Interview: Songstress Ingrid Michaelson

Following the release of her sixth studio album ‘Lights Out’, singer Ingrid Michaelson is currently touring Australia.

Thanks to Sony Music Australia and To our Friend John Howarth from Bullet Proof, we had the chance to chat with Ingrid about her new album, the tour, working with well-known actors and much more.

SR. Hi Ingrid, it’s Nikki from the Spotlight Report. Thank you for talking with us today. Firstly, I’d like to say congratulations on the success of your song, ‘Time Machine,’ and the album, ‘Lights Out.’ It’s fantastic!

IM. Oh, thank you.

LightsOut_Album-coverSR. And also, reaching Number 1 on the Billboard Independent Albums Chart. That’s terrific.

IM. Yeah, I’m always pleasantly surprised, you know. You never know how people are going to warm to your music when you put something new out, but yeah, I was really happy with this record.

SR. That’s great. What was it like working with such great actors as Rainn Wilson, Jorge Garcia, and Donald Faison?

IM. Yeah, that was so much fun. I had this idea to have funny, hairy men upstaging me the whole video. It was an idea that came to me. I thought it’d be so funny, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. And I reached out to a couple of the guys that I knew, and they said ‘yes’. And then, we reached out to Rainn Wilson, who has a production company called SoulPancake; and they, and Rainn, helped us get the rest of the people and they actually produced the video. And I remember it was really one of the most fun… It was the most fun video I’ve ever shot. It was just really hysterical and funny, and all of the guys were just so funny and it was the most fun I’ve had doing a video for sure.

I remember when we were shooting I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is actually happening.’ You know, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. And then we had to wait a year and a half to release the video. And finally, it was released and I was so happy.

SR. Did you actually plan their roles, or did you just let their natural talent guide you throughout the film clip?

IM. No, we had a script that was written out; but, definitely, once we knew the guys that we had, the director kind of dictated what everybody would be doing and who would be the funniest in what part. We definitely played up on their strengths, for sure.

“…I just feel like a lot of my theatre training comes out onstage…”

SR. Oh, they are such funny guys. I love all of their shows. I just laughed when I watched it for the first time. It’s a fantastic film clip, I think.

IM. Thank you. Thanks so much.

SR. I see you have a long history in the arts, with both of your parents being talented in their own ways. At what age were you introduced to music, and was it with instruments or singing?

IM. My father plays piano and writes music and we always were listening to music growing up. I used to sit at the piano and mimic him when I was very little, and my parents put me in lessons when I was about 4 and I took lessons until I was about 15. So did my brother. Then I went to school for theatre and in college, and I did children’s theatre all through my youth, and I took voice lessons. So I always, from as young as I can remember, and even younger, I think I was always drawn to singing and music. And I didn’t really start writing until after college, but I always loved singing and I always loved music, in general. And my mum was a sculptor and artist, so she was always very, very supportive of my dreams and what I wanted to do. You know, a lot of parents, they want you to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or something like that but both of my parents were just always so supportive of me and everything that I wanted to do.

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SR. Oh, that’s fantastic. It’s good that you had the support behind you.

IM. Yeah, it was really important for me. Definitely.

SR. Well, what guided you down the theatre path in your early career, and do you still have much to do with the theatre?

IM. Um, I don’t have as much as I would like to. I’ve been toying with the idea of possibly writing a musical, and maybe doing a little bit of acting if that comes across my path in the right way. I mean, I had so much fun doing the ‘Time Machine’ video which, you know, kind of reminded me of what it was like to be on stage a little bit. When I was 9, I started in a children’s theatre group and I just loved it. I felt that it was a very safe zone. You know, in school there are always the mean girls, and you don’t feel cool, or you don’t fit in. In theatre camp, everybody fit in.

Everybody was everybody’s friend and nobody was picked on. So, it was this really safe zone for me for many years growing up, and I just loved it so much. And theatre tends to be that way. It tends to take in the misfits and build up your ego and help you, as you get older in life. I just feel like a lot of my theatre training comes out onstage, because I was really comfortable on stage and I really engage in audiences, and I really feed off an audience’s energy. For me, a good show is if the audience has had a good time. I could sing every note perfectly, and if the audience wasn’t engaged, it would be a bummer. But, if I’m forgetting words and I’m messing up and it’s very imperfect, if the audience feels engaged and they’re having a good time, then it’s a great show for me.

“…when I’m far away from home, I like singing ‘Home’…”

SR. Well, people say that you’re one of the most entertaining performers to watch on stage, so I think you’ve got it naturally down, even if you mess up. Everyone loves you, especially in Australia.

IM. Australian audiences have been so sweet. I’ve been here twice before, and I remember the first time I came, I didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know if my humour or my personality would sort of cross over – if there’d be any sort of cultural barrier, you know? I didn’t know. Immediately, as soon as I got onstage, it was very familial and very familiar, and there tends to be this very warm, receptive thing that Australians – at least, the audiences that come to my show – have. They’re kind of like partiers, but they’re really respectful at the same time. Sometimes you play shows and you can tell that everyone’s a real party animal, and it becomes too much and it’s like you lose control of the audience. But there’s this really perfect balance between my audiences, all across the board. I’ve played in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, for the first time this tour.

They’ve always been really respectful but very rowdy, but in a good way.

SR. (Laughs) We’re engaged.

IM-Black-and-white-IM. Exactly, yeah! And I can talk and I can tell stories and I can engage people in the audience, which I love to do. It totally fits, it totally works. You know, when I’m in Germany, I can’t tell all my stories, I can’t quite engage, ‘cause there’s a language barrier and a humour barrier. So you have to kind of finagle your set, and I still have a great time but it’s just a different experience. But in Australia, the communication is, like, perfect and I just really have a great time. I’m looking forward to it.

