Mariusz Duda returned this year with his fourth Lunatic Soul album entitled “Walking on a Flashlight Beam,” a release that finds its spot on many best-of-the-year lists.
Prog Sphere talked with Mariusz about the new album, progressive scene, his recent collaboration with Steven Wilson, new Riverside album and Prog Sphere‘s Progstravaganza compilation series.
Describe the creative process behind “Walking on a Flashlight Beam.”
I had three sources of inspiration. The first one was my own room, the second one was a biography of Zdzislaw and Tomasz Beskinski, a famous Polish painter and his son, a radio journalist; a very dark biography, the son committed suicide and the father was murdered. The third source was a Japanese phenomenon called hikikomori. “Walking…” is a combination of all these elements.
Does your approach to writing for the new album differ from your previous releases?
It’s the first album I have written completely on my own. It’s an album about loneliness, which is why I wanted to record it myself and represent solitude through music in this way. There are many more cold tones than on my previous albums, there is a lot of murk and bold sounds, and there are instruments which can be associated with darkness.
You’ve said it before that “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” is “one of the best things you’ve ever written, if not the best one.” How would you defend that statement?
I think I have found my music world, my music niche – it may be inspired by other people’s music and ideas but there is enough of me in it to balance it all out and allow for calling it my own style. With this album I have come closest to finding something meaningful for me in music, something that can be called progressive in a very broad sense. That’s why I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
The underlying story of the album is loneliness, to sum it simply. Although you touched this topic on the past releases (both Lunatic Soul and Riverside), it sort of feels that with “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” you went on exploring it furthest. What is your take on that?
The Black and the White Lunatic Soul albums are my visions of death and of what happens afterwards. They are stories about the journey to the afterlife. “Walking…” is a prequel to those stories. We are getting to know the main character before he died, we learn what was going on before he took his own life away. That’s what happens in “Sky Drawn In Crayon.” Originally, that song was called “Calm Before The Storm” as there is certain uneasiness in both the music and the lyrics, and that’s the moment of transition. The title track is already his voice from the other side… Perhaps the next Lunatic Soul album will be about who he was before he became a recluse and locked himself up in his world of imagination?
Does spirituality have any sort of impact on you and your songwriting?
No. But everything connected with faith and spirituality fascinates me. If anyone asked me about my attitude to faith, I’d answer with one name, Joseph Campbell.
In “Gutter” you sing “fear is what I need, what I need to feel real.” How does this lyric in particular reflect on a modern day life?
The lyrics are about someone who needs stimuli in order to create. In this case, the stimulus is fear. I imagined a writer or a painter who is perhaps addicted to something, alcohol, prescription drugs; he reaches the bottom of his own self and goes mad. He has no real friends, his only friends are his demons, his visions that scare him but he waits for them anyway because he needs them to inspire him. He needs fear to fulfil his mission, which is the only thing he’s got left in his life. There, at the bottom, he doesn’t really care what’s happening up above, among the people who live their normal, modern lives. He’s too selfish, too self-absorbed and in love with himself to care about what’s happening in the world. The only thing he really wants to do is create, even if that means having to do the insane dance with his own nightmares.
“Walking on a Flashlight Beam” is one of the darkest releases that you crafted. Taking it in consideration, is there any space for optimism taken as a message from the album?
There is a short DVD documentary called “In Between” released together with the album. I think life is about harmony and balance between the blackness and the whiteness. Good fairies and bad sorcerers can be found only in fairy tales. Even on a darkest album there has to be a bit of light. And on this one the light can be found in the piece called “Treehouse“. Besides, locking yourself up in your room and living in your seclusion is not that bad – you have time to think about your life choices and decisions you have made so far – as long as you get out once in a while and not withdraw from any form of social interaction like the Japanese hikikomori I mentioned before.
You put out a video for the song “The Fear Within” taken from the album, which includes scenery from Ukrainian cities Pripyat and Chernobyl. Given the historical facts of these two cities, it’s amazing how the music complements the story of the album. Where do you see the connection between the album and consequences of one of the most tragic disasters in human history?
