Interview: Piotr Grudziński / Riverside

12.03.2012

Do you know situations, in which casual circumstances extraordinary things happen? My meeting and chat with the guitarist of Polish prog-rock masters – Riverside, was such a case. We met in February on a typical weekday afternoon in a casual café. However, when we sat down for coffee and started talking, the surroundings nicely diminished as we sank into the following conversation:

RockOko: (Chris Bienkiewicz): Hello Piotr. Thank you for your time and letting me talk to you.

Piotr: You’re welcome.

I would like to start with a question I direct to chosen guitarists. Do the guitars which you have represent your character or you as person in any way? I mean their sound, shape, colors.

Yes, I would say they do represent who I am because most of them have been customized. All the Mayones guitars that I have are crafted in the exact way I wanted them to be made. I chose all their details, markers etc.

What was the decisive factor for you to choose certain details? How are your individual preferences represented in your guitars?

As for the color I have always liked black. I come from a metal community in which black has always been a dominant color. Besides I can’t hide the fact I simply like that color. For a long time in my life I dressed in black, everything I had at home was black so it sort of stayed in me. You don’t grow out of youth preferences that quickly, but I am changing my habits and preferences so hopefully in the future I’ll have guitars also in different colors. Actually I already have one. Recently I bought myself a guitar which is light-brown. As for other things, on guitars there are markers on frets which also represent my personality. I have there my astrological sign which is pisces. I am not a big fan of horoscope, I don’t read them every day but some time ago in this one book I came across the description of my sign and there weren’t many things I couldn’t agree with. That was when I was maybe like 15 years old, I don’t even remember the name of the book, but it sort of sank in me. As I’ve said, I don’t follow horoscopes, but when something happens there is some characteristic of a given sign in it and in my case it is often in a chord with what is written about pisces.

Besides, in general I think things should represent something. If you have something on you, be it markers on guitars or tattoos on your body, in my opinion those shouldn’t be images out of nowhere. They should mean something and I’m trying to do so in my case.

Tell me, what kind of guitarist are you? Are you the type who can’t set himself apart from the instrument or do you reach for it only when you feel the need for playing or creating?

First of all I don’t consider myself a “musician”, but only as a “guitar player”.

What is the difference?

To me a musician is a person educated in this field. Somebody who can not only easily play on any instrument and be fluent at a practical level, but also on a theoretical level. That’s how I describe it and that is why I am calling myself a player. I never practiced that much. I was rather lazy, especially because when I was learning guitar I never expected it to play such an important role in my life. I am a type of person who reaches for a guitar only when something strikes me, when I feel something. I treat my instrument as a tool for expressing emotions. The emotions that are in me and those I can express through my guitar.

I agree with your definition of a musician, but I think there is also one more level which sets a difference between people connected with music and in my opinion it happens with a level of creativity or imagination. Recently I talked to a girl who is educated in music and has technical abilities to play piano. She can play Chopin, Bach, you know, all the standards. However, when we started talking about creativity, she told she would love to create sounds expressing her emotions on the instrument, but she simply couldn’t.

That is a line which separates a musician from an artist. To me a musician is a person, who given the notes, can play anything. An artist, on the other hand, is somebody who can express art without being educated in it. You don’t have to have musician skills to be able to express sounds.

If that’s so, don’t you fall into such definition of an artist then?

Possibly, but I don’t consider myself as an artist. I am just a part of a machine. I function as one element of the group of voices that our band generates. I put in my share into to what we create together, I give myself and my ideas there, but as a whole the final effect of our music is what is created from the interaction between us. I never considered myself as somebody who could stand on stage on his own and shine. From many different reasons I wouldn’t be able to take all responsibility only on me, because I don’t have such a character and I’m not an artist. I like where I am now. I like to be part of some bigger structure. The place which I have in this band suits me very well.

I’d like to go back to events from last year now, because I think your performance at Polish Woodstock must have been quite intense experience for you. Tell me, how does it feel when you walk out in front of 500 000 crowd?!

Well, I have to tell you it does affect your legs (laughs). It was an incredible experience, but to be honest, when I first heard we were to play there I wasn’t really in approval of the idea.

Why?

Maybe subconsciously I was afraid to play in front of such a big crowd. I’ve never had this attitude since I walked on the stage the first time, I have never felt there like a duck in water. I have been learning my presence on stage for many years. At the beginning of our career I was all stiffed up on stage, people sort of paralyzed me. Only with time and playing more gigs did I start to feel more comfortable. I started to move more on stage. For me going through this process has been a personal development, learning about myself. So I have been getting used to that for years, but obviously Woodstock is totally a different category. Simply because of the numbers, to get out in front of half a million people is something I have never experienced before.

