Sara Bareilles skyrocketed to fame after the release of her hit single “Love Song.” In no time at all, the singer-songwriter from Northern California went from normal twenty-something to household name, performing all over the country and even overseas to audiences who identified with her passionate self-expression and strong vocals. I interviewed Sara on the phone one week before she was scheduled to headline Stonehill’s Spring Weekend concert. After she and I exchanged "hellos," Sara set the tone for a lighthearted conversation by asking, “Can you hear me OK? I’m on my Bluetooth!” We had a great talk, and Sara shot down every stereotype about fame making people egotistical. Her humility and sweet nature make her a great role model and an inspiring new voice.
© Epic 2008
We’re all really excited to have you come here in a couple weeks! I have some questions for you.
It’s inspiring that you write your own music, because I know a lot of artists today don’t write their own songs. We wanted to know if that presented any particular challenges or rewards for you.
I think probably a little of both. I’ve never had the experience of singing someone else’s songs, so I don’t really know what to compare this to. But I personally love sort of being the voice for what I have to say as a songwriter. A lot of people will write songs for other people too, which is maybe something I’ll get into in the future, but for now I like being the one to deliver kind of whatever is coming through musically for me. So, you know, it’s nice to be up there and sharing, you know, very personal stories and ideas and knowing that whatever connections you make are… It’s just, it’s intimate that way, and I love doing it that way.
Cool. What inspires you to write these personal stories and, you know, give your voice to the music?
What inspires me? … I don’t know! It’s sort of always been, it’s kind of what I did. I wrote songs long before I had a record deal, or, I mean, I’ve been doing it since I was six years old. I don’t know exactly what it is that kind of makes you feel compelled to put your thoughts out in music. I think that’s kind of the magic of music. So it’s kind of one of those—you can’t quite quantify it—but I’ve always, from being a very little girl, always felt compelled to sing and to write down stories and songs.
Do you have any of the songs that you wrote when you were really little?
My first song was called “Starsweeper,” and it’s really bad. But you know it was like a, it kind of sounds like a lullaby. I probably stole it from a Disney movie or something.
That’s cute! What was your relationship like with music when you were in college? Because a lot of our readers are college students.
I felt like college was a super self-exploratory time for me. That’s when I really feel like I sort of realized… I sort of really found myself musically during college. And I spent a year abroad my junior year, and I lived in Italy for that year. And that’s when I really really connected with songwriting. I think I was going through so much, just introspection, and trying to figure out who I am—I think you do so much defining of yourself in college—and, kind of figuring out who I am, and the only way I could really deal with it was through song. It was a really cool time for me. The music became pretty much the most important thing in my life in college. And, yeah, I haven’t really turned back.
So what has been the biggest adjustment, then, since you came to that decision and became really famous? What has been the biggest adjustment to go from a normal life to international fame?
Well, I don’t really think of myself that way, but, it is true, we can go play shows overseas and people will hopefully come. But, you know, it’s just a lifestyle change in terms of… I’ve been busy. I’m much busier now than I ever was before, it’s a really practical kind of incarnation of, you know, being somebody who works a lot, but… I just guess kind of really devoting myself to this art form and just wanting to always work on it and make it better and practice and writing songs. Right now I’m in a very sort of creative part because I’m thinking about the next record. So I can’t stop thinking about songwriting and I want to be at my piano all the time, so it’s a really cool time. And, you know, knowing that this is my job is kind of a, it’s a crazy thing! I feel very, very lucky.
Do you have plans for when your next record or album is going to come out?
It will most likely be early next year. Probably record it this year, and then release it next year.
Cool. Very exciting.
So, what musicians would you say you’ve been influenced by?
Well there’s a lot of, I think, a lot of different styles that have really made me think about music. People like… Joni Mitchell is a really big influence of mine. Fiona Apple, love her; she’s a female [singer-songwriter]… I love Elton John and Billy Joel, and Counting Crows I’ve always really loved… The Police, Bob Marley…
A lot of different ones!
Yeah! You know there’s really not… If I had to just pick, you know, one genre, I really like kind of singer-songwriter music, but I think good music is good music, and there’s inspiration to be had there, you know, from every style. So I do listen to all sorts of different types—I’ll listen to country sometimes, I’ll listen to anything! And I think that good music is good music.
Good point. So, I heard that “Love Song” was written in response to a record company who wanted you to write a love song for them. What’s the real story behind that song?
It’s kind of similar to that… No one ever asked me for a love song. But “Love Song” was written to my label out of [a] response to feeling pressure. It was my first record deal and the first time I was kind of going through the motions of trying to fulfill the requirements for the first record, and it was really intimidating to me, and I felt like they were waiting for something, and I didn’t know what they were waiting for because I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t in the studio yet. They just said, “Keep writing, keep writing.” And I started to really buy into it and to try to change what I was doing to fit in with what they wanted, and I had no idea what that was anyway, and that all turned into just being really frustrated not only with them but with myself for caring what they thought. I just wanted to get back to what made me happy and why I was writing songs in the first place, and that’s when “Love Song” came out. It kind of just… It was very cathartic, to kind of go through that… It was my little stick it to ’em.
That something that huge came out of the frustration—that’s pretty cool that you could do that. So, kind of going along with that, I know in these hard economic times a lot of people are straying away from artistic career paths in favor of more practical careers. Do you have any advice for them?
I always feel like the world will always need artists. The world is always going to have… It’s never been a solid career path, whether we’re in hard economic times or not, it’s always been a little bit of a gamble but, you know, from the beginning of time, there’s always been a place for artists in society, and it’s because people need art! They need the expression, they feel it creates inspiration, and it really fills a genuine need of people to be able to receive art and to have it be a part of their lives. And I think music in particular is one of those art forms that touches people so deeply, and I just think it’s a shame that someone who is really talented—just because being a musician isn’t the most stable career path—it’s a shame if they don’t pursue it just because they’re scared, you know. But, you know I understand too, it is, it’s a big old fat gamble. Nothing in life is guaranteed anyway. So I think you should pursue your passions if you can.
That’s good advice. For our magazine’s next issue, we had our staff write about five things that they can’t get enough of right now, like websites, TV shows, even food or musicians—anything. Could you just talk about five things you’re really into right now?
The Dog Whisperer is one of them; I love The Dog Whisperer. I love Pinkberry, which is a kind of yogurt. It’s like a frozen yogurt.
I’ve seen that advertised; I’ve never had it though. It looks good.
It’s delicious. I can’t get enough of… Converse tennis shoes; I love them.
Classic, right! And Ingrid Michaelson, she’s a songwriter, who I friggin’ love, and I can’t get enough of her. And, let’s see, last but not least, the good old standard classic for me, which is Golden Girls, an old TV show that I still love deeply. So, I’ll never get over them.
That’s great! Thank you so much!
You’re welcome! Thank you! I’ll talk to you soon.