics and religion themes that you hear in the lyrics of “Vale of Tears” and “Acid Rain”. And the story continues with “Guardian Angel”. The title track, “Wasteland”, is almost like the final battle in an action movie, and “The Night Before” is like the closure and end credits.
LOM: On the song Lament I picked some Eastern European influences here and there – am I right in making that assumption?
MD: Yes, perfect! I really wanted to change something this time, and when we didn’t have a guitar player and I decided to take care of the guitar parts, I thought we could use our limitations and try something else, different solutions, and push the boundaries. I thought of experimenting with the guitar tones, having a bigger drum sound, lower singing, and change the approach for the melodic lines. I wanted to get rid of the British rock influences a bit, and include something from our heritage. And then I started to think what part of the Polish music I could incorporate in our sound, something that’s connected with patriotism and religion. So we used a “Slavic” approach, If that even exists. I wanted to sing a few things like a hymn, and add a few mellow melodic lines. On “The Day After”, “Lament” and “Fragments of Wasteland” you see that kind of approach too in the vocal lines. But talking specifically about “Lament”, you’re right, there’s a lot of Eastern European influence there.
LOM: And you mentioned that you’re singing in a lower register this time – what exactly prompted that change?
MD: I wanted to change something, and before our previous tour I took vocal lessons, mostly to prepare for the tour physically. And my teacher told me I had a really nice low voice, and that I should use it in Riverside. Up until then I had used my lower register primarily for backing vocals, so I though I could try it. And I started thinking “what could I do to sound more manly?” [laughs]. I didn’t want to be this crying boy from “Love, Fear And the Time Machine”. And I decided I didn’t have to scream, but rather sing in more of a Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen kind of way. As soon as I started using my lower voice I thought it was really original, so that was the main reason. I wanted to do something I hadn’t tried before, and thought we should have it in three songs, not just one, and decided that this is my new voice.
LOM: It seems that turning forty has left a mark on you in more ways than one, right?
MD: [laughs] For sure – I realized that the level of emotion is different once you reach this age. Maybe it’s because the approach changes. I also don’t feel inclined to take some intricated structures that lead to nowhere. Some of the modern prog music is really pretentious for me. I try to focus more on the message and in the feel, rather that intentionally writing something complicated.
LOM: And I noticed a few song titles make reference to the songs in the beginning and the end of the “Second Life Syndrome” album – The Day After and The Night before, right? Is there a relationship between those four songs, either lyrically or sonically?
MD: That was more of an Easter egg. I was considering what to do with the album’s title. The perfect title for this album would be “Second Life Syndrome”, but we used it on our second album. Then the logical thing would be to call it “Second Life Syndrome Part II”. But if we did that, it would mean more looking at the past than looking ahead, and I wanted the new album to be all about the future. So we thought of including those hidden references for the people who know us. Also, this is the first album since “Second Life Syndrome” with an instrumental track – we had done compilations, singles tec. With instrumental tracks, but since “Second Life Syndrome” we didn’t have one in a “proper” album.
LOM: I noticed also some Enio Morricone influences in the title track, and an overall soundtrack feel on the album. Have you ever considered writing scores for a movie?
MD: Yeah, but that’s really hard! You have to be really focused on that and send material to the movie director back and forth, and maybe hire an agency for the connections to be made – I was always too lazy for that! [laughs] . And although that’s definitely something interesting, you’ll always be limited by the fact that you have to write specifically for the scenes – I usually prefer to have no limitations. And it’s curious that you mentioned Enio Morricone, because the working title of Wasteland’s title track initially was “Morricone”! [laughs]
LOM: You recently released two solo albums, “Fractured” and “Under the Fragmented Sky”, under the moniker of Lunatic Soul. How do you allocate whatever you write to Riverside, your solo output or Lunatic Soul?
MD: I always try to start with a blank page. When I’m starting to write for a new album, I usually try not to reference anything from the past. Otherwise, I would always chose the best stuff for Riverside, because more people will listen to that! [laughs]. But seriously, I start each and every composition process with a blank page and allocate whatever songs I wrote in a writing session considering the album I’m writing at that point in time, so that there’s no overlap.
LOM: And have you ever thought about merging more of the electronic sounds you use on your solo projects in the Riverside style?
MD: I still hope that we’ll do that, but this album had to be an organic one, because we’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic story. So I tried to imagine myself alone in a desert somewhere at the end of the world without electricity. My main instrument here should be the acoustic guitar – something that you can play unplugged and without power. That’s why this album is so organic, and there are no electronic influences this time. And besides, after Lunatic Soul’s “Fractured” and “Under the Fragmented Sky”, which were full of electronics, I thought it would be kind of refreshing to keep these things away from Riverside. But in the future, we might return to a different theme that allows for the electronic stuff – we always used it in a gentle way, and probably we’ll return to that. Again, for this album, I wanted things to be organic, rusty and heavy, connected with the subject and the title.
