2016 was a rough time for Mariusz Duda, as both his Riverside bandmate Piotr Grudziński (guitar) and his father passed away. However, the talented Pole is back on the live circuit this year on Riverside’s extensive Towards the Blue Horizon Tour, and his solo project Lunatic Soul just released its fifth album, Fractured, through Kscope on October 6th. We talked to Duda before Riverside’s concert at Klubi in Tampere on September 29th, and the jovial man discussed both the hardships he’s faced lately and the future, which fortunately looks bright.
First of all, I’m just happy to be able to talk you right now, because after what happened last year, I wasn’t sure if you guys would continue.
Yeah, we’re happy too that we can talk. [chuckles] At the very beginning there were just some weird thoughts, that maybe this should be the end of the band, maybe we should just split our paths. But later we realized that the heritage was too big, and we’d sacrificed lots of our own time for doing that. And it wouldn’t be fair for us and the fans, so we just decided to carry on. Fortunately, we found a good soulmate who can help us with playing live shows, so it’s perfect.
What was it like to step on stage in Warsaw in February? What was going through your head back then?
It just… Imagine this enormous balloon that was bigger and bigger with every month when we started practicing in September. So in February, the balloon was so big that I was just waiting for it to puff up, and it happened when we started to play. The very beginning of the first track – it’s all gone. It was tough, but I think everyone needs that – us and the people that came. It was very fine, because we sold out two shows, and I’m sure that lots of people were convinced that these shows would be the first after the break and the last ones – you know, maybe it’d be the last one – but later we just announced the tour and decided to go back on tour. I’m happy that we reached Scandinavia too, and Finland, because we know that we’ve got lots of fans here. We wanted to do it last year, but under the circumstances it didn’t work out. But we’re here this year, and all these memories from February now… they’re not as important as they used to be, so we just moved on.
It must’ve been a relief.
Yeah, we’ve moved on. We will not change the past, and it was tough for us, but I seriously think that we should have another chance. I know that people need time to realize, especially all these people that were very into us with Piotr. Now it’s really difficult for them, but I know that time will change everything, you know? And seeing us live in a new lineup once or for the second time will change for sure.
Unless I’m mistaken, this is your most extensive Finnish tour so far. How has it been?
When we picked the specific songs for this tour – very moody and the big, powerful… we didn’t want to play things like “Artificial Smile” and that kind of stuff, you know? We wanted to sound more Pink Floydish or whatever, so we’ve picked all these emotional, big things, like “Second Life Syndrome”, “Escalator Shrine”, and stuff like that. We wanted to show that we’re a different band now a bit, ’cause we can’t pretend that we’re the same band as we used to be. But the music is the same, and we just play who we are, what we do. So I’m happy for this tour to be honest, because this is the catharsis – not only for us, but also for the audience. Plus it’s nice to hear all these songs that we missed a bit.
I was going to ask about the setlist later on, because I know you haven’t been playing any songs from Out of Myself (2003) or Anno Domini High Definition (2009)…
Yeah, no – we’re not playing that.
So I kind of got the answer there. Lion Shepherd is the support band on this tour, did you know those guys beforehand?
Actually we’re friends from a long time ago, and we even played here together live 4 years ago. They’ve been Maqama, but now they’ve just changed the name and they sound more oriental. I like this project much better than the previous one, because it’s first and foremost oriental and second, the initials are really close to my heart: LS, like Lunatic Soul.
That’s a nice bridge into the Lunatic Soul questions. [laughter] The new album is more song-based than before – was that affected by your experiences or did you just want to change things up after the previous records?
