- Their Time to
by Dave Schwartz
Australia’s prog powerhouse,
Caligula’s Horse, has just released “Rise Radiant.” An 8-song
opus that is an evolutionary step forward. The album is full
of all the twists and turns that you’ve come to expect with
something – a little more. I feel this record shows the band
at its best. Another small detail that had my attention, this
was the record that was going to finally bring Jim Grey (vocals),
Sam Vallen (guitar), Adrian Goleby (guitar), Josh Griffin (drums)
and Dale Prinsse (bass) to North America on tour. But, as this
pandemic has shown us, sometimes life gets in the way.
I was excited when this interview with
Caligula’s Horse was confirmed. Of course, being half a world
apart, can sometimes lead to technology challenges. With
10-minutes of Skype hiccups finally resolved I would have my chance
to chat with Jim Grey from his home in Australia.
JG: Yes, we did it! Good
morning/afternoon/whatever time it is by you.
DB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…
Success! Interviews from halfway around the world can have
their challenges but finally, it works!
JG: Yeah! At least it gave me a
little bit more time to get through this coffee. I’m going to
be more use to you now! (laughs)
DB: Get your wakeup going! I do
appreciate you taking my Skype call today. I want to talk a
little bit about your new record, “Rise Radiant.” Tell us
JG: It’s good. I like it.
It came together nicely. (laughs)
DB: You say that with such apathy!
You’re suppose to tell me that it’s great!
JG: No, no… It’s, um, fine. (laughs)
It’s the first record of ours that I haven’t shared anything with my
immediate family. You know, usually I would be hanging out
with my folks and I would say, check out this song that we’re
working on. Well, they’ve heard nothing. So, the single
will be released and they will hear it for the first time like
everybody else. So that I’m particularly excited about.
But the album itself is good too. (laughs) It would be a
very exciting time in our lives if it wasn’t such rampant
devastation around the world. We’re sort of in a position now
where for the first time we’ve got the entire lineup contributing to
the writing process. We’re really locked in as mates.
The stuff that they are coming up with, it’s like we have a really
well practiced writing style and everything just felt so easy and
natural this time around that I feel like it’s almost that
combination of that almost decade of effort and work into this
process. So “Rise Radiant” feels like an appropriate title.
Not just for now but also for the struggle that we’ve gone through
for the past few years. And this shit is like boom, right now,
time to rise, time to release the album.
DB: You mentioned the synergy of the
band all coming together and everyone is writing. I wanted to
ask about the formula. How do the songs start? Is there
a person that tends to kick things off?
JG: Well predominantly, we are in no
way a jam band. Like stuff doesn’t get written in a rehearsal
room with us. I want to say that everyone contributed to the
song writing process and what that means is that Sam (Vallen) and I
have always been sort of the crux of the writing of the band.
It has always been sort of our project really. But the guys
now – Dale, Josh and Adrian – have all contributed to one song on
the album. They had an idea that they took to the group and
that got sort of germinated into a song. And they have been a
part of that. But the predominant writers have been Sam and
myself. So, the structure of that has been… I get a lot
of questions about whether we have an instrumental written thing and
I just chuck vocals down over the top of it. Or what comes
first. And the answer is really neither because the
songwriting and the lyrics and the melody are all sort of happening
in sync with one another. You’ve got a musical idea that will
come out from Sam and he’ll throw that my way. I’ll
immediately start making some melodic shapes over the top and
talking about what excites me about it. Then we’ll send it
back and forth until we have some sort of, you know, homunculus
thing. And um, from that point on then I’ll go and actually
sit down with him at his place and we’ll just sort of polish it and
finish it off. So yeah, everything just sort of happens
simultaneously over a fairly short period of time. Once we
feel like we’re onto a good one, we want to just sort of hammer it
DB: Taking a step back while
continuing to discuss songwriting, do you approach an album with a
theme or a concept in mind or do you, forgive the terms, just fall
victim to the songs as they come out. You know, just sort of
let the energy take you where it will?
JG: It’s sort of Column A, Column B
really. At the beginning of every album, we give ourselves
writing constraints. We make a decision about what we want to
do now. What is our goal? What do we love about what we
just did and what do we not want to repeat? What we want to
change and do something else. This time around it was very
much to do with the emotional content and the directness of the
songs themselves. So, the emotional content would be direct
from us. Not filtered through a concept or anything like that.
