Chan Marshall, interpreting Dylan and radiating throughout KCRW HQ.
Photo by Bailey Robb

Cat Power: KCRW Live from HQ

Intimate performances, fresh sounds, and candid conversations with a view.

Chan Marshall, the singer-songwriter better known by her band name/alter-ego Cat Power, established her indie icon status early on with a singular vocal tone and deceptively simple songwriting that hits straight to the gut. Since the breakout success of early albums like 1998’s hallucinatory Moon Pix and 2003’s rocker You Are Free, Marshall has ventured into jazz, blues, and soul, crafting a sound tight enough to ease the punches of lyrics about relationship woes, addiction, and thoughts of self-harm. For these efforts, Cat Power became the first woman to pick up the prestigious Shortlist Music Prize, and epic poems have been recited in her name.

More: Lost Notes S2 Ep. 2: To Chan Marshall: A Letter to Cat Power

Eleven albums and several world tours into her career, Marshall is no stranger to collaboration, including team-ups with Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Steve Shelley, Teenie and Leroy Hodges, and Lana Del Rey. Beyond music, Marshall has leant her talents to critically acclaimed work with the likes of Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, artist Doug Aitken, and filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. And, of course, there are her famed covers.

On Friday, Marshall will release Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert via Domino Records, her fourth LP of cover songs. Where past collections have interpreted multiple artists — ranging from The Rolling Stones, to Burt Bacarach & Hal David, to Frank Ocean — Cat Power Sings Dylan marks Marshall’s first covers album devoted to a single musician. 

Following the release of 2022’s Covers, Marshall was offered the opportunity to perform at London’s legendary Royal Albert Hall. She accepted, based on one condition: “I only wanted to do Dylan,” she says. Specifically, Dylan’s “Bootleg Series Vol. 4” — Live 1966: “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” (in quotes because it actually took place in Manchester). As part of the tour where Dylan first “went electric,” chaos ensued. In recreating it nearly 60 years later, Marshall controls the chaos.

More: Cat Power: Live From The Basement (Morning Becomes Eclectic, 2018) 

She does the same with her abridged set of concert/album highlights at KCRW HQ for Cat Power’s only radio session ahead of the album’s release. Featuring Marshall on vocals, Henry Munson on acoustic guitar, and Aaron Embry on harmonica and Wurlitzer, the trio’s masterful interpretations breathe new life into four classics: “She Belongs To Me,” “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” “4th Time Around,” and “Just Like A Woman.” 

Listen to the full session in the player and read on for Marshall’s conversation with KCRW’s Program Director of Music Anne Litt about why she wanted to play Dylan, why cover songs matter, and why she skipped rehearsal. 

Cat Power’s chosen place on KCRW’s Polaroid wall, which she pinned not-so-coincidentally alongside Dylan’s 1966 Band collaborator Robbie Robertson. Photo by Anna Chang.  

 The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Anne Litt: I have to start by asking you what inspired you to do this?

Chan Marshall: [Last year] I just wasn’t able to get a show in the UK for some reason, I just didn’t have one. But then my manager texts me and says: “We have a show possible, a show at Royal Albert Hall on November 5, which is Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night. Can you do it?”

Heck yeah! But I only wanted to do Dylan, I only wanted to do this record. And there was a little bit of silence and he said, “Are you sure?” Then it got locked in and I had this huge weight on me for a few months. And then I decided — because I had done my record Moon Pix, a 20th anniversary [show] a few years earlier at Sydney Opera House. It had a string arranger… beautiful, beautiful night. I just never thought to record it. My brain didn't actually go there — So I asked if we could record [this one].

So that was extra pressure, where to get the money… whatever. And then I had to get the band too, I forgot about that. So yeah, it was a process, but it's always fun to do something really creative, be in the studio, work on a record, make stuff up.

I read somewhere that you didn't rehearse the songs over and over again. You just wanted to take it in the moment, is that true? 

I showed up to rehearse. They were rehearsing, the band, [this] amazing group of people and amazing players … I did do some [rehearsal]. [But] maybe there's something where I just need to give myself 100% In a moment and not in the rehearsal. 

Talk to me about the song “She Belongs To Me,” which is one of the Bob Dylan songs you cover on your new album, and in this session. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but there’s something about contrasting the two versions back to back — hearing it narrated by Bob, but embodied by you. What do you think about when you sing that one?

Normally I just think about the lyrics. I’ve got everything I need, I’m an artist, I don’t look back. But it does feel self-affirming [to sing that song].

One of our last guests at KCRW in 2020 before COVID shutdowns was Robbie Robertson, who was part of Bob Dylan’s backing band The Hawks during the show that your new album takes on. He told us stories about how hostile the crowds were during that time, booing and throwing things. I’m guessing your experience was different?

We played Manchester the night before, so from our drive to London,  getting backstage and then playing … The show had its arc when the band came out … And then when it was finally over, we're backstage again, and then when we're all heading to the hotel, or whatever we're doing … The whole time [that whole 24 hour period] felt like we were all like five year olds that were on the same little league team [including] all the audience members. We had all just played a great game, and we won our own championship that we created for ourselves. It was fun. It was great.

Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert is your fourth album of all covers, and one of the things I love most about you is that you’re not afraid of a cover song. What draws you to them?

Some of my favorite songs are [from artists] doing cover songs. Going back to Gershwin and Cole Porter, Cab Calloway… everybody back then [did covers across genres] — blues, jazz, country … [Going back to the classics] you'll have Rachmaninoff played by someone else that does it differently [and we’re able to compare interpretations]. And I was raised on all those records, knowing all the different versions of stuff. So it's innate… I know a lot of songs, and I want to sing them, and there's too many to get through in one lifetime [laughs]. 

Explore more KCRW Live From sessions

KCRW Music Director/Interviewer: Anne Litt
Recording + Mix Engineer: Nick Lampone
Assistant Engineer: Hope Brush
Executive Producer: Ariana Morgenstern
Producer: Anna Chang
Digital Producer: Marion Hodges
Digital Editorial Manager: Andrea Domanick
Lighting Design: Jason Groman
Art Director: Evan Solano

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