Inside Michelle Branch's Second Act

How the singer-songwriter overcame record-label limbo and rebuilt her sound with help from the Black Keys' Patrick Carney

Michelle Branch discusses how a chance L.A. meeting with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney helped her break out of major-label limbo. Credit: Patrick Carney

It's been 14 years since early-'00s pop-rock hitmaker Michelle Branch, best known for her 2001 smash "Everywhere," released her last album. Since then, she's tried out everything from collaborating with Timbaland to a country side project. But her label, Warner Bros., passed on two subsequent attempts at a follow-up LP. "They saw an opportunity to make a lot of money off me, so they wouldn't let me go," says Branch. "But they wouldn't release my music."

Then, help came in an unexpected form. In 2015, Branch was at a party in Hollywood when she bumped into Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, a casual acquaintance and fellow indie-rock enthusiast. "Everybody was doing blow – it was a typical douchey L.A. thing," she says. "We were the only two people who weren't doing drugs." Instead, they drank cheap beer, and Carney grilled Branch about where she'd been for the past 14 years. Carney suggested he produce Branch's next record. "I was very curious as to why she hadn't put out a record in a long time, and I offered, drunkenly, to help her," he says.

The result is Hopeless Romantic, recorded in 2015 with the help of former Black Keys touring bassist Gus Seyffert at his L.A. studio. The album (due out April 7th) is a far cry from the Alanis Morissette–like anthems on Hotel Paper or Black Keys' garage rock, often suggesting the Bangles' Sixties romanticism or the synth-y dream pop of Beach House.

Lyrically, Branch addresses the dissolution of her 11-year marriage, which ended in 2015 – and her new relationship with Carney. The two started dating while working together, and Branch and her 11-year-old daughter recently moved into Carney's Nashville home.

"He's the patron saint of this album," says Branch. In fact, when Branch's current label, Verve, balked at her surprising new sound, Carney took it personally. "I've got millions of dollars," he told Branch. "I don't need some motherfucker to send me a check for a studio. Let's make a record, and if they don't want it, we'll have it."