Riverside is in the middle of a tempestuous conquest of Europe. The men themselves are still a bit surprised about it, for even when you make marvellous music, it depends on a lot of things to have worldwide success. But it seems that the cards are fine for this sympathetic Polish band since their debut 'Out Of Myself' in 2004 had been received with approved reactions. This winter, successor 'Second Life Syndrome' sees the light of day and it looks like it will surpass its predecessor in any way. Lords of Metal talked with the debonair guitarist Piotr Grudzinski about advantages and disadvantages of this success.
You just returned from a brief tour in the Netherlands and Belgium. How are you?
We're really satisfied. We played two concerts in the Netherlands and one in Belgium, and it was fantastic. We love performing in those places because we have quite many enthusiastic fans there. Apart from that, we're also pretty tired – we haven't had a break, we haven't had time to rest properly since we entered the recording studio in July. When we finished working on the album, we had to start preparing for the concerts, and each of us has also got a regular job, so there's a lot of it and it's all really exhausting.
'Out Of Myself' was a big success, so I guess things changed for you last year. You must have had a different mood when you started writing the material for 'Second Life Syndrome'…
Since the beginning of Riverside three years ago, a lot has been happening and it's been happening quite fast. We're sometimes really shocked by it all and we're only starting to get used to the thought that what we're doing actually gives people some pleasure hehe. Certainly, there were differences between recording both albums. "Out Of Myself" was a very spontaneous record. We were composing it basically for ourselves, without thinking of achieving success. No strain, totally at ease. It was a bit different with "Second Life Syndrome." Of course, we're still approaching music in a natural way, it still comes from our hearts, but there was this pressure to prove that we're a good band and that "Out Of Myself" wasn't just an accident.
One of the important changes is to be signed by the renowned prog label Inside Out. How did you get in contact with them?
We heard that Inside Out was interested in releasing our second album, so we got in touch with them and we reached an agreement. Inside Out is a prestigious, world-famous label and they have excellent distribution, which was very important for us.
This time the Polish release and the worldwide release are at the same time. Another advantage I guess?
It was one of our priorities to release the album in Poland and in the world at the same time. The premieres of "Out Of Myself" in our country and abroad were ten months apart, which wasn't comfortable, especially for our Polish fans. They had to wait for the second record a bit longer.
Shortly after 'Out Of Myself' recordings, you had to look for a new keyboardist. You have found a very good musician in Michal! Can you tell anything more about his background and how you decided that he was the man?
After we parted ways with Jacek, we had almost half-a-year break in playing rehearsals – we were preparing our own rehearsal room and taking care of the Polish release of "Out Of Myself." And we were looking for a new keyboardist, who could fit in the band. I found Michal by accident through one of my friends. When he first showed up at our rehearsal and we played together, we knew we wanted him in the band for good. He also liked it a lot. In our band, being a talented and original musician is as important as being a nice guy, having a similar sense of humour, similar attitude, etc. Michal had only good points haha.
You can hear it in the music of Riverside that they are not just another dull copy or even continuation of old time 'prog'. There's much more involved. The band members have an open look on music and metal scene in general without boundaries. Can you go a bit deeper into this?
I think the main reason why we're playing the way we are is that we all have different musical background, though those different musical circles are not really as far apart. Music dwells inside each of us, sometimes we listen to the same things, sometimes to totally different stuff. Each of us has a slightly different attitude towards music and playing. When we came up with the idea of starting the Riverside project, we couldn't determine precisely what we were going to play and when the four of us first met, music just flowed. There's an aura of mysticism to it… It just happened this way. And now we continue to do what we started, though right now it's all a bit more conscious. We want to control our career, we're trying to be the band which has its own particular style but which is also capable of surprising. It's important for us to feel that we're an original band, at least a little.
'Second Life Syndrome' is the second piece of a trilogy. Some details about the deep-draught idea behind it all would be nice…
We decided on creating a trilogy while recording "Out Of Myself." We wanted our second album to be slightly different from "Out Of Myself," we wanted to show different emotions. There had to be more aggression on "Second Life Syndrome" because the main hero is undergoing a major internal transformation, he wants to get closer to people, he wants to gain some self-confidence. Of course, it's not the end, as there will be the third part of the story – so he's achieved his goals but he's not totally satisfied with it. He's become more self-confident but he's also lost his sensitivity on the way.
It is also reflected in the artwork…
Naturally! We want the graphic artwork to reflect what's on the albums. It's very important that all the details fit together into a harmonious whole.
And the artwork was done by the "sketcher of darkness" Travis Smith. How did it feel to work with him?
He's truly magnificent. We started working with Travis at the production stage of the world release of "Out Of Myself." For us, the opportunity to work with him was amazing. Each of us knew his works from the covers of Anathema, Opeth or Katatonia. He senses the climate perfectly. Mariusz sent him the description of the story and the album so that he could listen to the whole of it and Travis sent us back his ideas. We were really surprised when he said he liked what we were doing a lot and that he identified with our music. It was very important. Only then the cooperation becomes interesting and you feel you are a part of it. And we knew right then that we wanted Travis to prepare the artwork for the whole trilogy.
