INTERVIEW: Jim Grey (CALIGULA'S HORSE)
After galloping into the world in 2011, Brisbane's Caligula's Horse have unwaveringly become one of the most innovative and sought-after acts in the prog realm. From their earliest releases to 2017's masterpiece 'In Contact', C-Horse have never shied away from experimentation; their commanding, ferocious and graceful tunes beckoning international success and critical adoration (plus, it's no small side note that they're all notoriously nice humans to boot).
While it's been a while in-between local shows, this quintet aren't ones to stay in the shadows for long - and off the back of the recent release of their colossal conceptual fourth album and a cheeky run of overseas shows, the boys have since announced that they'll be saddling up for an intimate east-coast adventure in August before they jettison back over to Europe. But before these cozy Aussie shows kick off, the golden-voiced Jim Grey took some time to chat prog, positive creativity and the song that kick-started this visionary artist into heavier waters. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Jim, how's it going?
JIM GREY: I'm good! Honestly, I'm relieved to have some me time, most of the time it's just me and my daughter. So now this is like a party for me, talking to another adult!
TIANA: Adult could be a very diplomatic word...but I'll take it! And thank you for sparing your party time. Now there's obviously there's so many amazing things going on for yourself and Caligula's Horse right now. You've got your Aussie shows on the horizon, then you're off to dominate Europe - plus there's still an unholy amount of love kicking around for 'In Contact'...what's it like now for you guys, are you all absolutely loving life right now?
JIM: Yeah, it's actually interesting, the pick up in people receiving and listening to the album has sort of been timed with us taking a little break from everything (laughs). Sam's (Sam Vallen - guitarist) been getting super busy with his PHD, and us taking a bit of respite from rehearsal and what not, and at the same time kinda in the background all of a sudden you've got all of this Spotify action and all these people loving the album, which is kinda cool! But yeah, we're super excited actually to kick things off again, particularly in Australia playing 'In Contact' in full, it's gonna be a hoot!
TIANA: Yes, and this time round as well we're getting some slightly smaller, more intimate shows. And I find that quite interesting, I caught you guys at the Factory in Sydney last year which is obviously a large-ish venue - but for a group who are so sonically powerful and immersive, was this a deliberate decision to go a bit cozier this time round, venue-wise?
JIM: It was very deliberate, basically we wanted to treat this less like a regular Australian tour and more of a series of...I suppose the word is exclusive? I don't like the word exclusive, but the venues we picked are basically so that if you make it to one of these shows, if you happen to be able to get yourself a ticket, you're gonna see something that we're very unlikely to do again in a really intimate setting. So that's kinda the vibe we were going for.
TIANA: And as you mentioned, you guys will be playing 'In Contact' in full, but you are also playing some fan requests...have the requests been what you guys were expecting? Did you pre-empt what you thought was gonna come through?
JIM: (laughs) Yes and no, actually! It's kinda funny because the shortlist of what we thought people might be interested to hear is what we put on for the fan poll, we obviously didn't put the whole discography up there. But it seems, without giving anything away, it seems like our fan-base are tending towards the longer songs! So there may not be as many played after the set as one might think (laughs). But it's gonna be fun.
TIANA: This might be an impossible question, because I know it may change on a daily basis...but in terms of 'In Contact' itself, have you personally been able to pick out a favourite from it? Or is it a revolving door of favouritism?
JIM: If you think of them all in the album itself, I think 'Graves' would be my favourite. Certainly to perform because it's a real journey and you get to ride that whole thing out, and it's so cathartic at the end to just let rip into that closing outro. But, a close second would be 'Dream The Dead' for me as well.
'GRAVES' (CALIGULA'S HORSE)
TIANA: Well ‘Dream The Dead' is my favourite so - yay!
JIM: Oh cool! I've heard that from a couple of people actually, that's nice!
TIANA: These Aussie shows are, of course, also a fun little precursor to you guys heading overseas, including some festivals like 'Euroblast Festival' and probably the best festival name I've come across so far: "Very Prog Festival"...which I hope lives up to its name.
