As the bassist/singer of Polish quartet Riverside, Mariusz Duda has helped craft some of the best progressive rock albums of the decade. More recently, he also began a solo project called Lunatic Soul, which has just released a second album. Sea of Tranquility's Jordan Blum recently spoke with Mariusz about both bands and his love for music.
SoT: What is your songwriting process?
Mariusz: It's usually that I try to do some visual circles in my head. I think of the concept like "this song will be about this or that," and then later I try to find the music and the melodies and the structure. How the melody will climb. After that draft is finished, I try to write lyrics and fit words into the melody lines. So it's definitely the music first and then the lyrics. And then of course some changes come later. Usually what I've done stinks (laughs) but I try not to change too much because I think you should catch everything in the right moment.
SoT: That makes sense. So what made you decide to start the Lunatic Soul project?
Mariusz:I think it was my own love and inspiration for Oriental music. I did it quite a number of times in Riverside, with albums like Voices In My Head or the track "After" on Second Life Syndrome or "Schizophrenic Prayer" on Rapid Eye Movement. It was always that I wanted to do a project with that kind of music mixed with the music I did with Riverside. More focused on Oriental music and metal music, plus I wanted do to something by myself, right?
SoT: Yeah, of course.
Mariusz: I have a good position with Riverside. Usually I'm composing most of the tracks and the other guys are very helpful and we're doing this together but, let's say, the last step is me. I thought this mixture with Oriental music would be very nice if I created it under this totally different name. Then I can do everything that I really want. So I decided to tell this story about this journey into the afterlife with these black and white colors and these Oriental equipments.
SoT: And is it true that there are no electric guitars on the album?
Mariusz: Yes that's true. I just decided to use only instruments that I am playing myself – well, besides flutes. I'm playing a lot of instruments but I'm not playing on electric guitar. I decided to skip that instrument and focus on acoustic guitar, but of course I added some distortion on many parts, like drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. That was the first reason, and the second was that I really wanted to sound different than Riverside. I think what's most important when you're trying to a solo project is for it is have different character. There is no point to do the same music you can do in your other band and have the only difference be the name. That's a little bit stupid. I wanted to explore some new landscapes, or should I say soundscapes. I wanted to develop as an artist, so I created Lunatic Soul.
SoT: Can you talk a bit more about how are the two albums are connected? You said they're two halves of a whole about the land of the dead?
Mariusz: The story is about death and a journey through the afterlife. The first album starts with this idea that came from a very close person to me. They had a near death experience and she told me about the journey and I said "wow, that's fascinating. I mean I've very happy that you're still alive but I'm also happy that you had this accident because I can now do a story about that." On the first album, the dark album, the main character dies and he's trying to reach a light in the tunnel. And he reaches it. The white album starts where this first part ends, when he reaches the light and finds himself in the whiteness and he tries to have a different journey now. He goes through some hazy spaces like clouds and fog, and he's still on the other side; he's not reborn somewhere. Basically it's a journey about the afterlife. On the first album, the main thought was about what we leave after we die and the second was about how we should find our own place in life.
SoT: It sounds like you really enjoyed writing these albums.
Mariusz: It's always nice when you can connect things that you're doing for a living with your passion. That's the most important place in your life – when you can say "yes, this is really what I want to do." As an artist, you can always look for some new solutions, which is nice. I think people aren't happy when they're constantly looking for their own place in life. Like when they're fifty and they still don't know what they want to do with their life. That really sucks (laughs) and I know people who've had this problem and they realize that it's too late for many things. This is what I wanted to do with Lunatic Soul – represent what's important to me – finding my place in life and leaving something special when I die.
SoT: I think you definitely have left behind some great music with these albums. I know the second one just came out and you're still promoting it, but how long do you see the Lunatic Soul project continuing? Will the next one follow numerically or have actual titles?
Mariusz: Well I definitely have to change the cover. No more trilogies; I did that with Riverside (laughs). I decided to do this black and white story and that's fine, but it's over. I definitely have to continue doing this solo project though because I like it and it will also be helpful for Riverside. Now, for instance, we're trying to do new songs and I have a lot of new ideas. I know how hard it is these days to create a new brand – it would be very great to say "thank you" for Lunatic Soul and start something else with a different name, but it would be very hard to do that. I will definitely use the title and hopefully some full color on the cover. I will stay with the musical mixture but maybe next time, it'll have freakier sounds.
SoT: So you're saying that you had a story to tell and you feel it has been told fully?
Mariusz: Yes. Now I will focus on mental problems, like schizophrenia. Something like "Dr. Jekyle and Mister Hyde," I think.
SoT: You already spoke a bit about how the music differs from Riverside, but can you elaborate?
Mariusz: Well, Lunatic Soul is the mellow side of Riverside. You can compare Lunatic Soul to the Voices In My Head EP. To me, the main differences are that Riverside plays rock music with some classic rock elements. In Lunatic Soul, because there is no electric guitar, I guess you could say that it isn't even rock music. It's different. In spite of the obvious differences, I think that the music with Lunatic Soul is based more on the groove, and on the drums and rhythm, and connected with the nice melodies and some balance and those Oriental things. The music is colder, more black and white, and darker. Riverside is more colorful and I always thought that Riverside was about joy, sadness, whisper and scream. I think we finally accomplished this on the last record, Anno Domini High Definition. I've always had trouble with joy, though, and there is definitely no joy with Lunatic Soul. Riverside is more connected with this progressive rock style and there are a lot of classic elements. We try to connect old stuff like Pink Floyd with new stuff like electronica. Lunatic Soul is more alternative, more post-rock. There's nothing like solos for guitars; the instruments are playing quite simple. I know people who just listen to alternative music who enjoy the distortion and noise like this. There are a lot of these elements somewhere in the background of Lunatic Soul.
