Amanda Marshall leaves behind two decades of ordinary for a return to making music
TORONTO — Amanda Marshall is getting reacquainted with the spotlight.
Two decades have passed since the smoky-voiced singer disappeared from the music scene with little explanation, leaving behind years of soulful Canadian hits including “Let It Rain,” “Believe in You” and “Birmingham."
“The big question obviously is what happened,” Marshall acknowledges as she settles into a booth at a Toronto diner after ordering a vanilla milkshake.
“Everywhere I go people are like, ‘What happened? Where’d you go? Why’d you stop? What happened?’”
It’s a great question, one that Marshall ponders herself at times as she prepares to release her first album in 22 years and launch a cross-Canada tour to go with it. Her new single "I Hope She Cheats" offers a taste of what's to come.
A lot happened over the years, much of it complicated legal stuff she isn’t particularly interested in wading into. She’ll get to it, however.
Essentially, Marshall never completely stopped making music. But a prolonged battle with her former manager left her worried that anything she put out might wind up pulled into the dispute.
People outside the industry bubble never truly understood the holdup. They would often ask her when the next album was coming, and recall the heyday when she was all over the radio and MuchMusic.
Even today, the diner’s manager has cranked up Marshall’s 1995 debut album, telling her that he purchased it way back.
“This happens at my dentist,” she smiles. “I’m lying there with my mouth open and listening to my own records.”
Marshall doesn’t mind the attention. Dressed in a leather jacket with her voluminous curly hair still on point, she's enjoying the moment and looking forward to a career resurrection. The singer has been living a relatively anonymous life with her long-term partner in Toronto since the bottom fell out, so in some ways, it's refreshing to be back.
To put it simply, Marshall ran into the same roadblocks many successful performers do after several hits establish their name. She says her manager and record label, which released all three of her albums between 1995 and 2001, held a particular vision for her career. But she saw something different. It was "unworkable," as she describes it.
By 2002, it was clear the only solution for her was to sever ties. However, it’s never so easy. She said her manager, who she had known since being discovered as a teenager, wasn’t eager to let go. And so they duked it out.
“It became this chronic distraction and it went on and on,” she says.
“The dispute with the label resolved a lot faster than the dispute with my management, which became this contentious, acrimonious, ugly divorce.”
When it seemed a resolution was just over the horizon, another setback reared its head as both sides wrestled over legal dealings. For 12 years, each time she got her hopes up they were crushed again by what felt like the "spectre" of her past.
“You’re in this weird limbo," she says. "And you can’t do anything because it’s always trailing up behind you.”
Marshall kept her creative energy alive by writing and recording behind the scenes while learning basic life skills that most people take for granted if they're not touring musicians. She paid her own bills and learned how to cook.
“At the beginning, I was 28 and I thought this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, my life is over,” she says.
A decade later, she would see hitting pause on her career differently.
"I knew it had forced me to grow up and cope," she adds.
In 2012, Marshall was about halfway through making what would become "Heavy Lifting," her fourth album that's set for release in June. Despite the war with her manager dragging on, she felt her creative footing was steadier than ever.
"I was just like 'nobody’s ever going to hear this album, who gives a (damn),'" she recalls with a stronger swear word.
"I can do whatever I want."
When the legal fights came to a resolution around 2014, she began plotting her return more seriously. In 2017, she did a run of concerts mostly in Ontario to see if people really wanted to hear from her again after so many years.
With the album near completion, she opened for Bryan Adams at a Calgary show in 2019. It was intended to be the warm-up for a tour she planned to launch the following year.
And then the pandemic knocked everything off the calendar.
Fast-forward to now and the 50-year-old Marshall expects smoother sailing in the coming months. She's booked a Canadian summer tour to promote her album, which leans heavily into the "roll" of rock 'n' roll, as she puts it.
She's also issued "I Hope She Cheats," a new single that showcases her vocals in top form. It's a cover version of the breakup song “Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player),” originally released by Marsha Ambrosius of neo-soul duo Floetry.
Marshall's arrangement trades the early 2011 synth-soul production for a sprinkling of the blues and a more playful, rhythmic delivery of lyrics. She overheard the song years ago while browsing a Toronto clothing store and searched the lyrics on Google to learn the artist.
“The thing that was so galvanizing to me is it was funny, it made me laugh," she says.
“This song made me re-evaluate the rest of the lyrical content and whole approach to this record. There was a levity in it that ... made me want to be looser and funnier.”
Some of the highlights on "Heavy Lifting" seem drawn directly from that inspiration. "Dawgcatcher" sees Marshall toss off copious metaphors to describe a dude who's a dirty dog. "I'm Not Drunk" recreates some awkward fan encounters that led to rambling conversations in a bar setting.
Finishing off her milkshake, Marshall says she's eager to see how these songs are received at live shows, even if this could mean surrendering a few of the ordinary things she's grown to appreciate, for instance watching HBO's "Succession" from her couch on Sunday nights.
"It’s a commitment," she says of plowing back into show business.
"You have to put on makeup, take off your sweatpants, you have to commit. It’s a job.
"And I want to be a professional."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2023.
David Friend, The Canadian Press