Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter discusses her latest CD, “Kaleidoscope Heart,” and explains why her music career initially was an uphill battle.

Singer, songwriter, pianist and three-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles sang in high school choirs and performed in community musical theater before playing open mics and gaining a following in Los Angeles, CA. The Eureka, CA native released her debut album, "Little Voice," in '07, and earned widespread success with her single, "Love Song," shooting her up to the number one spot on Billboard's Pop 100 chart. Her follow-up album, "Kaleidoscope Heart," was released in '10 and debuted at number one in the United States. Bareilles opens for select shows in Sugarland’s Summer 2011 Incredible Machine Tour.


Tavis: Sara Bareilles is a popular Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter whose most recent disc, “Kaleidoscope Heart,” made its debut at number one on the Billboard charts. She is currently on tour in support of the project. From the CD, here is some of the video now for the single “Uncharted.”


Tavis: So Sara, the next time you do a video where you’re going to use random people to lip-sync your lyrics, can you call a brother? (Laughter) You could have called me, I would have done it.

Sara Bareilles: I didn’t know you yet. Otherwise I would have definitely hit you up.

Tavis: I would have done it. Who puts out a video these days – the whole name of the game is to promote, to market, to expose, to promulgate your project. You do a video that you don’t even appear in.

Bareilles: I think that’s partially why I liked it so much and I got to watch it with so much pride, is that it was just sort of showcasing the people in my life and in my career who have influenced me and that I’m such a fan of. It’s such a familiar format, that fan video, where they’re lip-syncing to their favorite song.

It was pretty egotistical of me to ask all of these people that I’m a fan of to do it for me, but they all jumped on board and it’s my favorite video I’ve ever done. I just love it.

Tavis: You feeling any sophomore jinx? I know this is really your third project, but really the sophomore project with a big release, and you know how this game works. You put a big project out like your first one, people love it, and then they expect more of the same. So how did you, how have you navigated putting out a second project and really being true to who you are, even though you know your fans want more of the same?

Bareilles: I think I had to really find the balance there where I sort of suspended my own expectations of – essentially you’re competing with yourself, so whoever loses, you know. (Laughter) There’s no winner there. So I dealt with some serious writer’s block of just I think really feeling paralyzed by those expectations and wanting to please people, and realizing that that was really kind of undermining my creative process.

I just wasn’t able to write songs that I cared about because I kept thinking about the end game and how they would be received, and that’s never good for being a good creative person.

Tavis: How’d you break through?

Bareilles: Actually, the song “Uncharted” was a big help in that. It’s all about my writer’s block and basically accepting the fate of all right, I might be going down. (Laughter) But I’m going to do it wholeheartedly and do it from an authentic place and hope that that kind of guides me to wherever I’m supposed to be.

Tavis: I have talked to, I suspect, thousands of artists over the course of my career here on television and radio, and I have never – this is the first time – I have never had an artist say to me that the way out of – it’s very – it’s interesting. Never had an artist say to me that the way out of writer’s block is to write a song about the writer’s block.

It seems so common-sensical that if you’re stuck somewhere, write about being stuck, but leave it to you to figure that out.

Bareilles: I have to give credit to actually the producer of my first record, Eric Ross. We had a conversation and was sort of emoting about how stuck I felt, and he said, “Well, it sounds like you have a lot to write about, so you should write about this.”

I needed his prodding and his expertise and experience to remind me – I know, it seems like such an of course, like the light bulb to go off, I can’t believe I had to have somebody else lead me there, but.

Tavis: I can hear folk all over L.A. write now picking up pen and paper (laughter). They’re all stuck, and they’re all writing right now.

Bareilles: I know. (Laughter)

Tavis: Screenplays are being completed right now as we speak from folk who’ve been stuck. What did you make of the success – I’m always fascinated to understand how people who get to be successful so quickly, and there’s no such thing as overnight success, but you’ve got to admit, that last album just really took off.

How do you process the overwhelming success, the receptivity of that project so early on in the process?

Bareilles: I did feel a little blindsided by it. It was – some of it just felt like sort of holding on for dear life, and I think I was shell-shocked by a lot of the experiences that were then coming. It’s always been an uphill battle. It’s always felt like that to me. We’ve always sort of been the underdog. It wasn’t easy to get the record released; it wasn’t easy to get the song on the radio. It’s always been this very organic unfolding of where my career is at now.

So I attribute my sort of gorundedness to the people around me. I think we all have sort of felt like we’re in this together, and I know how lucky I am. I work my butt off, but I also got lucky. I had great friends help me out, met a manager that changed the course of my life, got hooked up with the right label at the right time.

There’s a lot of people out there that have a ton of talent that for whatever reason, it just doesn’t come together.

Tavis: I want to ask you specifically what you thought of, what you make of the success of the track “Love Song,” which everybody knows because it’s been played on everything everywhere for almost every purpose. I ask that because I was just the other day with Prince – I think most people know that he’s been on the show a number of times, a friend of mine – and I recall having a conversation with him about the one time in his career that he allowed a song of his to be used for commercial purposes, and he ended up hating it.

