The way she is

It's weeks like this that I am so thrilled and thankful for the gig I have. Last week I got yet another interview with a Summerfest performer -- the very cool and very talented Ingrid Michaelson ...

We're on our way to see her tonight. In the meantime, here's the piece I wrote about her for last Sunday's Kenosha News ...

Here’s a fun fact you might not have known about the quirky, cool, cute songstress that is Ingrid Michaelson: She knows her stuff about the cheesy sitcom “Full House.”

And if you need further proof, log on to YouTube and search for her video with sidekick Allie Moss, “
The Hunt For the Full House House.” On it, she dramatically recites the show’s theme song (“Whatever happened to predictability?” ...) and then mesmerizes viewers with her trivia knowledge.

“That show is timeless,” she says. “It’s so bad, it good.”
But Michaelson, who two years ago was teaching part-time, hardly could have predicted becoming a widespread indie sensation, something that almost literally happened overnight. Thanks to a handful of songs being picked up for episodes of ABC’s smash “Grey’s Anatomy” and an Old Navy sweater TV spot that propelled her to pop radio, her stock is soaring.

On Thursday, she’ll make her debut at Summerfest, playing at 8 p.m. at the Zippo Rock stage opening for Gomez. Fans can expect plenty of crowd interaction and lots of songs from “Girls and Boys” mixed with a couple new songs and a cover or two, she says, “but I’m not telling.”

In the meantime, the singer/songwriter’s self-released sophomore album “Girls and Boys” continues to gain critical acclaim while selling more than 210,000 copies and counting. Her hit single “The Way I Am,” the song featured in the Old Navy commercial, has sold more than 700,000 digital downloads.

She’s been doing the talk show circuit, too. After Summerfest, Michaelson is due to perform at the Mile High Festival in Denver before a string of dates opening for Dave Matthews Band in stadium-sized venues. She also is set to play both Bumbershoot and Austin City Limits.

Even while the non-stop touring can be harried and stressful, she takes it in stride. Her happy-go-lucky personality shined through the phone as we talked last week, despite some management miscommunication that delayed our conversation and a less-than-ideal phone connection.

“I’m in a car and driving to a gig and doing a phone interview,” she shouts happily. It’s easy to visualize her bouncing in a passenger seat. She and her mates were on their way from Los Angeles to San Diego. She tells me she had to order her food — a fish taco with chips and beans — while doing a prior phone interview. “It’s good. I’m happy,” she says.

Born and based in Staten Island, N.Y. (She lives with her parents actually. But it’s not necessary to feel sorry for her. “I’m never there,” she says.) Michaelson was raised to appreciate the arts and encouraged early on to be herself and pursue her interests. While her mother sculpted and her father composed classical music, little Ingrid was taking piano lessons at age 4.

She took her cues from the classical music her father played throughout the house, old-time musicals like “The Wizard of Oz,” “White Christmas” and “Top Hat,” and, of course, The Beatles.

“I didn’t really listen to the radio as a kid,” she says. “(The Beatles) are the only pop music he was listening to. They’re sort of like the classical music of pop.”

Though in later years she would get into the grunge movement — her first cassette tape was the Violent Femmes, and she enjoyed Nirvana and the Cranberries — Michaelson attended college with dreams of appearing on Broadway. For a short time she toured with a national troupe, but after graduating from college and doing a couple shows, she got turned off by the process.

“I couldn’t take it,” she says. “It was too hard. So I just started writing music and the music thing seemed to fit better.”

It was then that she began composing the songs that would make it on to her “Girls and Boys” album, an album she released on her own Cabin 24 Records. Like any aspiring, entrepreneurial artist, Michaelson also put up a MySpace Web site.

“You had to have it as a musician,” she says. “You have to have a MySpace page and I just figured better to do it then not do it. The idea wasn’t that one person would hear it and put me on a commercial, the idea over time was to build a fan base.

The music caught the ears of a TV music supervisor in the fall of 2006 and Michaelson unexpectedly got the call that would put her on the music map. The music supervisor from “Grey’s Anatomy” wanted to use her song “Breakable” in an upcoming episode. By the end of the 2006-07 TV season, Grey’s had used four of Michaelson’s songs, including her dramatic “Keep Breathing,” which was chosen for the climax of the show’s heralded season finale.

“I knew they had great music placement and I really wanted to get my songs heard by them,” she says. “It was pretty awesome that it ended up happening.”

Then last fall, her infectious little “The Way I Am” became yet another sensation when Old Navy used it in its ad campaign to advertise a new sweater line. Michaelson admits she had reservations at first and worried her expanding fan base might think she was selling out. Those fears never materialized.

“I didn’t really know what it was going to entail so I was like, ‘sure you can use it,’ ” she says. “I didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was.”

The recognition was instant and people started paying attention. “Girls and Boys” cracked the Billboard Top 200 for the first time, even claiming the No. 1 spots on both the Heatseeker and Alternative New Artist Album charts. She had the No. 2 pop album, No. 11 overall album, No. 3 pop song, and No. 4 song overall on iTunes — milestones previously unheard of for an indie release.

Now, you might wonder if playing the hand-clappy sweater song night after night has worn it thin, but Michaelson gives no indication of that.

“I know the audience really enjoys it,” she says. “We play the same songs every night but the audiences are different, so they make it feel different. If I was playing that song every day by myself, then yeah. But it’s not about you anymore and every night I feed off it.”

“The Way I Am,” Michaelson says, was written on a day while she was feeling down and she started thinking about “the whole idea of finding somebody who was going to love you no matter what,” she says. “It came from that sentiment really. It wasn’t too specific.”

And that’s the charm of her aptly titled “Girls and Boys.” While the disc is filled with songs about love and relationships, the tunes are built on catchy, simple and singable lyrics layered with luscious harmonies. On “The Hat” — which begins with a meandering melody and morphs into the most irresistibly catchy song on the album — she sings about a blue and gold hat she knitted but didn’t fit a love interest. Few of the songs run much longer than three minutes.

“I like just to write about the bare bones of a situation,” she says. “The most important parts are the foundation. I try to not really get too tied up in it or too wordy. I like keeping it short and sweet.”

Michaelson says she’s not sure if she’ll soon sign with a major label, but she won’t close the door on it, either. Clearly, she’s happy with where she’s standing, no matter how unpredictable things can be in her business. She’s writing and recording new material.

“Hopefully everything else will fall in to place,” she says. “That’s all I can really hope for.”
Here's another good read about her from MTV.

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