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Singing Out Loud

11 September 2012 | 6:00 am | Michael Smith

"Instead of thinking, ‘I’m going to write about love’, ‘I’m going to write about this’, I was, like, ‘I’m going to write a song where I hit a low A and a high C’, you know what I mean?"

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If, like so many Americans, you've come to know Ingrid Michaelson's music first through the inclusion of so many of her songs in episodes of Grey's Anatomy, among other TV placements, and then her 2007 debut, Girls & Boys, and second album, Everybody, then be prepared to be surprised by her third – Human Again. This is not quite the sound of the Brooklyn-based, introspective, librarian-chic indie artist who's sold more than 800,000 albums you've come to know and expect.

“This record is real different from my previous work in that I feel like these songs are more vocally driven than any of my other works' songs,” Michaelson explains. “Actually I've really, like, opened up and kind of stretched myself dynamically anyway, so I think when I was making it and listening back to it during mixing, I feel like everything followed my voice.

“My producer David Kahne, we met in December of 2009 and we were talking about what kind of record I wanted to make, and I had a handful of songs and I played some of them for him, and he had my previous record and he had come to see me play a show few days ago, and after the end of my meeting he said, 'I just want to ask you, how come you don't sing, on your records, the way you sing live?' And I didn't understand what he meant, and he said, 'Well, when I went to see you live I felt like you were really, you know, really free and dynamic and you were engaging and on your records your vocals seem really kind of controlled and secure and you're playing it really safe.'

“I almost took it like a challenge and it sparked something inside of me and I ended up writing somewhere around twenty songs between January and May – I kept writing and writing and writing – and out of the eight or nine songs I had initially brought into the session I only ended up keeping one of them and all the rest of them are B-sides or didn't even get quite finished or fleshed out. Out of the twenty, five of them were pretty shitty and the rest were pretty good and there were ten that I really loved and the record has thirteen songs on it. I don't know – I think when somebody tells me that I'm a certain way, I have this innate desire to go in the complete opposite direction and prove them wrong, just when somebody sizes me up, which he did, quite accurately,” she laughs.

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Much of Human Again still reflects Michaelson's trademark personal insights, fired up by the aftermath of a failed relationship – she's now been happily married for a year. So she was looking back from a position of positivity, which is reflected in lyrics that are determined to show the protagonist as empowered by the experience rather than crushed. There are also a couple of songs that are more socially aware, but it turns out the starting point was far more musical than lyrical.

“Instead of thinking, 'I'm going to write about love', 'I'm going to write about this', I was, like, 'I'm going to write a song where I hit a low A and a high C', you know what I mean? I literally was mathematically just thinking I wanna test my range. But in doing that, in flexing my muscle in that way, it allowed me to kind of open up lyrically and melodically, and just physically allowed me to take on this different approach to songwriting. And the songs were coming so fast, I felt like I was getting mowed over by my own writing for a while.”

Ingrid Michaelson will be playing the following shows:

Wednesday 12 September - Brisbane Festival Spiegeltent, Brisbane QLD
Thursday 13 September - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Friday 14 September - Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW