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RIVERSIDE’s Mariusz Duda: “In the Midst Of Last Year’s Tour, We Were Raised From the Ashes, and We Felt Powerful Again”

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If ever there was a rebirth of a band, Riverside have experienced it. After losing their guitarist who passed away unexpectedly in 2016, the rest of the group took a break to recover from their shock, and ultimately decided to continue as a trio. Now they are ready to release their first studio album of original material since that time, and their audience awaits to see how their beloved band has chosen to carry on. Mariusz Duda is Riverside’s main songwriter, singer, bassist and now rhythm guitarist.

In this interview, he shares with Scott Medina his approach to the new album, the challenges the band has faced, and how they wrestled with their demons. Though the material is weighty, Mariusz’s attitude is positive and even playful. If you listen to the audio stream of the interview, or download the podcast, you will hear him singing examples of his inspirations which often came from Western movies or Polish television. You can also read the transcript of the interview below. Be sure to catch Riverside back on tour this fall and into 2019!

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Interview Transcript

Welcome everyone. This is Scott Medina for Sonic Perspectives. Riverside fans unite! Their long awaited album is just about here. It’s about to be released on September 28th, it’s their seventh studio album called “Wasteland” and on the phone we’re going to be talking today with Mariusz Duda. Hello, Mariusz!

Hello everyone. Hello.

Thanks for chatting with us. I hear you’re just back from holiday.

Yeah, just back from holiday and I’m refreshed and I’m ready to talk! [laughs]

Excellent. So are we! It seems like there’s been so much anticipation for this new album. Does this feel like a rebirth of Riverside to you?

Yeah, I do hope so! Because we had very unpleasant years in the past, but now it seems that we are trying to stand up on our two feet again and yeah, we’ve finished the new album! So that’s huge, especially for us because it means that we can carry on and I hope there’s still a future ahead of us.

Yeah, I’m sure that there is. There’s no doubt by listening to this album that there is. Does being a trio now, in and of itself, change the way that you write?

Yes, exactly. Because we are a trio now and we had to decide what to do, you know, because we lost Piotr. He was our guitar player and it was a really important voice. For many, many Riverside fans, Piotr was the most important member of the band. And then boom, suddenly we are without him. We had our grieving already. We’ve been crying a lot but that’s it. You know, we had to do something. And probably it would be very obvious if we had hired just another fourth member of the band, you know, and do some rehearsals and do another album. But we didn’t want to do that. I thought that it would be nice to be true to what we said two years ago: that we became a trio. So it would be nice to record the album as a trio, too…especially this one. I thought about these post-apocalyptic themes many, many years ago. And I just realized that now is the time for that story, you know, because we sort of had the end of the world in our band, so that would be very multi-dimensional, and really symbolic. And we had to do this as a trio and so I had to be the guitar player this time and I did more things by myself. But the result is as it is and I think that it still sounds like Riverside in spite of everything.

It really does sound like Riverside…it sounds new and yet quite familiar as we’re used to. Last year you played a lot of live shows before recording this album. What was that experience like returning to the stage as a trio, even though you had guest guitarists with you?

It was really hard, you know. We had two very emotional and really hard, hard moments in our career within the last two or three years. First, it was the “Eye of the Soundscape” recordings. When Piotr suddenly passed away, we had to go back to the studio and finish all of these recordings without him. And it was really, really hard, you know. Someone just asked me if it was hard for us to record “Wasteland”. No, it was not hard anymore because I spent in the studio, lots of time with my solo Lunatic Soul two albums and some other stuff. So “Wasteland” was like the fourth album in a row for me. But recording the previous compilation album “Eye of the Soundscape”, it was really tragic. Because we returned to the studio without Piotr, and we felt that nothing will be the same again.

And then that kind of emotion appeared also on the first live shows, especially on the first one, which was dedicated to Piotr that we played in February, 2017. That show was full of really, really deep emotions…crying onstage and that kind of stuff. But then with every show we started to become stronger and stronger. And in the midst of the tour we were just, we were raised from the ashes, if I can say that. And we felt powerful again. But the beginnings, yeah, it was not easy.

Did you feel that it was important to reestablish Riverside as a live band before writing and recording a new studio album?

