Caligula’s Horse hysteria

CALIGULA’S HORSE // Overcoming Adversity

Jim Grey has been the vocalist for Brisbane prog-heads Caligula’s Horse for 10 years.

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In this candid and deeply honest interview, he talks us through the profoundly personal messages on impending album Rise Radiant, why the last 10 years have been such a wild ride, and how becoming a parent has fundamentally changed his outlook.

Oh, and there’s the story of the Catholic priest rocking out in a South American mosh.

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On initial impressions on the new album.

“What’s been really interesting is hearing people list their favourite song. Whenever you release something, people start talking about their favourite, whether it’s their favourite album from your back catalogue or a favourite song or whatever.

They’re saying Salt is their favourite song. And, I love that, because it’s a very personally important song for me. To be able to hear people say that has been fascinating because you never really know what’s going to connect with people.”

On being brutally honest and personal messages on Rise Radiant.

“I think most artists will look at what they’re doing at present and go, ‘this is the best thing that I’ve ever done’, because you hope that they’re growing and developing. You hope that they keep pushing themselves to be better and that’s certainly been the case with us. But, even beyond that, I think Rise Radiant is something that I needed to hear. It’s full of stuff that I needed personally, not just to get out and express, but also, important messages.

The song Valkyrie, for example, is almost inspired by stuff that I’d wish I’d heard when I was younger. You know, it’s like a little message to myself. And I think it’s the most brutally honest that I’ve been in terms of expressing my own experience, particularly with mental health. I’m the most naked that I’ve ever been on this album. I’m scared about that but I’m also very proud of it.”

It’s the most brutally honest that I’ve been in terms of expressing my own experience, particularly with mental health.
[ Jim Grey ]

On the stunning artwork.

“We wanted a piece of art that captured the overarching theme throughout Rise Radiant. It’s encapsulated in the title of what I’ve been describing as ‘overcoming’. It’s an album full of messages about trying to find strength in yourself, no matter what journey’s ahead, no matter how many hardships are ahead. Each time that you’re knocked down, you get back up, that kind of thing.

We worked with Chris Mangos, who is an incredible artist and a dear friend of mine. He was also responsible for the Bloom artwork, and all of the artwork within the album as well. We took to him a number of ideas and we gave him the lyrical content from the album and all of the themes. We discussed it and he came back with this absolutely stunning, sketched-up image of the mountain in the distance with the deer in the foreground. The deer has this softness and yet a power to it. We see it as a really gentle creature, a herbivore, but at the same time, it has a nobility and also a strength.

Having that animal is a juxtaposition. It’s proudly staring off into the distance as though it knows it can conquer this mountain. It’s a powerful metaphor for me in terms of us as people. It’s about what we can achieve in our life as individuals and also as a group, as a species.”


On touring South America … and seeing a Catholic priest rock out in the mosh.

“Chile was the first show of a South American run that we did. I remember stepping onto the wide stage and the big, big room was packed. It absolutely knocked my socks off to walk up to that crowd because it was our first time in Latin America and I had no idea what to expect. Everyone was crying, singing lyrics back at us. And there was this Catholic priest in the mosh, he actually had his little collar on, and he was smashing it in the pit. I looked down, trying to sing the chorus of this song, and I saw him, and I just fixated on this dude. I was thinking, ‘what is it that I’m actually experiencing right now?’ It was one of those moments of, ‘nah, that can’t actually be happening’. But he came backstage after a show. We had a lovely conversation, it was really nice.

There was this Catholic priest in the mosh, he actually had his little collar on, and he was smashing it in the pit.
[ Jim Grey ]

I feel [in Latin America] there’s a cultural element where, emotionally speaking, people wear their hearts on their sleeves. I think that feels foreign to us, particularly as Aussie guys. Even I’m reticent to talk about my feelings in any way that doesn’t allow me to, kind of, soften it by being facetious and sarcastic, which I do all the time in order to dismiss the awkwardness of me saying something that I actually genuinely feel. In Latin America, the constant is that people are not afraid to tell you how much they love you, or tell you how important your music has been to them.

