Music News

Nine Lives

"Are you Asian?" Chan Marshall asks me over the phone.

"Yes," I reply. "I am."

"You are!" Marshall exclaims. "You sound Asian."

"I don't know what that means. How can you tell?"

"I don't know," she says with a squeal. "I guess I'm psychic."

Or maybe she picked up on my obviously foreign name and made a mental connection. Either way, Marshall, better known as Cat Power, seems to be able to read people in a way that gives her music a quiet, sentimental touch. Cat Power is a one-woman band that turns indie rock into a soulful dance and makes singer-songwriter a pop experience. She's a soft-spoken songbird whose live shows have been noted as unpredictable, mostly because she's been known to run off the stage in a huff of frustration and stage fright. But that was years ago, and the now older and more experienced Marshall -- who's touring in support of her latest effort, The Greatest -- has learned to calm her nerves and, most important, to do it sober.

Westword: So, earlier this year you canceled some tour dates due to health problems?

Chan Marshall: I was just really depressed. Over the past few years, I had just been on tour constantly and drinking so much that it was a normal thing. And then I just realized -- and I realized this because a friend of mine realized it -- that I stopped upkeeping. There was so much on the back burner, and there was so much that I hadn't been taking care of emotionally, psychologically and with my physical health. I had been living in Miami the past few years, and I had stopped talking to friends because I was so exhausted from touring, and I just realized, 'Fuck, what am I doing?' So I got sober, and my record label saw that I was really exhausted, so they pulled the plug on the tour. The label said they were going to try and reschedule, but I really thought, 'Fuck, I'm never going to tour again, and my life is going to change, and I'm going to have to get a job.' I was happy about that.

A few months later, the label came back and said that these clubs still wanted me and that they would book me again for another month if I wanted to try it. So the same friend that came down to help me out when I was a mess volunteered to go with me on the tour. But it had been so long since I had been stationary. I remember being afraid of being around people again and being in front of people without having to be on Xanax -- like popping pills or drinking a fifth of Scotch every night -- just being in front of people completely sober.

It cost me a hundred thousand dollars to pull the plug, with all the bookers, all the venues, each individual club. And all the bandmembers are union, so I had to pay them. But it's okay, because I got my health back and I regained happiness, so it was worth it.

Are you still drinking?

I've had about ten drinks in eight months, so that's pretty damn good.