Northern Arizona-raised Michelle Branch needed to release an album. After a tempestuous relationship with her label, Warner Bros., and the end of her marriage, it was time to get back in the studio and spill her feelings.
It may not have come to fruition if it wasn’t for The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney.
“I met Pat at a Grammy party,” Branch says. “The Black Keys were nominated so they were having a Grammy party. He flagged me over and asked if I was Michelle and said, ‘Why haven’t you had an album out? What’s going on?’
“I told him I was stuck on Warner Bros. and they wouldn’t let me out of my contract. I finally got off the label and I was trying to figure out what to do next. He asked me to send him my demos because he’d love to help out. That was the beginning.”
She innocently thought that it was the start of a new project. But it turned out to be much more. The two fell in love and continue to be a couple.
“I didn’t realize what I was emotionally going through until being on the other side of it,” Branch says. “We started this record as colleagues and friends, and halfway through the album we realized we were falling for each other.
“I remember telling my sister that I felt like I just met someone really important in my life. We were going to start a band or be collaborators or he would be a mentor. There was something different about him.”
What came out of the relationship was Hopeless Romantic, Branch’s first solo project since her 2003 Grammy-nominated album Hotel Paper.
“Now that the album is out, I can look back at it,” Branch says. “I was fresh out of a 10-year marriage. I parted with my label and started dating for the first time since I was a teenager. It follows this arc of losing love and finding it again. My solace was writing during that period.”
Branch calls herself an “oversharer by nature,” so she didn’t feel uncomfortable sharing this journey with her fans. Friends and fans asked about the consequences of her ex-husband hearing Hopeless Romantic.
“I don’t think he’s going to listen,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t think he has Michelle Branch albums playing at his house.”
Branch is on tour and will stop by the Crescent Ballroom on Wednesday, July 26. It’s a full-band gig, with Carney on drums.
“Those Black Keys fans who aren’t crazy about my music can at least come to the show and see Pat play drums on songs like ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Are You Happy Now?’” she jokes.
Hometown shows are important to Branch, who lived in Flagstaff until she was 11 and then moved to Sedona.
“In hindsight, I would love to live in Sedona now,” says Branch, the mother of a daughter, Owen. “As a teenager, it was so boring. We didn’t have a mall. Every weekend we’d ask my mom to drive down to Phoenix so we could go to the mall.
“Everything was geared toward tourists—new age shops, turquoise jewelry. We didn’t have a Hot Topic. We didn’t have a record store.”
She was turned on to music through his parents’ record collection. Her mom is a Mesa native, while her father was raised in Phoenix. They were at many of the same concerts together but didn’t meet until each of them relocated to Flagstaff. Branch visits them at least once a year—especially during Thanksgiving (“My mom is an amazing cook,” she says) or Spring Training.
“Usually, too, when I go home to Sedona, we end up going on hikes, cooking a lot and getting my Mexican food fix,” Branch says. “Mexican food in Nashville is atrocious. They put queso on everything. It’s this white cream cheese sauce.
“My first stop usually is the Tee Pee restaurant in Phoenix. If there’s a marriage or a birth or a death in my family, we usually all end up at the Tee Pee drinking margaritas afterward.”
Branch and family may just end up there after her show, which she described as a triumph.
“It’s been years since I’ve done a proper tour,” she says. “I’ve done acoustic set ups here and there. But to be back on the road and do a proper tour is something I’ve been begging to do and wanting to do for years.
“The band is amazing. I have two incredible female musicians in the band, my guitarist and keyboardist. I’m excited to have more women in the band than men.”
The album, her new relationship and the tour are making Branch happy now.
“I had to make the album for myself,” she says. “If people listened to it, then that was the icing on the cake. It was such a huge hurdle for me. I’m just relieved that people like it and excited for people to come to the show.”
Michelle Branch, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, Phoenix, 602.716.2222, crescentphx.com, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, $30-$125. The show is 21 and older.