It’s been close to a decade and a half since Michelle Branch released a solo album, so to say anticipation is high for her forthcoming full-length would be selling anticipation short. Only stoking the excitement is the fact that the singer-songwriter’s boyfriend, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, not only co-produced the effort with Gus Seyffret but also played drums. The album also features a song co-written by M83’s Morgan Kibby and an appearance from Atlas Genius’ Keith Jeffery. As if it weren’t enough for Branch to simply make a comeback, she had to do it with a heap of indie cred.
Entitled Hopeless Romantic, the new studio LP is due out April 7th via Verve Label Group. While the title track showed just how working with Carney and Tennis impacted her sound, new single “Best You Ever” reaffirms that this is very much Michelle Branch’s record.
The song maintains the laid-back vibes of the first single, but there’s a distinctly early-aughts pop-rock vibe. It’s right there in the repeated “oooh woah”s and the ringing harmonies of the chorus. Don’t mistake that for sweetness, however, as the smoky synths underscore the track’s vindictive edge while Branch sings, “I want you to remember me/ In lucid dream/ As the best you ever.” It’s a perfect modernization of what made us all fall in love with Branch’s songwriting all those years ago, and you can take a listen below.
Branch was kind enough to answer a few questions from Consequence of Sound about what went into Hopeless Romantic. She touched on working with Carney as their budding relationship bloomed, how she handles nostalgic fame, and how “Best You Ever” came about. Read on to learn more, and pre-order Hopeless Romantic here.
I feel like a lot of people who don’t follow you intimately will look at this record as a long overdue return to pop-rock after you spent the last few years in country. But in reality, you’ve been trying to make this “comeback” since 2011. What ever happened to your scraped album West Coast Time? Are any of those songs still floating around in your catalog or showing up on Hopeless Romantic?
Sadly, that album belongs to my old record label now. I really wanted to start fresh with this album, I had so much to write about and I didn’t want to carry any creative baggage into a new project. I’ve never stopped writing or recording even though there hadn’t been an official release in years.
Does any of your time with The Wreckers and that country sound find its way onto Hopeless Romantic? Or do you ever see yourself returning to that at some point?
The Wreckers was an incredible experience that I look back on with great fondness. I’d love to make another Wreckers album one day but I don’t see it in my immediate future. Sonically this album doesn’t pull from that what so ever. There’s literally one song with acoustic guitar. I wanted to make a rock album. However, I could see a song like “Heart Break Now” or “Knock Yourself Out” easily being on a Wreckers album from a melodic/lyrical standpoint.
I also feel like there are some listeners who are going to instantly make comparisons to your early songs when they hear your newer material. As someone just a year or two younger than you, I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have someone absorb your work through the filter of something you did when you were a teenager. Do you feel like you have to sort of work around or through that nostalgia bubble? Is it something you don’t even think about or do you acknowledge it and try to find a balance?
I’m so proud of those old songs and what I accomplished at such a young age. It feels like a lifetime ago. Now my main focus is how to play those older songs live and make them feel modern and finding a way for them to live next to the new material. There are always comparisons but at the core I’ve always been the songwriter, so I do think that same voice is there, just a little more grown up. I’m really hoping people who weren’t fans of my earlier stuff will hear this album and be pleasantly surprised.
The fact that you worked with Patrick Carney on this new LP is pretty exciting. What was it about meeting him that day at the Grammys that made you want to start writing with him? How was the songwriting/working relationship affected as you started falling for each other?
I knew Patrick was a really talented producer from early Black Keys stuff and other projects he’s had his hand in. I asked him to produce because I really wanted this record to sound like a band. The drums and bass had to be the main foundation to balance out the feminine lyrics. Being in a romantic relationship just makes it a safe zone to bounce off ideas. It’s been really creatively inspiring for me being in a relationship with Patrick. I’ve never met anyone so supportive and encouraging.
How has working with Patrick been different from any past collaborators, both in terms of how you collaborated as artists in the studio and what it was like working with someone you’re so intimately close to on, essentially, a romance record?
He’s really good at being in a collaborative environment. Maybe because he has been in a duo for so long. He’s good at making everyone feel heard and allowing people to follow the muse wherever it takes them but he also knows when to crack the whip and make sure the ship is sailing in the right direction. He’s a great writer too.
Can you talk about “Best You Ever”? It seems to be about wanting an ex-lover to know he’s never going to do better than what he had with you. Is that a vengeful thing or a self-confidence boosting thing?
Ha! Maybe a bit of both? I think there’s always a feeling when you break up with someone where you want to say, “You have no idea how good you had it. You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” I mean, who hasn’t felt that way?
What was the writing process of this particular song like?
I wrote this song with one of my close friends Amy Kuney and our friend Harlan Silverman. Amy was also going through a breakup and she said, “What if you wrote a letter to the person telling them that they’re making a huge mistake and one day they’re going to regret it?” So that’s how the song started.