Cat Power is the stage name of American singer/songwriter Charlyn “Chan” Marshall. She is known for her minimalist style, sparse guitar and piano playing, and breathy vocals.
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.
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 Modeling 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. She was struggling with a relationship with a young Miami investment banker. Ultimately, 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 later likened the experience to “a pit of hell.” Marshall gave a first person account of her breakdown in an interview for the November 2006 issue of Spin.