Cat Power

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Cat Power
Cat Power singing into a microphone
Cat Power in London, 2018
Background information
Birth nameCharlyn Marie Marshall
Also known asChan Marshall
Cat Power
Born (1972-01-21) January 21, 1972 (age 47)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • model
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
Years active1992–present
Labels
Associated acts
Websitewww.catpowermusic.com

Charlyn Marie "Chan" Marshall (/ʃɑːn/ SHAHN;[3] born January 21, 1972),[4] better known by her stage name Cat Power, is an American singer-songwriter, musician, occasional actress, and model. Cat Power was originally the name of Marshall's first band, but has become her stage name as a solo artist.

Born in Atlanta, Marshall was raised throughout the southern United States, and began performing in local bands in Atlanta in the early 1990s. She was discovered opening for Liz Phair in 1993 by Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar, with whom she recorded her first two albums, Dear Sir (1995) and Myra Lee (1996), on the same day in 1994. In 1996, she signed with Matador Records, and released a third album of new material with Shelley and Foljahn, What Would the Community Think. Following this, she released the critically acclaimed Moon Pix (1998), recorded with members of Dirty Three, and The Covers Record (2000), a collection of sparsely arranged cover songs.

After a brief hiatus she released You Are Free (2003), featuring guest musicians Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder, followed by the soul-influenced The Greatest (2006), recorded with numerous Memphis studio musicians. A second album of cover tracks, Jukebox, was released in 2008. In 2012 she released the self-produced Sun, which debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, the highest charting album of her career to date.[5]

Critics have noted the constant evolution of Cat Power's sound, with a "mix of punk, folk and blues" on her earliest albums, and elements of soul and other genres more prevalent in her later material. Her 2012 album Sun incorporated electronica in a self-proclaimed move from the "slower" guitar-based songs she initially wrote for the album.

Biography[edit]

1972–1989: Early life[edit]

Charlyn Marie Marshall was born January 21, 1972, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of Charlie Marshall, a blues musician and pianist, and Myra Lee Marshall (née Russell).[6] She has one older sister, Miranda ("Mandy").[7] Her parents divorced in 1979[7] and remarried shortly thereafter.[3] Her mother remarried and had a son Lenny,[8] and the family traveled around often because of her stepfather's profession.[8]

Marshall attended ten different schools throughout the Southern U.S. in places such as Greensboro; Bartlett and Memphis and throughout Georgia and South Carolina. At times she was left in the care of her grandmother.[7] She was not allowed to buy records when she was growing up, but she listened to her stepfather's record collection, which included such artists as Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Rolling Stones,[9] as well as her parents' records, which included Black Flag, Sister Sledge, and Barry White.[10] In sixth grade, she adopted the nickname Chan, which she would later use professionally. ("Chan" is pronounced as "Shawn".)[11] At age 16, she became estranged from her mother, and had no contact with her until she was 24.[3]

Marshall has stated that religion was a large part of her Southern upbringing; her father was a Jehovah's Witness,[10] though she attended Southern Baptist churches with her grandmother, where she began singing while learning hymns.[12] Marshall commented on her religious upbringing, stating: "You know, my grandmother was very religious growing up and she taught me from a very young age that Satan is bad and God is good. But you tell a child about Satan and demons and saints and angels, and with a child's imagination, it just becomes a part of your mind. As an adult, you have to really remember that it's all just folk tales. Like werewolves, that kind of thing."[13]

1990–1995: Career beginnings[edit]

Marshall's first instrument was a 1950s Silvertone guitar, which she did not touch for a year after buying it, because she considered it a piece of "art in the corner."[3] Marshall taught herself to play guitar.[10] She began playing music in Atlanta in the late-1980s with a collective of musicians made up of Glen Thrasher, Marc Moore, Damon Moore and Fletcher Liegerot, who would get together for jam sessions in a basement.[14] The group were booked for a show and had to come up with a name quickly, when a man walked through the door of the pizzeria where Marshall worked, wearing a Caterpillar trucker cap that read: "Cat Diesel Power". Marshall immediately decided on Cat Power as the name of the band.[3][15]