Over there we had experiences that we haven’t had anywhere else in the world. For instance, we got off a plane in Peru, it was late and we were rushing through customs, trying to get to this venue. And the minute that we stepped outside the airport, there’s a girl waiting there with a Peruvian flag with the band name printed on it. And she’s got gifts, specific to each us. She’d made a doll for my daughter. That level of stuff doesn’t happen anywhere else. So, I love Latin America for that.”

On attaining critical and commercial success in 10 years.

“When you first notice that things start to happen, it blows you away and you’re almost reeling from it. And then, after that, that’s kind of the standard for the way things are and you grow really accustomed to it. Sam and I in particular, when the new members joined the band, we’re reminded how lucky we are and how exciting what we do is and how lucky we are to do what we do.

We’ve had all the line-up changes and stuff. Watching Josh when he joined, along with Adrian and Dale, they all had these new experiences where we were in a foreign country and people are flocking to them after the show to get a photo. And they were buzzing, they had no idea what’s going on because they haven’t had that before. And looking at that, I thought, ‘yeah, this is insane’.

We’ve sort of grown accustomed to the insanity level of it, even at the relatively small level that we are. So, it’s interesting to look back and see how excited I was in my mind at one of my first Melbourne shows, when we toured Australia for the first couple of times. Those first moments are etched in your brain.”

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On Jim’s interest in classical history which gave rise to the band’s name.

“I was studying full-time, doing ancient history after rather a nasty kind of full-on breakdown where I was running a small PT business. Then everything fell apart because my brain melted because I’m mentally ill. And after that, as part of my healing process, I started to kind of go, ok, let me find something to dedicate myself to, let me find something that I’m interested in and pursue that. I’ve always had a love for ancient history, mythology, and all that sort of stuff. So, I got stuck into that and I really loved it.

Then my daughter came along and that was at pretty much at the same time that I released Known/Learned with Arcane and then Bloom with Caligula’s Horse, all within the same six-month period, and it was too much. It was all insane. I had too much to deal with and that’s when Arcane ended. I went to the guys and I just said, ‘it’s too much, I can’t really do it anymore, my heart’s not in it’. After that it was all Caligula’s Horse all the time. And I sort of haven’t gotten back on that horse since.”

I’m the most naked that I’ve ever been on this album.
[ Jim Grey ]

On fatherhood and fulfilment.

“A change of perspective is a theme that pops up through Rise Radiant a fair bit. Sam [Vallen, guitar] had a baby boy at the time that we were writing it. Similarly, there are the changes of perspective of our drummer Josh, who has three sons.

With fatherhood, all of us had our minds fundamentally shifted in a different direction in a way that we didn’t expect. But we’re parents, right? So I think my focus–I can speak for myself really, I can’t speak for Sam and Josh–has shifted a great deal towards thinking about legacy, which is something that hadn’t occurred to me as a young person at all.

As a person without a child, the fundamental change was overnight for me. After the first day in hospital, the whole world was different. I found myself thinking about legacy, about the hands that had brought me here, and that it’s my turn to guide somebody else.

Songs like Autumn and The Ascent on Rise Radiant, are reflections of those feelings. Autumn, again, is a very honest, very true representation of Sam and I’s change in mindset at the moment that our children arrived. It was about that light switch moment.

The Ascent is a broader view of our role as individuals within a species. Us as people, finding the strength in ourselves to get up again, to rise again and again, and that’s where Rise Radiant comes into the lyrics of the album. And not only to get up again and again, but also, as we climb and as we progress, we can leave markers for our children, so that their path is easier, and to allow them to forge their own.”

Parting words for fans and listeners

“On Rise Radiant, I think this is the first time that I have personally put myself out there emotionally this honestly in an album. And it’s something that I’m very personally proud of. So, I hope that the messages within the album can help people that are going through similar experiences. Or, for people that haven’t gone through the experiences, I hope that they might find some insight into what it’s like to go through that. I hope you enjoy the album, I’m extremely proud of it, and I love you.”

Rise Radiant is out now via Inside Out Music.

aversions crown hysteria

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