Ingrid Michaelson ‘Lights’ Up San Diego

The chart-topping singer/songwriter talks her writing process and her bi-coastal love

Ingrid Michaelson Getty
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“Thanks for getting up early.”

I was telling Ingrid Michaelson about how I’d stayed out extra late to see “Mad Max” in the theater the night before our early morning call -- hoping to somehow justify to the chart-topping singer/songwriter why I sounded like I was just waking up. And here she was, thanking me for, in essence, doing my job.

“It sounds like that’s one of those movies you’d want to see on the big screen,” Michaelson said. She’s right. It is one of those movies. But as much as I would have loved to have waxed poetic on Imperator Furiosa, the War Boys and Immortan Joe, we had other things to talk about. Among them, her hometown -- Brooklyn -- for example.

“I’m such a New Yorker,” Michaelson said. “I love my neighborhood. When I’m on tour, I kind of miss it like I miss a person. There’s really no other place like it. That said, I really love going to new places that I haven’t been to a lot.”

She’s been afforded that particular luxury over the last few years since she released her first album, "Slow the Rain," in 2005. When her single "The Way I Am" started getting radio (and TV) airplay in 2007, things began changing. During the last seven years, she has released five other studio albums, dominated TV show and commercial placements, charted with such massive singles such "Be OK" and "Girls Chase Boys," and sold out national tours. Even with all the success, she seems relatively unfazed by it all.

"You always want to top the last thing you did," Michaelson said. "But I just like to move forward. I want to excel and succeed, obviously, but I don’t put too much thought into that. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any pressure. But to do what I’m doing and be able to make a living off it is just amazing, and I try to focus on that. I can’t control if people will accept it or if it’ll be successful, but I can control if I like it."

But does she ever feel as though writing is more challenging now than when she started out? After all, there’s that old saying: You have forever to write your first album, and a year to write your next.

Ingrid Michaelson, "Lights Out"

"I don’t think creatively that I am holding anything back," Michaelson said. "I think there’s a naivete and a ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing’ that’s charming on the first record. You can’t really harness that, though, because you really don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what the industry wants and what fans like and don’t like. Of course, things like that get into your mind and your writing -- but I do my best to stick with what I think is good. When I started my first record, I made music that I liked. There will be people who don’t like my kind of music, and I’m not gonna try to get them onboard by changing what I do.… If you go with your instinct and keep making music you think is good, people will find you and stay with you."

Part of Michaelson's approach to new music has been co-writing with other musicians, which she admitted she didn’t really partake of very much prior to last year's full-length "Lights Out."

"Up until this last record, I barely co-wrote at all," Michaelson said. “On this last record, I felt really stagnant; I felt the need to change things up. I just dipped my toe in the water of collaborating with other writers, and I had a really great experience. Since then, I’ve been co-writing a lot more. I’ve been having such success with it, and it is very liberating. I had such a stronghold on my writing in the past and I didn’t want to share it with anybody. But it can be very isolating to do that. There’s something very beautiful about creating music with other people and having this thing you can share with other people."

Even though the ability to share experiences with others informs Michaelson's recent music, it also drives her live performances as well. When she sets up camp at Humphreys By the Bay on June 12, it will be her second time through the scenic venue in as many years -- and she’s definitely not complaining.

"Last time we did Humphreys, people were definitely excited and joyful, but I also felt such a connection to people there," Michaelson said. "I love being by the water and the boats that are all there, and the food -- it feels like vacation for a day."

Ah, yes, America’s Finest City. We’ve had the nickname bestowed on us for a reason. Although, her affinity for our particular town is also driven, in part, by some rather surprising culinary offerings.

"I’m obsessed with Rubio’s," Michaelson said with a laugh. "We don’t have those over here on the East Coast, so I always get my Rubio’s fix out there. But, you know, I just love it out there. The weather is ridiculously perfect all the time. You know when you’re gonna be in San Diego, you’re a) gonna have beautiful weather and b) always have really fun shows."

Ingrid Michaelson headlines Humphreys By the Bay on Friday, June 12, with Juxebox the Ghost and Greg Holden opening. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $40 (available online here).

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Diamond Lakes and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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