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“When you achieve success at a young age, it stunts your development”: Pop star Amanda Marshall on returning to the stage after two decades

Beginning in 2002, a protracted legal battle with her manager and label led to Marshall’s exile from the music business. Here, she talks about why that was ultimately a good thing

Amanda Marshall
Photo by Claudine Baltazar

Amanda Marshall has spent the past 20-odd years in a self-imposed exile from the music scene. In a nutshell: she fired her manager back in 2002, got into a series of legal disputes with him and her former record label, and didn’t want any new music to get sucked into that vortex. Then, last summer, she released her first album in 22 years—the Juno Award–winning Heavy Lifting—and set off on a cross-country tour, which stops at Budweiser Stage this month. We spoke to Marshall about her new record, the new rules of the music industry and why her hiatus was ultimately a good thing.


You’re back after a 20-year absence. How sick are you of hearing that? Not at all! I came into this with absolutely no expectations, and I’m overwhelmed by the response. It’s been one hell of a year.

What’s it like returning to the music industry after such a long time away? The main thing is the lifestyle change. When you’re a working musician, touring is the biggest upheaval in your life. After not doing it for a while, I was curious to see whether I still had it in me. I’m delighted to find it’s not that big of a deal.

What inspired your new album? There’s a 15-year odyssey behind it. When I came off the road in 2002, I got involved in a legal imbroglio with my ex-manager. He sued me, I sued him, and it went on and on for a decade, becoming this chronic distraction that really hurt my motivation to make music. I had been used to the schedule of working with a major label: you make an album, you tour, you come back and the cycle repeats. When things slowed down, I was able to use songwriting as a purely creative outlet. I played the new material for a group of friends, and they encouraged me to turn it into something. I was on my own schedule, using my own money, and the whole thing turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

How so? At first, I thought it was the worst thing ever since it brought my career to a screeching halt. Most working musicians will tell you that a weird depression sets in when you’re off the road. It’s hard to reassimilate into your old life. But, at the same time, I’d been in the business since I was 15, and when you achieve any real success at a young age, it stunts your development. This became my opportunity to grow into the person I was supposed to be all along.

How did your musical sensibility develop alongside that personal growth? When I listen to my early records, there’s a tremendous sense of earnestness. It comes from youth and a desire to please people but also from inexperience. “Birmingham,” “Dark Horse,” “Beautiful Goodbye” and all of those songs reflect somebody who was trying to find her way as a performer and songwriter. Heavy Lifting is much more reflective of my sense of humour. It has a levity to it while retaining that lyrical depth.

Where does the levity come from? Life experience? I think so, yeah. The first single off this record is “I Hope She Cheats,” which was written by Marsha Ambrosius. I heard it by chance quite late in the recording of the album, and I was so struck by how funny and clever the lyrics are. I went back to the album and found spots where we had that kind of wit and beefed up places where we didn’t. One of the luxuries of writing songs over a long period of time—and without the pressure of a schedule—is you discover that pieces of one song might fit better into another, or a ballad might work better up-tempo.

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A lot has changed in the industry since 2002. What stands out to you? Social media is the most obvious thing. And streaming was still in its infancy when I dropped off the scene. It’s much easier to discover new music now, and it’s easier for artists to develop a rapport with audiences. The flip side is that artists aren’t getting paid, which is shameful and needs to change.

What version of Amanda Marshall are you putting out there online? Because I’m a grown-up now, I feel more comfortable saying no to things I don’t want to do. For instance, I haven’t danced on TikTok yet—when I do, you’ll know I’ve hit rock bottom. I’m a very private person in real life, and I carry that to my work life. Having someone follow me around recording me on a phone is unnatural for me. But I am trying to give fans a sense of what happens behind the scenes on TikTok, and they seem to dig it.

What about your off-the-clock life? What’s an average day like for you? I live a simple life. I have a couple of dogs that I love a lot, and I ride my bike around the city. I’m deliberately average, because as a creative person you rely on your ability to observe the world. If you cut yourself off from the community you live in, there’s isn’t much to write about. It freaked me out when people first started noticing me. I didn’t want to be the centre of attention in every room.

Any favourite places in the city you want to shout out? I remember going to Kensington Market with my mom when you could pick out a live chicken and have it slaughtered and plucked for you. As I got older, I’d hang out on Queen West, which now reminds me of how it was in the late ’80s and early ’90s: a lot of weird little mom-and-pop stores, which is great. It’s funny—we’re playing Budweiser Stage this month, and it’s going to be 32 years to the week that I first opened for Jeff Healey back when it was the Forum. I spent a whole series of summers as a teenager going to concerts there, each for the price of a movie. I saw Liberty Silver open for Taylor Dayne and absolutely body her. It was such a gift. All these people were rock stars to us at age 17.

Back in the ’90s, MuchMusic asked who your ideal duet partner would be. You said Prince, which sadly isn’t an option anymore. Who would it be now? Chris Stapleton. We seem to be having a moment of husky guys with beards and Joe Cocker–esque voices. He’s one of the great soul singers of his generation, and he has one of those great blending voices.

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You’re not the only Canadian to make a comeback recently: Nelly Furtado and Joni Mitchell are also back. Why now? We’re in this crossover period where parents are reminiscing about the music they listened to growing up while their kids are discovering it for the first time. I’m shocked to see both old and new fans on tour. I’d really underestimated how much these songs meant to people.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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