INGRID MICHAELSON CELEBRATES “LIGHTS OUT” IN NYC

Shervin Lainez 4

She’s been performing for nearly a decade, but 2014 is shaping up to be Ingrid Michaelson’s biggest year yet.

On Wednesday, the 34-year-old played to a sold-out crowd of approximately 5,500 adoring fans at New York’s iconic Central Park SummerStage. It was the singer / songwriter’s largest headlining show to date, and Michaelson was very visibly moved by the turnout when she stepped onto the stage to commemorate the milestone.

But the size of the venue wasn’t the only reason that the flame-haired native Staten Islander was celebrating that night. “Girls Chase Boys,” the lead single off her new album Lights Out (iTunes), had just sold a coveted 500,000 copies. And her band surprised her by presenting her with a plaque lauding the achievement right before she broke into the song.

With an accompanying viral music video that pays homage to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible,” “Girls Chase Boys” is Michaelson’s highest-charting single since her breakout “The Way I Am” peaked at #37 in 2007. The upbeat track can be found not only on the Billboard Pop Songs top 40 chart, but also in a Target ad, movie trailers, and an upcoming episode of The Voice. Not too shabby for someone who was discovered on MySpace and doesn’t have the support of a major record label (Michaelson still records under the Cabin 24 Records banner–a label she started so that she can keep full artistic control and rights to her music).

It’s not just the growing list of accolades that makes “Girls Chase Boys” a defining turning point in Michaelson’s repertoire. Upon its release, the song signaled an artistic evolution that found the singer straying away from her indie rock roots to exploring her pop sensibilities in ways she never has before. It became instantly clear that she’s now more inspired by artists like Sia and Lana Del Rey, who have managed to blend their unique styles with contemporary pop to form layered and distinct new sounds, than by musicians like Regina Spektor or the late Elliott Smith, whose influences were very apparent in her earlier work.

Ingrid Michaelson

When it came time to work on Lights Out, Michaelson decided to take a slightly different creative approach than with her previous albums. This time around, she chose to invite various other artists and producers to lend their talents to the record–including BusbeeA Great Big WorldKatie Herzig,Mat Kearney, and Trent Dabbs. This allowed her to turn it into a passion project that resembled a musical family affair.

“The first half of 2012 was pretty rough in terms of just my own health and my family’s health, and there was just a lot of darkness,” Michaelson recently told Yahoo! Entertainment, explaining what inspired her to switch gears and ditch her solo act. “When you have a really hard time it changes you in a lot of ways, and when I came out of it, I just wanted to do things differently. I had this change of heart and I wanted to embrace the idea of making a very collaborative record.”

During the recording of the album, Michaelson’s mother was battling cancer, her dog died, and she herself was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. As a result, the album is lyrically rather dark, despite its sonically poppier sound. “A lot of what I wrote about in the past was just straight up love and I have no problem admitting that,” she explained to The Wall Street Journal. In contrast, Lights Out is “more about coming to terms with losing people and your mortality.”

It’s fitting, then, that when Lights Out was released on April 5th, Michaelson performed an intimate concert at the gorgeous chapel in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. With a tiny audience that included celebrity pals Taylor Swift and Mariska Hargitay, the exclusive event quickly underlined just what an emotional and raw record Michaelson had created. Performing many of the tracks for a live audience for the first time, the chanteuse masterfully introduced her sixth record–which would go on to debut at #1 on iTunes and #5 on the Billboard 200.

Ingrid Michaelson / Lights Out

In May, when the official Lights Out tour first hit New York, Michaelson told another sold-out crowd at Terminal 5 that she had just learned the day before that her mother was finally cancer free. Two songs later, she helped an audience member propose to his girlfriend, further amplifying the celebration of life that the night had turned into. It was there that Lights Out became the work of someone who had emerged from a period of profound devastation, rather than that of someone still trying to work through it.

So when this week’s Central Park concert rolled around, Michaelson was ready to pull out all of the stops to make it her splashiest gig yet. All of a sudden, these songs of harrowing despair took on a new meaning of survival, and the singer was determined to show what that meant to her.

She brought her husband Greg Laswell (also a musician) to the stage to perform their Lights Out duet,“Wonderful Unknown,” a beautiful exploration of what new spouses have to look forward to together. “We make bread on Sundays and the little ones are climbing up the walls,” the duo lovingly crooned while Michaelson played piano and Laswell stood by her side. “Oh, nothing lasts forever but the sound of love astounds me every time that it calls.”

Ingrid Michaelson

And Laswell wasn’t the only guest performer joining Michaelson throughout the setlist. During “Over You,” Glee star Darren Criss sang the male part that usually belongs to A Great Big World. Irish folk-rockers Storyman came on stage for their collaboration, “You Got Me,” and singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson assisted Michaelson on a rowdy cover of current MAGIC! summer hit, “Rude.” But nothing was more surprising than when former Journey lead vocalist Steve Augeri joined Michaelson during her encore for an energetic and unforgettable performance of the classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

While the night consisted primarily of cuts from Lights Out, the songstress also treated her fans to some of the most beloved tracks in her back catalogue–including “The Chain,” “Parachute,” “Soldier,” “Blood Brothers,” and a stirring medley of “Maybe” and “Everybody.” Additional highlights included one of Michaelson’s favorite songs to cover, “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” the always adorable “You And I,” and a gorgeously stripped down rendition of “The Way I Am.”

