Faster than you can say "Colbie Caillat," Ingrid Michaelson has become the new poster child for indie-music success. The little-known New York singer-songwriter made the cover of Billboard magazine in January for selling 175,000-plus copies of an album she put out on her own.
Of course, it helped that a Hollywood soundtrack supervisor discovered her music on MySpace. One tune wound up on "Grey's Anatomy" and another in a TV commercial for Old Navy. The latter song, "The Way I Am," has also landed on the radio, making Michaelson the first unsigned artist to get a video in regular rotation on VH1. Now she comes to town Monday for a sold-out show with Dan Wilson and others before hitting the road for a huge summer tour with the Dave Matthews Band.
Between numerous yawns on a rainy afternoon in Georgia, Michaelson, 28, a former teacher at a children's theater company, talked by phone about the current Hotel Cafe Tour, the song that's selling Old Navy sweaters and the reason she's still living with her parents.
Q How does the Hotel Cafe Tour work?
A It's very easygoing and relaxed. One person does a few songs, another person does a few songs, I do a few songs, and so on and so forth until you come back around again. I sing with a couple of different people. It's sort of a mish-mash. I sing between six and eight songs.
We sleep on the tour bus. That's your home, pretty much. It's sort of a retreat after the show. I like that I don't have to do any driving.
Q What sparked "The Way I Am"?
A My brain was just thinking that I'm going to be alone forever. You have to live with your flaws.
Q What feedback have you gotten from fans about the song?
A They think it's a sweet little thing. It talks about love in a really simple but intelligent way. It says what other people are thinking. It's so succinct [2 minutes and 12 seconds]. No frills.
Q Do you know Colbie Caillat, the other big MySpace success story?
A We are text-message friends. I've never met her. She reached out to me on the Internet and we got to talking and we exchanged phone numbers. My MySpace page has been hacked into and it's been gone for over a week. I'm MySpace-less. It's horrible. It's like my soul is gone.
Q How did you feel about your song being used to sell sweaters?
A I don't really care. It's a way of getting a lot of people to hear [the song] without having to pay for tons of radio promotion.
Q How many Old Navy sweaters do you have?
A They gave me two. I wear them when it's cold out. I also got a gift card. My career is based on that commercial. I'm very happy the way things have turned out.
Q Did you shop there before?
A Once in a while -- but it's not my favorite place to go get clothes.
Q What was it like to hear your songs on "Grey's Anatomy"?
A Sometimes it felt like nothing. Sometimes it felt really scary. Sometimes it felt really great. You can't really define it. It's so out of your realm of belief.
Q Are you working on your next album?
A I have all the songs written. I'm probably not going to put anything out until the beginning of next year.
Q Are you going to accept a major-label offer or release it on your own again?
A On my own. I like being where I am.
Q Do other artists ask for advice about your "business model"?
A Yeah. I can't tell people to do the same thing I did because it was a lot of luck. Getting placed on this TV show and that commercial, that was just luck. So I can't impart my words of wisdom. I'm not really that wise. You get these opportunities and then you have to work your ass off to make them fruitful. I got my initial boost without asking for it, but now I'm working harder than I ever have in my life.
Q I understand you still live at home with your parents. Your dad is a composer, right? And Mom is a sculptor and museum administrator?
A He's retired but he used to be head of copyrights at a music publishing company. He writes classical and hymns and things like that. It's very different from what I do; I didn't become a songwriter until six years ago. I want to get some of my dad's songs recorded and get my mom back to her sculpture; I want to make it easier for them but it's not like they're struggling.
Q Are you going to move out?
A Once my touring schedule slows down I'm going to try to find a place in New York City somewhere. I cannot rationalize spending like two grand a month and never being there.
Q How would you describe Ingrid Michaelson?
A Grumpy. Tired. Hungry. Fairly optimistic. Overwhelmed. Needy. A little self-centered. Nurturing. I'm funny as all hell. Sarcastic.
Q And I didn't even ask about your glasses and all the Lisa Loeb comparisons.
A Thank you.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719