DPRP's Alex Torres speaks with
from Riverside & Lunatic Soul
Polish band Riverside have made a significant impact on the progressive rock scene since their debut album Out of Myself - the first part of what became known as the Reality Dream trilogy – was released outside of Poland in 2004. The second album in the trilogy, their Second Life Syndrome album, has become particularly known as one of the best progressive rock albums ever: it was placed 16th in DPRP’s decennial 1997-2006 poll, as well as 3rd in the 2005 yearly poll, and is very creditably placed 44th in
Prog Archive's “best ever” list. That is quite an achievement for a young band that herald from Eastern Europe and face consequent difficulties in disseminating their music world-wide. This summer has seen the release of the band’s fourth album; the short but – so far – critically acclaimed Anno Domini High Definition (in DPRP’s tri-partite round-table review the album scored one “10” and two “9”s – impressive!). The band’s line-up has been stable since 2005 as Piotr Grudziński (guitar), Mariusz Duda (vocals, bass), Piotr Kozieradzki (drums) and Michał Łapaj (keyboards). Alex Torres caught up with Mariusz Duda just after the band’s recent outdoor festival appearances throughout Europe to talk about the new album and the band’s future plans.
ALEX: Mariusz, thank you for sparing some time to talk to DPRP.
MARIUSZ: That’s ok; we’re just in a quiet time at the moment, having just come back from doing some live shows in Europe.
ALEX: ...and how did the tour go?
MARIUSZ: Pretty well I think; there were four shows. The distance between them was quite big because we played Germany, Italy, France and Spain and each day we had to drive over one thousand kilometres, so it was very tiring.
ALEX: How is the new album (Anno Domini High Definition) going down when it is played live?
MARIUSZ: Well, that is not really a question for me! (laughs)....no, I think people like it very much and we’re also enjoying it on stage, so there’s a lot of happiness about it.
ALEX: Is the music from the new album difficult to play live? Are you playing all of the songs from it?
MARIUSZ: No, not yet all of the songs but we are playing most of it. Actually, it’s hard not to play most of it because it is only five tracks! (laughs)
ALEX: Well, congratulations on the new album; it is a very enjoyable album....
MARIUSZ: ...thank you....
ALEX: ....I liked listening to it very much. Tell us about your perception of it, in particular how it compares with the Reality Dream trilogy.
MARIUSZ: Well, from the beginning I wanted to try and do something a little bit different but keep our own sound. First of all the big change I think was when we were starting to compose those tracks we wanted to avoid it sounding like the Reality Dream. And when we got into the rehearsal studio I said to Michał [Łapaj, the keyboardist] – Michał loves the Hammond organ, you know – to play some Hammond in a real energetic way, I said “if you want to play the keys, then play something different!”; and I did the same with Piotr [Grudziński, the guitarist], who had been playing in a very lyric, very mellow style, and now we wanted to try for something a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll! Myself and Piotr Kozieradzki on drums would also play in this energetic way. So I think the main difference between the new album and the trilogy was the approach. The vision for the album was the most important part: now we are not doing all this very detailed psychedelic music which you can listen to live with only your eyes closed; no, now we would like to do something which you can listen to daily and play in the open air at festivals, for instance, which will be a lot of fun - we wanted something a lot more rock which is why we decided to change some details and record it that way.
ALEX: I was a fan of the previous albums and when I first heard the Anno Domini album it took me three listens before I got the new groove but, having got it, it’s become the obsession that you write about in the music. The album’s had some success, clearly in Poland; are other fans in the rest of Europe responding to it positively as well?
MARIUSZ: Well, for the first time our labels are starting to inform us of some kind of chart success - “you started from place 50 in this country, you started from place 95 in this one...” – I think this is so far the most popular Riverside album because a lot of people knew about us before the official release. It’s quite surprising because it’s not an album with songs for the radio, I’d say there are no songs for the radio! So it’s quite surprising that it should register in the charts not only in Poland but in other places all over the world. We shall see how well it has been received when we go on tour in September and October and we see the size of the audience!