For her last song before the encore, Michaelson played Lights Out closer “Everyone Is Gonna Love Me Now.” A ballad that builds to a cinematic crescendo, the song feels like it’s specifically written for audience participation. After teaching the crowd how to sing their part, the voices started to slowly trickle in before it felt like everyone there was fully participating. While this made for a similarly poignant moment at the Green-Wood Chapel, it packed an even mightier punch to see and hear a group of people so large come together and release whatever inhibitions they had to form a united chorus and appreciate Michaelson’s extraordinary talent.

To wrap up the show, Michaelson sang “Afterlife,” the second single from Lights Out and the one for which she recently shot a music video. She prefaced the song by telling the audience that she has a tendency to neurotically worry about the past and the future, but has a difficult time living in the present. Yet that was all about to change.

“Living like you’re dying isn’t living at all, give me your cold hands, put them on my heart,” she triumphantly sang. “Raise a glass to everyone who thinks they’ll never make it through this life, to live a brand new start!”

To Michaelson, “Afterlife” is about living in the moment and appreciating being alive. It’s a theme that was there throughout the whole show, but it was no more evident than during that last song. Joined on stage by all the guest performers from the evening, Michaelson had a lot to celebrate. It was the culmination of what proved to be the most critically and commercially successful point of her career thus far. No artist–and no audience–can ask for much more than that.

Ingrid Michaelson and Alex Nagorski

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW WITH GREG LASWELL


Greg Laswell
is sort of like J.D. Salinger.

When it came time to write and record his fourth album, Landline, Laswell relocated himself to a place where he could not be disturbed. A place where he would be free to create his art without the distractions of his everyday world. A place so peaceful that his cell phone literally couldn’t even ring to disrupt the tranqulity.

As it did with Salinger, the whole hermit schtick proved to really work out for Laswell. Landline is a gorgeous and expertly crafted record from start to finish. And it’s easily the indie singer/songwriter’s strongest and most musically sophisticated body of work to date (just think of all the possibilties, Grey’s Anatomy music-picking-people!).

Gearing up for Tuesday’s release of Landline (via Vanguard Records), Greg spoke with me about the album, the various ladies he collaborated with on it, his recent foray into dance music, what animal stands no fighting change against him, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Landline has a much larger and richer sound than your previous releases – in that there seem to be many influences and musical styles on the record that haven’t been prevalent in your repertoire thus far. What inspired this musical evolution?

GREG LASWELL: I’m in a good place in my personal life these days. I think these songs reflect that. Plus, I had gotten a little comfortable with knowing how to make a “Greg Laswell” record. I wanted to start over in a way.

AN: Since you self-produced the album, what were some of the biggest obstacles/challenges you faced while crafting this expanded version of your signature sound?

GL: My problem is always knowing when to stop recording. I can be quite the perfectionist and more often than not, perfection is not what a song needs. There’s no one in the room to say, “that’s it! that’s the take!” But I love being alone in the studio. One of these days I’ll work with a producer, but not yet.

AN: You’ve mentioned that Landline is heavily influenced by hip-hop records that you were listening to while writing and recording the album. Specifically which musicians/albums were you referring to?

GL: Method Man, Eminem, Kanye, Nas, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G.


AN: You left Brooklyn to record the album in a small church-turned-house in a Maine lobstering town. Is it safe to assume that you can now cook the meanest lobster in New York?

GL: No, but it is safe to assume that I am a stone-cold murderer of them.

AN: After hearing the vocals that Sara Bareilles recorded for the album’s lead single, “Come Back Down” (which I reviewed here), you went back into the studio to re-record your own. What about Sara’s vocals triggered you to rework yours?

GL: The melody and phrasing all stayed the same, they just needed a slight energy boost next to hers. It’s easy for me to ease into what I know works for my vocal range, she helped me out of it momentarily.

AN: Your album features a wide roster of guest vocalists, including Sara Bareilles, Sia, Elizabeth Ziman (of Elizabeth and the Catapult) and your wife, Ingrid Michaelson. What triggered you to work with so many female vocalists on this record?

GL: It was an idea that I had been throwing around for years, and I’ve always had female vocalists somewhere on my records (Ingrid sang on a few songs on my last one). I thought Landline was the record to take it a little further on. I wanted these songs to be bigger than just me, and with the help of these four amazing singers, they are.

AN: Hypothetically, if you were to re-record another four of your songs as duets with male musicians, whom would you ask to sing with you and on which tracks?

GL: Honestly, I wouldn’t want to re-record four of my songs with male musicians.

