Sara Bareilles is a five-time Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, and musician who has riveted millions of fans around the world with her warmly intimate voice, piano-driven songs about heartache and resilience, and the spirited nature of her live performances. Her five albums have sold a collective 2.5 million copies and generated such hits as her breakthrough single, 2007’s 3x-platinum, global No. 1 smash “Love Song,” as well as “King of Anything” and “Uncharted” from her 2010 No. 1 album Kaleidoscope Heart, and “Brave,” from 2013’s Album of the Year Grammy contender The Blessed Unrest, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Her other myriad achievements include being a popular judge on the third season of NBC’s a cappella competition The Sing-Off, performing with her heroes Carole King (at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards) and Elton John (at the 2014 Hot Pink Party), and performing for President Obama and his family several times.
For most artists, it would be enough to just make another critically acclaimed album and embark on another sold-out world tour. But Sara Bareilles, who hails from the scenic coastal city of Eureka, California, is not most artists. She is a risk-taker who shook things up in her life and career when she moved from Los Angeles to New York City in 2013 and worked with co-writers for the first time on The Blessed Unrest. “That whole experience felt like baptism in a way,” she says. “I was able to remove all of these old restrictions I had put on myself and make really big life changes.”
Two years later, Bareilles still feels compelled toward expansion and doing things outside of her comfort zone. “I’ve done the ‘Make a record, go on tour, come home, write a record, make a record, and go on tour’ cycle enough times now that I know what that looks like,” she says. “While I will probably do that until the day I die, there are other facets to my creativity and growth that I want to explore. I think you run the risk of becoming stagnant and redundant if you’re not pushing yourself out into new worlds.”
To that end, Bareilles has taken on three challenging, yet exciting creative endeavors. She wrote the score for the upcoming stage adaptation of the 2007 indie film Waitress, which will premiere at The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Mass., in August before transferring to Broadway in 2016. She also re-teamed with her Kaleidoscope Heart producer Neal Avron to record a concept album, due later this year, based on the music she wrote for the show. “Before I handed the music over to be captured on a cast album and heard through the actors’ performances, I wanted to tell the story in my own voice,” she explains. “So we took 12 of the songs and dressed them up as Sara Bareilles songs. It’s been a really cool meshing of two worlds. It’s the musical theater side, but wrapped up in a pop album.” And finally, Bareilles has written her first book, entitled Sounds Like Me, My Life (So Far) In Song, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in October. The book is a collection of essays told through the lens of the lyrics to some of Bareilles’ best-loved songs.
“I accepted both Waitress and the book project when I first moved to New York,” she says. “They were both presented to me around the same time, oddly enough. And I said yes to both because I was in a phase of just sort of saying yes to things. I’ve been chipping away at them for the better part of two years.”
First up is Waitress, for which Bareilles wrote the music and lyrics. When she performed one of the songs, “She Used To Be Mine,” while on her Little Black Dress tour last year, The Hollywood Reporter raved in its concert review that the ballad “sure sounded like a future Tony Awards performance moment, leaving you to imagine that the biggest challenge the show’s producers face is finding a theater actress who can sing Bareilles’ material with as much heart, soul, and even belting power as she does.”
“Musical theater was my first love,” she says. “It’s the reason I started listening to music in the way that I do and why I wanted to be on stage. I’m so grateful that I said yes to this project. It’s renewed something in me that I didn’t know was quite so damaged. It brought me back to a place of feeling playful and optimistic about creating something from scratch. Some of that has come from writing music away from the parameters of commercializing it and worrying about whether it fits into the contemporary music world. With this, it feels like all bets are off and it’s just informed my creative process in this new way that actually feels kind of nostalgic.”
Bareilles found herself looking back in another way while writing Sounds Like Me, which is not, it should be noted, an autobiography. “I knew I was too young to write my life story,” she says. “I wasn’t interested in writing a chronology or making it feel like a timeline of any sort. Over time, my editor and I came up with this concept of creating a collection of essays with each chapter anchored by a song, since lyrics are super important to me. I wanted to write something that was honest and authentic, but it didn’t stay as lighthearted as I thought it was going to. I think it captures some of my melancholy, which may be part of why I’m a writer in the first place. I wanted it to be about my experience from an emotional perspective.”
But before Sounds Like Me comes out this fall, Bareilles will relocate to Boston for Waitress rehearsals, previews, and the show’s opening at A.R.T. in August. And after that? “Then I’m going to fucking peace out and go to an island,” she says with a laugh.