The Wreckers have had a banner year — opening for Rascal Flatts, landing their first CMA nomination and selling more than 420,000 copies of their debut album, Stand Still, Look Pretty, in just five months. Plus, their debut single, “Leave the Pieces,” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s country airplay chart, a rarity for any artist, let alone one with a background in pop music.
Between two No. 1 parties at ASCAP and BMI for “Leave the Pieces” on Tuesday (Oct. 24) in Nashville, Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp explained to reporters that the Wreckers nearly crashed before they even hit the road.
“A lot of people don’t realize how long it took to get this project off the ground,” Branch said. “We recorded the album two years ago for [pop label] Maverick Records, and right after we were finished, I found out I was expecting. We kind of kept it to ourselves. We didn’t want the label to freak out and change any of the plans for releasing the album.”
At that point, the album was scheduled for January 2005, but as Harp says, “The label had never had a country artist or a country record, so they were all just kind of looking at each other, thinking, ’What are we supposed to do with this?'” Because of the label’s uncertainty, the record was pushed back till June. By then, Branch could no longer hide her pregnancy, which meant yet another delay.
Now, Branch says, “It was actually a blessing in disguise because I feel like if we would have continued with the plan, our album would have been released without any real effort and it would have lasted however long it lasted. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been very long.”
During her pregnancy, Branch (who lived in Los Angeles at the time) traveled to Nashville to visit Harp, take some meetings and hear some songs. As it turns out, Bill Bennett — the former president of Maverick Records — was now helming Warner Bros. Nashville. Branch and Harp thought he should hear the album, which they considered to be finished, so he could give them some perspective.
“We went in and played him the record and said, ’What do you think? Do you think you can help out in any way?’ And he said, ’We’d love to. We want to take over the project.’ If I hadn’t have been pregnant, I don’t know if that would have happened,” Branch says. “We’re such firm believers that everything happens for a reason.”
And then Branch and Harp found “Leave the Pieces” (co-written by Billy Austin and Jennifer Hanson) during a publishing meeting. Even though the duo wrote or co-wrote most of the album themselves, the song was irresistible, although it had been cut by several artists already, including Little Big Town.
“We both immediately fell in love with it,” Harp remembers. “And after we went in and cut it, it seems like everyone at both labels were just like, ’Oh, OK. Light bulb. We get it. Let’s go with it.'”
And as for the temptation to say, “Ha ha, we told you so!”?
“There’s that old saying that ’success has many fathers,’ and it’s been very humorous for both of us to sit back and watch the people who were definitely not on the same page turn around and talk about how they knew it was going to be great from the start,” says Branch, who recently moved to Nashville with her husband and young daughter. “It’s really great to see, but it’s just human nature. It is the nature of the business. And it feels that much better now, after all that. This feels sooooo great.”
Even though “Leave the Pieces” ultimately hit No. 1, not everybody was so confident at the beginning — not least of all, the Wreckers themselves.
“We really approached this project with a bit of caution, knowing that people were going to be judging us and judging this project before they even heard it, because I was involved with it,” Branch says, alluding to her prior pop success. “We didn’t know how radio was going to respond at all. We were prepared for the worst, and I think the biggest shock was going into stations and meeting programmers who were saying, ’Oh my gosh! I am so excited about this project! I thought I’d never have the chance to play a Michelle Branch record.’ Everyone immediately understood where we were coming from, and they were so supportive.”
Suddenly the duo went from panicking that they wouldn’t get on a major tour to opening for Rascal Flatts. And they have remained on the road pretty much ever since, with a long line of high-profile TV appearances to boot.
“The reason our schedule is so crazy is that we’re doing all these opening dates but then we’re doing all of these headlining shows in between. We’ve really been having one day off a week or two days off a week. But it’s awesome,” Harp says. “I think that’s part of the reason we’re doing well and people are responding — because we’re out there bringing them the music every night. That’s what we got into this for.”
Asked to explain their breakthrough success in a field crowded with newcomers, Harp says, “I think part of it might be that there hasn’t really been a female duo in a while and I think that was something new and interesting for people to look at. The one thing I say about Michelle and I, the cool thing about us, is our harmonies. We sound like we’re siblings for some reason, and we’re not, which makes it even more special. That might have something to do with it.”
Branch’s answer is more to the point: “Also, I think everything starts with a great song. When we heard ’Leave the Pieces,’ it was unquestionable. It was so obvious to us.”