Jim Grey (Caligula's Horse)

"Bad lyrics can confuse or utterly destroy the message of music"
on Thu, 10/15/2015 - 13:44
Caligula's Horse

Australia's prog scene is in bloom (see what I did there) and of the most exciting bands coming out of it are Caligula's Horse. Even though they've been around for about five years they release their third album, "Bloom", which marks their signing to the legendary prog label Inside Out. Jim Grey (vocals) had some interesting answers to our questions for all of the above.

Hello Jim. It's nice to have the chance to communicate with you. Congratulations for the new Caligula's Horse album.

Glad to be chatting with you, and thanks!

Before we talk about "Bloom", could you please tell a few things about the history of the band, so that you introduce it to our readers?

Sam and I formed Caligula's Horse in 2011, after we'd recorded what was supposed to be a one-off solo project for him, haha. We had a great time working together and quickly developed a strong working and writing relationship, so we put the band together and started working on more material, and a live show.

Our second album, "The Tide, The Thief & River's End" was a true collaboration, and a more ambitious project, in that it was a fully fledged concept album. We toured Australia extensively on this album - it's full of crowd favourites and was really the backbone of our fan base around the world.

Being the third album in five years is it your purpose to keep the band active, releasing a new album every two years or is it coincidence. Do you think a band has to release album in a regular basis, in order to be relevant in our days?

I don't think everyone has to do it, I mean Tool have made a career out of making people wait for albums and then exceeding expectations. For us, it's more of a reflection that we love what we do and we're a bunch of total workaholics. I can't see us slowing down any time soon!

I have to congratulate you for signing to Inside Out, the leading label for progressive music by far. How does it feel so far? Was it kind of a recognition for you?

It feels amazing to be on their roster, I won't lie. Some of our favourite artists of all time are Inside Out bands, and we've got a great deal of respect for a label that supports original progressive music and gives artists the freedom they need. It's most exciting for us now because we now have a platform to release "Bloom" to a much wider audience than we would've reached on our own, so it's a crazy time for the band right now. I never really pictured it would go this far, haha!

Let's go to the new album's music. What new do you think that "Bloom" brings to the table in comparison with your two previous releases?

"Bloom" is, if you'll forgive the unfortunate phrasing, a very natural growth in our sound. The energy and power of "River's End" was reflected really strongly in our live show, and we now kind of have a reputation for an intense, exciting, and very physical stage presence. So we wanted to capture that and continue that trend in "Bloom", but also to take a step forward - we aimed to step away from the darker sounds on "River's End", and create a brighter and more colourful album.

Is there a concept behind "Bloom"? Unfortunately, I don't have the lyrics or some kind of explanation, so could you please shed some light?

"Bloom" isn't a concept album, so we weren't tied down by the darkness of a sad story, so we put together a series of songs with a more uplifting sound and message. We tackle different themes, stories, or moments within individual songs, but there's no over-arching plot or cohesive story that ties the whole album together. We really wanted "Bloom" to just be a collection of the best and brightest of Caligula's Horse.

How come you decided to open and close the album with acoustic tracks like "Bloom" and "Undergrowth"?

"Undergrowth" came together quite early in the writing process, and we knew we wanted to end the album on a soft, sweet note. We thought that the song "Bloom" acting as a mirror at the beginning of the album helps to balance the listening experience, signposting the start and completion of the journey.

My favorite track off the album is "Firelight". It has this impressive guitar phrasing and sound that reminded me a bit of John Petrucci, but also it's its overall unexpected structure and melodies. Do you agree with me that it's a special song?

I'm glad you enjoy it! "Firelight" is definitely the clearest difference in our sound from "River's End". It's a very special song to me personally, dedicated to a friend who passed away last year. I wanted to celebrate life with this album, and with this song in particular, the beauty of life's fragility.

Caligula's Horse

Some moments from "Daughter Of The Mountain" brought even a current band in the progressive scene, Haken, to my mind. Could there be truth in the that, by means that you get influenced by bands of our days?

We're always evolving and growing as individual artists and as a group, of course. There are a great deal of bands, even our friends in Australia, bands we've toured with, who influence us a great deal. Our music is a reflection of who we are, and who we are will always be growing and changing.

