Interview Jim Grey (Caligula's Horse):

"We don't really consider ourselves as a straight-down-the-line prog band"

(April 2014, text by Pedro Bekkers, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures from CH website)

Australian bands usually have a strong fan base in their own country, but they seem to be fairly unknown to the rest of the world. This also applies to Caligula's Horse, but in my opinion progressive rock fans from all over the world should get familiar with this really talented band. Recently they recorded a second album called The Tide, The Thief & River's End (see review) after their debut Moments From Ephemeral City (2011). The band's singer Jim Grey was willing to answer all the questions I prepared.

Jim Grey

Hello Jim, first of all I would like to thank you for the interview and secondly I would congratulate you with the release of a great album.
Jim Grey: “Hi Pedro, thanks very much for listening to the album and for having me!”

Could you give some background information about the history of the band and who the other band members are?
Caligula's Horse started out as just multi-instrumentalist Sam Vallen and me. He asked me to come and join him as a guest vocalist on an album's worth of original material he'd been working on as a side project. We definitely had a natural chemistry in the studio, and we both started getting pretty excited about the new venture. Once we'd written The City Has No Empathy, we knew we were onto something, but still never imagined Caligula's Horse would be anything more than a one-off studio project. Well, it turns out that we were totally wrong! Our debut album Moments From Ephemeral City was well-received all around the world in the progressive rock scene, and so we decided to create a live band. Now we have Zac Greensill on guitars, David Couper on bass guitar and backing vocals and Geoff Irish on drums as permanent members, who are invaluable to the sound of the band.”

How would you categorise your music? I think it's not just progressive music.
“I'm glad you agree! We don't really consider ourselves as a straight-down-the-line prog band. The classification we go by is progressive alternative rock... whatever that means... Basically we don't let anything get in the way of the song. Anything too self-serving, unnecessarily tech or totally musically arbitrary tends to get the chop.”

What are the individual influences of the band members?
“I can't really speak for everyone else, but I take a lot of influence from vocalists like Devin Townsend, Darroh Sudderth from Fair To Midland, a criminally underrated band, and Australian artists like Mark Seymour of Hunters And Collectors fame. To be honest I also take influence from a number of female artists too, like Tori Amos, Imogen Heap, and more recently Xen Havales from the Australian band A Lonely Crowd.”

Being an Australian band makes it more difficult to get the world's attention. Unitopia had a hard time playing in Europe or the United States. What are your experiences with playing in Australia and abroad?
“We're yet to join our fans overseas thus far, but we do have some plans in the works that we're all really excited about. It's a tough one: we do have fans out there, but when you come from a giant south-east Asian prison continent, it makes it pretty tough for artists to get out there and do the touring they need. We love playing within Australia; our audience is just amazing, but it's always a huge distance to cover! Basically, you've got to love it and luckily we do.”

I think The Tide, The Thief & River's End should bring you international recognition, but what other Australian bands would you like to recommend, and why?
“I love this question! There are so many great acts in Australia right now. Here's a few of my personal favourites which is a pretty varied bunch: A Lonely Crowd, HELM, Twelve Foot Ninja, Rise Overrun, Ne Obliviscaris and LeSuits. We've either shared a stage with all these guys, or otherwise we know them well; incredible Australian music from some incredible Australians.”

Your vocals strongly vary on the album. I would describe your voice as a blend of Ross Jennings from Haken and Matthew Bellamy from Muse. Do you agree with these comparisons?
“Thanks! I've been a fan of Muse since way back, so that's a nice comparison to hear. In all honesty I hadn't listened too much to Haken until quite recently, so whatever similarities you may hear are by pure coincidence, but a compliment nonetheless!”

Your band name reflects to the ancient roman emperor. Why did you choose this name?
“Well, Sam Vallen and I are both nuts for ancient history and mythology. It's something that tends to crop up pretty regularly in lyrics and song titles. Sam came up with the name, based on the story of Caligula's horse Incitatus, who he apparently made a senator. This is widely regarded as not true, but it's a cool story anyway! It was also originally going to be the title of the first and only album, until we settled on Moment's From Ephemeral City.”

When you compare the debut album to the new one it's noticeably different. Is this just because Caligula's Horse became a full band or how would you describe this progression in music?
“We took a very deliberate diversion from the sound on the first album when we began writing The Tide, The Thief & River's End. We wanted a totally different approach, and a more cohesive sound that represented that there were more influences at play with a full line-up. Sam and I also really wanted to capture the mood of the story, and tell as much of it musically as possible.”

Caligula's Horse, left to right: Geoff Irish, Zac Greensill, Jim Grey, Dave Couper and Sam Vallen

Did the new band members have had any input in the song writing?
“They had, even if it was tacit input. When we write for Caligula's Horse now, we write with those guys in mind, their style, their ability and their personality. Musically their input is getting stronger all the time.”

My final question: what are the plans or the expectations for Caligula's Horse in 2014?
“We're planning to continue touring in Australia and beyond soon enough and keep spreading the word about Caligula's Horse and The Tide, The Thief & River's End.

We're currently in the preliminary stages of writing for the next album too! It's all really exciting, but not much more than discussion just yet. Stay tuned.”

Thanks for answering my questions and I wish you all the best with this fine release!
“Thanks for the support, mate!”

More info about Caligula's Horse on the Internet:

       review album 'The Tide, The Thief & Rivers End'

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