Chan Marshall, 1998

WITH AMY KELLNER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MATT JONES

Cat Power is Chan Marshall singing and playing guitar in a way you won't believe. Intensely emotional but never sappy — and that's so hard to do. Chan is the most dramatic performer I've ever seen, and she doesn't even DO anything, she just stands there with her guitar and that voice — the jolting, swooping, sheer force of it. She plops this heavy stuff down in front of you and you're touched and a little scared for her. She can even make you cry from lyrics like "Yellow hair/You are such a funny bear."
One of the many little details I love about Cat Power is the way Chan will slip in lines from other songs into her own, anything from "Amazing Grace" to Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia." It keeps you on your toes.
When you first meet Chan, it's hard to imagine that this is the girl on those records whose voice so completely embodies ache. But why expect her to be like that all the time? She's funny and friendly and humble. She bums cigarettes for me. She's got a motor-mouth and interrupts her own self in the middle of sentences. She says things that don't make sense 'til later, and even then maybe not.
We're sitting outside the 1st Street CafŽ on a warm day. One of those double-decker tour buses passes by and Chan waves hello to the tourists. She also says "Hi" to every baby that goes by in a stroller and tells women walking past that they're pretty. She stands up and does an impromptu impression of Jennifer Herrema singing "Cantchoo see I'm ready! Hell, you know I'm ready!!" while everyone stares. Then she apologizes, "Sorry. I'm such a fuckface." Meanwhile, I'm totally mesmerized.
Long after my tape runs out we keep talking about stuff. She gives me a kiss goodbye and I float home. Buy all her beautiful albums and know that this is something special.


AMY: Ouch, I got a mosquito bite on my chin.
CHAN: These are my African mosquito bites. Malaria. You have to take these tablets. I used to have them all over me. It's funny because they don't itch, and then two weeks later they turn red and peel off. It's like someone took a cigarette and applied heat really close to your skin.

AMY: It was so hot at your show last night.
CHAN: Wasn't that show weird? The new songs, aren't they like, more triumphant? It's a new me, I'm brand new, I swear. Seems like I keep believing things are good, like I just believe it. You know, you think your whole life, "Oh god, man, I'm not gonna make it to 22 or 24." When I turned 26, it hit me that I made it, I'm alive. And now I'm like, yeah, 26. It just gets so much better.

AMY: There's one song on your new record that I love, "American Flag." It's like a really, really slow dance song.
CHAN: The real dance song is "Cross Bones Style." I'm thinking of making that the single and doing a full-on "Lucky Star" style video. Like Madonna, dancing in a white room. I'm sure I'll chicken out though.
You know in your mind sometimes you listen to a good voice or a bad voice? I finally can hear the good voice. I'm shutting that bad voice out. My new record is more about that. It's weird, it's so different. I feel like I'm on Xanax, but I'm not. It's real.

AMY: Were you raised with any religion?
CHAN: Well, my grandmother instilled in me to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And then my dad taught me never to be ashamed. That didn't work. And then my mom taught me "right" from "wrong," you know what I mean? That's all you need to know. Except you gotta know about love. How does anybody ever find out about love when you're growing up? You gotta find it, I found it.

AMY: Where?
CHAN: You know, this nice shade right here, and the birds, there was a little baby bird in my room the other day. And I took the bus up here and met so many people and made so many friends. It was so great. [notices a girl covered in tattoos walking by] Yeah boy-eee! Of course I never got a tattoo in my life. When I was younger I either wanted a complete round circle right here on my arm, or I wanted just a sleeve. Isn't that insane? Like black or brown skin, or like wood grain or leopard print. Wouldn't that be great?

AMY: You should get it. So, what kind of music were you into in high school?
CHAN: Well, I wasn't allowed to buy records, I know it sounds horribly mean. It's one of those long stories. I'd have to get to know you better first.

AMY: I understand.
CHAN: Yeah, so when no one was around I ... God dang! I hate that! [exhaust fumes from a parked car engulf us] Turn that off! God, I hate exhaust, that's like my pet-peeve. I hate that word, "pet-peeve." Yuck.

AMY: So you weren't allowed to buy records?
CHAN: But my stepdad's records were like, Otis Redding, Creedence, The Stones, things that most parents have.

