Amanda Marshall is back with Heavy Lifting, her first album in two decades.
By Nick Krewen
Special to the Star
Music comeback story of the year?
Well, that would belong to one Amanda Marshall, the Toronto-born vocal powerhouse that is finally emerging from the mists of time following a 22-and-a-half-year hiatus between albums: Heavy Lifting, a 12-song opus featuring 11 Marshall originals and a cover of Floetry‘s “I Hope She Cheats” that’s out Friday, is her first original collection since 2001’s Everybody’s Got A Story.
She’s been largely out of action due to a decades-long dispute with a former manager.
“We came off the road in 2002,” Marshall, who headlines a pair of dates at Massey Hall on June 16 and 17, explained during a recent phoner with the Star. “We finished the touring cycle for my third album, Everybody’s Got A Story, and I fired my manager. That triggered this endless legal battle. He wouldn’t capitulate and I wouldn’t capitulate, so it just dragged on and on.
“I was really loathe to release any new music during that period because it was clear to me that any new release was going to get sucked into this vortex of chaos, and I didn’t want that.
“So, everything worked out the way it should. I was really happy that it resolved in my favour and was very, very happy that it resolved when it did….although, there was a period of time, even after it resolved, when there was considerable question in my own mind whether I was going to release new music publicly.”
Marshall said that although she was continually writing and recording – and had the new album in her “back pocket,” the thought of re-building another team around her left her doubtful.
“After it drags on for a while, you kind of get sucked into regular life and you get quite comfortable, so, it becomes more of an undertaking. When you dismantle that infrastructure, it can be really hard to reassemble it and put everything back together.”
However, the fact that everyone is rolling out the welcome mat for her return as surprised her.
“It’s been a shocking few months,” she laughed. “I’ve really been surprised at the level of enthusiasm, and the amount of people who seem to be genuinely rooting for me. It’s really gratifying. I’m overwhelmed by the whole thing.”
Marshall, 50, said she has no regrets.
“Honestly, it was a way for me to grow up and really become the person I would not have been able to become if it hadn’t happened,” she explained.
“It gave me an opportunity to learn crucial, necessary, life skills: how to pay your own bills; how to keep watch over your own money; how to be in charge of your own life and how to deal with obstacles that are natural.”
Marshall revealed that before the court battle ensued, the woman who scored a Diamond Award for one million sales of her eponymously-titled album in Canada on the strength of such hits as “Birmingham,” “Let It Rain,” “Beautiful Goodbye” and “Dark Horse” had a team around her that would take care of her every need.
“When you do this job, the natural tendency is for people to remove all obstacles from your path. It is a necessity in order for the machine to keep rolling,” she clarified.
Once that machine stopped rolling, Marshall suddenly had a lot of time on her hands and embarked on a period of self-discovery that others take for granted.
“It sounds really boring, but learning how to cook for yourself and feed yourself; buying your first home and decorating your first home; learning how to live as an adult…getting an opportunity to sit and read and really be alone with your thoughts.
“We (Marshall and life partner Rob Misener) got pets. I was able to really live a life that I had not been able to live had I continued at the pace that I was at, because (that life) does not allow for those things. It just doesn’t.”
Sustained by the consistent royalty income from 1995’s Amanda Marshall, (six million copies sold worldwide), 1999’s Tuesday’s Child (300,000 copies sold) and 2001’s Everybody’s Got A Story (100,000), Marshall hasn’t had to worry about making money to support herself – and it’s something she doesn’t take for granted.
“I’m extremely fortunate and I’m very, very aware of it,” Marshall conceded. “I’m also somebody who does not live an outrageously extravagant lifestyle. I revel in simplicity. So, I’m not somebody who is living beyond my own means, and my philosophy is never be embarrassed to life within your means.
“So, I’m very, very comfortable. I’ve always been very, very happy. And listen, I’m extraordinarily lucky that I had a tremendous support system, absent my business life. I have a great, really supportive family and a great network of people who really rally around me and make sure that I’m okay. So, I’m really, really lucky in that regard.”
During her time away, Marshall didn’t completely disappear: there were occasional Casino Rama appearances and other gigs sprinkled across Canada…mainly in 2017.
