Ingrid Michaelson – Still Breathing

“All I can do is keep breathing,” Ingrid Michaelson sang on “Keep Breathing,” a song that helped close out the 2007 season of Grey’s Anatomy.  And she’s taken quite a few buoyant breaths since that moment, including another slot on the 2008 Grey’s season finale, offering up the previously unreleased “Giving Up” to keep a healthy buzz glowing around her music.

Her 2007 release Girls and Boys has been quite a smash, including the popular “Breakable” and “The Way I Am,” the latter which you’ve probably heard on numerous talk shows and Old Navy commercials.  There’s even an interesting video on YouTube where Ingrid takes the viewer on her experiment through the Mall of America to see if random shoppers can recognize her humming and handclapping her way through “Cuz I-I-I-I lo-o-o-o-ve the way you call me ba-by.”

Most think she’s crazy; and perhaps that was the point, I’m not sure.  But by the end of this summer, I’ve got a feeling that Michaelson won’t have to do any experiments to see if people recognize her music.  After a headline tour of the U.S., she’ll be opening a few shows for Dave Matthews, then finding time for Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival and Austin’s ACL fest.  The road seems wide open for Ingrid Michaelson.

Glide recently had the opportunity to talk to the rising singer-songwriter about her summer plans, being an independent artist, and Old Navy commercials.

Pretty exciting time for you.  You’re about to open some shows for Dave Matthews this summer in July. 

Yeah, that’s pretty insane.  The largest number I’ve ever headlined before is 1,400, and that’s a lot for me. He’s playing like 20- to 25,000-people arenas, and I don’t know how to approach that! I have a very intimate vibe, I like to talk with audiences and I like to include them in stuff, so I guess I’ll find out when I’m there, how I will approach it.  I usually can step up to the plate when I’m challenged, but this is more like, ‘How do you even do that?’ So I’m really excited about what kind of show we’re going to do.

It’s sort of been one thing after the other for you.  How do you react to the good news when it comes in?

I just take everything in little bits. I just kind of take it as, ‘Cool, that will be fun.’ I’m going to have my full band with me – four of my best friends on stage with me.  So I’m not going to be alone.  I look at things as, ‘Wow, that’s really exciting,’ rather than, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t handle anything.’

What’s it mean to be an independent artist?

That fact that I have my own label, and I am my own money lender – I don’t borrow from anybody – it’s all coming from me.  I outsource, I have lots of people who are working with me and for me, but when it all comes down to it, everything’s coming out of me.  So that’s truly independent, I think.

Would you say that’s what music is all about for you – because it’s coming from one person?

Well, some of my favorite bands are obviously signed, and they have major label deals, so it really doesn’t (pauses)…the caliber of music is not dictated by whether the fact you’re on a label or not.  I figure if I can accomplish this, then why would I not at least try?

You’re from New York.  Before more people knew about your music, did you know a lot of musicians around New York?

Yeah, I have my circle of friends of people in New York that you would see over and over again and would perform with, and I still have those friends.

Do you think your new fans have any kind of grasp of how you’ve gotten your career from “Point A” to “Point B?”  Or do you not really care?

I don’t really care if people know my story or not.  It’s cool if they look into it and want to learn about it; I mean, there are a lot of people who have been following me from the beginning, so I think it’s pretty awesome to see the growth of an artist that you like right before your eyes.  And now with MySpace, people discover artists before anybody else does.  But if you’re just stepping into it now, that’s great; if you’re connected to it, I’m totally down with anything.

Are you writing anything new these days or are you more focused on touring?

I have enough for two albums (laughs).  So much stuff!  But I have no time to record right now, so…

Who are some of your favorite musicians – what are you listening to right now?

Right now, I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap…a very good friend of mine is actually on tour with me right now, Greg Laswell, he’s one of my favorite artists. Growing up it was Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and The Cranberries.  I definitely think I have influences from that grunge era, somehow in there somewhere – it’s gotta be there – I don’t know where, but it’s gotta be there because I was so into that.

You mentioned earlier that you like to make your live show interactive – is including your fans something that you go out of your way to do?  Like, do you try to meet them after shows?

Oh, totally. I don’t go out of my way in a way that’s awkward or pushy.  But I definitely make…that’s part of it, connecting with people.  For me, I like to talk.  You know, it depends on the show…but sometimes I’ll just go off on a tangent!  But it’s fun; if people are interested and they want to hear, and they want to be part of it, then I’m totally down.

How do you feel the mainstream audience relates to your music? The type of fans who come to your shows, they don’t necessarily buy into what is being force-fed to them…

No, they don’t.  But I feel like also, in terms of mainstream artists, I feel like your everyday consumer would get into mine and other types of music, if they heard it.  I think there is a definitely a shift in power, we’re not coming to the forefront, but we’re definitely advancing and causing a ripple.  And with things like iTunes, and commercials, and MySpace, and all that crap, people are discovering music that nobody else knows, and people are discovering that there is a whole lot more out there than what you hear on the radio.  Not to bash the radio, but they are kind of tied – you can only have a certain amount of songs to play at one time.  Whereas the Internet, it’s wide open.

And you’re not the only one who has had songs featured on commercials.  Wilco had the VW commercials, Hem has Liberty Mutual…

It’s a different way of getting your music heard, you know.  Just because Wilco did car commercials or whatever, it doesn’t mean they are driving around in VWs!  It’s not like we’re tied to that product.  I mean, I don’t want to be associated with Old Navy for the rest of my life! I’m not against them, but it’s not my thing, I’m not a spokesperson.

Glide Senior Writer Jason Gonulsen lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife, Kelly, and dogs, Maggie and Tucker. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]

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