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Interview with Chan Marshall, May 2nd, 1997. We met at 11am at the First Street Cafe, which was a little tough on both of us. She'd just gotten up, and I was still operating on West Coast time. Chan had breakfast and we both had lots of coffee. When my tape recorder failed we moved to McDonald's on Broadway and ate french fries till we were nauseous. - Matt

When did you start playing guitar?

I started playing guitar when I was 19. We formed Cat Power when I was 20.

How did you choose the name Cat Power?

Well, back when we got our first gig we didn't have a name yet, and I was on a payphone trying to come up with a name and I saw someone wearing a Cat Diesel Power hat and I decided the name of our band is Cat Power. It has nothing to do with kittens or cats.

Do you like dogs better than cats?

Yeah, I guess I do.

Wow, I always thought it had something to do with cats. Do you have any pets?

My roommates have a cat. I named it Boyfriend. He's mean, he's a Chinatown street cat. They got it to kill rats. We have rats. He's really mean and crazy, you can't pet it. He's just there to kill, but I love the shit out of him.

Where did you grow up?

I lived all over Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Did you start singing when you were little?

When I was a little kid I'd just sing those songs that kids sing to themselves all the time. When I saw the Color Purple I couldn't get the songs out of my head and so I'd be singing all the time.

What about choir?

I joined chorus when I was in school, but I would only pretend I was singing. I never sang out loud. I'd just open my mouth and pretend.

Did you travel much when you were young?

Just other places in the South; Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida.

When did you first cross the Mason/Dixon line?

When I moved to New York. I visited once, and then I moved here. I wanted to get out of Atlanta, and I knew I could live here. It was difficult financially for about a year. Actually for the first six months it was ok, and then the next six months were really hellish.


It got cold. And I got fired. I couldn't find work. It sucked.

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Do you have a bike?

Yeah. It's Maroon and it was my grandmother's first bike. When I was on my way to Portland, I lived there for a few months back in March a year ago. She couldn't ride it, so three months after she got it she gave it to me.

And now you live in New York, the capitol of bike theft.

Oh yeah. Twice my bike has been stolen. Both times it sucked. But I'm not going to let that happen to this bike.

Do people say, "Hello Cat Power" to you?

People sometimes call me Cat. Warren from the Dirty Three calls me Ms. Powers.

Are you superstitious?


Is it scary or fun?

It's scary.

Do you read your horoscope?

I read my horoscope, but not every day. In order to get the full picture, I have to read all my friend's
horoscopes too. It's right sometimes, but sometimes it's just vague.

Are you a photographer?

I take pictures, I wish I had some with me to show you.

What do you take pictures of?

People, situations, colors, normal shit. I took one nude of myself about four years ago with a 35 millimeter time delay camera a friend gave to me. It was fucking depressing.

Do you write in a journal?

I write letters. When I was in Europe I wrote 63 postcards in the two months I was there.

All to the same people?

No, all different people.

Do you write out lyrics to your songs or write from stuff in your diary?

No, the songs are just made up with the music when I'm playing my guitar I'll just start singing.

How do you remember the lyrics to the songs?

If it's good I just remember it. I'll just play it and play it and play it and then I'll put down the guitar and do something else and if I can remember the song later, then I get a tape recorder and record it.

Is it hard to be on tour?

It's getting more and more difficult but I'm just tired because I've been touring for so long.

Is it harder to play live or to do interviews?

It's easier to do interviews.

What's hard about playing live?

All these people are staring at you and it's like you know when you have a conversation with someone, there's eye contact, but you don't stare. You don't fucking stare at every square inch of their body.. their face, their neck, their fingers, their breasts, their butt, their knees, shoes, clothes, their face, sweat, lips...

You just feel like you're on display?

Everything is on display. And it's just so important. That's what live music is about, seeing the performer up on stage.

What's the worst thing that can happen when you're doing a show? What's the worst thing that has happened?

I've screamed into the mike. I just start feeling really hurt. Sometimes people say things right up front to hurt me or make fun of me. Like this chick in Hamburg said something to me and I just screamed and threw my guitar down. I played for three minutes, that was my show. Sometimes I cannot handle mean people. I'm not a mean person, and when someone gives me shit about being an artist, I get so angry.

