The Wreckers Branch Out

New duo the Wreckers came out of the chute with one huge advantage over other "new" acts: One of its members is Grammy-winning pop star Michelle Branch.

It's not every new country act that can land high-profile appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "The View," or the coveted opening slot on the Rascal Flatts tour. But new duo the Wreckers came out of the chute with one huge advantage over other "new" acts: One of its members is Grammy-winning pop star Michelle Branch.

Teamed with her best friend and former backup singer Jessica Harp, Branch says she is fully devoted to redirecting her career into country music. Their first collaboration, "Stand Still, Look Pretty," is a fresh and winning collection of songs, most written by Branch, Harp or both. The album, released May 23, is a joint release from pop label Maverick -- Branch's label home for her two platinum-selling solo albums -- and sister label Warner Bros. Nashville.

Country radio was quick to embrace debut single "Leave the Pieces," which is at No. 29 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

The duo, whose name is an abbreviation of "Homewreckers," discovered on the road together that their voices blended and harmonized well. In the three years Harp had been writing and touring with Branch, they had often talked about pairing up as a duo.

Harp briefly had a development deal on Elektra Records in Los Angeles, but it wasn't until she was driving to Nashville from her hometown of Kansas City ready to sign a contract with Dualtone Records in 2004 that they finally committed to the plan. Before reaching Nashville, Harp tuned her car around and, instead, drove to Los Angeles to meet up with Branch.

They recorded the bulk of the album with producer John Leventhal in New York, but later added tracks recorded with John Shanks in L.A. and Paul Worley in Nashville. The Shanks collaboration became the first single.

With the kind of music they were writing together, Branch says, country seemed like the most obvious home. But it took a while to convince both herself and her label to give it a try.

"For a few years I had been trying to work up the courage to jump into it," Branch says.

And Maverick needed a dose of courage too.

"We told them we wanted it to be an organic, country instrumentation record," Branch recalls. "In their mind it was the ugly 'C' word [country] and they didn't really understand."

"It was kind of hard to convince people at first that we could make a country record," recalls Harp. "The label was like 'Fiddle, really? You want fiddle?' But they stepped back and let us do our thing."

"When I made my first two studio records, [I had] everyone in the company supporting [me]," Branch adds. "This one was more like 'you guys go off and [record] and we'll see if we like it when you're done."

Still, Branch says, the duo kept their wildest country desires in check. "If we had our way we probably would have made a bluegrass record," she says. "But the reigns were held to us a little bit."

Right after they finished the album, Branch learned she was pregnant, so the duo took about a year off, time Branch says helped the Maverick staff wrap its head around the music and come up with a plan to market it in collaboration with Warner Bros. Nashville. If it hadn't been for that time off, she predicts, "The project probably would have gone down the toilet."

While the duo would seem to have an unbalanced dynamic thanks to Branch's track record and Harp's relative unknown status, both women say that has never been an issue.

"When we sit down to write it's very much a collaboration," says Harp. "Neither of us is competitive with each other at all and we're fans of each other."

"She holds her own very well," Branch says of Harp. "When people hear Jessica they realize she brought to the project as much as me, if not more."

The Wreckers will get major exposure in the country world opening 23 dates on the Rascal Flatts tour, beginning May 26 in Holmdel, N.J. Branch says both women are grateful they're not starting out playing "a club tour where we have to share grungy bathrooms. [This] will be a nice, cushy tour with good catering."