On the 28th of September Riverside’s seventh full-length album, “Wasteland”, was released. The leader of the group, Mariusz Duda, agreed to talk to me in Gdańsk, just before the start of the "Wasteland 2018 Tour".
Olga Zabieglik: Every time an artist releases an album, he must deal with its promotion. You often take part in promotional meetings, perform acoustic sets, give interviews… It is tiring or do you actually enjoy it?
Mariusz Duda: I like it. Being in a constant rush, constantly recording albums, sitting in the studio and creating something, then promotion, interviews, gigs. Yes, that’s my life. Perhaps it’s a method, to not think about things which more or less induce discomfort, caused by the chaos in my head. You know, “Voices in my head” (laughs).
I am fighting it though and trying to organize some things outside of my head, no matter how it sounds. And paradoxically, the intensity of certain activities allows me to be more systematic. It gives me a kick in the ass. Thanks to that I meet my deadlines and I just live a better life. However, I know that it gets dangerous when I go overboard. Before “Wasteland” I had a sort of recording marathon after which I should really give myself a break for at least a few months. I’m not sure if “Wasteland Tour” will let me do so though.
Well, I’d like to congratulate you as “Wasteland” turned out to be a huge success.
Yes, it got to the first place of the Polish Official Retail Sales Chart and getting there playing this kind of music is truly an achievement.
I have an impression that Riverside is still not well known in Poland.
It’s getting better with each album, but it’s true- we’re still a rather unknown band.
o you have any idea why is that?
Of course - we don’t sing in Polish. Bands in Poland get famous, when they sing in Polish. Give me an example of a Polish band that made a hit sung in English which was hummed by everyone in the country. I remember that Wilki once had such a hit "Son of the Blue Sky" and that's all. The rest of the hits are in Polish. Fortunately, Riverside has its own fanbase. In Poland, we have a solid group of dozens of thousands of people who listen to us and come to our concerts. Sometimes people leave, sometimes others come, but this number is more or less constant.
Is it a good or a bad thing?
I prefer such loyalty than something that is big, crowded, but usually only for a moment. We have the makings of a band that they will still listen to, even when we're very old. So everything is in accordance with the canon of progressive rock! (laughs).
I admit that at the beginning I thought that with music like this we would only reach those who are middle-aged and older, but fortunately it is not the case. For example, at the last meetings in Empik, I noticed that the audience had rejuvenated.
How much rejuvenated?
A lot. Recently we’ve started a new Riverside fan club. During one of the chats regarding future merchandise I suggested: rompers with the Riverside logo. What? - they asked. You know – rompers - come to the next meetings and you’ll see what I'm talking about. They came and saw a mass of young parents with babies on their hands. You can’t be more rejuvenated than that! (laughs).
I got the impression that you don’t like when Riverside’s music is classified as progressive rock. You label your music as melancholic rock. Is that a genre created exclusively for Riverside, or are there other bands that fall into that category?
You know, I'm a bit contrariwise talking about it. But in fact, despite appearances, it’s not my way to carry the flag with the label "PROGRESSIVE". I want to play my own musical genre and not follow any set of rules or dogmas. We were thrown into one bag with other progressive bands, because we play long songs and have keyboards, but I never strived to be the next Yes or King Crimson. I had a friend who had a friend who once said: "Riverside is progressive rock? Man, listen to Mars Volta, that’s real prog!". And I’d like to refer such people as well to Mars Volta, King Crimson or King Gizard & The Lizard Wizard. Listen to real prog rock and let me do my own thing.
That’s true, during the promotion of “Wasteland” I said that we play melancholic rock. At least it sounds that way to me, although people interpret it in different ways. Riverside is a band where the melody was always the most important. I don’t have the ability to run all over the fretboard, because to me it’s boring and not very appealing. However I can write a nice song and sing or play a catchy melody. I stick to that and build the band and my own style around it. I’m a melancholic person, which is why there are so many sad melodies in Riverside. I also just like those the most, although I try to stay away from them every once in a while. Nevertheless, I don’t mind melancholic rock and I think that this label fits our music more than progressive rock or metal.
What are your musical dreams? Do you still have any unaccomplished ones?
That’s an interesting question. Something musical I still haven’t achieved? Maybe it’s related to instruments. I’d like to learn how to play a few more instruments, buy and own them…
But you already play so many instruments and the broad spectrum of your abilities can be heard on the “Wasteland”album, though most of that diversity also appears in Lunatic Soul, where you’re pretty much playing all by yourself!.
It just so happened that I managed to learn a few of them to such an extent that allows me to compose and I play them whenever I have the chance. I create mostly using the guitar and the keyboards, but I’m best known for playing bass, which is an instrument that only impresses teenagers, who can’t play guitar and a few extravagant women that want to be original (laughs). Of course I’m joking, I love bass. However just between you and me I always wanted to play the drums (laughs).
