MEMORIES IN HIS HEAD
Progressive rockers Riverside are celebrating their 10th birthday in style with a new EP and an appearance before 300,000 people at Poland’s biggest musical festival.
Singer and bassist Mariusz Duda joins Andy Read in looking back at the highlights of the past decade. The enigmatic frontman recalls how appearing as a Swedish femme-metal band opened the door to four acclaimed albums and big tours with the likes of Dream Theater.
Mariusz also reveals how the new EP and his forthcoming Lunatic Soul album will be a form of closure for him and the band.
ANDY: The emergence of Riverside’s unique blend of classic prog-rock sounds from the seventies with more modern-edged influences has made the quartet one of the most recognisable bands on the scene today. I was fortunate to be among the audience at the band’s debut appearance outside of Poland when they were last-minute replacements for Swedish female-fronted metallers Amaran at The ProgPower Europe Festival in 2004. Always keen to start a story at the beginning, I open the interview by inviting Mariusz to offer his memories of that show.
MARIUSZ: Well we were Amaran on all the leaflets. People just came in to see Amaran and saw us instead. There were many people with an interesting question: Who the heck are these guys? And that was the first Riverside show abroad. I remember the show because we were very nervous and we did not know what to expect. But afterwards we just realised that probably we will be connected with Dutch audiences for many, many years. We were offered the slot at the last minute and had to play for free. But we just thought that it would be a great chance for us. The beginning of something. And it was. After ProgPower we decided to play more shows abroad and we even went for our own tour.
ANDY: I remember you receiving one of the biggest responses I’ve ever seen from a ProgPower crowd. As you said, no one knew who you were and your album had only just been released. Very few people had even heard your music. You must have been very nervous but also quite pleased with the response you got. I think all of your CDs sold out afterwards didn’t they?
MARIUSZ: Yes exactly. I think we brought about 50 or so and we sold everything. That meant a lot to us. It was one of the first signs that in our shows we would sing in English and that we would like to release albums not just for Polish audiences but for everyone. That was the first time that something important happened. From that moment we started to think that it really did make sense. Seriously, that festival was one of the highlights of our career – an important turning point.
ANDY: About a year after that debut overseas gig, you went professional. That must have been quite a big step for the band. Was the idea that such a move was the only way to take Riverside to the next level – to be a worldwide band?
MARIUSZ: We just wanted to have more time for doing our music and for playing shows. At the beginning, when we started to play live shows in Poland and then abroad in 2004 and 2005, it was always a case of having to do it for one or two weeks as holiday. One tour had to be in the first part of the year and the other in the second part. We did this for a couple of years but we were really tiring and so decided we needed to focus more on this band. Just before we released Second Life Syndrome, we decided to quit our jobs and then everything started.
ANDY: One of the next big learning opportunities was when you landed the tour with Dream Theater. Tell me what that experience meant for the band.
MARIUSZ: Yes that was another turning point because we learnt so much. We learnt not only how to behave on stage but how to behave behind the stage. We stopped wasting our time on many unnecessary things and became more focused. I think we changed after that tour.
ANDY: Was the learning from spending time with Dream Theater and them giving you advice? Was it from just watching how they operated or was it a mixture of both things?
MARIUSZ: Although I had the chance to talk to Mike Portnoy several times, it was not so much learning from Dream Theater but we talked a lot to the crew, to the people they worked with. We learnt that we really needed to focus on more things when we went on tour.
ANDY: The most recent Riverside album, Anno Domini High Definition was my personal favourite album of 2009. It also received a firm DPRP seal of approval with two 9s and one 10 out of 10 from our roundtable review. The album was notable for taking a distinct change of musical direction for the band. Was that a conscious decision? You’d had the trilogy of connected albums and you just wanted to show Riverside in a different, heavier light, or was it simply a natural evolution of the Riverside style?
MARIUSZ: At the point that we started to record the album we were a band full of energy and just wanted to show our music in the way that we really were. You know, our drummer played in a death metal band for 10 years and we have very heavy roots. We really wanted to record an album with a little more energy. We really needed that kind of album. It wasn’t because of that fact that we’d been touring with Dream Theater. We were just in a time when we felt like that. We also didn’t want to just do the normal songs. We wanted to do something longer and just put forward some euphoric piece of mind.
ANDY: Coming up to date, you have just released a new three-song EP to mark your 10th anniversary as a band. Is the music based around all new ideas or is it utilising some old ones that you wanted to do something with?
MARIUSZ: It was some ideas that I had in my head that we didn’t record before, but there are also some brand new ideas. During the rehearsals for the EP we decided to do something in the mood from the beginning of our activities. We just started to play and this is what happened. What I really wanted to do was some kind of closure. I think this new EP will tell you more, when you hear our next album next year. This is the closure of a chapter and for me this is kind of nice.
ANDY: Has the band started writing songs for the next album already?
