the AU interview: Jim Grey of Caligula's Horse (Brisbane)

Caligula's Horse have been galloping around the local Brisbane scene for a while now, but they've just put out their second album The Tide, the Thief and River's End. We sat down with vocalist Jim Grey to discuss the band's progressive metal roots, the content of the new album and how roman history is part of the band's interests.

You've just released 'The Tide, the Thief and River's End' this month, how is it different from your debut album? How has the band's sound matured?

The Tide, the Thief & River's End is definitely a more cohesive album, and we're all extremely proud of the finished product. Our approach was very different from when Sam V and I first got together to work on Moments. When we started it was really Sam's baby, his solo project, with me adding input and my voice. Since then, with the addition of the other guys in the band, our sound has shifted gear along with their influence. When we write, we now write with those guys in mind, the particular nuances in playing style that they bring to the table.

We also approached this album with a complete work in mind – it wasn't so much piece by piece, we had the idea for the concept and we built the world around it.

Can you explain the central theme or story to the album?

I'm not going to give away every detail, since I'm hoping that people will spend the time listening and studying the lyrics to work out the story. But I will say that it's a story based around two cities. Of the journey of a group of people escaping oppression, and seeking a new home free from tyranny.

If you're digging through the lyrics and looking for answers, keep in mind: the concept and story itself is never explicitly told. There is room for interpretation, and the text between the tracks ties it all together.

The overall sound of the band seems very clean and emotionally driven, with the technicality of the playing always tying into the emotion, which many progressive rock bands can't quite manage. How do you avoid falling into the trap of 'I could just do this little bit more....' and over-focus on technicality?

Its a very deliberate process. One of my pet peeves in prog music in general is technicality for technicality's sake. We never want to approach a piece of music with the thought process of 'OK, how impressive can I be from start to finish, its show-off time!'. To me, that's not music. I'm not looking to impress people every second of every song. Sam V and I always aim to create a mood, to tell a story not just lyrically, but by the sound itself.

To you and the band, what does the tag 'progressive rock' actually mean or stand for?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a dark underground corner of the internet that hasn't discussed this at some point... but basically to me there's no set of definitive guidelines as to what makes a band or artist 'progressive'. I know a whole heap of prog aficionados will disagree, but I see progressive music as anything that comes from a little left of centre, that takes the traditional ideas of music and just looks at them from another angle, so you can see it in a light you may not have seen before.

The band has a few different side-projects between its different members, from the heavier progressive metal of Arcane to the more calmer post-rock of Echotide. What's the advantage of everybody going away to work with these other bands?

I've been in Arcane for basically the last 10 years, and Geoff has spent a lot of that time with Echotide as well – to be honest, it's not really a matter of taking time off to work on these other projects, it's a simultaneous effort. I love working with both bands, and it gives me the musical freedom and perspective to approach each band very differently. Plus, it helps that we all occupy different rooms in the same rehearsal studio.

How did the band come up with its name? It's not everyday Roman history gets referenced in band names...

Sam V and I are both nuts for ancient history, particularly Greek and Roman mythology. If you look carefully through the lyrics and song titles of The Tide, the Thief & River's End - you'll find a whole pile of references to mythological stories. Originally the name 'Caligula's Horse' was going to be the title for our first album, when we'd only planned to release it as a one-off studio project, just the two of us doing what we do. One thing led to another and here we are.

What was the best concert of 2013 you played in?

For me, definitely touring with Twelve Foot Ninja, in particular joining them for our album launch at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. A packed out crowd who made us feel more than welcome – everyone brought open ears, hearts and minds to that show. Couldn't kill our buzz for a while after that one. [Matt- the AU was there too, read our report here!]

The underground progressive rock and metal scene in Australia seems to be growing in strength with every year. If somebody wants to delve into it more deeply, what's the Top 5 bands you'd recommend?

Good question! There are some absolutely spectacular bands that we've been lucky enough to share the stage with on the Progfest and album launch tours. Top 5? Tricky. Here goes.

1. Ne Obliviscaris: To anyone that's already interested in Australian progressive music, this one might seem a tad obvious – but in case you've been living under a rock? Check them out.

2. Twelve Foot Ninja: Again... where have you been? Fun, exciting, high-energy, groovy djent. Great guys, great tunes, probably one of the best live shows I've ever seen.

3. A Lonely Crowd: Another Melbourne-based band with a really fresh sound. Plus their singer Xen has a remarkable voice, she absolutely blew the lid off Brisbane Progfest

4. Forever the Optimist: A really exciting progressive alternative rock band from Brisbane, my favourite track of theirs is “Revolutions” - but definitely hit up “Enter, Circus” and “Warning Horns”

5. Toehider: You deserve to listen to Toehider. Go on. You've earned it. Fronted by the incomparable Mike Mills, an awesome and versatile act with a ridiculously large back catalogue. Get on it.

Finally, what's on the horizon in 2014 for the band? Can we look forward to any more touring?

You definitely can. We've been absolutely stoked with the response from fans all around the world, so this is just the beginning of our travels, especially to our awesome home crowds in Australia. There's a pile of shows left for 2013, and after a brief break over Christmas we'll be back on the road again first thing next year. So if we don't see you before the end of the year, bring on 2014!

Thanks for your time!

Anytime Matt, thank you, and thanks to your readers.

The Tide, the Thief & River's End is out now and on Bandcamp right here!