JIM: (laughs) I hope so too! I hope that it exceeds "very", and becomes not just "extremely" - like, "fundamentally" prog.
TIANA: They're not really committing totally to being all-in prog...it's very prog, it's not totally prog.
JIM: It's a moderate amount, it's reasonable. It's not over-reaching with the amount of prog (laughs). I don't know how much of that gets lost in translation (laughs). But that's gonna be a hoot, I've been chatting with one of the organisers of that for a while and she's really lovely so it's gonna be good fun as well! And we've just announced a whole heap of other stuff for Europe too as well as those shows, so we're gonna try to make the most of our time over there.
TIANA: It's not the first time you guys have played overseas, but do you find a big difference with the crowds when you hit the stages overseas as opposed to back home? I mean, obviously it's bound to be different, but is there a dramatic shift in how they react to you guys overseas?
JIM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, from the way that the venues kind of respond to you as an artist, down to the punter as well. It varies country to country over there too, which is really interesting. But on the whole, it's kind of like there's more of a...I don't want to shit all over Australia. But, there's a lot of respect for the artist over there, they make sure that you're catered for and taken care of, for the most part! Obviously, there's aberrations there (laughs). But, the interesting thing is how audiences respond in different countries that are quite close in proximity to one another, compared to Australia where, you know, you drive from Brisbane to Sydney and people are the same but, no offence, just a bit ruder.
TIANA: None taken, I'm a Queenslander, I'm just accidentally living in Sydney.
JIM: Oh good! Thank heavens!! (laughs). But say, for example, Scandinavian audiences I found can seem stand-offish. They're there and they're receiving the music and you don't really know how they're feeling about it until after the song's finished. And you'll also play to a much wider range of ages as well. Some of the festivals we played last time we were over there, I remember playing Midsummer Prog Fest in the Netherlands, and it was in this beautiful old amphitheatre outdoors, and we were playing to really young people, and much older people than I'm accustomed to playing to - and it was really, really cool. So yeah, it's very different over there!
CALIGULA'S HORSE HORSING AROUND IN MELBOURNE IN JANUARY, 2018 (PIC BY PAUL TADDAY)
TIANA: For a group so ingrained in this "prog" world...it seems like the rest of the world has cottoned on to something that I think we've all been aware of for a long time - that Australians are absolutely slaying it in these particular genres. And from someone who has been so actively involved in this realm for so long now, what is your take on the current state of Aussie prog and heavier music in general, do you think it's flourishing and supported? Or do you think it's still got that underdog chip on its shoulder?
JIM: Well, I think it's always going to be relatively an underdog, you know what I mean? Even the biggest Australian bands, if you're looking at progressive bands like Ne Obliviscaris and Twelve Foot Ninja and stuff like that, those dudes are, for all intents and purposes, just killing it all over the world. But you saw Ne Obliviscaris have their Patreon campaign, their fan-base is supporting them financially because otherwise they wouldn't be able to tour as regularly as they do. So, there's always going to be a scrappy, underdog vibe to progressive music in general I think. The most exciting thing for me, having been a part of the scene for a while now, is the taste for it that the world has now. Again, bands like Ne Obliviscaris and Karnivool have been paving the way overseas and now all of a sudden people are like "what are you guys doing down there? Let's check out what you guys have got going on!". So there's definitely a taste for it, it's really cool.
TIANA: To zoom in a bit more on yourself - you've obviously got quite a reputation, being described as everything from an "oratory god" to "lyrical wizard". But deep down what or who truly inspires you as a musician, I mean you just have this riveting way about how you perform and concoct music...
