@story MARLA CANTRELL
@images Cabin 24 ; Ingrid Michaelson
In Ingrid Michaelson’s latest album, Everybody, apple trees get angry, the wind talks back, and the thing she wants most from a lover is to promise not to promise anymore.
The Staten Island singer-songwriter talked about the images she creates while standing outside her tour bus in Boston, just hours before taking the stage with the U.K. trio Keane. “I don’t really know what anybody else’s experience in life is,” Michaelson said. “I don’t write about anything that hasn’t been written about before. I feel like if that’s what I’m doing, I have a responsibility to make it a little bit different and somewhat interesting.”
Michaelson’s tale of finding staggering success using little else except a MySpace page and word-of-mouth is one of the great stories in the music industry. It’s repeated like The Little Engine That Could to those hoping to be discovered. “With my first album I was just figuring things out and I really didn’t know my ass from my elbow. I think there’s a charm in that. On Everybody, it’s much more complex. I wanted more of a fleshed-out sound. I knew what I wanted, and what instruments I wanted. “
It was her second album, Girls and Boys, released in 2006, that first drew national attention. Two things happened after that: one of her songs was picked up by a wildly popular ABC show, and Old Navy used The Way I Am in a sweater commercial. “When Grey’s Anatomy first came out my mother told me she thought my songs should be on the show. I hadn’t even heard of the show, so I watched it and I was like, ‘You’re so right.’ I pretty much had no fans, really, except for my mom. One day I got found by a licensing company on MySpace and they said they worked with independent artists getting TV placements. And they said they had a good relationship with Grey’s Anatomy and I said, ‘Oh my god, yes, let’s work together!’ Within a couple of months I’d gotten my first placement on that show. Since then, they’ve used eleven of my songs.”
Michaelson is a master at crafting deceptively innocent lyrics. And it’s worked. She’s sold 500,000 albums and over 2.3 million singles. But while you’re singing along with her sweetest songs, clapping at all the right places, she’s using her sleight of hand to make you stop and think. Like the title song in Everybody. Listen closely. Listen to the line: Happy is the heart that still feels pain. “I try to kind of sneak in the sad lyrics in a happy snappy melody, so it’s like taking your medicine - like Flintstone vitamins - so it still tastes good and it tricks you.”
Michaelson also has the ability to take her own emotional temperature, dissect the components that caused the rise or fall of the numbers on the thermometer, and translate it into music. And while she can be incredibly vulnerable when she sings, she is still a realist. “I’m not the kind of woman who’s going to tie on an apron and bathe my husband’s feet. Certainly not,” Michaelson said. “But I think I would do that if somebody did that for me back. That’s what the song (The Way I Am) is about, loving someone and caring for them and having them love and care for you back.”
Some of her greatest work comes from the vain attempts of trying to translate that complex emotion. “So many times when you love somebody, and you tell them that you love them hundreds of times, you wish you could think of a new way to say it. It’s almost like a frustrating problem when you love somebody that much.”
Love is one thing. And then there’s the emotional mess that often mimics it. “It’s easy, for me anyway, to kind of jump into love and lose yourself in the excitement and the drama of love,” Michaelson said. “I’ve been involved in lots of drama in my life and sometimes drama kind of masks itself as love. You think it’s love but it’s just something feeding your ego, or something exciting. Real, true love is a different matter for sure.”
On stage, she’s one of the brightest and best. She’s on fire and the crowds respond. Michaelson uses all her training in theater – she planned to be on Broadway one day – to connect with the crowd. But the Michaelson on stage is not the real Michaelson “People think I’m kind of a partier person, but I’m not at all. I like to get in my pyjamas, eat some cereal and watch a movie. I don’t like drinking; I don’t like going out. I don’t like being in large crowds. I’m a homebody. I like to make people laugh, and I like having fun on stage. So people are like, ‘I want to be your best friend. Come out with us and drink.’”
It’s not like she has a lot of time to party. She tours ten months out of the year, oversees her own record label, Cabin 24 Records, and is always working on the next big song. But she does find enough time for romance, although she stopped short of sharing any details. “It’s a good one,” Michaelson said. “We’ve been around for some time now.”
At thirty, things are pretty good for the girl, who, just a few years ago, was tied in knots the night before her debut on Grey’s Anatomy. Today, she sells out auditoriums in the world’s biggest cities, and causes a buzz wherever she goes. It’s a hectic life, one that’s filled to the brim and overflowing. And Michaelson, who understands the incredible gift she’s been given, wouldn’t have it any other way.