Riverside have often been on the verge of delivering progressive greatness, without ever quite achieving that much sought after feat. However with their fifth album Shrine Of New Generation Slaves, the band have finally created an album that fulfils the promise of all four of their previous releases. More rounded in its sound, less introverted in its outlook and more expansive in its delivery, Riverside have managed to grow and evolve with the nattily acronymed S.O.N.G.S. to an extent where they appear fresh and invigorated while still sounding like the band we all know and love. Enigmatic Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda spoke with Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid to reveal his band's secrets...
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Mariusz...
There has been a four year break between Riverside's fourth album and your new release Shrine Of New Generation Slaves. While you have released an EP and Riverside have toured during that time, was there an element of needing a break to reinvigorate everyone's enthusiasm for Riverside once more?
After ADHD [fourth album Anno Domini - High Definition] we toured all of 2009 and in 2010 there were some concerts too. In the meantime I created Lunatic Soul II. Then in the spring of 2011 we released the mini-album Memories In My Head, then we went on tour again, before in the fall I released another Lunatic Soul album. 2012 was rather full of enthusiasm because we could finally go back to studio recording. We cancelled all the concerts and decided to concentrate only on recording new material. So the break wasn't a result of a creative crisis but of the abundance of other duties.
How easy was it to find the "Riverside vibe" again after such a lengthy time away?
Very easy. My idea this time was to concentrate more on the melodies, the songs, and to replace metal elements with some more hard-rockish elements. If you have an idea of an album, of what it should sound like, the whole composing process is very pleasant. We don't have problems with new ideas yet - at least I don't - so I don't really need breaks for any artistic searching. Breaks usually come from the logistic plan related to a certain scheme, you know, album promotion, tours, festivals and so on. This time there was a lot of that; hence the longest break between albums in our career.
You began the process of recording your new album almost a year ago. Has it been a tough process getting the album to sound exactly as you wanted it?
Well, I very much wanted us to make an album which would leave me really content. I decided that we would spend a lot more time on recording than usual, but also that we would cut the process into parts. We recorded some stuff in March, then some in April and May, some in June, then some between September and November. And it's not that all that time we were in the studio. July and August were pure leisure - well, it depends for whom (laughs) - I spent the summer holidays at home writing lyrics. When you record in parts, your work becomes more pleasant, you have more time to get used to some elements and to realise what has real potential and what is only seemingly valuable. When there's no hatchet hanging above your head and no deadline, you can refine more things. In the case of the latest Riverside album, I'm about 90% satisfied and for me that's a lot.
S.O.N.G.S. is still unmistakably Riverside, but there are some slightly new, different, musical elements and avenues explored this time - possibly a stronger 70s rock - not prog - vibe and the use of saxophone for example - has this been a conscious decision?
Yes, everything was planned in advance. There was one thing we didn't manage to do though, I wanted to use female vocals in one of the songs, but then I decided not to - some other time, maybe on the next album.
While adding those new elements to your sound you mentioned that you've also shied away from the slightly heavier, metallic approach that your previous album Anno Domini High Definition explored. How do you view ADHD now?
I think it's a very good album. It could sound a little better, but raw things also have their charm. I really like it and I think it's one of our best albums, ranking right after this latest one.
I think that Shrine Of New Generation Slaves is possibly Riverside's most cohesive album so far. What do you put that down to?
Since the very beginning I've been a little obsessed with the idea of creating albums that you should listen to from the beginning to the end, as a whole, albums which have a beginning, maybe a couple of turning points, and then the end. I think it comes from my childhood when I recorded some radio plays and I drew comic books. Generally I created something that was always a bigger whole. Also, I'm a very big movie fan so listening to a good album has to be like watching a good movie - everything in its right place. If you practice this kind of thinking and working, you're bound to end up creating your most coherent album.
This album feels like it has a "brighter", less introspective tone than your previous releases. Does that come from how positive the band is right now?
It's interesting that you see it like that. I think the album is rather gloomy, melancholic and sometimes even more introspective than the others. But it might seem "brighter" because it's all served as more accessible songs and when you clench your jaws your teeth don't hurt as much!
The press release for the album states "We are trying to prove, mostly to ourselves that we can still surprise with something. That is most important. To create an album that is our showpiece music wise and lyric wise." I'm interested to know why you feel the need to "prove" this. Isn't it something you've achieved previously?
Each new album has to be a challenge. Music should reflect what you feel, but you should also evolve as an artist. I've never been a fan of bands that record one album over and over again. I want to challenge myself. To record another ADHD would be really easy for me. But I wanted something different. To find myself saying, "OK, now surprise me." I wanted to prove - most of all to myself - that I'm still able to do it. Thanks to that emotion, I didn't take the easy way and I started to look for some other solutions.
