For someone who’s had her share of personal and professional setbacks over the past 15-plus years, Amanda Kravat is quick to laugh when talking about some of those experiences.
She’s totally serious, though, about the circumstances that ultimately contributed to the end of her extended hiatus from a music career.
“I was having debilitating panic attacks, and none of the medication or therapy I was offered did any good until I started writing songs again,” Kravat says. “I literally felt like I was suffocating. I had no idea that without songwriting, I’m not really myself. I guess painters paint and dancers have to dance, and I kind of didn’t realize I actually had to be saying something.”
What she has to say musically can be found on the new four-song EP, AK, her first release of any kind since the 2002 solo album Wrong All Day, which followed her stint as the frontwoman for Marry Me Jane.
In summer 1997, things were looking good for Marry Me Jane: The New York rock band, signed to the Sony-affiliated 550 Music label, was profiled in the July 12, 1997, issue of Billboard magazine in advance of the August release of Tick, the follow-up to MMJ’s self-titled 1996 debut.
It was around this same time that VH1 spent about a year filming Marry Me Jane for a series that never aired. Looking back on that experience, Kravat says it was “upsetting for a minute, but also a bit of relief because once the bed is made, you’re in it.”
She’s also relieved that her brief Sony tenure didn’t result in stardom: “It was like building a mansion on stilts. I had no foundation. I didn’t really know who I was yet. I’ll never know what could have happened — I could have ended up as a has-been. I don’t think I could have handled that machine at that time.”
Following 2002’s Wrong All Day, Kravat kept a low profile, participating in a songwriters circle every few years or so when asked. While at home, she wrote songs with her kids but never seriously considered re-emerging as a children’s music artist.
Kravat suffered a huge personal blow in early 2008 when her father, longtime concert booker and artist manager Jerry Kravat, died at age 72, sending her into what she describes as a “slow-motion tumble down into a scary place.” She emerged from it with the four songs featured on AK, due digitally Oct. 14 via Viper Records, with wider distribution to come in early 2015.
“When I listen to this music, I don’t hear myself trying with these songs,” Kravat says. “These came out as just writing songs to feel better. Like ‘Not Myself Today’ was about my panic attacks, so I literally wrote the song without thinking about the end result or whether or not it would be recorded. It just happened.”
She did put a lot of thought into studio specifics, choosing to record on two-inch tape — with all of the musicians playing together in a big room — at New York’s Magic Shop, where David Bowie, The Gaslight Anthem and Arcade Fire have made albums in recent years.
“I personally like the warmth in tape; all the colors of the rainbow are there,” Kravat says. “I guess it’s like the difference between hitting a tennis ball coming from one of those machines versus it coming from another person: It just feels different.”
Kravat is in the process of putting together a touring band to support the EP. Meanwhile, there have been career-related matters to deal with at home.
“My daughter is nervous,” Kravat says. “She said to me, ‘Why can’t you be normal? I don’t want a rock-singer mom with bright red hair. Why can’t you look like everybody else’s mom?’
“Here I am thinking I would have killed for a cool mother with a nose ring and a tattoo. So I threatened her: ‘Hey, you want me to make a kids’ record?’ She said, ‘Fine! Go do rock singing!’ ”
And with that anecdote, Kravat unleashes a laugh more triumphant than the ones preceding it.
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Nathaniel Johnston