The songs would say what they needed to say and then get out of
there. So, some of them ended up with that short and punchy
kind of vibe because, like boom, this song wanted to say this, it’s
done and then it’s gone. Whereas with some of the others, we
were still developing the idea such as “Salt,” “Autumn” and “The
Ascent” for example, we were still thinking – these haven’t finished
yet. They are still growing into something else. So
yeah, really it sort of depends. I used to rely entirely on
the winds of inspiration when I was much younger. (laughs) But
if you’re sitting around waiting for inspiration, you’re never going
to release anything. You might say, hey, that’s a good idea
and then 6-months later you might have another one. We’re
quite practiced with this now. We give ourselves a structure
to work with and that sort of makes us more creative.
DB: And at the same time, that
inspiration can give you unexpected gifts. I can understand
your response as far as working both ways.
JG: Yeah, totally. There are
some that come easy. I know for example, the song “Valkyrie”
is one that I really struggled over lyrically. It was one that
I sat down and spent days working with the scratch stuff I put
together and then disposing stuff. I never delete anything
because you never know where the good idea can come from. So,
I like putting square brackets around things. Moving them to
the bottom of a text file because I know they’re trash.
But I might get something out of them later. And just having a
real, real struggle whereas I remember an experience with “Slow
Violence” where it just sort of happened. The spat kind of
patter kind of fast half-spoken lyrics in the verses were like,
boom. I spent an afternoon with that and just felt really good
DB: You mention “Slow Violence,” the
second single from this record that we’re seeing out on YouTube.
It’s such a remarkable song. It’s my understanding that your
approach to the song was to slim down production.
JG: “Slow Violence” was actually one of the
earliest songs we wrote. I think “Ocean Rise” was the first.
I have a memory of Sam coming in with that naked guitar riff that
sits under the verse, that really staccato sounding thing. And
immediately I felt something really rhythmic over that. It’s
sort of an instinct that you develop I guess with songwriting where
I can feel exactly the direction you want to go. I remember
sort of working on that and then Sam sent through what would end up
being the chorus. It was this kind of big wall of sound thing
and was overwhelming because it was just such an exciting sounding
chorus. And that is sort of what I wrote too. And
throughout the process we did strip it back again. It wasn’t
until we heard all of the performances, the actual album
performances, that we realized just how stripped back the song
really was and how good it sounded. Because, Josh’s drum
performance is a really standout and the way the bass sits is very
exciting. You can hear everyone’s contribution to that whole
thing. So, we’re really glad that we went that direction
because it bangs. It was a really exciting song for me to work
on because lyrically, in that rhythmic sort of part, I actually got
to include some of the things I learned from doing the spoken word
stuff I was toying with a few years ago. Those are some of the
tools that I have on my tool belt now. It was a nice change
because, if I don’t challenge myself lyrically to do things
differently – melodically or whatever else – I’m just going to keep
repeating myself and doing all of the Jim Grey stuff. It’s
habit, it’s what comes naturally. So yeah, I’m super happy
with the way that song came out. I put a lot of words into it!
(laughs) It’s not rap. It’s not spoken word poetry.
It’s just husky voice singing!
DB: I think that “Slow Violence” is
going to be fun for you to play live because it is slimed down and
you can step up and just play. As you know, you can get into
the studio and build songs that are so complex that you have a
difficult time presenting them live.
JG: Yeah, but there are a lot of bands
that rely on backing tracks these days and we do exactly the same.
We do play with a backing track. But it is our mission in a
live sense to try to minimize the necessity of it. So, if
there are things on the track, it will be big sub drops or synth
pads on the background. Maybe a vocal harmony that’s quite
low. That kind of thing. Or in the case of “Graves”
there would be all those backing harmonies for the choral part
because there is no other way that we can manage to do that.
But for the most part, I would like to think that if everything
failed, we could just go plug straight in and play the tunes and
they would come across pretty well. I think you’re right,
“Slow Violence” is a great example of that.
DB: Another song that you’ve just
released, “The Tempest,” you are give young musicians around the
world quite a workout with the number of time changes.
(laughs) Talk a little about how that song was put together.
JG: Interestingly, “The Tempest…”
particularly the pre-chorus and chorus sections where things get a
bit rhythmically full on for the guys, that was something that Sam
and Dale, our bassist, just sort of constructed during a session to
haunt me and I think I’m better for it if I’m being honest.
(laughs) It’s funny with “The Tempest” because that song just sort
of named itself pretty much. I remember, we were working on it
and we had constructed the verse and Sam was putting something
together for the second verse and he’s got that heavy chuggy riff at
the end of the first chorus and then there is a little gap and then
he brought it back. And I remember hearing underneath that
verse group just sort of an subdued version of that very aggressive
staccato rhythmic guitar part. And the minute that kicked on I
looked at Sam and said, that’s fucking thunder dude! That’s
just thunder and all of a sudden, all the storm imagery just made
sense. And of course, the title being “The Tempest” just
really summed the whole thing up! And there was a point when
after we finished, I said, that has to be the opening track on the
album. I don’t think that could fit anywhere else really.
