Jessica Harp says Michelle Branch is a career Wrecker.
Harp, Branch’s longtime friend and former backup singer, is talking by telephone from her Nashville home about The Wreckers, her country music duo with Branch that produced the gold debut album, “Stand Still, Look Pretty” (Warner Brothers) and had a No. 1 single with “Leave The Pieces” and a second Top 10 single, “My, Oh, My.”
Harp says the project has been so satisfying and successful for both that Branch intends for it to be her full-time career.
So, she says, don’t hold your breath for a new pop album from Branch, whose platinum discs “The Spirit Room” and “Hotel Paper” spawned the hits “Everywhere,” “All I Wanted” and “Are You Happy Now?” and whose duet “The Game of Love” with Carlos Santana won a Grammy award.
“She would probably like to make a solo record less than I would,” Harp says, laughing. “She’s really happy with this, we both are really happy with this, and, you know, if it’s not broke, then why fix it?”
In fact, Harp says The Wreckers are anxious to record again and will take off all of October to go back into the studio. And the next album, she says, is likely to have even more of a country flavor.
“When we were making the first record, there was a little bit of constraint from the label,” Harp says. “We were with a label that had only had pop and rock artists, they never had a country artist, and they were a little nervous about figuring out how to put out a country record. So I think we were held back a little bit.
“So it’ll probably be even more in that direction for the next record, since we’ll have the freedom to really do what we want.”
The seeds of the duo were planted when Branch and Harp were fledgling singers whose fans alerted each other - and then the singers - to their similarities. When the two met during a Branch tour stop in Harp’s native Kansas City, they became fast friends and Harp joined the tour as a backup singer.
But Harp says country music was her first love.
“When I was really little - really, really little - I was madly in love with Reba McEntire and the Judds, and always had a passion for country music,” she says. “I always loved all kinds of music, but country music for some reason was the one that I always wanted to do and I always used to say that I was going to grow up and be a country singer.”
Harp says she was about to sign with a country label in 2003 when Branch talked her out of it - Harp says it was in mid-drive to the appointment - so they could record as a duo instead. And when they did, Harp adds, their songs naturally leaned toward country.
At the same time, she says, Branch was feeling disillusioned with her pop success.
“I had been spending a lot of time in Nashville for a couple of years, and Michelle was kind of hearing about my experiences there and hearing how sort of different it was from the pop world, and I think she had a fascination with it from that,” Harp says.
“And when we sat down to kind of pull together all of our material for our record, it just really lent itself to country music and, you know, that sort of instrumentation - mandolins and banjos and fiddles. We loved that and wanted it to be a part of our record.”
But Harp says Maverick’s widely reported hesitation about the record wasn’t overstated. The record company first tried to tone down the country sound, then introduced The Wreckers to the public by releasing the less-country single “The Good Kind” and having them tour with acts from the WB Network TV show “One Tree Hill.”
“They kind of put us on that tour just to sort of stick us out there and see what happened,” Harp says. “And Michelle and I both knew that it probably wasn’t the right move for us. Here we were, headlining a tour, playing a record that no one knew, it wasn’t even out yet. And so looking back, that probably wasn’t the best thing for us to do.”
“There was a point where Michelle and I said, `Never mind, we’ll go back to doing our own thing,’” Harp adds, laughing. “It got really, really complicated.”
Luckily, Harp says, life intervened.
Branch, 23, married her bassist, Teddy Landau, then took a break to give birth to a daughter, Owen Isabelle.
“And in that time is when Warner Brothers Nashville sort of found our record and said, `Hey, we love this, we know exactly what to do with it, let us jump in and kind of help out,’” Harp says.
The decision seems to have been the right one.
Released in May after more than a year’s wait, “Stand Still, Look Pretty” made The Wreckers the first country duo in 15 years to hit No. 1 with their debut single, and only the second female duo to do it ever.
They were nominated for a Grammy, but lost to The Dixie Chicks, and are nominated for two Country Music Association awards, to be handed out in May.
The Wreckers also have reached a broader audience. The CD hit Billboard’s Top 20, and “Leave The Pieces” the Top 40.
“Every bit of this has been amazing and it’s always wonderful to play a show and look out and see a tiny little girl singing along, but then also we have 60-year-olds coming to our show, singing along,” Harp says. “To see that our music brings such a wide variety of people together is an incredible thing. I think that’s why we as musicians go into the business in the first place, to bring people together.
“We went into this kind of trying to keep our expectations really low, not knowing what was going to happen. So everything that has happened thus far has just been a huge surprise and it’s just been wonderful. We really feel like we made the right choices and that everything’s going the way it’s supposed to.”
As for Branch, “being her close friend, I know that in her solo career she wasn’t that happy personally,” Harp says. “And doing the record has really kind of changed all that for her. So we’re both in really good places as people now.”
Motherhood also changed Branch - and her, Harp says.
She says Owen tours with The Wreckers, and “it’s been incredible because it allows us to be able to really kind of relax and not hold things too seriously.”
“It’s really hard to get really upset about something with your job when you walk on the bus and see a 1 ½-year-old little girl smiling up at you and just wanting to play,” she says. “It really makes you focus on the things that are truly important in life.”
Harp says the one thing in life she wants more than to make music “is to get married and have a family. I want to be a mom really bad. ... And when the time is right for all that, that will definitely take the front seat.”
But for now, The Wreckers is the center of her life - although, ironically, she says she would like to record a solo album “at some point in my life, just because I haven’t really had the opportunity to do that with a major label.
“But at this point I’m having so much fun doing this and I really feel like this is where I’m supposed to be right now. So Michelle and I sort of made a pact that as long as this feels right, that we’re going to keep doing it.”