Is Cat Power prescient or just purrfectly eccentric? The indie-folk warbler wants you know about the space vampires (or something like that)

By Michele Romero
Updated February 07, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Catpower Photograph by Anton Corbijn

The mysterious tale of Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan (pronounced Shawn) Marshall, continues with ”You Are Free,” her fifth album in seven years. Born in Atlanta, the fragile-voiced singer-songwriter, 31, is a Southern gothic punk-folkie whose stream-of-consciousness compositions contain haunting whispers of every imaginable trauma, from scary monsters and romantic misfires to child abuse and even war. After dropping out of high school, Marshall moved to New York in 1996 and established herself in the local indie-rock scene. (Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley released her first album on his Smells Like label.) Now big record producers and fashion designers like Adam Kasper (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam) and Marc Jacobs are begging to work with her. At the moment, however, Marshall’s got more important things on her mind: gorillas, cereal, Iraq, and growing asparagus in outer space.

I found a scary website where some guy claims your favorite breakfast cereals are Frosted Mini-Wheats, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, and granola. True?
Dammit, how’d he get that information? Well, I also like Sugar Smacks, Sugar Pops, and Lucky Charms. But what a f—in’ weirdo.

If you were a cat, what would your power be?
Oh, I have nothing to do with cats. Cat Power comes from words I saw on some trucker guy’s hat when I needed a name for my band. Anyway, I’d want to be a gorilla. I love to visit them at this research center in Atlanta and talk with this celebrity gorilla called Willie B [sadly, Willie B passed away in 2000].

Speaking of evolution, you monkey around a bit more on this record. You even rap a little at the end of ”He War.”
I was just feeling a little kooky. I love hip-hop. Grandmaster Flash. Whodini. I really like Eminem, too, because he’s saying be yourself.

How did you hook up with producer Adam Kasper?
I asked a friend if he knew an engineer who’d be more open to my ideas. In the past, I’d ask [the engineer] to turn something up and they’d respond, ”Do you know what’s gonna happen if I turn that up?” So I’d say, ”I know. Could you f—ing please turn that up?” I’m speculating it was because I’m a woman.

Rumor has it there are two uncredited famous people on the record. Who are they?
A friend of Adam’s plays drums in a famous rock band, and Adam made our worlds meet. But I don’t want to make a spectacle of the whole rock-star thing.

How about a clue?
The drummer has lived in Virginia, and [there’s also a singer who] has lived in Chicago. [editor’s note: We’ll respect Marshall’s discretion and tell you only that their names rhyme with Gave Drohl and Veddie Edder.]

Writers compare your lyrics to Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Have you ever read her work?
I don’t know Flannery O’Connor, but I love Carson McCullers and William Faulkner and Denis Johnson. I used to write murder-mystery stories when I was little. I had hippie sort of parents, and there was confusion and conflict [at home]. And so I would write stories about these kinds of things. I guess that was the only way I could say something.