ALEX: How are you promoting the album?
MARIUSZ: First of all we are going on a tour. The tour starts in September and it will be our biggest tour so far. We are playing over 20 shows in Poland and over 30 in total including the shows in other parts of Europe; we hope there will be a second part in April and May 2010. I hope that next year we will finally have the chance to promote this music in the United States; unfortunately that is still a hard market to break into for us but, step by step, we’ll see if we can do it.
ALEX: The album doesn’t come out in the United States until late in July?
MARIUSZ: Unfortunately not. We wanted to have the official June 15th release all over the world but we could do that only in Poland. It wasn’t our fault; it was some kind of production problem at InsideOut. But now the album is out all over Europe and will soon be issued in the US: we’re keeping our fingers crossed for that.
ALEX: In the progressive community the previous albums have become well known but, as with other bands like Dream Theater, it can take about twenty years to reach a sizeable audience.
MARIUSZ: Yes, that’s a long time!
ALEX: Anno Domini’s quite a short album. I read in your website that you purposely kept it that way because you wanted to keep the cohesiveness of the music. Had you written much other material that you have available, say, for a forthcoming album or will you just start from new when you go back into the recording studio?
MARIUSZ: Well, we only had forty minutes of material: from the beginning we actually wanted to do quite a short album. We wanted to do a short, energetic album: these are the times we live in! Unfortunately, no-one has time to listen to something that has eighty minutes of music now. Besides, we wanted to release the album on vinyl: we wanted to return to those great times of the seventies when albums were forty minutes and it was four, five, six tracks and that was alright for many people. So, we had the idea for a short album and were composing about forty minutes of music. At first I wanted only four tracks but without doing something artificial, like fake bridges or fake connections to achieve that. It would have been 4-4-4-4-4-4...
We did the forty minutes at the rehearsal from the beginning to the end. We had been composing during last year; it was a time when I did the Lunatic Soul album and I did also parts of the Anno Domini album. That was very strange conceptually because Lunatic Soul was very mellow; the Riverside more energetic.
Anyway, in the studio we decided that we should have forty-five minutes but then because it was the fourth album we decided to cut it and go for 44:44. In the studio we had only two minutes for the intro and two minutes for the outro; that was the plan and the beginning and end of the record just clicked in the studio. All the rest of the songs we did during the rehearsal. Finally, before the actual recordings we did a demo, so we had been listening to the album before the recording sessions began and I had the chance to correct some things that we didn’t like. When we actually started recording we just ran through from the beginning to the end without surprises.
ALEX: So you’re still one of these bands that records together in the studio...
MARIUSZ: Yes, we’re always hanging out together in the studio. When the drummer is playing, we’re all there playing; when I’m there recording vocals all the guys are there, disturbing me! (laughs) We are together and we have a lot of discussions about the various parts which is good. Nowadays it’s very hard to find time for that. Many bands record parts in the members’ own studios in different places!
ALEX: .... but they lose that camaraderie and the feeling of being a band when they do that. They actually lose the ability to make music together.
MARIUSZ: Yes, but we have such a great technology these days that to a certain extent you can hide a lot of those things when you’re just mixing and mastering the album. Anyway, we wanted to make sure that we could play the music when we do a show, when we play those tracks live and we wanted to record an album where we would have a lot of fun when we played it live. I don’t know why but the fans also are enjoying the new songs: it seemed that they were already their favourite songs - they were even singing the lyrics, which was a surprise. We played a show in Finland about three or four weeks ago, just after the official release and people knew it already! They were clapping and singing, it was very nice!
ALEX: Amazing! Good...is Anno Domini the start of another continuing project or is it a stand-alone album?
MARIUSZ: I’m not sure but I don’t think that it will be the first part of something like the trilogy. And it also doesn’t mean that we are now going in that kind of direction; that we are only going to record hard prog-metal albums. We had our main thought about this album being our times: attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder; about the speed of life and everything. So the music should be like this: a lot of different styles in one minute, and it should be a little bit complicated and it should be a little bit more tense, but maybe the next album will be about a different thing and then a different kind of musical balance will be better for that.
