Ingrid Michaelson is such a successful singer-songwriter that, rather than subject herself to the rigors of touring, she probably could stay home composing songs.
The 32-year-old native New Yorker and Brooklyn resident’s music has been used in Old Navy, Google and Chrysler TV ads, the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Parenthood, Ugly Betty, Scrubs and So You Think You Can Dance and films Ramona and Beezus and Like Crazy.
And in the age of the widespread illegal digital downloading of music, Michaelson still has sold 800,000 albums and four million singles, including the million-selling “The Way I Am.”
Writing and recording success aside, Michaelson genuinely loves the performance side of her career.
“Being away from home and stuff like that is tiring, but when it’s right, there’s no other feeling like it,” she said. “My best shows really do rely on the audience. Even if I mess things up, if things go wrong, if I feel like they’re in it with me, then it’s just so much fun.”
Michaelson came up in a household filled with the classical music and opera that her father, a composer who worked at a New York City music publishing company, preferred to all other musical styles. She began formal piano study at 4 or 5 years old.
“I would sit in front of the piano and bang away and write these songs,” Michaelson said. “They thought it was funny and cute, so they plopped me in these lessons. I think they wanted me to harness the energy that I obviously had toward music.”
Michaelson dropped piano lessons at 15 but continued her voice study through high school and college. Classical music, though, was never her passion.
“I appreciate it and I like it, but it’s not really where my soul is,” she explained.
Singing in a soft, warm, expressive voice, Michaelson puts abundant soul into her piano-based pop compositions. The aching “Ghost,” a single from her latest album, Human Again, is a haunting example.
The singer-songwriter created a simple but powerful music video for “Ghost.” In the mostly black-and-white clip, the song’s lyrics magically appear over her own skin.
“So many times people think they know what the lyrics to a song are,” she said. “Then they post them on the web and they turn out to be wrong. So I said, ‘Let’s jump the gun and make one of our own.’ I didn’t want to do a regular old lyric video like everybody else. I wanted something different and interesting and that’s what came into my head.”
Michaelson doesn’t limit herself to her own music. Another of her music videos features her as a one-woman band performing the current Gotye hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
“There’s so much amazing music in the world, why would I only do my own?” she asked. “And when I first heard the song, I was just, like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ I heard it a while ago, before it started to be everywhere, but now so many people are doing it.”
Another peer whose music she enjoys is the rather controversial Lana Del Rey.
“I fell like she is separated from her emotions, but I’m intrigued by her,” Michaelson said.
But her greatest inspiration, the hyper-emotive Judy Garland, is the antithesis of the bloodless Del Rey.
“I grew up adoring old musicals. Something about the way Judy Garland sings always struck a chord with me. She’s got a big hold on me, in how she evokes emotion through her vocals. Her story is attached to her voice, too, and we all know what she went through in her life. It endears her to me even more.”