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Caligula’s Horse – interview met Jim Grey (vocals)

Jim Grey: “I have blood from Irish ancestors. That is why I get sunburnt in Australia very easily, because I have the pale skin of someone who lives on a damned foggy island.””

Ondanks hun locatie aan de andere kant van de wereld, is Caligula’s Horse er toch in geslaagd om al flink wat aanhangers te verzamelen over heel deze planeet. Dit werd een week geleden, eind januari, alweer verzilverd met de release van het zesde studioalbum ‘Charcoal Grace’. Het viertal uit Brisbane is, wanneer we dit publiceren, alweer uitgebreid aan het toeren in de VS, maar eerder dit jaar hadden we een hartelijk gesprek met de bijzonder vriendelijke zanger Jim Grey.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 8 februari 2024

The new album seems to be darker than the ones before, because it was created during the pandemic, but there are also positive things in it I guess?
We honestly reflected the darkness of that time. We cannot help ourselves, because ultimately we do want people to feel like there is some kind of catharsis to be found and think positive to get away from it all.

Of course, we had been through strange times with the pandemic and now more wars are happening. It is not that easy. I see that you have done in the meantime, in 2023, a lot of concerts…
We have

So that is a little bit of a positive vibe. What was your experience to be back on the stage?
Well, it was very strange. I think one of the first tours that we did after covid-19 was in Australia. We did a number of short tour shows and one of it was a live broadcasting of it and it was one of those experiences where we were interested in, because it felt like such a long time that I felt a bit weird and had genuine doubts if I could actually still do it. I couldn’t do it anymore, I had forgotten who I was. It took our Australian tour to kind of remind me why I did what we do and then after that, we felt the confidence to write again and that is how we started writing ‘Charcoal Grace’.

Yes, because this happened pretty late and then everything went fast I think? You are also the main lyricist from the band. I was wondering why you have chosen the title ‘Charcoal Grace’?
‘Charcoal Grace’ was one of the early working titles that we had for the album, because it was… the particular line is in the song ‘Vigil’, in describing the kind of beauty of silence, but also the kind of the horror in it. It is something that is generally beautiful and alluring and inviting, but at the same time it is dark and slightly terrifying, so it is a kind of unknowable scary beauty which whom I wanted to describe ‘silence’ and stillness, it was what we all experienced so much during the pandemic. That was the kind of phrase that jumped out on me from that and I truly liked it, it is really evocative, so I kind of threw it to the guys ‘I have this phrase, let us just put it on as working title I really like. And it found its way to one of the songs.

Talking about the beauty of silence: I think you can reflect on yourself and for writing music, maybe it is a better situation…
I think it was horrible, because it was taken from us and the silence was kind of forced on us in a way. It felt kind of inescapable and like a punishment at some point, but yeah, ultimately I think it is a beautiful thing. An unknowable thing, because we don’t actually know what real silence is like, because there is music and sound and everything everywhere, but yeah, I just thought it was a beautiful way to put it.

You are an educated vocalist, very precise in what you do. You even followed some lessons for producing the harsher vocals in the song ‘Golem’. Can you tell something about that evolution?
Well, it is something that I always wanted to try, but I have been a little bit nervous about doing it, because I was concerned about the way I learned things generally is intuitive. I kind of figure it out, but I am not super great at word learning or specific things or reading a book. I find that physically challenging. I was concerned about trying to do intuitive training, because I was afraid of damaging my voice and so I did a handful of lessons with a teacher in Adelaide. He coached me through some basic stuff and calmed my fears and cautions and told me how to do it. It is not something that appears anywhere else on the album, only on that one song. It is a fun addition to my timbre. It has taken a lot of practise to maintain the idea. It is a very challenging thing and very new to me.

Are you playing it live as a big challenge?
We have. At the same time as it came out, we were on tour in Australia with Devin Townsend which was incredible! Wonderful experience, but on the same day as it was released as a single, we were playing in Melbourne with Devin, so we played it through the whole run. It was really fun, so it will definitely be playing it on our upcoming tour in the States and when we return to Europe as well.