When a bad show is over, does it stick with you?

It's weird because to say a bad show, man, my songs aren't a show. I'm not a show person. When I'm playing my music, that little part of me that used to sit and play guitar... I used to do that once a week and now it's something that I do every day and these songs that people are coveting in a weird way and they're being sold and whatever...

Is it strange to you how people connect with them?

That's nice. But it's strange. People are always telling me you have to do it for the fans, but you know a lot of it isn't fun. I'll get really nervous and I can feel everyone staring at me...

Is it different playing other people's songs?

Yeah, that's when it's fun. Then I don't feel like I'm on trial, like I'm being judged. I really don't care if they're talking or whatever while I'm playing because I love the song, and I'm objective about it because it's someone else's song and that's just fun.

What's your favorite song to cover currently?

This song on a Bob Dylan bootleg called "Moonshiner", and this song on the Beck album One Foot in the Grave "Mighty Good Leader."

When I hear you doing "Psychic Hearts" it sounds so much like it's your song. I mean, I know it's a Thurston song, but when it goes through my head I hear you singing it. It sounds so personal.

It is a personal song! That song needs to be played in schools over the intercom before class. If I had heard that song when I was a young girl... (smiles)

It was a really shitty time in my life. Bad, depressing, bitter, loveless, lifeless... I don't even have a copy of it. I don't like listening to it.

Do you listen to your other records?

I don't really listen to them, but when I do I listen to the first song on Dear Sir. I'd probably listen to "Ice Water" on Myra Lee and probably listen to "They Tell Me" or "Bathysphere" on Community.

What is that on the cover of What Would the Community Think?

The cover of the record? I just needed a cover and I had this postcard that I've had for a long time. It's this woman from the 70's in New York and they did this collage of cigarette ads and she whited out the eyes and instead of a cigarette she had a whistle. It's no big deal, I just cut out the center of her face and put mine on top. It made it look more real.

The artwork for that record was on the back cover ad for the last Cool Beans! and when we went to your show in San Francisco we were going to cut out the faces and wear them as masks, but I wasn't sure how you'd react to us teasing you.

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What's it like to have the person who's song you're covering in the audience?

In Seattle, Bill from Smog was in the audience when I played "Bathysphere." I could see him out of the corner of my eye. I played it last and then I left after the set. I asked him if he liked it and he ruffled my hair.

Are the two of you involved?

I just talked to him last night! (big smile)

Tell me about your first single, it's the only record by you I don't have. [I found it at the WFMU record fair that same weekend, so now I have it - Matt]

That's a good idea! Instead of doing posters for promo we should have done masks. We could have made color copies at Kinko's.

Do you listen to noisy music at all?

I love Sonic Youth and Jesus Lizard...

So do you usually listen to quieter stuff?

No, I don't usually listen to music anymore. I like jazz, country, all kinds of music. But music is a vessel. It's one entire existence. I can't just like noise or jazz or country, you have to respect it all. It's the same thing you know? I'm not a huge record collector, but I have a tendency to buy a whole ton of records that I want to hear, and then not listen to them. It's the same thing with books. I have boxes of books that I haven't read yet.

Do you know about the Cat Power Scooter club?

Yeah, they have nothing to do with me. They should change their name to the Glittery Cat Sticker Computer Club.

This is the last question, what's your favorite breakfast cereal?

Frosted Mini Wheats, Cracklin' Oat Bran or granola. Real granola, the kind you get at a health food store or home made.

Catpower Discography

"Headlights" b/w "Darling Said Sir" 7"
(edition of 500 - out of print)
Making of Americans 1993
Dear Sir 10"/CD
Runt (Italy) 1995
Myra Lee CD
Smells Like Records 1996
What Would the Community Think LP/CD
Matador Records 1996
Undercover 7"
"Psychic Hearts" (Thurston Moore cover) +2 1996

upcoming releases:

"What's Up Matador?" Matador Sampler CD Summer 1997
live track on Spunk zine (Australia) bonus 7" Summer 1997