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Music News: Cat Power talks about her new album 'Wanderer'

Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall.
Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall.Eliot Lee Hazel
  Play Now [10:24]

by Jay Gabler

October 05, 2018

Cat Power extended interview
by MPR

Above, listen to an episode of The Current's daily Music News podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for a daily Music News e-mail.

Today, Cat Power releases her tenth album: Wanderer. It's intimate even by her own standards, a folk-inflected collection of unadorned ballads and quiet anthems. For her many fans, it will feel like a balm.

Chan Marshall told us about topics including her Lana Del Rey collaboration "Woman," how her southern heritage influences her music, her love for "God Dylan" (although she said she'd never call him that around his son, her friend Jakob Dylan), and how artists open conversations about health issues.

You'll hear part of our interview in the podcast episode above, and you can also click on the second player above to hear a longer version of the interview.

Interview excerpts, transcribed by Maia Jacobson

On "Woman," Lana Del Rey, and releasing Wanderer at this point in history

"You know, that was the first song I started recording and it was the last song I finished and it was never included on the album for my ex-label when I delivered the album to them — and they rejected it, so there was a year of time where I needed to find what I was going to do with my life. Am I going to write a book? I've been wanting to write a book for a really long time, many books, three for sure. I didn't know what I was going to do, if I was going to be able to trust another label. During that time, Lana Del Rey reached out to me personally. Becoming friends with her, she reminded me of the camaraderie that used to exist in the '90s with my friends' bands, going in record stores and finding your friend's record, and the whole thing kind of just vanished.

"Right before I was supposed to master the record, Lana asked me to go on tour with her, so I waited on the mastering. When I got home from that tour I realized I should ask Domino Records if they would allow me to attach this song called 'Woman,' because of exactly what's going on. Don't you feel a lot better standing in the street with your protest sign with someone else standing there next to you than standing there by yourself? Then it's just a sad Cat Power song about my perspective. So that's why I asked Lana. When we're together things look better. They're different, they can push a feeling harder. It sort of creates an abstract illusion of multi-dimensionalism, which we are. We are all over the world and we are brave and strong and kind and resilient and compassionate, multi-dimensional! We're just coming to get this communion together."

On her southern roots

"My soul has southern honey, it's all that I learned. It's where I learned to play in the woods,and run barefoot in the wet tobacco fields in the red mud. It's where I played with the tadpoles and all the food, the smells, the tobacco shack, and the barbecue, and the church, and the church, and the church, you know? It's the animals and the sweaty summers, icy winters, the hills, the music, my family, my ancestors, Cherokee, lots of different things. I'll always be that."

On her itinerant childhood

"I think that because I moved around a lot as a kid — 13 schools in ten years, and I only have a 10th grade education, so there's a lot of schools and different family members. Different places, different times, a lot of travelling. So being the new kid all the time, I learned that one is unknown, there's a lot of observing. Your ground, your foundation is constantly changing and shifting so you're constantly adjusting, learning, observing all the time about new dialects, new clothing, what do these people like, what are they into...from teachers to neighborhoods to towns. When you say personal, it's because I had a lot of training in being alone. I'm very comfortable being along in my head-space where I like to write. I love to paint, I love to make songs, I love to cook, and that I think comes from spending so much time in my childhood being home."

On how music helped her connect with people when she was young

"I would not be alive if it were not for that musical community: the relationship between singers, artist and fan, the difference between stage and audience. The relationship between myself and the people who've accepted me and my path, in my songs and my life, have given me so much. I always thought I'd feel along, and through all that alone, I always thought that it was crazy and it's so important to me to have come through with my therapist and have him tell me I'm not even a depressive personality. We need each other, human beings need each other. We need communication to grow, to open our wounds and clean them out. So yes, music, these strangers that come into my life have become some of my very best friends, touring the world on this very small speck of a planet in this very huge universe. So, yes, music has saved my life."

On Bob Dylan

"You mean God Dylan. I've been calling him that for years. I think Bob was my first teacher. I think Billie is my first friend, Otis was my first father, Aretha was my first angel, and Bob was my first teacher. He's telling us the news, he's telling us the temperature of the truth. For me, with art, any story or photo or painting or drawing or anything I create, I'm searching for the pulse of truth there. I'm searching for a translation of truth, a translation of connection. Mr. Zimmerman has taught many many many people to turn their lights on at a time when many, many, many people knew they needed to do that and they may not have known how. There's so many paths, all the people who inspired him, all the tellers of the tale who inspired him, he's like another dot. Before him there is a dot, after him there is a dot.

