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"Once a song is recorded, it's taken for granted that that's what the song sounds like. I feel like that's not true. Once you've played the song a thousand times, your life experiences affect the way you perform the song and the way the song actually grows and lives. The recording should actually come after – it just seems weird that you record the song and then play it afterwards. I don't know how to feel good about recording. It's strange – it's like trapping ghosts. It's like math. Or trapping the meaning of life. That doesn't really feel right."
Chan Marshall, on recording music
Chan (pronounced "Shawn") Marshall is a Southern-bred girl. Her family often moved frequently. This constant travelling helped prepare Chan for the touring life she would have as a musician. Chan's known for having unpolished live shows, with songs beginning and ending abruptly or blending into one another without clear transitions. She has also cut short performances without explanation.
After dropping out of high school, she started performing with a live band. In 1992 she moved to New York City with one of her live band members, Glen Thrasher. Glen introduced Chan to the experimental and free jazz scene. She saw an Anthony Braxton concert, which gave her the confidence to perform in public. While opening for Liz Phair in 1994, she met Sonic Youth's drummer Steve Shelley and Tim Foljahn, who played on her first two albums and encouraged her to continue her music career.
In late 1996, after a three-month tour in support of her third album What Would the Community Think, Chan disappeared from the music scene. She worked as a babysitter in Oregon at first, then moving to a farmhouse in South Carolina with her boyfriend at-the-time. Her plan was to permanently retire from performing live, but during a sleepless night resulting from a nightmare she wrote several new songs. These songs would be the bulk of Moon Pix. After later tours Chan was tired of her songs. This resulted in shows where she performed musical accompaniment to The Passion of Joan of Arc, which consisted of original songs and covers. Many of these covers would be on her first cover album The Covers Record.
By the start of the 2000s, Chan's live performances became random and unpredictable. She blamed this on a drinking problem. Chan cancelled her tour for the 2006 album The Greatest because she had relationship problems. It eventually became good that Chan didn't tour, because she needed to recover from something she described as a "psychotic break" that was the fault of mental exhaustion and her alcoholism. This left Chan feeling suicidal. As part of the recovery, Chan was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Miami's Mount Sinai Medical Center but left after a week, stating "being in there wasn't me." She later likened the experience to "a pit of hell."
In the winter of 2006, Chan put together a new backing band, the Dirty Delta Blues band. She also declared herself to be sober, which she defined as having "seven drinks in seven months." Now her live performances are much more enthusiastic and professional. Chan claims that her newfound musical collaborators and sobriety are the reasons why.
- Dear Sir (1995)
- Myra Lee (1996)
- What Would the Community Think (1996)
- Moon Pix (1998)
- The Covers Record (2000)
- You Are Free (2003)
- The Greatest (2006)
- Jukebox (2008)
- Dark End of the Street (2008; EP)
- Sun (TBA)
Tropes relating to Cat Power:
- A Good Name for a Rock Band – Chan took the alias "Cat Power" from a Caterpillar ad that read: "Cat Diesel Power."
- Broken Base – Some fans dislike her post-You Are Free material.
- The Cover Changes the Gender – Used in her version of "Satisfaction"...
- The Cover Changes the Meaning - ...which also drops all the choruses, leaving only the parts of the song that nobody knows.
- Cover Version – She performed many covers: there's at least one on each of her albums (okay, The Greatest has it as a Japanese bonus track, but it still counts). Many of them appeared on The Covers Record, Jukebox, and Dark End of the Street.
- Covered Up – "Sea of Love" is not originally by her nor by the Honeydrippers nor, for that matter, Led Zeppelin. It was by Phil Phillips from way back in the Fifties.
- Cover Album - The Covers Record, Jukebox, and Dark End of the Street.
- Creator Backlash – Chan hates the version of "He War" that appeared on You Are Free. The version she wanted was Stones-y and recorded with a live band.
- Creator Breakdown - Moon Pix.
- Doing It for the Art – Subverted. Chan was initially making music because her friends were musicians. Also, playing shows would let her and her friends get wasted.
- Epileptic Trees - "I Don't Blame You", a song about a rock star whose life was destroyed by fame, was thought to be about Kurt Cobain by many people, but Chan has denied that it's about him.
- High Octane Nightmare Fuel - "Names" starts like a Tear Jerker, and then gets worse.
- I Am the Band – Cat Power is Chan Marshall.
- In the Blood – Chan’s father, Charlie, is a blues musician and an itinerant pianist.
- Isn't It Ironic? - The AV Club had something to say about her cover of Cat Stevens' "How Can I Tell You" being used in a commercial:
There's no space here to get into the morality of diamond-buying in general —- there are plenty of books on the subject, as well as that Leo DiCaprio movie —- but it's the pairing of Cat Stevens' poignant "How Can I Tell You" (sung in the commercial by Cat Power!) with a goopy diamond commercial that ups the ick factor. A song of longing and searching for the right words to express emotion is given this simple answer: "Don't describe your feelings, let these shiny rocks do that."
- Don't forget that this is the woman who made "Cross Bones Style" a song about how wonderful the diamond trade is.
- Magnum Opus – You Are Free and Moon Pix.
- Name's the Same – Cat Power shares her name with a wrestler.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly – Early in her career, Chan’s music was raw, stripped-down indie rock. Now it’s more of a mixture of blues, country, soul, and indie rock.
- One-Woman Wail – Chan often wailed in her early music.
- Sampling - "American Flag", from Moon Pix, samples the reversed drum machine from The Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere". According to the album's engineer, she showed up with a copy of Licensed to Ill and asked for a sample of the reversed beat.
- Shout-Out - Chan mentions the names of Patti Smith's children (Jackson and Jesse) in "Nude as the News".
- The cover of You Are Free imitates the one for Galaxie 500's Today.
- Smoking Is Cool – Chan looks pretty hot when she is smoking or has a cig in her hand.
- Soprano and Gravel - Well, when you get Eddie Vedder to add additional vocals to two of your songs...
- Tear Jerker - "Names", as mentioned above. It's about friends from the narrator's childhood that met horrifying demises (literally and metaphorically). Also, "Good Woman". It's a melancholy song about a breakup. The children's choir doesn't help at all.
- Three Chords and the Truth – Her early music was sometimes this.
- Throw It In - According to Moon Pix's engineer Matt Voigt (again), the echo added to the drums on "Cross Bones Style" was meant to cover up egregious timing mistakes - Chan recorded the guitars first without a click-track, requiring the drummer to play along as best as he could.
- What Could Have Been – Chan auditioned to be in the cast for Saturday Night Live!