The early 2000s saw teen pop princesses dominating the airwaves, music channels, and magazines. While the likes of Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore and Ashlee Simpson continued to stay in the limelight both personally and professionally, one teen idol, Michelle Branch, tiptoed off radar.
At the height of her fame, Michelle scored two international best-selling albums The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper, won a Grammy, and had hit singles “Everywhere” and “Breathe” soundtracking many of TV and film’s biggest shows and rom-coms of that decade.
And then came the years out of mainstream spotlight, which accompanied a series of life-changing events for the young singer-songwriter: marriage, a baby, divorce, a move to Nashville, a country music group, a split from her long-time record label and finally finding love again.
Michelle’s 2017 release Hopeless Romantic comes fourteen years since her last solo album. For both her and her fans it’s her finest work and it’s the first time she has released truly autobiographical material. The 34-year-old today isn’t afraid to reveal the ups and downs of her romantic experiences or as she calls it, her “mess of a love life.” On her last evening in Japan, Michelle talked to Weekender frankly and openly about what it’s like to be a hopeless romantic.
Can you tell us about your new album and why you decided to call it Hopeless Romantic?
It’s funny because I didn’t enter the making of this album with any concept [or] idea of what it was going to be; I was just therapeutically writing about my own mess of a love life, but now it really follows this arc of losing love and finding love again. When it came to finding a title for this album Hopeless Romantic was just the obvious choice. Historically I love writing love songs and I love love songs in general as a music fan. I try not to write them but stories about relationships are my favorite and this album has been the first that is really truly autobiographical. The early albums I wrote, like The Spirit Room, have songs I wrote when I was 14 or 15 about boys at school, whereas this was about going through divorce, dating for the first time since I was a teenager in LA, in the internet age, and wondering if you’re going to find love again, so it’s really a messy adult love album.
Some people ask, “does it feel strange talking about such personal stuff?”, but for me I have to have some sort of an emotional tie to what I’m singing in order to keep singing it every night. A lot of my fans were the same age as me when I first started and even my sister and friends – they listen to this album and they can relate to it and what I’ve been feeling.
We all have different ways of dealing with break ups. What did you try and what worked best for you?
My divorce wasn’t a traumatic terrible thing because we’re actually still friends, although I don’t know if that’s because we have a daughter together and if we didn’t, I wonder if we’d have as much contact. He was 19 years my senior and when we got married everyone around us and certainly around my life was like “what are you doing, you’re too young, your age difference…” Everyone had an opinion, and at the time I was like “we’ll prove them wrong!” The thing is we grew apart and Teddy, my ex, was the first person to agree that we were heading in that route…we have a beautiful daughter together but it was just time. When I was going through the break up it wasn’t sad: it was in a way exciting because the same year I was dropped from my record label – which I had been on half my life as I was signed at 16 – and suddenly my identity as an adult woman changed, everything was gone, I’m not married anymore and not on Warner Brothers any more. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, so I had like a mini crisis, which wasn’t necessarily just about the break up but more a question of “what am I going to do next?” I hadn’t ever been alone, I hadn’t ever lived alone as an adult woman, so I suddenly got to learn a lot about myself and it was like starting a new chapter, which was both scary but exciting.
What advice would you give to a fan dealing with heartbreak?
I would say the phrase that I find comforts me at times when nothing makes sense is that “everything happens for a reason.” I can look back at any moment when I’ve panicked about how things are going to end up and remember that. Patrick [Carney] and I say that all the roads that led to us meeting, if something had changed we wouldn’t be together and this album wouldn’t be what it is, and so I really do believe that everything happens for a reason.
You met Patrick at a Grammy Party back in 2015. Did you feel a connection with him immediately?
I did, but I was dating someone on and off at the time, so it didn’t occur to me that it was a romantic thing but I just knew I found someone that I immediately hit it off with.
How is Patrick romantic to you?
When we first started making this album there was a different president of my label. That president came into the studio and he was not convinced that it was the right direction – I think he really wanted me in 2001. It had been so long since I had a record out I was terrified and worried about what I was going to do. At that point Patrick pulled me aside, got our co-producer and was like “you know what, I believe in you so much, you emotionally have to move on with your life and you have to show up for yourself and you have to do this your way.” He said “look, I’m going to pay for you to make this album. If at the end you turn it in and they don’t like it, they’ll drop you, but you own the music (since I’m going to pay for it) and we’ll move on.” And the craziest thing was by the time we actually turned in the album, that guy had been fired – not to do with me I swear! – and a new label president was there. He heard it and loved the album. Patrick encouraged me to step up and stand up for myself in a way that no one has, and we have each other’s back.
Do you both have “a song”?
We have a couple songs from when we first started dating we made each other playlists. There’s a song called “Our Way to Fall” by Yo La Tengo. Then there’s this Beach House song called “Levitation” that when I hear it I get emotional because I’m like, that’s when we fell in love with each other.
What’s the best date you’ve ever been on?
The Beach House album that “Levitation” is on…I love that album so much and Patrick took me to the show. When they played that song I was like, crying.
And the worst?
I dated a guy who I found out stole credit cards. Not mine, but after I went on then date I found out after from a friend that he stole someone’s credit cards!
You’ve been attached most of your adult life. Do you ever feel like you missed out?
No, because the time period between my divorce and Patrick, well I definitely made a point! My younger sister Nicole who I’m very close with, right as I was going through my divorce, she broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years and moved in to my guesthouse in LA. It was amazing because we never thought we’d live together again past being teenagers in mom and dad’s house. She was completely heartbroken but she moved in and we had the best time. It was like single girl house and we had so much fun.
Have you ever used a dating app like Tinder?
I used this app called Raya, and it’s kind of like the Soho House of dating apps in that you have to apply and a mysterious panel of people approve you. It’s full of creative people – lots of architects, chefs and musicians… when I was on it was starting up, but now like, John Mayer is on there! I’m no longer obviously on Raya but I was for a minute.
What was on your profile?
It was cool actually because you picked a song and you could put up 30 seconds of different Instagram photos with it. There’s a band called Waves and they had a song called ‘Demon to Lean On’ which was my song. I went on a couple of interesting dates – I went on some with the guitarist from the band Phantogram.
Did you get recognized on there?
Yeah but I think the app accepts people that are quite chill. I had a friend who matched with an actor from Friends – I can’t remember which one – but she was like “what do I do?”
What do you love about Japan?
The food! We have really bad Japanese food in Nashville where I live now, and coming from LA where there’s great sushi and Californian Japanese food…there is no good sushi in Nashville and it’s the saddest thing. My 11-year-old daughter’s favorite food is sushi and we went on a mother-daughter date to a new sushi place in Nashville. We literally had to spit food out into our napkins and told the waiter “sorry something happened, we have to be somewhere,” just because the food was so bad and we had to leave. We got in the car and were laughing, she was like “mom that was the worst meal!”
Hopeless Romantic is out in Japan now. www.michellebranch.com