EXCLUSIVE: How Michelle Branch & Patrick Carney Take Life 'Song by Song'
By Meredith B. Kile
After a whirlwind year that has included a new record, a new tour, and a brand-new engagement, Michelle Branch and Patrick Carney are getting animated.
The musical duo -- and real-life couple -- teamed up to cover America’s 1971 hit “A Horse With No Name” for the fourth season of Bojack Horseman, andthe result was a bluesy, melancholy track befitting Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s dark and satirical Netflix comedy.
“I’m a fan of Patrick’s theme song that he did for the show, I knew that long before we were dating,” Branch told ET over the phone. “So I was really happy to be asked to be a part of it.”
Carney’s involvement with the animated series -- in which Will Arnett voices the titular washed-up former sitcom star, who also happens to be a horse -- began even before the show premiered. He collaborated on a track with his uncle, multi-instrumentalist and career session musician Ralph Carney, which ended up becoming Bojack’s memorable theme.
“It was the first thing I did when I built the studio at the house that we live in,” the Black Keys drummer recalled. “A few months later, Noel [Bright, one of the show’s executive producers] reached out and asked if I would be interested in scoring the theme song. And I said, ‘Well, I already have something that might work.’”
After recording a one-line cameo as “Jay Zebra” in season three, Carney got another call from Bright about covering “A Horse With No Name.”
“He asked me if I could find a female singer to sing that particular song,” he explained. “He wasn’t aware at the time that I was dating Michelle.” In a matter of days, Carney, Branch and producer Gus Seyffret had recorded their version of the America track.
Now, almost a year later, the song is featured in Bojack’s fourth season as well as on the accompanying soundtrack, both of which are available on Friday.
“The best thing about the show is it’s so dark,” said Branch. “And I think the scene that [the song] appears in is going to be really, really funny. I’m looking forward to the new season.”
One of the upcoming season four storylines will be the show’s satirical take on the 2016 president election, as Bojack’s dim but effusively good-natured rival, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), runs for governor of California. It’s a trend that seems to be increasingly pervasive in pop culture -- as shows like American Horror Story: Culttake direct aim at the political climate -- and when asked if, as musicians, they find it hard to keep current events from bleeding into their work, Branch cited Nina Simone's famous quote: “An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.”
“I think it’s important for us to be able to kind of interpret what we feel is going on, and what we see is going on, and include it in what we’re working on,” she added. “Especially with what’s going on in the last year, I mean, it’s kind of hard not to let it affect us as human beings… I do think it’s kind of our responsibility, if we feel moved by it in some way, to talk about it.”
“It can be annoying to be a super-political artist, especially when people don’t identify your work as political anyway,” Carney added. “But I do think, in 2017, it’s kind of ridiculous to not be vocal.”
The couple met at a GRAMMY party in 2015 and soon after, began working together on Branch’s third studio album, Hopeless Romantic -- her first full-length release since 2003’s Hotel Paper -- as well as dating. But the album, Carney explained, was less about the personal and professional collaboration between the two and more about Branch’s reemergence as an artist after more than a decade of shelved records and label stress.
“I think I just wanted to help Michelle make a record that she was proud of,” he said. “She was controlling the reins during the making of the record, as far as what she wanted to be done and the songs that she wanted to work on. She had been writing songs for the record for the last two years, so I kind of wanted to just clear out all the songs she’d been sitting on, so she felt like she could move [forward] and write new stuff.”
Hopeless Romantic, which came out in April, was well-received critically, but much like Bojack’s titular character, Branch has had some difficulty evolving public perception, despite the fact that she's creatively moved beyond the early aughts pop star whose hits like “Goodbye to You” and “Everywhere” made her a multi-platinum GRAMMY winner by the age of 20. And unfortunately, her record label struggles continue to this day.
“I don’t know if it’s official yet, but I think I’ve already been dropped from Verve,” Branch revealed. (ET has reached out to Verve Records for confirmation.) “The state of the music business is really strange, but I’m excited to move forward and make as much music as I can and be as independent as possible… I’m uncertain of the future, but I feel like I’m going to be more productive than I ever have, and I’m excited to kind of have some control over my life.”
With a new record out and having just wrapped the U.S. leg of her Hopeless Romantic tour, Branch said that she feels her creative floodgates are open.
“We’ve definitely talked about doing a project together that wouldn’t be a Michelle Branch record, which is exciting, because at this point I don’t know what that sounds like,” she said of going to back into the studio with Carney.
“I guess it’s just kind of one of those things that we’re gonna take song by song,” she added, revealing that she had already started working on new material before hitting the road. "Some of those are definitely more Michelle Branch songs, but I guess it’s one of those things where we’ll know the second we start working. Whatever inspires us more and pulls us more, will probably be what we’ll record and what we’ll spend time on.”
For now, the couple has returned home to Nashville, and are taking some time to plan their future together.
“I got home from tour and have gone down a Pinterest rabbit hole, like every other person planning a wedding,” Branch said with a laugh. “We just want to have a big party.”
Carney, on the other hand, has found a different obsession. “I downloaded this app called Reverb, which is basically like eBay just for musical instruments. So I’ve just been buying guitar pedals all day long.”
However, with nearly four decades of touring experience between the two of them, the couple can agree on one thing they definitely don’t want at their wedding: live music.
“It was funny, because I was talking to our wedding planner, and she was asking if we wanted a live band at the wedding, and I was like, ‘No!’” Branch recalled. “She was surprised. I was like, ‘The last thing we want at our wedding is live music.’”
“I mean, unless it could be like, Led Zeppelin,” Carney chimed in. “I just don’t want a wedding band.”
Branch just laughed. “We’ll put a playlist together or something.”