I think lots of things… You know, Lunatic Soul is mostly connected with the subject of death: the first two albums were about the journey in the afterlife, Impressions (2011) was a supplement to that, and Walking on a Flashlight Beam (2014) was a really dark album about depression, loneliness, and suicide… so just imagine that. When I lost my father, when I lost my friend, and everything that I was writing about happened in my real life, I just decided, “Ok, maybe it’s time to stop, I can’t record another very, very dark album to reflect everything that I feel.” ‘Cause I was simply, you know… “I will die!” And that was so intense and it was so dark that I just thought to myself, “Ok, maybe it’s time to get out of this darkness and try to do something which will be more bright, more optimistic.” I wanted to reflect my mental state, so the title Fractured is like it is. But the main message was more optimistic, so I thought I should do something which I think I’ve recently done best, so I focused on songs simply. And I also focus on some experiments with a new sound, ’cause I didn’t want to do another oriental album. I wanted to move on and change something, so I just skipped all these oriental parts and exchanged them for electronic sounds. That’s maybe why the sound is different from the previous albums.
You’ve mentioned 80s artists like Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel as influences, and some 80s-style stuff can be heard on Love, Fear and the Time Machine (2015) as well.
I think this is what I continue, you know? ‘Cause when I said earlier that I’m not the generation of the 70s, and let’s say that I play a sort of progressive rock, but I grew up in the 80s. These are my years, and I don’t think that these years were terrible, and everything that happened in the 70s was only “great, great, great” and the 80s not. Well-written songs were always close to my heart, so I didn’t do 80s now, because I know Steven Wilson did that, right? I did that much earlier and I always had lots of songs in my things, but I started this with Love, Fear and the Time Machine. I said to myself, “Ok, maybe this is enough of the inspiration of Genesis and that kind of stuff – let’s be inspired by The Cure or Depeche Mode and let’s create something more original.” When Riverside was more rock-oriented, if I can say that, inspiration was connected with The Cure in the basslines and that kind of stuff. Now, when it comes to electronic sounds, I just thought, “Ok, The Cure was checked off, so let’s now go to different inspirations, like maybe Depeche Mode even.” But it’s not only electronic sounds on Fractured, this is not only connected with the 80s. I was also very much inspired by early 90s, you know? The Bristol sound like Massive Attack, Portishead, that kind of thing. Hooverphonic, Lamb, all these trip-hop bands… Those kinds of sounds were always close to my heart, so I wanted to do that in Lunatic Soul too.
In “Red Light Escape” there’s this line about “four red digits”, and it kind of reminded me of “Under the Pillow” for some reason, like maybe there’s some kind of relation to the daily grind, but it probably wasn’t intentional?
I think that Love, Fear and the Time Machine and Fractured are kind of similar speaking of the lyrical subject, because both albums are talking about moving on. Love, Fear and the Time Machine is about making a choice, that you should do something with your life and make the right decision, and Fractured is about leaving the past and doing something with your life, you know? It’s more about how you struggle with loneliness when you lose someone and start your life over again. And here the end of the album is kind of optimistic, as for my things that I always do – it’s the biggest difference. Maybe I’ve changed in the last years and I simply want to record my albums in the way of all these self-help books, you know, how to help yourself to struggle with all the bad things around. I’ve started to write that way, so it’s kind of similar.
One lyric that particularly caught my attention was “Battlefield.” You’re singing, “I got up from my knees and became a man / Standing over the boy’s grave.” I took it as a message about growing and becoming stronger after a tough experience.
Well yeah, when I turned 40 I just realized that I’m not Peter Pan anymore, but I still want to enjoy that, you know? Probably I’ll be a child forever until the end of my days, but that’s very true – some circumstances that happened in my life changed me. I think I’m more self-confident right now, speaking of the things that I do for a living, speaking of my personal life, and also speaking about the things that I do in my musical world. So I don’t think that, “I shouldn’t do this or I shouldn’t do that,” I’m just simply doing what I feel and I don’t care what people think about that. Of course I respect my fans and I respect everything, so I don’t want to change everything 180 degrees and start doing some kind of… ’cause I’m a kind of aesthetic guy, and when I’ve started something with Riverside I want to continue that in this particular genre, as with Lunatic Soul. I also want to do it in this particular way that you can hear from the beginning that it’s Lunatic Soul – different, but still… So yeah, this is what I do. But for sure, I’m not so frustrated anymore.