Coming back to the question, my musical dreams are coming true. I try to keep them realistic. So, if I dream of a certain album, I’d like to create, compose and record it. I wanted to do some things with an orchestra and I did it, I wanted to play stuff unplugged and played it. Right now my musical dream is to record a solo album and release it under my first and last name. Just because, to disturb the scheme of LS/R/LS/R and try something new.
Will it be a completely different kind of music?
I think I’ll just create an album filled with songs. I’d like to keep the progressive suites for Riverside, the orient, darkness and overboard electronics for Lunatic Soul, just so I’ll be able to focus on what I’m pretty much the best at when going solo, which is writing nice melancholic songs. Obviously everything has to have its character, but I feel like I can keep a certain aesthetic.
What makes you decide whether the idea/theme will appear on a Riverside or Lunatic Soul album? Is there a concept right from the beginning, or do you figure it all out while composing?
When it comes to composing there are some years in which I focus on Riverside and there are other years when Lunatic Soul becomes more important to me. I don’t usually do a selection of ideas and say that this goes here and this goes there. I usually start with a blank sheet of paper, there’s a certain idea, color, character, title and I start working on a specific album. Thanks to that I later don’t have dilemmas such as “oh my, this is so good that I should keep it for Riverside!” or “oh, this is very LS so I should keep that for later”. No, I just do what I’m currently focused on. I have to admit it’s rather simple.
Are you the creator of music or its messenger?
I think of myself as a creator of different worlds. I think that creating these complete stories is my biggest advantage. If I thought that I would never create anything new, because everything’s been done already, I wouldn’t be able to be satisfied with what I do. Obviously everything’s already been done and nowadays you can’t come up with anything original. However if you can fuse the different inspirations throughout your life, all the stuff you stole from others and things that make you experience sadness or excitement there’s a big chance you’ll create something unique. Something that others will want to listen to, not just you and your ego. I believe it wholeheartedly which is why I still merge work and fun.
Do you feel like the music you create comes to you from somewhere?
Yes. Let me show you something. I record my ideas, collect things from the rehearsals and on the spur of the moment on a tape recorder. That’s how it is. I try to catch sparks, just like butterflies. I close them in boxes and open them as soon as I can, set them free, look through them, then collect them, segregate them and create a jigsaw out of them. It’s not like I spend hours playing guitar and write songs. I usually slack off and wait for ideas to come. And imagine that they actually do come!
Are you satisfied with what you create?
Of course! Even though on the day of the release of any of my albums I usually don’t open a champagne bottle, I’m in a bad mood and I’d happily hide under my bed or a blanket with some tea. I actually feel down. I have no idea why that happens. Maybe it’s because I’ve finished something. I reach to the end of certain stage and I just get sad. However, after some time that all just passes and I’m happy that I yet again created something from nothing. Therefore the satisfaction is there, but it comes with a long delay.
Was “The Dark Tower” series of Stephen King one of the muses for “Wasteland”?
No, I’ve never read it. I wanted to read the first volume though. However, I know that Roland is the main character and that it’s got a sci-fi and western vibe to it.
So that means you’ve accidentally written a soundtrack for the possible TV series based on that (laughs).
I did? (laughs). Let’s face it- Steven King is a genius. Every time I look at his work speed I get reminded of what Woody Allen said about Bergman: “My master always focused on quality, and I since I’ll never keep up with him in my career I focused on quantity” (laughs).
You’re frequently asked about the meaning of the cover art, the lyrics and the titles. Do you want the listeners to interpret these elements exactly like you do? Do you feel like in that case the music is more “understood”?
I don’t. I usually write in a way that allows everyone to interpret it in different ways, but I try to set up some frames for myself and the listeners such as: “this is an album about going back to our childhood”, “and this is an album about surviving the end of the world”. Of course it’s nice to meet more curious fans, who want to dive deeper into the subject and guess exactly what I had in mind, but I don’t care if it’s understood perfectly. I speak the language of abstraction and everyone understands it in their way.
In my life I’ve had many LP’s which I analyzed to the very end. I learned about the lyrics, the composers, the stories and how they came to life. However, I sometimes regretted crossing some lines. Let’s take Archive’s album “Noise” as an example, specifically the track “Fuck You”. To be honest at the beginning I thought it was a song about love. About love that turned into hate. About “anti-love”. Later I discovered it’s actually about George Bush (laughs). I admit that I regret finding out about it because it sort of ruined it for me. It seemed flat and dull. So maybe it’s better for the listener to not delve into the details too much and interpret it in their own way?
The lyrics and music you create as both Riverside and Lunatic Soul are integral. Is Mariusz Duda an internally integrated person?
Not always. I think my musical orderliness is a kind of weapon which I use to help me not to lose myself in the chaos of everyday life. And all the deadlines I push myself to meet and the projects I make are also very helpful, but when it comes to internal integration it varies. I usually just promise myself that I’ll start being more organized when it comes to certain things tomorrow.
What are some examples of these things?
Cleaning (laughs). There are tons of books and magazines everywhere, lots of stuff in general.
