Beginning with the acoustic based self-released Broken Bracelet in 2000, Michelle Branch has always been a young woman in a big hurry. The release of Michelle Branch’s major label debut The Spirit Room in 2001 ushered in an entirely new movement in pop music, busting open the door for the new crop of females who write and play their own songs, after allthere was no other female artist on the charts who wrote and performed all the songs on her record, and her music was distinctively driven by guitars and lyrics as opposed to loops and dance oriented videos. And the results spoke for themselves: over 2.5 million records sold, a Grammy Award, an MTV Viewer’s Choice Award on the basis of 4 top 10 hits and sold out tours with Sheryl Crow, a smash duet with Carlos Santana and an invitation from the Dixie Chicks to tour arenas this summer. Amazed by her abilities, the press used phrases like “old soul” and “wise beyond her years” to explain her skills. “I never wanted to be the ‘young female’ artist- I always looked at myself simply as a ‘female’ artist.” Other artists saw what she saw. “When I worked with Sheryl Crow and Carlos Santana, both said something to me that I will never forget—‘You’re the real deal.’ And when artists of that caliber say things like that, it helps me to remain focused on the songs and not my age.”
Branch’s release Hotel Paper created new opinions and deeper appreciation for her artistry from both critics and fans alike. “I never asked for comparisons to other artists nor did I expect outstanding reviews. I did, however, demand a fair and honest critique of my work and that simply never happened. Hotel Paper guarantees that my growth as an artist will overshadow non-related questions that followed me last time around. Don’t ask: I’m 20 years old now!”
Owning the longest running Billboard Top 100 record of the last 18 months (82 weeks) with The Spirit Room, Branch segued from her own record to a Grammy Award winning collaboration with Carlos Santana prior to beginning work on her latest release. “I spent the last 2 years of my life traveling so when it was time to begin work on a new record, I realized that the record had already been written in hotel rooms around the world, hence the name Hotel Paper.” And those 2 years on the road brought maturity, experience, and confidence to a songwriter who already owned a sense of melody that generated several top 10 hits.
The first single, “Are You Happy Now?” is an aggressive statement about a personal relationship that took a surprising turn. Branch painfully comments, “Anyone who has been stomped on can relate.” What is equally apparent is that the single sonically represents the strength of emotion that speaks directly to the man who is the source of her pain. And radio agrees; the track has connected with audiences nationwide. Other tracks on the record with longtime producer John Shanks yielded deeper and more complex outcomes, including “Empty Handed,” which called upon famed string arranger David Campbell (Beck’s father) to deliver the 22-piece orchestra into the mix. Other strong tracks with Shanks include possible singles “Breathe” and “Find Your Way Back,” as well as the rootsy duet with Sheryl Crow entitled “Love Me Like That.” “It sounds too good to be true, but John and I had the song and felt that it needed another voice. We picked up the phone, called Sheryl, and she came down an hour later.”
Branch felt compelled to explore her acoustic beginnings with Grammy Award winner Jon Levinthal (Shawn Colvin, Roseanne Cash) to create the title track “Hotel Paper,” and risked the safe road by working with massive rock producer Josh Abraham (Staind, Korn) on a ballad no less that tested both of them. “We didn’t set out to create a ballad but part of being creative includes being open to running with new ideas when they hit. This was one of those moments.”
The record is full of those moments; timeless and bold music which makes the listener appreciate a body of work in lieu of labeling Branch’s accomplishments and talent by pages of a calendar. And her persona has lent itself to that: Her history and success is celebrated for achieving popularity without succumbing to prefabricated pop. But the challenge continues.
“Comparisons are always going to be made, and no one can change that. But just because other young females release records after mine does not create a movement. I’m happy to be included in a movement. Just start with Stevie Nicks, throw in Sheryl Crow, and put me somewhere at the bottom of that.”
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