Riverside have always been an experimental band drawing their influences from prog rock bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson to metal bands like Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Alter Bridge and Black Sabbath. Bass player, songwriter and vocalist Mariusz Duda has made no secret of his love of melody and bands like The Beatles and Genesis were a big part of that. For their 6th album Love, Fear and The Time Machine, Mariusz has moved the band towards the more melodic and away from their metal roots in contrast to their earlier work. Photogroupie caught up with Mariusz to discover what prompted this change in direction.
PHOTOGROUPIE (PG): This album is very different from your other work. What sparked this transformation in sound?
MARIUSZ DUDA (MD): First and foremost I always want to create something which is connected with a good song. Even if I try to play along with tracks I always pay attention to melody. I adore songs and I wanted to base our music on melodies mostly. We experimented with metal, classic prog rock and other elements, with this album I just felt maybe we should change something.
PG: So what did you change?
MD: Firstly we changed the decade of influences. I'm of the generation of cassette tape, not the generation of vintage vinyl, so I thought, maybe it should be more 80s sounding. We decided to make everything much more clear and a little simpler. All these melodies that I always pay attention to became much more clear and intense this time. That was the biggest difference.
PG: What was it about that particular era that you found so inspirational?
MD: I was 10 when I was discovering the older stuff and connecting with the music and my excitement for the music is totally different now. I wanted to go back to my childhood times, so that's why I wanted to go back to this.
PG: How did you go about creating that retro sound?
MD: We had three choices talking about the music, technically: Plastic strange weird sounds on the drums - we escaped that idea and the cheesy, shallow keyboard sounds too - and the electronic sound. We now have the third option. I've always been a fan of bass guitar. There was a lot of bass guitar in the 80's on albums by The Thompson Twins and Joy Division. The Cure they had a very strong bass guitar, even Depeche Mode has a strong electronic bass guitar; so I paid much more attention to that together with normal guitar. Our keyboards have a vintage sound anyway and I didn't want to change that but they are more in the background. I wanted to keep Michał Łapaj's sound (keyboards and organ), because that is our style too. But thanks to the fact that we have this 80s style on the bass guitar and also this vintage Hammond organ that makes this very nice combination much more original than a purely vintage 70s and 80s style.
PG: Love, Fear and the Time Machine is quite broad as a title. What does the title mean to you?
MD: I didn't want to write about something in general, because that means writing about anything! I wanted to write about important decisions in life. One day you decide to change something in your life, so what are you going to do? You feel this excitement and freedom, you feel the positive side of things, this is love. On the other side you don't know what to expect, this is the fear. The third thing, the time machine is your experience from the past. Sometimes the past can make you stuck in one place and you can't do something because you have a phobia or whatever, so you can't move towards what you want. These thing are always important and they are always in your head and your heart, it helps you somehow to make these decisions. If you look at this you can see that Riverside for the first time have made something more optimistic and positive. It has a happy ending.
PG: This is a change from your earlier albums and your solo work with Lunatic Soul, which was quite morose and focussed on death.
MD: I realised that I was delving into darkness over time and I wanted to have something different this time and positive so that was a challenge to me. I realised one thing that when you just create dark, depressive music you have to ask why you are creating this melancholic music? Your answer is that someone who can hear this can feel that they are not alone, there is someone in the world who thinks in a similar way, so it helps, they can relate. But why can't we add a little more light to this, a little more positive stuff.
PG: Why did you go from one extreme to another?
MD: You know, I'm at that point in my life where I don't have to be angry. I don't have to struggle with someone or fight, there is no need. That's why I've changed my voice, it's much more peaceful. I don't have to scream or roar. Of course because of this the music had to change, or course we still have this harder part, but we have some different elements of something bigger. Thanks to this album we can finally show who Riverside are. We are not a Dream Theatre type of band, we are mostly based on emotions and melodies. This is where I want to be with my music at this time. This is how my mid-life crisis looks like! (laughs) It's positive and as I'm now 40 I think life doesn't suck! You can't blame someone else for your own failures. It's like in Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire; the caterpillar is like "I don't want to be a butterfly", but you can be a butterfly! Be a butterfly, Jesus! It will be OK, you can make it and transform if you want to!
PG: How do you think the fans will react to your new sound?
MD: It's always 50/50. I don't know. I know that I can't satisfy everyone the only thing that I do since lets be honest and be true, the beginning is be true with what you have within you. that's the beauty of this, I would like to be an artist that develops, that is searching for something, that is trying to touch something new. Developing in the progressive way is always something that turns me on! (laughs)
PG: The longest track on the album is 8 minutes, did it feel strange cutting back the running times.