Definitely we as Riverside are trying to develop ourselves and be more experimental, if I can say that. Now is that kind of moment when you can do anything in music, without being too concerned about the reaction of the public; most importantly you have to have a lot of fun. I remember when we did Rapid Eye Movement it was very hard for me because I had to finish the trilogy, so all the material should fit to the previous template. I know that some people thought that album was too much of the same; I had tried to change a lot of the things but it was still the continuation of the trilogy. Now, if we are doing stand-alone albums, we can change more easily so maybe the next album we will go in a mellow direction; I don’t know yet! To some extent it will depend on the next Lunatic Soul album.
ALEX: So you have plans for a second Lunatic Soul album?
MARIUSZ: Yes, I’m considering new material now and I hope that I will finish this in the middle of next year for a release in winter or maybe even autumn of 2010. So the next Riverside depends on this: if it is mellow, then the Riverside will be hard again...
MARIUSZ: ...no, just kidding, but we will see! It’s early to think about a new album but I don’t think that we will record another Anno Domini High Definition.
ALEX: That’s been an interesting discussion! Going back to Michal’s Hammond sound: it is quite an extraordinary sound which harks back to the seventies but seems a lot faster than anything I can remember from that time.
MARIUSZ: Thank you; yes, overall I think the Anno Domini album sounds fresh and a little different than then. You know, we didn’t want to do another Deep Purple album, or a Yes for instance. Michal has a very interesting style but up until now he hadn’t really had a chance to show this because he had been in the background. Now, finally, four instruments or even five come out at the same level in the mix, which was what I wanted when we started to think about this album.
ALEX: In terms of topic material for the music, all of the Reality Dream, Anno Domini and Lunatic Soul themes are quite dark lyrically, quite introspective and depressing, well not happy anyway: are we ever going to see a “happy” album from Riverside or from yourself?
MARIUSZ: I’m not sure if it will be “happy” but probably, step by step, it will be a little bit brighter! Thinking about Lunatic Soul again, the second album will be a kind of (photographic) negative of the first one. Now, instead of dark, instead of the black colour, it will be the white one. From the beginning I have wanted to do the “black” album of Lunatic Soul as well as the “white” album. We have Metallica and The Beatles together! And probably the music also will be some kind of reverse, you know, contrary to the first album. Anyway, in Riverside I note that there is more and more some kind of dark humour because of the use of some kind of sarcasm, and if I go that way with Lunatic Soul it may be quite fun. This is my style; I like to keep changing, taking steps right, left, forwards, backwards maybe, but I still want to write it in that way that leaves a lot of space for people’s own interpretation. Maybe one day there will be a lot of smiley faces on a Riverside album! (laughs)....but I’m not sure if it still will be Riverside!
ALEX: Well, you say that but Anno Domini is heavier and faster than the previous albums but you still manage to retain the warm sound that you had before in some way – it still sounds like Riverside. You’ve managed to hold onto your fans and change at the same time – it’s quite well done really.
MARIUSZ: I think that a lot of fans wanted to listen to us playing a little bit faster to prove also finally that we are a rock band! Usually on the record it was quite mellow, even if we were playing some kind of rock stuff it was mixed in that way that sounded very warm, it gave a good feeling, but it sounded harder live. Now we wanted to record an album that we could play even harder live. Maybe one day we will record an album that has a more “live” sound to it. There’s still a lot of place for experimentation: for instance, if Piotr [Grudziński] will start playing solos with strange buzzes and psychedelic effects that would be different...we shall see what happens in the future! But we do like our style...
ALEX: The style that you’ve had in the past has been linked with the “progressive rock” type of label. This new album moves slightly towards the metal end of things. Do you mind being called a “progressive rock” band or are you on purpose trying to move away from that part of the musical spectrum, to reach a wider audience perhaps?
