Interview with Tamas Katai | By Eric May
Thy Catafalque are a one of a kind experiment that have never played by traditional rules or boundaries. While some of their earlier works may have been more influenced by that of black metal (and perhaps a track or two here as well) the band’s newest effort Sgùrr sees a much softer atmospheric and electronic approach, feeling a bit more mature than some of their work in the past. We talked about the disc and some of the ideas behind it.
For those who aren’t aware of your musical brilliance, please tell us a little bit about the band. I find it amazing that you’ve done all of this by yourself. What does “Thy Catafalque” mean?
We were originally a two-piece for thirteen years. I founded the band with brilliant guitarist János Juhász in our hometown, Makó, Hungary around ‘98. He left later in ‘11 but we recorded our first four albums together. Rengeteg was the first recording with only me in the project along with some guest musicians contributing, and now Sgùrr is the second one. “Thy Catafalque” is an old English phrase that ccomes from Shakespearean times. I’m sure you know that “thy” means “your” and a Catafalque is a decorated, raised platform or framework to support the casket or the body of the deceased. I was lost in medieval literature at that time, hence the name.
The new record is called Sgùrr. What was the focus of the album, as it sounds more atmospheric and electronic than some of your previous releases and isn’t quite as heavy as Rengeteg.
There are no more clean vocals from Attila Bakos who chose to focus on his own project in the future and this means a big difference music wise. It was time to steer away from the folk metal aspect and get a bit more experimental again. Thus this album is far less straight-forward and punchy than Rengeteg was. It’s much colder and harsher. Some of the songs however are pretty heavy here, similar to the ones we played on our early albums, but on the other hand there is also some violin and double bass to be found too. But above all, less vocals mean less accessible music.
Since I’m not familiar with the language and have always enjoyed your music on a level beyond words, what are some of the lyrical topics that you focus on when you’re writing material. Secondly, what is the concept behind Sgùrr?
Our lyrics are mostly nature-based and Sgùrr is not an exception. Sgùrr means “the top of a rocky mountain” in Scottish Gaelic and the main concept, if I can say that; is the connection between water and mountains. The circle of water, the circle of life. The theory that says that all life originates from water. Let me translate the very first song of the album to summarize the whole material to a degree:
“Matter is never silent. Like soft dynamo, it drones. It carries the pure, clean cadence in its droning passages for millions of years and whoever heard it once, will never forget what is sang by the mountains and what is sang by the waters.”
Since there are so many different types of musical instrumentation to each of your pieces, I am quite sure that the writing and recording process can be a bit cumbersome. How long does it usually take you to craft a song from the writing stage to the production stage?
It really depends on the song. “Jura” for example, is a relatively simple, short and pretty fast black metal song, it didn’t take ages to record it. On the other hand I have two more than quarter-an-hour long tracks here and yes, the writing and recording for them was indeed cumbersome. But I have the advantage of working at home, so basically writing and recording is almost the same process. I grab an instrument, discover a riff or a tune and record it right away. The real challenge is putting together the pieces in order to create a distinctive atmosphere and give meaning, or in other words, to make a song “live.” I work with simple tools and use a PC that I purchased back in ‘08 which still has Win XP on it, a small 5-channel basic mixing equipment, a guitar, a bass, a mic and a set of headphones. I don’t even have an external sound card and still use the built-in one. The writing and recording for Sgùrr took about a year and a half and was finished by last November.
What do you do when you’re not making music? Would you consider Thy Catafalque a hobby project outside of that realm?
Well, looking at the income side of Thy Catafalque, it certainly qualifies as a hobby. However I spend far too much time and effort on it to call it simply like that. I love composing music, creating and shaping something out of blank space. I also love photography, but most of the time I’m a working man at the University Of Edinburgh.
Have you ever toured live with Thy Catafalque and if not, do you ever plan to do so? The music you make is incredible and I’d love to hear it in a live setting.
Thank you, indeed. However there have never been any rehearsals, let alone gigs. We have never been a traditional band. We’ve always composed music, recorded it and practically never played it again. Now that I am alone, it looks even more distant. Certainly I could hire session musicians but I don’t feel the urge to build up a wholly functioning live production out of the scratch. Right now I’m not interested in performing. But hey, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
What are your thoughts on the nature of man and the universe as a whole? Do you feel we are more than just flesh, or will we merely wither into dust? Alternatively, do you feel that man will survive to see the year 3000? Or is that just wishful thinking?
I like the theory of the life-circle, getting back to the soil after death, dissolving into small parts and then becoming the earth or a tree or grass. Perhaps even air or water, and then out of water comes organic life again. It’s like a huge adventure! Knowing that a part of my body and some of my cells will take shape as a dot on an oak leaf or will become the resin of a pine tree excites me. I have no clue about the year 3000 though. We would be extremely lucky to survive as a human race by that period.