Caligula's Horse (Jim Grey)

An alternative prog filled of emotions: Jim Grey tells us the background and the message of his latest album "Bloom", one of the most beautiful releases of the current year. 

Article by Riccardo Coppola - Publish on: 01/12/15
Hi Jim and welcome to our pages! How are you? Are you happy of being in Italy?

I'm doing well. We've all settled in and done the soundcheck, and everything's in place! And yeah, absolutely, I've never actually been here even personally. I'm pretty excited to be here. I'm really interested in history and I love ancient Rome, so it's a shame we are not making it to Rome this time. But yes, it's pretty exciting.

You are a very interesting prog outfit and you deserve to gain visibility also in Europe and Italy. How would you introduce yourselves to our readers who haven't heard of you yet?

We're a progressive rock band. But essentially we have a focus on songwriting, rather than technicality, because I feel that in a lot of progressive music there's a lot of technicality for technicality's sake. So we try to bridge that gap. Everyone in the band is quite confident in their playing and songwriting, but really the song itself is the focus; the message, the story that we have to tell in our songs is the most important part for us. It's melodic, it's energetic, and it's progressive.
What do you think about all those periodic revivals in the prog scene? 

I think it's people responding to their influences. I mean, the things that you listened to, or even that your parents listened to as you grew up affect fundamentally the way you write music. For us, I feel that we definitely do have those influences, but maybe we don't wear them as a sleeve as much as other artists do. We try to incorporate those things into our music, in a way that is in our own voice, without trying to imitate or recreate those sounds. 

You've released in October your third studio album, "Bloom". The reviews for the record were very enthusiastic from both press and listeners. Are you surprised of such a positive reception of the album?

I'm extremely pleased! I'm not necessarily surprised, because I'm really really happy with this one, we are particularly proud of this album. But of course, when you release something new, no one knows how it will be released. In particular with something like this, where we tried to be so positive, so bright. It would be easy for people to perhaps be cynical and turn away from that. But the response have been really positive, as you say.

The term "Bloom" seems to hint to the birth of something new. Did you want to suggest the start of a new chapter of your career? What are the new directions you wanted to walk with this record?

We wanted to make it more colorful. The previous work thats we've done, particularly "The Tide, The Thief and The River's End", were quite dark, as a reflection that there was a conceptual work, a concept album with a story. Writing "Bloom" we didn't want to do a concept album, we wanted to create something that stood even on itself, even the individual tracks, and we tried to bring a little bit of color back to our sound. It may not be something that we do every single time, it's certainly a reflection of the musicians that we are right now. Next album will be the reflection of what we are then, so we are constantly growing and changing the sound that we have.

It seems that you wanted to give a big shift to your sound with a song like "Turntail". Can you tell me something about the writing process for this song?

"Turntail" was fairly an early one in the place, actually the earliest song that we wrote. Early on, "Turntail" was the track to me that captured exactly what we wanted to do with "Bloom". It's got that color, that brightness, that optimistic message about standing your ground, facing adversities and being proud. But it also captures that softness in our sound, as well, while still being an energetic song. We wanted a song on the album, at least one, that really captured the energy of a live show. Because live shows are really physical and exciting to watch. And I think the response that we had from Australia has really helped us to build a sound that reflects the energy that they gave to us. 

What are the topics you deal with in your songs?

"Firelight" is a very special one to me. It's 'cause I lost a dear friend last year and that affected me personally. I think death is something that we don't talk about enough. Death is a natural part of life, and of course we got to mourn the ones we lose, but we should also celebrate them postumously. Through our love and our respect for one another, then we could remember them the better way. I think it's a really important message. There's other concepts on the album as well... for example, the song "Dragonfly" is almost an homage to some of my favourite artists, there's a lot of reference to the lyrics of Tori Amos in that song, for example, and that's one of my personal favourites. And of course "Marigold", which has a really important message, it's basically about having love for the things that inspire you, the things that drive you, and not being bought down in suicidal expectations. In any suicidal expectation comes a weight that you will have to carry. I shouldn't be making music, for example, I should be doing something with contributes, I don't know, I should be working in an office, I should have a real job or something like that. That is something that gets told to people in creative professions all over the time, and not even just creative, just people who choose the road less travelled. And I think it's really important that we acknowledge that the things that inspire us might not be in the road more travelled. The things that inspire us might be something left to feel, and we should take it no matter what. And I think that's the message at the end of that song. So I would say that there's a lot of positive messages throughout the album. 

Which were your first inspirations when you started writing music with Caligula's Horse? Is there any band that has influenced your sound particularly?

