Once a superstar at 20, Michelle Branch had to suffer hardship before a Black Key helped her rediscover happiness in a big way.
By Steve Houk
Take singer/songwriter Michelle Branch for example. A musical prodigy as a youngster, she self-produced her first record at 17, and by 20, had two platinum albums as well as a Grammy singing with Santana. Life was kicking ass.
Ten years later, she found herself with two unreleased records, being released from her label, as well as enduring a split up with her longtime husband. Life was kicking her ass.
But fate as well as piles of talent and guts has played its lucky hand for Michelle Branch. Now she has a critically-acclaimed new record, her first in 14 years, and a new lease on life in more ways than just her music. Branch feels that if things had taken another track, she might not be in the perfect place she finds herself in.
“Yeah, if those albums came out, I don’t know if I would be in the position I am in now,” said Branch on a break from her current tour supporting her new record Hopeless Romantic, which stops at 9:30 Club on Friday August 4th. “I got to make an album I’m immensely proud of, one that I didn’t have any label involvement in so I had no one telling me what to do or what they expected of this album, I was really able to make the record I wanted to make. But I also found love throughout the process, I fell in love with my producer while we were making this album, and I’m now living a life that I didn’t ever see for myself.”
That producer is Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, who also co-wrote the record, and whom Branch and her 12 year-old daughter recently moved in with. When the recording of Hopeless Romantic began, romance was not in the air, yet respect and collaboration, and Carney’s desire to help Branch break out of her somewhat stimied existence, grew into something more.
“He’s just such an advocate of the underdog and he’s always like ‘Damn the man!’,” said Branch. “And he just saw this puzzle that had all the pieces and no one was there to care or put it together, and he’s like I want to help to get this out. So it was, you know, like I said, everything happens for a reason. The two of us feel like it was divine intervention. It was supposed to happen, for sure. And now I have a touring drummer who’s, ha, really good. Even if you aren’t a fan of mine, if you’re a Black Keys fan, you can come watch Patrick play my old songs with me.”
Hopeless Romantic is a wrenching, emotionally charged record that reeks of her at-the-time divorce, but is still replete with that gutsy, powerful Branch voice. And the depth of the songs resounded for both Branch and Carney as the recording progressed along with their new relationship.
“When I started this album, started writing the album, I was going through a divorce and then for the first time was dating, which was in Los Angeles.” Branch recalled. “And then I started the album with Patrick and we weren’t romantically involved when we started the record, so the songs that were written really started with losing love and trying to find it again. But in the end, they were about really finding it. And when, I was trying to figure out a title for the album, it just was kinda obvious that Hopeless Romantic was the right fit.”
Branch’s obvious musical talent started very early, and she has poignant, vivid memories of where some of her first songwriting took place and how music became her heart early on.
“I remember being like 8 years old and swinging on my swing out in the yard making up songs. As early as I can remember, I was always making up songs or I would go through my Grandma’s book of old standards. And I didn’t know how to read music so I would see the lyrics and I would make up new melodies to the lyrics. I was always making songs up. And thankfully my parents had really amazing taste in music and they always had records on in the house, and you know I’d listen to The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, that’s like in my DNA.”
And now Branch has her own little girl who, along with her, is enduring some of life’s unexpected changes. The sentiments she relays to her daughter could be lyrics from one of her own hopelessly beautiful songs.
“She just left the other day to go spend the summer with her dad so we can go on tour. I told her, I was like, you know nothing bad ever happened from too many people loving you, or too many people in your life. I told her it doesn’t mean we’re replacing someone, we’re just adding someone to your life. No one gets replaced. So far I don’t have too many eye rolls yet.”