Cat Power's Chan Marshall on Sun: "I didn't want to test myself so much as push myself"
Cat Power (due this Saturday, November 23, at the Gothic Theatre) is the sometimes solo, sometimes full-band, project of Chan Marshall. Although born in Atlanta, Marshall made her way to New York City in the early 1990s and became involved in the underground music scene in the Big Apple. In 1993, Marshall earned an opening slot on Liz Phair's tour, where she gained some great exposure. By 1996, Marshall joined Matador Records, who released her third album, What Would the Community Think, which was produced by Steve Shelley.
See also: Cat Power at Ogden Theatre, 01/24/13
Since then, Marshall's ups and downs and occasionally erratic behavior has been well-documented. But to put to much focus on that would be to overlook the fact that Marshall's a consistently compelling songwriter, whose music resonates with a great many people, and she has a gifted ability to write about the complexities of living an authentic life in way that's genuine. Last year, Marshall released Sun, arguably her best album yet.
We recently spoke with the insightful and friendly Marshall about the natural creativity of all people in their everyday lives, how free jazz opened her eyes to exactly what you can do in music if you dare, and how making Sun finally gave her the confidence in every aspect of her craft from the songwriting to the engineering.
Westword: There was an interview with the Huffington Post you did last year where you said something that seemed pretty personally insightful about how you're not going to protect yourself from your own anger when someone hurts or betrays you. Is that related to feeling what you feel rather than pushing it to the side for the moment?
Chan Marshall: I think that's my big problem, I'm always feeling what I feel. I feel like I need to curb it a little bit. Just if you're constantly in the moment, you're constantly firing on all cylinders. I think it's very in my nature to be in the moment, but I let everything go sometimes, so the the waking life enters your dreams, so nothing, I guess, can really hurt you, and you can be happy.
It seems that intuition, "accidents" and "mistakes," seem have been part of your creative path your whole life. When did you come to start to trust those sorts of things as ways for good and interesting things to happen?
I think in my experience or idea of making mistakes in creating stuff, they're really similar because everybody is an artist, whether they're a farmer, a mechanic, a minister or a mom or whatever. Our choices and our mistakes are a part of who we are and where we are at any moment. The creative process doesn't always pertain to music and literature and the fine arts and stuff.
Everyone can think creatively about any aspect in life, whether that be to get ourselves in trouble or think of new ways to improvise our situations. I think people, as a whole, are creative, and they don't get any accolades or Grammy's for following their heart or being true to their word or acknowledging their mistakes and blah blah blah. It's not a very unusual process. It's not different from that of any other human, except for the social aspect. The more we know about each other, the more we realize we all do the same stuff, and struggle, and have pretty much the same creative process.
On Sun, you have that great lyric about how it's up to you to be your own superhero, and how it's up to you to be like nobody.
I think people, especially in the United States, are concerned with being up to par with what's advertised socially through media and history. Being a superhero is basically being able to rely on yourself and being responsible for your own stuff. I think a lot of people can rely too much on policy on politics.
A lot people, maybe even most people, wish they were someone else at some point in their lives for the reasons you named: It's a way to dis-empower and devalue yourself as a person. You're perfectly fine as you are, more or less. If there's something you are insecure about or don't like, work on that.
Yeah, if no one was us, who would we be? They're terrified to find out.
Why did you want to work with Iggy Pop on that song?
Right? A veteran and a free spirit. I met him years ago in L.A. But it wasn't like we hung out. I asked him and David Bowie to sing on that part because of the song, I believe, that Iggy produced, "Heroes." I also wanted Lou Reed, but I didn't actually put that crow out. He just went in and did his thing, and I heard it, and it was great. I asked him to come back in because one of the lines wasn't done. So he went back in. I used to have his number, and we texted back and forth and left voice mails. He's a cool dude.
In that recent interview you did with Interview, you said it's important for a woman like you to feel protected. Why is that?
I think I wasn't really held by my parents. It's a simple thing, but women I've known that I've talked to, toward whom their parents were cool [toward them growing up tend not to have healthy relationships]. I have healthy male friendships now, but I don't think I've had a healthy male relationship.
I think that comes from not having that father figure and a sense of protection. Sometimes you just need that hug or something [from someone you can trust]. That's the whole problem, people not talking about that shit. They don't teach you that fundamental, interpersonal stuff in school.