Beat Magazine – Wednesday, 3rd September 2003
Less talk equals more love, right?
By Stephen Phillips
Some of us will spend our lifetime searching. We’re seeking out soulmates, we’re looking for role models, heroes, and teachers. We need motivators and listeners. We will search forever for reassurance. Suffice to say when a person comes along whose spirit embodies these expectations in us, we just might find some solitude.
Arguably, at least on a musical level, one of those people is American songstress (and beauty) Chan Marshall.
Chan’s songwriting under the Cat Power moniker has, quite unlike any of her modern-day contemporaries and peers, save Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey and possibly Nick Cave, alarmed and assured us with such a directly personal impact.
Chan’s songs; per standard they’re simplistic in composition yet always striking in their aesthetic beauty and emotional insight. They seem to define every juxtaposition: being loved by wanting LOVE, reflection in the arms of defiance, the pain of loving, and so on.
This month Cat Power perform in Australia for the fourth time. It’s Chan’s first tour with a band in the van. This time she’s here to present herself in support of her amazing You Are Free record of early 2003, a record which has been ritualistically praised and has taken her image to an unprecedented level. Steve Phillips spoke to Chan recently and wondered if she had noticed any general change in the reception she receives nowadays to her rather wonderful music.
Chan: “No. Not at all.” Steve: “Is that a comfort to you?” Chan: “It doesn’t matter, it’s fine. I don’t care, y’know? If they like it they like it, if they don’t they don’t. you know what I mean? It’s not the most important thing in the World…” Steve: “Do the records and the songs that you’re writing deftly reflect where you’re at personally?” Chan: “Maybe, yeah. A moment sometimes where my head might be that day…
That song, that moment in time, that song then that day, but y’know it’s always beside me. Time’s gone by since the release (of You Are Free) and also playing live the songs sort of transform and progress and change and shift.”
At this point in the interview it was clear that Chan wasn’t feeling so hot about getting into things too deeply. “I havn’t done interviews in a long time so I’m not in the best mood!” Aside from her mood Chan also tells me that she’s been sick of late with a lung infection, something she laughs could be the result of “touring non-stop for probably six years.” “No wonder that you’ve got a lung infection!” Chan: “Exactly! All the airplanes… and hotel rooms.”
I’ve often theorized that what a pain in the ass it must be for songwriters to constantly be getting grilled and quizzed over their work. Having spoken to Chan a few times, she, in her defense, has never baulked at a question regardless of its content, and somehow with Chan, regardless of the mood, you eventually get into something heavy.
Steve: “Do you think after all of that rock’n’roll you’re dramatically changed as a person?”
Chan: “No. Rock’n’roll no. As we get older I think just life in general. Not having to do with making music at all. Life in general kinda forces people to grow.”
Cat Power is all about growth. It’s the subtext to each of her gorgeous songs, songs riddled with questions and their tentative answers. The songs are about wondering who you are and confronting who you are. Chan Marshall has always seemed happier to let feelings translate through her songs, maybe in an effort not to have to talk through and somehow trivialize her own emotions. You Are Free is great like that, and that’s what no doubt has made it so alluring to so many of us. Stylistically the record appears easily broken into two rather distinct halves; the first seven tracks recalling greatly her incredible Moonpix album; a collection of songs she recorded with friends back in 1998 in Melbourne. The latter half takes on the aesthetic of The Covers Record; a selection of stripped down covers she played the last time she was in Australia back in 2003. This 2003 Australian tour sees Marshall performing in both guises, that of solo-singer/songwriter and also in full band mode.
Steve: “Are you excited about playing?” Chan: “Oh always! Nowadays I am. The older I get the less I give a shit about it. I’ve heard that to be true. When I was younger I heard that that was true and I think it is. The older you get the less you start caring as much.”
Steve: “I would have thought that it could work the opposite way. As you get older you get more concerned with whether you can still cut it.”
Chan: “Hell no! It never fucking mattered in the first place. That should never matter.”