Comes with a Smile # interviews
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Cat Power
 by Matt Dornan / pictures by Paul Heartfield

Cat Power by Paul HeartfieldChan Marshall has a pint of Guinness and a rash. The two are not related. We're sat in a West-End pub and, between scratches, Chan is playing the part of willing interviewee whilst I reluctantly delve into a set of questions that threaten to shatter the myth that is Moon Pix.

When, in one evening, Chris Colbourn of Buffalo Tom and Joel of New York's spinART records sang Moon Pix's praises to me (Chris placed it alongside Pernice Brothers' Overcome By Happiness as one of the two best albums of '98) it became apparent that here was an album to transcend genre and preconception. Whatever, I'm happy to be sat here opposite its creator. I just wish we could talk about something else.

Does your role as producer of Moon Pix belie a new-found confidence?
I quit playing music and I moved to the country. In South Carolina. And I had a dream that somebody was telling me to come into the field - 'cause I live behind a field - basically to die, or something. I realised that I didn't want to die so I woke up and didn't meet the voice in the field and then I went and wrote this record. And then two close friends of mine died the next day and ... I quit playing music. I never wanted to do it again. These things happen. My boyfriend at the time was going to Australia and I was like, 'I wanna go too', and I'd already asked Mick and Jim if they'd play on my record before - like a couple years earlier - but I never thought I'd ever make another record. Since I'd had the bad dreams, I dunno, it deals with a lot of like ... the reason I did it was because I had just blocked it out of my mind so much, like, I'm not gonna do another record. And then ... I dunno how to describe it.

It's a much more personal record as a result.
It's also a little more 'free'. Like, I got more mature as a person or something. I don't know if that's true or not. I don't know.

How much of a contribution did Mick and Jim make, from your perspective?
Maybe more confidence? Me, as a person, being kinda naïve and not really... being kinda ignorant of everything. I hung out in Australia for two months and then Mick came in for about an hour and a half. Jim was with me four days straight. So, it was just kinda support. I don't know. The essence of ... they gave ... I don't know. They were all, like, one takes. They had no idea what they were supposed to do. That's the same way my other records were recorded. This time there were a lot of things that didn't involve them like sampling and feedback and, like, piano, song structure, blah, blah, blah. But what they gave? They're just really good players and I don't think they needed to know what they were supposed to do because they blended so nicely with the song. They really built these songs. Like Metal Heart, for instance, I think ... I mean, all the songs really. I don't know. I feel like I'm saying things 'cause I don't really think about it much at all.

I suppose all this analysis strips away the personal connection from both your perspective and the listener's. All this chat's killing the spontaneity.
It's like spiritual. When music is talked about it gets intellectualised and the emotional content and value becomes intellectualised. It becomes an objective thing instead of an internal thing.

He Turns Down has a particularly English feel. It's a little jazzy, folky even.
I just knew that I wanted flute on that. I didn't know how it would turn out.

So, it's instinctive.
It's all like if you had a bunch of paper and a lot of energy and a bunch of time and a bunch of materials, you'd make something. I think if I do continue to make music I might be able to think more clearly and more structured about what I want.

Bob Dylan's rendition of Moonshiner was the one that inspired your version, I heard. What are your thoughts on him?
Bob Dylan said about Woody Guthrie that Woody Guthrie could go to a church of his choice or Brooklyn State Hospital. But he believed that at sundown in the Grand Canyon they would be there together. I think Bob Dylan reminds me of someone like - I hate to make the analogy - but someone like Martin Luther King. I mean Bob Dylan played the guitar and did drugs, whatever. But as far as him needing to speak, I mean he always had this drive to say things all the time. I don't know how to describe it. I think he had a huge responsibility when he was younger. I mean, the sixties ... he was, like, twenty three or something and the world that he was being interviewed by was his father's world. Before Rolling Stone was really big it was all suit and tie interviewers. And middle aged men were interviewing Jimi Hendrix, whatever. And I think that's why Bob Dylan isn't that respected personally because of his attitude back then. Something that had always been there but he made people look at it for once. I think that's really important. And he had a good sense of humour, he's totally sarcastic. I guess he's got one of those tongues, like a knife. Really smart. I haven't been educated and my environment growing up wasn't really the most . . . pretty common you know. So I don't know much about things. So I don't have a sharp tongue. Are you mad at me for rambling?

No, I like ramblers. I'm a rambler. Compare your version of Moonshiner.
I feel like that song shouldn't be anybody's favourite song. I'm not saying that it never would be but because it's such a die-hard blues song.

'It must be the colors and the kids 'cause the music is boring me to death.' Is that about New York?
The whole conception of music is like Disneyland. Everybody shares the same human pulse or whatever and anybody can sing a song or write a song and be in a band and, I think, there's not a separation. Like with visual art the line between what's important and what's not important is just criss-crossed. MTV and commercial radio and everything ... we're not allowed to have a choice. I mean there's so much to look at but music is conceptualised into commercialism and visuals like video, like T-shirts, actual CDs ... I don't know ... music's awesome - we know that - but ... I'm not smart enough to pick out what I'm thinking.

What were you thinking when you wrote that line?
I can't describe it. That's the only way I can say it. I think I'm dyslexic or something. Music is nice, right? These days, music is more of a tool ... I don't know. I don't want to offend anybody because everybody's the same. But I don't like a lot of music that I hear. I mean, I love old music that I hear because that's where all of today's music comes from. Like techno, the drum and bass thing really does have a bottom to it. I'm not real smart. I'm not an authority on music so, what I meant by that was that I get confused by the reason for music these days. Everybody loves music but it's something that should be free and relentless. Music should be more timeless and less disposable.

There it is.
Ha, ha, ha.

OK, I'm a friend calling from Georgia and I'm thinking about going to New York. Give me some advice.
Move to the very back of The Bronx or Long Island city and get a job at a college library. Advice, advice ... Make sure you go ice-skating once a week in Central Park in the winter. Oh yeah, you can ask the phone company to get this exclusive underpaid thing and your phone bill can be $10 a month. I just found out about it. I've been there six years.

Haven't you left?
Yeah, I've left four times.

What brings you back?
This business. I didn't finish high school. I didn't go to college. I don't have any type of trade. I can type pretty well. I've just realised I'm twenty six. I never thought I'd live to be twenty six.

What do you think about when you're swimming?
Not being born yet. Totally feels like a dream, asleep or something. Timeless like in space. I love going swimming. I love holding my breath. Being a baby, I think, or something. Breathing in, ha!

CWAS #4 - Winter 1998/9 - The Lost Issue