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STAR Views: The Wreckers

By: Estella Pan

I met The Wreckers in their hotel suite during CRS week. Spending time with Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp is like sitting in on a girls-only gab session – complete with talk of music, food, photos, and well (rather unintentionally)… more food!

Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle. Crunch, crunch. That would be Michelle opening a snack-size bag of Doritos and reaching in for a piece. Temporarily occupied with chewing, Jessica ribs her partner, "Crunch, crunch, crunch!" and offers to answer the first question about the forming of The Wreckers. "We met about seven years ago when we were both indie artists trying to get record deals. We met on the Internet, which some people think is weird, but we had mutual fans who thought we sounded a lot alike. We ended up trading music and found out we had a lot in common musically and personally." One of those common interests is that "we both like Doritos," something Michelle is quick to point out after swallowing the first bite of her mid-day breakfast.

Michelle excelled as a pop artist but her
Photo used courtesy of Michelle Branch
country heart couldn't help but speak its mind

Prior to teaming with Jessica professionally, Michelle had launched a successful career as a teen solo pop/rock artist, releasing two albums The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper in 2001 and 2003, respectively. However auspicious to everyone else, all that glitters didn't shine for Michelle. Unbeknownst to many, she was secretly itching to try her hand in creating a country project. She describes the whirlwind she was up against. "I was really unhappy at the time doing what I was doing. Right after I'd finished the tour for my second album, the label was already asking for my third one." The conflicting realities between how she thought she should feel and how she actually felt didn't help the matter. "For a long time, I felt really guilty about it. I felt like I had to be happy, because everything was going so well." She admits, "I was very envious of Jess, who was spending a lot of time in Nashville and having a really good experience."

"We'd been writing and singing together for so long, but for some reason, it never clicked. It was never the right moment," Michelle remembers. The "right moment" came after Michelle realized she needed to declare her intentions on forgoing her third solo project in order to explore a new musical direction – this time with Jess on board. "I told [the people at my record label], 'I'm really not in that space right now [to work on a third solo album]. Wait a minute... how about a record from The Wreckers?' Well, we weren't The Wreckers at that time, but I knew that would be a good time for us to try it – to still be creative and try to make them happy." The response she received was somewhat haphazard. "A lot of people were like, 'Alright. Let's get this out of their systems and let them go make their solo records.'" Jess and Michelle, however, were in pursuit of a different game plan. "I don't think anyone realized it was going to ever lead up to this. We maybe did…" Jess interjects, "We hoped!" The two burst into laughter.

Photo used courtesy of The Wreckers

The duo's initial experiences in prying the door open to begin work on their country record likely fueled the inspiration for a song called "Stand Still, Look Pretty," which ultimately became the title of The Wreckers' debut album. Jess relates their scuffles in trying to be heard. "A lot of people don't know this, but we struggled with our label a little bit when they started hearing cuts coming out of the studio." Michelle clarifies, "This was our previous label, not our current one, Warner Brothers." Jess laughs as she recalls, "We had the plan to go in and make a country album. But, when [the label] heard cuts with fiddle and banjo, they started to get a little nervous and tried to push us in a different direction." Michelle takes it from there. "We told them, but it kind of went in one ear and out the other. They still wanted us to somehow make a pop record and be on TRL – but it wasn't on our agenda, whatsoever!" [NOTE: Total Request Live (TRL) is a daily video countdown show aired on MTV.] This gave them the perfect opportunity to pool their thoughts into song, and according to Jess, "We sat down in the studio, and out of frustration, wrote 'Stand Still, Look Pretty.' It's about being an artist in the music business and having to deal with people around you who would prefer if you didn't have an opinion." Michelle adds, "It was like, 'Just shut your mouth, look good,' and that's the end of it. That's where the song came from." Jess nods and continues, "Once we got out of the studio and were ready to put our album out, we felt that would be an appropriate title for the whole record."

The Wreckers agree that "we're just real girls true to who we are, and our songs reflect that. Our songs are very much about ourselves and our lives." They hope their fans will pick up on that. As for their musical style, Jess confesses, "I always hesitate to describe our sound as a 'genre,' because we are huge believers that good music is good music." Michelle adds, "Especially being musicians, we're such big music fans, and we can't say we just listen to one genre of music. We are inspired by so many things, and we're hoping you can find a little bit of everything in our music." Propelled by their singles "Leave the Pieces" and "My Oh My," The Wreckers have enjoyed success, affording them opportunities to tour with the likes of Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Montgomery Gentry, and Rascal Flatts. In the last year, they also earned a Grammy nomination for Stand Still, Look Pretty, as well as a Country Music Association (CMA) award nomination in the Vocal Duo of the Year category.

Photo used courtesy of Jessica Harp

Their current single is a song that came right out of a chapter in Jessica's life. "I wrote 'Tennessee' shortly after I moved to Nashville. I had a lot of changes going on in my life – I was moving away from my family to an entirely new place where I didn't know many people. I was also getting out of a relationship and starting a new career direction. I had a lot of different things going on, but one thing that I felt certain about was that I loved where I was moving to. I felt like it was the place for me to be and I wrote a song about it."

Having felt smothered just a few years ago, Michelle is finding a renewed sense of life in the music she's creating with Jessica. "Now that we're doing this, there's a totally different energy to the way we approach everything. We're so happy to be doing it that it's not draining. It ends up being rewarding. People aren't grinding us to the point where we end up resenting what we're doing and feeling burnt out. It feels great!" Jess adds, "We made this record two years ago, and yet, it still feels somewhat new. It's been a really enjoyable experience."

