Caligula’s Horse is one of the forerunners in the wave of amazing Australian metal that’s been building up for the past few years. Their specific brand of alternative, progressive metal is fresh, dynamic and engaging. Their 2013 release, The Thief, The Tide and The River’s End, is one of our favorite albums, containing both a pleasing technical prowess and extreme emotional power. It was a worthy addition to Karnivool‘s Asymmetry and the ever-growing Australian scene.
One of their strongest features and driving forces is one Jim Grey, vocalist and lyrical wizard. He also spearheads one of my favorite projects, Arcane, and so I was doubly excited to speak with him. Seeing the central place that his words have in the band’s music, and leading up to the release of their new album Bloom, we sat down with Jim to talk about the secret of their success, signing to InsideOut, their musical process and much more. Read on below!
Hello, how are you doing?
Quite well! How’s it going? It’s quite late for you there isn’t it?
Ah, good! Yes. And you?
Not as late, but that’s what happens when we’re all across the globe!
To start us off, I’m going to ask you; who wrote that amazing breakdown on “Rust?” Because I have to know.
Ah, that would be Sam. It was definitely Sam.
Yeah it’s great. I love it.
Cool, man. I’m glad.
So let’s talk a bit about Bloom. Do you guys see it as a continuation of The Tide, The Thief and the River’s End? Or is it its own creation?
It’s definitely its own thing. We wanted to step away from the whole concept album vibe for this one just because having done that with the previous album so extensively, we wanted a chance to throw out a collection of the best of what we could write. The way I see it, each of the songs has its own little story and different things that inspire it but the album itself is really a collection of separate songs.
That actually segues quite nicely into my next question. I recently reviewed an album by Dreadnaught and I discussed concepts and music and how they tie together. I’d love to hear a bit about how they go about it; is it the idea that leads into the music or the music that forms the idea?
It can be kind of both, really. A lot of the time, the music will come first. Particularly with Bloom, because we wanted to have such a coherent sound. We started out with the mission statement that we wanted this to be a really colourful, uplifting, energetic and passionate album. When we started writing it together, a lot of the stuff was instrumental and a then lot of the vocal hooks were written without lyrics. It can happen the other way around. For example, “Turntale” was an original idea that was about two seconds worth of concept that I won’t go into here because it’s irrelevant, but that was the trigger, the inspiration for the concept of the song, and then everything sort of flowed from there.
So “Turntail” is actually a track I wanted to focus on, because it definitely has a lot of new sounds in comparison to the previous album. How do you come about these new influences? Do they come from listening to other bands or from your own need to innovate your sound and shift things around?
It’s very, very much the latter, I think. We’re always open to influence from other artists and obviously other artists that we know and that we’ve toured with influence is in a huge way which has been a really cool experience for the growth of the band over the last couple of years. The number of amazing bands that we’ve played with has just been so exciting for us. “Turntail” for me is probably the track on this album that really captures the mission statement. Everything we wanted Bloom to be, is captured within “Turntail.” I think because we sat down, we had a meeting and we all just said “Okay, what do we want this album to be?” and all of those terms, the colour, the energy, the uplift, all of those terms we were talking about formed what Turntale had become.
I agree. That’s definitely a mission accomplished as far as that’s concerned. It’s a track that’s a smile composed, so I really like that. You mentioned bands that you’ve toured with, and I sat down with Eli Chamravi (manager for Caligula’s Horse. -EK) recently and we talked a bit about Australia and its scene. I think it’s a unique scene, without a doubt. The rate at which it grew within the last few years has been astronomical. I don’t even need to list the bands—Karnivool, you guys, Ne Obliviscaris, King Parrot, and more. I’m not going to ask you to explain as to why that happens, but for you, is there something special or unique about the country that caused this?
I think there’s always been something special about Australian music. All of the bands you mentioned—particularly Karnivool—they’ve been around for a very long time but it’s only this last couple of years where it feels like there’s been an acceleration of that. I really feel it’s that the world has only just started to notice. [laughs] We’ve always been here. The art and the music has been very strong because we have a strong community of musicians that support each other and who write amazing music and who do good things. I think now, given the music industry is changing, and that it’s more open-sourced, if you will, more easily accessed. There are a lot of strong communities like Prog Archives and all of these places were music that you wouldn’t normally hear is now being heard. I think that’s accelerating it and people are realizing “Oh, god damn! Australia is full of some pretty amazing music!” I’m absolutely stoked for the opportunity, but I’m also stoked for all of our friends. Like you mentioned before, Ne Obliviscaris, we’re really good mates with them, and Voyager as well and I’m just really, really happy with how successful they’ve been.