MD: Yes. I had to do some moves to make this album different than the previous ones and I chose to make this one more optimistic and show the bright side of life, and shorter songs. The tracks are still quite long, 6, 8 minutes, but I wanted them to be under 10 minutes just to make this album different from the others because that was always the same pattern and I wanted to throw this away.
PG: Did you have to focus to get them shorter, did you find it difficult?
MD: I didn't think about it to be honest. When I just have to get something out from my heart, I just do it. Sometimes I have to add some elements and this time I don't have to add them. This time I just cared about the subject because it was personal stuff. I didn't want to put in some jazzy piano solo for five minutes or play some ambient instrumental music for 7 minutes just to make the track longer. We did do something interesting with the bonus CD which is a day session and a variation of the ambient stuff; so I think we have some stuff that's about 10 minutes. If you miss something you will still have this additional 27 minutes. If I feel I can go further with a subject I will go, but this time I didn't want to distract people so they lost the message.
PG: Are you still going to play some of the older material live?
MD: Sure. We are still going to do what we have done. I think the new material will make our live shows more dynamic and I always wanted to have that kind of stuff, now I can choose.
PG: Talk me through the songs theams on the new album.
MD: You know all the thoughts that you have in your head I wanted to stop them for 60 minutes with the music. It starts with some part of your life that you feel lost, so you want to find yourself. Since our 4th album I also tried to write about the times we live in, this liquid modernity time, social media, internet, whatever, so in this album we have the future bubble Under the Pillow, we have
# Addicted about people addicted to celebrity and social media.
PG: That's a big problem isn't it, with people becoming dependant on the digital world.
MD: You know, people need to be careful with the limits, it's very difficult when you spend 24/7 on the internet. You have lots of friends of Facebook but no friends in your real life. It's sad you know. There's no-one who can bring you a glass of water - everyone is digital. You need to know when you can turn off your computer. I don't want to say this is bad, but it becomes bad when you become addicted to this.
PG: It is very sad when young kids focus on that so much they miss the real world and become isolated.
MD: Exactly! And it's the beginning of other problems too. It is very sad. I still know plenty of adults who's only relationship is with people in social media! The track Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire is going back to what I said earlier about failures, you can't blame anyone. You have to find your problems and define your problems. Saturate Me, is another songs about people that don't know how to behave, or what to think, they just pick what they want from social media and use this to create their own fake identity and they start to believe that this is who they are. It's like when you take a picture and you use this saturation filter, you make everything brighter, sharper, more intense but it's fake! There are people that want to live someone else's life more than their own life.
Afloat is about the fear and the pain and it's time to discard your fear, I wanted to give this kind of message. It's also connected to Lost (why should I be frightened by a hat?) It's taken from The Little Prince, it's a very sad book for children really, but I discovered this recently that the author drew a picture and showed it to adults and said how scary is this? They were like wow, it's scary - but it's a hat, that's not scary. The author said this is not a hat, it's an elephant swallowed by a snake. But I don't see this, it looks like a hat to me. So again there are people who are afraid of something, thinking that this is something different. Maybe the hat is just a hat.
PG: So it's about perception.
MD: Exactly, so maybe I should discard my fear of the unknown. The fear of the unknown is very dangerous.
PG: It stops people moving on doesn't it.
MD: Sure, it makes people stuck in the same job for 25 years because they are afraid to lose money, because they have credit, they have kids, they don't want to change their life. They choose an unhappy life because they are afraid of doing something. Time Travellers is my time machine moment when I am going back to my childhood and things from the past. It's the most positive album Riverside has made. It's the kind of self help book I would like to have. How to change your life in 60 minutes!
PG: Did any songs not make it onto the albums final cut?
MD: Not really, we did a little bit more, but we just contained it really and put it on the bonus CD. I always do a little bit more for side B or Record Store Day or whatever. This time I put everything into the frame and that's it!
PG: Do you find audiences at home react differently to audiences abroad?
MD: No, not really. I know that when we play shows in Chile, Mexico, Brazil they react a bit more spontaneously than Holland for example. I know in Switzerland people are just clapping to the click, so they are very rhythmical. The audience we have are the same sensitive guys all over the world with different roots.
PG: What is the prog scene like in Poland?
MD: I think we are more famous for metal orientated bands like Behemoth, we have a rock and prog scene but what is really popular at the moment is what I call alternative pop - when you use an accordion together with Pro Tools! (laughs) Organic sounds together with some loops more like Florence and The Machine or Kate Bush.
PG: How do you think the band will transform in the future?
MD: I'm not sure, but I think we will transform in a good way. One of my first dreams with the band was for people to say "that is the Riverside sound and style" and I am going towards this direction. Somebody asked me at the beginning to define my music and I said four words: Joy, sadness, whisper and scream. I always had problems with joy, but I think I am going to the direction where everything will be 25% and that will make the most original mixture of our music. Let's just say my top 100% album is still on the way.