They're liable to enjoy the fruits of their collective labor even more when they head out on tour with Keith Urban – slated to launch later this year. With her eyes lighting up, Michelle raves, "We can't wait!" Perpetuating the thrill of the pending tour is the fact that it's actually been in working progress for quite some time. "For so long, we were told it was going to happen, but we couldn't tell anyone else. Then, it kept getting pushed back," Michelle explains. "It's like Christmas where you're trying not to think about it until it happens." Nonetheless, both remain hopeful, as they are aware that "that's the tour that everybody wants to be on!" Michelle says, "It's going to be great, because a lot of the tours we've been on, there are three acts on the bill. For this tour, it's just us and Keith, so we get 45 minutes to play, which is a lot more time than we're used on an opening slot. We're really excited that we get to that much time to spend in front of his audience."

Photo used courtesy of The Wreckers
These gals are pretty laid back!

When asked what they have in store for future career goals, Jess sheepishly replies, "We don't know?" She starts off by saying, "We don't really have high expectations for our band..." As her voice trails off, Michelle jumps in, "Ok, that just sounded really pathetic!" prompting all parties to erupt into laughter yet again. Recomposing herself, Jess offers, "We have a really relaxed view of this whole thing. We're just having a good time." With no particular course mapped out, Michelle says they "try to take it day by day." Jess agrees. "Yeah, we're taking it day by day, and if good things continue to happen, awesome. It'll always be a pleasant surprise." Placing things into perspective, Michelle states, "We've already far exceeded our initial expectations. Now, we're just surrendering to it. Whatever happens, happens." Going with the flow seems to be The Wreckers' style. Even when Michelle's cell phone goes off. She effortlessly reaches into her purse sitting next to her, turns it off while announcing "There's my phone! I couldn't find it earlier; I didn't think it was actually in here!"

No gal gathering would be complete without sharing a few secrets, and Jess is prepared to do just that. "I always go with the same thing." Michelle looks over and says, "I know. I'm obvious, you're not." Jess seems to agree. "Michelle is a little particular about food. And, there's nothing wrong with that, but she takes it to a whole new level." Utilizing the short pause, Michelle blurts out, "I have the worst food karma of all time! I don't know if that exists for others, but it exists for me!" She explains, "If I order chicken at a restaurant, they'll bring out a steak. If I travel miles for a Cinnabon, they'll be out of Cinnabons that day." This "food karma" appears to follow Michelle everywhere she goes. "Recently, I was thinking about this burrito place. All day long, I had wanted a ground beef burrito. We show up and were told, 'We're out of ground beef.' Who's out of ground beef at a restaurant?? I could go on and on..." At the moment, though, she's more interested in dishing on her partner, whom she takes a second to study. "Jess..." she starts off. Jess maintains, "There's nothing interesting about me! I'm really boring!" Michelle doesn't think so. "You would think that since I'm the married one and the one with the baby, that I'd be the homebody. But, Jess is a lot more of a homebody than, I think, a lot of people realize. She bakes cookies for the band. Family and home are really, really important to her – probably more so than a lot of people I've met. They're all really close, which people can be envious of."

Michelle picks up her debut solo album cover lying on the coffee table nearby and the interview is instantly transformed into a photo viewing party. "You look like a baby!" Flipping it open, Michelle points to a photo, "Look at that one! My arms are like toothpicks!" Jess revels, "That's the problem with getting older..." to which Michelle rebuts with, "Well, I also wasn't eating Doritos for breakfast before taking these pictures!" Her remark, of course, sends all parties into one last hearty laugh. Perhaps they should look into having a Doritos sponsorship for a future tour.

STAR Country!

Photo used courtesy of The Wreckers
The Wreckers are always up for a good laugh!

In working on your debut album as a duo, what was the most important lesson you learned throughout the process that you'll apply to future projects?
Jessica: Standing up for yourself! I think the best thing about us being a duo is that we've really found our ability to speak up and to do what feels comfortable for us. When you have an opinion about something – and the person you're working with agrees – it's easier to tell everybody else, "No, this is how we feel about it. We're going to stick with it and do it this way." I think that's been really good for us and if we were to go off in our separate ways in the future, I think we'd both carry that attitude with us.

Michelle: I agree. Ditto!

In your opinion, what quality makes The Wreckers unique to the country music industry?
Jessica: I think the focal point of our music – and the most interesting thing about it – is our harmonies and the fact that our voices blend so well together. People say that siblings have a certain quality when they sing together. We, for some reason, seem to have that – even though we're not related.

Michelle: As far as we know!

You've had the opportunity to be on some big tours, including – hopefully – Keith Urban later this year. Who would be on your dream tour?
Michelle Can it be Led Zeppelin circa 1970?!

Jessica: I think as far as country music goes, Keith was it. And the fact that he – of his own will – asked us to be a part of it, out of everybody in Nashville is a big honor for us.

Michelle, you have a young daughter. Do you feel it's difficult balancing duties of motherhood and fulfilling your career obligations?
Michelle: It is, definitely, in specific ways. I feel guilty a lot when I'm working and I don't see my daughter all day. That's a "mom thing." As far as having her out on the road with us, it's not as hard as I thought it would be. She is a really great girl. She loves being on the road and around people. She's been on the road since she was two weeks old, and she's so used to it. I think until we have to worry about getting her into school, we're just going to plow away.

Visit The Wreckers at http://www.The!!

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