Categories: a&e featuresMusic & Concerts

Moments with Michelle Branch

Michelle Branch says the pop music industry is working with outdated business models that aren’t fair to artists. (Photo courtesy Verve Label Group)

Michelle Branch
Friday, Aug. 4
8 p.m.
9:30 Club
815 V St., N.W.

In 14 years, Michelle Branch went from making radio hits to people wondering, “Whatever happened to Michelle Branch?”

Branch came out with her first hit single “Everywhere” from her debut album “The Spirit Room” in 2001 at 18 years old. Known as the “Anti-Britney,” along with fellow alternative-pop queens Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton, Branch’s angsty lyrics and guitar playing were the opposite of Spears’ bubblegum pop sound. Her music videos for “Everywhere,” “All You Wanted” and “Goodbye to You” propelled her to a frequent spot on the “TRL” Top 10. 

Her next album “Hotel Paper” produced the hit single, “Are You Happy Now?,” a “You Outta Know” by Alanis Morissette for the early ‘00s generation that received plenty of radio airplay. She also collaborated with big-name artists such as Sheryl Crow. She even won a Grammy for her work with Santana on “The Game of Love” in 2003. 

Then silence. 

Branch married her bass player Teddy Landau and gave birth to their now-11-year-old daughter, Owen. Branch delved into country with her band the Wreckers, with musician Jessica Harp in 2005. After the duo disbanded, Branch found herself caught in a cycle of creating content that her label wouldn’t let her release. In 2015, the singer’s personal life also hit a rough patch when she divorced Landau.

Now finally free of her contract, Branch has released her first album since 2003, “Hopeless Romantic,” on a new label, Verve Records. The edgy, alternative sound is back but at 33 years old, Branch is no longer the angsty teen she was. This is also her first collaboration with the Black Keys’ drummer, Patrick Carney. Carney started as her music partner and went on to become her fiancé; the couple got engaged in July. 

Her first solo tour in years stops by 9:30 Club (815 V St., N.W.) on Friday, Aug 4 for a sold-out performance. 

Branch chatted with the Washington Blade right before a sound check about where she’s been these last 14 years, how much the music scene has changed and what it’s actually like being Carlton’s doppelgänger. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Since your 2003 album “Hotel Paper” you seemed to disappear from the mainstream as a solo artist. But behind the scenes you were battling your label. What were some of the label issues you were having post-“Hotel Paper”?

MICHELLE BRANCH: Well, post-“Hotel Paper” I actually first started a band called the Wreckers. It was like a country side project of mine. We were doing really successful. We had a Grammy nomination, a number one song, we went platinum and we were on tour. So everything was going great up until about 2007. That’s when the Wreckers broke up. That’s when it started getting complicated. I followed up the Wreckers with a solo country record. I had been writing a bunch of Wreckers material but then we broke up so I just decided to record it myself. That’s when I started getting problems. I had the president of that label tell me, “You’re not country enough to do this album by yourself.” So I took the record to L.A. and they said, “No, this isn’t pop enough. It’s too country for us.” So that record got shelved. I watched like four label presidents get fired while I was there. I basically ended up being a victim of corporate restructuring. I ended up turning in a full country album and then I followed it up with a full pop record that got shelved as well. They wouldn’t let me out of my contract. So I finally got out of my contract in 2014 and that’s when I started writing this record. 


BLADE: On your new album “Hopeless Romantic” you collaborated with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. How did that come about?

BRANCH: Patrick and I met at a Grammy party. But he was on my list of people to ask about producing. I wanted to find someone with more of a rock background and I liked another band that he produced called Tennis that I loved. And I walked into the party and saw him on the other side of the room and was like “Oh, this is perfect. I can actually go ask him myself.” So, we started talking and he was like, “Where have you been? What have you been up to? I love your voice. You should be making music.” When I told him what I’d been through at the record label he immediately was like, “I want to help. Send me music.” And that’s how it started. 


BLADE: Even though you switched labels and had a new collaborator in Patrick did you fear this music wouldn’t see the light of day like your other material?

BRANCH: Once I signed with the new label and started recording, it all felt great. Between the records and getting off my record label there were moments. Like when I was on Warner Brothers I thought, “OK, maybe I’m never, ever going to get a record out again.” But once I switched labels it just felt completely different. There was a totally different energy. 


BLADE: Prince used to say record contracts are like slavery and that he would tell young artists not to sign. Would you give the same advice?

BRANCH: Yeah. I mean I just think the record business is a dying business. So many of these huge companies are just following old, dinosaur methods of doing things and ultimately it’s all because of wanting to make money and the artists suffer. So I would definitely encourage younger artists to be as independent as possible. 


BLADE: The way music is consumed now is so different from when you first hit the scene. You tweeted the other day you noticed how people had their cell phones out at your concerts now versus the last time you toured. Do you think people have lost the ability to be fully present at shows?

BRANCH: I don’t think everyone has. Fellow concert-goers get annoyed too. I had so many people comment back saying, “Yeah I was at that show and it was so annoying. I couldn’t see because someone’s phone was in my face.” I feel like there’s a certain time and place where you should be present. The whole point of live music is to actually see it, feel it and be a part of it. It’s a collaborative effort. The audience is just as much part of a show as whoever is on stage. If you want to film the whole thing you might as well just go watch YouTube videos of the show and not be at the show. It’s not at every show but just the last few shows I’ve noticed it and it bummed me out. I think that there’s definitely a time and a place for technology. 


BLADE: You and Vanessa Carlton debuted around the same time and were always compared. Did it ever annoy you?

BRANCH: Not at all. She’s amazing. I think the only thing that gets annoying is that still to this day people are like, “Oh my god, will you please play that song ‘A Thousand Miles’”? I’m like, “That’s not me.” But she’s great. She gets it just as much as I do so we’ve just gotten used to being each other’s doppelgänger. 


BLADE: You’ve shown your support for the Tegan and Sara Foundation. Why is it important for you to be an LGBT ally?

BRANCH: It’s so important because human equality, human rights, should be for everybody. It shouldn’t be for just one type of person. Love is love. There’s a line from one of the songs on my album called “Heartbreak Now.” It says, “You can’t help who you love” and I truly believe it. I think it’s completely preposterous to discriminate against someone based on who they love or how they identify. It’s completely a human rights issue to me. 


BLADE: So what’s next?

BRANCH: More music. I was just talking with Patrick that the minute this tour gets done we’re going to go home and start recording a new record. My goal now that I’m free is to just make as much music as possible and be able to play shows whenever I can. 

Michelle Branch says the pop music industry is working with outdated business models that aren’t fair to artists. (Photo courtesy Verve Label Group)