LOM: You’ve had a lot of changes in your sound as you all evolved as musicians. Do you look back at your first albums and say “oh, this or that would have sounded so much better if I changed it here and there…”?
MD: Of course. For me the first four albums sound really underground…”Second Life Syndrome” sounds like a demo to me [laughs]! But I know that our fans love this album. Using different sounds and messing with the original recording would be like touching up a very famous painting, so it has to be approached very carefully. But maybe we will do that in the future – re-record some of our older material. With “Shrine of New Generation Slaves” we changed our production, we changed our approach to songwriting, and I think after that we started to sound more professional. Wasteland is sort of a bridge between the old and the new ways of composing. I never look back and feel the need to change something I already did, but maybe for anniversary releases, we might do that and rework some of the old material. Actually, when I finish an album I never really listen to it too much – I’m like Johnnny Depp, who never watches the movies he’s starred in [laughs].
LOM: Tell me about it! When I finish an article, it’s very often hard to look back, because you start thinking about things you could have improved here and there in what you wrote, so it’s not really the most pleasant experience!
MD: [laughs] I bet! And for me it’s also the fact that I do many things in parallel, and I work with deadlines. I always feel like I should take one year, one and a half years to write and record a whole album at the most, because later everything changes, you know? Lots of artists start writing a new album and decide to change things after a couple of years has passed. Then more time passes and they want to change It again because there’s this or that new recording and mixing technology. Maybe that’s why Peter Gabriel has been delaying his new album for so long – as soon as he thinks it’s ready, he probably feels it’s too late for a couple of arrangements, and he wants to make them more modern. That’s why for me it’s important to capture that moment – otherwise it would take us ten years to record something, with really shitty results [laughs].
LOM: Like Guns n Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” for example, right?
MD: [laughs] Yes! Well, let’s hope that the new Tool sounds good, because it’s been in the works for ages now! [laughs]
LOM: So far, “Vale of Tears” has been revealed to the fans – how has the response to it been so far?
MD: Kind of surprising, I was very happy when I heard that people started to compare us to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Muse – it’s a really nice compliment, although I don’t think we sound anything like those bands [laughs]. I’m happy that a lot of people like it. Of course there are voices that say “oh, this song is too shallow, where’s the deepness, where’s the space, where are the beautiful solos?”. But hey, this is not the full album, and the biggest surprises will show up later. I always like to trick the fan base a bit and not show the best song of the album first. But actually I think that “Vale of Tears” does a god job in showing the new Riverside. The band is full of contrasts and there’s a lot going on in the new album. With this song you see that you can have the hard stuff, the mellow stuff, something different at every turn, and I think it was a good choice [for a single].
LOM: In the future, would you consider releasing a DVD of a concert where Piotr appears?
MD: Maybe…if we find the right sources of material, why not? We still have the footage of the Woodstock festival in Poland, which was our biggest audience so far, waiting for a proper moment to be released. We are also going to release “Lost and Found” on vynil. I’m not a big fan of DVDs, but maybe we can find a good source of material and release it eventually. For now, our focus is on new music.
LOM: You have appearances scheduled for Cruise to the Edge and Rosfest. Do they have plans for touring in USA and Canada next year?
MD: Yes, in May. I can’t say anything else about that because we’re playing Rosfest and we’re focused on that, but yes, there are plans to play more shows.
LOM: Is there a particular market or country that you haven’t played yet that you feel you should go on this tour?
MD: I would love to play in Argentina for example, because we’ve never played there. In Brazil we played only in Sao Paulo, and it was a festival, so we didn’t have a chance to present our full set. That’s a challenge for the future, I would say.
LOM: Mariusz, it was a pleasure talking to you! Thank you for your time, and all the best with the new album and tour.
MD: Thank you so much! Bye!
2. Acid Rain (06:03)
Part I. Where Are We Now?
Part II. Dancing Ghosts
3. Vale Of Tears (04:49)
4. Guardian Angel (04:24)
5. Lament (06:09)
6. The Struggle For Survival (09:32)
Part I. Dystopia
Part II. Battle Royale
7. River Down Below (05:41)
8. Wasteland (08:25)
9. The Night Before (03:59)
Mariusz Duda – vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piccolo bass, banjo, guitar solo on ‘Lament’ and ‘Wasteland’
Michał Łapaj – keyboards and synthesizers, rhodes piano and Hammond organ, theremin on ‘Wasteland’
Piotr Kozieradzki – drums