SoT: Which Riverside album is your favorite and why?
Mariusz: Um, well I have favorite tracks on every album. Of course I love the first one because it was the first one. I love Second Life Syndrome because we finally found a nice connection between rock and metal, I think. From the beginning I wanted to be somewhere in between. It's too mellow for hard metal and it's too heavy for basic rock. I think it's a nice mixture.
SoT: That describes it perfectly, I think. So, going into as much or as little detail as you want, what was the "Reality Dream" trilogy really about?
Mariusz: Well I don't think I remember those details (laughs). It was a about a guy who has problems with himself. I like to create characters who are a little off. I think there is something about love in the trilogy too. Basically it's about finding your own place in life, but this time, dealing with feelings. Not even love, but just feelings. The problem with the main character was that he had a problem with this, which is why he was so brutal to different people. The trilogy should start with the track "Parasomnia." On this track, the main character realizes that he killed someone (or that he imagined it). The shock was so big that he decided to hide inside of himself and start to live in his own mind. He imagines that someone loves him and he tries to bring this person back to life and create a life with this person. But we find out on Rapid Eye Movement that it was all in his mind, so basically it was about mental problems. I wanted to leave room for a lot of interpretation, like watching a David Lynch movie. You can find your own story there.
SoT: So would you say that Rapid Eye Movement is, at least partially, a prequel?
Mariusz: Yes. Musically, the first part is more like Second Life Syndrome and the second part is more like Out Of Myself. I wanted to do this circle where Rapid Eye Movement is like the beginning of the first album, and there are moments that are like the end and like a prequel. It's quite complicated but I was thinking that I would finally write it down as it should be, from beginning to end. For some people, that would be a totally new adventure; they would hear it all again and discover new details. I need to find time to do that (laughs). It was so long ago, though. I don't even remember the fine details.
SoT: The first two albums had instrumentals on it, but the third one didn't (although "Lucid Dream IV" was on the bonus disc). What was the reason for that?
Mariusz: I wanted to do it in a different way. We had things like three word titles and nine tracks and things connected with the idea of a trilogy. I thought "Okay on the first album we had two instrumentals, then just one, now let's keep them off." I loved the new instrumental but I wanted to keep it as a trilogy with "Reality Dream I-III" so I just changed the name to "Lucid Dream IV" and put it on the extra disc. We created it after we sent the record to the label and sometimes I think that it would've made the actual album better. On the other hand, I think the song doesn't fit the album. I think it's good to have the double version of "Rapid Eye Movement."
SoT: Do you know what the next Riverside release will be? And when?
Mariusz: Next year will be an EP and the album will come out in 2012. That's the plan. Next year we have our anniversary because, although we became somewhat famous in 2004, we started the band in 2001. So next year will be our little ten year anniversary and we'd like to have some new music to take on tour. It should be music from a new album. Now we're trying to remember some ideas we had in the past and put them with some new things for it, and the EP will only be available to those who came to see us on tour. We really try to take care of our fans.
SoT: Would that include a European tour and an American tour?
Mariusz: We'd like to do both but it's very hard for European bands to tour in America. Maybe it will change in the next decade of Riverside. I hope it does because I know we have a lot of fans over there. We always have problems with the equipment, though. We'll definitely try to play a few shows there, if not a full tour.
SoT: Make sure to come to Philadelphia. That's where I am.
Mariusz: Okay, Philadelphia. I'm writing it down (laughs).
SoT: Who influenced your music and who do you like today?
Mariusz: I grew up on electronic music like Tangerine Dream. I always liked instrumental music and my first instrument was keyboards. I played a lot of things on keyboard by myself. Later, I found this music that was called progressive rock and I like it because of all the keyboards they used. I adore all those guys from the 70s like Pink Floyd, King Crimson. I'm not very original but hey, I like it. In the 80s, I found Marillion. They were very original with Fish, but later they weren't really making progressive rock so I wasn't a huge fan of them by then. I discovered Porcupine Tree in the 90s with I think three albums: Up the Downstair, Signify, and The Sky Moves Sideways. They were very fresh to me. All those things combined were my biggest influences, and in the next decade, I decided to create a band that would also be very original, right? We'd mix all those elements but add something unique. Adding to that all the contrasts in my own life, and things like electronica and death metal.
SoT: Riverside is certainly one of the best examples today of a progressive rock band who can also write great songs. You guys can play tricky stuff but also come up with fantastic melodies.
Mariusz: Oh yeah, we can play (laughs). We can compose. I think the best thing in music is to combine both elements. You can hear a lot of complicated music and it can inspire you and impress you very much, but you'll always return to something that has good melodies. That's what we try to do and I really pay attention to good songs and good melodies.
SoT: Well Mariusz it was a wonderful to talk to you for a bit about your music.
Mariusz:Sure. It was a great experience for me. I appreciate it.
SoT: I hope you guys play here sometime. Take care.
Mariusz: Me too (laughs). Goodbye.