When her new album, Hotel Paper, hits stores June 24, Michelle Branch wants you to remember what Aaliyah said almost a decade ago: Age ain’t nothing but a number.
“I just want [people] to actually listen to the record and, I guess, give me a chance,” the 19-year-old singer said recently. “I don’t know, younger artists, people kind of write us off as being this novelty kind of thing, and people forget that George Harrison was 17 when he was in the Beatles, U2 was my age… the Rolling Stones, everyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it shouldn’t matter at all.”
For the follow-up to her hit debut, The Spirit Room, Branch again worked with producer John Shanks (Melissa Etheridge), although she also recruited fresh faces, including Josh Abraham (Limp Bizkit), Greg Wells (Rufus Wainwright) and John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin).
Sheryl Crow, who recently toured with Branch, appears on “Love Me Like That,” and Dave Navarro plays guitar on the first single, “Are You Happy Now?”
While the music world is watching to see if the singer/guitarist can avoid the all too common sophomore slump, Branch has made an effort to ignore the pressure.
“A lot of people making their second record, especially after a successful first record, you start second-guessing yourself and you forget to trust your gut and follow your instincts on songs, which is such a huge part in writing music and being creative,” Branch explained. “I just went in without thinking, ‘This is my second record that I’m making.’ I was just like, ‘You know what, here’s a good song, we’ll watch what happens and, well, if we don’t like any of ’em, we’ll just can it.’ ”
In the end, Branch had no desire to can anything. In fact, she feels prouder than ever about her music.
“I feel like I’ve grown so much as an artist, as a writer, as a musician, as a vocalist,” Branch said. “Just being on the road with people like Carlos [Santana] and Sheryl Crow and all the other bands I was on tour with, with all the musicians in my band, I’ve learned so much and I really, really think my writing has gotten so much better.”
Before finishing Hotel Paper, Branch took a break from her album to contribute vocals to another. She duets with Isaac Hanson on a song called “Deeper” for Hanson’s next record.
“They write really great, hooky songs, and I’m hoping that people will be able to see they aren’t brothers that sing ‘MMMBop’ anymore and they don’t all have long, blonde hair anymore, and they actually look like guys instead of girls,” Branch joked. “People need to give them more credit because they really make phenomenal records. I genuinely love the guys, and I wanna help ’em out in any way I can.”
Hanson and Branch met when the trio heard her demo tape in 2000 and asker her to open a show on their tour.
“I went out in front of all these screaming girls with my acoustic guitar, thinking I was going to be pelted and like pulled offstage, because I was getting hate mail weeks before I opened up for them: ‘I hate you. You’re opening up for Hanson, I’m gonna kill you,’ ” Branch recalled. “But I went up onstage and everything went well, and that night I got my record deal offer. Someone in the audience was from Maverick Records.”
Branch’s headlining tour wraps June 4 in Washington, D.C. Fifteen days later she’ll join the Dixie Chicks for the rest of the summer.
Hotel Paper Track List, According To Maverick Records: