Jim Grey of Caligula's Horse: In Bloom

"The thing that I hope people take away from this album is a smile and a heightened heart rate"

Brisbane Progressive metal band Caligula’s Horse are on the eve of releasing their 3rd album Bloom. It’s an album that promises to not only increase the bands reputation, but dramatically increase their following, as they’ve just signed an international record deal with InsideOut Music and are going to be taking their brand of technically-dominant, yet emotionally-impactful music across Australia with an imminent tour supporting TesseracT, before crossing the seas to touch the ears of Europe supporting Norway’s Shining. Metal As Fuck chats with Jim Grey from Caligula’s Horse amongst the hustle and bustle...

Obviously it’s been a pretty crazy few months for you guys. You’ve gained the international record deal, international touring plans coming up and you’ve got the Australian tour with TesseracT, all with the album being launched on top of all that. So I’m wondering, how’s the general mood been amongst the band with all this taking place? "We’re almost too busy to notice man, it’s one of those things like, I realised the other day that I was having a bit of nerves about the European tour. But that was only because, y'know, I had a day off. And up until this point, we’ve been working so hard this year because it’s been such a busy time with the new creation and lots of work so you don’t often have time to look up and see what’s looming in front of you, you just kind of put your head down and go. Everyone’s in good spirits, and we’re all really excited about getting the new material out, like with Marigold being released yesterday I’m really excited because of the positive response we’ve had to the music. So overall the mood is pretty good. But I am tired!".

You mentioned “Marigold”. You’ve obviously chosen that song as the first release from the album. Can you tell me a little bit about the song? And why you chose to make it the frontrunner? "Well we simply wanted Marigold to be the first taste that everybody got because I feel like energy-wise, message-wise and sound-wise it really captured what we were going for with Bloom. We wanted to have that strong positive message that will hopefully inspire people to be more understanding of one another and celebrate one another. It’s heavy, it’s riffy, but it’s still melodic and colourful and it’s a step forward from where we’ve been before. So I feel like Marigold really sums up the album in that way".

You talk about a step forward with the sound of Bloom. For fans who have followed Caligula’s Horse through the bands first two albums, as well as those jumping on the bandwagon now, what are you hoping they take away from Bloom? "I hope that there’s enough there. And I know that there is, for people who have been fans of us in the past with The Tide, The Thief and River’s End. Because I really think we’ve added to that energy we’ve brought with those albums, but done in a more positive light. The thing that I hope people take away from this album is a smile and a heightened heart rate. I want people to enjoy the material, experience it and really want to hear the songs live. I know for a fact that Sam [Vallen - Guitar] would like to see a wanting in people to pick up a guitar and learn to play the material because that offers an deeper explaination of the band as well. Really, we just wanted to create an album that had a bright energy and a positive message overall".

So when you compare that bright energy to your last album Rivers End which was quite dark, and a little bit depressing in a way; is it hard to change your writing style from those dark themes to the brighter sound on Bloom? "Not when you’ve got a real goal. We operated with a lot of ah, rules I guess. We sat down and fleshed out this idea for what we would do with the next album. We talked about colour we talked about vibrance we also talked about doing a concept album, which we haven’t done before. I think that’s part of the reason Rivers End is so consistently dark, because the story itself is actually quite heavy and we matched the sound to mirror that. But Bloom, because it’s a collection of songs, each of the themes throughout the new album can have its own story".

So Bloom is obviously not a concept album, yet you mention all these themes that are coming through the songs. Can you run me through some of them?  "I think one of the themes that is prevalent is the celebration of human life. And reflections of that. I think overall theme-wise you can call it a schematic album, but it’s definitely not a concept album". Listening to your development as a singer over the first two Caligula’s Horse albums has been interesting to hear. Have you worked on anything in particular since the last album to improve your singing? "I’ve studied classical and Jazz voice at university and have been singing in different styles since I was nine years old. My voice is always changing. It’s one of those things. You sing rock music long enough and it starts to deteriorate overtime. So I couldn’t exactly just hop out of bed and start singing opera now. But at the same time you always have to be working on your craft in different ways. I think the most important thing for me as a vocalist; and in my opinion, all vocalists should consider, is honesty in the sound. No matter what you’re doing technically. As long as you’re honest in the delivery with the message that you’re trying to get across with a particular lyric or in a particular song, you’re in good shape. Because with music (and in particular singing) it’s the most concentrated, powerful form of communication we have. We’ve been talking with our voices since before we had language and so people know when you’re being disingenuous or not being honest, and when you’re being emotional. If you can trigger that and use that power, despite how technically powerful your voice may be, people can hear this in the sound and it’s emotionally effective. So I think being emotionally effective is the thing I work on the most over the years and everything else just comes with regular practice and conditioning. Now the funniest part will be heading to Europe for a month and testing out my theory [Laughs] so we’ll see how that goes".  

I’ve noticed you’ve done most of your recording with the bands guitarist, Sam as the Producer. What is the dynamic like having a band mate; and I imagine quite a good friend at the sound desk as opposed to a “pay by the hour” sound engineer? "It is different. I’m not sure it would work with all bands. For starters he’s a musical genius and I’m not exaggerating when I say that. He’s also a really pragmatic guy. Sam can sort of switch between roles when needed - between a band member, a producer and a mate as his focus is always what’s the best for the band. So if a take isn’t going the way that we want it to and I haven’t noticed he’ll cut it and we’ll go again, he doesn’t even explain it to me anymore. And I used to get real antsy about it Oh come on man I was on to something then I was nailing it and I wasn’t fucking nailing anything. So it’s really good to have someone in the room who’s pragmatic about that. But yeah I almost can’t even imagine working with someone else, it’s has become such a productive process over the years".

