courtesy Michelle Branch Michelle Branch
Last month, Branch posted — then deleted — a tweet accusing her husband, the Black Keys musician Patrick Carney, of cheating on tour while she was home with their 7-month-old daughter, Willie. After sharing the post, the singer-songwriter, 39, was arrested on a since-dismissed domestic assault charge for allegedly slapping Carney, 42. She filed for divorce days later and wrote in a statement at the time, "With such small children, I ask for privacy and kindness."
"I definitely shouldn't have taken to Twitter to say anything. Here I am saying, 'Please respect our privacy,' but I'm the one who said it to the world," Branch tells PEOPLE, over Zoom from her Nashville home, in this week's issue. She then heeded the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman's guidance: "Where was patron saint Stevie in the ether during that to be like, 'You don't need to share this?'"
(Days after this interview, Branch and Carney filed to suspend the divorce proceedings for six months to work on their marriage, according to Tennessee court documents obtained by PEOPLE.)
Jeff Kravitz/Getty Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and Michelle Branch
Born in 1983 and raised in Sedona, Arizona, by dad David, a plumbing contractor, and mom Peggy, a restaurant manager, Branch left home midway through high school to pursue a music career. At 17 years old, she crafted her 2001 major label debut album, The Spirit Room, and she's since built a catalog of hit singles: "Everywhere," "All You Wanted, "Goodbye to You," "Breathe," "Are You Happy Now?" and a Grammy-winning collaboration with Santana, "The Game of Love." Even today, listeners still connect with the songs' soul-baring lyrics and infectious melodies.
While last month's events unfolded publicly, Branch found herself in a tough situation, as her new album The Trouble with Fever, out Friday, was coproduced by Carney.
Initially unsure of how to proceed with its release, she sought advice from close friend Kacey Musgraves, who endured her own public divorce in 2020. The country star encouraged her to keep busy. "I feel like it's going to be exactly what my heart needs right now," says Branch of her upcoming shows. "It will be very, very cathartic. I don't know what I would be doing if I didn't have that distraction."
In her lowest moments, Branch finds strength in therapy. "I can't speak more highly about reaching out and talking to somebody if you need to," she says. "That — and my girlfriends — have helped me immensely."
"Especially given that I'm a mom and have so many things going on, making the time to talk to somebody is really important," continues Branch, who has three children: 17-year-old Owen (who uses they/them pronouns) from her previous marriage to bassist Teddy Landau, as well as Rhys, 4, and Willie, both co-parented with Carney. "Because things just start to build up, and you think you're going to get to them one day, until something happens, and you wish you would've done it sooner."
Recorded in their home studio over the pandemic, Branch's latest body of work features passionate love songs about Carney ("Beating on the Outside") written prior to recent events. The Trouble with Fever also includes lyrics on tracks like "Not My Lover" and "I'm Sorry" that nod toward relationship turbulence and infidelity, written over the past decade, drawing from friends' experiences and artistic ideas — not Branch's own life. Still, the irony isn't lost on her. "It's bizarre that this has all happened in my life as I'm releasing this record that has some of those themes to it," says Branch.
In rehearsals for the tour, she's also found new meaning in one of the early aughts hit singles that launched her to teenage superstardom. "I was going through 'Goodbye to You' and [sang], 'The last three years were just pretend.' I was like, 'Why does that line seem more poignant now?'" Branch details. "I think these songs just pick up on stuff sometimes and make more sense as time goes on."
Carney's writing and production is laden throughout The Trouble with Fever, but the record also marks a return to form for Branch, who penned most of its lyrics without co-writers. "Since The Spirit Room, this is probably the record I've written the most of by myself," she details. "It's one of the most exciting things, to write and finish a song and play it for somebody else. That is something that made me want to roll up my sleeves and get back in touch with that part of myself."
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Rmv/Shutterstock Michelle Branch
Although her own recent experiences didn't influence her new songs about heartbreak, she's already thinking about writing through her current feelings for a future project. "I had someone tell me they're like, 'You know what? You have a gift. Just put this into the music and help other people going through similar s—,'" says Branch. "I think having this new record come out clears the path for that."
Despite the circumstances of its creation drastically shifting over the past month, Branch chooses to associate The Trouble with Fever with the positive, loving environment in which it was created. "We made this record together. I'm very proud of it, and it's very much our creative baby," she assures. "That fact doesn't change."
However, she's also aware that the attention drawn to her personal life as of late will likely bring more listeners and, in turn, success to The Trouble with Fever. "If anything, [this situation has] weirdly shined the spotlight on my record more than it probably would've gotten," laughs Branch. "It's not ideal, but I'm making lemonade out of lemons."
For more from Michelle Branch, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.