Caligula's HorseCaligula’s Horse - Their Time to Rise Radiant
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 about it.

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 right now.

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 about it.

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!

Caligula's HorseDB:  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 spring chickens!

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 before that.

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.

No. Title Length
1. "The Tempest" 4:48
2. "Slow Violence" 4:30
3. "Salt" 7:41
4. "Resonate" 2:37
5. "Oceanrise" 4:34
6. "Valkrie" 5:09
7. "Autumn" 7:44
8. "The Ascent" 10:43
  Bonus Tracks  
9. "Don't Give Up" 5:10
10. "Message to My Girl" 10:43

  • Released:  May 22, 2020
    Inside Out Music
Caligulas Horse - Rise Radiant 


Jim Grey – lead vocals (2011–present)
Sam Vallen – lead guitar (2011–present)
Adrian Goleby – guitar (2017–present)
Josh Griffin – drums (2016–present)
Dale Prinsse - bass, vocals (2019–present)


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