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Ingrid Michaelson Follows Her Heart On New Album
Ingrid Michaelson knows her 30th birthday is approaching — on Dec. 8, to be exact. But she’d rather not be reminded of it.
“Oh, shut up!” the singer-songwriter exclaims, with a laugh, over her cell phone as she and her band are riding in their tour van. “I’m not ready for it at all but, you know, that’s life. It keeps coming.
“I’m gonna be 29 forever, I think. I like it here.”
Who can blame her? Five years ago, the Staten Island, N.Y., native was teaching children’s theater and working at a coffee house. Now, she’s on the road promoting her second full-length album, “Everybody,” and playing a repertoire of songs — “The Way I Am,” “Keep Breathing,” “Breakable,” “Be OK,” “Masochist” and “Maybe” — made famous on MySpace and via TV shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “One Tree Hill” and “Scrubs.”
Michaelson’s 2007 debut, “Girls and Boys,” has sold nearly 300,000 copies, while “Everybody” debuted at No. 18 on the Billboard 200 and was briefly No. 1 at iTunes when it was released in late August.
“I’ve never doubted my music,” says Michaelson. “I didn’t expect anyone else to like my (music), but I always knew that I liked it, so I knew it was good in my heart. And that’s really all that I think you need, because if you are too hung up on what other people think about you, then you’ll never be a musician, or an artist in general. You’re just gonna crash and burn.”
Music, or at least songwriting, is a relatively recent arrival in Michaelson’s life. The daughter of a composer father and sculptor mother, she started taking piano lessons when she was 4 years old but was most interested in acting, studying at the Third Street Music School and the Dorothy Delson Kuhn Music Institute before attending Staten Island Technical High School and getting a theater degree at Binghamton University.
She started writing when she was 21. “I think I just had a lot of extra time on my hands,” Michaelson remembers, “and so I just sort of sat down at the piano and started writing these very ballady, Sarah McLachlan-wannabe kind of songs. It was kind of derivative and boring, and I finally figured out that was not the way to go.”
Michaelson credits Chris Kuffner for introducing her to other influences, including Regina Spektor’s “Soviet Kitsch” and Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlantic.” “I was, like, obsessed with both of those records,” she says, “and it really kind of opened my eyes to the fact that you can be fearless and do whatever the hell you want to do, and then I started writing better music.”
“Girls and Boys,” however, was just the start as far as Michaelson was concerned. “Those songs are probably, like five years old now,” she explains. “With the life I have now, traveling constantly and being in different cities and meeting lots of people, I’ve changed and grown and just learned a lot over the past few years, and I think that’s mostly reflected in the music.”
Though the success of “Girls and Boys” success courted attention from major labels, Michaelson opted to stick with her own Motown Universal-distributed Cabin 24 Records. She started making “Everybody” with her band and producer Dan Romer at a New York recording studio but wound up doing most of her vocals in, literally, a closet at Romer’s home studio. “They just sounded so much better there,” she says. They even wound up re-recording the title track, with Romer playing every instrument except the mandolin, during an all-night session just before the album was completed.
“Sometimes you don’t need really expensive stuff to make nice, quality music,” Michaelson says. “You just need a good heart.”
That heart, meanwhile, gets a thorough working-over on “Everybody;” “The battle with the heart isn’t easily won,” she sings on the opening track, “Soldier,” “but it can be won.” “The album kind of has a theme of starting off like a new relationship, sort of hopeful, but then it quickly kind of disintegrates into nothingness, and then it’s completely done,” she explains. This is “pretty autobiographical” stuff, Michaelson adds, with some specific subjects who inspired the album’s dozen songs.
“There’s probably a couple guys cowering out there,” she notes with a laugh. “It’s sort of a pattern of mine, the idea of love not being enough to sustain a relationship. It’s something I’ve experienced a couple of times.”
But it does make her feel better to sing about it, she says.
“It sounds kind of cheesy, but I guess that’s why we write music,” says Michaelson, who’s happily ensconced in another relationship she says “is it” — at least for now. “The other day, I got this anxious feeling and I didn’t really know why and I felt kind of tense, and I started to play a song I’d started writing and all of a sudden the tension went way for a second.
“You can have kind of an escape and a little bit of release. It does take you out of your reality and it does help you. It’s like a whole therapy session.”
Michaelson and company will be sharing into next year as they continue to tour in support of “Everybody.” She also has “a lot of songs already for our next album,” though she has no firm plan for the new music yet.
“I’m sure that I’m going to keep writing,” Michaelson says, “and then those songs will end up being put away. But I don’t know; I feel like if I’m writing, I should put stuff out. I shouldn’t sit on it, so maybe we’ll do an EP in a couple of months or something. We’ll have to see.”
Ingrid Michaelson performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct. 27-28) at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are sold out. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org. Michaelson will also perform and sign autographs at noon Wednesday (Oct. 28) at Borders Books & Music, 612 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Call (734) 668-7652 or visit www.borders.com.
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