Back in the early 2000s, songs like "Everywhere" and "Goodbye to You," off Michelle Branch's debut The Spirit Room, probably soundtracked your first crush or at least a TV show you watched. The 18-year-old ruled the radio, helping to bridge the gap between mainstream pop and country.
"I think I'm known as, like, if you're going through a breakup, turn on a Michelle Branch song and feel really sorry for yourself," Branch, now 33, recently joked to MTV News. Sound familiar? Five years after "Everywhere," Taylor Swift — and her guitar — picked up where Branch left off. They met for the first time in Nashville circa 2007, when Tay's career was just getting started.
"I turned a corner and she was standing there," Branch recalled. "She freaked out, like, 'Oh my god, I'm a huge fan of yours. I learned all your songs. You're one of the first people who made me want to play guitar.' It's crazy to see what she's gone on to do and to know that I had some kind of hand in inspiring her early on.
"It's always exciting to see younger female artists who listened to me when they were kids," she continued, mentioning Paramore's Hayley Williams as another example. Things finally came full circle in October 2011, when Taylor covered "All You Wanted" during her Speak Now world tour.
Of course, these are only the artists you've heard of. Branch influenced a generation of aspiring musicians, regardless of whether their songs went on to become hits.
"To this day, people tell me, 'I bought a guitar because of you,'" she said. "I think the biggest form of flattery is hearing that you inspired someone to start playing music themselves. I mean, that's why I picked up the guitar. I heard a record, it changed my life, and I had to learn how to play guitar. It's nice to hear that the torch has been passed on in that way."
On Friday (April 7), Branch released Hopeless Romantic, her first solo LP in 14 years, and there's a tune for every relationship stage: infatuation, resentment, splitsville. Consider it fuel for your breakup playlist until Swift's mythical follow-up to 1989 arrives. As a bonus, you won't have to overanalyze Branch's lyrics to figure out who she's singing about; she's made it "obvious" her divorce shaped the album.
"Fortunately I'm friendly with my ex, so he knows, and it ended amicably," Branch explained. She fell for her current boyfriend, The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, while they worked on Hopeless Romantic together. "A song will mean one thing to me and I don't expect it to mean that to everybody. I like people to be able to find their own meaning in something."