Michelle Branch Steps Out Solo Again
Raphael Mazzuco

A funny thing happened to Michelle Branch on her way to Nashville: She scored hit singles as a member of the Wreckers, a country-pop duo that broke up after one successful album.

The Wreckers-Branch and Jessica Harp, a friend and a former backup singer-released three singles during their short career. The first, "Leave the Pieces," spent two weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in 2006. The pair's album, "Stand Still, Look Pretty" (Maverick/Warner Bros.), has sold 856,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Now Branch is once again ready to step out on her own. The singer/songwriter's first solo album in six years, "Everything Comes and Goes" (Reprise/Warner Bros. Nashville), is due in late fall while the defiant first single, "Sooner or Later," has just arrived at country radio. Although it hasn't yet charted on Hot Country Songs, the song is picking up early airplay in Chicago; Cleveland; Nashville; Des Moines, Iowa; and Bakersfield, Calif. It became available July 28 exclusively through iTunes' Premiere of the Week program.

Once past the Wreckers' breakup-which she compares to a divorce-Branch threw her energy into a new solo album. Her two previous solo pop albums, 2001's "The Spirit Room" and 2003's "Hotel Paper," have sold a total of 3.2 million copies, according to SoundScan.

But after "Everything" was written and recorded, Warner execs in Burbank, Calif., and Nashville began wondering aloud whether Branch's new album would fare better in the country or pop market. "I pretty much came up with the album and finished it within the first six months [after the breakup]," Branch says. "Then everybody started overthinking every little piece of the record.

"It was my nightmare position to be in," Branch adds. "I'm very impulsive, especially with music. If it feels right, you should walk away and say, 'We're done.' But I actually stopped and listened to everybody giving their two cents about what the record should be."

The back and forth delayed the release of the album, which Branch had hoped to put out in 2008. "This record has been a process for sure," she says. "I'm used to a quick turnaround, but this album has been two years of my life."

In the end, the label agreed that what Branch had originally recorded would stick. "It's the next progression," she says of the new album. "I started out as a pop artist, then came to Nashville and it changed me. I don't know how or why I could turn my back on that. I hope it's a happy marriage of both [genres]."

John Leventhal and John Shanks, or "my two Johns," as Branch laughingly refers to them, produced the new set. Branch wrote the album's title track soon after the Wreckers disbanded. "I was in Canada on a bus and couldn't sleep," she recalls. "Instead of going down a dark road, I began purging myself by writing. It was the first song that I had written by myself in a long time. I realized that everything changes; I started out making records by myself and I can do it again."

As difficult as the dissolution of the Wreckers was for the Arizona native, Branch realizes the duo's success paved the way for her work as a solo country artist. "I don't think I would have ever been able to go into Nashville on my own and accomplish what I did," Branch says. "I have Jessica to thank for that. And because of the Wreckers, people know this is where I want to be."

Branch will headline select dates this fall and hopes to join a country tour in the winter. "I'm dying to play this music live," she says. "I've never been off the road for this length of time. I didn't realize how much I missed it and loved it until I didn't do it for a few years."