You’re certainly right about Sam being a musical Genius. Having sat up the front of my fair share of Caligula’s Horse Shows, and see him shred on that guitar, it’s simply crazy! Far too much talent for one person alone "It’s not really fair is it? It’s not! Sam is a multi-talented guy too. He’ll just teach himself how to do things. I mean he’s the director and photographer for our latest video shoot too" [Laughs] "like fuck off y’know" [Laughs]

Mark: Back to Bloom Briefly. I’d like to talk about the artwork for a second. It’s quite a vibrant piece, especially compared to the last album’s artwork. And I suppose that flows on from the changing themes of the music that you’re playing. But is there any story behind the artwork? "Yeah definitely. I think we gave the same sort of brief to our artist, Chris Stevenson-Mangos who’s another genius we know, he won’t believe you if you tell him, but he totally is. And we gave him the same brief that we’d been working on with the writing. He’d listen to the demos of the album as we now know better than trying to give Chris something too specific to work with. All you have to do is give him a framework and a goal in mind, and he will shape something that you would never have thought of and that is completely… well the exact idea who had in mind, but its the things you would have never thought about that really blow us away, an idea you never would have thought of yet works so perfectly. Genius". I think also with Chris; being such a huge fan of the band and for such a long time too, he’s really determined to make sure the artwork matched the imagery of the music. And of course it totally does, I absolutely love that album cover so much".

You’re coming up to the European tour with Norway’s Shining in late October? "Yes, pretty much immediately after the TesseracT tour in Australia. So yeah we’re very excited about that. For starters,  a TesseracT audience in Australia, plus our audience in Australia pretty much equals a great time. It’s gonna be fantastic, and then we’ve got a couple of days off, we'll fly straight to Oslo, Norway not long after, grab the tour bus and we’re away". Are you aware if there is much of a Caligula’s Horse fan base throughout Europe? Or is it really a step into unchartered waters? "Well it is unchartered waters in the fact that we’ve never been there before, but thanks to the internet and thanks to the underground scene there’s a huge amount of support for us over there and I’m inundated all the time with messages from people who are very excited to meet us and see a show - from countries such as Poland, as well as fans from Germany and many other places. It’s sort of a mark of the era we live in that this can be the case. Really, we’ve only just signed on InsideOut Records, and will work within the platform we have at this time to release the album. So for the first time we’re able to tour throughout Europe where hopefully people will be singing the lyrics back to us. So what a time to be alive really, is all I’m gonna say". So will you approach the European shows any differently than you would the Australian shows? "In terms of set lists, yeah, just because it’s our first time over there, there will probably be more of an even balance between old and new because those people haven’t had a chance to hear their favourite songs from the first two albums. However in Australia, we’ve toured quite extensively on the first two albums so there might be a little more of a bias towards material from Bloom. Either way I’m excited because we just want to play shows man. I just want to sing to people you know what I mean? Is that too much to ask? I just want to stand in a room and sing to people, be the centre of attention. [Laughs] 

It’s good to see it’s happening more frequently with Australian bands too. I mean you’ve got Ne Obliviscaris who are obviously at the forefront, as well as several other bands around the country that have gotten on major labels and headed overseas. "It’s great to see man. And it couldn’t happen to a bunch of nicer guys than Ne Obliviscaris. We’re all good mates with them. It’s just lovely to see. Plus our mates in Voyager. They’ve been touring the US from out in Perth. And I think that’s the thing as well. You name any sort of prog band in the country, and we’re all going to know each other. We’re all going to play shows with each other and we’re all happy for each other’s success. I think that’s a really healthy music culture".

No doubt you’ll be in for quite a bit of down time on tour, especially in Europe. What are you personally going to do to pass the time? "Well, we’re on a bus the whole time, so we’ll be rocking up at a new city every day, which is definitely exciting for me. And I’m going to be honest with you here; I am the world’s biggest nerd. I have been putting together a document of the cities we are going to, and then compiling a brief history of the cities in my little notebook, and then making a list of different historic and ancient sites that may be of interest to me, and where they are. So I’m going to have like an omnibus, I’m gonna have like a a big catalogue of things to see, and we might only get to see two of them, but still, I have my list..." Oh rad, so you’re a history enthusiast I gather? "I am. Total nut for it. It’s a shame, because we’re going places, we're just not going to all the places. We'll see Milan but we’re not going any further, like Rome for instance. But there's always next time". Obviously the band will be on the road almost non-stop for close to a month. That’s a long time. Which of your band mates will have the most irritating habits? [Laughs] "I’m going to answer this question very, very delicately [Laughs] Check this out - I can’t wait to see what happens to our drummer Geoff Irish when he is separated from his constant intake of “Icebreak” (Iced Coffee). Because he’ll have like a 2 Litre, and I mean it, a 2 Litre bottle in the fridge at rehearsal or any other time. So from my point of view, I just can’t wait to see what happens to his mind and body when he is separated from that. Who knows? Either way, it’s going to be a topic of scientific interest".