Mariusz Duda began his extraordinary musical journey back in the late nineteen nineties, as a member of bands such as Xanadu before, in 2001, joining the band with which he’s become better known for fronting, atmospheric progmeisters Riverside. The band were started by Piotr Grudzinski (guitar), Piotr Kozieradzki (Drums) and Jacek Melnicki (keyboard), and the three men initially came together out of a love for, and a desire to play, progressive music with a rock edge. After a series of low key gigs and rehearsals, the three realised they needed a bass player, so Duda was invited to join the band as bassist and vocalist. After a while gigging around Poland, just as their debut album Out of Myself was released, Melnicki decided he preferred being in his home studio rather than playing ‘live,’ so he left and was replaced by Michal Lapaj in 2003 – currently one of the best keyboard players in the prog scene. Since then, Riverside have toured constantly and created a real name for themselves, releasing a series of albums which have been critically well received by their fanbase all across the world, their most recent being Lost and Found; ‘Live’ In Tilburg 2015, a double CD/DVD release of their ‘Towards the Blue Horizon’ tour, listening to which is a bittersweet experience because, soon after this tour finished, Piotr Grudzinski collapsed and died from a heart attack the day after attending a gig by The Winery Dogs. For a while, the band stopped to consider its future, and this put the continued existence of the band into doubt.
Since this time, however, Riverside have regrouped and can be said to have had almost a rebirth. They decided to continue, initially as a trio, just to see if it worked and, in 2018, they released their sixth studio album, Wasteland, while, in 2020, Mariusz Duda confirmed what was one of the worst kept secrets by announcing their new guitarist is to be Maciej Meller, who’d been performing on stage with the band for a couple of years, and has been readily accepted into the band by fans, many of whom saw Piotr Grudzinski as the most important member of Riverside. However, having a restless musical spirit, for Mariusz Duda, playing in one band wasn’t enough to satisfy all his musical desires and aspirations so, in 2008, he evolved a side project, Lunatic Soul, with music hovering between dark and haunting, complex and dreamy – music not always easy to fit onto a Riverside album.
Its eponymously titled debut album was a very personal piece of music, with inwardly focused themes relating to ‘the spiritual life of the self’ and ‘life and death.’ Initially conceived as a one-off project, Lunatic Soul has now released its seventh album, 2020’s Through Shaded Woods, which was recently included in Prog Magazine’s readers’ list of the best albums of 2020 and is, according to Duda ‘Symbolic of our present, difficult times. Let’s hope, at the end of this dangerous path we’re on, we’ve become richer in new experiences, wiser and much stronger, which is my wish for everyone’. Most electronic and ambient music is bland and soulless, and it takes imagination and desire to make an album in this genre which encompasses warmth and feeling, but as the music of Lunatic Soul suggests, evoking such feelings is a talent Duda possesses.
Not being content with new Riverside and Lunatic Soul releases, in 2020 Mariusz Duda also wrote and recorded the 100% electronic album Lockdown Spaces, a ‘dark, minimalist claustrophobic album’ designed to intensify the lockdown effect, an album he says may not have been made but for the pandemic in 2020 which brought ordinary life to a standstill. It’s an album which could well alienate fans expecting another Conceiving You, but it’s one individual’s take on the situation he found himself in during 2020.
Despite being full-on with work despite the lockdown in 2020, in mid-December Mariusz agreed to answer questions about his work and music for Velvet Thunder.
VT: ‘It will be an oriental, trans-psychedelic- verbal musical journey through the pitch darkness, available only to those who have a Lunatic Soul.’ Is having experience of pitch darkness an essential requirement to be a Lunatic Soul fan?
MD: I’ve loved darkness and melancholy all my life. It’s in my nature to be introverted and melancholic. However, I know my weaknesses, so that’s why I chose an occupation where I have to work in a crowd, in contact with people, which is why I try to let some light into my music.
What was the original thinking behind starting Lunatic Soul ? What opportunities did it offer which playing in Riverside couldn’t?
Riverside is doomed to have a rock / progressive metal label. Even if we release an electronic album, like Eye Of The Soundscape, it doesn’t reach electronic music fans, but revolves in progressive rock fans’ circles. And I didn’t just want to be a bass player in a prog rock band for all my life, which I knew would happen. This is why I wanted to create a separate music project, which would allow me the possibility of expanding my artistic experiments…a solo music project which would help me evolve musically and cross over the boundaries into different musical styles. Lunatic Soul is only a flirt with rock as, above all, there is ambient cinematic music, oriental folk and electronic music here. Of course, years later, it turned out Lunatic Soul mostly reaches progressive rock fans, but at least I tried!
Much electronic and ambient music is largely faceless and soulless, but this isn’t the case with Lunatic Soul. How important is ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’ in your music?
For me, music if a form of therapy. I record my albums primarily to keep my inner emotional balance, which is my main reason for creating music. Emotions are, and always have been, my priority.”
Through Shaded Woods is a very different record from Fragmented Sky. What influenced the change of direction?
Every Lunatic Soul album is one story, which comes full circle. On a graphic diagram there are albums on the right and on the left side. The ones on the right are more organic and folk, and the ones on the left are more electronic. Through Shaded Woods is on the right hand side. Besides, it’s an album about being born, being reborn and getting a second chance. The revival seems to be reminiscent of greenery. This is why I decided to make music related to forests and primal shamanic dances. Electronics didn’t suit the mood here.