While in Atlanta, Marshall played her first live shows as support to her friends' bands, including Magic Bone and Opal Foxx Quartet.[16] Due to her close relationships with the various people involved, she has stated that her involvement in music at this time was primarily a social interest rather than an artistic one. In a 2007 interview, she explained that the music itself was more experimental and that playing shows was often an opportunity for her and her friends "to get drunk and take drugs".[17] A number of her local peers became entrenched in heroin use, and this contributed to her desire to leave Atlanta.[3] After the death of her boyfriend and the subsequent loss of her best friend to AIDS, Marshall decided to relocate to New York City in 1992 with Glen Thrasher.[18] A new boyfriend in New York helped her get a job in a restaurant, but she realized he was having an affair with the restaurant owner, a married woman with two children.[19]

Thrasher introduced her to New York's free jazz and experimental music scene.[17] In particular she cites a concert by Anthony Braxton with giving her the confidence to perform in public. Her first New York show was at a warehouse in Brooklyn and she has described her early New York shows as "more improvisational."[20] One of her shows during this period was as the support act to Man or Astro-man? and consisted of her playing a two-string guitar and singing the word "no" for 15 minutes.[21] Around this time, she met the band God Is My Co-Pilot, who assisted with the release of her first single, "Headlights," in a limited run of 500 copies on their Making of Americans label.[22]

Marshall recorded simultaneously her first two albums Dear Sir and Myra Lee in December 1994 in a small basement studio near Mott Street in New York City, with guitarist Tim Foljahn and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley; Marshall and Shelley had initially met after she played a show opening for Liz Phair in 1993.[23][24] A total of 20 songs were recorded in a single day by the trio, all of which were split into two records, making up Dear Sir and Myra Lee, released respectively in October 1995 and March 1996.[25] Although Dear Sir is considered Marshall's debut album, due to its shorter length, she expressed herself in a 1996 interview that she considered it an EP.[23]

In retrospect, Marshall stated that during her early career: "I never saw recording [music] as an objective because I never sold any records [...] when I started touring and playing shows, [then] I thought, 'I can play this show and make the same amount of money I would by working two or three jobs.' I could see the world and still work. Travel, play, try to make enough money for the hotel and the Greyhound bus or whatever I needed to do. I could be free and play whatever I wanted to play. There were no rules. The only time there was a rule was when I actually had to physically put my records in someone else's hands."[26]

1996–2003: Early Matador releases[edit]

In 1996, Marshall signed to Matador Records[27] and in September released her third album, What Would the Community Think, which she recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in February 1996.[28] The album was produced by Shelley and again featured Shelley and Foljahn as backing musicians, and spawned a single and music video, "Nude as the News". Critics cited the album as evidence of her maturation as a singer and songwriter from the "dense and cathartic" material of her first two releases.[29] Michele Romero of Entertainment Weekly praised the album, writing that Marshall "raises goose bumps on What Would the Community Think with bluesy, traumatized songs on which she whispers laments over a spare arrangement of guitar and drums.[30]

After the release of What Would the Community Think, Marshall took a trip to South Africa, after which she left New York City and moved to Portland, Oregon.[31] At the time, she was considering retiring from the music business.[32] In Portland, she found temporary employment as a babysitter.[33] In the spring of 1997, Marshall relocated with her then-boyfriend, musician Bill Callahan, to a rural farmhouse in Prosperity, South Carolina.[34][33] While alone in the farmhouse, Marshall experienced a hypnogogic nightmare that inspired her to write more music.[35] In a period of several days, she wrote six new songs, which would go on to make up the bulk of her following album, Moon Pix (1998),[36] which she recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, Australia, with backing musicians Mick Turner and Jim White of the Australian band Dirty Three.[37][38] Moon Pix was well received by critics, and along with an accompanying music video for the song "Cross Bones Style", helped her gain further recognition.[39][40] Rolling Stone would later describe it as her 'breakthrough' record.[41]

By 2000, Marshall stated that she had grown tired of touring her own material. This resulted in a series of shows during 1999 where Marshall provided musical accompaniment to the silent movie The Passion of Joan of Arc.[42] The shows combined original material and a number of covers, some of which would be released on Marshall's fifth album, The Covers Record in 2000. The songs were recorded during two sessions in the summer of 1998 and fall of 1999.[43] Additionally, she performed eleven covers during a Peel session broadcast on June 18, 2000 that included own interpretations of Bob Dylan's "Hard Times in New York Town" and Oasis's "Wonderwall".[44] Her contract with Matador for 2000's The Covers Album reportedly consisted of a Post-it note signed by herself and the company's founder.[19]

