“It’s crazy,” guitarist and founder Sam Vallen says of the band’s impending touring blitz, which includes dates with TesseracT in Australia before heading off to Europe with Norway’s Shining. “In terms of European dates we haven’t toured like this at all. We’ve toured Australia a dozen or so times but nothing can prepare you for this. The relentlessness of 20-something dates is going to be the big thing!”
Bloom is the perfect summation of the shadow and light, the directness and complexity of the band’s heavy progressive sound. “As the lead songwriter and also the producer of the album it’s really important to me that every record has a thematic identity on its own and by extension a sonic entity that matches that. Our previous album was really dark and heavy and it had all these themes and concepts behind it. We wanted to contrast that by releasing something that was generally quite positive, or if not positive then at least more colourful and multi-faceted in terms of the mood. In terms of production it was important that we capture a live vibe with editing kept to a minimum because as soon as you start to do that stuff it starts to homogenise everything and you lose those micro-dynamics. If I can sum it up the sonic goal was for it to sound really human: the sonics are kept to a maximum but as human as possible.”
Vallen’s chord and harmony choices are noticeably more jazz-inspired than most heavy prog bands, and that’s by design. “I’m so glad you mention that because that’s completely intentional and it’s something I prize as a way to set us apart. Steely Dan is probably the band I steal from the most. They take concepts that are really attuned to jazz harmony or even impressionism and all these movements that revolve around chord progressions that are – and there’s a very good word for this – very ornamental. They’re not based around chord progressions that are based around harmonic functions. They’re beautiful in their own right. So I take some of those concepts and place them in a musical setting in which they’re not normally used. It just makes the music more colourful.”
Vallen and co-guitarist Zac Greensill are both Ernie Ball Music Man endorsers with their own slightly customised versions of the John Petrucci JP7. “We both play JP7s, we both have Axe-Fxs in the front end we both use Mesa SimulClass 2:90 power amps,” he says. “Other than that we have our wireless units. It’s the simplest rig you can imagine. Of course in the studio it gets a lot more convoluted …the JP7s are pretty well stock but we’re able to get subtleties to the build, and for me that means a non-painted headstock, which is purely visual, and I don’t have a piezo in mine either. But the pickups are still the stock DiMarzio Crunch Lab and LiquiFire, with the stock three-way switch, which has a coil tap in the middle position that makes it very interesting and very usable. I adore the Crunch Lab. I may end up changing the neck pickup because the LiquiFire is very Petrucci and I often prefer something a bit rougher. But the Crunch Lab is my perfect bridge humbucker. I love it.”
“I’ve been playing 7-strings pretty much since the very first Caligula’s Horse album, which was basically a solo album,” Vallen continues. “I did it almost as an experimental thing but I got into a bit of a trap when I started playing it live because I couldn’t really do it without the 7-string! So I’ve been playing 7-string for about six years now.” And of course the original 7-string shredder Steve Vai is an influence too: Vallen had the opportunity to jam with Vai during his clinic tour a few years ago. “I actually got to hang out with him before the show too. That was a nerve-wracking experience! I have it on video and I did pretty well, considering!”
For a full list of tour dates, visit www.caligulashorse.com.