My Old Friend Ingrid

MusicCatching up with Ingrid Michaelson.

By Lindsey Lowe Osborne

If there’s anyone who feels like an old friend (besides, say, all my old friends), it’s Ingrid Michaelson. I discovered her in 2008, when I was a junior in high school. “Keep Breathing” and “Be OK” and “Oh What a Day” and “Giving Up” and “You and I”—fine, the whole Be OK album (2008)—are not just songs I sang along to, but songs that taught me about the human experience. That may sound dramatic, but a 16-year-old artsy girl is about as dramatic as they come. Maybe a 24-year-old girl is no better, because I squealed something fierce when I got the opportunity to chat with Ingrid (I also texted my real old friend and BFF Janie and lots of exclamation points were involved—too many for a self-respecting writer, but I’m a girl who can make exceptions every now and then.)

Michaelson, who will be at Iron City on June 5, hails from Staten Island and was born to artistic parents. At age 4, she began piano. “I was always surrounded by music as a child. My father is a musician and was always playing piano,” she says. “I took lessons most of my childhood. I was just always around it and drawn to it. I knew music would always be a part of my life.” Perhaps she didn’t quite know then how big of a part it would be. She loved both music and theatre growing up and received her bachelor’s in theater from Binghamton University in New York. After acting for a little while, she turned to writing music. “For me, my ‘aha’ moment was when I realized that I wanted to write and sing and not focus on theatre as much,” she says. “That really was a scary decision, since I majored in theatre in college. But I’m glad I did!”

After making the switch, she wrote music and played in dive bars for six years. Then, in 2006, her song “Breakable” appeared in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (it was, if you will, her big break. I know, I know. I can’t be stopped.) She would go on to have her music appear on Grey’s Anatomy (among other things, including Parenthood and Sex & the City) 15 times. After that, she began recording and touring consistently—that’s how she’s spent the last eight years. She says it’s a pleasure—her dream—but it’s also tough at times. “The most challenging part is being unbalanced—not being able to be in one place for an extended period of time. There will be months where I don’t really ever unpack my suitcase because I am always going somewhere,” she explains. “It’s hard to travel as much as I do and stay balanced. But I am getting better at it. Finding a balance in yourself rather than a physical place is key. I haven’t mastered that yet but I’m getting closer!”

Michaelson released her first album, Slow the Rain, in 2005; five albums followed: Girls and Boys (2007), Be OK (2008), Everybody (2009), Human Again (2012), and her most recent, last year’s Lights Out. Lights Out was a different kind of project for her, because for the first time ever, she wasn’t the sole writer. “Lights Out is a coming-to-terms-with-your-mortality record. Fun, I know. But it’s more,” she says. “It’s about coming to terms. Understanding your place in the world and what you have to do to find your joy within it. It differs greatly because I cowrote for the first time on it, so there are lots of different voices and ideas. It really opened up my writing. Before, I held onto the control of being the sole writer for so long. Letting go was crucial to the creation of the record.” Indeed the record is bolstered by others—Mat Kearney, Greg Laswell, and A Great Big World to name a few—but it’s still the same great Ingrid we know and love.

Michaelson’s music is known for being raw and upbeat at the same time; she seems to have no fear of documenting all of the ins and outs of being a human, and her fans have long been grateful for that. “I’m not inventing anything. I’m not trying to,” she says. “I just sing about what I’m feeling, what everyone feels and goes through. I hope that people feel less alone from hearing my music. That they feel connected.” Certainly for me, that is the case. How often have I plugged in my headphones and felt better because Ingrid was singing? I don’t know. A lot.

The first time my (now) husband told me he wanted to marry me, I listened to “You and I” (Be OK): “Don’t you worry there, my honey / we might not have any money / but we’ve got our love to pay the bills.” When the April 27, 2011, tornado tore through Tuscaloosa (where I lived at the time), we played “Keep Breathing” (also Be OK): “But all that I know is I’m breathing / All I can do is keep breathing / All we can do is keep breathing now.” (After all, it worked for Cristina.) And this morning, just because, “The Way I Am” (Girls and Boys): “If you were falling, then I would catch you…”

My point? Maybe Ingrid is my old friend. Maybe that’s the power of music; maybe that’s why Ingrid keeps singing and we keep singing along. “I love the feeling of all these humans understanding me and enjoying life in front of me,” she says.

We’ll talk soon, Ingrid.


5/29: Matthew Mayfield at Iron City. For fans of Andrew Belle, Peter Bradley Adams, and Greg Laswell.

6/10: Houndmouth at Saturn. For fans of Jason Isbell, Dawes, and Jim James.

6/15: Delta Rae at Workplay. For fans of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, the Avett Brothers, and ZZ Ward.

Leave a Reply