Your first foreign gig was at the ProgPower festival in the Netherlands in 2004. Any special memories on that?
We were asked to play at ProgPower about two months before the festival. It turned out that two bands withdrew from playing and the organizers were looking for a replacement. We were really happy and honoured by that offer. We were pretty nervous and also curious about what it would all look like. Before the concert, nobody paid much attention to us. A major part of the audience didn't know anything about Riverside. We came on stage a bit scared but we got rid of the stage fright during the first piece we played and we gave a good performance. It seemed that people really liked our music. After the concert I learned that all our CDs and T-shirts that we brought to the concert were sold out. Somebody even bought the last copy of our album in a broken case haha. It was a shock. After our performance, a lot of people congratulated us and a few days later we were hailed as the biggest surprise of the festival on ProgPower website. That's a nice story, isn't it? (smiles brightly)
When did you start writing the new material and who was involved? With other words, how do you write your songs and it is a band effort or a lonely creation of someone of you that's worked out later?
There were a few ideas left after we finished working on the material for "Out Of Myself." But we really started working on the new material and organizing our ideas when Michal joined the band. Most ideas come from Mariusz – he has a truly excellent mind for composing. Some ideas also come from me and a lot is created from improvising during our rehearsals. We arrange everything and try out different solutions together. Each of us has to like what we're doing. I wouldn't want to play in a band where music is composed by only one member.
Where did you record the album? And what about the production and mix?
We recorded the album in Warsaw - drums in studio Hard, and the rest of the instruments, vocals and mix were done in studio Serakos. It wasn't our first time in that studio as we really like working there. Robert and Magda are really enthusiastic about music, they help us a lot and they have many interesting ideas. We produced the album ourselves with a little help from Robert and Magda.
You once played 250m underground in a salt mine in Bochnia. I wonder what it was like and how did you manage technical arrangements for that?
It was quite an adventure, though it was also very tiring. First, we took all the equipment below the ground in an elevator. Then, miners took it on an underground train to the place where we played. Unfortunately, on the way up, we had to carry all the equipment ourselves, because the concert ended pretty late and we couldn't take it by the train. It was really exhausting, hundreds of metres of the underground tunnels with all that stuff. But it was all worth it – for us and for the fans it was definitely a very unusual experience, and the music itself seemed to have sort of fuller sound in that atmosphere.
I am not fond of labelling music because it creates restrictions, but sometimes as a writer you have to, thinking about the possible audience that will become enthusiastic and buy the record. I think as a band you are in the same position. What are your thoughts on this?
We're not fond of labelling music either. But we realize that sometimes putting a band in a particular genre or comparing it to something, makes finding their music a bit easier. What we're playing is described in many different ways, but we like the term "progressive rock" most. Perhaps it's too vague but it's also difficult to label our music explicitly.
Let us go back in time: how did it all started, the foundation of Riverside in a nutshell…
We had the idea for founding a band together with Piotr (drums). We both wanted to play something different from what we were already a bit tired of playing in our former bands. Some time had passed before we put our idea into action but we finally managed to start it out, we gathered the first line-up and then everything started to happen really fast. The music we compose gives us a lot of satisfaction and Riverside has become the band we totally devote ourselves to.
Poland has a vivid metal scene and a good reputation for foreign bands to play there. I think of bands like Anathema, Houwitser, Another Messiah and many more… who love to tour in Poland. You are in the middle of that scene and what is your experience of the Polish music scene?
We truly have an amazing, very spontaneous audience in Poland. Perhaps that's why foreign bands like to perform in our country. As far as Polish music scene is concerned, it depends on a band. Of course, we have two international stars, Vader and Behemoth, we've always had a strong metal scene, but it's not all roses when it comes to other genres. There are definitely some interesting bands who could gain popularity but when it's hard to promote your music in your own country then it becomes even harder to reach audiences abroad. But I'm pretty optimistic about the media's approach towards rock music – I hope it will change with time and we won't be fed only some synthetic pap.
As I understand from reading your website www.riverside.art.pl all of you are playing a wide range of instruments. I guess it makes it a lot easier to explain something to each other when composing or recording?
Each of us plays mostly just one instrument. When we want to explain something, we don't show each other exactly how to play a particular fragment but we're trying to motivate each other. The ability to play different instruments is rather secondary.
Are there any tour plans in the pipeline (maybe America this time?)
We're preparing a European tour promoting "Second Life Syndrome" for the spring next year. We're also planning to visit the USA but it depends on whether we manage to obtain visas. It's quite possible that we'll play at the ProgPower festival for the second time. For now, these are our most important plans.
To conclude some final words to our readers…
Thank you for supporting Riverside. We hope that we'll soon meet again at concerts in the Netherlands, perhaps we'll meet some of you at the Eclipsed Festival in Germany? Greetings from Poland.