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Cat Power settles into spotlight

Chan Marshall has been performing since she was 19.
Chan Marshall has been performing since she was 19.

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(CNN) -- Chan Marshall is acclimating to life in the public eye.

The 31-year-old singer-songwriter known as Cat Power has a reputation for being skittish in the spotlight. She has been performing since she was 19 but still suffers from stage fright. Sometimes she stops playing in the middle of a song or plays with her back to the audience.

But Marshall has realized that expressing herself is one of the things she does best.

"I'm not interested in success. I mean human perseverance and just being OK with yourself ... that's success to me, and I think that is to everybody else too," Marshall said.

"You Are Free," Cat Power's first original material in five years, was released this year, and Marshall has been touring with a four-piece backing band.

TMR caught up with the singer to chat about the album and her acceptance of the life she's chosen.

TMR: Are you happy with your new album, "You Are Free"?

MARSHALL: Yes and no. [I'm happy] because I did it, and it's what it is. And I kept my end of the deal, you know? I promised that I would have another record.

And I'm not happy with it because nothing is ever perfect and nothing is ever what you want it to be, ever. But I accept it. So that means it's like yin and yang -- I accept it for what it is. It's not the best, but I accept it.

TMR: I've read that this is an epic record for you. How do you feel about that?

MARSHALL: I think that it's important for a lot of people to -- my friends say, "Chan, you're just going to have to keep doing what you're doing because you've been doing it for a while, and you have to kind of accept that this is what you do now."

And I think that I'm realizing that that is important, that people, younger people, understand that what I'm doing is the same thing they could be doing. Even if it's just expressing themselves individually in anything that they are doing, whether it's school, at home, with their friends, with their loved ones, whatever. Just like expressing yourself individually is the most important thing that's been completely annihilated from our social structure.

TMR: Let's talk about how you started then. How did you start deciding you could express yourself however you liked?

Cat Power
Cat Power

MARSHALL: Just recently. I've been playing for a really long time. My friends here in Atlanta were -- the only people that I knew that played music were boys. My girlfriends didn't play music ... so playing guitar was always with boys. And the boys were always -- my friends were always kind of pushing me to start a band, and I always thought that was really pretentious and ridiculous. And through their peer pressure, I guess, we started a band together.

It was very exciting and frightening. Exciting because you're ... it was stimulating in this strange sort of social perception, sort of communication, kind of strange allowance to say what you want to say. Just really naturally, which isn't really accepted or something. I don't know, nevermind, don't get me started. That's how it started.

TMR: So it was like an outlet?

MARSHALL: Yeah. I mean, I didn't know that then. Back then I thought, "Yeah, you know, we'll get some free beer, and I can hang out with my friends, and we can play music together." Back then I couldn't explain or describe what I was feeling 'cause I was so emotionally naive and all these things when you're younger. I knew what I was doing, [what] I was feeling, but I didn't know what it meant. And I still don't ... know the definition of why anything would make you want to sing or listen to music. I don't know what it is. And I still don't know. I'm so happy that there isn't a definition for that.

TMR: Do you have stage fright?

MARSHALL: Absolutely. It's like being ... I don't know if you've ever been baptized or something? ... Yeah, well everybody's looking at you and it's so intense and emotional and spiritual, and it's just this thing, you know? And it's like everybody's looking at you.

I mean, put anybody in that position -- if they feel emotional and spiritual and intense or something. If they have those feelings, you put them in front of people, they're going to be a little shy and uncomfortable about the dynamic of social spectacle.

But I think it's important that -- doing interviews and stuff -- I think it's important for people. ... I know that if I didn't have music to sort of give me some sort of inner strength as a person, I probably would be really messed up and kooky. ... That's why I like doing interviews 'cause I know that there are people out there, maybe two of 'em, that might watch this and go, "You know, maybe I should write that book about that thing that I keep thinking about, or maybe I should visit that person that I've been missing for all these years."

TMR: How long have you been performing?

MARSHALL: Since I was 19.

TMR: And do you still get nervous?

MARSHALL: Of course. Yes, definitely. Sometimes I just -- usually I can't be around people. ... So before I play, I have to make sure I'm not like all over the place 'cause then that's what's going to happen when I go out there, and I'm trying to concentrate on my timing and my breathing and my memory of what I'm doing.

So I usually just relax, and then I just -- five minutes before I'm supposed to be there -- I just show up and barge through the thing and get there, put my guitar down, make sure it's tuned. Sometimes grab some peppermint tea with honey, or get a triple or quadruple scotch, depending on how I feel for that night. And then I go out there where there's those people there, and they're really sweet and they're, "We love you, Chan!" I'm like, "No waaay." It's really sweet. Really sweet people come, people like you and me.


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