In the latest instalment of The Witching Hour – a podcast exploring the metaphysical side of music – Sophie Miles spoke to Cat Power just moments before the singer’s show at The Mann Centre for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation ahead of the full podcast, which will be out in the coming weeks.
Sat nam and welcome to The Witching Hour. My name is Sophie Miles and it was a real joy to talk music and spirituality for this month’s podcast with someone whose music I have always treasured, Chan Marshall aka Cat Power.
In the same generous and gentle spirit which has always guided her music, Chan shared her thoughts about the spiritual journey that has led to her new album,
Please enjoy, The Wonderment Of Cat Power.
Thank you so much for talking with me for my podcast. It’s all about spirituality and music, so I was hoping to speak with you about spiritual journeys and spiritual wanderings. Your beautiful new album
Well, that’s exactly what the title was for. I was just in France and the interviewer had this image of a hobo. I’m like, “No. Wanderer means symbolically when all else fails you must continue forward; one step in front of the other.” But symbolically one step forward is with your feet, but it’s really all in your mind. So you’re the first person that’s acknowledged the reality.
Well, I feel like also the word “wander” also suggests the word ‘“wonder”. Both those words are so related to spirituality, you know, “wonderment” and “wandering”. What do those words evoke to you?
I mean, infinite possibility. And I think with infinite possibility it’s easy to sense immense positivity somehow.
That’s an amazing point to come to in your life; to be able to hold that space of infinity and positivity.
It’s definitely a work in progress. I think for anybody on earth alive there are so many levels, degrees, and dimensions of awareness. A young child in Yemen or Syria right now may have the awareness of an 85-year-old human in an industrialised world because of trauma and the journey they have had to take with suffering.
"When the stress dart hits, just try to breathe that motherfucker out so it doesn't stay in you."
When you say that I think about empathy. Empathy is just the word that I always come back to when I think about your music. I feel there’s this very strong empathy connection between you and your fans, especially. Do you consider yourself an empath? Is that a word you would use?
I think that I am … I think that I’m drawn to those who need help really instinctively. As if it’s an itch I have to scratch. I know it’s not normal. I know that it’s difficult for others to understand what that’s like … If a blind man is looking for his shoe but you see his shoe right beside his other foot, it just makes sense – you have eyes you could give it to him. You know what I mean? It’s not such a insane or strange mentality. It’s not such a strange or insane notion…
I’ve always noticed little children, of course, before I became a mom. But I think little children have little buckets of all these different emotions and behaviours and parts of humanity. I see little children doing little empath things. I think that we all possess empathy. I think through whatever trauma, or Catholic school, or abusive dad, or whatever it is that it’s gotten beaten out of us; out of our mindset, out of our imagination, out of our link to one another, out of our intuitive nature. I think that we are a very intuitive species, humans…
I’ve never been taught about that. I have a very deep sense that – just as we’re speaking on the phone right now – very easily I feel very certain that we can connect in another dimension if we knew how. Even after we hang up, even a year from now … If we are not linked as humans together, I believe that we have a tool. Perhaps it’s just our dreaming where our spirit is more awake that we can link together, or communicate, I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the purpose is, but I know it exists.
That ability to communicate across time and space, it’s something that music does of course. That’s part of the magic of music. It feels like just a very rare and beautiful space that you hold with the people who appreciate your music. It seems like a space of unconditional love in lots of ways. Do you feel that?
I think that that’s what it is … Of course lyrics are a pattern of ideas that translate very well the concept of a feeling, or whatever. But there’s something in someone’s voice – in the melody, in the voice, in the song – of their own struggle, their lament, and their own victory. Just the sound of hearing Billie Holiday just make a sound, [where] I don’t feel alone.
She’s gone. When she passed away – those 80 years or whatever it’s been – her body is gone, but even in my mind I can hear her voice, and she’s very alive. I feel like perhaps the person who was recording that voice, that person was this 1000-year-old ghost that was finally alive in Billie Holiday. It was her, and I believe she’s around. Whether it’s reincarnation, or just particles of air that we inhale…
So because our ears [are] on the side of our brain, music fills both parts of our brain. Like the division between left and right. I think that music removes the division and creates inclusion. I think that’s why when we hear, ‘I Got the Blues’ by The Rolling Stones we instantly feel the blues, but we also feel a great divine opposite. You know what I mean? Like, the way the left and right of the brain work almost oppositely. Like when we hear ‘Strange Fruit’ – Billie Holiday singing about black bodies swinging – we feel immense immeasurable pain and grief. But at the same time we feel such an incredible abundance; an amount of depth of love, and courage and kindness and joy. So I think music equalises our spirit in a way. Or reveals [our spirit].
That’s such an interesting idea because we seem to be living in a time where there’s this polarity and people are being encouraged to be on one side of the duality and not acknowledge the other one. Music – obviously just even in a physical way when you’ve got your left speaker and your right speaker – is bringing you into that center again and enabling you to hear both polarities. That is a very interesting idea. Very true, I think.
John Lennon said that a song can’t save the world. But someone like Bob Dylan from the mid-60s didn’t save the world but he helped people change their own mind; to be more courageous, to embrace this change, to be more collective thought.
I do believe that in hip-hop, for example, I do believe that there is a divine consciousness at play with the millions and millions and millions of young people for about 30 years who’ve been listening and including themselves within hip-hop culture. There’s a lot of messages. There’s a lot of information. There’s also a historical – I don’t want say preservation, but it’s almost like this preservation of all the history of incredible music from funk, to soul. All those components trailblazing into our consciousness.
I feel like after folk, and then punk, I feel like hip-hop culturally is that message. The Dylan from the mid-60s. I feel like hip-hop is the Dylan now with the youth culture because I’m older now. I’m not 15 and 16, and I can only imagine what it must be like to be 15 or 16 right now….
I’m not sure who’s the heroes of song are. Because those were our heroes. We had heroes in song, you know. There weren’t many people to look up to. In my opinion I think culturally actors are cool, scientists are amazing, but I think it’s hard for young people. So I understand the abundance of hip-hop consciousness being so vibrant. There’s a real message that needs to be heard, like you said. Especially right now.
That connection between culture and consciousness … I really admire the way that you use your social media to speak out in a really personal engaged way about some of the big issues of our time like Standing Rock or standing up to Donald Trump. How do you feel in that space? Do you feel a responsibility as an artist to speak out?
Well, I want to say this because I think it’s important. Almost 20 years again Patti Smith told me at a time when I couldn’t bear it, I couldn’t bear it – I could barely keep my head above water emotionally – she told me, “Chan, it’s your responsibility as an artist to speak out against unjust shit.” When she told me [that] a long time ago it felt like the world’s weight was on my shoulders. I couldn’t truly invest in what she spoke…
So I’m telling you that because I feel that we are in an industrialised world/society – we do have clean water, we do have education, we are able to vote. I can, as a woman, go to college and read and teach and drive and say “fuck you” to Donald Trump. I can do that, and that’s why I think it’s all of our responsibility as the industrialised world to be that way. Because the rest of the world has completely the opposite: No clean water, children being stolen for sex, human trafficking, whatever. Women cannot vote, write, read, they’re not allowed [to]…
"When I think about self-love now at almost 47 it reminds me of the same respect that I had for myself as a young girl."
I believe even further [than what Patti said] … [That] everyone who has access to a consciousness movement to try to be active. Or at least have a position on something, to be aware. That consciousness is important, in general. That action furthers that consciousness. You know what I mean?
There’s a couple billion people that need more help. This game that we’re watching, this political game of the puppet thing while Syria’s still being bombed, while America still partners with all of what’s going on. And it’s not just America [pauses] It feels overwhelming, but not when you meet people from these places. Not when you travel the world … Yeah, it’s a different part of the world but everyone’s awake right now somewhere. Or asleep. We’re all existing on the same conscious plane right now. Every day we live on this planet. So the world is small. My point is the world is small.
That’s true. It’s getting smaller.
Small movement, small statements, small actions possibly can help, I don’t know. Karmically things shift.
Also, healing. I mean, you are a woman who has done a lot of healing. Are there any radical self-care tips you can share with us about spiritual practices that have helped you?
There’s always like one pretty shitty thing that happens a day, or a couple things. But in the scale of things, it may be just be stressful and it’s just really stressful more than really terrible. Because really terrible things do happen.
I guess just try to find some sense of calm where you don’t remove yourself from your world and your reality, but exhale. In the old days I’d just go and smoke a cigarette. But I think there’s a way to try to create the habit of inhaling and exhaling as deeply as you can to get connected more with what’s important. Which is your own body, your own lungs and your heart that’s beating and the blood that’s flowing to your brain, rather than whatever bullshit that happened just in that moment…
I think just taking 10 seconds to remember what’s most important right now in this moment of bullshit first, so you can move forward; just take 10 seconds, five seconds to inhale and exhale. We can all get past it. It’s just getting the darts out of us, the stress darts. When the stress dart hits, just try to breathe that motherfucker out so it doesn’t stay in you.
Do you have a daily routine that helps you to stay connected to that place of calm?
I travel with my three-year-old. So I think because I’m with my son quite often, for me right now in my life, it’s really just speaking; asking him if we can take a second and cuddle for a moment, just hold each other for a moment in our day. So on the airplane we’ve got to pack our suitcases, I have to do interviews, we have to have our lunch, take a bath, go to the playground. I think because of my son right now that’s how I do it in my life … His name is Beau. So I say, “Beau, can you come and have some cuddles with mommy just for a moment?” So that’s how I’m kind of doing it right now is with him.
Oh, that’s beautiful.
Our children can absorb our tensions as well. You know, because they mimic everything we do. So that’s where I’m at right now in my life is trying to be aware of, if I’m going to take a step back I’d like to include him in that process. Really creating better habits, you know. Creating better habits for ourselves as this situation unfolds with these days, the temperature of the world.
I remember in an interview you talked about how becoming a mother really connected you to that sense of women’s strength and dignity. You know, everything that women and mothers have to endure, all the hard work that goes unnoticed, and you just connect into that beautiful lineage of women.
I think it’s pretty easy, and I think it’s pretty normal. When I was alone, when I was pregnant, I manifested that idea for myself to make sure that my child and myself were in a safe place, and understanding that this will be good and we will survive. We will be strong, we will be healthy, and we will be joyous. I had to do that. I don’t know but I suppose that that’s what anyone would do in that situation.
Whether it’s 2000 years ago, with those extreme conditions of being a woman; or whether it’s right now at this very moment while a village is being bombed or something. I really hope that there’s a more prevalent source of conscious strength for women around the world. Because there are some women around the world that really need a lot of help, they need a lot of support, and there just really isn’t anything for them.
I also wanted to ask you about self-love. You know, the greatest love of all. What’s your journey been towards coming into that space of self-love?
When I think about self-love now at almost 47 it reminds me of the same respect that I had for myself as a young girl. I knew that things could be better in general as far as living conditions or treatment by people to the world around me. So within that spectacle of observing the world around me I think I was able to harness my own sense of self-respect.
And just somehow – because I went to so many schools growing up – I was always moving around as a child so I was alone a lot. I think being alone a lot you learn about yourself. I think a lot more than you would with following some clique around and doing what some clique does … Through learning about the love that I have with my child I’m being reminded of all the time about self-love that I had for myself when I was a child.
It makes me feel even more grounded because I knew … that even though I was alone or struggling, I knew that I was lovable and I knew that I was capable of love. I knew that always. In knowing that I always had happiness, even when I was alone, because I had self-love as a child. So having my son has reminded me that I’ve always had that and I’m very, very lucky to have that.
Stay tuned to LNWY for the full episode of The Witching Hour with Cat Power and Sophie Miles.