MARIUSZ: At the moment I’m also rather focused on Lunatic Soul because this year I am planning to also release some bonus tracks from parts one and two. So that is another closure. I’m really just closing some chapters with Riverside and Lunatic Soul. With Riverside it is all the music we have done so far in this style. With Lunatic Soul it is with all this near-death experience, black and white subject.
ANDY: From what you are saying, with the next album can fans expect another change of direction in the sound of Riverside?
MARIUSZ: You know maybe I am over reacting a little bit, because what I really want to do is keep our style. We do something that is really ours and I think it is more or less kind of original. People after a few seconds of listening to our music can say: ‘This is Riverside’. That means something and I don’t want to loose that. For the next album we should do some bigger steps, some more brave steps. No risk; no fun. We have nothing to lose now. We’ve survived for 10 years. We’ve done something. We can start to experiment more. It will be healthier, both for us and for our listeners, our fans.
ANDY: I’m glad you say that. I always feel that is a good attitude for a band to have. Lots of bands continue for ten years with more of the same, because that is what they think their fans want. But bands that remain successful for another ten years are usually those that push the boundaries and develop their sound into new areas.
MARIUSZ: We think the same! You know, on the main albums I would like to take a risk. And for fans, we can always release some more EPs like Memories In My Head for instance. When you look at the most successful bands from the progressive genre – maybe Opeth or Porcupine Tree – bands that have existed in the market for 20 years, if we continue everything we’ve done so far, maybe in another 10 years it will be our turn, who knows?
ANDY: You mentioned it just now, but can you also give a little more information on your other project Lunatic Soul.
MARIUSZ: There will be another album this year. It will be called Lunatic Soul Impressions and we will have eight or nine instrumental tracks connected with the story from the two albums. It will be only instrumental tracks – with a vocal, but no lyrics. Also maybe two remixes of the older tracks as well. It’s not a third part. It is like music for some non-existent movie. I’ve always wanted to do a movie soundtrack. This is a chance to say more with the music, not words.
ANDY: Will that be the final Lunatic Soul release? Will you be moving onto another side project?
MARIUSZ: That will be the last with the out-of-body-experience subject. With the following Lunatic Soul record, it won’t be something with the same subject or even the same logo. It will be something else.
ANDY: Looking back at the 10 years with Riverside, is there one particular song that has become your personal favourite?
MARIUSZ: Pick you favourite child eh? From the beginning I wanted to take care of our style, of our sound. To create some kind of mixture of the sounds, so that it sounds original. So that it sounds like Riverside. It is very hard to do this, because everything has been done. So as favourites, I would pick from the debut The Same River. From the second album the title-track Second Life Syndrome. From the third album it would be Parasomnia, and from Anno Domini High Definition it would be Left Out. I can not choose one from those four because I think all of those four songs sound kind of similar but they have their own character – the character of the album.
ANDY: And is there one particular moment, one personal highlight from your Riverside journey over the past 10 years. Is there one memory that you always look back on with a smile?
MARIUSZ: You know, about all of those turning points that we’ve talked about already; the festival at ProgPower, the ArrowRock Festival which was our biggest audience so far; the tour with Dream Theater; having our first album released somewhere else outside Poland, it was never a case of one thing happening and after that point our career just took off. It has been day by day, month after month; we are taking some small steps forward. You know in every show, every day, every experience; every recording sits our little highlight. I think the best thing is that fact that we’ve survived for those ten years. These days it is very hard to create something new, something fresh which is yours, which you can recognise. There are a lot of bands, really, a lot of bands. We’ve survived for 10 years, so maybe there will be a chance for a future and I hope there will be a chance to create some real highlight. I really believe that the best album is still before us.
ANDY: On August 5th you will play before your biggest audience yet when Riverside appears at Poland’s Woodstock Festival which attracts up to 300,000 people. I guess in a way that alone shows the progress the band has made since it first appeared before 200 people at ProgPower Europe?
MARIUSZ: It will be a nice experience for us as we will play after Helloween. There are lots of different bands and I think it is the first time that a progressive band has appeared. It is a nice experience for us. We always try to play before new audiences whenever possible. When you play your own shows as a headliner or at the end of a progressive festival it is great. But sometimes it is good to just play in the afternoon on the same stage as say Slayer or Motörhead for a totally different audience. It’s great when you can impress people who don’t normally listen to music like Riverside. We like to play strange festivals for strange audiences. It doesn’t mean that we don’t like to play for our own audience of course. If you really want to do something, if you really want to grow, then from time to time you have to push boundaries. The life of your band depends on that.
Interview for DPRP by Andy Read
On 30th September they play at DePul in Uden, Netherlands.
Progressive Promotion Records 5th anniversary festival with Fish, Lazuli Magic Pie and others, 29th September – 1st October.
Forgotten land from new EP Memories in my Head
live in Holland official YouTube video