We wanted to go on a tour and we wanted to say goodbye to Piotr somehow. And so we just titled that tour “Towards the Blue Horizon”. That is a song I wrote to someone else, I wrote it to my friend who died suddenly in 2014. And just within two years, I lost two really close friends. And so suddenly the song became Piotr’s song. You know, people just started to kind of…we had to do this, you know, that this song should belong to him…to that moment. So I had this idea that, okay, maybe we should go on this tour and title this tour that way. I didn’t think of a new album yet. I wanted to go back to the studio and focus on my solo Lunatic Soul. And I wanted to deal with my private demons in my solo project first…not in Riverside, because I didn’t have an idea how to do that. But suddenly it happened! [laughs]Suddenly in October and December of last year the music just came out with me and we had the new album.

This new album surely has one of the most powerful openings on any Riverside album, beginning with “The Day After”, which is mostly your solo vocal, which then builds with a violin behind you. And then we go right into the hard hitting “Acid Rain”. It’s quite an intro back into Riverside.

Yeah, the dark has returned a bit! Especially after “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”, which by the way was a pretty mellow album about memories in childhood and stuff like that. But no, I wanted to dig into the darker melancholy again because this is the album about the end of the world, kind of connected with death and dying and that kind of gloomy stuff. But I think it has really powerful moments. Especially like the intro, for instance.

There’s lots of acoustic guitar on this album and you also are playing electric guitar now, including a couple of solos. Did all of that guitar playing change your experience of recording the album and how you approached the songs?

Well, first and foremost, this is a post-apocalyptic story. So I was thinking of using a different sound to adapt it. First and foremost, skipping all of these electronic influences because you know, I just imagined myself somewhere alone in the desert after the end of the world and with the basic instrument in my hand, the old broken acoustic guitar with rusty old strings, right? That should be the main instrument, I said to myself, for the compositions. So I focused on that. And also, um…three years ago, I got something new from my friend who makes guitars for me. He created something called the piccolo bass, and this is a bass guitar with guitar strings. And in many moments it sounds like a guitar. So I started to play on the acoustic guitar, and I started to play on this piccolo bass. And when we did the demo, we just realized that there’s no lack of guitar…there’s lots of guitar in it. And that I also should add electric guitar with that. In my solo project Lunatic Soul, I play lots of different instruments so it’s not like I’m a bass player only. The bass is always the last instrument that I always take in my hand. So, I played a lot of things and later I just put electric guitar with the rhythmic stuff, which was easy for me because I’m the bass player so I can deal with the rhythm. But for the solos, I said, okay, maybe I can play something, but I also would like to use Maciej who plays with us during our live shows. And someone else to fill these gaps. Right? Because Piotr was not the rhythmic guitar player. Rather, he created these solos, these soundscapes and this special atmosphere and I and I wanted to have it, too. So Maciej was the perfect choice for that.

“Lament” is a particularly emotional song on Wasteland. Tell us a bit about what’s behind that song.

Well, I started to think, what should be different on the new album? I thought that definitely something should be different. The worst thing that we could do would be if we recorded the same album like we did in the past. Like, Second Life Syndrome, part two. You know, like if we did exactly the same songs and that kind of stuff. So I thought, no, we need to do changes. (Of course we did reference the Second Life Syndrome album, by the way, but that was the hidden message…it’s not like it’s the same album again.) But anyway, I thought, okay, what should we should change? Well let’s do bigger drums this time. Let’s do different guitar sounds. And there is a very different guitar sound on the Wasteland album because it’s a blend that makes all of this distorted piccolo bass, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. That’s why it sounds like some stoner rock, some metal stuff, some weird sounds with distorted bass like O Type Negative for instance, or all these bands like Royal Blood. And I thought about lower singing and different melodic lines. I wanted to bring back a bit of some kind of Slavic approach because I’m from Poland, I’m from this country, I don’t want to be influenced by British rock so much anymore. I want to do something which is my own. And I started to search what kind of things this could be. In Lunatic Soul I did lots of experiments with folk music. But in Riverside, I always wanted to be in a different place. So now I felt okay: Slavic melodies. Let’s do something which sounds like an old kind of folk Slavic melody. And I started to play this and sing this and that was the beginning of “Lament”. And then I realized that it should be something like a ballad, but that it should be together with a hard, powerful wall of sound. That’s why in some parts there is also that kind of thing. But “Lament” also helped me to realize that I needed a violin on this album. I was searching for a different instrument. Uh, you know, in the past we had the saxophone. Now I thought, hmm, what else? What else? What else should be connected with the subject and with the new sound? And I was thinking, okay, violins would be pretty interesting. So I imagined a kind of violin intro for this song, but later this intro found itself at the END of the song! That was the beginning of this new approach: the changing of the melodic lines. I wanted to use this melancholy and the vocals in a different way. So when you hear “The Day After”, “Lament”, and even “Wasteland” at the beginning, this is the different type of approach for singing, you know, the melodies are more like a hymn than just simply sad singing about something.

