I can only do it if there is a peace – Interview with Tamás Kátai (Thy Catafalque)

Let’s start with a warm-up question: how was the reception of Geometria?

Basically, the responses were good, but and I don’t remember exactly… when it was, a year ago perhaps?

Yepp, in 2018.

I don’t remember any extraordinary, everything went as usual.

And what happens usually?

Well, there are feedbacks, and most of the time they are positive. I can recall only these ones, and I don’t remember any negative critics, but obviously I don’t read them all. What I can find I read, and usually they are giving a positive feedback.

Here is something what made me suspicious: Sgùrr came out in 2015, Meta in 2016, Geometry in 2018, and Naiv in 2020. In fact, this frequency, having a new release in every second year, is often impossible even for full time bands.

They can’t do it because they give shows, and there is always a tour and many shows after the album release. On the top of that, the more people are involved, the harder it is.

And can it take so much time?

I think so. I have nothing else to do, I mean this is not my main job so I have my full time job to do. Whenever I have free time, then I can write music and when a record is done, then I can start working on the next one unless there is something else more important. There were periods when something else was more important, for example, five years passed between the Tűnő idő tárlat and Róka hasa rádió releases when my life was going in a specific way and I simply had no time to deal with music. Later on there was a four-years period between the Rengeteg and the Sgùrr albums, also full of changes. Nowadays I have a bit more time to play music, but I think the reason behind this pace is to have no shows at all, so this part has completely gone.

For those people who are thinking only in boxes, would you be able to define the style of your music?

I can’t really define it. Many people say it’s avant-garde metal, but in my understanding they were simply unable to categorize it. It doesn’t have much to do with the real avant-garde.

That’s exactly why I’m asking.

It might be a little bit more experimental or unusual within the genre of metal, but not avant-garde, at least in my mind. But after all, we can put it into the box of avant-garde metal.

Among other things, I’m just asking this question because in many cases one can easily see that parts of metal, even parts of extreme metal, are completely organically twinned to musical ideas that have nothing to do with metal music, therefore, at least in my mind, it is impossible to interpret your music as a homogeneous one.

I don’t really look at this music as metal. For me, it’s just one of the ingredients. That’s how it started, clearly, this is the root, but it’s not a priority to have metal by all means. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music anyway, and that is obvious if you listen to the music I play.

Your Naive album will be released soon in early 2020; can the cover also visually reproduce the musical atmosphere of the new material at some level? Who made the cover?

The main purpose was to reflect its atmosphere. My girlfriend painted the picture, it’s an acrylic painting. We figured it out together, and eventually she painted it. It’s a decent painting, it’s on the wall of our living room (what you can also order upon request).

I checked out the names of the guest musicians on the new album, and we are talking about a dozen of people, Gyula Vasvári, Martina Horváth, Zoli Pál from Sear Bliss inclusive. Why did you choose these musicians?

I know Martina for many years, same with Gyula, they are my friends. I also know Zoli Pál since forever. Zoli Kónya, who did the vocals in a song, sang in Gire, and Balázs Hermann, who was the bassist in Gire, plays fretless bass in another song. Most of the guests are very old and good friends of mine. It was obvious that I can make music with them, and they helped me out.

You said in several interviews to have a complete freedom under the umbrella of Season of Mist. Is this still the case nowadays?

There was never even a hint about any kind of expectation, or any kind of recommendation to do anything in a different way. It’s all my decision, one hundred percent, from artistic point of view. The business side is their job and not mine, they know it very well, and to be honest, I don’t really care about that.

So you make the music, pass it them, and then they say okay?

Yes, this has been the case so far, and I have no reason to complain as always my artistic approach prevails. They have always been very enthusiastic and I think they like what I do.

I know pretty much how you started making music, but how did you start playing the guitar?

I already played guitar on the Thy Catafalque albums, so I already made a couple of riffs on Microcosmos, I have a couple of songs on Tűnő idő tárlat played only by myself, same with Róka hasa rádió, but basically János was the main guitarist. In Thy Catafalque, he was the guitarist, he wrote most of the riffs, and also he played the better ones. He always had excellent musical ideas. And then I moved to Scotland, János was in the Netherlands and Norway, and then I wrote the music on my own. I needed a guitar, therefore I bought one from e-bay, and I have been using it ever since. It was in 2008, and the guitar was a black Ibanez RG7321.