AMY: My parents only have Julio Iglesias and the soundtrack to Fiddler On The Roof. What were you like in high school?
CHAN: If the teacher ever called on me I would cry. "Oh god, I don't know the answer!" I went to ten different schools growing up. We moved around a lot 'cause my stepdad kept getting higher positions in this mag-wheels company. That's why in sixth grade I changed my name, 'cause my birth name's Charlen-Marie — Southern, right? So I'd go to a new school and they're like, [thick Southern accent] "What's your name again?" They never got it right, so I changed it to Chan. My mom was like, "How about Cher?"

AMY: Who was the girl singing with you last night?
CHAN: Avon Futures. She's my French friend. Her real name is Anne Laure. Avon Futures is her — what do you call it? — her multi-media name. It's very core-oriented to herself. It was so great looking at her 'cause she was like concentrating, concentrating. I could get in on her energy.

AMY: Who were the other two guys?
CHAN: Britt Walford, he's from Louisville. He was playing drums. And Mark Moore, my old friend from Atlanta. Seven years ago he gave me my first guitar. He was actually in Cat Power when we first started in Atlanta.

AMY: Where do you live now?
CHAN: Actually, I'm moving back here in two weeks. Selling the farm.

AMY: You live on a farm?
CHAN: I live in between four farms. Prosperity, South Carolina, population 1,112. So when I leave, it'll be 1,111.

AMY: Where are you from?
CHAN: I was born in Atlanta, but I lived in Memphis, Greensboro, North Carolina ... all over.

AMY: Did you hang out in Little Five Points in Atlanta?
CHAN: Yeah, I worked at Fellini's Pizza for three years, six days a week. I learned how to make pizzas by watching the guys do it, and I always wanted to make it. One time they let me and it was really inspiring.

AMY: Did you throw it up in the air?
CHAN: Yeah, you just gotta go like this. [demonstrates elaborately] I'm not really good at it. I hate pizza. The smell of it. I haven't had a bath in three days.

AMY: Oh! And it was really sweaty last night. It was kind of hard to enjoy 'cause of that. Last time I saw you at the Knitting Factory, it was really awesome.
CHAN: That was my last show in New York, a year ago. That show I was deciding, how, how could I kill myself right now? There was no way to do it. Like, I could jump on these people, but they would catch me. I could hit myself on the head with the guitar but they'd take it away from me. There was no way to do it. I could choke myself, maybe. It was like Satan was in the house, it was horrible.

AMY: What? I thought it was a great show.
CHAN: Man, I was dying.

AMY: So why are you moving back to New York?
CHAN: When I played that show last year, I was like, "This is it, hang it up, shut it up, move away and never come back." And then I was in South Carolina by myself for an entire month. It was weird 'cause there's no sounds or lights, just crickets and darkness, and it's an old house, and if you're in a bad state of mind, you sometimes see things that aren't there and you go crazy. And that's when I turned on all the lights and stayed up night after night. I couldn't sleep because of the darkness and I just started playing these songs and that's how it happened. And then Bill said, "I'm going to Australia on tour," and I was like, "Fuck, I wanna go to Australia too." So we just recorded it there, in January.

AMY: Who plays on the new album?
CHAN: Mick Turner and Jim White from Dirty 3. You know when you're packing for a trip and you don't know what the weather's gonna be like? That's what it was like for the two days we recorded.

AMY: How was Australia?
CHAN: The best. I could live there. So healthy. Byron Bay? That's where the orange people wear the orange clothes — the sex cult people.

AMY: Orange sex cult?
CHAN: You know, the cult where the people wear orange and it's a really open-your-soul kind of thing — just have sex with me, and let me have sex with you, and have children, and let the wives take care of the kids, or something. Everyone there was like, "Far out," and just looking at you. This man, he lives there and runs the massage and floating salt tank, I tried it, it's kind of creepy. They were like, "You're gonna float, man, you're gonna float." They have a tape going on that's like, [sings] "Drip, drip, drip, hoyeeeaa-aaa! Oyaa!"

AMY: That would bug me out.
CHAN: I played with these two kids in Australia, for two weeks they were my friends, we'd boogie-board every day.

AMY: Boogie-board?
CHAN: Totally. I can't surf, but the waves are so big there. [notices a girl walking by] Her hair looks so good. White hair. I've seen her before, I think I saw her on Broadway the other day. It's like Patricia Arquette, Grace Kelly, sort of. I like that she's got underarm hair too. I've been growing mine.

AMY: I don't shave.
CHAN: [points to armpits] One skunk, two skunks! Skunky.