How did it feel? After you finished a song and the crowd roared, did it feel as if there was a big wave of sound coming at you? Even if not everybody screamed, even if that was only 1/5 of the crowd, that’s still 100 000 people!

Oh yeah, there is a wave coming at you. We felt it even before walking out on stage. Before us Helloween played and were standing by the stage at the end of their show, when they played their big hit “I want out”. The way people screamed in the chorus of that song was simply incredible. I was standing there and couldn’t believe it. I’ve never heard such a roar before. So just before walking out we got that shot in the face, but we had to go out and face it. I think we started rather slowly, but after some time we realized that there were too many people to screw things up here, so from around the second track we started interacting more with each other and things got better. I’d grade our show at B or B-. Afterwards, when the first clips from that night appeared on the net, I watched them and eventually I thought it wasn’t that bad. Next day after our show I talked to my parents. They told me they cried when they saw me on tv, so there were also good emotions and generally it all turned out cool.

It’s good to see how Woodstock grows as a festival. The Lineup for this year is really impressive, Ministry, Machine Head, there was Anthrax in the plans [eventually got canceled – RockOko]. Every year it gets bigger, but if I was to state one thing that could be changed, it would be the organization of the festival background infrastructure. I mean for example marking of the roads for people or bands who have never been there before. We are from Poland but still had quite a difficulty with getting to the festival site. We were driving around Kostrzyn [host city of the festival, located near German border] and nobody could give us info on how to get there. We asked policemen, border guard officers but all of them were giving us vague instruction, so it took us some time before we finally got to the venue. Second thing which was also not too good was the fact that the access road to the stage for musicians was the same road on which all the fans were moving. So along our way to the stage you had lots of portable toilets and hundreds of people lining up to them which eventually made us drive with speed of 10km/h. So that also could be organized in a different way. I know that festivals have different conditioning than regular shows, especially those organized in places with almost no-infrastructure, like Woodstock, but those are the 2 things I’d change. I remember when we were playing at Bospop festival in Holland. The signs showing separate access roads for artists and fans were placed already at the highway exit. The entrance for bands and fans were from two different sides and from organizational point of view that is important.

Piotr at Woodstock 2011

(photo by Robert Grablewski)

Ok, now let’s talk about how different aspects of involvement affect the music. You are a musician, you have access to all technical knowledge as well as all processes related with creating and recording of music. When you are a member of the audience, simply receiving music, isn’t it an obstruction at times? What I mean is, for example when you listen to a song, don’t you have all the tracks already separated in your head or even unintentionally you instantly know how it was recorded?

No, I’m a normal fan of music, just like everyone else. The only difference is that when I am at a show and something happens on stage or the sound isn’t as it should be, I know why.

Do you look for such flaws?

No, I don’t look for them. It’s quite simple. When I go to a show and everything sounds fine then I like it. If it doesn’t it doesnt sound right – I don’t like it. Ok, when there is a good guitarist sometimes I may focus on guitar but I’m not too compulsive about it. Everything depends on who and how they play. I’m not a fan who seeks a break where the hedge is.

How much for you, dissatisfaction is part of creativity? After you finish the record, do you treat it as a complete, closed thing and you don’t think about what could be done in other ways? Or maybe after some time the imagination does whisper into your ears that certain things could could have been done better?

It works the other way. Things that I think could have been done better I transfer to live shows. If I recorded something in the studio and put a stamp on it, but still feel like changing it, I play it differently at the concert. At the gig I change things I didn’t particularly like at the moment of recording or modify them in accordance with my current thinking about a given part of song. As I’ve mentioned before, I try to express emotions in my playing, so a given motive often pops up spontaneously. It appears in a moment of certain emotions. I try to catch those momentary emotions so that they could sound fresh. Sometimes you can catch a good sound and the first melody you heard stays in the song, sometimes it doesn’t click first time. It happens that there are melodies which just haunt me, that keep coming back in my head and in my guitar but not always do the guys in the band like them. If that’s the case, they try to convince me to change them because they think it’s poor. In such moments it’s good to be in a band, because you need that external opinion. It gives good balance.

Do you usually accept their opinion or do you also defend certain parts?

Yes, sometimes I do defend them, it’s good to have things your way from time to time. There are things I am not sure about and there are those I’m pretty convinced about for which I don’t retreat and make my stand. Sometimes everybody has to accept his share of criticism. I don’t always like all of the parts, but you have to be able to accept it. You need to have your own opinion, but in a band there also must be some democracy. When we started there was a long period in which we tried to play untill everybody was happy about the song. When somebody was grumbling we tried to make changes, although when you don’t like something it’s good to explain the reason, so that you’d know what to work on. Generally we always tried to make it so that everybody liked it, even if its not 100%, at least so that there could be more pros. Of course if we play in a way that makes everybody have goose bumps it’s the best option and it does happen quite often.

 
 
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