It was the song “Little Red Corvette.” You can figure out who he let use the song. (Laughter) He hated the experience and he said, “I will never, ever let a song of mine be commercialized in that way.” That’s his take on it. Every artist has their own journey that they take.

Bareilles: Sure, right.

Tavis: But I raise that to ask how you take the fact that this “Love Song” has been used for everything by everybody, as I said, for almost every purpose.

Bareilles: I think it’s sort of the climate that we’re in today. Prince has the great fortune of having come up in a time when that really wasn’t very common at all, and he’s also a monster. So he can kind of call his own shots.

I think for songwriters and artists today it’s just the nature of the game right now, is that visibility and exposure comes from licensing and getting your music out there, hopefully in places where it’s a good fit. There would be things that I might say no to, but for the most part I feel like if it exposes a new listener or exposes me to a new listener, then I’m lucky from that exchange. Yeah. It feels like it’s just the way things are going right now.

Tavis: The times are different, I grant you that. Tell me about “Kaleidoscope Heart.” How would you describe this one?

Bareilles: This record is –

Tavis: One second, before you do this.

Bareilles: Yeah.

Tavis: Put this album cover back up. I just looked at it again and just want to go back to your comment earlier about competing against yourself. (Laughter) Until you said that, I’ve been looking at this cover for two weeks now and I hadn’t even thought about that until you said that. So –

Bareilles: Staring myself down.

Tavis: – you’re staring yourself in the face, you’re staring yourself down, yeah. Anyway, I’m sorry.

Bareilles: I have a big nose and a profile that I decided to sort of embrace.

Tavis: Yeah. I like your nose.

Bareilles: So many people are like, “I love your nose.” I’m like, “Thank you.”

Tavis: Nice nose ring, too.

Bareilles: Oh, thank you.

Tavis: Yeah, very nice.

Bareilles: This record is a step forward for me. When I listen back to it I hear how much fun I had with the process. I was so joyful in the recording of this record. I had great chemistry with my producer, Neal Avron, and I think I wasn’t as overwhelmed by the process of making a record for the first time so I got to just really have fun.

I took risks as a writer. I tried to write things that were harder to sing, harder to play, just more inventive, and so I’m really proud. This is a record I wasn’t – I didn’t know how I would feel about it, and I’ve come out being – I feel like this is my best work so far.

Tavis: I got turned on first of all by the title and then by the track, “Say You’re Sorry.” Tell me more about that song.

Bareilles: Oh, it’s about those people that will never acknowledge they’re wrong, and we all know them. (Laughter) You’re like, you just want them – it’s the one thing, it’s the one get out of jail free card that you’re just waiting for. You’re like, “I could see your point of view if you’ll just acknowledge that you screwed up,” and they just sort of skirt the issue all the time.

Tavis: I asked that question because I thought it might lead me to where it has led me, which is tell me more about your songwriting process. How does stuff – this is the stuff that’s always fun for me, when you talk to songwriters. The process is what’s fascinating for me. What’s your process? How does it come, how do you get it out? What’s the process?

Bareilles: Several different ways. A lot of times it’s literally me just sitting down at the piano and sort of just placing my hands on the keys and seeing if something comes out, melodically. It’s usually music before lyrics for me most of the time, but there are those little moments where I feel kind of like the chemistry is right and I’ll get this very visceral reaction to what’s coming out, whether I – there’s times I’ve spontaneously burst into tears, although I do that a lot. (Laughter)

But there’s times where I’ll start crying as I’m writing something and that usually means that there’s some sort of level of connectivity there that is really special. I think of writing – writing is very spiritual for me, so it’s – I think of myself as the vessel or the conduit for something that’s bigger than me, and hopefully I just try to get out of the way and not mess it up too much.

Tavis: You’ve always been a crier?

Bareilles: Oh, my God, yes. My whole family. It’s always been a phrase –

Tavis: The whole family just cries? (Laughter)

Bareilles: Thanksgivings are awesome.

Tavis: Wow. (Laughter) And you think I’m joking. But yeah, it’s always been a phrase in my family, it’s like, “Listen to my words, not to my tears,” because we cry about everything, about everything. (Laughter) So yeah, it’s –

Tavis: I like that, “Listen to my words and not to my tears.”

Bareilles: Because people get scared, men especially. They see a girl start crying and they shut down, and then like, no, this happens all the time. You will listen. (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s why I love Sara Bareilles. We will listen to her words, all of her words, all of her lyrics, on the project “Kaleidoscope Heart.” Sara is about to embark on a summer-long, and for that matter, past summer – for the rest of the year she is on tour, so I know a whole bunch of us are excited that she’s out and will be looking for the opportunity to catch her on the road somewhere this summer. Sara, have a great tour.

Bareilles: Thank you so much.

Tavis: Honored to have you on.

Bareilles: Me, too. I’m glad to meet you.

Tavis: Glad to have you.

[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]

Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: June 14, 2011 at 2:24 pm