Published on 14th November 2020
Mariusz Duda – Lunatic Soul
Riverside main man, Mariusz Duda has just released his latest Lunatic Soul album Through Shaded Woods. From his home in Warsaw, Mariusz recently spoke with TPA’s Leo Trimming about the significant change in direction with this album, and about aspects of his work with Riverside. A relaxed Mariusz exuded enthusiasm and passion for his project, and was charming and warm in his conversation. He even tolerated Leo’s slight fanboy gush about how he fell in love with the Rapid Eye Movement album under unusual circumstances. Mariusz stated his appreciation for TPA’s open-minded approach to diversity in musical styles, a tolerance he does not always encounter. The interesting conversation touched on Mariusz’s musical influences, the concept behind Lunatic Soul, his desire to draw on his Polish identity, his future plans for Riverside… and perhaps why they’re popular in Iran!
What is the inspiration behind this Lunatic Soul album? The previous album (Under a Fragmented Sky 2018) was more electronic. Through Shaded Woods is much more folky. I am interested in the transition. Each Lunatic Soul album seems to be in contrast to the previous album.
I created something called ‘The Circle of Life and Death’. This is the story of dying and reviving. There are albums on the side of Life and there are albums on the side of Death. On the side of Death we have the symbol on the covers which look like a rounded serpent. On the side of Life we have the same symbol, but it’s cut up and shattered. On the side of Death we mostly have organic instruments and on the side of Life we have electronic sounds. In terms of the Lunatic Soul albums on the side of Death we have Lunatic Soul 1 and 2 and Through Shaded Woods. Under the Fragmented Sky and Impressions are in between Life and Death. On the side of Life we have Fractured and Walking on a Flashlight Beam… and the last bit of Under the Fragmented Sky. Album number eight will also be on the side of Life. There is also something more – I’m into colours. Each album has a different cover.
They’re certainly striking covers but I’d made no connection between the colours of the covers.
We’ve had black, white and grey covers Lunatic Soul 1 and 2 (2008 & 2010) and Impressions (2011). We’ve had navy blue with Walking on the Flashlight Beam (2014). Later we’ve had Fractured (2017) and Under the Fragmented Sky (2018) both in red because they are connected. Now it was time for a green cover. Let’s put all these things together – we have to have organic sounds and a green colour so let’s make something connected with green, and organic sounds. Green to me suggests the woods, so this time I thought ‘let’s push the boundaries into something more folky’.
Through Shaded Woods feels very organic, like it comes from nature rather than a machine.
That’s what I wanted to achieve. Right from the beginning I was inspired by bands like Dead Can Dance, early Mike Oldfield albums, Passion by Peter Gabriel and Clannad. So everywhere there is this folk background. I wanted to focus more on my own folk backgrounds which are more Slavic or Slavonic. Lunatic Soul was formed mostly because of the influence of those artists. I always wanted to play that kind of music. From time to time you could find something a little more folk oriented in Riverside but never on an entire album. Those bits were more subtle in a more… shy way. [laughing]
So the Lunatic Soul albums reveal more of your personal likes and influences.
Yeah – I’m the guy who is very interested in rock metal, Pop, Electronic and Folk music. My rock metal side is already clearly in Riverside, and I have explored the area of electronic music a lot already. But Folk was only touched on occasionally and I just wanted to finally do something which has this folk flavour from the beginning to the end, especially as it was connected with the forest.
Has this album been influenced by the current circumstances in the world with Covid-19 at all?
First and foremost this is the story I mentioned about the Circle of Life and Death. It is also the story about a character who dies, goes in to the After Life and later he returns to Life – he revives. He re-starts his Life on the ‘normal side’ where we are now, but later he gets depressed and again crosses the line. It’s just like a circle all the time. This album is about ‘Revival’, coming back to life. The forest and nature with the green colour of going back to Life.
Yeah – I just wanted to create Rebirth on this album. We’ve got the ‘Shaded Woods’ that can symbolise everything – your personal fears, your personal traumas… also perhaps the whole Covid-19 situation right now. Just pick your favourite trauma or problem! [Laughing]
You need to cross through these woods and find yourself on the other side. On the other side we have the song The Fountain, which is a celebration of brightness.
The album does feel like a journey from a dark beginning to a much more positive ending.