During the early-2000s, Marshall was embraced by the fashion industry for her "neo grunge" look, and seen as a muse by designers such as Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière.[45] In 2001 she modeled in New York magazine's fall fashion issue and was photographed by her friends Mark Borthwick and Katja Rahlwes, who featured her in Purple magazine alongside Catherine Deneuve.[45]

In February 2003, Marshall released You Are Free, her first album of original material in five years.[46] The album, which featured guest musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and Warren Ellis, became the first charting Cat Power album, reaching 105 on the Billboard 200. A music video directed by Brett Vapnek was released for the song "He War." Marshall toured extensively through 2003 and 2004, playing shows in Europe, Brazil, the U.S., and Australia.[19] During this period, Marshall's live performances had become erratic and unpredictable, and a 2003 The New Yorker article suggested: "It is foolhardy to describe a Cat Power event as a concert," citing "rambling confessions" and "[talking] to a friend's baby from the stage."[47] Marshall later attributed this period to a drinking problem.[48] Marshall has admitted abusing alcohol in the past; in a subsequent 2006 interview with The New York Times, she declared herself to be sober, which she defined as having had "seven drinks in seven months."[49] Around the time of the release of You Are Free, Marshall purchased a house in South Beach, Miami, from a high school friend.[20]

2004–2008: Mainstream success[edit]

In October 2004, Matador released the DVD film Speaking for Trees, which featured a continuous, nearly two-hour static shot of Marshall performing with her guitar in a woodland. The set was accompanied by an audio CD containing the 18-minute song "Willie Deadwilder," featuring M. Ward also on guitar.[50]

Marshall performing in Philadelphia, 2006

On January 22, 2006, Marshall released her seventh album, The Greatest, a Southern soul-influenced album of new material featuring numerous veteran Memphis studio musicians, including Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, Leroy Hodges, David Smith, and Steve Potts.[51] The album debuted at 34 on the Billboard 200 and critics noted its relatively "polished and accessible" sound, predicting it was "going to gain her a lot of new fans."[51] The Greatest met with critical acclaim, and won the 2006 Shortlist Music Prize, making Marshall the first woman to win the honor.[52] It was also named the number 6 best album of 2006 by Rolling Stone Magazine.[53]

Simultaneously, Marshall collaborated with several other musicians on different projects, including Mick Collins on a recording of Ludwig Rellstab's poem "Auf Dem Strom" for the film Wayne County Ramblin';[54] a duet with singer-model Karen Elson on an English cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je t'aime... moi non plus" for the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited (2007); lead vocals on the Ensemble track "Disown, Delete"; and a reworked version of "Revelations" with Yoko Ono for Ono's 2007 album Yes, I'm a Witch.

During this period, Marshall had entered a relationship with actor Giovanni Ribisi, and resided with Ribisi and his 14-year-old daughter in Los Angeles.[55] They also had a rental house in Malibu where she had a studio.[55] Following the release of The Greatest, Marshall canceled her impending spring 2006 tour,[48][56] and used the hiatus to recover from what she described as a "psychotic break" brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse, which had left her feeling suicidal. As part of her recovery, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Mount Sinai Medical Center & Miami Heart Institute but left after a week, stating "being in there wasn't me." She later likened the experience to "a pit of hell."[48] Marshall gave a first person account of her breakdown in an interview for the November 2006 issue of Spin.[13] In the fall of 2006, Marshall became a celebrity spokesperson for a line of jewelry from Chanel, after being seen by Karl Lagerfeld smoking a cigarette outside the Mercer Hotel in New York. Lagerfeld chose Cat Power for the soundtrack to his spring 2007 fashion show. He also photographed Marshall for a Purple feature.[57]

In 2007, Marshall contributed songs to the soundtrack of Ethan Hawke's film The Hottest State, recording with Jesse Harris and Terry Manning, and the Academy Award-winning film Juno. The same year, she made her feature film debut acting in My Blueberry Nights opposite Jude Law, appearing in a small role. She also appeared in Doug Aitken's MoMA installation Sleepwalkers,[58] which followed the nocturnal lives of five city dwellers. Marshall can be seen as a postal worker living in New York, performing with other notable participants such as Tilda Swinton.

