Dario | Nov 15, 2023 | 0
Interview with Riverside’s Mariusz Duda: “I wanted to write music about being together, about community.”
More than eight months since the release of Riverside’s newest album, “ID.Entity” and in the midst of their ongoing near-global tour, I grab the chance to sit down with the band’s mastermind and frontman Mariusz Duda for a wonderfully insightful chat, right before their electric performance in Bucharest.
In effortless conversation, we cover topics such as Riverside’s new identity – in the studio, on record, and on stage; touring the world after the pandemic put live music on what felt like an endless hold; the value of community; the dangers of AI; and so much more. Read on to discover it all.
Thank you very much, first of all, for taking the time to do this interview with me during what I know has been a very busy tour for you. In fact, it has been quite a year in general for Riverside; it started with the release of your new, jaw-droppingly powerful album, “ID.Entity”, and then it went straight into this tour that seems to have been non-stop. So, now that over half a year has passed since the release of the album and since you’ve been performing it live, how do you feel it has been received by the audience?
I still think a lot of people are in two minds because of our going a bit to the brighter side. But I also have a feeling that the skeptical fans who have attended one of our shows on this tour have changed their minds in a more positive direction, because I believe we are pretty good-looking on stage with this new material. Our shows have become more dynamic, and let’s say they fit more with our identity and who we are these days. We are trying to be more positive than ever, probably because we have been suffering for so many years that we kind of deserve a new life.
Our shows have become more dynamic, and let’s say they fit more with our identity and who we are these days. We are trying to be more positive than ever, probably because we have been suffering for so many years that we kind of deserve a new life.
This is very interesting insight, and it kind of fits with my next question, as this album does feel like new and, in a way, uncharted territory for Riverside. The sound, of course, but also the themes that you’re exploring, the emotions that you’re tapping into and releasing through the music—all of these seem different than what we’re used to hearing from Riverside. There’s a new air to them, in a way mirroring things we all feel in the wake of pandemics and wars, both literal and figurative. It’s in how it sounds, with the richness of synth and electronica and bass-heaviness, while emotionally it feels like it taps more into anger and revolt than melancholy. How did this renewed artistic expression come to be?
Well, first and foremost, all the topics on our albums have a few different layers: one layer is about the world – what’s going on around the world; the second is about the band – what’s going on in the band; and the third is about things that are happening to me personally during the writing of a specific album. And the anger that transpired in the lyrics was probably caused by the situations going on all over the world, especially in Poland, where we have become very polarized as a society. That’s mostly because of our government, which is made up of populists, and populism generally divides people. So that was one thing, I wanted to take a photograph of the times we are living in. And the second thing was, of course, connected to the third decade of our career, the new lineup, and the new studio that appeared because of that. I also decided not to delve into melancholy like we used to do, because we wanted to show that this is a new era for us. It’s similar to what happened with “Anno Domini High Definition”, as I remember that, after “Trilogy” (“Reality Dream Trilogy”), I also wanted to try something else. So yes, the anger that you mentioned is probably mostly present in the lyrics because we are living in less-than-happy times. And we’re actually having this conversation almost two weeks before the elections in Poland; I do hope that something will change, because it’s about time.
I hope for the very best outcome for you, too. And it’s very interesting to look at it this way, from this personal point of view centered around the situation in Poland, because the general feel of the album is so universal. It speaks to experiences we’re all going through; we’re all polarized, we’re all perceiving bigger and bigger gaps between us as a global society.