Maybe an e-reader would solve your problem?
I used to have one, but it’s broke so I had to start buying books again. But that’s a good thing. I’m a Libra so I like to have a little bit of everything. I listen to albums on vinyl and CD, but I also use Spotify. I go to the cinema to watch films, but I also watch them on Netflix and HBO when travelling.
Do you take a long time to make decisions?
It depends. When it comes to my creations they do take long, however the process of composing and recording is rather fast. I also do the shopping very quickly. Thinking about what movie to pick for the evening or writing song lyrics does take a lot of time.
Your music moves the listeners, so what moves you?
Art and nature, it calms me down. In general my life goal is to calm down, but I’m usually restless and I always have to go and walk somewhere. Recently I bought myself a pedometer and it turns out I take a lot of steps. Maybe it’s good for my physical but not my mental health, so the older I get, the more I try to learn to only go where I should go and not just walk around. And also go to places that calm me down. Those places are the sea and the mountains. And the forest. Stars and ventures to the musical darkness by night. Yes, the darkness also calms me down.
Do you search for challenges? Do they motivate you?
In my opinion the concept of “Wasteland” is a sort of challenge, sound-wise. Isn’t it?
Just recording this whole album was a challenge, maybe even my biggest challenge yet. I had to get over the fact that Grudzień isn’t with us anymore and write an album that would fit with Riverside’s style and open a new chapter. At the start its sound and production were secondary issues, but then when we already had all the music we had to change it up a little. New elements, dirtier sounds…
Please tell me what did you use to create the vibe of the album?
We said to ourselves, okay- we’re recording this as a trio, so we’re getting rid of some previous procedures such as spacious guitars in the background and electronics. We’ve recorded an album deprived of numerous tracks, just like our band was deprived of one of its members, making it feel more intimate and closer to the soul. We’re making the sound dirtier by using a distorted bass sound and a piccolo bass, which sound-wise is somewhere between an electric and a bass guitar. The keys don’t have the typical string sound. In some songs I sing in the lower register, so it sounds more “manly”. We did what we decided to do. I have to admit that working on this album was very satisfying to me.
Do you trust your musical intuition?
Yes, since it has never disappointed me. It doesn’t matter how happy I am with my albums when finishing them, seeing the response always brings me loads of satisfaction. I’m glad it can reach the right audience, which has been very loyal during the past years.
Do you feel the need to make your audience bigger at all costs?
Sadly a lot of what’s popular nowadays doesn’t always match my musical fascinations. However in my music I focus on melodies and songs, so the audience gets bigger with each album. To be honest Riverside is doing rather well in terms of crossing musical borders and reaching new people. “Wasteland” is a good example of that.
Do you feel popular in everyday life?
No, but there are moments when I do. For example, a year ago I was with my family in some rather unpopular mountains. We reached the peak and walked into a mountain shelter where there were about three people. One of them looks at me, gets up from their table and asks for my autograph. It was quite funny and it’s always very nice. I’m glad that someone listens to my music and enjoys it. It makes me feel fulfilled.
I admit that when I make music I always want it to reach someone. When someone recognizes you it means that you didn’t send your signal into the void. To me there is nothing sadder and more embarrassing than a musician, who decides to not care about the listeners and creates music only for themselves. Each type of art only becomes truly full when it’s confronted with an audience. Maybe that’s why I always get sad after finishing an album, because I’m only half way in?
While listening to your music the listener uncovers different layers of it.
I pay great attention to details. You can’t notice many them during the first listen... Well, I grew up listening to Tangerine Dream and spent half my life ruining my hearing while listening to albums mainly on my headphones. That’s where my love for stereo effects, layers and details came from. I mainly use the different details, effects and layers in Lunatic Soul.
In addition I always try to choose ideas that have been in my head for a while. Compositions which slowly mature and stay with you for a long time. I try to create music for those who want to spend some time with it.
Do you like going to music festivals as a listener?
Nowadays I don’t go to gigs and do festivals only when I play them (laughs). I have too much of my own music to do sadly. I miss it though and one year I’d like to catch up on the festivals I missed.
When it comes to the more organizational side of things do you have a strategy of development or do you just trust your intuition?
It’s impossible to do it intuitively. Plans, ideas… there’s no space for abstract thinking. You have to make detailed plans. We share our duties with Piotr Kozieradzki and our manager outside of the country. I take care of the musical side of it and decide when we’re recording, releasing albums and touring. Then Piotr organizes the gigs in Poland and our manager organizes the ones abroad. Later, along with the label, we figure out the advertising in different media and that’s how it goes. I sometimes feel like I have a lot on my mind and am simply overwhelmed, but I’m not complaining. I always dreamt of a job like this.
Have you thought about hiring someone to do it?
Of course one day I’d like to focus only on creating and have trusted people to do the rest, but times like these demand from an artist more than just to write songs. Sometimes you simply can’t make someone else do the job. I like doing what I do though and think that’s the most important thing.
Thank you for the lovely conversation.