Michelle Branch Talks ‘The Trouble With Fever,’ Working on Her Marriage, the “Me Too” Movement and More

It’s been a little over two decades since Michelle Branch made her major label debut with The Spirit Room. It was around the anniversary of that release that Branch began working on her latest album, though she didn’t know it at the time.

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In her Nashville home she shared with her husband, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, Branch was brought out of pandemic-fuelled boredom by the prospect of finishing a few songs she and Carney had been working on. Quickly, a more intentional project began to take shape as the pair began to flesh out the tracks which would eventually become The Trouble With Fever.

Though the album takes Branch down many thematic avenues, the central message of the record is, as the title suggests, the feeling of being couped up in the pandemic. “Cabin fever and sleepless nights of tossing and turning going over things in the past and worrying about the future,” Branch tells American Songwriter.

The album generated buzz for the 39-year-old upon its announcement, which was quickly overshadowed by news breaking of Carney’s alleged infidelities and Branch’s subsequent arrest for misdemeanor domestic assault.

The songstress tweeted a since-deleted note in August accusing Carney of cheating on her while she was at home with their infant daughter, born in February. One could imagine that promoting a collaborative project while in the midst of separation would certainly paint it in a new light, nevertheless, Branch says she is able to compartmentalize her and Carney’s relationship enough to stand behind The Trouble With Fever, proudly. 

Photo by Sonya Jasinski.

“I think in a perfect world, we’ll hopefully figure out a way to make things work, fingers crossed,” she says. “Patrick will always be an important creative collaborator of mine and I really feel like that relationship, first and foremost, will hopefully always be there between us. He’s been someone who’s always really encouraged me, and really pushed me to show up for myself in an artistic way and I really admire that about him.

“So while this is kind of a strange time to be promoting a record we worked on together, I’m able to kind of compartmentalize this as a working relationship,” Branch adds. “There’s drama but this is our work, and I’m still proud of it regardless of what’s going on.”

The album is a praise-inducing evolution for Branch. Her candid musings about love, gender roles in relationships, and her marriage are yet another impressive leap forward for the former teen star. Stretching her wings sonically came alongside her taking on a heavier role in the recording process. 

“This is the first record in the 20 years since my debut that I have had the most control over as far as writing and playing all of the instruments goes,” she says. “Because it was recorded during the lockdown, we didn’t have the luxury of cowriters or other musicians. It forced me to play a lot of instruments that I normally wouldn’t have felt comfortable playing on a record but it was really cool to be able to stretch in that regard.”

Across the record, Branch takes on a number of contentious subjects. Notably, the lead single from the record, “I’m A Man” zeros in on women’s rights in a post-Roe v. Wade world. Though the song was written in 2020, the lyrics I’m so tired of being told by everybody / That I can’t make decisions ’bout my own damn body feel acutely relevant in 2022.

“At the time I wrote ‘I’m A Man,’ we had Trump as a president, and everyone was talking about toxic masculinity,” Branch says. “I was thinking about all these men like being ‘me too’d’ for ‘male behavior.’ The climate for men changed in such a drastic way. 

“At first, I wondered how it must feel as a man to suddenly have to worry about all these things that they’ve been raised to think were part of the male identity and then I thought, ‘wait a minute,’ we, as women, still aren’t equals. We still don’t get paid as much. We still don’t have autonomy over our bodies. I still don’t have a say in how I get access to reproductive care and that’s infuriating. I’m glad it came out in such a time where I could help focus the spotlight on such a massive issue.”

Her place as a woman is yet another progression Branch felt while making this record. Comparing her approach to making music now as opposed to the teen world was first introduced to, she feels a shift in her ability to stand up for herself and her vision. 

“I put out my first record when I was 17, which is bizarre because my daughter just turned seventeen weeks ago,” she said. “My perspective on being a musician actually hasn’t changed much. I just feel, if anything, I’ve just learned to stand up for myself more.”

She continued, “It was hard in such a male-dominated business as a young female to be taken seriously sometimes. So I feel like I had to really fight extra hard to stay true to my vision. Luckily, I don’t feel that way as much anymore. I don’t know if that’s because the business has changed or I’ve just gotten more confident as a woman.”

The Trouble With Fever is Branch’s most lush album to date with buoyant, string-laden instrumentation and candid lyrics that, for better or for worse, land harder after her public fallout with Carney. Despite being somewhat shrouded by the circumstances of its release, the album is chock full of matured, hazy grooves that have the potential to overcome any negative light.

The Trouble with Fever Tour Dates:

9.12        Brooklyn Bowl                     Nashville, TN

9.15        Paradise Rock Club            Boston, MA

9.17        Brooklyn Bowl                     Philadelphia, PA

9.18        Webster Hall                       New York, NY

9.19        9:30 Club                            Washington, D.C.

9.21        Park West                           Chicago, IL

9.24        The Fillmore                        San Francisco, CA

9.26        Troubadour                          Los Angeles, CA

9.27        Troubadour                          Los Angeles, CA

Photo credit: Sonya Jasinski / True PR

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