DB: Last year you went out and toured
on a couple of your older albums – “The Tide, the Thief & River's
End” and “Bloom.” You rehearsed the albums in their entirety
and then played them back to back live. Was that an
opportunity for you to reimagine some of your older music?
Rediscover some of it because I’m sure there were at least a few
songs that you hadn’t played in a long time.
JG: Um, it reminded me that we exist.
(laughs) It really reminded me of the journey that we have
come. I mean, you go back to these songs and there are just so
many subtleties that are forgotten. Even songs that we’ve
played a bit over the years. When you go back and listen to
the actual album you hearing things again and you think, I would’ve
done things very differently. And I end up doing things a bit
differently live. What amazed me about those shows, more so
than our experience, is that love that we have for those albums from
people. It was like, “Rivers End” is going back 6 or more
years now. And you’ve still got people up at the front crying
and singing along with songs that we hadn’t played. I think
that the impact of those albums was sort of lost on me with
constantly writing new music, releasing the album, touring all over
the world… When it comes to the older stuff you forget just
how attached people are with that moment in their lives. It’s
easy to forget.
DB: It’s exciting when bands get the
chance to re-visit some of their older music that fans may have
missed seeing live when it was first released. The truth is
that we fans never get to see you play certain songs because you
rarely play them live.
JG: Yeah, for sure. I was also
really surprised how many people enjoyed the structure of a show
like that. Like, we’re going to play this album start to
finish, stop and then play this album start to finish. There
was sort of a Meme going around Australia at the time that said we
should encore that show with “Graves” from “In Contact” because that
would be a full 2-hour show and then the encore of a 15-minute song
and I simply said no. They can go home and listen to that in
the car. I’m going to stop singing now and that’s where we
ended up. But it is a strange point, I mean I’m old and jaded
now. But I don’t know if there was something that I would go
and do. Do I have enough love for a band to go and watch that?
Yeah, I probably do. (laughs)
DB: I’m sure there is somebody out
there that you would want to see, just to relive and enjoy it.
JG: I mean, even if we go as far back
as Dream Theater. If they did “Scenes From A Memory” here in
Australia, I would be there. I’m not going to lie to you.
I would be there.
DB: I was fortunate to see Dream
Theater in San Diego when they played the first American leg of the
“Scenes From A Memory” tour. I recall going to the club
uncertain of what I was about to see. I was a fan of Dream
Theater but I didn’t realize that they were going to step onto that
stage and play “Scenes” non-stop from beginning to end without even
taking a moment to greet the crowd. 72-minutes. I was a
musician and was astonished that they could put out that much energy
for that long. It was remarkable.
JG: Absolute pros. Especially
now. It’s just ridiculous. Because they’re no longer
DB: I read and interesting blurb and I
don’t know how to digest it. So, I’m just going to read this
sentence to you. “In September 2019, Caligula’s Horse played
their first four concerts in the Americas.” That strikes me as
late. I thought that you toured here in North America
JG: No, we still never have.
Those four shows were in Peru, Chile, Mexico and the ProgPower
festival in Atlanta, GA. So yeah, it’s been nearly 10 years
and we haven’t had a proper tour of the US. We were going to
release of this album and then tour. But were not and
that’s just sad.
DB: The good news is the North America
tour was rescheduled for January.
JG: Yes, that’s it. We were
postponed, not canceled, I guess. But right now, it’s really
up to what happens in the next 6 months. I mean all of those
bookings are going on in the background and we’re looking at that.
Looking at the state of the world, were watching and thinking
fingers crossed. Aside from the fact that, in the scheme of
things, this tour was a very small and insignificant thing.
Especially when you have life and death stuff going on.
Livelihoods are being ruined. Other bands are being
financially ruined. We are very lucky to have dodged that
bullet. We are okay. We took a hit but it’s not like, oh
well, that was fun! Aside from all of that and accepting that
it was a very small thing, the tour being postponed was very
personally disappointing obviously. It was kind of like it
being our first headline tour. It’s the kind of thing that you
dream about as a teenager. But we’re alright.
I want to thank Jim Grey for sharing a
moment with us here at DaBelly. We look forward to the time
when the world gets back on its feet and bands can return to the
venues near all of us.
Check out “Rise Radiant” and be sure to
follow Caligula’s Horse on all the socials.