S.O.N.G.S. has fantastic cover art where alien looking life forms are descending down an escalator, which along with the album title Shrine Of New Generation Slaves seems to be a strong comment on modern society. I know it isn't a concept album, but is there a central theme behind all of the songs?
The album is about various situations that make people feel somehow enslaved by our times; they can't take charge of their lives. And even if sometimes it appears that they have control [the theme of the song] "The Depth of Self Delusion", they still feel like slaves. It mostly has to do with some contemporary habits.
You've released "Celebrity Touch" as a single with an excellent video-clip. Does this song in particular explore the album's themes further?
"Celebrity Touch" is about the need to be important, about the fact that some of us are used to - and even addicted to - being in the centre of attention. Today, thanks to social media like Youtube or Facebook everyone can become a celebrity. The eponymous "touch" is exactly that - possibility.
The album comes with a bonus disc containing two lengthy tracks - "Night Sessions 1 & 2". How did these songs come into being and how come they are so different from the rest of the music on the album?
Those songs were recorded mainly to make the label agree to release the album as a media-book. That was the condition, there had to be a second CD. So we came back to the studio in November for a little while and we created that second CD. I preferred that a million times to instrumental versions of the tracks from the first CD, demo versions, or some old live recordings. We had already experimented with ambient music on Rapid Eye Movement, so it wasn't new to us. I think that "Night Sessions" is a good supplement for the first CD. Who knows, maybe one day we'll record a whole album like that?
With the approach you've taken on this album, do you think that people will begin to see you as less of a "prog" band and more as a rock band capable of including progressive themes in your music?
If this happens, I won't mind. Some people were too eager to view us as a Dream Theater copy band, and I hope that after this album they will finally put an end to these comparisons. No offense (laughs).
Is prog a label that you've sometimes been uncomfortable with having associated with Riverside? Do you feel being compartmentalised like that maybe works against bands?
I've never been uncomfortable with "prog" as a label associated with Riverside. I was uncomfortable with the "prog metal" label, 'cause I always thought we were more of a rock band than a metal band. If somebody thinks that we're a prog band, I take it as a compliment. Progressive music has changed. When we started, it was mainly associated with a pompous neo-prog that sounded like yet another variation of Genesis or Marillion with Fish. It's not like that anymore. Even such mainstream bands like Muse can be progressive.
You begin quite a lengthy world tour in March. What countries will you be visiting on your travels?
Many, many countries, it's gonna be our longest tour. In March we're starting in Germany, then the Netherlands, United Kingdom, but also in May we're finally going to visit a few places in the States. We're also going, for example, to Istanbul on May 31st. All information about the tour can be found on our website riversideband.pl
How much are you looking forward to spending such a lengthy time on the road?
We practically didn't play live at all last year. I have to admit we're really looking forward to the band-audience experience again.
I know the music of the band Jolly well. You will be touring with them and Dianoya and then later on as you tour your home country of Poland, Maqama. Are you looking forward to sharing a stage with these bands?
Yeah, why not? (laughs). We've already had the pleasure to play with Jolly. I think we're a good team together and the people who'll come to our concerts will see that.
While the band was on hiatus, you concentrated more on your solo band Lunatic Soul than Riverside. Do you think that has been a benefit to Riverside in the long run?
I think that thanks to Lunatic Soul, I became more confident and aware of my potential and possibilities. I started paying more attention to the details in the studio, to the album production process. I also evolve as a composer if I compose more.
How do the other band members in Riverside feel about Lunatic Soul having gained so much attention? Is it a little threatening to Riverside, or on the other hand is there a hope that it will bring new music lovers to the Riverside cause?
The guys are rather supportive, and even if this is just very good pretending (laughs) they really have no basis for having anything against it. Although I have a solo project I'm still the main composer in Riverside. I record Lunatic Soul during the breaks, we don't change our Riverside plans due to my solo stuff. It's my passion and my job, I want to evolve constantly, work with other people, take pleasure from what I do as long as I have ideas and possibilities. I don't see anything wrong in that. No threat or exaggeration. Paradoxically, there are people who get to know Riverside because of Lunatic Soul so it also works both ways. And may it stay that way as long as possible.
That's all my questions Maruisz, thanks for answering them. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I'd like to invite you all to the New Generation Tour and to listen to our new album - that's for those who haven't heard it yet. I think we've recorded quite an album and I myself, can't wait to hear it live!
(Click here to read our reviews of World in Front of Me)