Exploring Thy Catafalque's music with Tamás Kátai

Exploring Thy Catafalque’s music with Tamás Kátai

Thy Catafalque has been around for more than two decades, yet they never ceases to amaze, thanks to their ever-changing sound, rich in influences and various layers that have to be discovered slowly, going deeper as you listen to their music one more time. This feeling is confirmed by Thy Catafalque‘s latest full length Naiv, which was released at the end of January and can be included in a list of the most magnetic albums in 2020. Such a fascinating record can raise many questions and things we are curious about, especially concerning the hidden meanings this album bears, as well as the identity the band embodies today. And honestly, who else other than Thy Catafalque‘s very own Tamás Kátai can help us understand all these aspects we are curious about?

First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! How are things going?

Hello, thank you very much for having me. All good here.

Naiv was published at the end of January, just as the Coronavirus situation was starting to get serious in various countries. Were you in Scotland during that time? How was the situation back then?

In fact, it was released when the situation still did not look that dire. Sadly enough I do not live in Scotland any more; I moved back to Hungary in the summer of 2018 and at that time there was really nothing noticeable going on here.

What did you have in mind to convey with this record, and are you satisfied with the feedback so far?

I did not have any concept or idea, it was just the next album and that’s the normal way for me usually. It was a weird situation, though, because I started the record in Scotland and finished it living in Hungary, so it’s really between two worlds. I feel fine about it and people seem to like it generally. Yes, I’m happy about it.

Reading the information about Naiv, I saw that you cooperated with many musicians on this album. Can you tell us a bit about how this cooperation started?

Many of those musicians are long term friends or collaborators. If anyone’s familiar with our back catalogue, they can easily recognize the names from previous albums or even from previous bands. The main thing is I like to work with different people because they can bring so much to the table that I don’t even think about would be possible, and thus the music is getting richer and more exciting for me, for them and for the audience as well. I have to mention here Martina Horváth the most, who is singing in Thy Catafalque for the second album now (and will sing the next one). She really brought a new dimension to the music.

One of the things that I immediately found fascinating about Naiv when I first approached it was undoubtedly the artwork. Did you have a previous interest in embroidery motifs or was it the result of some research you specifically did for the album?

The main motif with the tulip was coming from a traditional Hungarian tulip box that I spotted at my grandmother’s home when I visited her the summer I moved back. My girfriend copied it and we added the space and science motifs, and also we ditched the original colors and applied the khokloma palette instead, which is an Ukrainan/Russian folk style. I did not want it simply Hungarian folky, it’s much more exciting when we play with mixing different cultures.

I read in a previous interview that you underlined the connection between what you do in music and what Naïf painters do in visual arts. To me, it seems that your music sounds spontaneous and it immediately sticks to the listener’s mind and soul, yet when you listen more carefully, you discover a lot of layers that manage to amaze every time (feel free to disagree). Was this some effect that you were looking for?

I work a lot on each song, a lot of time is invested in them but if they feel spontaneous, that’s great! I am not looking for such an effect though. The way I create music is like this. Going layer by layer, like a painter working on the canvas meticulously. It’s really not rock ‘n’ roll.

Speaking of the tracks that are part of Naiv, one of my favourites is “Embersólyom”, which (if I got it correctly) should translate to “Human Falcon”. Is there some particular reference in folklore and/or religion that led you to focusing on the falcon?

That song actually is a cover of an old Hungarian folk band called Kaláka. This track is from their 1998 album and I have always loved it since I first heard it that year. Yes, the title means human falcon and the lyrics are pretty obscure. In my interpretation it’s about breaking free or resurrection in a broader sense. Leaving everything behind and being born again in a new life.

Another one of my favourites is “Kék Madár”. What is the story behind this track?

“Kék madár” means blue bird and the subtitle “Négy kép” means four pictures. It’s an instrumental track that can be diveded into four parts, four pictures that are connected to each other. It’s like four scenes of a story. I really like the flute there which is actually a quena, a South American flute. You might recognize zither in the song but that’s synth in reality. It’s an adventurous track, I’m glad you enjoy it.

Thy Catafalque’s music incorporates various elements that are linked to folk music. How important is Hungary’s cultural heritage when it comes to your art?

The thing is this, what I was born into, and it comes naturally. I think it’s pretty normal. I am not a conservationist or traditionalist. It’s just my culture, my childhood, the ground I was born from. So when I talk or play or write, this is coming out of me. But on the other hand, I am really interested in other cultures and they do have their part in the music as well.

Naiv also has a lot of ’80s synthwave. Are there any musicians from that decade that inspired you?

Hmm. Well, I’m mostly inspired by Kraftwerk when it comes to electronic music, especially their works from the ’70s. I really adore Kraftwerk. ’80s are mostly metal for me and Depeche Mode, but they are not synthwave either. So probably no direct influences there.

Recently, you released a boxset with all your works (Köd Utánam). What is the album that you have the deepest connection with, and why?

This is a very difficult question. I have fond memories of almost all of them for different reasons. These albums represent totally different stages of my life and every time I think about one it’s not the music that I hear but the memories I remember. Musicwise I probably like Sgúrr [which was released in 2015] the most. I think that’s one of the least popular ones but I think I managed to capture the vibe of the Scottish Highlands and my big, lonely hiking tours in an exciting way.

Thy Catafalque as a project has a very long history. If you compare the music scene now and when you started, what changes do you notice?

The biggest difference probably lies in the producing tools we have now opposed to the stuff we had in the ’90s. I mean I remember recording the Darklight album, my first project in 1997, and I did not have enough hard drive space for the long songs, so I was forced to convert the wav files to 128 kbps mp3s, delete the wavs and keep on working with the next track. How absurd is that now? Also, when we recorded our first demo with Gire in 1996, no one in the town had a CD burner, including the studio, and we had to travel to the next big city and find someone to burn the CD for us from the hard drive. What we have now at home ready to use is infinitely more than what we had back then and that’s great. However you still need originality, creativity and the urge for self-expression, this will always be the most important factor.

Among the various memories that you surely collected during your career with Thy Catafalque, is there a memory that you are particularly fond of and that you would like to share with us?

Well, as Thy Catafalque has never ever played live, not even ever had a rehearsal, there are no real stories here. But I remember fondly about getting invited to Marseille to the HQ of Season Of Mist and I had a dinner with Gunnar and Guillaume from the label and Rune, aka Blasphemer (Mayhem), and his wife, Carmen from Ava Inferi. That was a great memory.

I was asking you about the past, but what can you tell us about your future plans?

Zápor EP will be released on CD and vinyl early next year and the new full length is halfway done. We’ll see how life is going to be and we can get our lives back or we’ll have more important things to worry about than music.

To end our interview, could you recommend us some worthy Hungarian bands that we should include in our music library?

Sure. I love Watch My Dying, Perihelion, Svoid or Ordog. Please check them out!