Marshall performing at All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, London, 2008

In January 2008, Marshall released her second covers album, Jukebox. Recorded with her recently assembled "Dirty Delta Blues Band", which consisted of Judah Bauer from the Blues Explosion, Gregg Foreman of The Delta 72, Erik Paparazzi of Lizard Music and Jim White of Dirty Three, the album featured the original song "Song to Bobby," Marshall's tribute to Bob Dylan, and a reworking of the Moon Pix song "Metal Heart." She also collaborated with Beck and producer Danger Mouse on the album Modern Guilt (2008): She contributed backing vocals to two tracks, "Orphans" and "Walls". The album was released in July of that year.[59]

In September 2008, Marshall and members of the Dirty Delta Blues (Erik Paparazzi and Gregg Foreman) recorded their version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" for a Lincoln car commercial.[60] In 2013, Cat Power's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was used in Apple's Christmas commercial "Misunderstood."[61] In December 2008, she released Dark End of the Street, an EP consisting of songs left over from the Jukebox sessions. In 2009, she provided backing vocals on Marianne Faithfull's cover of "Hold On, Hold On" by Neko Case on the 2009 album Easy Come Easy Go. In 2011, she also featured as guest vocalist on "Tonight You Belong to Me" on Eddie Vedder's Ukulele Songs.[62]

2012–2016: Sun and health issues[edit]

Marshall performing in Edmonton, Alberta, 2016

In February 2012, Marshall cancelled a scheduled appearance in Tel Aviv, Israel, citing "much confusion" and that she felt "sick in her spirit."[63] She had faced calls to boycott the Jewish state over its conflict with Palestine.[64] Two months later, she cancelled her appearance at the Coachella Music Festival, claiming that she "didn't think it was fair to play Coachella while my new album is not yet finished," also hinting that her forthcoming record is "almost done" and will see release later in 2012.[65]

In June 2012, it was reported that Marshall had ended her relationship with Ribisi, and the completing of her upcoming record had coincided with their breakup: "I cut my hair off three days [after the breakup], got on a plane to France, and finished the shit."[66] Marshall's ninth studio album, Sun, was released on September 3, 2012,[67][68] with lead single "Ruin" being released as a free download at Matador Record's store on June 20, 2012.[69] The album features prominent electronica elements and arrangements, which Marshall incorporated into the "really slow guitar-based songs" she had originally written.[70] In a review published on September 4, 2012, on Consequence of Sound, Sun was praised as a unique album and received a four-star rating. In summation, reviewer Sarah Grant wrote that Marshall's 2012 release is "a passionate pop album of electronic music filtered through a singer-songwriter's soul."[71] The album debuted at a career chart-high of No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 23,000 copies on its opening week.[5]

Shortly after the release of Sun, Marshall began having trouble breathing and was hospitalized multiple times, though doctors were unable to diagnose her. "I thought I was dying," she recounted. "They told me they were going to put me in a coma to save my lungs. My friend came to visit and told me I'd made the Billboard Top 10 and all I could think was: 'I don't want to die.'"[72] Marshall was subsequently diagnosed with hereditary angioedema, an immune disorder that causes sporadic swelling of the face and throat. In September 2012, she stated she had been hospitalized due to the condition over eight times, which led her to cancel her European tour.[73]

In April 2015, Marshall announced that she had recently given birth to a son, but did not name the child's father.[74][75] In July 2015, it was announced that Marshall would be providing narration for the documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue directed by Amy J. Berg, which revolves around the life of Janis Joplin and premiered at the 2015 Venice Film Festival.[76] On television, Marshall starred on China, IL, in the hourlong musical special "Magical Pet". Marshall performs three original songs written by creator Brad Neely.[77]

2017–present: Wanderer[edit]

Marshall (right) performing in London, 2018

On July 28, 2017, Marshall announced on Instagram that her tenth studio album was "ready to go", although she did not disclose its title or expected release date.[78]