You feel liberated?
A bit, yeah. I just feel more mature, that’s very true. Plus my skin got more thick, and I’m just maybe not so sensitive anymore. My shell is just bigger now, but that’s life, that’s maturity. When I hear about lots of problems now, I just say to myself, “Jesus, really? This is what you think is a problem? But ok, you’ve got your time.” I know that everyone needs to grow up to everything. But I grew up for sure.
Probably my favorite song right now is “Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes” – on the surface it’s a kind of sweet song, but at the same time there’s this sinister darkness to it.
It’s dark, it’s about nightmares, you know? Yeah, it’s very true. You know what? I’ve got a new family in the last 2 years. I met a very beautiful woman with kids, so I almost became a father to them. And I remember when the time was really dark and when I saw the girl sleeping… she was so innocent and she was so fragile. I thought it’d be nice. You know, that kind of thing is sometimes much better than taking some pills… painkillers or antidepressants or that kind of stuff. Just looking at her and she’s still… you know? All these dark things just run away. So I just imagined someone who’s just stealing all these innocent dreams from a child’s brain and just taking them to himself to help himself in some sort of way.
But yeah, “Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes”, the title, these are my two favorite nightmares that I always have, you know? First that was this checking, always… after I woke up I was checking my teeth. That’s the worst feeling ever. And the owl eyes… when I was a child, very small, I’d seen that kind of picture, and the window was dark, and suddenly I saw big eyes, like the owl eyes, with nothing around, so it was pretty scary. So I thought it’d be a good title – how to fight your own scary dreams.
That explains a lot! Have you written any new music for Riverside yet?
Yeah, I’ve got three songs I think will be pretty ok. Just after the whole promotional thing connected with Lunatic Soul I think I will create a demo, and at the very beginning of the next year we will try to start something in the studio. The plan is to release the album around late August, early September next year. The plan is to do more self-confident music, I think.
Have you got any new idea for a new trilogy or overall theme?
Yeah, I’ve got it for sure. Something that I can now reveal is the fact that I will start [using] short titles now. [laughs]
No more acronyms?
No, that was part of the previous trilogy, you know? Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome (2005), and Rapid Eye Movement (2007): these are albums [in the] Reality Dream trilogy. Three words in the titles and nine songs each – three per three. That was that kind of pattern. Later we’ve got Anno Domini High Definition: fourth album, Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013): five, Love, Fear and the Time Machine: six. That was that part.
Oh, I never realized that!
Yeah, so now you know. And now, I’ll probably switch the titles to letters, so the very next Riverside album will have seven letters, the eighth eight, and the ninth nine letters. This is what I can reveal for now, and the music I think will be… still Riverside, but probably we will have to find some specific theme or the subject for another three ones – we’ll see.
So no 2-letter titles like Peter Gabriel?
No, I just like when you take a look from the wider perspective and you see that the patterns are still here. Just like Lunatic Soul: the same covers. I just like it, you know? So I will continue in this weird phase.
You have a new live guitarist, Maciej Meller. How is he fitting in?
I think perfectly, ’cause thanks to him, we can be a band on stage. That was very important from the beginning, to hire someone who’ll create a band with us, not being part of a different world. Everyone can see that he’s amazing, but it’s obvious that he’s just paid by us, because he’s so awesome. I think we didn’t want to do it, so Maciej is great on stage, because thanks to him Riverside can be a live band. But he’s still not an official member, we’re like a trio. Maciej helps us only with the live shows, so when it comes to the new album, we’ll still be a trio.
So you’ll play guitar?
I will play the parts of the guitar probably, and there’ll be guests, that kind of thing. I for sure, I will compose the new album. And Maciej probably will also be a part of that, but still as a guest musician. But we don’t know what the future brings – maybe we’ll change in the future, but now I think it’s too early for that. When we announced that we are a trio, we wanted to be this trio, you know? And the new album will be the proof that we can be like this, so we’ll see.