Exactly… but in general this is the most positive Lunatic Soul album – really connected with dancing in the forest. If you want to know why I went in this direction you also need to know about my background. I was born in a small town in North-East Poland. This is a very gorgeous place full of lakes and forests. I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood there for 25 years. Then I decided to move to Warsaw and I became part of this ‘City of Chaos’. I started Riverside and my life changed. But I guess I subconsciously wanted to return to my childhood. Those sounds are really important to me as they are the sounds of my birthplace. This small town, called Węgorzewo, was surrounded by lakes, so every summer we get lots of sailors, and in the bars there were lots of pirate songs…
[Laughing] AARRRR? (makes clichéd ‘Pirate’ noise)
[Laughing] …maybe not like (Mariusz then sings in a Long John Silver pirate voice, banging on the table)… anyway, so I was really full of this stuff. Every year I had another experience with an International Fair of Folklore Arts and Crafts where people would sell their folky wares, like twittering clay birds. On a small stage women would be singing (Mariusz comically mimics a woman singing a folk tune!)… so those sorts of influences were in my head, but fortunately I discovered Dead Can Dance and all those other bands I mentioned so I found a good balance in my head. I really like those folk melodies, something connected with nature.
It’s interesting you say that Mariusz because I wanted to ask you about your Polish identity. How do you think that comes across in your music?
That was the main thought behind this album. I’m a Polish guy but I sing in English because it’s the Universal language. Everyone around the World can understand what I’m singing about – I think that was a smart decision. Because of this we can now talk to each other… but I never did something which was really Polish. Riverside is mostly influenced by English bands, but the basic concept was another band that sounds like Pink Floyd.
Perhaps originally, but not now.
I believe we have found our own original style now.
But that’s the thing – Riverside are now known as the ‘Rock Band’ and unfortunately, we’ve got this label, belonging to this progressive community associated with the Pink Floyd sound. Whatever we do, like a more experimental album like Eye of the Soundscape (2016) or if we started playing country music (!) to many we will always just sound like Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree. So that’s why I created Lunatic Soul to explore other areas. I also started to sing without lyrics on the first Lunatic Soul album. Lunatic Soul gave me an opportunity to create something which doesn’t have a specific style. That was my goal but in some ways now I think it’s my burden because lots of people don’t know what to make of it. From the very beginning I wanted to create something which sounds like music from a different dimension. This time I said to myself ‘I’m going back to the forest and create music which sounds like it came from MY place.’
I think I have done this – Through Shaded Woods is more Slavonic with some kind of Scandinavian flavour. The PR states the album is influenced by Slavic and Scandinavian folk so that comparisons could be made with bands like Vadruna for instance. If I just said it was ‘Slavic’ people might think it was some guy from the mountains with a violin!
So your country’s more folk influences have come to the fore. Are there other influences? Are you old enough to remember the Soviet era?
I’m from the ‘X Generation’ – I remember the time before 1989. I remember the time when we had nothing in the shops. I know that you need to work hard.
I was wondering if that Soviet-era background and perhaps Poland’s well known Catholicism had influenced you?
You’ve touched on a subject that I’ve never wanted to talk about with Riverside. I wanted to create something with a universal dimension and a message. I didn’t want to tell the story of my country. In my lyrics I just wanted to talk about feeling alone, struggling with your own feelings and those kinds of universal problems. It’s the same with Lunatic Soul, but this time I felt maybe I should focus on the folk music which sounds similar to my origins.
What’s your favourite song on the album, Mariusz?
[Pause] …Seriously? [Smiling]
Why are you doing this to me? [Laughing] What should I tell you? I believe this album is pretty coherent. It’s really eclectic and diverse, but it’s one story. If you point a gun at my head and say ‘just pick one song!’ I would probably say Summoning Dance.
That’s definitely my favourite as well.
It encompasses all the elements that you can find on the album. All these contrasts and connections with Lunatic Soul ballads that transforms into something more complex.
It feels like the pinnacle of the album and then it has the final release of The Fountain.
Yes… or building the tension in the music. We started with the same pattern with The Same River [from Riverside debut album Out of Myself] – you wait for something and it builds with more and more layers. That’s what I do in progressive rock.
That brings me to your creative process. What comes first? A melody, a rhythm, a lyric? How do you build up songs?
The lyrics are always the last part. I sing without lyrics mostly and later there is the tricky part when I have to fill the gaps with lyrics, which can be difficult finding the right sounding English words. I remember at the very beginning wanting to do something like Björk used to do – she sang something in English and then suddenly she sang… (Mariusz vocalises wordlessly). I do this now – there are lots of ‘no lyrics’ moments in both Riverside and Lunatic Soul.