Yes, it is like a hymn, you’re right. What would you say is the most cathartic moment for you on the new album?

Well, for me “Wasteland” is like the third album in a row because after Lunatic Soul’s “Fractured” and “Under a Fragmented Sky”…all of these tragic moments that I had in 2016…I had to deal with that. So I just closed myself in the studio and I did Lunatic Soul and another Lunatic Soul. And so “Wasteland” was the third album in a row. Maybe that’s why it came out for me really quickly and pretty easily. But, I realized during the composing of this album that subconsciously some things were waiting for the right moment, just to spit out…to feel free. So when I heard the demo of “Wasteland” for the first time, I realized that this darkness that I just wanted to split out of me on Lunatic Soul finally found its place somewhere else! And maybe that’s why Riverside is so, so emotional, as never before.

In addition to that darkness and heaviness, there’s so many beautiful moments on here with songs like “River Down Below” especially, and in “Guardian Angel” and “The Night Before”. These are very acoustic and melodic, and “The Night Before” is almost a lullaby. So you really brought in a lot of beauty into the darkness as well.

Yeah. Yeah. You know, this is what we play. Riverside doesn’t play progressive metal. We play melancholic rock. Sometimes it’s more heavy, sometimes it’s more electronic, but for me it’s just dealing with the melancholy. Sometimes melancholia is dark, like on our previous albums. Sometimes melancholia is kind of refreshed, or maybe just sad, or with a shade of a smile in the corner. Like with “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” because it was an album about childhood, about childish memories. So I wanted to use kind of, you know, pleasant memories, pleasant melancholy. But this time, yeah, I just wanted to focus on something which is still nice but with some something really deep inside of you. “The Night Before” is a piece that Michal brought to the studio. I said to him that we’re going to do an album about the post-apocalyptic stuff, so do you have something? He said, “I’ve got one song.” So he played this piano piece for me and I had tears in my eyes. It was really touching. We always wanted to do something with a piano and a vocal only. For the first time we finally have the song for the vocal and the piano only. I think that’s a really good piece of art. This is Riverside, this is melancholic Riverside. But this time I think the level of emotion is quite deeper…probably because of what happened. Probably also because we grew up simply, you know. I turned 40 two years ago, so I’m not a boy anymore, singing sad songs about nothing important. So now I started to change my approach and I just want to sing about something that matters.

Yeah, you’ve got plenty of real life experience now to sing about. And how have the other two band members responded to this new stage of the band?

Well, our drummer said that he really loves the album. [laughs]Uh, you know, he was not involved too much with that.. He trusted me with everything. He said that he would play what needs to be done, and he did that. So we spent this time together with (keyboardist) Michal in the studio with Robert Srzednicki who always works with us in the studio. And, you know, that was a pretty exciting adventure. Maybe Michal was sometimes a bit angry with me because I did lots of things by myself, but he got used to this at the end. So the final result is the most important thing. I never do anything that will not appeal to at least one member of the band. So they say that this is really cool. So we went into this direction and they feel pretty okay. And together with Michal we’re huge fans of western movies. So we had lots of fun doing the song “Wasteland”. There were all of these Ennio Morricone moments, you know, Sergio Leone movies. I still remember when I started to play this moment [sings melody]and I said, well, it sounds like it’s from a western, maybe I should add a female voice to that. So I just started singing [sings in falsetto to mimic female voice]. And Michael says, wow, I’ve got the bell somewhere, which sounds like it’s from this movie. And he found out the sound of the bell and then we had it. And I said, wow, that’s something new! I don’t know what people will say, but we really liked it!