In the middle of the album, we have the title track which is divided in several parts. One of my favourites is the melancholic one ‘Vigil’. How did it come into being?
It is an interesting one, because very often – I would say in most cases – songs and the spark of the music come from Sam (Vallen – lead guitar – Vera) and Sam is a musical genius. He is the guy. He has this way of creating things in a way that I can’t. We were actually sitting there on that coach behind me and just kind of fiddling around with an idea and wrote the main verse of the beginning section of ‘Vigil’ and that is also where the charcoal grace-line occurs. Sam expanded it in a beautiful way that is just so evocative and the song kind of extends from that initial emotional idea into a really emotional kind of journey. So his input was really huge and kind of tied the whole thing together. Yeah that’s a point in the song where the younger character, the son character in a way, experiences a trauma in a relationship. He is experiencing the feeling of sadness because of his father had gone. Also anger and not able to let things go, those kind of things. It is a sad one, but one we are very proud of.

The opener of the album ‘The World Breathes With Me’ – ten minutes long – should be the one in which you cooperated the most with every member in the band or do I see that wrong?
That is right, it is. I think it is the first time that the entire band’s creative force comes together in a single song. Of course, generally with the song-writing, the bulk of it is from Sam and myself and in this case we are also having Dale and Josh’s musical footprints so to speak, on the song. They all added so much to it and it was awesome to see Josh and Dale respectively going into collaborating with Sam while he was writing and putting a lot of the stuff together. I think ‘The World Breathes With Me’ is a lot stronger for that and particularly songs like ‘The Stormchaser’ where Dale had such a strong influence on that. You can hear that in the kind of bass-forward kind of return of that song.

I was also struck by the last song ‘Mute’. Your vocals in the beginning are really stunning! It has a kind of Celtic vibe I would say…
Thank you! That is in my blood for sure, that is where my people are from originally. I have blood from Ireland yes. That is why I get sunburnt in Australia very easily, because I have the pale skin of someone who lives on a damned foggy island. It is 24° now in Brisbane. It just cooled up a little bit, but I am still sweaty because it is very moistly.

It is going to be a climate shock when you go on tour in the Americas…
Oh yes. We will bring a lot of clothes for that. We always loved the cold, except for Dale, who is going to suffer through that (chuckles). I am sure. Through the pandemic, one of the things we lost the most was of course touring. I didn’t realize how much I would miss it. Not that we were taking the touring for granted and that we have been taking travelling with music for granted. Of course you cherish every moment and you celebrate it, because you are having a wonderful time in sharing music with people, but to a certain extent I kind of never really thought about it that it would not happen anymore. So we are finally going on this headline tour in the United States that we were due to do in 2022 on ‘Rise Radiant’ and that is mind-blowing. There’s probably going to be a lot of tears on that one, because I am already feeling very emotional and very lucky to be able to do that again.

Photo: Jack Venabes

Yeah but who would think that a pandemic is raging over the whole world and that it would have such an impact…
You cannot prepare for something like that.

On a positive vibe – and also a bit personal I would say – you are the most tattooed artist from the band. Can you tell something about your tattoos and what they mean to you?
(laughs) That’s a really good question. Josh has a couple of small tattoos though. I got an A on my arm and that was the first tattoo I ever did. I was eighteen and that was when my first band Arcane had a first album coming out and I wanted to celebrate that with a tattoo. It is a shitty tattoo and it is funny, because I found out later that the A we were using for our logo at that time was like a stock fund. I only noticed that when I saw someone wearing a T shirt with that on it and I was like ‘oh holy shit’. But anyways, it is a precious memory. This is me during my silly period… the word infinity back and forth and upside down. I have a sort of semi-mechanical feathered wing on this side and it is burning as it is get close to the sun, that is a kind of an Icarus reference, which is quite old now as well. The entire work on my right arm is done by Sascha and Samara from Bled in Slovenia which is just an incredible artist. This upper arm has been waiting for them, because I had the intention in 2018 to go there at the end of our European tour when time and money was right, but I had to do it next tour and then there was no next tour, but hopefully it can be finished at some point soon. I have on my chest three very lovely animals. I have a panda eating some bamboo, I have a fox and a sea turtle on the other side and a little banner that says ‘Love conquers all’ and laughing underneath. You do this thing, when you are stocked being tattooed, everything has to matter so much from the beginning. It is going to be on my body forever. Now I sometimes go to an artist I like and let them decide. You get to a certain point of tattooed nerds when tattoos just become like ‘oh yeah, why not? Let’s go’. Give me something, I don’t care.

