Paul Catten has been there, done that and has more than a T-Shirt to show for his suffering with the various bands & projects he’s been involved in over the years and as 2011 draws to a close he returns with his own unique twist on Classical Deconstruction with his new solo album ‘Themes And Variations For Strings And Electronics’ along with an appearance at this year’s Damnation Festival under the guise of A Man Called Catten, so read on to find out what makes this twisted genius tick…
Hey Paul, it’s been a while since our paths have crossed so how’s life been treating you of late, all’s good I hope?
It’s great, thank you! Life is pretty chilled in comparison to most of the years beforehand. I’m leading a normal everyday life and it suits me these days. I’m excited to be back doing a few gigs and putting this record out, but it’s not a return to full on touring and band life. Too many years, fuck that again! I just don’t have the time these days.
Firstly, let’s talk about your solo work which is simply going under the moniker Paul Catten, your debut release ‘Themes And Variations For Strings And Electronics’ is due at the end of October via Future Noise, so can you give our readership an insight to what they can expect over the 5 compositions on offer?
Well, it’s certainly different to my previous offerings. Yes, there’s some electronic noise involved, but it’s a whole lot more orchestral. I’m actually very proud of it, both for the composition and also the whole production of the record. It’s another series of movements I guess, it’s like a slightly more mellow/classical Sontaran Experiment record. There’s a great deal of beauty to this record, but there is also a feeling of claustrophobia and edginess. It’s definitely worth a listen I think.
The album has an almost movie sound track feel to it, was this the intention when putting the recording together, or was it just how the tracks evolved over time, and would writing compositions for films or movies be something you’d consider in the future if the opportunity arose?
I think I had the idea beforehand of doing a really fucked up soundtrack, so the intention was there for sure. Once I started however, the songs pretty much wrote themselves. Some parts were written in an improvised manner, but sounded perfect whereas I could have scored it beforehand and it may have lost its feel. On the other hand some stuff was written out in notation a while before it was recorded. It was a whole jumble of techniques to be honest. There was never an ‘it has to sound like a soundtrack’ moment during it, it just fell into place. I have done short soundtracks for student movies in the past and given the right opportunity I would certainly do that again, its great fun. There has been some talk about a full score for some time, if it materialises then expect some more of this stuff.
Did you have any set themes or concepts in mind while creating and recording the tracks for ‘Themes… ‘ and how does the music relate to the title of each composition?
Not really, I just wanted it to be as best as I could get it musically. The tracks fit well together, but it wasn’t really intentional. As long as it sounded like music to me (as I think whatever type of band/project I do) then I would continue to nurture it. The classical/noise thing may even have been accidental at first, but it was avenue I felt compelled to explore. The titles are the usual dark humour, as with Stuntcock the music is entirely instrumental so I have the freedom to call the songs whatever I like. Song titles are one of my favourite things about doing these projects, the more fucked up or insulting the better.
What string instruments were actually used on the recording? Were these all played by yourself, or did you bring in session musicians and/or use samples to help finalise the realisation of the tracks?
It’s pretty much all expensive software to be honest, but with a lot of work to get it to sound as authentic as possible. Piano, 2 violins and Theremin are the main instruments involved. Then there is additional digital instrumentation, as well as electronic oscillators and circuit bent toys. Yes, I play everything on the record, with the exception of the piano doodling in the middle of “An Army of Narcoleptics…” that’s my son Milo, who is 3 ½. It works perfectly. I have been messing around with a real violin lately, but I can’t play it for shit, fucking thing! It’s easier to play it on a keyboard and work it out from there!
Is this purely a recording project, or would you at some point like to play it live as I should imagination it would need a fair bit of planning both from a musical and logistical perspective?
Recording only at the moment…but I would love to see it live. It wouldn’t be out of the question really… couple of violinists, a pianist, and me on theremin/electronics would be a fair rendition of the album. That might actually be my next project to focus on, getting it up and running. Mind you, I’ve started working on the follow up already so I’ll have forgotten about this by the end of the year/week.
The album is also limited to 200 copies and will be hand printed on an original Victorian letterpress, sounds like it’s going to be a killer release, so where did the idea come about to produce the packaging this way?
Well the idea came from Dave at FN, and Toby who does the art. I wanted it to look like an old classical record…and that’s as far as my contribution goes. I’m not an artist or designer so I leave it to people who are. They send me pics for approval and that’s all I need really. The packaging is extremely important, and something I overlooked for many years, up until the Sontaran Experiment album. It is beautifully packaged and added to the whole focus of the record. From there on, I now consider packaging and artwork to be as important as the disc itself.
In November, you’ll be playing the infamous Damnation Festival in Leeds under ‘A Man Called Catten’, the set will feature all Medulla Nocte tracks, so how did this concept come about and why use the name A Man Called Catten over reforming Medulla Nocte or was the latter never an option?
I just fancied blasting through my back catalogue again to be honest. No stresses …just go out and play some fast songs. By calling it A Man Called Catten (which is very tongue in cheek by the way) it gives me the freedom to pull in any song from any band I have been in. Damnation is a one off Medulla only thing, the other gigs will have some other stuff in there (hopefully!). Reforming the original line up was never going to be an option, because it would limit what I could do. Neil and I started that band, and if it was to reform it would be both of us that do it. And the chances of that are between zero and absolutely fuck all. Besides, it would never be the same, I’m doing this for amusement, and it’s basically karaoke to me. I don’t feel like I did when I wrote those lyrics so I’m doing it for the fun of it now. I could quite easily have gone out and done a set of Naked City songs, that’s how detached it feels.
Who else will be joining you on stage during this set, any past Medulla Nocte members? Also did you speak to them about doing this performance before it was announced and how did they feel about it?
