Tracy Bonham views her music career as a constant process of returning to square one. In the time since her 1996 single "Mother Mother" topped Billboard's Alternative Songs chart, the singer/songwriter has weathered a label dispute, fallen in love, considered leaving the music industry and finally come full circle and started on her own path to motherhood.
"It's impossible to get away from what I've done before," Bonham says of the long shadow of her early mainstream achievements. "But I know my true fans trust me, and for once in my writing career, I'm not worried."
With her fourth album, "Masts of Manhatta," due July 13 on Engine Room Recordings, Bonham uses her career to reflect the sweeping changes of her personal life. While her first full-length in five years was inspired by her recent marriage and a move to a cottage in Woodstock, N.Y., the promotion of "Manhatta" has been partly shaped by Bonham's plan to adopt a child this fall.
"In a way, the idea was to get the album out now and do whatever I can for it," Bonham says. "I've basically put my blinders on . . . and my management and label have been so supportive."
Bonham believes that something fell apart in the time between the success of her Grammy Award-nominated 1996 debut, "The Burdens of Being Upright," and the release of sophomore set "Down Here." As Universal was merging with Island Records parent PolyGram in the late '90s, her follow-up record was endlessly delayed and arrived to quieter fanfare in 2000.
"I was constantly meeting new CEOs who would sit down and tell me they'd have to push back my record or what kind of record I needed to make," Bonham says. "In hindsight, I wish I had just gone off and done my own thing."
Following the release of "Down," Bonham toured with Blue Man Group and issued an independent EP, "Bee," exclusively at the shows. After the release of 2005's "Blink the Brightest," Bonham moved away from music and earned her yoga instruction certificate while living in both Brooklyn and Woodstock with her new husband.
Although Bonham considered giving up music altogether, she says she refused to "listen to that voice that wants to throw in the towel" and began writing new songs. Recorded last year in Brooklyn before being overdubbed in Woodstock, "Manhatta" captures Bonham's newfound tranquility on tracks like "Big Red Heart" and "We Moved Our City to the Country."
For its first album with Bonham, Engine Room will combine standard and unique marketing strategies. While Bonham's MySpace and Facebook sites have been reworked, the label will also hold a contest in which Bonham will write an original song for the winner.
Meanwhile, Engine Room is helping Bonham find a publishing deal and talking to different companies about placement opportunities. "Right now we're pitching the masters and seeing who loves the album," Engine Room chief strategist Darren Paltrowitz says.
Bonham has a string of East Coast dates booked for August and will likely perform on the West Coast soon after. Although her adoption plans hinder wide-scale touring opportunities, Bonham's label is looking at the situation positively.
"Who knows," Paltrowitz says. "Maybe it will inspire more material and we'll have a new album in the next few years."