A still from Cat Power's Manhattan video.
Photo: Matador Records
While Chan Marshall, more commonly known as Cat Power, was filming her music video for "Manhattan," a busker in a New York subway station told her, "you're even more rock and roll than me." She tells me this over the phone, from the back of a car on her way to the airport where she is about to fly to London to perform on Later...with Jools Holland. She laughs as she tells the story, like the notion of her, a woman whose most recent album, Sun, debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Top 200, being more rock and roll than a man wailing away on an electric guitar in a train station is absolutely absurd, and don't I agree? I tell her she's pretty rock and roll herself, but she's not buyin' it. "I never set out to be a rock star," she says.
Marshall is a woman who, even after nearly twenty years of touring, putting out albums, appearing in a Chanel campaign, and soundtracking the design house's 2012 pre-fall show, still seems genuinely surprised by her success. Surprised, or wary that they're confusing her for someone else. They're most assuredly not, though, and Marshall is undoubtedly one of the most singular, compelling, and enigmatic musicians alive today. The video for "Manhattan"—a melancholy yet joyful ode to city streets with a galloping beat and a swinging, earworm of a melody—shows Marshall walking confidently through the New York City streets with her hair cropped short and dyed blond, alternating between a denim jacket and a leather one, both emblazoned with a rune-like 'C-P' symbol on the back. It's a nostalgic love song of a video, co-directed by Marshall and Greg Hunt, representing but one important city out of the many places she has lived, and lives she has had. It's all of these lives that created the singular, enigmatic artist, as well as shaped her undeniably chic (Karl Lagerfeld cast her in his Chanel campaign after seeing her standing on the street outside of the Mercer Hotel), effortless style. From a rough and tumble Georgia childhood to living with legendary '80s designer Patrick Kelly, a great many things have shaped Marshall's signature, minimalist style, anchored by jeans, boots, leather and jean jackets (all mostly provided by ACNE, who give Marshall her touring wardrobe) and, of course, black eyeliner. There's a lot more to it than that, though, and we caught up with Chan to get the whole story, and what a story it is.