Cat Power interview

· Wednesday January 12, 2011

Under the name Cat Power, singer songwriter Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall has released everything from her early minimalist underground classics to critically acclaimed soulful, full-band rock and her unconventional, inimitable covers.

I'd done my research and knew Chan had come out of alcoholism in 2006, but I hadn't realised she'd moved out to Los Angeles, “two years ago September,” she says, to live with her boyfriend (who, according to internet, is actor Giovanni Ribisi). They share a house in Silver Lake with Giovanni's 13-year-old daughter and a rental house in Malibu that Chan has made into a studio.

When I called her in Malibu she was finishing up a toilet break after a long interview with another journo. Perfect, caught her with her pants down.

Chan Marshall: If I sound like I'm in the bathroom - it's cuz I am. Hold on -

Wilfred Brandt: Do you want me to call back?

CM: No no - it's all done.

WB: I heard you were recording yesterday. How did it go?

CM: I wouldn't say recording - there's all kinds of little diddly doodly ya gotta do before you start recording. More editing. I have stuff that I [played and recorded] by myself, and then stuff with the band that I brought out here a few times to record at the house. What I'm doing right now is going through everything to make sure… y'know maybe I don't like something right now, but if I fade down something maybe it will sound different to me.

WB: Is it scary producing it yourself? Or liberating?

CM: It's both. Normally I never use a producer either, but I just do it in like five days. But this is like… it's totally different! (laughs) It's like, ‘OK, I wrote that, I really like that', but y'know what? Because I'm living in the house, ‘Oh - I wanna do something else!' In a studio it's like bam bam bam - you're done in five days. But I do have that liberty of, ‘Oh, let me just fiddle around with this guitar pedal for an hour' and ‘Wow, I really like this groove that I've got here, let me put, let me go over to the drums and…' in a way it can be too much! (laughs)

WB: Is [the recording equipment] in a separate building?

CM: No, I can see it - it's through the dining room. The dining room has survived as a dining room (laughs) but the living room and the little sun room are basically a uh… mess (laughs).

WB: Do you miss living in the South?

CM: Yeah. I have such amazing memories of growing up in the nature of the South, in the country - and even in the city too, on the bus and stuff. I miss that a lot, the sound of all the living stuff. In California, it's really dry. It's beautiful but it's just different.

WB: I lived in [L.A. neighborhood] Los Feliz for four years.

CM: I love Los Feliz. I think it's a great neighborhood, for a mom, for me, because you think about the stroller and walking around. We live in Silver Lake, and that's great too ‘cuz you can go around around around the lake. But in Los Feliz there's more to do, like shops and bookstores and [movie] theatres.

WB: What's it like helping your boyfriend, being a mother to his daughter?

CM: It definitely is one of the coolest things I've experienced, without having a child of my own. Because I know it's totally different - when I met her she was ten. And when your boyfriend has a child the learning curve is a lot bigger. So my life has changed a lot. I spend a lot of time thinking about, ‘When am I gonna have a baby?' Things that have gone on in the last couple years it's like - not that I would replace having children with music, but I definitely like this [personal] life that I've been building. When you don't have a partner, that lifestyle, where you're with your friends and you travel… then when you have a partner that has a child…

WB: It's a different dynamic, and it probably adds a totally different component -

CM: To who I am, to everything, to what I cook for dinner. It's not about me only anymore. It cuts all the bullsh*t out. And people have told me, (perky voice) ‘Oh, when you have your baby, it's like nothing matters anymore about the world around you'. And I've never bought that. I always felt like, ‘Well, I'd always wanna see my friends, and I'd always wanna y'know, go to Paris in the spring'. And now … it's like I could fill up my life having children and not doing music. And that's the truth. Because it is rewarding and there's an everyday security in that. I've never really felt that in my life. So it's a really powerful thing.

You think about things that you normally wouldn't have to think about, like, smoking a cigarette, y'know? Dependability, responsibility. And if things are going on at school - with girlfriends, boyfriends, anything - and you see the signs of what you were going through at that age. And you learn from them like, ‘Wow, I had the same reaction that she's having, and I'm an adult'. And teaching and having this immense, this strong feeling of love and security is very, very… I think it's what, most people probably don't think that they - a lot of times with the way the media is, everything seems so cheap, with reality TV and advertising. It just seems like the advertisement of the quality of life just kind of disappeared and it's like, American Apparel ads, and it's about being - I don't know (both laugh)

WB: The sort of trashy aspect has supplanted anything that's like, wholesome or character building, rather than just fleeting.