Maybe you played at Metal Days festival in Slovenia then?
Not yet. I would love to play there. No, we were just touring in Europe and I met Sascha by coincidence on this Dragonfly tour in 2015. We got on really well and I loved his style and stuff and stayed in touch. I started to see his style more on line and I thought wow it is amazing, so I just went to Slovenia at the end of the next tour at Lake Bled which is just insane! It took my breathe way. You can walk up to the top of that viewpoint and I was really amazed. We have nothing like that in Australia. I felt as if I was in Disneyland. It is just so different. Of course we have beautiful nature as well. I adore plants and animals and the uniqueness of people and the uniqueness of the country, but like comparing… when other people come to Australia, they see our wildlife and they think: ‘holy shit’. We do the same in the rest of the world. When we see a snowy mountain peak, my God, what is that?! (laughs) because we don’t have that.

You should go to Iceland!
Yeah I would love to!

There will be a US tour. When will it be starting?
I think the first show is on the 30th this Month. So the album comes out on the 26th and it is basically as soon as it comes out, we are packing our bags and go to the States. Yeah it is going to be incredible. So the album is going to be fresh on everyone’s ears and they are going to be excited, just as the audience. We are going to cry a lot it is going to be great!

Are there already plans for a EU tour?
We are definitely working on it. Nothing is certain at this point, but it is something we are definitely working on in the background. I’d love to get over there again. We were there recently for a short tour, but yeah we are definitely going to bring ‘Charcoal Grace’ over there at some point. We are working on it now.

Which bands inspired you to get into music as a singer and maybe you also play guitar?
I play badly guitar. When I was a kid, I sang in a church choir for a long time. I am not a religious guy at all, but I got the scholarship to a fancy school by singing in this church choir and so I had to work my ass off every day. Every day, hours before school and after school, on Sundays… I was singing all the time and in doing that I am kind of grateful ultimately because it really gave me the training that my hearing and voice needed, building the foundation and specialize later. But honestly it wasn’t until hearing some interesting rock and nu metal bands in my kind of mid-teens, that I thought ‘I want to be that guy’, such as The Butterfly Effect. Interestingly a year and a half ago we got on tour with The Butterfly Effect. I was trying to play it cool and there was a certain moment at the last show where we did a stage announcement for the last song and the other band going wild as well. We were all taking a piss and feeding each other shots on stage and singing along. It was a very special moment. I felt the teenage version of myself coming up again. A lot of other stuff was influential as well. I listened to a lot of Muse stuff at that time, I was listening to a lot of Dream Theater at that time and a lot of progressive story telling came out of that. Jeff Buckley has always been an influence of mine. I recently realized how much Sinead O’Connor and Tori Amos were great, a lot of female vocalists kind of shaped where I take my voice as well. Even more recently, the work of Becca Stevens. I don’t know if you are familiar with her, but she is an American artist and does amazing things and vocal arrangements and phrasing. It wasn’t until listening back to some of the stuff on ‘Charcoal Grace’ I did actually get from where this influence came. I pick up a favourite from her and that is very recent. I recommend her album ‘Regina’.

We wish you an amazing tour in the States and welcome you in Europe again later this year hopefully…
Thanks a lot, my bags are packed (laughs).

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