In general what are you main influences? If I had to mention only two these would be Karnivool and Opeth. How close am I?

Absolutely. I can say though that Sam Vallen and I are both influenced by a wide variety of artists, and we listen to very different music. I think those differences are part of what makes writing together so interesting, and why Caligula's Horse ends up sounding the way we do.

That being said, you've managed to create a very personal sound that a listener can identify after a few times listening to your music. How difficult was that to achieve?

Writing is a well practiced thing between the two of us now. After the last few years, spending so much time together on the road and in the writing studio, we have a really easy and efficient writing style together. Helps that we're really close mates too!

You also sing in Arcane, another fantastic band with a brilliant album that came out earlier this year. With both bands playing progressive music, it the line that distinguishes them a bit blurry or is it easy for you?

They're both very different bands, with very different approaches to both writing and performance. Arcane was always a much slower writing style, jamming out ideas, everyone in the room bringing their own take on the song to the table. Hence the years between releases!

How different is your role in these bands?

I was sort of a musical director of sorts with Arcane, the sole lyricist and creator of the concepts as well. But it was a group writing environment, written in the rehearsal room - whereas in Caligula's Horse, it's Sam Vallen and myself who do all of the writing together out of his home studio. Actually that's not entirely true now, our second guitarist Zac Greensill has had more of a hand in the writing process in "Bloom", some new ears and eyes on a few of the tracks which has been refreshing.

You seem to pay big attention to the lyrics and man you do write a lot of them (haha). I love it, so could you tell me about the significance of the lyrics in your music?

Lyrics are one of the most important parts of songwriting to me. If lyrical content is clearly half-arsed or really cheesy, I can't handle it. I can't even listen to it. Prog music has a pretty bad reputation for bad lyrics, and sometimes deservedly so. I like to make sure that lyrics read well as poetry, have meaning beyond their literal interpretation, and are never too bluntly literal.

Music transcends language, and is an incredibly effective form of communication - bad lyrics can confuse or utterly destroy the message of music, whereas well crafted lyricism can enhance this communication and guide the imagination, inspire, and emotionally effect your audience. It's incredibly important to me.

What is going on in Australia? Is there enough land for all this awesomeness coming from there, with so many fantastic bands emerging all the time? Seriously now, which bands are you favorite and why?

We've got waaaaay more land than we need haha - but I have to say, this level of interesting music has been around in Australia for a long time, it just seems that the rest of the world is beginning to notice, to develop a taste for it, if you will. Some of my favourite bands coming out of Australia right now are Ne Obliviscaris, Voyager, Plini, Dyssidia and The Stranger.

You seem to use both the terms alternative and progressive to describe your music. I always used the term alt-prog for Aussie bands. Why do you think it's important to mention both of them?

It's an arbitrary distinction, of course, because in the world of progressive music every band under the same moniker won't sound the same. But, I think it's important to differentiate ourselves as alternative prog from traditional prog rock or modern prog metal, simply because our approach is focused on songwriting, with singable, powerful hooks.

Inside Out is moving towards a more rock direction if someone mentions the artists it signs the last few years. You're one of the few exceptions having kind of many metal elements in your music. Where do you think you stand mostly, at the rock or at the metal edge of progressive music?

We have elements of metal but we're not a particularly 'metal' band, in a lot of ways. Especially to do with our approach to "Bloom". There seem to be a lot of habits that the world of prog metal is falling into, almost like there are imaginary tick boxes that make up what's prog metal and what's not - which is not really in keeping with what progressive music really is. We didn't want to be a part of that at all, so our approach to the writing and production of "Bloom" was a very natural one, we wanted the record to sound very real, and alive. 

Any plans for a European tour? How could we manage to fit a date in Athens, Greece when you come over?

We're touring Europe with Norway's Shining from late October through to the end of November - it's going to be an amazing time, and unfortunately this time we're not playing in Athens, despite how much I'd love to! I'm a student of Ancient History and Classical Languages, so travelling to the home of Democracy itself would've been a real treat for me.

What should someone expect from a live show of Caligula's Horse?

Be ready to get involved. We love to have a musical and energetic conversation with our fans, so we bring the energy and we want to get it back!