You know, the new kid who doesn't have friends. Annie Collinge for the Observer For an artist renowned for her madness and sadness, it's surprising just how downright saucy Chan Marshall is.
This night began when, hours after I had interviewed Marshall in her beachside condo, I answered my phone to a hammy cockney voice talking nonsense. When I asked who it was she'd answered: Back in , at university, I walked into a stairwell flooded with the sound of 's Moon Pix, Marshall's fourth album and the one that ensnared a legion of ardent fans.
Her voice stopped me in my tracks. The body of that album was written during one night spent alone, hallucinating in a South Carolina farmhouse, and it sounds like it — a keening, sad, dark, confused nightmare of a record, as gorgeous as it is unsettling. The friend playing it at full volume was, like seemingly every other boy in my year, hopelessly in love with her.
But it's a fallacy that the best music always comes out of anguish. Six years after her last collection of original material, Marshall is finally about to release a new album, and the shock is not just that Sun is her best yet, but that it is also the most jubilant. When we first meet, we sit on the roof terrace of her Miami Beach condo. Or, rather, I sit, while, like a little girl arranging a play house, she fusses happily with a rug and table for our drinks, narrating all the while in a breathless logorrhoea.
Finally settled with tequila and cigarettes, I tell her this. She takes a drag and slowly, grimly shakes her head. It was totally a challenge. Marshall has always used the word "triumphant" to describe her music, which, hearing the raw sorrow of her first three albums, seemed ridiculous. Now she's made an album that fits the description. Even the most plaintively titled track, Always On My Own, has at its heart an affirmative "I want to live my way of living" attitude.
That sentiment is magnified on the album's penultimate song, a joyfully unspooling 11 minutes titled Nothing But Time, on which she exults: I'm triumphing over all the different ways in my life I've been invalidated and I can still smile and laugh and know that in my heart I'm making the right choices for myself.
Maybe somebody else doesn't agree but that's not my problem. We're born and we die alone, I guess. So you have to take care of yourself. I always thought I was going to pass away or whatever.
I used to wish I had a lobotomy. But I don't want to pass away any more. I want to keep [she drops her head and claps her hands twice above her in the air, smartly, like she's sealing a spell] living. Love is much better than creativity! He ended their relationship of three years in March this year with a phone call. Four months later, he married model Agyness Deyn.
At one point, she says "my boyfriend" and corrects herself to "my ex". Marshall had moved to LA in to be with him and his teenage daughter, with whom she's particularly close, and in interviews conducted during this time she'd talked about how much she was enjoying being a mother.
Her relationship with her own mother has been volatile. She and her younger sister, Miranda, had an unstable and itinerant childhood, suffering their parents' alcoholism, mental health problems and divorce. Marshall finally settled back in Atlanta, where she worked in a pizza parlour called Fellini's for three years and gained local fame as the hottie behind the counter. In , she moved to New York with her friend, the late musician Glen Thrasher, through whom she experienced the more avant garde edges of the city's rock scene.
Two years later, she recorded 20 songs in a single day, and they formed her first two albums, 's Dear Sir and 's Myra Lee. From there on her stardom was assured, even if her feelings about it were anything but. I didn't want to do it.
Didn't know where I was, what was going on. Thoughts of Satan and all that shit. Secrets, lies, blah blah blah. Her notoriously irregular live shows reached their nadir in a well-documented performance at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom in Prostrate and foetal on the floor of the auditorium, she sang the dirge-like Cross Bones Style with her nose pressed into the ground, while fans gathered round her awkwardly, stroking her and murmuring consolations.
She admits that it's taken her years even to believe in her fans' existence, let alone their love for her. Because I went to so many different schools and I was always the outsider. It's about him blowing his head off. Hate takes the title of a Nirvana track for its refrain — "I hate myself and I want to die" — and it's the bleakest moment on 's The Greatest, her soul-soaked and languorous seventh album. Recorded with the feted Memphis Rhythm Band, it brims with a resigned, hard-won peace.
And yet weeks before the record's release, and with her label preparing for her stardom to go stratospheric, she suffered a psychotic breakdown and was hospitalised. She's been on medication for bipolar disorder since then. All of which somehow makes improbable her confession that she would like to be a comedian, specifically a performer on Saturday Night Live. She got so skinny. Hours later, the party moves to beside her pool and some of that southern hospitality kicks in as she bustles around lending swimsuits and assembling a tray of drinks and snacks.
Rods of water begin hammering the surface of the pool, but Marshall can't be persuaded indoors. She remains sitting between those palm trees in the turquoise pool light, cross-legged, rocking back and forth, smoking in the rain.