MARIUSZ: I think we always wanted to play just normal songs and maybe we should do an album with just simple songs but even then I think that it would turn progressive for us. There is a lot of progressive nature in our behaviour: we want to experiment, we want to reach some boundaries and cross them. So I don’t mind if someone is telling us that we play “progressive rock”. I think we are quite close to those new progressive bands more than those bands who play more in the seventies and eighties style. Also, I think we are definitely “prog-rock” and not “prog-metal”: there is some kind of website which is called ProgArchives which identifies us as “progressive metal”; well, when you get labelled up like this and then you record an album with only mellow songs then it can be a big disappointment to many fans who just want to listen to “progressive metal”. We’re not “progressive metal”, we are balanced between some kind of mellow, or even pop songs, and the metal side: we’re just playing “progressive rock”; more importantly it’s our own rock music. I hope that after Anno Domini people will understand that we can really play!
ALEX: That’s the problem with labels – a band that stays together for a number of years and albums is inevitably going to change its style.
MARIUSZ: Exactly; I have the same problem with Lunatic Soul. For me it was some kind of cross between ambient and alternative-rock, but totally mellow, something like that; but some people just labelled it as “ambient” and then a lot of fans were very disappointed because when I wrote the ambient music they thought that it would be like Brian Eno for instance, and it wasn’t, there were too many sounds there. In a way it’s amusing for me, working by myself and with Riverside: someone in the shop is going to have a problem knowing where to put it – to alternative-rock, to metal, to progressive rock. Maybe some day we will release a really strange album to confuse people even more! (laughs)
ALEX: OK, Mariusz, just a couple of fun questions to finish off: is the internet Riverside’s friend or enemy?
MARIUSZ: I think the internet now is really great from the promotional point of view; for instance looking at sites like MySpace and LastFM, so I think it is helping very much; YouTube also. Of course, there is the dark side of it too because sometimes the album gets distributed around before official release! We are trying to fight against that but it’s a very hard thing to do.
ALEX: It’s a balance, for sure. Certainly, I wouldn’t have picked up on your music if it hadn’t been for the internet and I’m sure there’s many other fans the same.
MARIUSZ: Yes, and hopefully this is the kind of music that people want to have on their shelf and it helps to have special editions with DVD etc and a release on vinyl. Actually, now is the time for that...more and more people are trying to buy the vinyl which is great, you know, because then you can really touch a piece of art.
ALEX: I have the digipak version of the (Anno Domini) CD and I thought that was quite a good package with the DVD of the Amsterdam concert and the fold-out sleeve with the large lyric sheet: it was very tactile!
MARIUSZ: Yes, and of course that is the first time we have released a DVD officially so we are happy about that although I think actually the Amsterdam live show may also be on YouTube! We would have liked to have had a proper DVD release before now but it has not been possible. We are working to try and have one issued hopefully next year.
ALEX: How did you become interested in music?
MARIUSZ: I’ve been interested in music from a very early age and was lucky enough to be able to take piano lessons. But, you know, from the earliest times I wanted to play my own music, not what somebody else had written. It was a long time before I realised that in order to progress I would have to learn other stuff too!
ALEX: And finally, your three favourite albums?
MARIUSZ: Ah, that is too hard! (laughs) Only three! Well, ok, if I had to go to a desert island today I would take something by Dead Can Dance, Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and War Begins at Home by Opposition. But if you were to ask me again tomorrow I would probably give you a different answer!
ALEX: Mariusz, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.
MARIUSZ: Thank you too, and I hope that the people of Holland will enjoy the new album and enjoy coming to see our live shows in October.
Riverside - Official Website
Riverside - MySpace Page
Riverside Tour Dates
DPRP Review of Riverside's - Out Of Myself (2004)
DPRP Review of Riverside's - Voices In My Head (2005)
DPRP RTR Review of Riverside's - Second Life Syndrome (2005)
DPRP Reivew of Reissue of Riverside's - Voices In My Head (2006)
DPRP Review of Riverside's Rapid Eye Movement (2007)
DPRP RTR Review of Riverside's - Anno Domini High Definition (2009)
Lunatic Soul - Official Website
Lunatic Soul - MySpace Page
DPRP Review of Lunatic Soul's - Lunatic Soul (2008)