On this album I noticed there are quite a few chanted sections. It feels… shamanistic.
True – I did lots of that on this album. What comes first when I write a song? Probably the acoustic guitar for this album mostly. It usually starts that I’m by myself and I’m trying to play some riffs or whatever. I have my recorder with me so I can remember. After that I try to extend the idea in the studio or the rehearsal room with the guys. It depends on what I’m working on. Then it’s adding layers. Sometimes it’s from the keyboards or on the piano, and I like it so I transform it. Acoustic guitar and keyboards are my basic instruments for composing. The bass comes at the end.
You’re well known for the bass, which you play superbly, but what did you learn first and what’s your preferred instrument?
I think acoustic guitar and keyboards because I can compose on them. The bass guitar is… you know? [Shrugs] … it’s sad. When you’re 18 and you start your first band and someone says ‘I’m taking the drums!’ and someone else says ‘I’m taking the guitar!’ and suddenly you look around and there’s only a bass guitar waiting for you. You take this bass and you have to live with this moment for the next 20 or 30 years – that was the only free instrument! [Laughing]
Seriously, the keyboards were my first instrument when I was a child, and later the most beautiful thing – the Sequencer. Then I could build stuff with drums and bass guitar. Maybe with Riverside I have this Sequencer from my childhood in front of my eyes, and I try to be so smart and say ‘Don’t play like this…’ because I’m this child again. I like the bass guitar and I’ve played it like a guitar.
Well, playing bass hasn’t done Roger Waters or Mike Rutherford or Geddy Lee much harm. They did OK!
Yeah – there’s a connection, especially in the Prog community. Have you noticed how the bass players are really good acoustic guitar players too, like Greg Lake or Roger Waters? They also compose on the acoustic guitar mostly. The Fender Stratocaster is for the guys who are really talented at the guitar, but if you’re the singer/songwriter you just use a normal guitar – not like…. (Mariusz mimics a ‘guitar hero’ pose and face, squealing a solo) [Laughter] … You don’t need to be a Prince or Eric Clapton, you just want to do the songs.
What are your next plans after this album. Any more collaborations such as you did with iamthemorning or a new Riverside album?
If an artist wants me to collaborate I am open to it… but I am always busy with my own solo stuff. I will probably have more space next year. I am going to focus on Riverside next year, and I’ve decided to let go a bit. Usually I have the whole album ready for the band when we go to the rehearsal room, and I tell the guys what we’re playing. But this time I’ve decided to let’s see what happens with them. The guys have probably been waiting for me to make that move. We’re going back to the rehearsal room later this year with the official fourth member of the band so I just want to re-start. After Through Shaded Woods I am revived. I am reborn and can go back to Riverside and create something from zero in the rehearsal room. I think it will be fun to return to it. I think we will probably go back to some sort of Reality Dream trilogy mood for the next album. So if you’re a fan of Rapid Eye Movement (2007)… although according to lots of people that’s the ‘worst part’ of the trilogy!
Really? I Love that album!
There are a few who think it’s the best part.
I still get a thrill every time that first song comes on – it’s just… Epic! Brilliant.
But that was your first Riverside album probably?
No, it wasn’t but it was the first one I fell in love with, partly because I listened to it in unusual circumstances (repeatedly whilst on a trip to the Philippines… via Siberia… it’s a long story!)
But you’re right. Usually the first album you hear of a band is often the one you fall in love with and no matter what comes afterwards it will always have that place in your heart. I was talking about this sort of thing with Thomas Andersen of Gazpacho recently… you know Gazpacho?
Yes, I really like their new album (Fireworker) by the way. I think it’s great.
Agreed – it’s fantastic… but for me Gazpacho will never be able to beat Tick Tock because that’s the one I first heard and fell in love with 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful, mesmeric album. No matter how good the following albums are, my brain may think ‘that’s really good’ (and they are) but in my heart it’s… its… to be honest Mariusz, it’s like your first kiss, you always remember your first kiss!
I know. We have lots of fans from the very beginning who will always have Out of Myself (2003) in their hearts as something that will never be beaten.
Is it ever a burden – the expectations that you must play this song or that song? Or do you just do what you want?