What was it like for you to sing in your lower register, because on a few of these songs on “Wasteland”, you’re really singing lower lead vocals than you ever have. So I’m wondering what that was like and if you think that’ll be a challenge, live in concert.

[answers in a very low register]Not at all. I can still sing…it was not made by computer. [laughs]It was funny because during the Towards the Blue Horizon tour, I decided to take vocal lessons. I wanted to be prepared because of this break that we had. I was not sure if I could make it physically, and so I just took some lessons and my teacher said, you have very nice low voice, why don’t you use this? I said, well, because, you know, I always have to be above the instruments during the sound checks and stuff. And he said, well change the arrangements because you’ve got very nice voice. And I just realized that I always use my low voice somewhere. Even on my first album “Out of Myself” in the song “Okay”, for instance. But it was always the backing vocal or where I tried to sing with lots of air, but never singing, more like, um, Nick Cave, for instance.

Well, they said, okay, this is something new that I should add to all these new points. And also that’s kind of the style of a road movie. And the “Wasteland” is sort of like a western, you know. It’s a post-apocalyptic story but also connected with some western movies. It’s a movie about the lonely rider, about the strong man who needs to survive somewhere. And so I thought instead of just melodic singing things, I should do something more manly this time [laughs]. And being manly doesn’t mean that I have to scream or do some growling. I just decided to sing with a lower voice in some parts. And so we have “Guardian Angel” and we have the intro for “Wasteland”. There’s one more thing, the “Wasteland” intro at the beginning where I sing [sings theme], this is really funny because that was kind of inspired by Polish television entertainers from the past. And I remember at the beginning of these, they were always connected with the low voice singing those kind of weird patriotic songs. So I thought maybe I should try this! [Sings examples of patriotic songs] So it was kind of patriotic, and so I thought that I should use that this way. Now it’s so funny because it was inspired by Polish television entertainment, but at the end, it sounds like, I don’t know, Johnny Cash and pretty American, but it was based on all the Polish shows! So later when we added this Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone fragment, it appeared that we had a very nice original title-track.

Again, it’s great that you’re making it your own and as you said, not following all of the British prog rock bands as far as influence goes for this album. It’s fresh for you.

Of course, there will always be people that say that we are influenced by Pink Floyd again and some other bands. But let’s be honest, this is really not that. No, comparing this to previous albums, I think we found a really nice mixture of totally different styles this time and it’s really, really Riverside-ish. I don’t want to say that on the previous albums there was a lack of Riverside style. But with this one, I think we’re definitely starting a new chapter and we proved that we can still do something new. So this is why I’m really happy for this album.

Yeah, you’re growing and evolving as a band. So there’s no better time to do that than now. It doesn’t look like this time around that there’s a bonus disc being offered with extended ambient remixes or anything like that, is there? After the “Eye of the Soundscape” are you taking a break from that kind of approach?

I didn’t want to repeat myself. I just thought that this is the new chapter of us. And as I said before, this is the post-apocalyptic theme, and so I didn’t want to do electronic things on this one. If we had more time, maybe we would have done that kind of stuff with more organic sounds. But because of the Lunatic Soul albums…they kind of stole Riverside’s time in the studio, unfortunately. We couldn’t do that. Besides, you know, I really wanted to start our new chapter without all of these bonus things. We had this conversation with the record label. They always want to have something. “So please, maybe you can use the old songs?” I said no, not old songs. Not with Piotr because this is something new, this is more about us. Let’s not dig in the past. “Okay, so maybe you can prepare some other bonus tracks?” No, we don’t have bonus tracks. This is the pure essence of everything. It’s pretty well balanced. So at the end we did only one disc. Just for the media book we had to do something, so we had to do this radio edit for “River Down Below”, but this is only so that we could release it as media book CDs. So just please ignore this [laughs].

Yeah, I think just having a one very concise 50 minute album at this point in your career makes perfect sense and it’s very effective. So you’re right, there’s no need for anything more than that right now.

