When Anne-Laure Keib and Chan Marshall first met each other in the wee hours of the early '90s, the two women were living out their own respective versions of the classic New York story-struggling young artists trying to make it in the big city. Back then, Keib was a student and writer looking to get away from her native Paris, while Marshall, a transplant from the South, was still in the experimental stages of her music career.
More than a decade later, Marshall-better known as Cat Power-has gone on to become one of the most celebrated musicians of her generation, while Keib has forged a path of her own as one half of the French electronic duo Appaloosa. This year, these old friends will spend much of their time touring the world together, with Marshall performing selections from her recent covers collection, Jukebox (Matador), and Keib working with her group's latest material.
The two acts don't really sound alike-Marshall's music mixes soul and blues while Keib's is filled with minimalist electronics and romantic, Nico-esque vocals-but offstage, the two singers couldn't be more in tune with each other. Calling from the same hotel room in Portugal, they have the kind of easy, funny camaraderie that comes with having loved someone dearly through some very tough years.
T. COLE RACHEL: When did you guys first meet?
CHan Marshall: We can't remember if we were 23 or 20. But I do know that I was with an old friend, and he said, "Oh, look at that girl, she's so beautiful." He was too chicken to go talk to her, so I ran up to her and said, "Hi, are you from Germany?"
ANNE-LAURE KEIB: I was like, "No, I'm French!" I was almost, how do you say . . .
ALK: Not insulted, but I was very proud to say I was French. You know how French people can be pretentious.
CM: We decided to go play music, remember? We played bass and a Moog at that time.
ALK: Yes. Chan was also playing drums, and our friend Marc Moore was playing guitar really loud.
TCR: You were both living in the East Village?
CM: Anne-Laure was going to the New School at the time.
ALK: Yeah, I was not doing music stuff so much. I was writing lyrics, actually. Then this guy gave me a bass, but I was not very serious. I had no intention of being an artist. I don't even know what it means to be an artist.
TCR: You were a writer, as well.
ALK: Yeah, but it's like, "Oh, I'm an artist, I'm a writer, I'm a musician." I had a lot of-
CM: She never wanted to say she was a writer. I just started calling her that when she started writing hundreds of pages.
TCR: How did you first come to New York?
ALK: I was in Paris, and I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and I always wanted to move to Berlin. Then I thought that maybe New York would be more interesting for me-I wanted to be by myself. But I found that New York was very expensive. You needed a visa, and if you went to university it was superexpensive. So I found this cheap program at the New School. I managed to pretend I was qualified, and they accepted me. It was, like, $2,000. So I moved.
CM: She maxed out her credit card.
TCR: Did you ever live together during that period?
ALK: Yeah, on Third Street.
CM: Before Anne-Laure and I started rooming together, she would take my room on Third Street when I would go on tour. Anne-Laure used to make apple compote for breakfast with toast and a big French-style bowl of coffee. And I was so poor I would constantly borrow 20 bucks from her. She doesn't remember that as clearly as I do. I felt so desperate. Whenever I'd get enough money to pay her back, I'd give her 20 bucks . . . Then I'd ask her for the 20 bucks back. Then I got a job at Mama's Food Shop in the East Village, and the money just started rolling in. [laughs]
TCR: So, you guys have remained superclose all of these years?
CM: Yeah, you bet.
ALK: We're like the best friends on earth.
TCR: Anne-Laure, when did you start doing music as Appaloosa?
ALK: Well, I finally went to Berlin. After New York and after Paris, I needed to not be around people for a while, because sometimes, you know, when you are not feeling really well, you don't want people around you. I thought that maybe if I just talk to strangers in bars, it's better. So I subletted my place in Paris, and I went to Berlin. Berlin is quite a melancholic city, and I was quite melancholic. A friend introduced me to Max Krefeld, who became my bandmate in Appaloosa. We met doing karaoke, actually.
CM: That's when Max discovered gold. Golden vocals.
ALK: Max had been playing electronic music by himself, trying to start projects with female vocalists. He really loved my voice. So he said, "Hey, let's do a cover of ‘Nikita' by Elton John together." He came to my apartment with this version in German-I guess to make me laugh, because I was so depressed. I was like, "I don't know about that." But then he said, "Try to write a song." Three days later, I was on my balcony, and I was thinking of my old boyfriend. I was depressed. I was like, "Oh, it's been a while, I haven't seen a shooting star." And boom! Shooting star. Everything fell into place. I wrote a song on the shooting star called "Intimate."
CM: That was the start of it?
ALK: Yes. Max came to my apartment. I had a piano, and he composed music on it. And then we went to his place and recorded. It felt so good. I started to laugh again. The collaboration with Max, it's very important. He doesn't judge, so I feel free. I always write my lyrics in front of him as he composes his music. What we come up with is a collaboration.
TCR: That's how making art should be. How does it feel for the two of you to be touring the world together?
CM: Well, you know, Anne-Laure used to come with me on many of my tours in the States and Europe. I'm just so happy to see her every day, you know? It's great to see her expressing herself and to see her grow and be so confident.
ALK: It's what Chan did for me. You know when kids have to learn how to swim, sometimes they are scared, and you just push them in the swimming pool? That's exactly what she did, like, "Hey! You come on tour with me."
CM: I think she's always been singing. When we were younger, I remember several times-bottle of wine, middle of the street, 4 a.m.-there was this song she repeatedly sang, [singing] "Where is my love?" Like that drunken French cartoon skunk. Fuckin' broke my heart every time. I just wanted her to write that song, so I eventually wrote it for her.
TCR: "Where Is My Love?" It's a song from The Greatest , with horses in it.
CM: Her saint is the horse, so that song is completely for Anne-Laure.
TCR: You guys will be touring together for a long time, right?
CM: 'Till we're, like, in leg braces and bifocals . . . so a couple of weeks, basically.