Have you ever learnt playing the guitar, or you just grabbed the instrument and started playing on your own?

No, I’ve never learnt playing music other than the compulsory singing lessons in the secondary school. This is a disadvantage, a major disadvantage. I really miss it  because it would be great to have this specific knowledge, both the theoretical and instrumental part. I’m not a good guitarist for this reason. I record the things I figure out, and don’t play them anymore. There’s no rehearsal, so I forget them immediately.

It’s interesting what you say because a lot of the people, who learned music, have the problem of being guided by the music theory as a kind of dogma.

Probably, but it is very useful up to a specific point. So now I have to rely on what I can learn from my own experience in music. So it would help a lot, which, of course, I can still fix, so it is not final. Learning helps a lot.

The next question is about Shibuya Progressive 7 of Kanji. where did this support, this collaboration come from?

I got an email from the company asking me if I would become an endorsee one of their guitars, and then they would make a guitar according to my ideas. And of course, I replied that obviously it’s a great honor and a pleasure of mine to have something to happen even if I find a little bit absurd to get such a great guitar. It goes by the name of Progressive 7, because… I don’t consider to be progressive what I’m doing.

Why are you using a 7-string guitar?

Gire was my first band and we were always tuned down to B – so that was the basis for me. We used a 6-strings guitar, but we were always tuned down to B, and for me it was always obvious that a guitar is on a B. And for that reason, it was much easier to buy a 7-strings guitar right at the beginning. I used the same strings as Zolcsi in Gire, even the guitar pick is the same, so that was my starting point.

Website of Kanji says that they originally re-designed a Shibuya HS to match your requirments. What were these special needs?

The original guitar was 6-strings one. The pickups were replaced with passive ones, obviously the headstock was rebuilt just because the balance has changed due to the extra string, and I wanted a fix bridge. Well, that’s the most of it… I don’t know the guitars that much.

So we know everything about the guitar, but what kind of pedals and amps do you use?

I work with VSTs (Virtual Studio Plugin), so everything goes through my computer. I’ve never had an amplifier or a guitar pedal. This also shows how rock and roll it is. I have a Zoom 505 pedal, which is also a legacy from the Gire band, and I use it mostly for singing.

It is well known that you do the mixing and mastering by yourself, so the first obvious question is that have you ever learned it?

It was always about doing and fixing something, and it was always looking to be the easiest way to do it on my own. It was also such a thing, and I was not satisfied with the outcome for a while. Now the lasts releases like Geometria sound better, but I’m not happy with the sound at all. I also sent the previous records to others, and also tried a professional mastering, but I simply didn’t like the result. Somehow I did not like the result that others mixed up, and therefore I had to put it together on my own.

What hardware and software do you use?

I use Cubase as my basic software, XLN Addictive Drums 2 for drums, and Guitar Rig for guitar. The synth is a Korg N5 and there are a lot of VSTs as well. Most of the time, I use the Korg for the distorted sound I sometimes use for the solos like in Szélvész now. I just wanted to have that sound on each and every album at least once, because I love it and I think it pops up on all releases from the Tűnő idő tárlat onwards, and I also used it a lot with Gire.

Is there anyone in Hungary whom you would like to entrust mixing and mastering?

Well, I’d love to have someone who does it very well. If somebody can do it well, I’d be very happy to give it a go. On the other hands, I don’t have to pay myself, haha.

So, if somebody shows up tomorrow saying “Tamás, I will be able to do this in a nice way”, then would you give a go?

Everything can be tried. The point is to have a good outcome, and not that my name should be  printed there.

Many people asked about your inspirations, but I didn’t really feel that the answer came through totally clear.

I always wanted to do something, to create something out of nothing since my childhood. This process, I mean to have a white paper and fill it with any color, always fascinated me, music, photos or poems, no matter what. One of my first memories was trying to do something, but I did not know how to do it exactly. It was a struggle that I couldn’t find the way of what to do and how. Music was an opportunity to make something from scratches relatively easily.

