Ingrid Michaelson: "Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously"

All chill.
All chill.
Shervin Lainez

Indie-pop singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson was discovered on MySpace in 2006. After breaking out with her first big hit, "The Way I Am," her songs were soon playing on popular TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and commercials for Old Navy. Now she's a household name who went from a sweet coffee-shop singer to performing for President Obama at the White House.

Following the release of her fifth studio album, Lights Out, Michaelson hit the road again. And as part of her tour, she'll present an intimate evening at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale. The lovely songstress, who has a reputation for turning her audience into putty in her hands, will charm the crowd with a combination of killer vocals and personal conversation.

Michaelson has come a long way since her incredible start and wants her fans to know she's not the same girl who wrote that initial hit. At 35, the New York native has seen life's ups and downs and has adopted a "fuck what people think" attitude, embracing her true self and losing any interest in being a people pleaser. Probably one of the most down-to-earth and least diva-like singers out there, Michaelson is more interested in writing and creating music than anything else.

For her latest music video -- which accompanies a song, "Afterlife," about facing your biggest fears -- she invited her fans to submit their own personal phobias, brought a lucky few to the studio, and then surprised them by helping each face those fears on camera.

We recently spoke with Michaelson on how she deals with emotions when performing, her journey into adulthood, and her Instagram account.

New Times: As a singer/songwriter who writes her own songs, you're putting a lot of your emotions out there. Sometimes that involves painful moments from your past. When you're performing live, do you still connect to what it was you were going through when you wrote those songs, or are you able to detach from that and see them through a new light?

Ingrid Michaelson: I think it depends on your mood. It depends on what you're going through in that period, but a lot of times, that meaning doesn't stay with you. For me, a lot of times songs evolve, and I'm more sort of thinking about what I'm immediately going through. That being said, there are a few lines that always bring things up, and you can't change that, but... the meaning of your art definitely keeps evolving.

I wanted to talk about your music video for your single "Afterlife." Can you tell me more about how you came up with that concept and what it was like shooting the video?

I found that for me, when I do anything that's sort of scary or that I feel uncomfortable doing, I end up feeling sort of great when I'm done. And I wanted to have other people experience that. I just feel like there's a freedom of asking real people in the world to pick something that frightens them and tackle that and get those experiences and reactions on film and use that as a tool to inspire other people to not be afraid. Because ultimately, after you do that [face your fears], you feel pretty great, like you've accomplished something. So I thought it would be nice to sort of spread that feeling.

Were they freaking out at all when they realized they were getting to meet you?

Yeah, they knew that I was involved. They didn't know to what extent I was involved. A lot of the times, when I kind of popped out, those reactions of them being surprised were real because they were aware that I was in the studio somewhere, but they didn't know if I was going to meet them after, so it was really sweet and really fun. It was a really fun three days.

 

I only recently found out that you actually got your start using MySpace, promoting yourself and building a following. Do you still feel strongly about the whole DIY approach to making it in the music industry, and how important are tools like social media and YouTube to artists such as yourself?

I feel like I was really lucky in terms of getting, like you said, getting discovered on MySpace and doing the TV-commercial route. I sort of side-stepped the major-label route. But I don't want to say that nobody should ever go to a label. I feel like everybody should do what's right for them in that situation. With me, it just didn't really make sense, because I was making so much headway through TV presence, through communicating with people online.

I feel like connecting with people, again, it depends on what kind of artist you are, and some artists don't do that stuff at all because it's not in their genetic makeup and they don't want to tweet, they don't want to Insta­gram. But I feel like for me, because of how I got my start, it makes sense. I like to be able to connect with people, and a lot of times, I'll use my Twitter or my Instagram not to promote my music but just to post a funny picture or something that's just human.

People like to know that you're a real person, and they like to see that. And I will obviously use it to promote my record and my tour and stuff, but what I find people really want the most is that human connection. So I think it's a really great tool to connect with people.

Judging from your Instagram account, I think it's safe to say you have a great sense of humor and you have no problem laughing at yourself. Does having that kind of carefree attitude when it comes to your image keep you sane in an industry that can be so critical, especially of women?

That's a good question. I don't know. I mean, maybe. I think people are critical just to be critical, especially online. I'm really happy I wasn't an adolescent during the internet age. It was the very beginning, but you didn't have to worry about people cyberbullying. So I don't know, maybe. I don't look at myself very critically. I feel like I kind of take the approach, especially with physical criticism, with a grain of salt, because people just want to be mean to be mean.

I don't know -- that's an interesting question. I haven't really thought about it that much, but that's kind of just the way that I was born and the way that I was raised, that everybody's on an equal playing field, and don't take yourself too seriously, and enjoy what you do and make people laugh. And I like to make people laugh all the time, so I think that's part of it too.

Ingrid Michaelson. Stripped Lights Out Tour, with Greg Holden. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 12, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $28 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit cultureroom.net.

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