AN: Can you tell me a little bit about your creative process behind the stop-motion video that Entertainment Weekly premiered for “Back To You”?

GL: It was a laborious one … 1500 pictures. However, it was by trial and error to get the motion right, so I ended up doing it three times (4500 pictures altogether). Take a picture, move everything an inch or so, take another picture. That, 4500 times.

AN: You recently collaborated with producer Morgan Page on “Addicted,” a track from his new album, In The Air. How did the experience of working on a club song differ from what you’re used to? And can your fans be expecting to hear your voice on any more dance tracks in the future?

GL: It was different because all I had to do was write the melody and sing it. Morgan did everything else. I didn’t have to obsess over the parts or the mix, or the song itself. I just got to come in, write lyrics and sing them. It was like taking your friend’s dog for a walk – you have a great time and then give it back. No responsibility.

AN: In a world run by cell phones, social media and instant on-the-go web access, imagery of a landline almost seems a bit antiquated. Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with the title track and why you felt naming your album after it was the most representative name for the record as a whole?

GL: I think the age of landlines and answering machines was romantic. I miss it. I’m thankful that I got to grow up without cellphones. That aside, the reason the album is called Landline is because there was little to no cell service where I recorded the record in Maine. So I had to use the landline. Easy title choice.

AN: As a songwriter, what’s the most moving response you’ve heard a fan have to your work?

GL: More than a couple times now, I’ve had someone tell me that they played “What a Day” during the birth of their child. I suppose there isn’t a better compliment than that.

AN: If you were to open your fridge on any standard day, what would you find inside?

GL: Another, smaller fridge. And one inside that, etc..

AN: This spring, you’re embarking on a national headlining tour. How will your shows supporting Landline differ from your previous tours? Any cities you’re most looking forward to playing in?

GL: Well, I’m taking out the largest band I’ve ever had. There will be six of us up there (including  a cello player). And Elizabeth, who sings on the record, will be playing and singing in the band as well. Pretty excited for these shows. I always look forward to playing my two hometowns, LA and New York.

Landline is available to preorder on iTunes now.

Originally published on PopBytes

“COME BACK DOWN” BY GREG LASWELL AND SARA BAREILLES (SINGLE REVIEW)

Brooklyn singer/songwriter Greg Laswell is best known for his melancholy music. His husky and often Leonard Cohen-esque baritone voice shaking over the delicate strums of an acoustic guitar is a sound vulnerable enough to put a lump in any grown man’s throat (not speaking from personal experience … except for the four times I’ve seen him in concert and that happened to me). There’s a reason he’s the go-to “queue the tear-ducts” guy for music to flatline to on Grey’s Anatomy.

But for the lead single from his upcoming fourth album, Landline, Laswell has taken a hard step on the gas petal to accelerate his signature sound. “Come Back Down” is a soaring and uptempo slice of indie pop/rock with a chorus so addictive it should come with a warning from the Surgeon General.

Featuring guest vocals by the devoid-of-flaw Sara Bareilles, “Come Back Down” is composed of richly textured harmonies and driving percussion to create a powerful song about stopping someone from going down a path of self-destruction. Acting as an intervention of sorts, the track points out how a friend’s irresponsible attitude/behavior is negatively impacting their loved ones and subsequent relationships.

“Look around you, you’re the only one dragging this out/You’ve gotta come back down,” Laswell and Bareilles sing as they serve up a piping hot dish of tough-love. “All of your wallowing is unbecoming/You’ve gotta take it on your own from here/It’s getting pathetic and I’m almost done here.”

This go-for-the-jugular approach is precisely the kick in the ass you expect (or at least should) from your good friends if you’re being unreasonably emo or going through a funk. And the lyrics are so direct and honest that I’m surprised the cover artwork for the single doesn’t come with a literal stamp of approval from Camille Grammer.

Camille Grammer(Image courtesy of RealityTVGifs)

So who is this biting track about? “If I’m quite honest, I wrote it to myself,” Laswell confessed in a recent interview with Chicago Pride. “Not to my present self, but to a former version of myself. It was one of the first songs that I wrote for the record, kind of laying to rest a lot of things that were going on in my life.”

Well, Greg, on behalf of your fans – and all the new ones you’re about to recruit when this song blows up (which it rightfully should) – thank you. Thank you for getting your shit together and being brave enough to write about it. And thank you for writing a pop song that’s not only hella catchy but is also both crucial and inspiring.

Bareilles is just one of many female artists Laswell recorded a duet with for Landline. Other songstresses whose voices will be featured on the upcoming record include Sia, Elizabeth Ziman (of Elizabeth and the Catapult), and Laswell’s wife, the incomparable Ingrid Michaelson.

With a roster of featured guest-artists like that and a lead single as perfect as “Come Back Down,” Landline might just be Laswell’s ticket to becoming the next “it” indie act on the mainstream radar. And if that’s the case, then get it, homeboy. It’s about time.

Landline is available for pre-order on iTunes and will be released on April 24th via Vanguard Records.

Originally published on PopBytes