SR. That’s fantastic. Well, this is your third tour here, isn’t it?

IM. Yes, third time. Yep.

SR. Have you spent much time in Australia, and where would you most love to spend some time?

IM. Well, I have been to the major 4 or 5 cities, but I generally only really have time off in Sydney. I’ve been to the beach and around the Opera House and up that tower thing.

We just went to a koala petting zoo and we got to feed kangaroos and touch koalas, and so I’ve done a lot of that stuff. One of our first shows ever was in Katoomba, by the Blue Mountains.

I remember being struck by how beautiful it was. I actually have family around there, too, and I think that if I had more time, it’d be lovely to spend time in that area. It seems so artistic and funky and far away from the city, but not that far that you feel that you’re totally removed but enough so that you have a glimpse into this whole other world. And I think when I come back for a longer time, I’d like to spend some time there just relaxing.

“…a lot of that record is wrapped up in various illnesses and mortality, but yet persevering…”

SR. Definitely. Katoomba’s beautiful. I’ve been there. I remember that we stopped off in a place. You’d understand this. We were driving from Katoomba to Sydney and there was a sign saying ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’. And Brooklyn was this little fishing village, and it was amazing; but just for the movie’s sake, we had to take the exit.

IM. Yeah (Laughs)

SR. I definitely recommend time in Melbourne. Melbourne’s amazing for their theatre and arts, and shopping, of course.

IM. Well, we’re going to be there. We’re going to be there very soon. The day after tomorrow.

SR. (Laughs) Well, I recommend you try to get some shopping in there.

IM. I will. My suitcase is so filled up, but I’m going to fill more stuff in it. (Laughs)

SR. What’s your personal favourite from the album? The songs are fun, beautiful, touching, but sometimes dark. Where did the inspiration come from?

IM. Um, it’s hard to say what my favourite song is ‘cause it changes a lot. I think, when I’m far away from home, I like singing ‘Home.’ It makes me feel like I have a connection to something like my home. My music becomes my home, you know? A couple of years ago I got really sick, and then both my mother and father were ill. I actually lost my mother last year.

SR. Oh, sorry.

IM. I wrote the record before my mother had passed. But a lot of that record was almost… I was very hopeful about her, and I didn’t think I was going to lose her, but I think in my music, I was sort of preparing myself for that. And that’s where my fear came out, in my music. And so, yeah, I think a lot of that record is wrapped up in various illnesses and mortality, but yet persevering. I feel like I’m nothing if I’m not perseverant. There is darkness, but I feel like I try to put a little bit of light in the middle of all the darkness. So, that’s what I hope comes through, anyway.

SR. Well, it definitely does. I found it inspiring because it pulls you into every emotion; and, like you said, every song is better on a particular day than the rest, or more amazing than the rest, because it touches you on that day. So, yeah, I definitely found it a very inspiring album and I think you’ve done a great job there.

IM. Well, thank you very much.

SR. How does it feel to be on the covers of, and also featured in, such high-profile magazines and papers as Billboard, The Wall Street Journal, People, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Times? That’s a fantastic list there.

IM. It’s definitely bizarre, you know? I just feel like my normal self and then you’ll see yourself in a magazine somewhere. It’s all very strange, but it’s part of the territory. I think when you start placing too much importance on things like that you sort of lose sight of what’s really real, you know? I mean, it’s awesome and I’m very thankful for it, but, at the same time I try not to put too much stock into those things.

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SR. Do you have any fan stories that you can share?

IM. Oh, I mean yes, there’s so many. This one woman, after a show, came up to me and she had me sign all these different albums. And she was a middle-aged woman and not my normal fan base and she said, ‘I have to tell you that I’m getting these for my daughter.’ And I said, ‘Oh, what’s her name?’ She said that she was in an accident and that she had severe brain injuries, and the only thing that made her smile was when she played my music. That was about 4 years ago now. That kind of thing stays with you. As musicians, we’re not saving people’s lives. We’re not finding cures for things. But every once in a while, you get reminded that maybe what you’re doing affects people in a good way, and it’s really wonderful to hear things like that. So, yeah, that’s one that I always remember.

SR. Well, I have to say that you do save people’s lives. I’m a big believer in art therapy and music therapy. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it, over the years and am going to study it myself. It really does pull people out of low places and I see how your album could definitely do that. And especially for such a special girl.

IM. It’s funny, because I know what music can do ‘cause I know what music can do for me. But it’s hard to picture that I’m having that effect on anyone. I find that there’s a sort of discrepancy between how I view myself and how I think that maybe other people do. But yeah, I think I just don’t really believe it until somebody gets my attention and tells me something. And then I’m like, ‘Oh, shit! Okay.’

So, I’m thankful for the times that people have sat me down and said, ‘Listen, this is what your music does.’

SR. That’s great. Do you have any message to send out to your Australian fans?

IM. Oh, well, I had to cancel my tour a few months ago, and so I just want to thank them for coming back and being understanding. I just look forward to seeing them at shows.

SR. Excellent. Thank you for speaking with us today. I really appreciate it and it’s been lovely talking to you. I hope you have a bit of fun while you’re here and not just rush through the country.

IM. Well, I already got to pet a koala and feed a kangaroo, so I’m pretty happy right now.

(Both laugh)

SR. Now you need to have a barbecue and you’ll be a true honorary Australian.

IM. I know. Well, we’re going to have Thai food tonight ‘cause I always remember the Thai food here is so good for some reason. It’s because we’re closer to Thailand. In New York, we have every kind of food you could ever want, but there’s something about the Thai food and the Vietnamese food here that, if I remember correctly, is just so good.

That’s definitely an Australian experience for me, oddly enough, to have Thai food. So, we’re doing that tonight. I’m getting three things done in one day. I’m pretty happy