Digital Cover Story: Ingrid Michaelson Revisits ‘Songs For The Season,’ Writes Musical Adaptation of ‘The Notebook’

“I’m a self-proclaimed Christmas fanatic,” Ingrid Michaelson tells American Songwriter. “I’m in love with the Christmas holiday season. I start watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music in September. It’s a whole thing.”

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Releasing her first Christmas album Songs For The Season in 2018, Michaelson already knew she would expand on her festive collection of songs. On Songs For the Season, Deluxe Edition, Michaelson revisited her original 12 tracks and added five new songs, including a duet with fellow Christmas enthusiast, actress Zooey Deschanel on “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” and “Christmas Valentine,” a song she wrote and sang with Jason Mraz in 2019.

Songs For the Season was always a labor of love, one Michaelson wanted to birth long before 2018 but shelved around touring and record-release cycles.

“For me to put out a holiday record, I knew it had to be perfectly perfect,” says the Emmy-nominated artist. “And I just didn’t have time. I kept putting out record after record and touring, and the whole cycle was sucking me up, and I didn’t really have the time to put into a holiday record.”

Michaelson always knew she wanted to add more to Songs For The Season. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she jokes, “until now.”

For the album, it was important to capture a warmer, nostalgic feeling. “My real hope for ‘Songs For The Season’ was that it sounded like something that you could hear along the lines of Frank Sinatra or Paul Anka, Judy Garland, and it would seamlessly be thrown into that mix.”

Throughout Songs For the Season, Michaelson takes on classics like “White Christmas,” featuring Christina Perri, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Will Chase, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” featuring Leslie Odom, Jr., and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with Grace VanderWaal. Aside from all the Christmas centric tunes, it was important for Michaelson to have more non-denominational songs, and added “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” an Andrews Sisters-inspired three-part harmony on “Winter Wonderland,” featuring Allie Moss and Hannah Winkler, and the 1949 Carl Sigman- and Peter DeRose-penned “A Marshmallow World.”

“I definitely have my favorites that elicit an aesthetic response, and those are the ones that I gravitated to on the first record,” shares Michaelson. “For the ‘Deluxe,’ I wanted more joy. I was trying to think of what people need right now, and we don’t need another sad song about snow falling. I want to make people feel that warm, tingly feeling, so I purposely picked ‘Winter Wonderland,’ and ‘A Marshmallow World’ is just this bouncy, sweet, joyous song.”

She adds, “I’m not blinded by my love of Christmas where I don’t recognize that it also can bring up a lot of sadness for people. As somebody who’s lost both her parents, I really had to make a very definitive choice to not look at the holiday season as a sad time. I’m going to lean into the joy that it brought me and my family, and continue it. I want people to escape whatever emotion they’re in, to be lifted out of that sorrow for a moment and feel sonically hugged and taken care of.

On the Deluxe version, Michaelson wasn’t opposed to original Christmas songs but was still attached to the more classic musical captures of the holidays. “It’s really hard for me to latch on to newer holiday songs,” she says. “There’s something about the old ones, those tried and true songs… I just wanted to reinterpret them, but in the last few years I started working on ‘Christmas Valentine’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.’

Co-written with Dave Barnes, who also co-wrote “Christmas Valentine,” and Deschanel, “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” was a special addition to the album with the duo leaving a toastier lovey-dove croon of Something ’bout that red and green / Makes me need you next to me / It’s the season wishes still come true… Something ’bout those Christmas lights / And these frosty winter nights / I feel like a kid again falling in love with you.

I love her voice so much,” says Michaelson. “To me, she just feels very Christmassy, but that might just be because of ‘Elf.’ That’s one of my favorite holiday movies and so the fact that she’s in it and is singing a song with me is just so glorious.”

Releasing “To Begin Again,” featuring ZAYN, in March 2021, Michaelson is already working on new music, to follow up her eighth album Stranger Songs in 2019 and is reconnecting to her singer-songwriter side. “I’m excited to see what I’m going to do next, in the singer-songwriter world, because I think that is where I fit,” says Michaelson. “I don’t think I’m a pop star. I’m staunchly a singer, a songwriter. I sit within one instrument, I write and tell a story. I really want to dig back into the roots of the singer-songwriter genre and see where that leads me.”

Briefly starring in the Broadway show Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 in 2017, Michaelson is also taking her foray into theater, writing the music and lyrics for a musical adaptation of The Notebook, the Nicholas Sparks novel adapted to film in 2004. The show has its first previews in March 2022.

“It’s a different ballgame when you’re writing for characters,” says Michaelson. “You’re enhancing storylines, and sometimes you’re even creating storylines, so it feels very pure to me.”

She adds, “I’m having the time of my life. I’m just writing from the gut and not thinking about radio or where it’s gonna go. It’s also part of those feelings, and those intentions and those instincts coming back to the singer-songwriter part of me, and the next step of what I want to put out in the world as Ingrid Michaelson.”

And there’s always Christmas. Welcoming the “return of” the holiday season in 2021, following a long halt to celebrations around the pandemic, Michaelson says Christmas music is needed now more than ever.

“I think people will be able to gather in ways that we couldn’t last year so that does make me feel some solace,” she says. “There’s something that the holiday season does for me, mentally. It has the capacity to bring people together in a timeless way that we’re not even aware of.”

The beautiful thing about holiday and Christmas music, adds Michaelson, is that it’s not music that you hear for a few months until it fizzles out.

“It becomes part of the lexicon of our world of music,” says Michaelson. “It’s not around all the time, but it’s omnipresent. Christmas music and holiday music come back every year. They’re like old friends.”

Photos by Shervin Lainez

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