AMY: It's not skanky!
CHAN: Skunky. Skanky is much different. It has to do with like, manipulating your growing as you're walking.

AMY: WHAT?!
CHAN: I don't know what I'm talking about.

AMY: So, boogie-boarding, huh? Do you play any sports? Ride horses? You seem to be into being healthy.
CHAN: [hacks and coughs loudly] Oh yeah! Horses. Two years ago, I was on tour with Anne Laure, and she was like, [thick French accent] "Ah, Chan, I have to take you to my family's house in New Orleans and we ride horses!" So I rode my first horse with her.
Then last year we went to Africa, and on my birthday we rode horses for my second time. She rode an Appaloosa and I rode a real fuckin' wild horse. It was in the middle of the desert, sand everywhere and wild dogs, and my horse was wild, and starts running, and I'd only ridden a horse once — an asleep 80-year-old horse — and now I'm going down sand dunes. You see these dogs and tires and these men come out of the bush and you wave and they smile. Another thing that was rad about Africa, if you wave at anybody, they wave back with the fist thing, you know [makes the black-power fist salute].


AMY: Power to the people!
CHAN: Then, in Australia, we rode horses again. This time my horse starts galloping, like where his whole neck is going back and forth, and I was holding on for dear fuckin' life. He takes off right into the ocean and I'm freaking out and my foot goes out of the thing and I'm holding onto his hair. I felt like I was falling out of an airplane.

AMY: Whoa.
CHAN: I had my arm around his strong-ass neck and he's making all these noises and snot was coming out, and my muscles were gripped so hard, I was just like glue on top of him. I was pulling his hair so hard he started jumping up, and I started praying, "Dear lord, please." Then he just stopped and was flicking flies with his head down like, "Yeah, I won you, you fuckin' bitch. I'm in control." Then we had a great ride after that.

AMY: Was there a sexual aspect of riding the horse? You know ... bump, bump, bump.
CHAN: Sure! Just like riding a bike. Or like, remember in high school gym when you had to do that Presidential Fitness Awareness test?

AMY: Squat-thrusts, right?
CHAN: Yeah, the chin-ups, holding onto that bar is like, "Oh my god, I'm coming! What's happening? I can stay here longer!" And my PE teacher was totally like a married lesbian, and she'd say, [barks] "Awright, Chan, we're gonna need you to do that spread-your-legs thing with the back-flips right now!"

AMY: "Lookin' mighty good, Chan!" [laughter] So, do you still have the VW bus you toured around in? I love those.
CHAN: No, it died. Half the engine blew up in the desert, in between Arizona and California, you know, where the Pee-Wee Herman movie was, with the dinosaurs? We left it there right under the belly of this huge dinosaur. I cried. It was a late friend of mine's van. It was depressing. I had to leave it with the dinosaurs.

AMY: That's kind of sweet. I mean, if you gotta go, that's a good way.
CHAN: Oh, fuck yeah ... It was sweet. It was a candy bar. A Hershey's Kiss.

AMY: So, what's the new album called?
CHAN: Well, on paper, if you write it down, it's M-O-O-N-P-I-X, that's what I want you to see. But if someone says, "What's it called?" I want them to say, "O'Hell." So I don't know what to do. Visually it's "Moonpix," but verbally it's "O'Hell." One's a visual and one's a hello. I can't decide which one I want.
Oh, look! A folded-up ferris wheel just drove by, like on a truck. [starts singing carnival music] Yeah, carnies. Carnies and gypsies.

AMY: Oh, I almost forgot to ask you about New Orleans. Did you like it when you were there?
CHAN: It either destroys you or it doesn't. I played in New Orleans once at an old man bar, but then all these punk rocker kids and sorta rowdy people were there, and it seemed like they were forcefully trying to make me stop playing. They were making fun of me, these punk rock girls.

AMY: Oh, that's bad!
CHAN: Of course, they're idiots. But fuck, I mean, we've all done things like that. Maybe they just wanted to have a good Friday night or whatever. But I got upset, I was just like, this is such a joke, so I stopped playing and started reading the paper right there. In the spotlight. [Chan turns to a girl sitting at the next table] Are you Dutch?

© index magazinegelatin1
Chan Marshall by Matt Jones, 1998
© index magazinegelatin1
Chan Marshall by Matt Jones, 1998
Copyright © 2008 index Magazine and index Worldwide. All rights reserved.
All photos by index photographers: Leeta Harding, Richard Kern, David Ortega, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, and Juergen Teller