Mark, who was in the Dying from the Inside era on bass, and also my long time musical partner in crime is playing guitar in it. My man Keen who was in Barrabus with me is the bass player, and Pie from TSE is on drums. I needed reliable, great musicians for this. Versatility is vital for it to work. I haven’t spoken to Neil for 10 years or more, and I did speak to Jammer about it. I think he thought it would a good excuse for a reunion and so it didn’t work out between us in the end. I wanted him to play one or two songs, but he wanted the whole set. I couldn’t accommodate that and he got the hump. But that’s life eh?
Will this be the only ever performance we’ll see A Man Called Catten do, or do you think, depending on how Damnation goes, it’ll be something you’ll continue perform in the future?
Well it was going to be a one off and then stop, but to be honest with you these songs sound fucking immense. Better than they ever did, slightly updated and with better musicians. After Damnation we’re doing a fest in Birmingham in December, with the mixed set and then we’ll see. Maybe some metalfests next year if they ask. I’m not really fussed; it’s not something I’m striving to make a success of..it’s just for kicks. If people like it, then great. And if they don’t then I couldn’t care less either!
What’s the current score with The Sontaran Experiment as you seemed to have been quite for a while, any plans to get this behemoth destroying venues and releasing new material any time soon?
As soon as Damnation is out of the way, we’re getting back into rehearsal. We got it together earlier in the year, and it sounded fucking fantastic. Then Mark’s gear blew up, and then Rooster bust his leg. Then the MCC thing came up. We’ve just confirmed a gig for next year…all will be revealed soon enough. I love doing the TSE stuff I must admit. We definitely need a second album, and a few live shows of sheer musical destruction.
And what about Stuntcock? Is this a project that will continue to exist in some way, shape or form?
Always, I spent an hour earlier this evening making a whole bunch of noise to sift through and add to a new Stuntcock record. Whether I do it live again I’m not so sure but I love making noise so Stuntcock will always be around. I have too many fucked up song titles to use to stop at the minute. I’ll still make noise records when I’m 75!
When coming up with new ideas, sounds, concepts, how do you differentiate them from being used in the various projects your involved with, what I mean is, your recording on your own at home with no particular goal or direction, you lay down a recording that blows your mind which just has to be heard, but how do you decide where it should be used, should it be shown to the rest of the lads in The Sontaran Experiment to be jammed out further or be kept to yourself on used on one of your solo outputs?
Well, the noise side of things are always written for Stuntcock use at home. And more recently the classical stuff is for the solo side of things. Sontaran stuff is always written in rehearsal, between the 4 of us. Mark has a riff and we take it from there. I might then add an SC track and manipulate it further so it becomes unrecognisable. Anything else required I would do at home. If we were working on a new TSE record, everything I would do would be with that in mind, I couldn’t hold something back for my own use…I wouldn’t sleep at night if I did that. The piano at the end of the TSE album is an old Dark Half track that I had, and also used with SC live. If it works, then I use it for whatever. Musical recycling as it’s known.
In December 2006 you cheated death when you had a severe allergic reaction to anaesthetic while having a routine appendix operation which resulted in you having a cardiac arrest, quite a scary time in your life I should imagine, so how has this affected you, both in terms of life and your outlook, and also with your creativity and musical output?
Yes, fucking terrifying. It changed me as a person, and led me to change things in my life completely. Death is not an option I would choose, and leaving things in a bad state would have been horrific for those left behind. There were lots of tears after but the changes worked out in the end. I became a better person for it. It’s still odd that I wrote ‘The anaesthetic stopped me screaming’ 6 months before that! It made me realise that there are more important things than bands and band life. I have done plenty since then, but with more consideration for others and not the blinkered selfish approach I had in the past. I’m in a totally different place nowadays, I appreciate every second of my life..the reaction I had has a survival rate of less than 5%. I’m grateful to still be here.
Over the years you’ve also had a close association with the ever faithful Future Noise, a friendship which spans a number of years, so why have you stayed incredibly loyal to them, or is Dave the only village idiot stupid enough to release your material?
The latter probably! FN has always treated me with respect, and is brave enough to take on my stuff in relation to the styles of other bands on the label. FN and Undergroove are the only labels I will work with ever. A mutual love of Hereford United helps as well. I’m very loyal to those who are to me, that is why they have first shout at anything I do. They were brave enough to do the TSE split, and Undergroove picked it up afterwards which was great. They have been brave enough to do the SC live shows with a host of other bands. It was FN that put TSE on for the first time. I was going to just do a net release for this solo album, but Dave wanted to listen and then offered to put it out. They are a fine, honest example of the underground ethic and that’s why I will always remain indebted and loyal to them.
What else does the future hold for Paul Catten and your various projects?
Well for me personally I will just continue on my new journey in the world of education, that’s how I get my kicks these days. I may be a little more musically active than I have been for the last 2 years, but never to reach any kind of goals or heights. I’ve done it, and now I’m happy just creating a fucking racket in my studio/spare room. Expect to see TSE around on the odd occasion next year, and maybe another solo album. I’m enjoying seeing great reviews, and doing interviews again…but I’m looking forward to being anonymous and plain old Mr Catten again soon. It’s a curse that I’ll always be stricken with, but if it flares up in the form of a musical format on occasions then I can live with that I think.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Paul and please use this space for any final words….
Thanks Lee for your continued support over the years, always very much appreciated. People…buy my record and come to the Man Called Catten gigs. Discuss them briefly if you like, and then leave me alone 🙂
‘The Shocking Reality of Reaching Midlife’ taken from ‘Themes and Variations for Strings And Electronics’ can be streamed below and you can keep up to date with Paul over at www.facebook.com/paul.catten.[audio:http://dl.dropbox.com/u/43655858/01-The-Shocking-Reality-Of-Reaching-Midlife.mp3]
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards