Archive for July, 2017

MICHELLE BRANCH: SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2017 by midliferocker

Once a superstar at 20, Michelle Branch had to suffer hardship before a Black Key helped her rediscover success and happiness.

By Steve Houk

One never knows how life will go. And sometimes, it takes adversity and a little fate to get back to a light that once shined so brightly.

Take singer/songwriter Michelle Branch for example. A musical prodigy as a youngster, she self-produced her first record at 17, and by 20, had two platinum albums as well as a Grammy singing with Santana. Life was kicking ass.

Ten years later, she found herself with two unreleased records, being released from her label, as well as enduring a split up with her longtime husband and a child in the mix. Life was kicking her ass.

But fate as well as piles of talent and guts has played its lucky hand for Michelle Branch. Now she has a critically-acclaimed new record, her first in 14 years, and a new lease on life in more ways than just her music. Branch feels that if things had taken another track, she might not be in the perfect place she finds herself in.

“Yeah, if those albums came out, I don’t know if I would be in the position I am in now,” said Branch on a break from her current tour supporting her new record Hopeless Romantic, which stops at 9:30 Club on Friday August 4th. “I got to make an album I’m immensely proud of, one that I didn’t have any label involvement in so I had no one telling me what to do or what they expected of this album, I was really able to make the record I wanted to make. But I also found love throughout the process, I fell in love with my producer while we were making this album, and I’m now living a life that I didn’t ever see for myself.”

That producer is Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, who also co-wrote the record, and whom Branch and her 12 year-old daughter recently moved in with. When the recording of Hopeless Romantic began, romance was not in the air, yet respect and collaboration, and Carney’s desire to help Branch break out of her somewhat stimied existence, grew into something more.

“He’s just such an advocate of the underdog and he’s always like ‘Damn the man!’,” said Branch. “And he just saw this puzzle that had all the pieces and no one was there to care or put it together, and he’s like I want to help to get this out. So it was, you know, like I said, everything happens for a reason. The two of us feel like it was divine intervention. It was supposed to happen, for sure. And now I have a touring drummer who’s, ha, really good. Even if you aren’t a fan of mine, if you’re a Black Keys fan, you can come watch Patrick play my old songs with me.”

patrick-carney-michelle-branch-album-dating-couple

Michelle Branch and Patrick Carney

Hopeless Romantic is a wrenching, emotionally charged record that reeks of her at-the-time divorce, but is still replete with that gutsy, powerful Branch voice. And the depth of the songs resounded for both Branch and Carney as the recording progressed along with their new relationship.

“When I started this album, started writing the album, I was going through a divorce and then for the first time was dating, which was in Los Angeles.” Branch recalled. “And then I started the album with Patrick and we weren’t romantically involved when we started the record, so the songs that were written really started with losing love and trying to find it again. But in the end, they were about really finding it. And when, I was trying to figure out a title for the album, it just was kinda obvious that Hopeless Romantic was the right fit.”

Branch’s obvious musical talent started very early, and she has poignant, vivid memories of where some of her first songwriting took place and how music became her heart early on.

“I remember being like 8 years old and swinging on my swing out in the yard making up songs. As early as I can remember, I was always making up songs or I would go through my Grandma’s book of old standards. And I didn’t know how to read music so I would see the lyrics and I would make up new melodies to the lyrics. I was always making songs up. And thankfully my parents had really amazing taste in music and they always had records on in the house, and you know I’d listen to The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, that’s like in my DNA.”

And now Branch has her own little girl who, along with her, is enduring some of life’s unexpected changes. The sentiments she relays to her daughter could be lyrics from one of her own hopelessly beautiful songs.

“She just left the other day to go spend the summer with her dad so we can go on tour. I told her, I was like, you know nothing bad ever happened from too many people loving you, or too many people in your life. I told her it doesn’t mean we’re replacing someone, we’re just adding someone to your life. No one gets replaced. So far I don’t have too many eye rolls yet.”

Michelle Branch with special guest Haerts performs Friday August 4th at 9:30 Club, 815 V ST. N.W. Washington, DC 20001. For tickets, click here.

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LONG LOST SONG IGNITES A BOND

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 29, 2017 by midliferocker

A song that sat unsung for decades sparks a unique and exciting collaboration.

By Steve Houk

It’s a really cool thing when something written long ago can be resurrected in the present day, and made to shine bigger and brighter than it ever did before. It can happen in film, literature, poetry…oh, and music.

Take 15 year-old guitar prodigy Nicky Renard for example. She took a song left dormant by Swedish-born musician Max Foxx, 59, decades ago and woke it up, jostled it around and lit a fire under it with her burgeoning, clearly exceptional talent. And lo and behold, “Grovy Lane” was not only reborn and is out on Spotify and iTunes, but the two are working on a full album of songs featuring some top notch players, including an American Idol-winning singer.

“The basic parts [of “Grovy Lane”] I composed in 1976, and I wasn’t able to make it anything better than it was, it was actually quite a bad song, so I never did anything with it,” Foxx said as he and Renard were recording in the mountains of northern Europe. “It was dormant until last year when Nikki picked it up and made a complete song of it. It had been just the chords and she added all the other parts.”

Listening to “Grovy Lane”, you can surely hear some prog-rock influenced licks, and some hard rock influences, but it’s definitely a distinct sound highlighted by Renard’s wondrous older-than-her-years guitar playing.

“Max had only composed the acoustic guitar chord progression of the verses and choruses,” Renard said. “The song was left forgotten until last autumn when we were just sitting around jamming. We played with it for a while, I composed a few parts such as the intro and solo, he added a bridge, and suddenly, “Grovy Lane” was a complete song.”

The collaboration has been a wonderful surprise for the two, but Renard’s sheer, innate talent is no surprise, and has been developing for several years.

“When I was ten, it was kind of funny, because I think we watched some kind of movie about a rock and roll band,” Renard, who enters the 11th grade this fall, recalled. “I just thought it was really cool. So for my birthday, I really wanted a guitar. Luckily, my parents got me a Yamaha acoustic 3/4 guitar and I started playing quite a lot for about half a year. Then it slowed down for some reason, but when I was thirteen, I started playing more and more and more again. That’s when I realized that I actually really loved playing guitar. I started dedicating a lot of time to playing guitar.”

“It started early last year, when her level of guitar playing picked up rapidly,” Foxx added. “She started to compose songs, there is a song which will not be on the record, she composed it entirely by herself. When I listened to it, I couldn’t believe it. She was just fourteen at that time and it’s a really, really good song. And because of the quality of the music, alot of professionals in the industry have listened to it, and they can’t believe it’s hers. Based on that, we started to play together intensively. I would say second half of last year and that’s how it started.”

Once word of Renard’s talent got out, the pair found themselves in a Nashville studio courting one of the industry’s top voices, American Idol winner Caleb Johnson, to be a part of the evolving magic, and to make Grovy Lane a reality.

“We believed in our song and we wanted someone really good,” said Foxx. “We saw some guys, good singers, but not right for our job. Then the chief engineer at Southern Grand Studios played us Holding On with Caleb Johnson. I decided on the spot, I want this guy. My opinion, I would say he’s one of the ten best rock singers currently on this planet. We contacted his manager and he listened to our early version of the song, and we ended up together.”

The pair are looking to finish the record this fall when they hit the studio for three weeks starting the 9th of September, then there may be some talk of a tour. But bottom line, it’s Foxx’s wise knowledge and Renard’s constantly flourishing playing and songwriting chops that make it a great partnership.

“In very little time, she can add bits and pieces and just convert a bad song into a good song,” Foxx says proudly. “At the same time, I can do the same thing with some stuff she has. It’s a magic collaboration. The only thing I can say, especially when she’s playing her solos, when I’m watching it, I only wish I could have done that when I was fifteen.”

COME TOGETHER

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 21, 2017 by midliferocker

A New Design (8)

I loved Linkin Park. I’m not saying this only because Chester died yesterday. Not at all. For one, their two masterpieces Hybrid Theory and Meteora took this 40-something parent of four wayyy out of his musical comfort zone, with a raw, powerful, intimidating and foreign blend of metal and hip hop that many my age wouldn’t go near. And then, there were Chester’s words, monumentally deep, torturous, desperate, desolate and wrenching, and yes, even you old man, you knew what he was talking about in there somewhere, even if you weren’t 15. But then there were the two boys Alex and Ben, a teen and tween respectively. They adored this enigma of a band, maybe for one of the reasons above, or neither, or probably just because it was loud and angry and pleading, or maybe because the divorces they’d endured made them gravitate to something that let them freely scream out their own pain and anguish, doing it privately yet defiantly within Chester’s wailing. Yes, it was the boys’ adoration that drove us to this bracing, brilliant, jarring, exhilarating music. But moreso, it was the first time the kids and grown ups could wrap their heads around the same music. We fell into the rock and roll euphoria together, we could ride the crowd and mosh it up side by side. Wow, what a concept. We took the boys to see Linkin Park twice, first time at the then-Nissan Pavilion, a big deal for all of us in our own ways. And after a Snoop Dogg opening set rife with obscenity and drug references (“Get high, get drunk and f–k!!!” Dogg blared, as we cringed and laughed), all of us ended up Wayne’s Worldesque dancing and pumping fists and screaming in unison along with this rock and hop force of nature that was LP. Mostly, you couldn’t help being mesmerized by their amazing, exhilarating, miraculous, and undoubtedly wounded lead singer. Stalking the stage pulling you into his agonized and elating howls. Yet you could make out his words perfectly. Sure, we got a couple of sly side eyes from the boys, a few ‘what are you doing’ glances. But deep down, I think they dug that we were all sharing something so powerful. So yeah, I loved Linkin Park. It’s not only because now at 56, and in the midst of another divorce, I can play Numb or In The End or, yeah, Somewhere I Belong, how fitting, and blast it in my car with the windows down, crying and feeling and trying to exorcise my own demons for just one minute. But more importantly, it reminds me of a beautiful, rare time when the magic of music bonded a generation together. It united us and our children in a way you dream about. At least for a moment, we got it, and each other. And in some ways, amidst a swirling whirl of change and emancipation for us all, God I hope we still do.