The righting reflex of Cat Power
Chan Marshall has overcome a lot of adversity in her 25 years as a performer. The singer/songwriter known as Cat Power has battled chronic exhaustion, struggled with alcohol, and been diagnosed with the immune disorder hereditary angioedema.
She’s wrestled with severe bouts of depression and, for a stretch, was known more for the erratic behavior during her live shows than for the music in them.
But somehow, miraculously, the husky-voiced troubadour has never let any of it prevent her from landing squarely on her feet.
And Wanderer, her October-released 10th studio album, is just another case in point.
Marshall’s first collection of songs in more than six years, Wanderer is also her first since giving birth to a child, and the first since ending her more than a decade-and-a-half-long relationship with Matador Records.
Marshall knew things with her old label were strained after they demanded she “produce a hit” while she was making her ninth studio album, 2012’s Sun. Yet, that’s exactly what she did. The sonically expansive Sun ended up being the first Cat Power album to break into the Top 10 on Billboard’s 200 Chart.
But despite the album’s success, Marshall was beginning to feel more and more removed from the methodology that had served her from the start.
“That pressure did something to my process,” she said recently from her Miami home. “I don’t want to say it deformed my process, but it did something to it.”
After a year of touring with a band for Sun, Marshall continued on the road alone without playing a single song from the album. And while she didn’t exactly realize it at the time, those freewheeling solo shows were the start of what would ultimately change everything.
“I wanted to get into the headspace of a songwriter again,” said Marshall. “I wanted to create an album that spoke to the people who had listened to my stories and songs from the time I started. I wanted to sing to those who have always been listening.”
And that’s exactly what Wanderer became. Returning to the sparse arrangements that both highlight and perfectly compliment Marshall’s hypnotic vocals, the album is a startlingly honest and low-key culmination of everything that has come before it.
So it was even more of a shock when Matador rejected it. But thankfully, Marshall was anything but deterred. And not long afterward, Domino Recording Company (Arctic Monkeys, Bob Moses, The Kills) out of London stepped in and picked up Wanderer.
But even as the singer and producer looks happily forward again, she is still learning from the past.
Moon Pix, her career-making fourth album, turned 20 this year. Originally recorded in Australia, Marshall returned there this summer to perform the album in its entirety at the Sydney Opera House.
She had no idea the experience would be far more than just another show, or that it would dovetail so beautifully with the reclamation of her newfound creative spirit.
“I just felt so grateful standing there,” Marshall said, “so grateful to myself for knowing that I could survive. I didn’t realize what an impact it had on all of the people who came to the concert and knew those songs. They related to me at a time when I was told that I was crazy. And I knew the young girl that wrote and recorded those songs was OK. But I didn’t realize it was important until I was standing there. It meant everything.”
Whether at home or in a hotel room, Marshall continues to write and jot down ideas for songs when they come to her. But as longtime fans should know, it’s futile to try to pinpoint when the next thing is coming.
However, it’s more than encouraging to know that whatever the future may throw at her, Marshall is going to be just fine.
“I’m alive,” she said. “I’m healthy, I have a beautiful son, and a few good, solid people around me. And over the years, all kinds of people have told me how the music has helped or explained something to them. The songs and the art we create are decorations from our spirit in this life. My goal is to continue creating that sonically universal personal space.”
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 24
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave., North Park
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