Michelle Branch Talks ‘The Trouble With Fever’, Works On Her Marriage, The ‘Me Too’ Movement & More
It’s been just over two decades since Michelle Branch made her major label debut with The Hall of Spirits. It was around the anniversary of this release that Branch began working on her final album, although she didn’t know it at the time.
At her Nashville home that she shared with her husband, Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, Branch was lifted from pandemic-fueled boredom by the prospect of finishing a few songs she and Carney had been working on. Soon, a more intentional project began to take shape as the duo began to flesh out the tracks that would eventually become The fever problem.
Although the album takes Branch down many thematic avenues, the central message of the record is, as the title suggests, a sense of being caught up in the pandemic. “Cabin fever and sleepless nights tossing and turning things from the past and worrying about the future,” Branch told the American songwriter.
The album generated buzz for the 39-year-old upon its announcement, which was quickly overshadowed by news of Carney’s alleged infidelities and Branch’s subsequent arrest for misdemeanor domestic assault.
The singer tweeted a since-deleted note in August accusing Carney of cheating on her while she was home with their baby girl, who was born in February. One would imagine that promoting a collaborative project in full separation would certainly paint him in a new light, nevertheless, Branch says that she is able to compartmentalize her relationship with Carney enough to stand behind. The problem of fever, proudly.
“I think in a perfect world we hope to find a way to make things work, fingers crossed,” she says. “Patrick will always be an important creative collaborator for me and I really feel like that relationship, first and foremost, will hopefully always be there between us. He’s someone who has always really encouraged me and really pushed me to show myself in an artistic way and I really admire that about him.
“So while it’s a weird time to promote a record that we worked on together, I’m able to compartmentalize that as a working relationship,” Branch adds. “There is drama, but it’s our job, and I’m always proud of it, no matter what happens.”
The Scrapbook is a welcome development for Branch. Her candid musings on love, gender roles in relationships and her marriage are another impressive leap forward for the former teenage star. Stretching her wings sonically accompanied her in taking on a heavier role in the recording process.
“It’s the first record in 20 years since my debut that I’ve had the most control over in terms of writing and playing all the instruments,” she says. “Because it was recorded during lockdown, we didn’t have the luxury of having co-writers or other musicians. It forced me to play a lot of instruments that I wouldn’t normally be comfortable playing on a record, but it was really cool to be able to stretch in that regard.
Throughout the record, Branch touches on a number of controversial topics. Notably, the record’s first single, “I’m A Man”, focuses on women’s rights in a post-Roe v. Wade. Although the song was written in 2020, the lyrics I’m so sick of being told by everyone / That I can’t make decisions about my own fucking body feel extremely relevant in 2022.
“Back when I was writing ‘I Am A Man,’ we had Trump as president and everyone was talking about toxic masculinity,” Branch says. “I thought of all these men as ‘me too’ for ‘male behavior’. The climate for men has changed so drastically.
“At first I wondered how it must feel as a man to suddenly have to worry about all those things that they were brought up to think were part of the male identity, and then I I thought, ‘wait a minute’, we as women are still not equal. We still don’t get paid that much. We still don’t have autonomy over our bodies. I still don’t my say on how I access reproductive care and it’s infuriating.I’m glad it came out at a time when I was able to help bring attention to such an important issue.
Her place as a woman is another progression Branch felt while making this record. Comparing her approach to current music to that of the teenage world, she feels a change in her ability to defend herself and her vision.
“I released my first record when I was 17, which is weird because my daughter just turned seventeen weeks old,” she said. “My perspective on being a musician actually hasn’t changed much. I just feel like, if anything, I just learned to stand up for myself more.
She continued: “It was difficult in a business as male-dominated as a young woman to be taken seriously at times. So I feel like I had to fight really hard to stay true to my vision. Luckily, I don’t feel that much anymore. I don’t know if it’s because the company has changed or if I’ve become more confident as a woman.
The fever problem is Branch’s lushest album to date with dynamic, string-laden instrumentation and outspoken lyrics that, for better or worse, land stronger after his public fallout with Carney. Although somewhat shrouded in the circumstances of its release, the album is packed with ripe, hazy grooves that have the potential to overcome any negative light.
The fever problem Tour dates:
9.12 Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, TN
9.15 Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA
9.17 Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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, California
9.27 Troubadour Los Angeles, California
Photo credit: Sonya Jasinski / True PR