“The Casino Rama dates were fun, because it was a new thing and my agent sort of urged me to do it,” Marshall recalled. “It was a way for us to get in front of an audience. But because I was recording and writing, I was scratching that itch. So, I really wasn’t missing being on the road as much as I might have…
“It was so much fun, that it was really the kick that I needed to make me realize, ‘yeah, I do really want to do this.'” she continued.
There was another benefit to the time away from the spotlight.
“It’s one of those things that sort of became a chronic distraction,” said Marshall of her break. “At first, the whole period where I was lying fallow felt like it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
“But as it went on, I began to realize that personally, professionally, creatively, it was the best thing that could possibly have happened to me. Creatively, it gave me total utter, creative freedom: I could do whatever I wanted.
“Nobody was waiting for the record. I wasn’t beholden to a label. I was able to write and record and make mistakes and change things and keep going back to the well. It really worked out entirely to my advantage. I’m really, really happy. I really did think at the beginning of all this that the situation seemed really dire. But, I’m entirely grateful for it now.”
You can hear it in the results of Marshall’s fine new album Heavy Lifting: her soulful alto sounds more mature and confident, and there’s enough playful attitude being flung about in such songs as “Dawgcatcher,” the upbeat “God Forbid” and the funky bounce of “I’m Not Drunk” that she sounds like she’s having the time of her life.
And it is her life, as the entire album was co-written and produced by Marshall and her bass player Misener with the exception of the aforementioned “I Hope She Cheats” – which she said ended up changing the tone of the album after she first heard the song.
“‘I Hope She Cheats’ was co-written by Marsha Ambrosius, one-half of Floetry, an R&B duo out of the UK in the early ’00s,” Marshall explained. “It’s the first single but the last song added to the record, because I heard it in 2017-2018 in a store here in Toronto.
“It was stunning to me: the lyric was so clever and so bad-ass that it really caused me to re-evaluate some of my own lyric writing on the record. There was such a swagger and such a kind of a coolness to her writing, that it made me re-evaluate the tone of the rest of the record. It was funny and kind of cutting and sarcastic and I loved that. So, I went back and thought that, this is the way I want the rest of the record to feel.”
Marshall says she loves the new album because “it’s the record to me that sounds like me, but now.”
“That was my goal,” she insisted. “I’m not really anybody who has tried consciously to chase any kind of trend and I’m not out there to compete with Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. I don’t know how to make those records.
“This is really where I live: I came up with a lot of guitar players and – as most people know – under the wing of Jeff Healey and that world. So, for me, that kind of blues-pop, blues rock influence has always really interested me and been present in what I do. This is a very, quirky, funny – but tough – album, and I love that.”
In the past, Marshall has opened for everyone ranging from Jeff Healey and Tears For Fears to John Mellencamp and Simply Red. But when our conversation turned to her hit “If I Didn’t Have You,” from “Tuesday’s Child,” Marshall says that the song provided one of her biggest career highlights when she toured Europe with Whitney Houston.
“That was a full circle moment for me,” Marshall remembered regarding the 1999 tour. “Whitney’s first record came out when I was 12. She was a goddess to me. When the offer to tour with her came in, I remember saying, ‘I don’t know what you have to do or who you have to do it to, I got to be on this tour.'”
Several dates in and close to the release of Marshall’s single “If I Didn’t Have You,” the opener was shocked to find the headliner suddenly appearing on stage with her.
“That song starts with a whistle,” she recalled. “But it’s really hard to generate that whistle every night. Sometimes your lips aren’t wet enough, so, we had the whistle recorded for playback on tape.
“I’m drinking a glass of water and turn around and Whitney is on stage. She’s standing beside me, and she takes the mic and introduces me, and the crowd is cheering. After thanking me for participating near the end of the tour, she leaned in and hugged me…and as she hugged me, she said into my ear, ‘Damn, I love this song.’
“It was one of the only times I thought, ‘I could die right now,’ – because it wasn’t about, ‘oh you sang that really well,’ but she liked the song. To have a singer of her calibre compliment a song that I wrote, was a huge, huge moment for me.
“So, I think of her every time we perform it.”