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Grammy Girl

Tracy Bonham's rise from Boston to the top of the charts

by Matt Ashare

[Tracy Bonham] It's Monday morning, almost a month since Tracy Bonham returned home from breakfast to find the answering machine at her Watertown apartment filled with messages congratulating her on two Grammy nominations. She'd known the Grammy announcement was imminent; she just hadn't expected her name to be on the list. But not only had "Mother, Mother," the explosive first single from her 1996 Island debut The Burdens of Being Upright, put her in the running for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, the album itself had garnered a nomination for Best Alternative Music Performance. Not a bad way to start the day, and a pretty impressive showing for a debut album that had only recently been certified gold for shipping a half-million units -- in a segment of the music business where platinum-plus is the norm. This morning, having just headlined a sold-out benefit show at the Paradise over the weekend, Bonham is trying not to think too much about moving units, or about the fact that she'll be going up against artists like Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, R.E.M., and Smashing Pumpkins at the Grammys on February 26. She blushed mightily when Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley mentioned the nominations at the benefit, which featured Hanley, Bonham, and three other local women in rock (Jennifer Trynin, Juliana Hatfield, and Tanya Donelly) performing to raise money for Safe and Sound, a pro-choice organization established after the Brookline abortion-clinic shootings. Bonham responded to the subsequent applause by remarking simply that Boston is a great place to start a band.

Today, she's trying to relax. For the first time since her album hit stores last March, Bonham is looking forward to an extended vacation, which she'll spend, ironically, back on the road. This time she'll be only a guest, though: Steve Slingeneyer, her new boyfriend, is the drummer in the Belgium-based band Soul Wax, who are about to begin their first tour of the US. Bonham says she's eager to "disappear and become a Spinal Tap girlfriend." Still, with the Grammys just three weeks away, she can't help thinking about what she might say to the crowd of industry heavyweights, and to the millions of TV viewers, if her name is printed on the card inside one of those envelopes.

"I can't even really picture it at all," she says. "But I was sitting around in a bar with some friends and my manager a couple weeks ago and we started talking about it. I think it was probably the wine talking, but I was kidding about saying something like, `Winning a Grammy and not being prepared for a speech, isn't that ironic.' "

That sly reference to Alanis Morissette is typical of the self-deprecating Bonham: her scream-driven hit "Mother, Mother," which put The Burdens of Being Upright in the running for a Grammy, has often been compared to Morissette's work, as if to suggest that Bonham is nothing more than another angry young female riding on the coattails of the latest trend. Bonham doesn't mind; she's spent the past few years proving that she's tough enough to endure the tribulations of the music business without cracking. By almost all accounts, she has proved amazingly resilient, smiling in the face of those comparisons to Morissette and Liz Phair, touring almost non-stop since last March, and enduring with uncommon grace the fickleness of the music business today, when an artist can be in heavy rotation one week and off the charts the next.

Part 2

Matt Ashare can be reached at mashare@phx.com.

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