A child of the South, Marshall grew up with a complicated family life and a bohemian, Bowie-obsessed mother, who took her through Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Marshall keeps alluding to trailer parks and white trash as the landscapes and people she knows best. “We were poor,” she says in an accent that has a vague but definite Southern slide. Despite this, or because of it, Marshall’s music thus far has been decidedly American, but not specifically Southern. She recalls the blues in her bass lines, country and soul in her lyrics, unadulterated indie rock in the guitar riffs, doo wop in her choruses and spirituals in the space between. Marshall’s songs have been self-taught and spit-swapped and because of this, they are irrevocably hers—a blend of shamanistic chants, rock dirges and holy music.
I wanted to make something for my mom and my grandmother, but it could have been better—it could have been so much better.” — Chan Marshall
The third track on Marshall’s new album, The Greatest, is called “In a Bar” and it begins as a bluesy, last-call number: simple piano chords and a sax moaning low alongside her voice, mellowed to a whiskey alto. But somewhere around two minutes into the song, the cadence shifts and picks up speed. Marshall sings her refrain Lived in bars/ And danced on the tables/ Hotels, trains and ships that sail/ We swim with sharks and watch the aeroplanes/ Out of here/ Out of here/ Out of here/ Out of here/ Out of here, and the intonation of each out of here modulates—from plaintive to exclamatory to declamatory—as if she is having an internal conversation with herself. In the background, a chorus yelps either She was or Should I? or maybe it’s just a Shoo-wop, but you can’t really make out which. For a moment—right when it sounds like the chorus isn’t a question but a statement, and out of here is where she’s going, not where she’s wishing she was, the sax bends its knees and the piano nods its head—this is a honky-tonk song.