Latest release: Bloom (InsideOut)Website: www.caligulashorse.com

Caligula’s Horse are about to hit the road around Australia alongside Chaos Divine in support of their third album Bloom, which has garnered nothing but solid praise from around the globe. Loud caught up with vocalist Jim Grey to discuss the pitfalls of prog, touring the globe, Jeff Buckley and Cory Bernardi.

What was the process going in to recording Bloom?
It was really different for us. We try to experiment with every new release that we have, and try to change it up and try to write as a reflection of who we are at the time. We’re not really attached to an idea that this is Caligula’s Horse and we have to stay that way, because I feel that that way, madness lies. You see that with a lot of bands and that’s how you end up with… I mean you see it even now, with progressive metal. It’s practically genre music now. It has a certain sound that’s attached to it and everybody’s looking for that, and that’s hardly progressive. That’s not what progressive is. We try to take an adventure with each one. So after we released River’s End, and we toured on River’s End for a long time, we definitely wanted to do something that was a step away from that and a little bit different and it was almost the polar opposite that we came with, which was Bloom. It’s a lot more natural sounding album and a lot more colourful.

I have to agree with you about prog. Whenever I hear it now, I hear a particular vocal style, I hear particular tropes that all prog seems to have to have and I think well, what’s so progressive about this? It’s almost like it’s stopped being progressive and it’s now generic in its own form. There was a time, and it hasn’t really gone away, where it seems that every progressive band just sounds like Dream Theater.
Ha! Yeah, they do have  a formula that works for them, and they do make some incredible music. There are copy cats and they’re not really writing progressive music in a way. But when you think about it, progressive music started out as a form of rebellion. They were abstracting completely from what was going on at the time, going on a little musical adventure, a little bit like hobbits – and some of it was about hobbits! It was musical adventures they were going on, and it wasn’t tied down to any particular structural form. The irony being that the structural forms of those bands are now being copied and structured and formed in the kind of way that they did to try and turn it into a form of pop music, which is kind of interesting. The thing that we try to do to avoid that at this time is that our focus is not inherently attached to technicality. It’s attached to song writing. It’s attached to the song having harmony, it’s attached to the song flowing nicely into the next one on the album. It’s all about conveying a message. I think that’s really important now. The irony being that our form of rebellion in progressive music is to take it back to song writing rather than going on these long, extended adventures. But who knows what we’re going to do next? I have no idea, man.

Now tell me Jim – tell me you’re not a Jeff Buckley fan.
I am a Jeff Buckley fan. I am the world’s biggest Jeff Buckley fan!

There is a couple of times on the album where it just sounded like you were channeling him.
I’m glad you noticed. It was one of those things where we were writing particular things, and in particular ‘Dragonfly’ is where it comes out the most, and I’m very influenced by Jeff Buckley’s music and his vocal style, nuances and his approach to his art and everything, and his album Grace is one of those timeless things that you can also go back to and it doesn’t sound like it came out in the mid-90s. It’s completely timeless. And so, while that’s the case, until this point in our career I don’t think I’ve been confident enough to allow myself to let that inspiration in and let that voice come out of me a bit. With Bloom, we were totally off the chain. I was off the leash, and I didn’t feel afraid to utilise that style and so when it came to recording ‘Dragonfly’ I sort of shut my eyes and Jeff Buckley-ed my way through it, and it came out really nicely.

You’re taking the tour to a couple of places that a lot of bands just never really get to this time. What are you expecting? What sort of audiences get out to a show like yours?
Honestly, our Australian audiences are really different to a lot of our fans in Europe. Unsurprisingly, because the culture is very different. When people come to a Caligula’s Horse show, they know what they’re in for now. It’s progressive music, but it’s delivered in a way that’s energetic and forthright. We step on the stage and we really want everyone to have a really physical time. I want to have a physical conversation with the audience. I want people to get amongst it. I want people to have a really cathartic rock n roll experience, because that’s the kind of people we are. That’s the kind of shows we like to put on. If I go to a show, no matter how technical it might be, I don’t like it if somebody’s standing perfectly still the whole time. That’s not my favourite thing in the world. We like to get close to the audience, and I think that people know that now. So when people come out to see a Caligula’s Horse show, I think they’re ready to have a good time.