Well that's an interesting one. The early inspirations are the ones that happen in your childhood, and you don't really know until later. You may hear an album sometime in your house when you're a kid and later on you realize "Oh my God I stole that music from this person". And it happens a lot. There are some album by folk rock bands from the Seventies who my daddy used to listen to a lot. Obviously Tori Amos, and Jeff Buckley, are two of my favourite artists, and I'm taking huge influences from them personally. And there are of course bands like Opeth, Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree, even to a certain extent Dream Theater early in my progressive music career. So there's a whole breath of music that I listen to. I think that the conversation between our influences is what makes our music so interesting, because they don't come from the same angle. 

In your opinion, how much does an artist have to take care of the taste and expectations of his fans when he writes new music?

I don't think at all to be honest. I mean, the music has to be a reflection of our artistic honesty. We have an art that we want to create in a particular shape. For us to trying to do the particular things that your fanbase want, is the worst kind of selling you. I think that if you make music that honest, people will respond to that excitedly and they will love the thing that you do... or they'll hate it. And I think that one of the most exciting things that you can do as a musician is being polarizing. And if there's a lot of people out there that hate our music, as well as there are other people that love it, I think that we're doing something right creatively.

Do you have any source of inspiration other than music?
For me, ancient history. I get off on that stuff, man. I studied at university and I learned classical latin and ancient greek, those things like the study of why we say the words that we say, ethimologically, and what languages affected our language, why did we come to say the things we say, why did we come to be here. I think it's incredibly important to acknowledge our history, to know how we got to where we are. To not repeat the mistakes we made in the past, but also to put us in context in the universe. So that's what inspires and excites me: history, and mithology.
I guess that's where your band name comes from.
Actually it was meant to be the original name for our first album, before we came up with "Movements From Ephemeral City". So when we decided to put a band together, we decided to call the band Caligula's Horse. The origin of our name is pretty silly, and based on the city story. But we're the only band in the world called Caligula's Horse... and probably for a good reason!

What's the best experience you've lived in these years?
It was quite recently. We're on tour across the Europe as you know. We played in Budapest, we were playing in a venue called A38, which is an ashore ship on the Danube... so that was exciting for us anyway! When we were on stage, I was playing a song and I dedicated the song to all those who lost someone, and to absent friends. And as I began singing, four rows back, I saw a couple of teenage lads looking up and singing every word. For us it was the first time in Europe, the first time I came so far and travelled so far from home. I played a song that had so much sentimental value to me, and that was so much important to me as a person. Seeing that our music has reached people so far was really a magical moment, that I'll never forget.
Do you still have some dream for your future as an artist?
I think really it is a matter of keeping on doing what you're doing. Because there's a point at which we all realize that the dreams that we have always had, have become achievable goals. Rather than dream, we gonna keep pursuing our goals, until we fall down for exhaustion. (laughs)

You're part of the growing Australian prog scenery. How would you explain this explosion of interest around Australian prog? What are, in your opinion, its strongest points?

I've been chatting about this with fans that we meet at our shows in Europe. Because they usually come to our live shows and say "Oh, I also love Karnivool, I also love all those other bands that are coming from Australia". Really, I don't think it's such a matter of an influx of good music from Australia, because Australia has been making good music for a very long time. And despite these bands have just started to break into Europe and the rest of the world, they've been around for a long time individually as well. So really I think it's more that someone has broken the ground and has paved the way for other bands like us to find in Europe people that are seeking more interesting and original music, that are saying "Oh, what's going on in Australia?". There are fine bands like Ne Obliviscaris, Thy Art Is Murder, Parkway Drive... all these bands including us. This is giving us the opportunity to be known and tour here, as well. 

You're sharing the stage with a band, Shining, that's kinda different from your musical offer. What's your opinion about the alchemy that you have with them?
It's a really interesting mix actually. One of my favourite things in the world is to play in varied lineups. I played in metal festivals and stuff in Australia, where it's just like from 9 AM all the way to the midnight, nothing but metal bands... another metal band, another metal band. It's just too much. At the end of the night you just want something different, you say "ok, that's too much metal". We like to jump on lineups that are very and very different. We bring our progressive alternative rock to the table and Shining bring their insane intense blackjazz genre. It's very nice, and I think everyone's been having great times so far. So well, maybe the sounds may not conform to each other if you put them on an album back to back, but certainly in a live context it's awesome.

That was the last one, Jim. Would you please leave a message to your fans and our readers?
Thank you so much for listening, thank you so much for all your interest, and I hope you will enjoy "Bloom". It's my favourite album I've ever been involved in. I hope you enjoy my labour and love.

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