Michelle Branch "just wanted to get as far away from my comfort zone as possible" while making September's "West Coast Time," her return to pop/rock after a sidestep into country with the Wreckers and her 2010 EP "Everything Comes and Goes."
"It would have been easy to go back in with (early producer) John Shanks or John Leventhal, who had done the Wreckers project and my last EP, again," Branch tells Billboard.com. "But I was just like, 'Y'know what? I want to work with people that I've never met before and I don't know and get completely as far away from what I've already done as possible.' "
That desire took Branch to London, where she joined forces with British writer-producers Julian Emery and Jim Irvin, best known for their work with singer-songwriter Lissie. "We just completely hit it off, and they ended up writing and producing more than half the record with me," says Branch, although she says the blending of their electronic orientation and her more organic rock sensibilities was not always smooth.
"We were constantly kind of tugging and pulling at one another to get a little more out of each other and kind of push our comfort levels," Branch recalls. "There's a lot of programming kind of synth stuff, but it's mixed with songs I wrote on acoustic guitar. I didn't set out to make a dance record, but it does have more of a kind of modern feel to it." And, Branch adds, the trio "definitely had our moments in the studio where I was like, 'You guys are getting too far away from the human element on this, and we have to have it back 'cause I'm the one who has to go out and play it live and I want to be able to recreate this. But I think by the time we recorded and got everything mixed, it was definitely a good mix."
Branch also did some work with her current A&R rep at Warner Bros. Records, Mike Elizondo, including a song called "Mastermind" that she says "comes from kind of more of an urban background" and also has "this 60s, spy kind of feel" with a "very kind of spaghetti western guitar riff" that Branch likens to the Cardigans. "It definitely does sound anything like I've done so far." Also under consideration for "West Coast Time" is "Getaway," which Branch wrote with Timbaland for a Mini Cooper car commercial.
Branch recently released the album's first single, "Loud Music," which she calls "a love song to the records that inspired me to pick up a guitar -- Led Zeppelin or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, that kind of stuff." She also wrote "love songs that are a little more positive...not angry, teenage girl love songs," including a couple inspired by her husband, bassist Teddy Landau. And Branch adds, "There are a couple of songs about dealing with spirituality and trying to figure out what else is out there in the world, definitely some kind of newer topics for me."
Branch says she's looking forward to being back in the pop/rock game for the first time since 2003's platinum "Hotel Paper." But she acknowledges that she has "a lot to set out and prove again" after so much time away from that market.
"In a way it does feel like I'm starting over," she notes. "Even though I've been working non-stop, there are a lot of people who are like, 'Michelle Branch, what happened to you? I haven't heard your name in years. You fell off the face of the Earth,' and I'm like, 'No, I haven't. I've been working.' But a lot of people don't realize I'm the same person who did the Wreckers. So, yeah, I feel there's a lot of re-connecting the dots that I have to set out and do."
Branch is currently on the road with the Goo Goo Dolls and Parachute, and she's planning a fall headlining tour to support "West Coast Time's" release. She's also predicting there will be another Wreckers album "down the road one day," even though partner Jessica Harp no longer wishes to be part of it. "If the right person were to come along at the right time in my life, I would totally do it again because it was a just a really positive experience overall," says Branch.