I have to agree there. A lot of the prog bands I enjoy, I haven’t really enjoyed their live show. I went to see Between the Buried and Me and they were just so po-faced and serious that I couldn’t enjoy it. I think I would have enjoyed staying at home and listening to their CDs just as much. It seems like prog has a lot of that as well – guys just bent over their instruments, not really paying attention to the crowd.
That’s one of those tropes that has snuck into prog metal over time as well – that everything has to be self-involved and conceptual and serious and dark and whatever, and that’s fine! It’s different strokes. If some people like to go and watch a show like the one you mentioned, where it’s all technicality and it’s all getting it exactly right, because they want to go and watch that level of musicianship, that’s fine. But we like to do both, because our music does have a level of technicality in it, but we still want people to be having a good time. I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. That might just be an Australian thing, I don’t know!

There’ll always be those tech-heads who just want to stand right in front of the guitarist and just watch him play as much as there are others who are more interested in having a good time. It seems to be a bit of a double-edged sword.
I don’t think Australians understand how cool they are. I didn’t realise that myself. I didn’t consider myself to be particularly ‘Australian’, and then you go over to Europe and you play shows and you find yourself on stage and no one seems to get the humour, or they find it a little charming. It’s very, very foreign to them to see someone lackadaisical and whimiscal on stage. Because all their front men in Europe are like “YEAH ALL RIGHT! ARE YOU HAVIN’ A GOOD TIME TONIGHT?” All that kind of stuff. It’s a bit weird. We show up on stage like we’re turning up at a barbecue – “G’day guys.” I think Australian audiences are the same thing. They don’t really know how cool they are. Some of us just like to get drunk, jump around, sing a long and have a great old time.

Overseas bands always seem to have a good time here as well, and I think that’s part of the reason why – because the crowds are so different. I think the culture is more or less the same, because it’s metal, but the way the audiences react to the music is very different. So apart from that – what is different about performing in Europe as opposed to performing in Australia?
It depends where you are really. We’ve found that Scandinavian audiences – in Gothenburg and Copenhagen and places like that – there’s a lot more stoicism from the audience. I like to call them chin-strokers. They’re there to have a good time and be entertained, but it’s not a two-way conversation like it is in Australia. Then of course you go into Hungary where we played a show in the belly of an old ship along the Danube in Budapest and there were a ton of people all going crazy and singing lyrics and having a great time. From country to country it’s different, but I think Australia does have a unique voice in terms of its appreciation of live music and I think that’s why a lot of bands love coming here.

You said before that you have no idea where you’re going next with the band. Does anyone have any ideas where they might take Caligula’s Horse next time?
We’re definitely going to get back into writing. After this tour of Australia, this is going to be a busy year for us, and not necessarily in terms of touring. While we’re writing new material and working on stuff, we want to be releasing stuff and letting people see the new Caligula’s Horse because that’s an important thing for us. But we’re also looking at ways to make sustainable the level of touring we do so we don’t end up burning out and dying like so many other bands are doing at the moment. So hopefully in 2017 we’ll be back, and touring internationally again. This will be a mostly creative year for us, this year.

Do you still have people asking you where the band name came from? Are there people who still say, I don’t know who Caligula is. Why is his horse so important?
I was surprised that most people didn’t know who Caligula was at all. It was a little bit hearbreaking for me! It was just one of things where it was a cute story, and it means something else now: Calilgula wanting to make his horse a consul, just to piss off the Senate… I can see that happening. I can see Cory Bernardi doing a little bit of a Caligula’s horse himself. He’s a fraud and a charlatan and he’s poisoning the well of Australia’s progressive future. And he’s a scumbag and I hope that he reads this, because he’s a prick. I’d love to see a horse sitting next to him as an equal in the Senate. So I understand why you’d want to fuck with the Senate. But it probably didn’t happen, so it’s just a cool story.

Catch Caligula’s Horse to tour with Chaos Divine in April:
7/4: Jive, Adelaide SA (+ For Millenia)
8/4: Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne VIC (+ Enlight)
9/4: Amplifier Bar, Perth WA (+ Illyria)
14/4: The Pier, Port Macquarie NSW*
15/4: Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW (+ Glass Ocean)
16/4: The Basement, Canberra ACT (+ Tundrel)
17/4: Small Ballroom, Newcastle NSW
23/4: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD (+ Rise Overrun + The Stranger)

*Chaos Divine not appearing