'I Always Find Darkness in Light'
Sadness, Like 'The Sweater Song,' Fits Ingrid Michaelson Perfectly

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Many fans discovered indie singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson in late 2007 thanks to Old Navy, which used her sweetly romantic tune "The Way I Am" in a seemingly ubiquitous commercial to plug sweaters. By then, "The Sweater Song," as it naturally came to be known, along with other Michaelson tunes, had already turned up in episodes of "Grey's Anatomy." Some indie purists howled "sellout," but such exposure -- and sales of more than 275,000 copies of her debut CD, "Girls and Boys," along with 1.5 million digital song downloads -- proved that an unsigned artist like Michaelson had no need for a major label to make a big noise.

Now she's back with the just-released album "Everybody," which ruminates on the dark side of love in songs that are undeniably pop but stretch mainstream boundaries. Michaelson plays D.C.'s 9:30 club on Sept. 18; we caught up with her as she prepared for her nationwide tour.

-- Melinda Newman

Can you write songs when you're happy?

No. . . . Not to say that I'm always unhappy, but I tell you, I always end up finding something sad in a happy situation without fail. I'm half Swedish, and the Swedish are very depressed people. Well . . . not depressed, but I think I always find darkness in light.

The press has portrayed you as the poster child for indie success. Are you happy with that title?

It's weird; I don't see myself as all that successful. That sounds horrible because I know there are people who would love to be where I am.

You've had so much music used in TV placements. That has helped you get exposed, but the music is in the background, not the forefront. Is there a downside to that?

At first I was upset that people [were] not really talking about the music, but just talking about the ways I got to where I was. But now I'm at a place where I'm like, "If people are hearing it and they're liking it and they're buying it and enjoying it, then who cares?" . . . I'm not supporting the National Rifle Association, you know what I mean?

Some people really got on me for being in commercials, but now the Smashing Pumpkins [are on a Visa commercial]. Joanna Newsom is on the Victoria's Secret commercial. She's like the indiest of indies. . . . And all those naysayers are just feeling like [idiots] because their precious people are doing it, too.

Has anyone given you a piece of advice that has really stuck with you?

I heard the Five for Fighting guy [John Ondrasik] being interviewed and he was like, "I answer all my fan mail." This was 2001 or 2002. So I wrote him and I was like, "I hear you answer all your fans. I've just started writing music and I wanted to know if you have any words of wisdom for me." And he wrote: "Good luck with everything. Don't let the vultures change you." I want to meet him and tell him that . . . because it always stuck with me.

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