The Wreckers Won’t Stand Still

New Duo Blend Pop and Country on Rascal Flatts' Tour

Having a conversation with the Wreckers is a lot like watching a tennis match, but with more giggling and less grunting.

Comprised of singer-songwriters Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp, the smiling and upbeat duo have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences, get off on odd tangents and tease each other about their peculiarities. For example, Branch answers a question about keeping up with a busy schedule by saying, “I am always late. And Jess is always obnoxiously on time!”

“Or early even!” Harp interjects.

Branch starts talking about how she’s always been late, except when she was born seven weeks early, and then mentions that her dad thinks it’s rude to be late. “And I do know that,” she concedes, “but I just cannot figure out how to get somewhere on time, and … ”

Harp jumps in again, “Which is actually normal for musicians! I’m actually the odd duck as far as that goes.”

And then Branch: “Oh good, let’s turn around and make you look bad!”

This chitchat goes on for a while, volleying back and forth, until Harp wraps up a story about how Branch overslept and nearly missed her time in the makeup chair. “But it’s the norm, so we’re used to it,” Harp says with a shrug. Indeed, they’re so comfortable with each other that halfway through the interview, Branch is trying to swab a wayward eyelash off Harp’s eyeball, and neither one seems to mind that anybody else is around.

Before the Wreckers officially began, both women were motivated teenagers pursuing music careers independently. Branch, 22, grew up in Arizona, while Harp, 24, hails from Kansas City. Out on the road, they heard about each other through mutual fans, then exchanged albums while still looking for their big breaks. In time, they connected at a yogurt shop in the Kansas City airport. During their first in-person conversation, Branch spontaneously invited Harp on tour. By then, Branch had a pop hit (“All You Wanted”) and a Grammy (for the Santana collaboration, “The Game of Love”).

Shortly after releasing her second album, Hotel Paper, Branch opened a section of the Dixie Chicks’ arena tour in 2003 with Harp in tow. Asked what they remember the most about the tour, they immediately mention the elaborate catering menu of steak and lobsters. (Oh yeah, and the bomb squad at the Dallas show after the fallout from Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush remark.) During this time, Harp signed a development deal in Los Angeles, but she ultimately backed out. Then she decided to move to Nashville.

“I was born and raised on country music and have always been in love with it, especially the songs,” Harp says. “I grew up absolutely loving Reba McEntire and the Judds and wanting to follow in their footsteps. I remember being a very young kid, probably 7 or 8 years old, and watching my Reba videos,” she bursts out laughing, “and singing and saying, ‘That’s going to be me one day.’”

A country label offered her a deal, so she packed her car and headed east. However, with a phone call, Branch persuaded her to literally turn her car around. In a matter of days, Harp pulled up to Branch’s home in Los Angeles. By then, Branch had it in mind to write what she refers to as “an organic singer-songwriter country type of record.” Their debut, Stand Still, Look Pretty, includes songs they wrote together and individually, as well as Patty Griffin’s incisive “One More Girl.”

“I was raised on not only country music, but just good music,” Branch says. “My dad definitely had more of the country influence on me. He was always listening to Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and all that stuff. That’s what I grew up on, as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Joni Mitchell and stuff like that. Also, just living in Arizona, driving around in the truck, you hear it on the radio.”

Now the Wreckers themselves are on the airwaves with their first single, “Leave the Pieces.” Asked what they remember most about filming the video, Branch exclaims, “How cold I was!”

“I was going to answer it for you, but you jumped on it,” Harp adds.

And as for staying in shape on the road?

Branch: “This is our thing. We start out every trip saying, ‘We’re gonna eat right. We’re on a diet.’”

Harp: “We’re going to be good. We’re going to eat chicken breasts and vegetables and go running every day. And two days in, we’re eating hot dogs and hamburgers and ice cream.”

Branch: “And we’re calling each other in the morning, ‘What are you doing?’”

Harp: “And laying on the bus watching movies.”

Branch: “‘Are you going to work out today?’”

Both, in unison: “No! We’re too tired!”

However, they know they can’t be too lazy on their current tour, holding down the first opening slot for Rascal Flatts. They’re on the bill through July.

“Who could say no to Rascal Flatts?” Branch asks (with Harp immediately chiming in with “Yeah!”). “We were sitting before we got the offer, thinking, ‘Oh great, we’re too late to get on any tours this summer. What are we going to do?’ Like, we had no idea what we were going to do. And then, all of a sudden, they came in and swooped us up. … It was very exciting because first of all, now we have plans for the summer, which we didn’t have, and we’ll be in front of a lot of people than we would have if we were just sitting at home.”

Their set is only about 25 minutes — and yes, they’ll start right on time.

“Hopefully toward the end of the tour, people might actually know the songs we’re playing and get excited,” Harp says. “We’re just crossing our fingers at this point that people are in their seats when we are playing, so we’ll see.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.