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  • Tiana Speter

INTERVIEW: Dale Prinsse (CALIGULA'S HORSE)

Photo: Jack Venables
 

With a name like Caligula's Horse, it's little wonder that the sonic output of the Brisbane prog quartet is nothing short of epic.


Continuously raw, immersive and deeply connective, Caligula's Horse are a band who continue to astonish with their sharpened musicianship and ability to think outside the already tenuously malleable parameters of the progressive metal genre. Renowned equally for their dynamic live performances as they are for their meaningful sonic creations, 2024 finds the group not only set to unleash a six full-length album; it also finds them putting the crippling grip that the pandemic years had on the world and the band themselves, both personally and creatively, emerging with an album that wallows but ultimately vanquishes all things surrounding loss and hopelessness.


Having already unveiled multiple singles ahead of the album's release, including Golem, The World Breathes With Me and The Stormchaser, today's release of Charcoal Grace, out now via Sony Music Australia, is simultaneously a triumph and a resounding reminder of what has come before us. Optimism teeters alongside heaving riffs and drums, while the centrepiece of the album, a four-part title track suite, also hammers home the album's core themes: connection, alienation and the way that humanity acts under duress.


Set to celebrate their new opus in North America as of next week, the road to Charcoal Grace has ultimately paved some incredible moments ahead for the band. But just before the album released, The Soundcheck's Tiana Speter grabbed some time with C-Horse bassist (and previous Behind The Soundcheck podcast season 1 guest) Dale Prinsse to chat catharsis, early days for Charcoal Grace and milestone moments - plus, shout out to any orchestras out there keen to team up with the band and/or those wondering if frontman Jim Grey will be required to wear pants in his upcoming shows. The incredible Charcoal Grace is out now, for more info, head to: caligulashorse.lnk.to/CharcoalGrace.

 

TIANA SPETER: Greetings Dale, and thank you for taking the time to chat today. It’s a very exciting time with the impending release of Charcoal Grace, I know the album release joins a large amount of exciting C-Horse plans for the new year as well. First and foremost, gazing into 2024, how is life inside Caligula’s Horse HQ in this moment?

 

  • DALE PRINSSE: So good to chat again TT! It’s looking better on the inside for us right now. As with most artists, COVID played havoc on our mental and emotional well being individually and collectively. We’re staring down the barrel of a world tour this year and moving out of the toughest financial period we’ve faced, at least in my history in the band. The honest answer is that we’re actively working on breaking this slow cynicism that built within us over the past few years and, through a dictionary definition catharsis, the new album has shown us the way forward by reflecting on the past.

 

 

TIANA: The world has had a sneak peek already of what’s to come with some singles, including Golem and The World Breathes With Me. Instantly with those tracks in particular we witness how this eventual album will unfurl, and both songs ultimately leading into the four-part title track suite in the album track list. Undeniably, the pandemic experiences are ingrained in this album alongside more uplifting territory…but take me back to the start of the Charcoal Grace journey – when did work and writing for album #6 first start and what were the first songs that solidified?

 

  • DALE: The simple answer is that the opening riff of Golem, in a less refined form, sat in our “album 6” folder from maybe a year after the completion of production for Rise Radiant in January of 2020. The next movements toward vague sketches of Charcoal Grace were likely completed in mid to late 2022 where I recall stacks of moods that Sam [Vallen] was working on in various forms…actually, part 3 of the Charcoal Grace suite was an early Jim [Grey] idea around then as well. The first song to be solidified was actually The World Breathes With Me, quite fitting that the first song on the album is also the first song in C-Horse history that was written, in part, by the whole band. For me, the album started coming together in a meeting we had in mid-2022 though. We actively began thematic development over the phone and Jim even proposed the album title Charcoal Grace, which sort of became a monument for the mood of our writing – again, very new for us.




TIANA: There’s everything from acoustic beauty to heavy riffage, orchestral instrumentation and beyond on Charcoal Grace. What inspirations or sonic reference points (if any) did you all bring into this album experience? Was anything in particular driving your creative juices at the time of writing?

 

  • DALE: Some of our classic influences are noticeable across this record, but I think of the Buckley style expressivity of Jim in places like Charcoal Grace Part II or The Stormchaser. Sam would attest to the Jeff Beck influence on The Stormchaser solo and maybe some Matteus Asato in A World Without too. In a macro sense, our sonic reference point is similar to prior approaches in production, we build huge sound stages with dynamics and nuance, we have production that feels very human too, and even the album art reflects this too.

 

 

TIANA: Not to look entirely back, but with Charcoal Grace following on from the experience with Rise Radiant which had its wings temporarily clipped via the pandemic – that album still went on to turn heads, both fan-wise and critically, and burn up charts along the way, but did that experience significantly impact any of your approach(es) with Charcoal Grace? Did you change anything regarding how you wrote, how you recorded, anything lyrically, musically, or arrangement-wise…were there any significant differences to how you crafted this album compared to previous times - and potentially things that may have surprised you as a result along the way?

 

  • DALE: We had to train ourselves out of some of the conventions quite typical of our compositional ideology for Charcoal Grace, namely that of time. While historically we delve into longer epics, we squeeze a lot into the songs we write with the time provided. On Charcoal Grace, we’ve afford ourselves time in a variety of ways, from the recording/production and writing process, to the actual passages of music as well. We felt that space, as a reference point, would reflect sombre isolation in the ideas we’re trying to communicate on the album. The closest we’ve got to this before is probably the second half of Dream the Dead, but this ambience and ‘post-rockiness’ (if you can call it that) was something I thought would be great to include on this album too, and having moved TWBWM in that direction first we saw how well it would work. I guess you could see Charcoal Grace in antithesis to Rise Radiant, though they’re conceptually not linked at all, they just obviously show our band, our mood, and our musicality in two very distinct periods.