You mentioned open-source, and Caligula’s Horse was recently signed to a contract with Inside Out. How do you see labels in this new, more open age of music?
I still see them as a necessity. I mean, certainly for us. Purely because it’s fantastic to have the support there. The opportunities that are now open to us with the legitimacy that comes with signing to a label like inside out because they’ve got such a great reputation. It also means that there is financial backing for a band that’s really been out of own pocket for the last five years or so.
Without putting you into too much trouble with the label itself, would you say that’s a thing that you would like to continue? Not specifically for the band, but in general in the industry? Is a good thing that labels have this reputation? What about the negative side of things—unsigned bands and how hard it is for them to basically become legitimate outside of this label structure?
I think that, if they’re smart, and if they respect their artists (and Inside Out absolutely do and they have a great reputation for that), I think they definitely have a place, still, in the future. Of course, it depends on how you’re looking at it. I obviously look from the perspective of a producer of music, but I have friends who are music consumers and they want fewer labels and they want less things, but I personally disagree with that. Purely because we’ve released a couple of albums, and we’re very happy with how they’ve been received, but the opportunity that we have now with Inside Out, the scope that Bloom is going to have is huge. We’re thrilled to be involved and I do think that labels will have a big part to play, if they play their cards right.
That’s interesting. I definitely agree that they’re going to have to change the place in which they facilitate the connection between the artist and the listeners in order to be relevant. That actually leads me into my next question. Let’s take a look at Opeth, the change that they have undergone, and the response from their fans (which has been very divided). On one end, people feel like they expected something from the new albums, things they were looking forward to them. On the other end, people are always telling bands to innovate and change. Where do the fans come in to the creative process for you? Do you think about how a song will be perceived, or do you just do your own thing and hope people will understand what you were going for?
We definitely do our own thing. Whether people will like it or not really comes into the process as an afterthought. Kind of like ” Ahh, gee. I wonder how people are going to respond to that track.” For us it’s very much about the art that we want to create. Creating something genuine and that is honest, as far as we’re concerned. It’s a tricky thing. You’re writing music, and music is something, for me, one of the purest forms of communication we have. It transcends language. You don’t have to understand the language of the person that’s singing the song to you, to understand that there might be pain or happiness or whatever behind the music. We’re trying to communicate something to as many people as we possibly can, but it’s not necessarily going “We want people to like this song, so we’re going to write it a specific way.” With the Opeth thing, I absolutely back what they’ve done. I think the growth in their new music is incredible, and seeing it live and playing with them was an absolute treat as well. Anyone who’s looking at that music and thinking “That’s not Opeth, that’s not for me.” Who are they to judge what Opeth is? Are they in the band? No. They don’t know Opeth, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it, and that’s the end of it, really… Rant over.
[laughs] You don’t know how many times i’ve had this conversation in the past few months. It was a real shellshock. A real momentous moment for the blog community. We’re not really journalists, more empowered fans. The general music community expected us to be on their side, and complain. Plenty of us really enjoyed the new albums. We support the band’s prerogative to make the music that they like.
Let’s get back on track to Caligula’s Horse. I get the sense quite a lot when I listen to Caligula’s Horse, maybe separate from other bands, that we’re talking about something which is one group operating. Perhaps in the vocals, your area, the most. You have an approach to vocals which is often married to the instruments, and it works with the general idea of the song. Do you agree with what i’ve said, and secondly how does a composition like that come to life? I mean, does each person write their own parts separately and then bring them together, or is it a process that involves the group as a whole?
The vast majority of the writing happens between Sam and myself. More so over time Zac Greensil, our other guitarist, has been helping us write the material as well, but the bulk of it is Sam and me. It is a process that we go through together. Sam will write out ideas and then we’ll sit down and whittle them down. I’ll have a sing over things and from that, more ideas form, and we move from there. The approach that we take is looking at the music in a harmonic context. Of course, I have to write a hook that works, and it has to suit the song, the melody has to be nice, and we have to have happy with it. But from that we then form those harmony stacks; how does this fit in with the chord progression we have? How does this move from this section to the next? By looking at the song in blocks in that way, in a harmonic context, I think that’s what has created the sound that we have. We’ve got a really strong system now, it seems to work naturally just the two of us together.