It was the idea of one of my friends from Kscope, Scott Robinson. Scott once went on this trip, recorded all the images and wanted to use the music from the new Lunatic Soul album as the soundtrack for it. I think that “The Fear Within” matches the images perfectly. It doesn’t have anything to do with the story on the album but I feel it has a personal connection for me. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 all kids in Poland were given Lugol’s iodine to drink at schools. I still remember that taste.
Pink Floyd released a new video for “Marooned“ that was shot in Pripyat as well, as the part of 20th anniversary of “The Division Bell” album. It may sound funny, but somehow I have a feeling that there is connection between Lunatic Soul and the legendary band. In what measure they influenced your work?
I don’t think there’s any connection between Pink Floyd and Lunatic Soul. Perhaps Riverside, but Lunatic Soul is all about my fascination with electronic music of Tangerine Dream and with bands like Dead Can Dance or some of Peter Gabriel‘s releases. There is no electric guitar in Lunatic Soul and what would Pink Floyd be without Gilmour‘s guitar?
Speaking of Pink Floyd, what is your opinion on their decision to release a “new” studio album after 20 years? We all know the story behind “The Endless River” by now.
There has been rather strange fuss connected with this release and how it’s not an appropriate thing to do, how it’s all about money. But it was obvious from the start that it was not going to be another studio album like “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” or “The Division Bell.” Admittedly, perhaps the material should have been just added to the anniversary edition of “The Division Bell” but it wouldn’t have received as much attention, it wouldn’t have been properly noticed. Unfortunately, that is the fate of such bonus releases, EPs etc – people forget about them. They’re only remembered by die hard fans and Progarchives.com. (laughs) And this release was important enough for the band to give it more prominence as a standalone album. As for the music, it’s purely subjective – for me it’s not really mind blowing but I enjoyed listening to it and I think it’s a beautiful keepsake. I have absolutely nothing against such albums, some release “The Endless River“, others release “Impressions
How do you perceive term “progressive” in music today?
To be honest I have no idea… Nowadays, ironically, in order to be progressive and contemporary, you have to copy the sound of the 70s. Some musicians use the same equipment as was used over 40 years ago, others play the eight-string guitar, but it all feels more like paying homage to the past rather than looking for something new in music.
But the definition of the word “progressive” has definitely changed – it no longer means “to sound like Genesis, Camel or Van Der Graaf Generator“. Most people already know that it’s about exploring new territories in music in a broad sense of the term. Except those explorations are still stuck in the same place, it’s all still about homages and references. We’re waiting for a breakthrough, hoping it will still be connected with music – so far everything really new has got less and less music in it.
What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your work?
My own thoughts and observations. The massive amount of movies that I watch. Trekking in the mountains.
It’s obvious that you grab inspiration from many distinctive genres. How do you go about channeling this inspiration into writing?
If I ever get the feeling that I have something interesting to say, I will try to write it down but for now writing music is what I do best so I concentrate mainly on that.
You have recently collaborated with Steven Wilson on a song dedicated to Alec Wildey, who passed away from cancer. How did you come to work on this project with Steven?
Steven explained it all beautifully on his profile. Let me refer you to the website where you can still buy the song and thus support cancer charities – perhaps someone would still like to help in this way:
What are your future plans? I guess it’s early to ask you about next Riverside album?
Oh no, it’s definitely not too early. We’ve already begun working on it. A few months ago I started another chapter of my life and promotion of “Walking…” is connected with composing new material for the new Riverside album, which we plan to release in the autumn of 2015. I also have plans to join a new music project, which we might hear about in the first half of next year. Generally speaking, I am already in a so called trance (laughs).
With Prog Sphere we tend to release a Progstravaganza compilation series, highlighting the artists coming from progressive related genres from all around the world. Do you think such a thing is good enough to showcase the potential of many unheard bands on the already overcrowded scene?
It’s a great undertaking. I said before that the progressive rock is stuck in the same place but I guess it’s not completely true. I simply don’t know that someone somewhere has just crossed another music border. There are lots of good bands which remain unknown because they are not lucky enough to get noticed. Thanks to Progstravaganza compilations a lot of people will have a chance to experience some fresh and positive music energy, which I wish for all the readers and myself from the bottom of my lunatic soul.