A Q&A With Cat Power Before Her Milwaukee Concert

Cat Power talks music, motherhood and the power of performance ahead of her Turner Hall show.

KNOWN FOR HER SMOKY, emotion-drenched voice, Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has been a darling of the indie circuit since the mid-90s. She’s currently on tour supporting her latest record, Covers, her third release of material written by others. The eclectic collection runs the gamut from Bob Seger to Shane McGowan, with a few detours along the way. Cat Power will perform at Turner Hall on Friday, April 22. She spoke with Milwaukee Magazine prior to embarking on the tour.

What do you have planned for this tour?

You know, I never really like to play my old songs. I always like to move forward and move forward and move forward. That’s just the nature of how I am as a person and as an artist, I guess. But I think with this being specifically a Covers tour, you know, for this new record, I think I’m gonna try to do some of the older stuff, some of my songs that I don’t normally share anymore.

Are you excited to play live again?

I think it’s gonna be a breath of fresh air for everybody, because I haven’t been touring [because of the pandemic]. Just being around music again, it’s a real community. All around the world, whether it’s like Milwaukee or Paris, or, you know, Taipei, my fans, they’ve always been like my peer group. And we’re all still here. Most of us are all still here on Earth. So whenever I play a show, no matter what city it is, I’ll still see people who I have known for 25 years or so.

You’re going to be on tour for about six months. What keeps it from becoming grueling?

That sense of community. I’ve always wished that people, when they come to shows, could meet each other because, if we’re all there, we must have something in common. Particularly now since we haven’t seen each other sometimes for over two years.


 

 

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Your life has changed a lot over the last ten or so years. First and foremost, how do you like motherhood?

It’s amazing. I had no idea it was gonna be in my cards. I went swimming in a pool with a boy and I got pregnant – you know that old saying? I had my son when I was 43 and he’ll be 7 at the end of April. It’s like the universe was saying, hey, you need a little family.

You’ve talked about your childhood having its bumps. Have you found it healing to have a child of your own?

I never thought I’d be a mother because of what you’re mentioning. The difficulties, you know, trauma and childhood stuff. The entire time he was in my belly, I tried as best I could not to cause any fear. I was just trying to rise up to the moment and be as healthy and strong, and you know, able-bodied as I could to make sure that he could enter into the world and just skate. So that he would, you know, feel safe and everything.

My mind was made up, I was not putting a wall in between me and the love of my unborn child. And as soon as he was born it was just like, I’m not gonna f–k him up. There are things … maybe I didn’t have this or that experience with my parents but now [my son and I are] creating these joined experiences together. Like birthdays – I didn’t really celebrate them growing up. But now we do. So those things, it’s really, it’s very powerful stuff, you know, having that connection.

You said in an interview that your son doesn’t really like to hear you sing because it sometimes makes you sad. How do you manage to keep your equilibrium while singing melancholy songs?

When I was in high school, a friend of mine was playing Nick Drake for the first time, and he told me, ‘You know, Nick committed suicide.’ And I remember, I went to the record player, and I just took the record off, and I looked at the cover, and I refused to ever listen to Nick Drake again. That was the promise I kept to myself. It was 16 years before I could sit down and listen to a Nick Drake record. And me, being suicidal since I was young, until The Greatest record, I was suicidal for every one of those records.

When The Greatest came out, I was sober. I was in therapy like three times a week. I was really pushing through childhood trauma to get to the source of, why did I choose to be an alcoholic? I knew I made the choice to go there. But why would I allow myself to make such a choice like that?

And I had to really dig around. So when I’m playing live, it is hard sometimes because there are a lot of memories rocked up. There’s a lot of imagery and things that are wrapped up in the narrative. But I think I’ve come to the other side.

I can create this kind of vibration, kind of like a portal, this place where I can like focus in and don’t think about anything else. And I can just be within the music, within the sound.

On stage, I’m so hard on myself, because if I don’t find the portal like if I can’t find the peace of mind, the place where the song lives forever, that place where we’re all connected. If I’m having trouble finding that place, then I have a bad show.

But if I find that place, it’s only happened like 20 times in the past 10 years, where all of a sudden, my knees will start shaking, my hands, my eyes, my mouth, my whole body will start vibrating. I’ve always wondered if [it’s just me] in that that dimension or maybe other people have reached it, too, and it’s like we’re all there vibrating together.

I know it sounds crazy but I don’t care what it sounds like.

When you were first starting out, performing seemed so fraught for you. I’m amazed that, despite the difficulty, you persevered. You seemed very vulnerable, but you must also possess a great deal of strength.

Looking back on it, I definitely was suffering a lot. A lot of us do, when we’re on our own, and we’re trying to make the best decisions, trying to pay our rent, trying to watch out for

f–ked up people, and especially being a young female, and you know, learning the hard way.

I was just like anybody else trying to do the best I could.

And now, being older and kind of coming through the other side and looking back at [myself then] and seeing just like anybody, she was just trying to cope with the very

shitty coping skills she had. And she loved music. She didn’t sing very well. She didn’t trust people so she didn’t want to be that vulnerable. It took me until I got sober to really use my voice and sing like I used to sing when I was a little kid.

They say, when you hit rock bottom you either die or you make some huge life changes, and I think I had a huge life change back when I was 34.

Then, becoming a mom, becoming a parent, you know, learning how to be really loving toward children, it’s a whole other set of rules.

Well, Chan, you’re a true artist. You are one of those special people, even if you weren’t a musician, no matter what you did, you would still be an artist. I’ve always thought of you that way.

That is a huge compliment. Compliment isn’t even the word. It feels like, I could cry for how it makes me feel.

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Editor-in-chief Carole Nicksin has worked in publishing for over 20 years. Prior to joining the staff of Milwaukee Magazine, she was the style director at All You, a Time Inc. publication. She also served as decorating editor at Home magazine. Carole has written for the New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, InStyle and numerous other publications.