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flag US - New York - Full Moon 45 - 06/16/00

Cat Power
an interview with...

Singing the Blues - Chan Marshall answers our questions in Cologne

A couple of years ago Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power from Atlanta, GA, was still a well kept secret. Then her Moon Pix album came along and things changed rather dramatically. In her press biography it says: Moon Pix came out of that same wilderness in which Marshall had labored for so long. Chan Marshall was never a failure, in the sense that her songs are very good songs, carefully wrought. Her career might stutter along in obscurity, but the songs were solid. I believe that particular self-induced schizophrenia got Marshall through the lean years and let her keep on singing, and I believe it ultimately produced moon pix which doesn't so much share that worldview as live it".

Moon Pix obviously brought Chan Marshall to a lot of people's attention. The result was a gruelling tour of Europe and Australia plus tons of gigs with her band in the States. Just as she had finished that marathon band-tour, Chan headed out to play live AGAIN. This time around it was only cover versions and she played all by herself. She enjoyed the experience so much, that in the end it was decided to release a "solo" Cat Power record with just these covers, including great and completely rearranged versions of songs by The Rolling Stones, Moby Grape, The Velvet Underground, Smog and Bob Dylan amongst others. Simply entitled The Covers Record is a very beautiful album indeed. I met up with Chan in Cologne, Germany a couple of months ago, when she came to Europe to do some interviews and play a couple of exclusive shows. In the past she had been known to not exactly answer questions of interviewers, and instead just to ramble on about any given subject. Some people even say she's insane, but I beg to differ. This time around Chan appeared to be determined to promote the album in the best way possible. She still didn't want to sit down at a table with the interviewers (which I guess is still the most common way to conduct an interview at a hotel room), but instead she answered my questions lying in bed! Since I met her she's started her next World Tour, the European part of which is just about to end on July 1st with a show at the British Phoenix Festival.

LK: Do you consider yourself the leader of a rock band or a folk singer?
Chan: No. I don't think I'm rock or folk. I'd much rather be viewed as a Blues singer.

LK: I've played your version of Satsifaction (which omits the well-known chorus!) to a lot of people, even die-hard Stones fans and none of them were able to instantly recognize it... do you get the same reaction, when you play it to people?
Chan: Yeah, absolutely. But it's almost that the identification of that song is not the song. It's Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones. I only started playing it, because initially I wanted to listen to the song on a cassette and the only way I could hear the song would be in my truck, but I didn't feel like going outside, sitting in my truck cranking it, to hear the song, rewinding the tape and everything. So I just picked up my guitar and started playing it. When I played it and got to the Satisfaction part I was like: 'I don't need to say it'.

LK: Did you approach the other songs in the same way?
Chan: Yeah! But there was never a concept to do a Covers album or anything. Over the past years these songs just came out and I enjoyed playing them, if I needed a good song that would relax me and would keep the audience happy.

LK: So why did you chose to release them anyway?
Chan: Matador wanted me to do another album of my originals, which I have finished writing already, but I just came back from this loooong tour, like eight months long and we always did Moon Pix songs and the last week of the Australian tour I hardly did any of my own songs and I just pulled cover from here and from there and I was doing Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, just because I was very unsatisfied with my own songs and I felt really inspired and the audience liked them. So I went out on my own and did more shows solo in the States and then Italy and Australia again. And just as I was about to leave for that Australian tour Matador called me and said: 'We need to talk about business. What about that tape you gave us with all your new songs with the band? We want you to record them properly, so we can put it out.' And I replied that I didn't really want to record those songs just yet. And they said: 'Do you just want to give us the tape [with the demos] and we put that out?' And I said: 'No!!!', because I didn't want to tour on that, I still wanted to do the solo covers. So I met the guys from Matador in New York and they gave me some money and asked me for a tape of stuff before I left for Australia. So I booked time at a recording studio for the next day and I recorded the first six and song number nine and ten from the record. The next day I went into the office, gave them the tape, the artwork, the credits and left for Australia.

LK: On this interview trip to Europe you also played two shows, in London and in Oslo. How did the latter show come about?
Chan: I never had been to Scandinavia, but this guy in Oslo wanted me to play there for a long time. So when he saw that I was about to come over for a paid show in London and to do some press he called Matador and said: 'I can garantee that 200 people are gonna be there and I can set up some interview blablabla', so Matador called me up and they asked me and I said: 'Yeah, I'd love to do it!' I really liked it and I asked my booking agent if I could go back there, but unfortunately I won't have the time on the summer tour. But I definitely gonna go back, because the most fun I ever had in Europe was in Oslo and in Italy.

LK: Playing all these covers, does this mean that you spend a lot of time listening to other people's records, despite your tight schedule?
Chan: Well, in Atlanta you need to have a car and you spend a lot of time in it. It's not like New York, where you take the subway or a cab. That's when I listen to a lot of music. I did get an advance for the new record and I was able to buy a nice new car. I just went in there with a lot of cash and I got it. My father was like: 'Look sweetie, you shouldn't do this. You'd want to pay monthly...' And I was like: 'I may not be able to pay my bills later and they will take the car away from me: He said: 'Sweetie, don't do this!', but I just had to do it! Anyway, I only had $4 000 left after that and I had to pay a lot of bills and I also wanted to pay Matt Sweeney from Chavez for playing on Salty Dog. He's the only person who plays on this record apart from me. So I wrote him a check. Anyway, after that, I was so fucking broke again. I don't have a credit card, even though I've been trying to get one for like six years... I have bad bad credit, because of a huge hospital bill once. And I was freaking out, because I was due to go to Europe and I wanted to take my boyfriend with me, and I knew we wouldn't be able to do anything without any money...! Then I checked my mailbox and it's a Visa card! Yay! I went out immediately and I was like [adopts childish voice]: 'Can I pay my bill with this? Can I pay my bill with this? Can I pay my bill with this?' And in the end I maxed out my credit card! It's gonna be fun at all to pay that bill!

Um, sorry... did I say in the introduction to this interview that Chan Marshall is not insane (anymore)? Maybe I was wrong?! Well, probably not. Chan Marshall IS insane - but in a good way. Besides, anybody who can make such gorgeous records like Moon Pix or The Covers Record really shouldn't be judged by anything but the music.

Copyright © 2000 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Cat Power articles/reviews: The Covers Record, The Greatest.

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