Charmingly human 

Ingrid Michaelson talks big sounds, small venues and dropping the F-bomb

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Say good–bye to the “Crafter of Dainty Love Songs.”

With her bespectacled visage and honey–soaked tones, Ingrid Michaelson has wedged her way into the limelight in the last five years with a series of endearing musical confections, including “The Way I Am” and “You And I.”  Her singles have set the romantic soundscape on TV shows (Gray’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill) and served as jingles for Target and other corporate giants, landing this quirky New York native splash in the middle of the pop culture mainstream.

Yet Michaelson remains the independent artist she’s always been, sticking with the boutique label she created in 2002, Cabin 24 Records. She leaves her dainty reputation behind with her fifth album, Human Again, a complex collection of muscular rock songs (“Blood Brothers”) and layered ballads (“Ghost”) produced by music industry powerhouse David Kahne (he engineered Paul McCartney’s Driving Rain album and is also the guy who designed Fishbone’s iconic logo.)

After a spring tour that took her through a whirlwind of major U.S. cities, Michaelson is making another pass around the country, this time to smaller spots backed by an all–acoustic band. Connect spoke with her as she was on the tour bus on the way to Lawrence, KS.

Human Again is much more symphonic and lush than your previous albums. What provoked the change?

Ingrid Michaelson:  I don’t think of it as such a huge departure, but it is a more mature, fuller sound. I’m not plunking away on my ukulele as much. You know, I’m older! At the very base I didn’t want to the same thing over and over again as an artist.

I had about eight songs that I came in the studio with, and David Kahne liked them, but he said “I want to know why no one ever records your voice the way your voice sound live.” And I was like, “What do you mean by that?” And he said, “When you’re live, you sing out, you really use the depth of your voice. It’s very powerful and I didn’t really hear that on your previous records.”

That was the thing that stuck in my brain and pulled everything into focus. I had to vocally allow myself to be brave and bold. But it’s kind of scary to put something so dynamic on tape because then you have to duplicate it every night on stage when you’re on tour. My voice is shredded every night — I drink special tea and have lozenges and take Advil before every show because it depuffs the vocal chords — but the songs are so much fun to do live because I’m pushing myself vocally and emotionally and musically.

Does it ever make you feel schizophrenic as an independent singer/songwriter when you hear one of your songs hawking Old Navy?

Ingrid Michaelson: My songs have been used in a lot of commercials jingles, and I’m very grateful for that. It’s afforded me all kinds of opportunities and allowed me to have a tour bus and take care of my bandmembers, all because of the licensing.

But at the same time, you can become pigeonholed as this voice that people hear on commercials all the time. I’m really thankful for it and it’s been a major player in my success, but I don’t want people to hear one song in a commercial and think that they know me. I thought on this next record, I’m not going to write that “Everybody” or “The Way I Am.”
I think it’s boring when artists keep regurgitating the same stuff. I want some evolution, I want to know you’ve gone through some shit since your last record came out. I want to know that something happened to motivate you to make this record, not just that you’re sailing along.

Why an all–acoustic tour this go–round?

Ingrid Michaelson: We hit a lot of the major markets earlier in the year and I thought it would be nice to go to smaller places that don’t get a lot of acts or that I haven’t been to before, and I figured that they would be smaller venues. I didn’t want to go into a 600–seat venue and just blast everybody out of the water with this huge rock show. I thought it might be nice to form to the surrounding that we’re in and play a stripped–down, more introspective set.

I’m into storytelling and I talk to the crowd a lot. That’s always an element in my shows, but it’s great to be in an intimate setting. I’m also bringing out some older songs that sound great with the band.

Let’s talk about your theater nerd past. I hear you’re shopping around a comedy—are you looking to return to acting?

Ingrid Michaelson: I wrote a comedy pilot with my friend [improv actress Rebekka Johnson] that’s sort of turning into something else, but yes, I’d love to get back into theater. I taught children’s theater for a long time and I love making people laugh. It would be awesome to write or be in a comedy, either a movie or a TV show, if the timing worked out with my music. So, yeah, I’m hoping something turns out in that area.

You’ve collaborated with Jason Mraz and Sara Bareilles. Are there any dream collaborations you’d like to forge?

Ingrid Michaelson: Oh sure! The list in infinite. I’d love to do more with Sara Bareilles. I’ve been listening to a lot of Pink’s new record. When you listen to her ballads, her voice is just so beautiful. And I can’t believe it, she tweeted at me last week that she likes my music! So maybe something with her.

Your fan base is primarily women. Why do you think that is?

Ingrid Michaelson: Well, I’m a female and I’m singing about female feelings, so obviously more women will be more attracted to that than most men. I think men aren’t interested in digging into emotions in that way; either they’re not confident enough in their manhood or they’re just not into it.

I’m a woman who sings about what I’m going through. Other women who are going through the same thing who like my voice and like my melodies—there you go, boom!— it’s a perfect fit.

I think women appreciate also that I’m not stick skinny and I don’t show my breasts all the time —well, sometimes I do—but I’m not out there flaunting my sexuality as a tool to succeed. I think the moms like that about me. Although I definitely drop the F–bomb quite a lot. So I apologize for that.

Ingrid Michaelson

With Sugar + the Hi–Lows

When: Thursday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Trustees Theater, 216 Broughton St.

Cost: $25

Info: 912.525.5054 or savannahboxoffice.com



About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

More by Jessica Leigh Lebos


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