By Jill Alphonso
TELL American singer Chan Marshall, better known to her fans as Cat Power, that her Esplanade gig tonight - her first in Singapore - is sold out, and she is shocked.
"No way," says the 38-year-old, known for her luscious vocals and her raw, emotional songs. She leans back in her chair at the Marina Mandarin's Ristorante Bologna and looks as though she might tear up, so moved is she.
"That's such an honour. I had no idea."
At one point, the thought of playing to a 1,800-strong audience might have made Marshall very, very afraid. The Atlanta-born singer - who began performing in 1992 and broke out with 1995's Dear Sir - has, in the past, been known to play erratic shows.
In the early 2000s, she was known to suffer from stage fright, made worse by alcohol abuse and, later, depression. By 2003, it was widely known that a Cat Power gig could see the singer swearing to herself, lapsing into awkward silences onstage, or starting to sing only to stop abruptly mid-song.
Though Marshall has cleaned up her act, following a short stint in rehab in 2006, she says that the anxiety of being onstage still haunts her.
"I get a certain fear; sometimes I get very afraid of the thought of (facing) a big audience, though sometimes I don't," she says pensively.
|IN HER PRIME: Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, is in a better place after battling alcohol abuse and depression.
Audiences needn't worry, though. Reviews of her shows have been nothing short of glowing since the release of her Memphis blues-infused album, The Greatest (2006), which the New York Times called "the best work of her life".
She has since released Jukebox (2008) and Dark End Of The Street (2008), albums that see her covering songs from artistes like Patsy Cline and James Brown.
Marshall - who is happily ensconsed in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, actor Giovanni Ribisi, and his daughter, Lucia - now says that once she'd fought her demons, she had to get back on her feet. And fast.
"When I came out of that, I felt like I was 10 years old and on the streets of Baghdad," she says.
"But it's been about four years now, and I'm in another place where I know what I want for myself. It's a strange thing to think about; my experience in my adult life hasn't been that way."
Ask her what she's up to now, and she'll tell you that she's a little tired of playing covers (most of her concert tonight will be cover songs from her past two albums, though audiences will hear Marshall's originals like the aching I Don't Blame You and Metal Heart).
She's writing new songs for an album, though she's afraid, she tells you, that they're a little too dark and filled with melancholy - things she wants to put behind her.
"It's still questioning, but protective," she says of her new music. "It still has the feeling of trying to wade through something to get to the core of it, and then (journeying) to thinking about it and feeling it, then believing and trusting (your own truth)."
When asked what she hopes to leave behind, she looks away to think for a moment before replying simply: "Something genuine."
She lifts her clear brown eyes to meet yours. Indeed, the artiste who calls herself Cat Power will never settle for anything less.
Cat Power plays tonight at the Esplanade. The gig is sold out.
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