This is something you learn through the entire process of being an artist that you just need to let go. It’s subjective. Everyone has their own perspective. Every year on social media I say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to this album or that album, and there are always these… ‘Knights of Honour’ – you know what I mean? I might say ‘Happy Anniversary to Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ and they’ll write ‘the worst Riverside album – it’s not Riverside. Pure Riverside is full of darkness like Out of Myself‘ … and you want to reply ‘Shut Up! May be for you, but for someone else it’s different’.
Also – why not grow with the band?
Bruce Soord of the Pineapple Thief once said something like he knows each new album will piss off some older fans, but he knows he’s going to pick up some new ones. He just does what he feels he wants to do rather than try to please fans.
That’s the formula – you just need to let go. I think Roman Polanski once said something like my older critics prefer my previous film, and then with every new film the critics always prefer my previous film!
It’s interesting you mention the film director Roman Polanski as I feel Riverside and Lunatic Soul in particular have a very cinematic and visual quality about their music. Are there are significant film influences on your work or particular film directors you admire?
Yeah, sure… lots of them. I was very influenced by the cinematic approach. Roman Polanski was one of them because I adored his art and later realised why. Most of his films were connected with being within a closed area. He tells the stories of someone enclosed within four walls. His debut was Knife in the Water which was set on a boat – the heroes are always imprisoned somewhere. It’s the same with characters in Riverside and Lunatic Soul music. We are imprisoned somewhere within our own four walls, our own private shells. Maybe that’s why we have so many fans in Iran? We have many fans there who adore our music. Looking from the perspective of a country with closed borders people want to live in a normal way, but they can’t, so they find in our music the same vibes.
It must give them a sense of release.
Yeah. That’s why I try to escape with every album. At the end of Through Shaded Woods it’s about how to escape from within four walls. Walking on a Flashlight Beam (2014) was the most depressive album of my career because it was about depression and suicide. It’s really dark, and I felt that way a bit. I just wanted to express myself in music and create something which is connected with what I had in my head at the time. After that album I just wanted to escape from this darkness so I did Love, Fear and the Time (2015) with Riverside. I imagined myself happy, in a different area.
That really comes across.
In some ways it’s a sad album, but at the end it has the song Found. Actually, I’ve just realised that I seem to want to finish my albums with some hope and positivity. Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) had Coda, which is like a light at the end of the tunnel. Under the Fragmented Sky (2018) has Untamed – it’s positive, saying ‘Let’s go, war is over, move on.’
… and that’s the only acoustic song on that electronic album.
Yeah, that’s weird. The rest of the album was electronic and cohesive, and suddenly at the end it’s like an acoustic song from Riverside.
Exactly what I said in my review… I see it more as a ray of sunshine at the end.
Wasteland (2018) ended with The Night Before, which is a ‘Michael song’ (co-written with Riverside keyboardist Michał Łapaj) but again it’s something uplifting. Now on Through Shaded Woods we have The Fountain which is like the Grand Final of all these endings. I believe this is really important. On The Fountain there’s the lyrics ‘You know I’ll return… but for now wash away the darkness from my Heart’. It means I will return with a sad album, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean I’m going to sing about planting flowers or whatever, or that ‘I’m happy now with my old wife somewhere in the woods’! No, I will go back to this melancholic stuff because I like it, and I need it. But I guess I finally recorded an album full of joy – well at least more bright than dark. It’s uplifting and powerful.
I agree – it doesn’t feel ‘corny’ or sentimental. I’m very impressed with the album, but it was a surprise after the electronica of Under the Fragmented Sky, although maybe I should have guessed as you often seem to ‘flip’ in another direction.
That was mostly due to the organic sounds.
For obvious reasons it’s incredibly difficult but are there any plans in the future to play Lunatic Soul material live?
Actually when I try to play songs from the early albums I can play two or three from every album but the rest are more ambient, layered with effects which would be difficult to play. I can play the new album on acoustic guitar all the way through, which was always the plan. You need to hear the bonus disc which is more like the Impressions album with layers and effects. The fact I can play the main album on acoustic guitar may have been me subconsciously preparing to play some live Lunatic Soul shows – who knows? We live in strange times right now. Riverside may return live in 2022.
I have seen Riverside a few times. Good memories. Maybe on that note of hope about seeing Riverside live it would be a good time to end the interview there, Mariusz. Thanks for your time and good luck with the Lunatic Soul album.
Thank you. Nice to meet you.
[You can read Leo’s review of Through Shaded Woods HERE]
TPA thanks Simon Glacken of For The Lost for his assistance in setting up this interview.