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Music / Cat Power

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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

Charlyn Marie "Chan" ("Shawn") Marshall (born January 21, 1972) is a Southern-bred woman. Her family moved frequently. This constant travelling helped prepare Marshall for the touring life she would have as a musician. Marshall is 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 Marshall 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. Marshall took the alias "Cat Power" from a Caterpillar ad that read: "Cat Diesel Power."

In late 1996, after a three-month tour in support of her third album What Would the Community Think, Marshall 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 Marshall 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, Marshall's live performances became random and unpredictable. She blamed this on a drinking problem. Marshall cancelled her tour for the 2006 album The Greatest because she had relationship problems. It eventually became good that Marshall 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 Marshall feeling suicidal. As part of the recovery, Marshall 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, Marshall 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. Marshall 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 (2012)
  • Wanderer (2018)

Tropes relating to Cat Power:

  • Adam Westing: In this Funny or Die skit, she makes fun of her reputation for erratic live shows by showing her unable to even perform nursery rhymes for second-graders without interrupting herself.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Used in her version of "Satisfaction" from The Rolling Stones.
  • 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.
  • Cover Album: The Covers Record, Jukebox, and Dark End of the Street.
  • Executive Meddling: Attempted with Wanderer. Matador, Marshall's label since 1996, outright rejected the album, along with her recalling an incident where an executive suggested that the album sound like 25 by Adele. Marshall instead put the album through Domino unaltered, save for the addition of "Woman", a song generally regarded as a Take That! towards Matador.
    • Played straight with Sun. The more electronic sound of the album was at the behest of Matador Records, who wanted a more commercial album. The end result was her first album that charted in the Top 10.
  • Genre Shift: Early in her career, Marshall’s music was raw, stripped-down indie rock. It then moved to a mixture of blues, country, soul, and indie rock. Sun added electronica to the mix while downplaying the blues-country-soul part of her sound.
  • I Am the Band: Cat Power is Chan Marshall.
  • Important Haircut: She has cut her hair down to a pixie cut, as seen in the cover for Sun and has since bleached her hair blonde.
  • In the Blood: Marshall’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."
  • New Sound Album: While the blues-country-soul-indie rock sound was hinted at in previous albums, The Greatest fully exemplified this sound. Sun is another example, as seen above.
  • One-Woman Wail: Marshall 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.
    • Also, if WhoSampled is right, "Schizophrenia's Weighted Me Down", from the "Nude as the News" single, uses (rather apt) samples from Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" and Skip Spence's "Weighted Down (The Prison Song)".
  • Shout-Out:
    • Marshall 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.
    • "Metal Heart" references "Amazing Grace".
    • "I Don't Blame You" is about the suicide of Kurt Cobain.
  • Softer and Slower Cover: Her breakthrough early recording was a cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" that didn't merely slow it down to graveyard pace, but left out the iconic riff.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Well, when you get Eddie Vedder to add additional vocals to two of your songs...
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Her early music was sometimes this.