How does the songwriting happen? Do ideas occur in your mind as a final version, or is it the result of multiple attempts?

No, in a normal case I sit down and start making music, and one idea comes from another, something slowly builds up. But most of the time… I’d say I’ve never had a whole song arising in my head. Usually I don’t know what I want to do, I just start writing something and it slowly becomes a song after a relatively long time, and this process is still exciting for me.

Do the guest musicians have their hands free? Do they have any guidance from you, or is it their job to figure out their parts?

I usually rely on Martina with her parts because she usually brings excellent themes. And on the other hand, there is a guideline like the music, the lyrics. Most of the time they can be a kind of guidance, ready to use them. I always trust her and she usually brings motifs we don’t even need to touch. Gyula is the same, I trust them completely. The violin on Geometria was a total improvisation, I still wanted the violin to add something new. My abilities are quite limited, therefore the guest musicians, who are masters of their instruments, could enrich the music with their parts. And obviously it is important for me to always have something new, because I can make circles after a while, I simply run out of ideas, therefore I really need them to add something to the music. It’s more exciting for me, for the musicians and also for the audiance.

We were talking about albums, I was looking at your photos on Etsy, reading your poems in your books, but you have only 24 hours a day. How can these be organized?

The poems are the lyrics, nothing extra. What else?

Pictures, photos.

Sometimes, when I have time, I go down to take photos and it doesn’t take as much time as it looks. I have a decent job, and whenever I have time, I play music or take photos… that’s it. It’s a simple thing.

And how does your partner like all of these?

She painted the cover and made many illustrations for the booklet of the new album. She helps as much as she can, and she is happy that I’m doing these things, and I also support her.

I was looking at your pictures and some of them were made from places suggesting you like hiking.

Yes, I really enjoy hiking, which I did a lot more in Scotland. I’ve been to the Highlands a lot, and here in Hungary somehow I have not enough time for that.

Lyrics of Töltés says you were forced to leave your home town Makó. Later on you lived in Edinburgh for a while, about one decade, and now you’ve been living here in Budapest for a year and a half. What are the reasons behind these movements?

We left because my girlfriend used to live near Budapest, I lived in Makó, and somehow there was no other way to live together than going abroad. Neither of our jobs were good, so it was  an adventure and an escape route at the same time. We had two options, either move to London or move to Edinburgh because of our friends, and in the end, we chose Edinburgh. That’s something I don’t regret because everybody went to London, on the other hand, Edinburgh seemed more exciting. We made a very good decision, I stayed there for ten and a half years and came home last summer, also for personal purposes.

In one of the interviews you said that the essence of writing music is to make yourself happy. Can you imagine a happiness factor that would just cancel music writing and you stop?

Sure, definitely. I think, I could live without it, as I was able to do so when there was a five-year gap between two albums. That time it was more important that I had to work, that was a period when I had to survive in a different country. At that time I had neither a computer, nor instruments. When we left, we just had a suitcase and nothing else. Then life was about working, and I enjoyed it, to be honest. It was a very exciting and interesting phase of my life, I had to work on things that I haven’t done before. And I was completely satisfied with that. Then everything slowly calmed down, and I had the opportunity to play music again. I can’t compose or play music having a mess around me, I can only do it if there is peace.

The last question I always ask is like what does metal music mean to you, and what does the music itself mean as a way of expression?

It was more important in the past to play metal. It was what inspired me the most, and the freedom that came with that music. I was sure that anything would fit into the shape of metal. Then I realized this is not true, of course, because I can’t fill it with everything. But it’s still the strength of the riffs that really breaks my heart, and I still have that sense of freedom and it will always be there, thanks to this genre.

And what music does mean to you?

Build something out of nothing, out of sounds, something that wasn’t there before. And that’s exactly why it’s so exciting. This also applies to any the other arts, but the music is the easiest to me. But if I could paint, I’d enjoy it on the same way then making music.

Have you ever tried?

I tried it, but unfortunately it needs a lot more from me…

Written by: Á