Michelle Branch may be only 18 years old, but she makes music with the maturity of an old soul. Unlike so many teen acts these days, Branch is not the product of a producer’s commercial vision. Rather, she’s a fully formed singer, songwriter and guitarist whose debut album, The Spirit Room, has sold a million copies.
Though still young, Branch has been enraptured by music for a long time. “For as long as I can remember, and from what my family recalls, I was always singing,” she explains. In fact, her musical development may have prenatal. “When I asked my mom what music she listened to while she was pregnant with me, she told me that she sang along with the radio in the car to The Beatles a lot. Perhaps that’s why The Beatles are my favorite band. Who knows?”
Branch began years of vocal lessons, and for her 14th birthday got her first guitar. “A day later, I wrote my first song,” she recalls. “I remember telling my parents that I had written a song. They didn’t really believe me.”
Her relationship to music is a primal one. “Music has always been in me,” Branch asserts. “When I sing, I have a sense of peace, I feel like my brain turns off, and I become the core person of who I am -- the essence of me. I feel connected to whatever is out there. It’s almost like I leave my body and get to watch.”
By her late teens, she had gotten a manager, recorded an album-length demo to sell at shows and get the music industry’s attention, and landed some concert dates opening for Hanson. Maverick Records executive Danny Strick caught Branch in Los Angeles on that tour, and she was soon after signed to Madonna’s record label. And at age 17, she recorded and released her first album.
“Everywhere,” Michelle’s first single, rose to number 5 on the pop charts, followed by “All You Wanted” and “Goodbye To You,” establishing Branch as a certified star. Her chart success has translated into international tours, multiple guest spots on “The Tonight Show,” an appearance in the movie The Hot Chick, and a collaboration with Carlos Santana on the single “Game of Love.” She has recently been finishing up her second album, which features such guests as Sheryl Crow and Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction.
The New Kids may have been Branch’s initial inspiration, but her influences are far deeper. Her favorite acts include The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens and Lisa Loeb, perhaps one reason her music has such broad appeal. “I have kids and their parents coming to my show,” observes Branch. “It’s really cool because my lyrics appeal more to the older people and the actual sound of the music appeals to younger people.”
Branch says that her musical creations come from a mystical place, including her dreams. “I have dreams when I write and entire song, chords and everything. I wake up and hope I can remember the dream-song, and find hat I’ve already written it all down, and I just pick up the guitar and play it,” she says.
For all her success, Branch finds that the biggest reward she has enjoyed has been the effect her music has on listeners. “I’ve received hundreds of e-mails with wonderful comments like, ‘when I’m having a bad day I listen to your songs and I feel better.’ That, to me, is the best reward.”
She would also like her music to prompt others to create, just as the music she loves did with her. “I hope I can inspire people my age to play music,” Michelle says, “There are so many “put together” musical acts today. Younger girls write and tell me, ‘They all dance and sing and look so perfect, and it’s hard to watch them. Then I heard your music and now I’m writing songs.’ I hope that continues. I want to be able to speak the truth and make a difference.