Well, Poland was a spark, but yes, obviously I try to write while keeping in mind that our audience is all over the world, to write things in a way that everyone can understand. And, let’s be honest, I criticized capitalism like never before on this album. I really hate the fact that we are the ones being blamed for what’s going on; in truth, the blame belongs to the system that has been created, and we should say that out loud. It’s not our fault that, I don’t know, the earth is polluted, right? The big corporations are responsible for that. But that’s another thing, you know, unfortunately it’s really hard to find the balance if we still want to develop at the express tempo we’ve grown used to, like having a new iPhone every year. So I’m not sure if there’s hope for us in this case, but I believe that, if we try to realize that this division, perceivable in almost every country within our global society, is caused by politicians, then maybe we can shift our focus more towards caring about community. And I believe this message also applies from the band’s perspective, since we, as a band, are a community. I also kind of stepped back this time, because “Wasteland” and “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” were so much like my solo albums. This time, I decided to be more like a leader of the band; standing at the center, but also choosing something from the others. I wanted to create this sense of community in our band, as well. And there is one more very important thing: we’ve realized, in the past few years, that one thing that is very good about Riverside, that is our virtue, is our shows, our live performances. So I really wanted to express this energy that happens during live performances on the album. That was our main goal, to record an album that almost sounds like a live album. And, thanks to this, we can show our true identity and who we are these days. However, I do realize that many people miss those sad songs, like ‘The Depth of Self-Delusion’, ‘We Got Used to Us’, and others. But come on, this is only album no. 8, it doesn’t mean that we are changing our nature. There are still lots of older Riverside albums available on the market that you can go back to. But we really feel like we need to develop, to not stand in the same place, you know?
Well, I happen to think it’s a fantastic album [laughs]. But I know that there’s been division, and I can understand that, 20+ years on, you’re going to have fans who are more resistant to change. And, once again, you have very nicely anticipated my next question. I follow you very closely (not in a stalker-y way, I promise [laughs]), and you’ve actually very recently spoken about how this has been the most collaborative album to date, with you making space for the rest of the band’s contributions, which ultimately had a marked effect on how the album turned out. How did this creative process unfold? Was it a better way of working?
This time, I wanted us to work together, but this working together didn’t exactly mean everyone coming up with their own songs, because I composed most of the material again, unfortunately [laughs]. But there were threads and moments and pieces that the guys added to the music and, most importantly, we arranged these songs in our rehearsal room together. The last two or even three albums were mostly made in the studio, and only after that did we learn how to perform them live. But now, before we even entered the studio, we had already performed these songs, and it really helped us feel like a band again. So that was the biggest difference from, say, “Wasteland” or “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. It kind of reminded me of the work we did before “Anno Domini High Definition”, when we also did the demo before deciding to go to the studio. You know, years ago, since “Shrine of New Generation Slaves”, I kind of started to record my solo albums with Riverside. Not because I intended to, but because there simply wasn’t a great connection there anymore, and someone had to keep things going. And now, with this different lineup, I really wanted to go back to that energy we once had. I believe that was my main goal as producer of this album, I simply didn’t want to do everything by myself again.
For the next album, for sure, and I’ve been trying to work on solo projects as much as possible, perhaps to avoid doing that in Riverside [laughs]. So yes, I would love to continue that. Surely we should spend more time together in the rehearsal room while creating new songs and albums.
Sounds like a great plan. Now, I’ve already touched on the topic of lyrical themes on “ID.Entity”, which are, in themselves, very powerful. To name a few that stand out to me: the search for true identity, the dehumanization of self and of relationships, and obviously the social division that has grown universal at this point. So many things that are very relatable for many of us, and, in many ways, the listener can sense what you feel when hearing the music. I mean, singing along with ‘I’m Done With You’, for instance, is therapeutic. It’s anger; it’s the reaching of a breaking point; it’s energy being released after a time of great collective turmoil. So, I’m curious to know, were the lyrics still mainly written by you? Or was this also a collaborative process, in the sense that you came together and shared the experiences, thoughts, and opinions of the individual members of the band?
That’s an interesting point of view. No, unfortunately the way it always works in Riverside is that my dear friends read the lyrics when they are already printed in the art book [laughs]. So they kind of trust me with the story. But they are my inspiration as well, because, as I said before, Riverside as a band is also one of the inspirations for all the concepts. For instance, “Second Life Syndrome” was called that because it was our second album. “Anno Domini High Definition” came about because we were tired of those gloomy, dark, long and slow songs, and we wanted to push the tempo a bit. And now, “ID.Entity”. First, I wanted to answer the question: Who is Riverside these days? Who are we? Myself, as well; I know who I am. Who is society? That’s a question that would be very difficult to answer, so I can mainly focus on Riverside; that was the main focus when I started to write lyrics. And, when I realized what kind of music should be on the album, I knew that we couldn’t simply repeat “Wasteland”, because we are a totally different band right now. And yes, there is lots of anger, one of the reasons being that, if we were going to focus on music that would sound great live, if we were going to deliver more energetic music because we wanted to show this different face of Riverside, the lyrics should also be more powerful. Not, like, another story about me being lonely somewhere in a dark corner, waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. I have Lunatic Soul for that; I have some other things; I sang about that on “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. This time, it was about community; I wanted to write music about being together, about how we can, as a community, deal with the problems together. That was my main source of inspiration.
This time, it was about community; I wanted to write music about being together, about how we can, as a community, deal with the problems together. That was my main source of inspiration.
Yes, it does very much feel like a new beginning. I now have a question that is maybe, in a way, a bit off-topic… but also it isn’t. And I’m glad that I’m having this interview with you specifically, as I know that you’ve been exploring the theme of AI quite intimately in your solo work, a seed of which I feel exists on “ID.Entity” as well. Yes, it’s perhaps more about VR and how we’re increasingly using virtual communication while being less and less connected on a human level, but AI is now adding to that, widening the gap even more. Can you tell me a little bit about how you feel AI is threatening to influence the art world, and the music world in particular?
Well, first and foremost, let’s say that the AI topic on “ID.Entity” can be found between the lines in ‘Friend or Foe?’, of course. And, in my opinion, AI is something that can surely help people work faster, and maybe more efficiently. It’s also a bit funny, because I was reading Yuval Harari three years ago, and he was saying that accountants will be replaced by computers soon, while the people who are mainly using their brains, like artists, will always survive. Well, from what we can see looking at the Midjourney programs, for instance, artists are in danger, while accountants are safer than ever because no one wants to trust their money to AI [laughs]. It can be helpful for searching databases somewhere in the banks, but not for much more than that. So everything has changed, but, in my opinion, we also need to change so that we can use this properly. It can help people, but there are also some dangers here and there. And, for me, the biggest problem would be distinguishing what’s real from what’s fake. I think that’s the most dangerous part, because some politicians can use it for propaganda, for instance. The better the technology gets, the more people will stop trusting people, because it will be hard to tell real from fake. We already can’t trust politicians, because we know that they are probably pretending so they can get their votes, but we’re also talking about normal communication between people, especially those online relationships that we all have. Even now, if you find a photo on Tinder, you can’t tell if it’s real or not. So for me, that’s the biggest problem with AI. As for the rest, I think we will need to change some things. Maybe instead of programming in school, we’ll need to learn how to input text to work with AI. Because it no longer makes any sense for teachers to give kids homework that they can then get AI to do for them.
They already are [laughs].
Yes, I know, people are using ChatGPT for that. This is something we should change, but I believe that we should also learn how to use it as a tool, and I don’t think that artists will lose their jobs because everyone will use AI for making album covers, for instance; we still need that human touch. As an example, Hajo Müller, the artist who created the cover for AFR AI D (Mariusz Duda’s upcoming solo album), used AI as well for parts of it, but not 100%. It was just an addition to his own skills, and I find it pretty attractive.
Yes, Photoshop now has AI embedded into it, so all artists are going to use it to some extent.
Let’s be honest, ten years ago, or twenty years ago, you would see something that was very hard to understand or accept, and now it’s on everyone’s phones. Like certain effects on Instagram or, I don’t know, some video editing tools on TikTok; it’s very easy to do all that on your phone. Ten years ago, you would have needed a very expensive program on a very expensive MacBook. Now it’s generally accessible, so everything is developing all the time. I’m not against that; I don’t like the fear of the unknown, but of course I understand that change is unavoidable. I believe that, if we do this in a smart way, we can win. We will, however, always have people who will use this for bad things, and unfortunately we can’t avoid that. It’s like in the jungle, you know, there will always be this balance between good and evil.