On Through Shaded Woods, you play all the instruments yourself. Is this how future Lunatic Soul albums are likely to be?
I always play many instruments. Since the first Riverside albums, I’ve been playing acoustic guitar, keyboards and percussion. I played practically solo on the whole of Walking on a Flashlight Beam, released in 2014, with only a drummer invited to cooperate. But this time., the drum beat didn’t suit the stylistics, so I didn’t invite the drummer, ha ha!
You’ve often talked about ‘light’ and ‘dark,’ and albums finishing on a light note. Does this mean, despite everything, you’re an optimist?
I treat the glass as being half full, and all failures as a school of life, and a means that strengthens the psyche and skin thickness. I think, despite my depressive tendencies, yes, I’m really an optimist.
Can you anticipate a time when Lunatic Soul becomes your main musical focus, and Riverside continues without you?
Lunatic soul, for me, is on a par with Riverside. I don’t play concerts with Lunatic Soul, prioritising my loyalty to my colleagues. If you don’t play concerts, you have less clout in promotion. In terms of art, Lunatic Soul gives me more possibilities to create than just being in Riverside, so I don’t feel limited in either style or in compromise. It’s not about what’s more important or what’s better. I don’t try to compete with myself. I’ll try to combine these two worlds in the future. This year, though, I’ve started to release music under my own name, so maybe this is the first step.
Does the album Lockdown Spaces point to a possible direction you might go further in with Lunatic Soul?
Lunatic Soul is Lunatic Soul. It has its own style and rotates around this. But, for such strong electronic excursions as Lockdown Spaces, I’ll continue making those as Mariusz Duda. Lunatic Soul has to have folk and oriental flavours, and the project was created for the kind of music presented on our seventh album, Through Shaded Woods.
After the tragic loss of Piotr Grudzinski in 2016, were you ever tempted to think Riverside couldn’t continue without him, given you’d played together fifteen years by this time?
Emotionally, Riverside was based on my friendship with Piotr Grudzinski, as we shared musical and melodic sensitivity, his guitar, my voice and our compositions, Of course, all four of us had the spark, we were a quartet of friends, Michal, Piotr (Kozieradzki), Piotr and myself, though my closest was with Piotr. I had thoughts that I couldn’t make it without him. We were the same age, had the same interests and had shared affection for the band Dead Can Dance. He was my best friend. It helped that our album Love, Fear And The Time Machine, was practically my solo album, so I decided to do the same on the next album, as I was confident we could do it. This is why we presented ourselves as a trio and invited guest artists to contribute a few solo pieces.
That next album was Wasteland. Would Riverside have continued had Wasteland not been the success it was?
When we decided to continue with the band, the success of the next album wasn’t important to me. If it’s not this one. it will be another. You know, maybe this’ll sound arrogant, I was the driving musical force in Riverside. We lost an important voice but, from a certain perspective, the basics remained unchanged, so why should we stop playing?
After Live in Tilburg… will Riverside be working on a follow-up to Wasteland, and are there any plans to play ‘live’ in 2021, assuming it’s possible?
Obviously, a new album is being planned, and we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2021, so we’d like to perform at least three jubilee concerts in the summer. We’ve had some time off in 2020 and, in 2021, we’re getting back together.
Alongside Riverside and Lunatic Soul, there’s also been Meller-Gotyznaik-Duda, and you’ve collaborated with other artists like Iamthemorning. Are you ever concerned you might be diluting your creative juices by doing too much?
I hope I can keep up a decent balance between quality and quality. If the scale tilts against me. I promise I’ll slow down, ha ha!
When you write music, are you writing for yourself, the band or your fanbase?
As I’ve previously mentioned, music is my therapy. First off, I think about myself, though I would be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t care about the fans. Thankfully, I’m a music aesthete and I want all my musical worlds to have their own basis, style and character. This is why, amongst others, I want to produce things under my own name. I want to give vent to emotions and sounds within me which can find no place in Riverside or Lunatic Soul.
Has far does the state of the world influence your lyrics, whether writing for Riverside or Lunatic Soul?
Recently, I’ve created two albums inspired by world events. One of them, Lockdown Spaces, was a reflection of my anxiety, and the other, Through Shaded Woods, was an attempt to fight it. I’m more driven by psychology rather than sociology in my lyrics, and talking about emotions plays a more important role to me than the situation in the world. However, maybe when bad things happen, 75% of my lyrics gain their value and their authenticity. But I think, someday, I could create an album which would be inspired more than ever by the chaos surrounding us, so there’s a good chance the eighth albums of both Riverside and Lunatic Soul might be about this!
In the song Lunatic Soul, you sang ‘I can’t describe what’s going on with me’. Are you more able to do so now?
Yes. I’ve even created a website, https://mariuszduda.md/ where you can find all my diagrams and the albums I’ve worked on over the years. Everything is becoming more specified and I’m definitely becoming a more confident artist.”
Mariusz Duda is gradually reaching the point where he needs no introduction. The gradual rise of Riverside as a force in Prog, plus the success of Lunatic Soul, and his ventures with other musicians like Marjana Semkina, has pushed him well to the forefront of amazing Prog musicians, alongside people like Steven Wilson, as one of the most creative individuals working in Prog. No one quite knows what he’ll do, or where he’ll go next, which is surely one of the basics of all good Progressive rock…