Cat Power is the stage name of American singer/songwriter Charlyn "Chan" Marshall (born Charlyn Marie Marshall on 21 January 1972). She is known for her minimalist style, sparse guitar and piano playing, and ethereal vocals.
After dropping out of high school, she started performing under the name Cat Power while in Atlanta, backed by musicians Glen Thrasher, Marc Moore, and others. While in Atlanta, Marshall played her first live shows as support to her friends' bands, including Magic Bone and Opal Foxx Quartet. 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. She also stated in a 2007 interview for Soft Focus 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.
In 1994 she opened for Liz Phair in New York. In attendance were Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar, who encouraged her to record, and played on her first two albums, 1995's Dear Sir and 1996's Myra Lee, the latter taking its name from Marshall's mother. Both albums were recorded in New York on the same day in December 1994 and display a lack of conventional song structures. In 1996 she was signed to Matador Records, and released her third album, What Would the Community Think, which spawned a single and music video, "Nude as the News".
In late 1996, following a three-month tour co-headlining with the band Guv'ner in support of the release of What Would the Community Think, Marshall disappeared from the music scene, initially working as a baby sitter in Portland, Oregon and then moving to a farmhouse in Prosperity, South Carolina with then boyfriend Bill Callahan. The plan was to permanently retire from public performance but during a sleepless night resulting from a nightmare, Marshall wrote several new songs. These songs would make up the bulk of Moon Pix. The record was recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne in eleven days with backing musicians Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three. The album was well-received by critics, and gained her recognition in the indie rock scene. However, during subsequent tours Marshall states that she had grown tired of 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. The shows combined original material and many covers, many of which would later see release on The Covers Record, a collection of cover songs recorded at various sessions in 1998 and 1999. A selection of covers that didn't make it on to the album were recorded at Peel Acres, home of the British DJ John Peel. The session was broadcast on his BBC Radio 1 show and featured Marshall's own interpretations of Bob Dylan's "Hard Times in New York Town" and Oasis's "Wonderwall", amongst others.
Around this time, Chan collaborated with Mick Collins (of The Dirtbombs) on a recording of Ludwig Rellstab's poem "Auf Dem Strom" for the film Wayne County Ramblin'. Chan sang the poem in German, though she does not speak the language.
In 2003 she resumed releasing original material with You Are Free, which featured guest musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis. A music video directed by Brett Vapnek, was released for the song "He War".
2004 saw the release of a DVD Speaking for Trees, which featured a single, nearly 2-hour static shot of Marshall performing in a woodland, and was accompanied by an audio CD containing the 18-minute song "Willie Deadwilder", featuring M. Ward on guitar. Also this year Marshall lent her vocals to the track "I've Been Thinking" from the Handsome Boy Modelling School album, White People. Marshall toured through 2005, including an Australian tour supporting Nick Cave and an appearance at the Patti Smith-curated Meltdown festival. The shows largely consisted of material that would appear on her next album. In 2005 Marshall was featured on the song "Great Waves" from Dirty Three's album Cinder.
The Greatest, was released in January, 2006. This was not a greatest hits record but rather the Matador Records-arranged collaboration with Al Green's guitarist Teenie Hodges and other musicians. Following its release, Marshall cancelled previously arranged live shows in North America and Europe. Marshall used the hiatus to recover from what she described as a "psychotic break" that had left her feeling suicidal and was brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse. As part of her recovery she 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 gave a first person account of her breakdown in an interview for the November 2006 issue of Spin.
She returned to live performance in April 2006, playing with the Memphis Rhythm Band and as a solo performer, including a performance at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in New York (a fund raiser for the charity "Music for Youth").
Since returning to the stage Marshall has contributed guest vocals to several albums. She performed a duet with model Karen Elson on an English cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je t'aime... moi non plus" for the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited. She also sang lead vocal on the Ensemble track "Disown, Delete" and reworked "Revelations" with Yoko Ono for Ono's 2007 album Yes, I'm a Witch. She also performed guest vocals for Faithless and El-P.
In October 2006 she became the celebrity spokesperson for a line of jewelry from Chanel, beginning a series of non musical activities that continued into the following year during downtime between touring and recording commitments. In 2007 her voice could be heard in commercials for Cingular and De Beers in the United States and Garnier in the United Kingdom. Previously Marshall had done advertisements for GAP. She appeared in Doug Aitken's MOMA installation Sleepwalkers as a postal worker living in New York. Her 2007 big screen debut came in My Blueberry Nights, starring as Jude Law's girlfriend. IMDB also lists her in the cast of a five hour odyssey titled American Widow, which might have a 2008 release.
Marshall put together a new band in Winter 2006 with whom she toured and recorded throughout 2007. The Dirty Delta Blues Band features Judah Bauer (from Blues Explosion), Gregg Foreman (The Delta 72), Erik Paparazzi (Lizard Music), and Jim White (from Dirty Three). In 2007, Marshall contributed songs to the soundtrack of Ethan Hawke's new movie "The Hottest State", recording with Jesse Harris and Terry Manning, and the Academy Award-winning Juno.
Also in 2007, she became the first female to win the Shortlist Music Prize when The Greatest was voted album of the year in June. Earlier in the year she was nominated in the Best International Female category at the annual Brit Awards. The Dirty Delta Blues band recorded an album of covers called Jukebox which was released on January 22, 2008 on Matador Records.
In September, 2008, Chan and members of the Dirty Delta Blues (Erik Paparazzi & Gregg Foreman) recorded their version of David Bowie's Space Oddity for a Lincoln car commercial. On September 16th, 2008, Cat Power performed on the Carson Daly Show.
Marshall’s live shows have been known for their unpolished nature, with songs beginning and ending abruptly or blending into one another without clear transitions. She has also cut short performances without explanation. On some occasions this has been put down to her suffering from stage fright and the influence of alcohol. Marshall has admitted to abusing alcohol in the past; in a 2006 interview with the New York Times, she declared herself to be sober, which she defined as having had "seven drinks in seven months.
Recently, Marshall's performance style has been said to be much more enthusiastic and professional. An article in Salon magazine 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.