JIM: Um. Actually, that's a really good question. And I'm not stalling, I promise (laughs). It's gotta be a general kind of positivity I think that's my main drive. Because for a very long time I was writing sort of morose, deliberately morose music. There's a difference between writing dark music or cynical music and writing depressing music, and I was writing depressing music, which is sort of designed to twist the knife and kind of make you feel that thing. And I don't really want to be a part of that anymore because I kind of had the privilege of growing up without a lot of loss, you know what I mean? There was struggle and stuff, but not loss. And then when you face real loss, it kind of changes your outlook on that. So I just want to tell people I love em, pretty much. And that's what I want to do musically and artistically right now.
TIANA: That is actually quite interesting you say that, that positivity does inherently come through in the music. A lot of the time I've had people ask me "what are you listening to" and I'll play them a heap of stuff including C-Horse...and they're always amazed because as soon as they know something is classed as "metal" they instantly assume it's gonna be assaulting and aggressive, but then they're blown away by being able to connect to the poetic beauty underlying a lot of the time...
JIM: I'm glad. I suppose for me a mission statement for making art in general or music is to communicate an idea, you know? I love to tell stories, that's one of my favourite things to do, and again, you sort of mentioned it, like in the poetry stuff as well it's all based around a story or theme, and I do a lot of concept work with C-Horse. But if I'm not communicating an emotional idea, then I'm not succeeding from my point of view. And I think that's a big focus for us.
TIANA: For you personally, what sort of stuff did you grow up listening to, was there a particular song or band that kind of triggered you to actually pursue this lifestyle of yours that your now living?
JIM: (laughs) "Lifestyle". Yeah, it definitely is that. It's actually interesting cos I grew up singing in church choirs and stuff like that, I was in a cathedral choir and that was where I got all my vocal training early on. So there was a lot of that kind of music early, but in terms of switching from listening to the pop and rock world into something a little bit heavier, I have this really distinct memory of seeing the film clip for 'Chop Suey' by System Of A Down, on like Channel V or one of those back then. And it was like getting hit with a freight train, it was just this thing rushing past me going "what the fuck was that?!". And I just dove down the rabbit hole, and it wasn't until I kind of met the guys from a band that would then become Arcane later that I got introduced to Dream Theater, and again that was another freight train moment of "what is going on here?!?!". And then the rest is just the years passing and me getting older.
TIANA: To this day I still do lip-sync battles against myself to 'Chop Suey'...but I never totally nail it.
JIM: (laughs) You just have to get the ending words right, it's like "makeup"..."table"...everything else is just "blahblahblahblah!". You're fine.
TIANA: Excellent plan! To start to wrap things up, and this is a bit of a naff question. But you're in a band that name-checks quite a famous historical animal. But if Jim Grey was a non-human animal, what would you be and why?
JIM: Ohhh.....yeah, Adrian named me this, our guitarist Adrian. I think it's some kind of dog. Some kind of idiot dog, you know like one of the dogs that you kinda want around but a little too much of it is like "go play with your idiot ball". That kind of idiot dog (laughs). That's definitely me!
TIANA: Who doesn't love an entertaining dog! And lucky last question - after you've wowed us and Europe later this year, is there anywhere in particular that Caligula's Horse will be gallivanting off to next, whether it's the stage or the studio?
JIM: We're always kind of creating, we're already discussing where we want to go next, what kind of sound we want to do. Basically, the things we have locked in are these awesome east coast 'In Contact' runs, then Europe and then just plugging away at new material!
TIANA: Very exciting times ahead! I'm very keen to catch you guys live again, even if it is in miserably cold Sydney. You can at least distract us from winter temporarily.
JIM: (laughs) We can all just huddle together in Oxford Art Factory and just share warmth briefly and then go home.
TIANA: The ultimate night out! Well thank you so much for your time!
JIM: Awesome, take care!
CALIGULA'S HORSE WILL BE WHIPPING THEIR MANES ONSTAGE IN AUGUST AT SOME SPECIAL EAST COAST INTIMATE SHOWS.
FOR TICKET INFO HEAD TO: www.wildthingpresents.com
FOR ALL OTHER CALIGULA'S HORSE INFO, HEAD TO:
BY TIANA SPETER