The Travail Of Michelle Branch

Michelle Branch owns over 100 guitars
Michelle Branch owns over 100 guitars

Michelle Branch became a big singing star in the 2000s, but she kind of disappeared since then, a victim of the suits in the music industry, and also her desire to do songs the way SHE wants to do them, not the way THEY want her to do them.

Michelle started from the ground up (before American Idol). She was already singing, playing guitar, and writing her own songs at 14. At her shows in local Arizona nightclubs, she sold a self-produced album, financed by her parents and later released by an indie label—a collection of lilting folk songs about love (or what a teenage girl imagined as love) called Broken Bracelet.

Michelle soon signed with Maverick Records, and put together the album The Spirit Room (named after a bar in Sedona), which took off in the ratings, followed up by Hotel Paper, which also did well.

Michelle Branch broke into the music scene back in 2001, with the super catchy ‘Everywhere'.

Then the trouble started

Michelle married her bass player, and they had a baby. This news wasn't well received by her label, because it ruined their image of a single hot girl. Michelle later reasoned that you have to experience life in order to inspire your song writing. Michelle also decided to pair up with her old friend and backup singer Jessica Harp to form the duo The Wreckers, a country band. Maverick wasn’t pleased with the idea of a pop star going country either, and simply wanted Michelle to just make another pop album, and stating that going country would alienate her fanbase.

As it turned out, The Wreckers were quite successful, but didn’t last long. After a couple of years, Jessica Harp decided to go solo, and that was the end of The Wreckers. Maverick Records had been bought by Warner, and Michelle’s attempt to get back into the pop world encountered resistance from Warner. Michelle’s relationship with music wasn't the same after realizing things were more about the business and less about the music. Everything she proposed to her new label was rejected. They wanted her to go back to songs she was doing at 16. From time to time, fans were being promised that new music was coming out the next month, next season, next year. After so many broken promises some fans were furious at her because this supposed new music was never coming out, and she kept apologizing.

Few people know that 'This Way' is about the relationship with her fans rather than with a partner. The "No I would never talk to her that way" is about a girl that claimed that Michelle called her a bitch and asked her to leave at a concert.

Chaos in the industry

But rather than building her career and discography in that intervening decade, Branch was a casualty of ongoing upheaval at Warner Bros. During her time there, she cycled through five label presidents. "One I met with on a Thursday, and they were fired on Monday," says Branch. Another typical cycle: "I turned in a full album. We shot artwork and a video for it. There was a single; a release date. And then everyone got fired, and it all just stopped. Then a new guy comes in, he gives his two cents, calls the new radio department, they give their two cents. It was that…over and over and over.”

In the early days following Hotel Paper, they wanted her to ape Avril Lavigne. Then Taylor Swift, then Katy Perry. More than one told her to collaborate with EDM artists. "This is not who I am," Branch told them. "If I put out the kind of music you want me to put out, everyone will see it for exactly what it is." Branch couldn't convince anyone to let her out of her contract. Execs kept telling her what an "asset" she was to the company, but she had started to feel more and more like a line item. President No. 5 finally let her go.

Patrick Carney

The problem wasn't just the whiplash-inducing changes in leadership; it was that each successive regime thought they knew Branch's musical evolution better than she did. She had over two albums' worth of songs after a short-lived stint as part of The Wreckers, but she couldn't salvage that material: she was told it was too pop to be country by some, but too country to be pop by others. "My whole life I've been surrounded by middle-aged men telling me what to do," says Branch. "Because they know exactly what it's like to be a young woman."

Michelle divorced her husband (they still get along okay) and joined a new label and a new life partner (the Black Keys' Patrick Carney) Branch has just released a new and totally different album, Hopeless Romantic.

Branch signed with Verve Records, drawn in by the label's indie spirit. Carney agreed to produce her next album, the two got the green light to record some tracks and brought three to the head of Verve. To her dismay, Branch heard a familiar spiel: "He said, 'This doesn't sound like you.' He really wanted to hear a record that sounded like I was still 16 years old.

"I was so defeated and upset," says Branch. "Then Patrick said, 'I believe in this album. Do you believe in this album?'" Carney financed the album himself, and for the better part of a year, Branch, Carney, and Gus Seyffert (a bass player and Carney collaborator who came on as a producer) went rogue, developing an album that the president of Verve had rejected. "For the first time, I had someone in my life who wasn't getting a check from me, encouraging me to show up for myself," says Branch about Carney. For his part, Carney, who has a thing for the underdog ("I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan, you know what I mean?") was on a mission: "The reason why I'm successful is because I have been given the opportunity to fail so that we could sort things out on our own. But she has some dumbass with a Communications degree from Purdue or whatever telling her what to do," he says. "If Michelle was a guy, all this shit would not have happened to her."

By the time they completed the album in May 2016, Branch and Carney—at that point both divorced from their exes—had fallen in love. (They now live in Nashville with Owen.) As they prepared to fight for the album, Carney gave Branch a reality check. "He said, 'The worst that can happen is that you finish this album and you get dropped,'" says Branch. "'But for your emotional well-being, you need to make it and get on with your life.'" It turned out they didn't need to: in another familiar twist, the executive who'd told her the first few tracks of the album "didn't sound like her" had been let go too. President No. 7 didn't make Branch wait any longer, and Hopeless Romantic, a union of airy synth-pop and good old-fashioned rock, has been released.

The sad thing is, Michelle Branch’s album West Coast Time, never got off the ground, due to all the record industry chaos. Hopefully, it will one day get released.

I know, 'chance' is spelled wrong, but Take A Chance On Me is one of Michelle Branch's songs that never got released, due to the record industry chaos. She has a whole score of songs that are only on Youtube.

The Travail Of Michelle Branch
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  • orangecherry
    Meh... I don't like her new music much