That’s true, I guess. So, what’s next for Riverside? After this tour is over.
After the tour is over, I’m going to take a break from Riverside for, like, three months, and then focus on the new Lunatic Soul, because I kind of deserve that. But, after that, we will continue the “ID.Entity” tour across the ocean, in Latin America. That’s the plan; first we will go to the Cruise to the Edge (a progressive music festival organized as a cruise and setting sail in Miami, Florida), where we will wave to all of these huge prog fans in the United States and other countries, and after that we will go to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, maybe Argentina, maybe Costa Rica, to Bogotá as well. It will be kind of interesting, you know, to play there for all of these people. And, after that, we will probably play some festivals in 2024, and we will finish everything next year. It reminds me of ten years ago, when we were promoting “Shrine of New Generation Slaves”, and we played lots and lots of shows. Now, maybe because of COVID and because of this break, we wanted to delve back into that, to embrace the number of shows that we can play now. I’m not sure if it’s good or not, but we’ve missed this kind of big tour, and we are into this right now. And we will be for a few more months.
It’s good for the fans, that’s for sure. I know some people in Latin America who are very excited to see you next year, so that’s fantastic. Is there anything you would like to share with The Progspace’s audience that I maybe didn’t think to ask?
That’s always the hardest question… You know, last year we had our 20th anniversary—well, actually our 21st anniversary, since because of COVID we had to postpone it—and we discovered that there are markets that are still growing, there are audiences that still want to see us, there are places, like here, where you see a lot of young people. I’m kind of surprised as to the reason for that; are these the kids of our old fans that grew up? Or is it that people like our music in spite of the age? I don’t know, but it’s nice. And there’s always some kind of reflection happening when we see that. There are places where our fan bases are growing, there are places where we’ve had the same audience for 20 years, and there are places where we probably won’t play anymore. So we’re getting to this place where we will choose exactly which places we want to play in. Maybe because we’re getting old, maybe because we’re getting smart, but for sure, after 20 years, we’ve realized that there are lots of loyal fans, and these fans are still coming to our shows. And it’s even more amazing because it’s a global phenomenon, it’s not just in Poland, and we’re really enjoying the fact that we can still play for someone and not just for ourselves. As a concluding reflection, I can say that we’re very happy we still have fans in Romania, for instance. That they want to see us, and you can see that this fan base is growing. This is a very beautiful thing for the artists, to be able to record albums and not hide them in a drawer, but perform them live for actual, real audiences. It’s really great, so… I would like to say hello to all Romanian fans, that’s for sure.
On behalf of your Romanian fans, thank you very much [laughs]. Also, thank you for doing this interview and for really giving it so much time and energy, I know what a busy tour this has been.
It’s my pleasure.
It’s a pleasure for me, too, and I’m looking forward to your performance tonight.
And what a performance it turns out to be! A flawless blend of new and old songs, performed not only with the musical proficiency of a well-versed, genre-defining band, but also with a renewed energy that you can almost reach out and touch. Like Mariusz himself says in the interview, as well as on stage, this is no longer the Riverside of 20 years ago, this is the Riverside of right now.
Amidst delightful puns about prog songs being long and prog fans being old (maybe we’ve grown old while listening to so many of those long songs), slightly-off-key-but-genuine singing in honor of Mariusz’s recent birthday, and therapeutic silent screams (you’ll have to catch a show to find out what those are), the bond between band and audience feels stronger, more heartwarming, and more loving than ever. Ending the setlist with ‘Conceiving You’ only serves to further fill my already overflowing heart.
While you wait for your very own Riverside live performance, get a glimpse of this brilliant performance by browsing through our concert gallery: