Cat Power

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An artist unafraid to bare her soul and follow her muse anywhere, Cat Power’s Chan Marshall pens emotionally unflinching songs and performs them with strength and vulnerability. Her earliest albums, such as 1996′s What Would the Community Think, reflected the influence of New York’s experimental rock scene. As time went on, however, the folk, blues, and soul music she was raised on made themselves known on 1998′s Moon Pix and 2006′s The Greatest, which featured performances by Memphis soul legends. Though Marshall’s respect for her roots made her a gifted interpreter on albums like 2008′s Jukebox and 2021′s Covers, her music never felt stuck in the past. As she added electronics on 2012′s Sun and released one of her starkest albums yet with 2018′s Wanderer, she established herself as one of the 21st century’s most acclaimed singer/songwriters and paved the way for like-minded artists such as Mitski, Snail Mail, and Angel Olsen.
Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall was born Charlyn Marie Marshall in Atlanta, Georgia on January 21, 1972. Marshall’s father was a blues musician, but her parents divorced when she was young, and she spent much of her nomadic childhood moving back and forth between her father, her mother, and her grandfather. She grew up singing hymns while attending church with her grandmother, and wrote her first song when she was in fourth grade. Meanwhile, she immersed herself in the Otis Redding, Rolling Stones, and Credence Clearwater Revival albums in her stepfather’s collection; in her teens, she listened to Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure.
When Marshall was 16, she moved in with her father in Atlanta, and by 18 she had dropped out of high school and settled on her own. She became a part of the city’s indie rock scene and played with several bands before forming a group called Cat Power. The name came from a trucker’s cap emblazoned with “Cat Diesel Power” that Marshall spotted while working at a pizza joint. She later took Cat Power as her solo performing moniker. In 1992, Marshall moved to New York City with a former member of her band, who also introduced to the city’s experimental music community. She began playing semi-improvised shows, and in 1993 befriended the band God Is My Co-Pilot, who released Cat Power’s debut single “Headlights” b/w “Darling Said Sir” that year on their Making of Americans label. A gig opening for Liz Phair made fans out of Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, both of whom volunteered to help her make an album. In December 1994, they recorded 20 songs in a single day at a New York basement studio. The recordings were split into two releases: October 1995′s mini-album Dear Sir, a raw outing that balanced cathartic original songs with covers of songs by Tom Waits and This Kind of Punishment, and March 1996′s Myra Lee, which appeared on Shelley’s Smells Like Records label and featured some gentler songs alongside Marshall’s outbursts.
Strong reviews led to Marshall signing with Matador Records, and her third album, What Would the Community Think, appeared in September 1996. Recorded at Memphis, Tennessee’s Easley Studios and produced by Shelley, the album boasted more polished and wide-ranging performances and more focused songwriting, all of which were on display on the single “Nude as the News.” Following the album’s release, Marshall took a break from music and left New York City, relocating to Portland, Oregon and eventually a farmhouse in South Carolina. It was there that she experienced an intense nightmare that led her to write the songs that became the heart of her next album. Working with the Dirty Three’s Mick Turner and Jim White at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, Australia, September 1998′s Moon Pix featured a warmer, more full-bodied sound than Cat Power’s early work. The following year, Marshall embarked on a tour where she provided live accompaniment to the 1929 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, and her setlist of original songs and covers inspired her to record some of these renditions. Appearing in March 2000, The Covers Record included a new recording of “In This Hole” from What Would the Community Think, along with interpretations of classic songs by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Moby Grape, and others. The album’s simple, intimate approach struck a chord with enough listeners that it reached number 44 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart in the U.S.
In February 2003, Marshall returned with You Are Free. Offering a more poised and cohesive sound than her previous albums, it featured guest appearances from fans Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl as well as Ellis. The album marked Cat Power’s debut on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, peaking at number 105. The following October saw the release of Speaking for Trees, a DVD/CD set capturing a two-hour Cat Power performance of original and cover songs set in a woodland. During 2005, Marshall recorded The Greatest, a soul-influenced album featuring Memphis R&B legends Mabon "Teenie" Hodges and Leroy "Flick" Hodges from the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Marshall’s first album without cover songs, The Greatest came out in February 2006 to widespread acclaim: it debuted at number 34 on the Billboard 200 and won that year’s Shortlist Music Prize. She toured later that year with a group she called the Dirty Delta Blues Band, featuring White, Judah Bauer of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Gregg Foreman of the Delta 72. Marshall worked on several other projects around this time, ranging from a duet with Karen Elson on the Serge Gainsbourg tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg: Revisited and an appearance on Yoko Ono’s album Yes, I'm a Witch to a role in the film My Blueberry Nights. The Dirty Delta Blues Band formed the core of Marshall’s studio band for her next album, January 2008′s Jukebox. Another set of interpretations of songs originally by the likes of Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Joni Mitchell, the album built on The Greatest’s success, reaching number 12 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S. and selling over 100,000 copies in Europe. Marshall expanded on the album with that December’s Dark End of the Street EP, which collected more songs recorded while making Jukebox. Also in 2008, she appeared on Beck’s album Modern Guilt. The following year, Marshall contributed to the charity album Dark Was the Night and to Neko Case’s album Easy Come Easy Go.
After collaborating with Eddie Vedder on his album Ukulele Songs and releasing a version of her song “King Rides By” that benefitted The Festival of Children Foundation and The Ali Forney Center in 2011, Marshall released Sun in September 2012. Five years in the making, the album incorporated electronics into her signature style and was recorded in several locations, including her home studio in Malibu and in Paris with Cassius’ Philippe Zdar. Upon its release, it debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200 album chart. Shortly after its arrival, Marshall was diagnosed with hereditary angioedema, an immune disorder that causes swelling in the body. Due to ongoing problems with the disorder, Marshall delayed her European tour until 2013. In 2015, she narrated the Janis Joplin documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue. While continuing to tour, Marshall began work on her next album, recording in Miami and Los Angeles with engineer Jeff Dominguez and mixer Rob Schnapf. Marshall made her Domino Records debut with 2018′s Wanderer, a set of stripped-down, folk and blues-inspired songs that included “Woman,” a collaboration with former tourmate Lana Del Rey, and a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay.” Wanderer peaked at number 96 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and reached number four on the Independent Albums chart. Several new songs from Marshall appeared on the soundtrack to the 2021 film Flag Day, and that year she toured with Alanis Morissette and Garbage. In January 2022, Marshall released Covers, her third collection of interpretations of some of her favorite songs; these included works originally performed by artists such as Del Rey, Frank Ocean, the Pogues, and Kitty Wells. ~ Heather Phares & Mark Deming