How Lana Del Rey Reminded Cat Power She’s an Artist of Worth

How Lana Del Rey Reminded Cat Power She’s an Artist of Worth
Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel
A couple of years ago, Chan Marshall, stage name Cat Power, sent a finished album to her then-label for approval. They told her it wasn’t good enough, she says, and that many of the songs needed to be “fixed.” Her previous record, 2012’s more upbeat Sun, had scored higher on the Billboard charts than any other before with a Top 10 position, but she says they didn’t trust her to make the next move.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not a good artist?’” she recalls. “But then I thought, ‘I’m moving on. I can’t be a victim. I have a child.’”

Marshall, whose son is now 3, explains that once you have a kid, it’s ride or die. She says that although she felt down and out about her music, parenting came first. But then, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, whom Marshall had only met briefly before, reached out wondering if they could tour together.

“She told me I was part of the landscape of artists she admired,” Marshall says.
“She reminded me there was camaraderie in music and that she felt community with me. These business people had decided I wasn’t an artist anymore, but she reminded me that I was.”

This whole conversation reminded Marshall of what it was like in the 1990s when she started making music in Atlanta, and artists supported one another. Her recent single “Woman,” which features Del Rey, is all about the worth of women — it's an ode to the power of words and believing in one another. With Del Rey's urging, Marshall opened for a slew of her shows earlier this year.

Marshall, who's coming through Cleveland on Thursday, Oct. 11, speaks via phone from her place in Miami, answering questions with an intense, rambling sincerity. She explains that not only did Del Rey believe, but her new record label Domino did as well. Upon hearing Wanderer, which officially dropped today, they offered to take her on. They didn’t want her to change a thing, except to add in “Woman.”

“I’m thankful I have another shot with my career with my child and the people now who I know have my personal best interest at heart,” she says. “That takes a lot of pressure off of me.”

Now 25 years into her professional music career, Marshall is becoming comfortable in her own skin. She says she still doesn’t like doing photo shoots, music videos and other cogs in the publicity machine, but understands they come with the territory.

There was a time, however, when she was known as somewhat of a disaster on stage, including some strange Cleveland performances, forgetting songs and not making sense. But the music was always there. Even if she was only doing cover songs, her simplicity and raw honesty powered with brusque, alto vocals resonated with fans. She says that quitting drinking changed everything.

“I wasn’t free to sing until I got sober,” she says. “That [2008] Jukebox Tour, I was so fucking happy then. That’s when I found myself. So now, I sing from there.”

Wanderer, which only features one cover, Rihanna’s "Stay," is all about the natural human desire to find ourselves. Some songs represent closure; others are about addiction, recovery and death. Through writing her music, there’s healing, she says.

“I’ve always taken this process so fucking seriously,” Marshall says. “It’s a strange translation. It’s a freedom of expression of something. Art lets everything become and swirl into another presence.”

Although this is her 10th studio album, Marshall says she doesn’t look at Wanderer as any special achievement in her career.

“I don’t know about milestones; maybe I can see them as I look backwards,” she says. “I don’t see them here today. It feels like I’m still on my path. The spectacle is not really important.”

Now getting back into the performance arena behind the new record, Marshall says she’s excited to have her band back together and that she’s not just doing a solo acoustic set. She says to expect old Cat Power songs along with the new tunes as well as some deep cuts.

“I know that doesn’t sound normal,” she says with a laugh. “But when I go onto the stage, it feels like the universe isn't watching, but it’s waiting for us to somehow align together.”

Cat Power with special guest Willis Earl Beale, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $34-$39, ADV, $49-$59 DOS, agoracleveland.com.
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