CALIGULA’S HORSE: Colourful, Energetic and Dynamic

Caligula's Horse

Named for the prized possession of Rome’s infamous despot, Caligula’s Horse is an emerging progressive alternative rock band from Brisbane, Australia. The band was formed in 2011 by singer Jim Grey and guitarist Sam Vallen, and the same year they released debut album titled Moments from Ephemral City, a record that brought a touch of modernity on the overcrowded and most the time dull progressive metal scene.

Later that year, the duo joined by new members (Zac Greensill, Geoff Irish and Dave Couper) records a two-track EP Colossus, which pushes the creative emvelope further and sees Caligula’s Horse transform to a fully fledged band.

In October 2013, they release their second studio album called The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, an absolutely amazing record that continues the band’s winning creative streak. Prog Sphere talked with Jim Grey about this album, creative process that informed its inception and other cool things.

Define your mission with Caligula’s Horse.

Basically C-Horse is all about colour, not just light and shade. There are a heap of bands out there that have either one musical dimension that they do really well, or work like a light switch, loud vs. soft. We endeavour to be a dynamic band, to bridge that gap, and have a musical conversation with our fans.

Last year you released your sophomore studio album The Tide, The Thief & River’s End. What evolution do you feel the new album represents for the band comparing with the debut album Moments from Ephemeral City or Colossus EP?

River’s End was definitely the natural progression from Moments and Colossus, our sound had naturally developed with the addition of the live lineup. Once Dave, Geoff and Zac were on board we knew exactly where we were going. The sound you hear on River’s End is more like an idea that had been formed along the way being given shape by the style of the members of the live lineup. We couldn’t be happier with how its been received!

Tell me about the creative process and approach that brought The Tide, The Thief & River’s End forward.

Sam’s really the guru in terms of the instrumental songwriting. He’d have an idea, lock himself away with it for a while and then come to me with a pretty solid section of song, fully fleshed out. We’d workshop vocal hooks and toss lyrical ideas around until we had ourselves something we were totally happy with. At one point I had some seriously crippling writer’s block, so we decided to head off to a relative’s farm in New South Wales for some chill writing time and perspective. Nothing but acoustic guitars, pens and a shabby old lyric book. I’m glad we did, because that’s where some of the best material came out.

Caligula's Horse - The Tide, The Thief & River's EndIs the dynamic flow of the pieces on The Tide, The Thief & River’s End carefully structured or did it just happen that way naturally and through writing together?

By the end of writing and heading into the recording process we had the concept firmly in mind. We knew where each song fitted chronologically in the story and what the sound was going to represent. So the flow of the album, all the ups and downs are all part of the concept itself. It was a very deliberate decision to keep the album as dynamic as possible, sort of the cornerstone of this album’s sound.

How does the album title complement the music showcased on the new album? Can you give me a snapshot of the topics you explore on the songs from The Tide, The Thief & River’s End?

Not giving too much away about the concept, basically the title refers to an uprising of rebels called “The Tide” within the city of River’s End, and the Thief is one of the only characters who remains in the story from start to finish. Basically the story is about two far-removed cities, the journey of an oppressed people to find a safe haven, and the unfortunate similarities between the old city and the new.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries in terms of songwriting on the new album?

We were really excited to explore all the possibilities on this album. Probably the highlight for me was writing for and directing the gang vocal choir, there were some seriously huge voices in the room, most of whom were old friends of ours!

What were the biggest challenges you faced when making The Tide, The Thief & River’s End?

A concept album is never easy, and Sam and I are pretty careful when it comes to the finer details. I remember a Skype call between the two of us when we were workshopping names for characters and cities within the story. A lot of the time you want to pull your hair out and try and force the idea, but the more patient we were with the concept, the better the story fleshed itself out. Fighting writer’s block is a nightmare!

What is your way of documenting the music while being formulated?

Sam’s process is pretty simple, he’ll take a musical idea and flesh it out as fully as he can in demo form. We’ll then track some guide vocal sounds and ideas very roughly in front of open monitors at his home studio, throw some harmony parts together and then approach lyrics at the same time or over the next few weeks, depending on how well inspiration strikes. Its a streamlined process that makes sure we don’t lose anything, or on the other hand, get too attached to any particular idea.

Are you satisfied with the feedback you received on your music from both the media and fans?

Dude, hell yes. Its been completely unprecedented. We love our fans to bits, and they seem to be more numerous and energetic every time we travel. Touring on River’s End has been incredible.

Where do you draw your inspiration from, and how do you go about channeling it into writing?

Interesting question… unsurprisingly, for me inspiration usually happens to come along when listening to music. Could be anything really, but that’s usually what pushes me into that writing zone. And in truth I don’t really channel it into anything, as much as it channels me. Songs, lyrics, hooks, all those little ideas that are totally half-baked will tend to sit in the back of my mind churning away until one day they just pop out fully formed. Call me lazy, but that’s generally how my favourite stuff gets written. Probably because it doesn’t feel like I wrote it at all, haha.

Caligula's Horse's Jim Grey

Jim Grey

How do you know when a piece is complete?

When there’s enough paint on the canvas. Sometimes we’ll dig a little too greedily into a song, one too many vocal layers, something like that, but usually we’ll realise straight away that our heads are too far up our own arses, and the thing is already done.

Do you follow any predefined patterns when composing?

I know Sam has his own process but I’ll let him tell that story another time. Between the two of us though, yeah its pretty straightforward and the system works well. We brainstorm, sing and play, go into more detail, whatever is working. That and I constantly bother Sam with childish behaviour. For hours.

What kind of gear do you use live and in studio?

Haha, hilarious. I’m literally the last person on Earth who would be able to answer this question. Instead, I choose to answer my own question:

“Jim, How do you feel about Sam Vallen taking up vocal duties from now on?”

Mixed feelings. Mostly salty.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

For me, I reach for ancient mythology every time. Particularly Greek and Roman. So many good stories and characters, but the best part is that ancient religions tend to understand that they’re metaphors, and are usually quite clear (to the point of being a little ham-fisted) with what they’re about. Great for lyrics, titles, everything. Great stuff.

With a band like Caligula’s Horse, are there any limitations to how far your sound can stray from the sound you established?

I’d say that goes for just about everyone man. We’re influenced by a broad range of artists, sure, but how we appropriate that influence, take those ideas and put them within the context of our own sound, that’s what makes us sound like we do.

Caligula's Horse live
Are you working on any new Caligula’s Horse material at the moment?

Yes! Making some great progress too, I can’t wait to see some of these ideas grow over the next few months.

How would you describe what you do with Caligula’s Horse to someone who didn’t listen to you before?

Colourful, energetic, and dynamic. Progressive alternative rock. Look at that, I used a sub-genre. I feel filthy.

What lies in the future for Caligula’s Horse? What do you hope to accomplish at the end of the day?

What I’d like to accomplish is to not reach the end of the day, haha! Seriously though, we’re currently discussing plans to tour outside Australia, to meet some of our awesome fans around the world and share a moment or two. Should be awesome.

Thanks for reading, folks! More C-Horse sounds coming at you soon.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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