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Articles : “It’s all about that light at the end of the tunnel.” – An Interview With Sam Vallen (Caligula’s Horse)

By on May 21, 2020

Most big corporations and other organisations have ‘mission statements’. Some bands even have them. Iconic Brisbane progressive heavy act Caligula’s Horse actually have a formalized one, and in these very heady and uncertain times when the band is on the eve of releasing their fifth album Rise Radiant smack bang in the middle of one of the worst viral outbreaks the world has ever seen, it is more relevant and more of a guiding principle for them than ever before. Guitarist and co-founding member Sam Vallen joins us to give an insight as to how it all fits together.

“It’s something that we’ve actually put some thought into because we’ve had a bit of time to think recently!” Vallen quips, “but the way we put it is that we’re a band that is open to exploration and experimentation, and we’re a metal band. And being a metal band, the immediate connotation is that things are going to be dark and they’re going to be heavy. Our mission statement, to sum it up in as simple terms as I can, is that it’s all about that light at the end of the tunnel. If we’re going to explore something dark, it’s going to be explored with some semblance of hope.”

And the creation and content of Rise Radiant has risen directly from that concept: “This album is a perfect example of that,” he states, “it’s an entire album that was written about, as we say, getting back up again. Crystalising the fact that facing a challenge is just as strong and powerful an act as standing strong, which is much more often described as a strong human action.

“That’s the best way I can put it, and in that way Rise Radiant really is the culmination of that mission statement. It feels heavy and dark, but it never feels like it’s wallowing, we wanted to push away from that.”

The statement is also helping them deal with the disappointment that has come with the onset of the coronavirus and the absolute array that the outbreak has thrown their touring plans into. The band had their first-ever full-blown headlining tour of North America booked and ready to go, they were bringing fellow Aussie progressive act Ebonivory with them, and hooking up with New York heavy hitters Moon Tooth for the tour, and they were heading off at virtually the same time as the album’s release. But now all over those plans have been well and truly scuppered.

In typical fashion, however, Vallen chooses to put a philosophical perspective on it all. “As we sit here, we would have been leaving in three days,” he laughs ironically. “It’s actually absurd to think that, having it all postponed on us as it has been, all of that has just been a distant dream, it hasn’t existed in reality for some time, but yeah, three days, we would have been in the States for our first headlining tour.

“But it’s been re-booked, and the thing is, all things considered, considering had badly some people have had it in this climate, it’s not too bad for us. It’s definitely a massive disappointment of course, but it could be far, far worse.”

A broader picture helps put the disappointment into perspective as well. “We’ve actually been sitting on this record, we’ve had it ready since the early weeks of December last year,” he reveals, “and what’s really funny is that that’s the first time we started to hear just murmurs of the coronavirus. When we first started hearing those rumours, there was almost this automatic cynicism across the world, that it couldn’t possibly be that huge virus that we’ve been warned about for all these decades. And I remember being pretty early vigilant, and I remember thinking this could really impact a lot of things. We were thinking small scale at that point, does it impact tours? Does it impact venues? Will it impact our day to day life as musicians? And then, it was probably only three or four weeks later that all became absolute small fry compared to what we actually saw, especially in places like Italy and the UK and Spain.

“And it also all followed right on top of all the bushfires, which came on top of the great droughts we’re suffering here, so we’ve gone from calamity to calamity. We played with some of the themes of the album almost as a response to the bushfires, and our government’s response, I won’t get into that too much now. The song Slow Violence certainly touches on that a little bit. But it came at a time when things were already quite bad, and we were already responding through our art in whatever way we could, only to find out that there was a much more nefarious thing just around the corner. So a lot of the stuff on the album has found new meaning because of that.”

Despite all of the hardships our nation and the world have suffered of late, that same philosophical attitude, the ideology behind his band’s mission statement, still comes to the fore. “It’s been a rough time,” Vallen says, “and still talking about that mission statement, having that light at the end of the tunnel, this is one of the reasons we take that so seriously. The idea that we could, as a metal band, embrace that really dark, that wallowing in the darkness that is so common to that style, but in not doing so, we hope that maybe there can be a reprieve that can be offered by that.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that our music is a very small thing that a very small select few enjoy. But at the same time, having a statement like that you can at least feel good in the ethics of what you’re offering.”

Rise Radiant is out on May 22nd. For full details, head tocaligulashorse.com.

About

Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine, themusic.com.au, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.