With apologies to Jon Secada's legion of adoring fans, it wouldn't be hyperbole to say Chan Marshall is the finest singer to reside in South Florida. Marshall, who records and performs as Cat Power, has lived on and off in our neck of the woods for more than a decade by way of Atlanta and New York. She is both an interpreter of others' songs on the albums Jukebox and The Covers Album and a force to be admired on seven albums she wrote herself, highlighted by 2003's You Are Free. Throughout her career, Marshall's sultry voice has earned comparisons to some of the greats, including being dubbed the indie-rock Billie Holiday. As with Holiday — a singer Cat Power has covered — the respect for Marshall's immense talent has often been shrouded by her reputation for erratic performances and behavior.
After her last local performance in 2012, Marshall called out a New Times writer for a negative review. Whatever ill feelings she might have had toward this publication seem to have faded. On a tour that's taking her throughout Australia and New Zealand before landing in Florida, a playful and charming Marshall spoke with New Times in a phone interview that showed the marvels and limitations of modern technology. On one hand, we conversed from opposite sides of the planet; on the other, spotty reception as she drove through New Zealand caused many disconnections and an abrupt ending to the conversation.
New Times: What brought you to South Florida?
Chan Marshall: I moved there in 2002. My best friend when I lived in Atlanta, when I moved to New York, she moved to Miami to go to college. Then she had a kid and I had some savings, and I just came and got a mortgage.
What has kept you in South Florida?
I never really stay too long. When your job is to sing songs to people at different places at different times, you don't really have a home. You just have a place where you have suitcases and shit. I chose that place because of my friend, my goddaughter, my godson, and the climate. It reminds me of New York City after a nuclear war. You get all types of people that mix, that clash, people from all over the world. It's so hot you feel like you're in a dream, and I love that relaxed mentality. The negative ions are really good for my health.
Has living here inspired your music? I know the last album was titled Sun.
I would say not at all. I think it inspires being in a beach environment like that, but I don't live in a very touristy area at all. It's just the nature that inspires me personally. It's not directly related to my writing, but what it does to my psyche really helps me be in a space that I am prepared once I begin to work, and that's real important... The title Sun comes from ancient classicalism, that in a lot of cultures — Egyptian, Mayan, Greek, Native American tribes — a lot of old ancient people regarded the sun as being God in a way, and that's kind of how I feel about it too. So that's what I'm referring to. It has nothing to do with Miami.
Are you working on any new music now?
Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. Usually at this stage, most people think of going to work as showing up during certain hours. I just collect data about life. Everything is part of a collection of the memory. It's not really work. Living life is the greatest inspiration for me as a writer. So I'm living life. I wrote a song the other day. I wrote one about ten days ago on the beach in Byron Bay, which is in New South Wales, Australia. I'm a creative-type person. I'm always doing little things that a lot of people don't consider work. What I'm doing makes up memories. I'm creating them right now through meeting different people. All kinds of things rest in your mind, and then sometimes maybe a dream will come and there will be an explanation of the empyreal. It can be a great conversation with a truck driver that can inspire me to think different than I was five minutes previously.
Before talking with you, I was listening to your covers albums.
Really? Nobody listens to that.
The one I fell in love with was back in 1996, the mix of Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" with —
No, really. It was amazing, and I was wondering, when you're listening to music if you're thinking, How can I make this my own?
They always say that — "I love your cover of blah blah blah. How do you make it your own?" I don't know how to play guitar or piano; I just love playing it. So when I'm playing with these people, and I'm friends with a lot of them, and they know exactly how to play an Elliott Smith song, and I'm like, "How the fuck do you know how to do that?" they know exactly how to play Mick Taylor's part of a song. How the fuck do you know how to do that? I don't know how to do that. I'm not interested in doing that. I just like playing how I play because it's fun to learn and I'm really curious and I like to have fun with songs. It's an ongoing joke with myself. The songs, the covers, are because I love the songs and I want to play it at that moment. If I could have a record player with me, I would bother people because I want to hear music all the time. My songs are only there because I want to play them at that moment. Anybody can do it. Anybody can pick up a piano or guitar and not know [how to play] a song they love.
What songs are you loving right now?
I don't like to tell people. It helps people's marketability. But my favorite record is from Miles Davis. I love that Frank Ocean Orange record, and I love that new — what's his name? — King Krule. I love him a lot.
Are there any artists you'd love to have cover some of your songs?
[Joking Australian accent] I'm in the hills, mate. [Back to her American accent] I'm under the trees. What were you saying? Are there any artists I'd like to work with?
Is there anyone out there you'd love to cover one of your songs?
Yes, as a matter of fact. I was hoping that Bob Dylan would cover "Maybe Not." I was hoping that Jay Z, with Kanye of course, would play "Peace and Love."
What's stopping them?
I don't know. Can you let me know?