SINCE OPENING FOR HANSON in 2000, Michelle Branch has sold 2 million copies of her major-label debut, The Spirit Room; recorded with Carlos Santana; toured with Sheryl Crow; and survived one messy relationship. At least that’s the message of her new Hotel Paper, which is packed with heartbreak and huge choruses, “It’s such a relief to finally play new stuff,” says Branch, 19, on her tour bus in New York. “And I got a new band, my dream band, and now everything sounds kick-ass.” She’ll take that band on the road in July and August, opening for the Dixie Chicks, before headlining her own shows in the fall.
What was the first record you ever bought?
It was at a Warehouse Music in Arizona. My mom let me pick out a record, and I bought the single “Mercedes Boy,” by Pebbles. It was on MCA, and the label was the rainbow in the clouds. I remember loving the way it looked, putting it on and rocking out to “Mercedes Boy.”
How about your first concert?
The Jets, when I was five. I loved them so much when I was younger. New Kids on the Block was my second big concert — that’s when I was old enough to know better. We were staying at the same hotel. It was a madhouse. I was walking around with my older brother, and we were like, “Let’s go find Jordan!” — even though I was actually kind of a Joey girl. I wish that my first musical memories were cooler. My dad would say he saw Led Zeppelin — so much better.
You play a lot of Instruments: guitar, drums, piano. Do you have a music room at home?
I do. I have all my guitars in there, various amps, accordions and cellos, and a drum set. And I’m hoping to get a piano soon.
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What kind of drums do you have?
You know the Weezer video with the Muppets in it? The drum set he plays in that video, a vintage Ludwig kit from the Seventies. It’s really rockin’ and I play it a lot, but my neighbors hate me for it.
On Hotel Paper, the word you is in four different song titles.
Who is “you”?
I can’t tell you. One day we’ll gather up a lynch mob and we’ll go find him, but until then I’m gonna keep it secret. It’s an old boyfriend, and there was another lady involved. It helped me write a record, so I have no regrets.
What’s the most outrageous thing a fan has ever said to you?
Just the other day at a show, this really young guy kept saying, “Michelle, have my babies!” I was like, “Whoa, chill out, brother.” I’ve seen girls say to guy rock stars, “I wanna have your children,” but the other way around is kind of bizarre. I was like, “Gimme your number, I’ll call you if nothing works out.”
Has Fred Durst ever called you?
No, but I see him frequently at the gym. He’s an, um, interesting guy. I was hanging out with Avril Lavigne at the mtvIcon Metallica thing, and he was hanging all over her. It was really funny. We were all mentioning that we were hungry and we wanted In-N-Out burgers. Two seconds later, Fred comes by and gives Avril all these In-N-Out burgers.
Who would be on your dream concert bill, and what songs would you like to sit in on?
It would be at the Roxy in L.A. I’d love to see Led Zeppelin, with John Bonham brought back to life. I’d sit in on “Misty Mountain Hop.” Then I’d do “The Wind” with Cat Stevens and “Heart Shaped Box” with Nirvana.
What’s the last CD you bought?
The new Johnny Cash record. I love his version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” And “Hurt” is unbelievable! Who would have ever thought of Johnny Cash doing Nine Inch Nails?
What’s the worst song you’ve heard lately?
That Lizzie McGuire song [Hilary Duff’s “Why Not”] is really bugging me these days. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on TRL. One lyric stuck in my head: “You always dress in yellow when you wanna dress in gold.” I heard that and I was like, “Oh, man, what is going on with music these days?” But, hey, whatever floats your boat.
What’s the strangest thing on your iPod?
I have [Falco’s] “Rock Me Amadeus” on there. And I have a lot of classical music. There are the most amazing melodies in classical music.
Do you ever crib melodies from classical music?
I haven’t yet.
It’s not a bad idea.
Uh-oh. My secret is out.