Chan Marshall’s endearing neuroticism comes through the instant she answers the phone. The singer-songwriter known as Cat Power is a whisper afraid of disturbing anyone around her. She unnecessarily apologizes effusively (“sorry” being perhaps her most-uttered word), as she quietly sneaks downstairs because she just put her son down for a nap, and her plan to chat on the terrace fell through because her apartment neighbors were surprisingly out there (“they’re never out there”).
The hushed tones in her voice stand in stark contrast to the confident strides found throughout Cat Power’s new album, Wanderer. The album leans heavily on the conviction in Marshall’s voice to carry a collection of beautifully sparse, slow-burning, bare-bones piano- or guitar-driven arrangements. The album stands as a stark contrast to the grand electronic pop of the previous Cat Power LP, 2012’s Sun, but perhaps the change should be expected considering how much Marshall’s life has shifted in the past six years. Most notably, she’s now a single mother of a three-year-old boy. You can still hear echos of the sweet wistfulness that made Cat Power an indie darling in the ‘90s, but the words are clearly coming from a woman who has accrued some musical wisdom over years of dealing with her own noted mental health struggles and the pressures of a not always desired spotlight.
Before Cat Power kicks off her fall tour in support of Wanderer at The Showbox this Saturday, Nov. 17, she chatted with Seattle Weekly about the importance of the song, stage anxiety, and her son’s distaste for her sad music.
Are there any moments on Wanderer that you particularly love?
I’m not sure I’ve ever really loved anything I’ve done, to be honest. I think the process isn’t a “love it,” it’s almost like a reveal. It’s imperfect. So it’s hard for me to look at [in that way]. I guess it’s easier for me to think that I wish I could’ve done better. So it’s hard for me to look at things I love about it.
I’m content with everything. The question is odd, because it feels surgical to me, because I feel as if it’s one complete thing, you know? I like that I had no idea what I was doing, but I often do that when recording.
Wanderer has a lot more stripped-down feeling than Sun or some of the other previous albums. Was there a certain headspace that led you to go in that direction?
With Sun, I produced that album — my ex-label says that Philippe Zdar produced it — but I worked really hard on all those sounds you hear on that record. So for this album, I wanted the songwriting to reveal itself to me. I felt like I needed to make a hit record for Sun, so for this one I just wanted to write songs that are natural to me. Not feeling like a corporation needing to make money. It’s different than anything I’ve ever done, I feel.
Have you changed your stage approach at all for this upcoming tour?
It’s always changing. When I first started, I believed in the song. And I still do. I’m still very stubborn in what I believe about music. I believe that the song is more important than [anything else]. You could sing an old song by Eartha Kitt, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin — everybody could sing the same damn song and it’d change, but the song is still the core.
I used to perform with my back to the audience because I believed — and I still believe — that it’s not about posturing. I didn’t look at the audience until 2006, when I got sober and was touring with the Memphis Rhythm Band for The Greatest. And the first show I realized, I don’t have a guitar or piano. I was so used to looking at my hands. And that was the first time I ever looked at the audience. That was the first time I realized that, yes, the song is the most important thing, Chan. But also there are people here. They’re equally as important as the song. The duality there.
And then Jukebox happened, and I really began singing it. Singing it like a teenager, like a little kid. For the first time, I enjoyed singing live.
I’m trying to do my best. It is about the song, that’s the most important thing to me. I take it seriously, unfortunately. I wish I was more of an entertainer, but if that were true, I don’t know what I’d be doing for a living, because I hate it. If I were entertaining people, I’d rather be a comedian.
Is there anything you want people to know when listening to Wanderer?
My son was three months old when I began recording this record. And I was recording in a house that I rented. So I was creating in a very personal space. I wrote and recorded songs that had a personal space, and a sense, a tone, of universal space.
Has becoming a mother changed your approach to music at all?
Not at all. Being a parent hasn’t changed anything about myself as an artist. It will probably make me a better artist, but I’m not sure if it’s done that [yet]. I think the only thing being a parent has done for me doesn’t have anything to do with creativity. It has something more to do with some sort of spiritual calibration — being more grounded and happy in general. I know that’s absolutely stupid.
I maybe wasn’t as self-protective as I should’ve been in business and in my personal life, but once I decided to be a parent, my instantaneous instinct made me more aware of my health and of people around me. It’s not changed me [as an artist], but being a mom has made me more resilient.
Does your son give you any musical feedback?
He doesn’t like — or not that he doesn’t like it, but he can’t articulate very well about — what I’m about. He cries when he hears sad music in general. He will cry and turn it off. So for [this] record, he heard a couple songs when in the car because I needed to go listen to the mixes. He would cry and say, “That’s sad, Mom. Can you turn it?” He likes “Woman” because it’s an uptempo song, but other than that, at home if I play anything solitary where I sing, he would rather hear something more funky. Like most people would. [Laughs]
Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. | The Showbox | $37 | showboxpresents.com