 


TIANA: The title Charcoal Grace conjures such amazing imagery, perfectly accompanied by the artwork, and the title definitely encapsulates the sonic light and shade that ebbs and flows throughout the album. In this strange breathless limbo between completing the album and waiting for the rest of the world to hear it in full, what do you ultimately hope a listener takes away from a visit with this beautiful album?

 

  • DALE: Part of the answer has to be personal because this album is exactly that, a view into us as people, not just musicians in Caligula’s Horse. It is reflective of our experience over the past few years. A large portion of the answer has to be our take on what we’ve witnessed in the potential of others as well. In a time where we hoped, and sincerely thought that people could and would do the right thing, their preservation of self and humanistic ideologies took preference over what is simply right; to just do the right thing. Part of the healing process is getting to the point where you don’t really think about ‘the thing’ again, whatever it is. But as soon as the world opened again, in my view, people just forgot what we’d gone through or pretended like nothing had happened. Maybe this is still the cynicism rearing its head though...I’d like to say that I wish people take some hope away from Charcoal Grace in the places that feeling is conveyed, but that’s not the album – it’s a dark record.



TIANA: With nine new tracks lying in wait, I hesitate to make anyone play favourites…but in this moment, is there a song on Charcoal Grace that resonates with you strongly right now, whether for what it means to you, how it sounds or other?


  • DALE: Typically, I’d say Mute is my favourite song off the album, but you’ve got such a great way of framing these questions. Sails for me right now. Too often we think of sailing off into the horizon from someone else’s perspective on the shoreline, we don’t really think about it from the people on board. And right now, I feel like one of the people on board – new beginnings, exciting new things to do with Sam, Jim, and Josh [Griffin]. We’ve just moved through a defining period in this band, and I’m getting a similar feeling to the one I had in January of 2020 upon completion of Rise Radiant. Things look good man.

 

TIANA: And not only in 2024 will this new album unveil to the world, you will also of course be touring North America to celebrate Charcoal Grace, and you’ve also just announced an Aussie East Coast tour as well. What can fans expect from a 2024 live C-Horse show, and how pumped are you all to embark on some headline shenanigans to launch the new album? And we don’t have to wait years to do it this time round!

 

  • DALE: We’ll be bringing new music with our message of love for everyone. If you haven’t been to a C-Horse show before you can expect a loving community of people having fun and laughing together, that’s what we’re about. Also I heard that Jim learned his lesson and guarantees that he’ll wear pants at the shows this time.



TIANA: Looking back across the C-Horse trajectory, there have been some incredible live shows to some amazing locales and with insanely awesome bands alongside you over the years. What Caligula’s Horse live music memory instantly springs to mind in this moment that you will never, ever forget. What moment will absolutely make the memoirs one day, no matter how recent or distant?

 

  • DALE: One of them is Rockstadt for me and it’s not even an on-stage memory. We finished our set mid-afternoon and then had a half day off drinking beer and hanging out on what turned out to be the most difficult tour physically and logistically that we’d ever done. Anyway, we watched Zeal and Ardor and had our minds blown. We also stayed at this beautiful place in the hills of Romania.


TIANA: With Charcoal Grace snapshotting a unique moment in human history and an extremely challenging time across the board – what did you personally do to help bide the time and keep some sanity afloat during the pandemic years? For creatives, it was such an extreme reality to lose the connectivity of live performing, and also to try to find inspiration in challenging times to even want to be creative. What helped you through it, were you a sourdough baker, a non-stop Switch player, lived on Zooms or other? What ultimately helped you through it all and led to you thriving with Charcoal Grace?

 

  • DALE: I fell away from my interest in playing for the longest period. Every time I looked at my guitars, I just connected it to all those aspirations gone up in smoke. Honestly not much helped. I was working on my doctorate which I ended up worsening my mood. Video games were a nice reprieve. I learned to play chess reasonably well too and that kept my interest for a few years. I got further into photography too, and I’ve been finding my inner hipster with film cameras – anything to get my eyes away from a screen where I can.

 

TIANA: And to close us out today, I’ve read a lot of online comments of late with the new singles out and about, seeing the C-Horse community SO excited for this new chapter has been incredible, and undoubtedly it’s been amazing for you all on the inside to be able to release this new music and plan to share it in person with your fans. What else is on the Caligula’s Horse bucket list in 2024, because at this point it’s kicking off insanely strong…

 

  • DALE: I mean I’d laugh if 15 years ago you’d told me I’d do a world tour, so that’s one haha. I’m turning my head to some of the venues out there that I desperately want to play actually, Riverstage in Brisbane is number 1 on that list for me, then Red Rocks and Sydney Opera House. After that it’s ticking off festivals – Download, Wacken, 70,000 Tons of Metal, Cruise to the Edge, Graspop, Copenhell. Doing a live show with an orchestra would be dope, we’d have to call it C-Horchestra.


 

CALIGULA'S HORSE

New Album Charcoal Grace out now via Sony Music Australia.

Order & stream here.


 

BY TIANA SPETER


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