Curiocity: Q&A With Ingrid Michaelson

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(credit: Mall of America)

(credit: Mall of America)

Sara Boyd Sara Pelissero
Sara Pelissero joined the WCCO web team in August of 2009. You can...
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You’ve most likely heard her songs on hit TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” or providing the soundtrack to models dancing in Old Navy commercials. But if that’s your only exposure to Ingrid Michaelson’s music, you’re certainly missing out.

The singer-songwriter just released her seventh CD, “Lights Out,” a record that features collaborations with multiple songwriters and producers, resulting in a perfectly polished sound.

The anticipation for her latest musical offering certainly had the attention of her Twin Cities fans, as her concert scheduled for this Saturday at First Avenue sold out in record time. Not one to disappoint, Michaelson was quick to add a free performance and autograph signing at the Mall of America for the night before.

Between her two upcoming performances, her new music video paying tribute to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” and her delightfully candid approach to social media — including recent tweets from her big fan, John Stamos — there was much to discuss. Luckily, Michaelson was kind enough to chat with me during a quick break on tour in Canada. Check out the full Q&A below.

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First of all, congratulations on the new album. It’s been getting awesome reviews and definitely seems like one of your more diverse albums to date. What made you want to take a different approach with “Lights Out?”

I think, you know, I’ve been making records pretty much the same way … so I just kind of felt like I wanted to change things up and do things differently. One of the main things that I’d been doing was, I’d been writing all the songs myself, with one producer and that was it. So I thought, well, what’s the complete opposite of that? That’s where the idea of co-writing and working with multiple producers and traveling.

It took me, I guess maybe under a year to finish it and I’m really happy with it. All the producers were in communication with each other in some capacity to aid in the cohesiveness because we didn’t want it to feel like a disjointed record. We wanted it to have a common thread through it. I hope we achieved that – I think we achieved that. But yeah, I wanted to have a very collaborative, or very family affair kind of feeling to it. So I think working with different people and writing with different people, doing multiple sessions, I think that it came together so perfectly and I’m just really happy with everything.

You’ve said before – and it certainly seemed true on your previous album, Human Again – that you want to grow out of that kitschy/cutesy persona and into a bit more mature music. What was your motivation or your drive for that shift?

On my last record, I definitely went to the other spectrum of that. I was like, I’m not going to put any ukulele on this, I don’t want any cutesy songs, none of that. Because it’s like, I’m grown up and I don’t need to be known as that person anymore. So I just kind of continued that idea on this record. It wasn’t like I intentionally … I think on my last record, I intentionally tried so hard not to be that but this record I thought, I’m just going to write songs with people and see what happens and pick the best ones.

I’m not going to like, shy away from something that’s really poppy – “Girls Chase Boys” is a really poppy song and you know, it’s got a little cuteness in there. So when we first wrote it, I was like, “Ahh, I don’t know” but when it got fully produced, I was pretty excited about it. But again, it’s just the idea of changing and growing. Everybody grows in some capacity in every part of their life so that’s just where I am right now.

When you think about when you wrote and recorded “The Way I Am” nowadays, does it feel like it was eons ago?

Mmmhmm. It does. It feels like another life. That was before I was touring. I put out that record and people started hearing the music and this one manager pulled me into his office and was like, “You know musicians are on the road for 10 months out of the year.” And inside, I was shocked. But I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah, totally.” I totally thought you’d go on one tour, maybe a month here and a month there and then you get to be home the rest of the time. I was so innocent and naïve as to what the life of a working musician really is. It feels like a long time ago – it was a long time ago.

You brought up “Girls Chase Boys” and I have to say, the music video is great and it really seems like it took off online. What made you want to honor Robert Palmer? And were you surprised by the reaction it received?

Yeah, I thought that people were going to react to it because it was kind of an homage to the “Simply Irresistible” video. But half the people who have seen the video don’t even know the Robert Palmer video, which I think is kind of funny because it’s such an iconic video. The idea just came about because I don’t know why, but I wanted to see what that video looked like while “Girls Chase Boys” was playing.

So I put “Girls Chase Boys” on and then I would bring up the video and muted it so that I would hear my music behind it. It didn’t match up because it’s not the same timing or anything but something about it just made me laugh and made me really feel like joyful and celebratory. So I thought, what if I was the one singing in front and instead of beautiful women, we had beautiful men. And I took the idea to Andrew Elvis Miller, the director, and he kind of took it further and he’s like, “Well, let’s put some women in there and I want there to be frames where you can’t tell if you’re looking at a man or a woman.” The idea of the song is that it’s all the same thing, it’s all love, we’re all looking for love. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman or whatever you identify as. He took that even further with my video concept and sort of married the idea perfectly into the video.

So your concert at First Ave. sold out in like, four seconds.

I know! That was crazy to sell out.

Are you looking forward to returning to First Avenue – and the Twin Cities in general?

I love it there. We always have such a great time there. The audiences are so warm and receptive but really rowdy at the same time – in a good way. We sold out so fast we added the Mall of America appearance so that we could … because there were so many people that were like, “Oh no, it sold out. It sold out!” So I wrote them on twitter and I’m like, “Come to Mall of America and see us play.”

Speaking of Mall of America, I saw your video from 2007? (see link) Will there be a follow-up video accompanying this Mall of America appearance?

Probably not the same kind but we are known for making tour videos so there may be something made. Probably not me walking around asking if I’m famous or not famous. That’d probably be a little embarrassing. I had some more guts back then than I do now. I was a little braver. (Laughs)

And speaking of Twitter, it seems you’re one of the musicians that really enjoys interacting with fans on that platform. What has social media brought to your experience of fans online?

It’s allowed me to keep a direct contact with people. For me, I was found on MySpace in the beginning and I’ve sort of been a child of social media in terms of getting my music heard by people. So I’ve always been pretty active on those sites. It’s interesting though, you have to be able to balance it. You can’t be too personal. But you want to be personal because you want people to feel that connection but you don’t want them to feel an unnatural connection. It took me a little bit of time to find that perfect balance but I think it’s great to, you know, make someone’s day by just favoriting a tweet they say. Like the other day, John Stamos wrote a tweet about me and that’s how I felt and then everyone was writing me being like, “You’re my John Stamos.” … I think it’s legit. When done correctly, it can be really gratifying and a really amazing way of getting to people.

And obviously that John Stamos tweet was amazing.

I mean, c’mon!

Were there any others that top it? What’s been your biggest star-struck twitter moment?

Well Taylor Swift, I met her at an event a few weeks ago and she told me she was a fan of my music and she came to my show and tweeted about the show. And of course, she has four million followers. Every single person that tweeted me had like, Taylor in their name but that was very sweet of her. So that was pretty cool. But that John Stamos thing was crazy because he was my childhood crush. So when your childhood crush says that they’re obsessed with your music, you know, that does something to you. Eleven-year-old Ingrid was like, “Holy sh–, you gotta be kidding me.”

Michaelson will perform at 6 p.m. in the Mall of America Rotunda on Friday. She’ll also be signing autographs for fans who purchase her new CD. For more information, click here. As stated above, she’ll also perform a sold-out concert at First Avenue on Saturday.

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