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Michelle Branch: 'Everywhere' she wants to be

Michelle Branch
Michelle Branch is riding high with the success of her hit single, "Everywhere." The title fits -- she's barely been home in a year.  

By Todd Leopold

(CNN) -- Michelle Branch would seem to be a ready-made product for these teeny-bopper times.

Yes, she's only 18. Yes, some of her lyrics are based on her poetry. Yes, she's an MTV favorite. Yes, she looks good in her videos -- you may have seen her walking around that apartment building in the one for the hit "Everywhere" -- and her voice rings with teen spirit.

But don't simply call her the New Alanis, or the Anti-Britney, or some such pigeonholing label.

Still, she understands if you do.

"It's natural for people to want to compare someone to something," says Branch in a phone interview from a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles, California, where she's preparing for her first headlining tour. "It's just a way of asking what the sound's like -- a mix between this and this." She's heard herself referred to as a "younger Sheryl Crow," or a "happy Alanis Morrissette," and that's all right, she says.




That she understands how the game is played is a sign that Branch is bright beyond her years. Though only 18, the songs on her major-label debut, "The Spirit Room" (Maverick), display a clever wit and an ability to create the occasional Beatlesque hook. Moreover, she sings with a passion and rawness that gives the songs some real meat. No Britney-like coyness for her.

Perhaps it's because her lifelong plan is panning out nicely.

"I've been singing since I could talk, and playing guitar since I was 14," she says. "I've wanted to do this my whole life."

'When can we make the record?'

Branch was born and raised in suburban Arizona. Music was always playing in the house, she says, and though neither of her parents ever had show-business aspirations -- Dad's a former plumbing contractor and Mom manages a restaurant -- they backed hers.

Michelle Branch
Branch has always sung, but she didn't learn how to play the guitar until she was 14.  

"They made me go to school." she recalls. "They supported me, but the odds of a kid becoming a professional musician are not on your side."

That was before Branch started playing some live dates and recorded an independent album, "Broken Bracelet." The next thing she knew, Maverick Records -- the label Madonna founded -- had come calling.

Branch could barely wait to get going.

"It was funny. I was offered a contract and I asked, 'When can we make the record?' But we had to do the paperwork first," she laughs.

In January 2001, the 17-year-old entered the studio; "The Spirit Room" was completed five weeks later.

Things got even faster after that. There was a photo shoot for the album's cover, followed by a promotional tour, then some gigs as a support act, then working the radio stations to play "Everywhere," then a video shoot, then more touring. Branch estimates she's been home for two weeks since the beginning of 2001.

"There were a lot of things I didn't know were part of the job, like going around to radio," she says. "I figured, you have a good song, people will play it. But I'd watched enough 'Behind the Music' to know what was going on."

Still, she doesn't regret the change for a moment.

"I love it," she says. "I feel like, one day someone will figure out that I have the best job and take it away."

Exploring the sounds in her head

Branch is still figuring out some things on her own. Like improving her guitar playing. Or learning the way around a recording studio.

album cover: The Spirit Room

"Broken Bracelet" was recorded in eight days and was "very raw and acoustic" in Branch's words. That wasn't always the sound she had in mind.

"I'd have an idea for strings, and I'd be told that we had no time and we can't afford it," she says.

"The Spirit Room" opened new doors for her music, she says.

"The new record sounds exactly like I want it to sound," she says. "I could explore what I was hearing in my head."

Branch hasn't worked out where she wants her career to go. Singing is important, she says; so is the song.

"I might not want to be a performer forever," she says thoughtfully. "But I know I'll always be a songwriter, so I want to explore that. I'd like to write songs for soundtracks, and I love to hear new bands and hope to help them."

That's somewhere down the road. Now, the highway calls. After finishing her U.S. mini-tour in Atlanta, Georgia, at the end of February, it's off to Japan and Australia. Not long ago, she was in Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Singapore.

"I don't know what home is anymore," she laughs.

But that's OK. When you're 18 with the best job in the world, you can put up with anything -- nights away from home, radio promotions, even those pesky Britney references.

"I love what I do," Branch says. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."


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