On March 20, 2018, it was announced that Marshall would perform a Moon Pix 20th anniversary concert at Sydney Opera House, which occurred from May 25 to June 16 and featured album collaborators Jim White and Mick Turner.[79]

On July 18, 2018, Marshall announced her 10th studio album, Wanderer, and shared the title track as an introduction to the album.[80] She released two more singles, "Woman" featuring Lana Del Rey on August 15 and a cover of Rihanna's "Stay" on September 18,[81][82] before the album was released on October 5, 2018, through Domino Recording Company,[83] her first to not be released on Matador Records since 1996.[84] She embarked on a world tour in promotion of the album in September.[85]

Artistry[edit]

Musical style[edit]

Marshall's releases as Cat Power have frequently been noted by critics for their somber, blues-influenced instrumention and melancholy lyrics, leading LA Weekly to dub her the "queen of sadcore."[2] Marshall, however, claims her music is often misinterpreted, and that many of her songs are "not sad, [but] triumphant."[86] She has recounted blues, old soul music, British rock 'n' roll, as well as hymns and gospel music as being integral influences on her.[87]

Cat Power's early releases have been described as blending elements of punk, folk, and blues, while her later releases (post-2000) began to incorporate more sophisticated arrangements and production.[88][89][90] The Greatest (2006), Marshall's seventh release, was heavily soul-influenced and incorporated R&B elements; the Memphis Rhythm Band provided backing instrumentation on the album.[91] Unlike her previous releases, which featured sparse guitar and piano arrangements, The Greatest was described by Marshall biographer Sarah Goodman as her first "full-blown studio record with sophisticated production and senior players backing [Marshall] up."[92]

Performances[edit]

Cat Power performing in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2008

Marshall's live shows have been known for their unpolished and often erratic nature, with songs beginning and ending abruptly or blending into one another without clear transitions.[93] She has also cut short performances without explanation.[94] On some occasions this has been attributed to stage fright[95] and the influence of alcohol. Marshall spoke openly about suffering from severe bouts of stage fright, specifically in her early career, and admitted that her stage fright stemmed from issues regarding depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse.[96]

A New York Times article on this history of erratic performances said "By the time she would weave onstage, beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, Ms. Marshall, 34, was wasted. And it showed. It would seem that every fan has a Cat Power concert story: the time she mooned the audience, cursed out techies, talked to a squirrel (outdoors), played three chords and changed her mind (song after song) or played fragments of a few songs and then told everyone to get out, even encouraging fans to sue her."[49]

In 2006, she remarked that her stage fright subsided when she quit drinking alcohol, saying "I have less stage fright now because I don't drink. I just feel more clear-headed. It was more difficult before because I was distancing myself from people. I was compounding my depression with alcohol and really pushing people away."[96] As of 2006, Marshall's performance style has been said to be much more enthusiastic and professional.[97] An article in Salon[98] called The Greatest "polished and sweetly upbeat", stating that Marshall was "delivering onstage". In the article, Marshall states that her newfound musical collaborators and sobriety are largely responsible for her increased confidence onstage.

Philanthropy[edit]

A live version of the gospel song "Amazing Grace"—culled from a performance with the Dirty Delta Blues band—was released on the charity compilation Dark Was the Night. Released by independent British label 4AD on February 17, 2009, the set benefited the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. She also appeared in a PETA ad, encouraging people to spay and neuter their pets.[15]

On December 25, 2011, Marshall released a reworking of the What Would the Community Think track "King Rides By" for download from her official website, with all proceeds from sales of the track being donated to The Festival of Children Foundation and The Ali Forney Center.[99] A music video directed by Giovanni Ribisi and featuring Filipino boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao was released to promote the song.[100]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Film Role Notes
2007 Sleepwalkers (short) Dancer working as a FedEx Clerk Credited as Chan Marshall
2007 My Blueberry Nights Katya Credited as Chan Marshall
2009 American Widow Singing Woman Main Role
Television
Year Program Role Notes
2015 China, IL Kei-ko (talking gorilla) Animated series episode "Magical Pet"

Awards and nominations[edit]

References[edit]

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Sources[edit]

  • Earles, Andrew (2014). Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981–1996. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-4648-8.
  • Goodman, Elizabeth (2009). Cat Power: A Good Woman. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-307-44956-6.
  • Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.

External links[edit]