"And that's kinda what Lana did when she offered me that symbol of a flower, when she expressed to me and said hey Chan, you are part of this musical landscape, we share this. We are workers in song, and there are so many that have come before us and so many that will come after. Our great history of music, of American songwriting, is all those covers that everyone sang of each others. But Bob Dylan, he's always bringing it to the table with even the Stones, the Beatles, everybody covering the songs that they loved. From Willie Nelson to Ray Charles."

On the best show she ever saw

"I was in high school [in] Atlanta, I was working. The asked me if I wanted to help run backup battery for the video recording of this show on this special day because Aretha Franklin, Al Green, James Brown, and Little Richard were going to be playing a show, so you know I didn't go to school that day. I was ready. They taught me what I had to do, I had to kneel down and hold a battery pack and wait for the cameramen to say, 'Change it out! Change it out!" And I'd switch, and I'd have to run around the entire — don't ask me why but things are different in the '80s, and I had to run all the way around, my little legs going like a maniac, to get the new battery pack and then I'd have to come back because Little Richard was about to come out on stage. Aretha cancelled, Al cancelled — okay, that's a huge bummer — but I didn't let that bum me out, I was gonna run my little legs to see what I could get, which was my favorite show of my entire life, Little Richard.

"It was incredible. I did another run, grabbed two battery packs, and then the cameraman goes, 'Okay, you're done, you got two batteries, you can go back home,' and I went, 'Oh, absolutely not!' So I went and stood side stage and it was James Brown who was about to come on. Then the band started playing and it was, 'I live in America!' Dancers coming out with full feather headdresses on, then James comes out and he's already behind the drums, spinning around doing splits and stuff even though nobody could see him but us. All of a sudden, 'He's so crazy!' slapping me with her pointy sharp elbows, and I look up it's Whitney [Houston]. She's just smiling at me. 'He's so crazy!' It was so fun, I will never forget."

On art, music, and health

"I feel like art is this great translator, and everything in between the lines that we never get taught. We never get told, we hide or get told to hide. I feel like art is this great translation for us. I feel like artists, whether they know it or not — Patti Smith told me, 'Chan, you have a responsibility as an artist to say your truth, because you won't get fired from your corporation. You might have to bear the brunt of it, but that's part of the translation. It's part of dealing in the arts.

"So I think that it's only natural that artists and people who love art, it's only empowering those who appreciate it and those who are open enough to comparatively thinking and feeling at the same time. Artists wouldn't be anybody if it wasn't the rest of humanity that loved them. It's the same thing. We need people to flourish, to protect and take care of each other."

As for some more of today's new releases...

Phosphorescent: C'est La Vie

The new album from Matthew Houck's band Phosphorescent is "the result of being settled and stable, relocated from Brooklyn to Nashville (though, paradoxically, the pedal steel that was so prominent last time round has barely survived the move to country's hometown). The contentment is evident," writes the Guardian.

Steve Perry: Traces

The Voice is back! Not the TV show, the legendary singer behind all of Journey's biggest hits. After putting his career on hiatus for almost a quarter-century, Perry is back with his third solo album — his first since 1994. What inspired him to return to the studio? He told The Current's Jill Riley that it was a relationship with a woman named Kellie Nash, who tragically died of cancer.

She asked me, I remember one time, to make a promise to her. She said, "If something was to ever happen to me, honey, make me one promise." I said, "What's that?" She said that I would not go back into isolation, for she feels it would make this "all for naught." And I'm thinking what does she mean by "all for naught"? And I sat quiet before I answered. And I thought she means the arc of her being who she was before she met me; we meet each other; she's still fighting her struggle. If she was to lose her life, it's got to have some meaning, some purpose. I mean, the album isn't all sadness. Don't misunderstand me. But just committing and not going back into isolation is what she asked me, and so I made that promise.

Unsurprisingly, the album is full of vintage-sounding Perry power ballads, with that unmistakable voice in full form on songs like "Sun Shines Gray."

Thom Yorke: "Has Ended"

Thom Yorke's latest track from the Suspiria soundtrack is super-spooky, entirely appropriate for October. "Its psychedelic slow churn is particularly Yorke-ian," writes NPR, "as he mumbles, 'We won't make this mistaaaaaaake again,' over a droning dub." The new remake of Dario Argento's 1977 horror film hits theaters on Oct. 26, featuring Yorke's first film score.

A Star is Born soundtrack

Enjoy the music of the new film, which we discussed at length in yesterday's episode.

Songs sampled in podcasts
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
Phosphorescent: "New Birth in New England"
Steve Perry: "Sun Shines Gray"
Thom Yorke: "Has Ended"
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper: "Shallow"
Cat Power feat. Lana Del Rey: "Woman"
Cat Power: "Wanderer/Exit"