So Maciej may still play a solo or two here and there?
Yeah, of course I hope that. He’s open to playing live shows with us, but he understands that I’m the main guy in Riverside, so it’s not like we compose [as a] band, just taking this or that. No, last two albums were mostly composed by me, and I’m going to continue that as soon as I have a vision, but of course it’s still like, you know, we’ve got the conversation – I mean, the reaction between us speaking of the new album, so for sure the guys will help me with achieving that final result. But yeah, the trio will compose the new Riverside album mostly then of course – this is how it is.
I saw this photo of you guys meeting Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman at some festival.
Yeah, we played in Charlotty Valley, Poland with Yes [featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman]. That was a really nice experience, I was so surprised when I saw them playing live. I think they’re much, much better than all the Yes lineups in the past 15 years. They were great, and Trevor Rabin is an astonishing guitar player, so I really loved them. Of course I was very into the Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) era, but I also admire… 9125? [90125 (1983)] And Talk (1994), these albums are really great. Trevor Rabin is… I [highly] respect him.
Yeah, that’s a great era too. Did you have any time to talk to them?
Yeah, that was nice – a short conversation. We’d been together with Jon Anderson in England, UK, when we got a reward from Prog magazine, because Riverside received a reward for an Anthem [with] “Towards the Blue Horizon.”
Oh yeah, I remember that.
And at the same time Jon Anderson received the reward for Prog God. So when we were talking, I said to him, “Do you remember we met up in the UK? You became a Prog God, so now you can bless me.” He said, “Yeah, of course.” So he blessed me and now I’m just blessed by a Prog God.
Yeah, I know.
So I assume Chris Squire must’ve been an influence on your bass playing?
Yeah, I like his bass playing. Speaking of progressive music, yeah – Chris Squire, Geddy Lee [Rush]… that way of playing bass was always great for me. I didn’t like the kind of bass playing like …And Justice for All (1988) by Metallica.
[laughs] There barely is any bass on that album.
That’s what I’m saying, you know? Maybe there’s something, but you can’t hear that. I picked especially this album, because there was no bass there, but anyway, that kind of playing bass was not my intention. I didn’t want to do only the helper for the guitar, I wanted to be a guitar player, [laughs] taking the bass guitar, so that’s why that kind of style fits me. It suits me, I think.
Geddy and Chris are good influences for sure. Steven Wilson is obviously a very busy man, but I loved the song you wrote together, “The Old Peace.” Could you see yourselves collaborating more in the future?
The funny thing is that I’m just getting as busy as him recently, and it’s really hard to find free time [for] us. Always when we tried to meet up on his tour or my tour, he’s said that he can’t because he’s got interviews, and now he just probably came to Poland too, and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m on tour.” We’re always just passing each other by, but just imagine that it was also hard to write the music together. There’s still a B-side that we should create, because we promised each other that maybe we should release this song, but doing this on vinyl we should create another one. We’ll see, maybe in the future – who knows?
Now everybody will be waiting for that! What do you think of Steven’s new album [To the Bone]? It has been a little divisive in the prog rock community.
For me this is just… I don’t believe in this whole pop, 80s inspiration, whatever it is, because for me there’s nothing from the 80s there. It’s just the same music that Steven always did. For me it’s just the Stupid Dream (1999) era or Lightbulb Sun (2000) era, but in shorter compositions, you know?
Yeah, I kind of agree with you.
For me it’s more 90s than 80s, so… I like it! I think it’s good, you know? Maybe I’m not a huge fan of the “Permanating” style, it’s not my cup of tea, but I think there are lots of well-written songs. But definitely for me this is not like 80s-inspired, I don’t see that. It’s just a normal Steven album, that’s it.
Those were all my questions, so thanks for your time and good luck with the show!
Thank you very much!
Photos: Charlotta Rajala