Especially when we did a lot of stuff in the past, together with “SONGS” and with the “Time Machine”. So maybe now it’s time for the pure essence of what’s the most important.

Exactly. What are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming tour?

I’m pretty excited for the arrangements, live arrangements. We’ve started to do some preparations. So for instance, we ask, “Okay, Maciej, now just play this riff on guitar and I will play the bass.” And he started to play “Acid Rain” and it didn’t work! So I said, okay, so I need to play on this because I play this on the album. So I just took my Piccolo bass and I started to play and he did something else on the guitar and Michal started to play electric bass and we said, wow, that sounds pretty amazing! So there would be lots of surprises when I have to take a different instrument in my hand. There will be moments when there will probably be five people on the stage because we’re also going to take one guy with us who will play additional bass guitar. So, Riverside’s changed now in the live version. So we are a trio in the studio but in the live version we will be a different band. I’m really looking forward to see and hear how it goes with this! Plus, I believe that songs from “Wasteland” will be pretty amazing live. Especially “Acid Rain” or “Wasteland”, the title track with all the singing of the audience.

So when you’re performing the songs live, have you found it to be a limitation that your bandmates don’t sing as well? So you can’t really recreate all of the harmonies and layering from the studio albums? Or do you like being the sole vocalist and then getting the audience to sing with you?

Hmmm… I don’t want to play with additional backing tracks, like many, many bands do. That’s why we decided to do this in this pure version. Sometimes we need to rearrange tracks. But it’s always nice when people sing with you [laughs]. That makes you feel that you’re not alone! So I have a hope that people will help me in singing, in many moments.

Are there any songs from your catalog that you do not want to revisit in concert after the passing of Piotr?

Well, the most painful things we did already during the “Towards the Blue Horizon” tour. I think that people cried their eyes out already and now they’re also ready for everything. So we want to go back to our old catalog. Maybe we should return something from the “Out of Myself” album. I will. And mix and blend this together with “Wasteland”. There will be lots of surprises, I believe. So I’m pretty excited for the upcoming tour and maybe I should mention that…because you’re in the United States and we are not coming there this year, but we’re definitely coming to the U.S. next year. First we’re gonna go to play the Cruise to the Edge. It’s some kind of party on the boat for some proggy geeks. And then we will come back in May to play at Rosfest in Florida!

Yeah, it’ll be great having you on the Cruise to the Edge. I’ll be on there with you guys and as you said, it’s a great party and a lot of fun. I know we’ve been wanting to get you on the cruise for a long time.

And all these people with the same t shirts again! I love that! [laughs] You know, we have this Cruise to the Edge and we did the Progressive Nation at sea in 2014 as far as I remember. And it was a really, really amazing experience and people were adorable. So I’m really looking forward to be there, too.

Has your audience changed over the years, given the different styles of music that your albums have explored?

Um, I think that this decade I’ve noticed more and more younger people coming to see us. Probably these are the kids of our previous audience! [laughs]So now they grew up and now they’re adults, and they can finally come to see us. But yeah, that’s something that I noticed that there’s more and more young people. So it’s kind of refreshing and shows us that it’s not so bad with music these days.

How are you hoping your audience will react to the new material?

I don’t know! I don’t know. We’ll find out! I hope that some of them know this Clint Eastwood trilogy, this Sergio Leone trilogy and they will, they will love it! [both laugh]

Well, Mariusz, so nice to talk with you. I really look forward to seeing you play live on Cruise to the Edge and then when you get to tour later on next year, but have a wonderful tour this fall and all the best to you in the album release later on next month!

Thank you so much, Scott. Thank you so much to all your listeners. I do hope that there will be a chance to meet and talk again during our shows next year.

We’re going to leave everyone by playing the “Vale of Tears” from the new album. Anything you want to say as an intro to this song?

This is a song that kind of reflects the mood of the album. I’m a Zodiac Libra and I always try to find a good balance between the mellow stuff and the hard stuff and those kinds of things you can find on this song. It shows how we changed, but it doesn’t show how the album looks like as a whole because for that you need to listen to the album from the beginning to the end.

And we will! We will. September 28th, everyone. Thank you again so much, Mariusz.

Thank you. That was a pleasure.

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