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Ingrid Michaelson inspired by personal "pit of despair" on new album

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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There's a deep irony to "Lights Out," Ingrid Michaelson's fifth studio album.

The 14-song set -- which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes pop chart right after its April 15 release -- marks the first time the singer-songwriter opened herself up to writing with and being produced by others -- 15 different collaborators in all. And yet Michaelson considers it "my most personal album yet."

"There was something about writing with all these people that kind of opened up things maybe I wouldn't have thought of before, which I think a good co-writer will help you do," explains the New York-born Michaelson, 34, whose debut single, the ukulele-driven "The Way I Am," went platinum in 2007. "Getting in a room with someone else, it's like a date, a conversation. I ended up just being able to tap into things I wouldn't have without these other people.

"I had some sessions that didn't go well, that just weren't magical, but then I had a few of those magical sessions, and that's what made it onto the record."

And there was plenty for Michaelson to dig into with her cohorts.

At the time she was writing "a lot of health issues" surfaced in her family. Both of her parents fell ill, and Michaelson contracted nerve damage from acid indigestion in her stomach and throat, which knocked her out of commission for a couple of months.

"It turned out the thyroid was all it was, but it was really terrible," she recalls. "It got a the point where, 'I can't live with this pain, this burning pain in my throat and my mouth' from just damage to my nerves. I didn't know what was wrong with my body. It was brutal, and my voice was affected -- which, as a singer, that's a real bummer.

"So between that and my parents needing my attention, I wasn't able to focus on anything and fell down into this pit of despair."

Of course, Michaelson is hardly the first songwriter to find inspiration in despair; the song "Afterlife," for instance, came to her on the day her mother was going through chemotherapy and shortly after her parents' dog died. But she also resolved that "Lights Out" wasn't going to be a chronicle of doom and gloom.

"It has a lot of life and death and darker elements," notes Michaelson, who's married to fellow singer-songwriter Greg Laswell. "It has a dark and heavy feel to it, but a whimsical feel, too. One thing I think I'm good at is finding the lightness in the dark, and I attempted to bring that out on the record and find the silver linings in there somewhere."

Much of that comes in the tone of the songs, Michaelson acknowledges. "Lights Out" is her most unabashedly pop album to date -- not that she hasn't written pop songs before, but this batch employs plenty of hooks and electronic technology, as well as muscular gang backing vocals. A song like "Warpath" wouldn't sound out of place on a Britney Spears album, while the single "Girls Chase Boys" boasts the same kind of pop drama fun. has turned into platinum sales.

"It's pretty poppy, but at the same time I think it's sonically really interesting and not dumbed down," Michaelson says. "That's what I wanted. I definitely wanted to bring some intellectual poppiness to it.

"I think I've always done that, though. My last record (2012's 'Human Again') had a couple of really poppy songs. And on the first record (2006's 'Girls and Boys') there were, too. I've just sort of gone from the poppy ukulele girl to platforms-and-eye-makeup pop -- a little different, but not, like, completely left field."

Ingrid Michaelson, Storyman and the Alternative Routes perform Wednesday, April 23, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 in advance, $35 day of show. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

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