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Ingrid Michaelson Is Still Figuring It Out

Ingrid Michaelson
Shervin Lainez

Ingrid Michaelson has been entertaining fans with her honest, heartfelt and, at times, quirky tunes, churning out hits like “The Way I Am” and “Girls Chase Boys” over the years.

And while fans still have her 2016 full-length, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, on heavy rotation, Ingrid wanted to give everyone a different listening experience with her new EP, Alter Egos. Teaming up with some of her famous musical friends, five tracks from her last album have been given a breath of newer life with alternative renditions.

That’s not all: the pop singer-songwriter is keeping herself busy with other creative pursuits, including creating her own sitcom and taking on the role of Sonya in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway, starting next month.

We had a chance to chat with Ingrid about the new EP, acting and how she manages to balance it all.

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Alter Egos is filled with songs that are from your last album, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense. What inspired the idea of reworking the songs, and why did you want to do them as duets?

I love how music is very flexible, and it can be produced in so many different ways. This year, I have a lot of stuff I’m working on. And I knew that I’m not in the mindset to make a new record. I usually put a record out every two years, and I don’t think that’s going to happen this time. I put my last record out in August of 2016, and I just felt like I wanted to put something up for my fans to listen to. But I don’t necessarily want to make something that’s brand new. I thought it might be fun to take some of the songs off my last record and do different things with them: put different sounds on them, produce them differently. Then I thought, “What if we added some of my friends, peers, different musicians on it and made it a duet EP?”

And it kind of fell together very quickly. I asked AJR because they were on tour with me, and I love their energy. I loved their songs, and I knew we could do an awesome job with “Celebrate;” so I was like, “Hey guys, do I take a crack at this?,” and they were like, “Yeah.” Lucius. I love their vibe and their harmonies. And I knew I wanted to do a three-part harmony version of the song, “I Remember Her.” So I sent them the track, and they said yes.

Tegan and Sara I’ve been a fan forever, and I met them a couple times. But I’m not close with them, and so I thought that was the wildcard. I didn’t know if they’re going to say yes or not — they did. And they said, “‘Whole Lot Of Heart'” is our favorite song on the record. I was so excited.

With “Drink You Gone,” we knew we wanted to go kind of a country route with that. When I wrote it, [the song] felt like it was sort of a country song, but the country didn’t fit on the vibe of the last record. So I was like, Let’s find like a growly male country singer who can take this and make this something different. And that’s John Paul White, and he’s so amazing. And then obviously Sara Bareilles. Sara and I wrote a song together eight or nine years ago. And I think we have a lot of crossover fans, and I know people are always saying, “You know when are you going to something with Sara? When are you going to do something with Sara?”

So I [told] Sara I wanted her to sing on “Miss America” just because I thought that would be a really strong song for us to sing together, and she said yes. So it pretty much just happened a lot faster than I thought. I just asked people and they all said yes.

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Then the recording process is different for each person. Sara and I got into the studio, and I did my track first. Then she did hers, and then I went back and redid a few harmony pieces later. With AJR, I just sent them the track, and they kind of picked it apart and added a lot of stuff. Actually “Celebrate” was the only one that actually has tracks in it. So I would say they really kind of remixed it, but they really made it their own. It’s so cool.

Lucius and I went into in the studio with Mike Tracey and sang live. That was really awesome and kind of scary because if you mess up, you can’t just stop and punch in and and go again. You have two other people with you. So it was really, really fun. It was really hard, but it was really fun. John Paul and I did [our vocals] separately, So yeah, it was all a different experience for each song. But I’m really happy with that. I think it’s really eclectic, and it favors each of the artists.

I wanted to bring to the personality of the artist to my songs. That was the idea, and I think that we executed that really well. I’m really happy with it because, like I said, I’m not ready to start working on a new record. I have a lot of other things going on. And in this day and age, people want and consume music so quickly. When you put a record out, two months later, they’re like, “When are you going to have another record?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, I need a break.” So I feel like it’s the perfect little kind of something to satiate people between projects.

Now onto the TV show that you’re developing. Can you talk a little bit about how that even started? Was that always something you thought of dabbling into? More TV, movie, film, that kind of thing?

