Part One: An Interview With Sam Vallen Of Caligula's Horse

Caligula’s Horse, a band at the forefront of Australia’s progressive rock scene, and have just released their fourth studio album, In Contact. Their unique tapestry of progressive metal laced with raw rock power is at once fluid, monumental, and striking, offering a wide audience a broad palate of unforgettable moments and timeless music. Their fourth record, In Contact, is an immense conceptual work discussing the nature of art and creativity, a celebration of what connects us as human beings – the shared space across our many differences. This is Caligula’s Horse at their most ambitious and progressive release to date. Caligula’s Horse are an Australian music treasure, and on their way to becoming one of the world's leading rock acts. and we Tomina Vincent was lucky enough to chat with founding member and lead guitarist, Sam Vallen, about making In Contact plus so much more.

First of all, it must be really exciting to be in Caligula's Horse right now. How are you guys feeling?

We're feeling great! I mean, I can only speak for myself and I'm a person that's relatively busy all the time with other things and Caligula's Horse is something that we sort of switch in and out from depending on what we're doing at the time. Right now it's all systems go and we have just come back from a really fun European tour and we're finally releasing an album that we've been sitting on for around 12 months in terms of having the songs ready, with the recording taking another 5 or 6 months. So everything feels really great right now and there's nothing but excitement.

It feels like Bloom only just came out, were you guys already writing new material during that time?

Well, we're pretty efficient and when Bloom came out this time roughly in 2015 we managed to keep a relatively consistent album release schedule with roughly one release every 2 years. But you know what? It's funny because it comes down to something that I actually really believe in which may be a little unconventional nowadays, and it's that it really shouldn't take that long to make a new album. Back in the days of The Beatles, they had 8 years and they changed the face of popular music. It's funny how 3 or 4 years seems to be increasingly normal in between releasing new albums from bands, I reckon we should be doing it way more.

Absolutely! The fans would love that. You've been very heavily involved with the production on previous releases, was that the case with this new album as well?

Yes, I engineered and produced this one and then I mixed a little more than half of the album. I got Forrester Savell who's mixed Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus and a bunch of other really cool stuff, I got him to mix about 3 of the songs. I also got a friend of mine called Caleb James who's worked with Osaka Punch to mix one of the songs on the new album as well. So it's a little bit different, and I little more diverse sonically with a couple of different engineers. But I think it all worked pretty coherently in spite of that.

So how do you go about choosing producers that you want to work with?

In the case of In Contact a lot of it came down to necessity. This is going to sound even more crazy than the 2 year release schedule, but we realised that we basically had 5 weeks which we needed to record and master In Contact. We weren't too worried about the schedule in terms of our ability to record, we'd done a huge amount of pre-production and I was really confident with Josh (drums) and Dave (bass) and everyone's ability to record on the album. But I realised it wasn't going to be possible to mix this 65 minute album in essentially 2 weeks by myself, to the point where I would be compromising with the quality of the entire thing. So I decided that I was going to mix a certain amount songs with "Graves" being the key one, who would I trust to take these other songs knowing their sort of stylistic fingerprint? I thought for the biggest songs on the album, the ones that I wanted to be the most sonically massive, who else could get us that sound and is known for doing that kind of stuff? Then when it came to handle the softer, almost more pop sounding and intricate track, I think it would be really cool to get an entirely different approach to it. Caleb is someone who's done a lot of that sort of stuff, I don't want to say he's done more poppy material but that's what it is, it's kind of more on the cusp of pop-rock. I think he adapted to that track really nicely because of that. It wasn't as much a stylistic choice as it was a matter of necessity and we made the best of that situation and it turned out okay.

How does a Caligula's Horse song begin its journey? Do you always have an idea where you want to go or do you prefer experimentation and just see where it takes you?

Great questions, we do actually have a pretty good artistic process that we generally follow and most songs usually relate to the same sort of model. That model is that I come up with a chord progression, a riff or any kind of moment of inspiration, something that you hear and go - Okay there's some sort of strength to that. I'll put that into Pro Tools and I'll record it down and sequence some parts around it and try to shape it into something. As soon as it's in that embryonic form, Jim (vocals) and I get together at the very beginning of that first session before any of the songs begin to start taking any meaningful shape. We start to work out some of the different locations of the part/s within the finished structure. So we basically start working on lyrics and vocal melodies and stuff well before the song has any kind of shape. From there we try and take as much of an objective view as we possibly can, so you try and look at it impartially and you might think that this sounds this way and that functions that way. We ask ourselves what would it need to be followed by for some sense of contrast or some sense of continuity, and then we start putting it together. The idea is, the more coherent we can make a song, the better. If you start putting things together that are there as a matter of convenience and you've got two ideas, why not put them together? You might start running into things that might make it sound disjointed I suppose. We take a bit more of a holistic approach or at least we try to, and then as a result our process can take ages but we've become pretty good at it.

That's great. "Will's Song" was the first single you released from the new album which was followed by my personal favourite "Songs For No One" - it must be difficult to pinpoint which track to release first, how do you go about choosing the singles?

It's always incredibly hard, especially on an album of this magnitude when there's this many songs to choose from. I mean, this is I believe our longest album to date, but yeah it's interesting, we sat there and we said well we aren't going to be able to sum up the album with just one particular song, so let's work out our sequence singles that will give people an increasingly accurate portrayal of the dynamic range and the sonic range that the album has. We opened with Will's Song because it's 4 minutes long, it's heavy, it's fun and it's something that can be really hard not to like if you're interested in metal, even if it's not something that necessarily something that's resonant on an emotional level for people. We thought the best way to foil that would be with "Songs For No One" which is something that's a little more sort of exuberant, it's happier and bigger and a little more positive. So the answer is that there is definitely no particular process behind it, we just do our best to make sure that what we're putting out there does eventually represent the record. Even if it takes us a couple of songs to do it.

You've toured Europe quite extensively over the past few years as well as Australia, but what was it like being a part of the European festival circuit?

It's incredible for us. We looked at that and thought it would be an incredible thing to aspire for and a massive goal for us to achieve and work towards. In terms of playing those types of gigs, there's definitely a different kind of vibe there when you compare it to playing here. This is of course not to shit on the Australian scene at all because it's incredible. When we tour Europe you tend to get sort of looked after a little bit by the venues, you'll go in and there will be catering and your rider will always be attended to. So there's this different vibe when you're on the road, it doesn't feel as though you're slumming it and that you're over there doing something quite meaningful whether you are or whether you aren't. The reactions are awesome, but they're kind of different from country to country, there's some really interesting stereotypical connections that you could make. You play in France for example and everyone is crazy, awesome and super involved, and the idea of seeing art or witnessing something that is unique. Whereas if you play somewhere like Scandinavia, everyone is very polite and it's very lovely, and you get the same type of reaction after the show but you don't see the crowd bobbing their heads as much. It's kind of funny and it can't be summed up as single characteristics, it really is just country to country.

Written by Tomina Vincent

Watch the official video for "Songs For No One" below:

In Contact is out now and you can read our review for the album HERE.

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