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Good-Bye to Youth

By: Sarah LewitinnMichelle Branch grows up, grows hair

She studies the Cabala, obsesses over British men, and curses up a storm. No, we’re not talking about Madonna, but Michelle Branch, the talented 19-year-old singer/songwriter who saved Madge’s label, Maverick, by shifting two million copies of her 2001 debut, The Spirit Room. That album spawned three hit singles (including the aptly titled “Everywhere”), which led to a high-profile collaboration with mustachioed shaman Carlos Santana and a 2003 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Now Branch is busting out the autobiographically rockin’ Hotel Paper. We hung out with her at a New York City hotel and giggled over her epic crush on Ewan McGregor and how excited she is to be old enough to buy porn.

Didn’t you start writing songs at a really young age?

I wrote most of The Spirit Room when I was 14; by the time it came out, I was 17. Some people wrote me off because of my age.

Did you take more risks on your new album so you could say, “Enough of that crap”?

Not on purpose-it’s just how I’ve grown in the past few years. People just didn’t see me as an artist. “So do you dance on stage?” Fuck off! I play the guitar! You don’t know how many times I’ve been out and someone yells, “You! Piano Girl!” I want to sit down with Vanessa [Carlton] and be like, “I’m so sorry. I’m sure you get it all the time, too.”

What do you want people to think about you when they hear Hotel Paper?

I want people to say, “Okay, I apologize. You can write music.” I’m not saying they have to like it-I just want people to take me seriously.

Dave Navarro plays guitar on your first single, “Are You Happy Now?” How did that come about?

Dave was walking down the hall when we had it blaring in the studio. He came in and was like, “Who is this? I have to play on it.” I thought I was really special, like, “Dave gets it!” Then my manager said, “Dave Navarro is in the new Mariah Carey video.” I was like, “Fuck! He’s just whoring himself onto everybody’s thing.” But David is great. He’s the clichéd rock guitar player giving it to you.

You’ve become pretty famous since releasing The Spirit Room. Do you read about yourself in the gossip columns?

One time someone called me and said, “So you and Enrique Iglesias are dating?” I was like, “No! Why?” Apparently, the New York Post wrote that Anna Kournikova better watch out. I was like, “Yeah, right.”

I read that you’d love to have Ewan McGregor star in one of your videos. Have you ever met him?

Yeah, in London when I was promoting my album. He had no idea who I was. He was like, “Okay, freaky girl” and posed for a photo with me. It’s on my fridge, and I tell people he’s my boyfriend.

It must be hard to have a relationship when you’re on the road so much.

It’s really hard. I’m going to be 20, and part of me wants to focus on what I’m doing, and the other part wants to go out and have a boyfriend. It’s easier just to obsess about Ewan McGregor.

You could always strike up a romance with one of your bandmates.

When I started auditioning my band, I was like, “Dude, that drummer is so hot, let’s hire him.” And everyone was like, “Uh, Fleetwood Mac?”

You could always find a hot-looking band to tour with.

I tried that, too. [Laughs] It didn’t work. It really didn’t work. I was on tour with the Calling and was seeing the guitar player, Sean [Woolstenhulme], who was great-nothing wrong with him. But I’d get back to my hotel room and he’d be like, “Let’s hang out.” And I’d be like, “Dude, you have to chill.” I didn’t want to hang out with anyone. But I’ve matured a lot.

Were you forced to grow up fast?

When I was 10, I wanted to be 16 so I could drive. Then as I got closer to 16, I wanted to be 18 so I could smoke, have sex, and buy porn. Now I want to be 21, but after 21, there really isn’t anything. They need to make more laws, so it’s not like, “Oh, 30. Driving the kids to soccer practice in a minivan!”