So I went to school for musical theater. I did theater all my life. And after I graduated college, that’s what I wanted to do. And I started to write music at the same time. And you know, I’m kind of better at music than I am acting. So I made the switch to music and then I started to do well with music, and I never really looked back. But then five years ago, I was like, “You know what I miss? Theater. I miss acting.”

I think it would be really funny to play a somewhat heightened version of myself on a sitcom, along the lines of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but not that silly. I got with a few different writers, and it never really took flight. We couldn’t really quite hone in on the on the right tone.

And then I met with this amazing writer named Lynn Tigelaar a few months ago, and she was a fan of mine. She’s like, “I love your music. I’ve been coming to your shows for like seven years.” And I have been a fan of her written work on Nashville and Life Unexpected. And she’s the show-runner and executive producer for a show called Casual on Hulu that I love. So it was like a love fest, and we were both like, “Oh my god! I love you.” And she got me.

We wrote this together — and when I say we, I mean she did most of the work — we wrote this skit together, and we went around to a bunch of different networks pitching the show. We got some offers for pilot scripts, and we chose Hulu. So right now we-slash-she is working on a script for the pilot, and that’s where we are. Our fingers are crossed. If they like the pilot script, then we’ll shoot the pilot. If they like the pilot, then we will go to series. But there’s steps you have to go through, and it’s obviously a huge commitment for a network. So they have to make sure that this is the show that they want to do. It’s very, very exciting. I try not to get too excited until I know something is definite. That’s kind of my personality.

But it seems really promising, and Hulu is great. I’ve met with a lot of the people over there, and I’ve been obsessed with Handmaid’s Tale. I think it’s revolutionary, and it’s amazing. There’s so many great original programs on Hulu that people might not know about. I think Handmaid’s Tale is kind of opening people up to getting that. So I hope [my show] happens.

It’s one thing to get back into the acting side of things. But, you’re playing yourself. Since the script is still being worked out, are there any nerves coming in, playing this kind of side of yourself?

I’m sure when the time comes there might be some nerves, but I’m pretty excited. I think we need this story of a woman in her 30s, who is trying to figure her life out and doesn’t have children [or] parents. It’s not one that’s been told a lot. I think there’s more room for comedic roles for women. In the last few years, there have been more and more, but we need a good female-driven comedy. I would be part of that. So I’m more excited, I think, than I am nervous.

My only worry is I don’t want people being like, “Is that what she thinks of me?” There’s a character based on my sister-in-law, and it’s absolutely nothing like her. It’s very negative, and I love my sister-in-law. I think she’s amazing, and we have a great relationship. I don’t want people thinking that’s my real life, but that’s what people will think. I can’t worry about that. I just have to tell the story that I want to tell, and that will be what it is.

You have all these different facets, and you’re showing your career isn’t just music. How do you balance it all?

That’s a good question because I’m kind of in the middle of trying to figure that out. I’m writing all the music for an animated film, basically like a little musical almost. And I’ve been in talks about writing a musical. I’ve been in talks about being in a musical. None of which I can really say anything more than that. [The interview was conducted before she announced she would be on Broadway.] But there’s been there’s a lot kind of swirling around right now, and I actually don’t know the answer to that question.

I think I just have to follow my heart. If it feels right, I’ll make it work somehow. I do value my home time, my relaxation and my time off — although I never feel like my brain is ever really off. But I’m figuring it out, and I think that’s part of being human. We just try to be the best version of ourselves and do things that make us happy and hopefully everything else will fall into place.

You were talking about how you’re not ready to put any new music out earlier, which explains Alter Egos. It’s an interim for the fans. But, I’m sure fans want to know – will some kind of live performance of any of these duets happen?

Oh yeah, totally. While I don’t think I’m going on full-fledged tours, I don’t rule out the shows in New York or a show in L.A. or a live stream. Doing live stream shows are great because then people can watch from the comfort of their living room. I don’t plan on touring, but I definitely will be doing some further performing for sure.

I actually am working this summer on a holiday record that’s coming out in 2018. So that’s also something else I’m doing. So there’ll be new music in 2018, it’s just going to be holiday music. But who doesn’t love holiday music? I love the holidays so much. This is something that’s been a long time coming, and that’s why I wanted to start working on it now. I know 2018 might be pretty busy, and I want to make sure that I give this the love and the time.

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