CM: Exactly. And I'm gonna be 39 in like two weeks. So it's definitely an interesting point in my life.

WB: What are you going to do for your birthday when you're in Australia?

CM: I'll probably get embarrassed in some form (laughs). I'm sure they'll do something, my friends - my band. I hate saying ‘my band'.

WB: Yeah, you feel a weird ownership.

CM: Yeah. My friends who I play with will probably do something embarrassing. Maybe not. I just hope I can be healthy this time next year, ‘cuz I would like to continue what I'm doing, but I'd also like to not divert from what I've been creating in my personal life. I don't wanna jeopardize being a mom by working. Because in my work, I have to ‘go', y'know?

WB: I know you've come to Australia a lot, what do you love about coming down here?

CM: The people are pretty down to earth. They have a good sense of humor… I just really like their energy. They're funny and they're smart.

WB: And there's great food.

CM: And they're f*cking good cooks! And they're really conscious about like cuisine, healthy…

WB: Healthy fresh food.

CM: I remember when I went there for the first time there wasn't salt on the tables. And I noticed that you tasted the food. You go to other countries, like France, it's like, ‘taste the SAUCE, man!' - it tastes great. You go to Mexico and you taste the onion. But in Australia, you're just tasting the food, like the local, whatever it is that they…

WB: What's your latest obsession? A food, a book, a movie, a subject…?

CM: Well obviously Julian Assange. I think he should have his own TV show where he WikiLeaks publicly everything, like a news program. I'm interested in the possibilities of all that material being available and it maybe becoming a part of the fabric of the future availability of every government's responsibility to information and accordance in behavior.

The Corrections, I have yet to read, I bought two copies of it and that's something I wanna read. But I really loved… what's his darn-diggidy dog name! Swedish crime, Henning Mankell. He wrote a bunch of books about this character named Kurt Wallander. I really got into him but he teaches theatre in Angola or something now.

What else? I love cooking. I just made a snack, toasted pecans with peeled clementines separated, and shaved unsweetened coconut. ‘Cuz [next to] the studio… I have a kitchen and a pantry right? I have cookies in there (laughs) but I don't wanna eat it! So I'm obsessed with trying to come up with snacks that actually are crunchy and sweet and healthy that -

WB: Give you a little boost. Bananas are the brain fruit. If you need a little hit of energy and a little high.

CM: Bananas? Is that what you do?

WB: (both laugh) That's what I do when I'm writing.

CM: OK. I might even try that right now! In the morning, I have hot water with lemon to alkaline my body. ‘Cuz apparently disease cannot grow if you have an alkalined body and lemon water every morning HELPS ya! I'm obsessed with trying to like, not be so frightened that I'm turning 39. I can't turn it back, so I gotta try and make it a little better.

WB: Well you have a lot to be proud of y'know.

CM: That's sweet, I don't know. Maybe this time next year (both laugh).

WB: I can tell you personally that your music has had a big influence on a lot of people. Just a couple days ago I put on Facebook, ‘I might be interviewing Cat Power later this week, what should I ask her?' And all these people I know - who a lot of times don't care about much of anything - said, ‘Oh my God I love her, just tell her that she's awesome'.

CM: That's amazing! That makes me feel good. That's so flattering because that's the only reason I think that I do what I do.

(We talk a bit more, and we start talking about speaking foreign languages, for whatever reason…)

CM: OH! Another thing I'm obsessed with is this French film Ponette. The whole movie is just about the children, they're like, four, and they are like (speaks gibberish French) y'know? (both laugh). But they're going through this harsh stuff, like, ‘My mom died' and ‘You don't love me anymore!' and (laughs) ‘I miss you' and ‘You're not my friend'. When you said that children speaking French is cute, when I saw that movie I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to raise my children in France'. And not teach them English!

WB: (both laugh) That's hilarious. But I should let you go, you've gotta make dinner.

CM: Yes! I just thought of another French movie that's really good that I'm kinda obsessed about - A Prophet. Oh my God I just thought of another one, Hunger, the British film that came out last year. Hunger, Prophet, Ponette, Henning Mankell, uh, and water with lemon. Alright. I'm gonna go cook a really bad dinner, and maybe I'll bump into you when I'm in Australia.

WB: Yeah, I look forward to seeing you at the Opera House.

CM: Oh my God! I'm so nervous about that by the way.

WB: And you will be 39 by then - or not yet?

CM: No, I should be 39. God dammit! Come on lemon water! Help me out. Wash away those wrinkles.