Would you say you and Sam are the core of the band? How does that work as far as the other members are concerned?
Well, I mean, In terms of the band, the band is the band. We’re all a series of cogs in a filthy disgusting machine that shouldn’t work. In terms of the writing, it’s definitely Sam and myself. Honestly though, after playing with these guys for this long, I can’t imagine having anyone else on those parts in the live context. When we do write, we’re writing with each specific member in mind. I’m not just writing any random bass line, I’m writing how Dave tends to play. We’re all in it.
That’s interesting. A year ago I read something that open my eyes. They’re now defunct, but there was a blog called Rolled Up Sleeves, and it was about the day jobs of musicians, and how they juggle these things. This is my next question. I assume none of you are making your primary living from Caligula’s Horse, right?
No, not at this stage.
How does that work? I juggle studies and a full time job—how does that work for music? How do you do that?
It’s about the same. This project is a job for us. For many years we’ve been in different bands and a lot of that has been hobby-based but this has been a job from the start. I think that’s part of why it’s been so successful so far. We’ve always just worked insanely hard. That’s the long and short of it. Any time we’re not spending at work or studying PHD’s or whatever else that we’re doing is spent on Caligula’s Horse and trying to make that work as much as possible. Anyone that’s ever worked multiple jobs or studied while working like you are knows exactly like that. It’s tough but you have to love the thing that you’re doing in order to make it work otherwise it would never happen.
Definitely. What’s the next step? Are you going to tour in support of this album?
We are indeed. We’ve got an Australian tour in October alongside Tesseract which will be just an absolute treat. I’m a big Dan Tomkpins fan, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Your albums work well together.
Ah, I haven’t actually actually heard Polaris yet!
So, Australian tour with Tesseract, and… ?
And then we’re taking ourselves overseas for the first time. We’re joining a Norwegian band called Shining across Europe. We’re playing a whole pile of shows, in fifteen or sixteen different countries in about a month. It’s going to be our first European tour and we’re incredibly excited, particularly on the back of an album as exciting as Bloom is. The Australian tour—I just can’t wait to see what happens when Tesseract’s audience and our audience come together. I think that’s going to be a great bunch of people, and I think that can be said for Shining over in Europe as well. We have a lot of die hard fans over in Europe who have been waiting a very long time to see us play. They seem pretty excited—probably about as excited as we are!
I have two hats now, and each is going to ask a question. The blog hat asks: when are you going to come to the US?
Unofficially, we’re hoping to be there within the next year. There’s nothing set in stone for that, but it’s a big goal for us. Again, we’ve got a massive amount of die-hard fans over there. A bunch of people have been waiting very patiently. Every time an announcement comes out, there’s people on social media saying, “Come to the US! come to this stage specifically!” [laughs]
So this brings me to my second hat, as myself: when are you coming to Israel?
That’s actually on the cards, too. Eli’s been pushing for it a lot. He doesn’t like it when I say his name in interviews…cheeky devil. Anyway, it will happen. I am confident it will happen. Nothing set in stone, but we definitely have these goals to take this as far as possible and to take this to as many places around the world that we can.
Awesome. I think I’ve taken enough of your time, but there’s one question left—a blog question that we ask everybody that we interview. How do you like to eat your eggs?
I poach eggs. At home or abroad. I don’t like them any other way. Soft poached with a little bed of salsa on some Turkish and maybe a little bit of fresh coriander. C’mon, man! Feta! Feta in the morning!
Perfect! Alright man, thank you so much for your time.
No worries, man. Thanks for everything!
There you have it then. It was really interesting for me to sit down with Jim, mostly since I really wanted to get to the bottom of what makes the band tick and how he sees their hard-won success. Look out for our review of the new album, Bloom, in a few hours; listening to that album should show that Jim’s words are echoed, or perhaps originate from, the band work ethic and accomplishments. Regardless, it’s safe to say that a bright future is ahead of those willing to dedicate them to this extent, to bring their talent out there, no matter the cost. We can’t wait.