Sara Bareilles Talks About The “Empowering” Act Of Writing Her Memoir

Photo: Shervin Lainez.
Sara Bareilles wouldn't suggest writing a book and a musical at the same time. Her memoir, a collection of essays called Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song, came out this week. Next month, she'll release an album titled What's Inside: Songs From Waitress, which features music from her debut stage musical, based on the 2007 movie Waitress. (Keri Russell played a pregnant pie maker in a small town. Look it up. It's wonderful.) The show premiered over the summer in Cambridge, MA, and will come to Broadway in the spring. "I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing these things simultaneously to anyone else who is thinking about it, but I am really, really grateful for both of these projects," she told us last week. "They’ve been super-fun and very rewarding." Bareilles shot to fame in 2007 thanks to "Love Song," a bouncy, piano-heavy, non-love song that netted her Grammy nominations and spent 41 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Her last album, The Blessed Unrest, came out in 2013 and featured another tune that became inescapable, "Brave." In her memoir, which Bareilles calls "a love letter to my fans," she talks about her parents' divorce, discusses her time abroad in Italy during college, and divulges the stories behind her work. For "Love Song," she tries to correct the "half-truth" legend that she wrote it because "the big, bad record company demanded that I write them a love song and I, being the cheeky, indignant young songstress that I am, thumbed my nose at them and gave them the anti-love song." The track, she explains, came out of her frustration working with professional cowriters after signing with Epic. (So, you know, nuance.) In a chapter named after "Beautiful Girl," she writes letters to herself at different phases of her life, addressing her struggles with body-image issues and mental health. She talks about meeting Jack Antonoff, with whom she cowrote "Brave," and performing (and messing up) with Taylor Swift. Here's what else Bareilles shared with us.

What inspired you to pull back the curtain on some of your songs in your memoir?
"As a fan of other artists, I’m always interested in what’s happening behind the scenes. I want to know the human element, the human story behind where creative moments are coming from. There were certain stories I wanted to debunk, and once and for all tell my side of it. 'Love Song,' for example. There’s sort of this shorthand version of what had happened that has been out in the media. For me, it was really empowering to sit and take the time to tell my side of the story and what was happening around me at that time. I picked some of the songs that have maybe had some of the most connective tissue with my fans — 'Gravity,' which I wrote when I was 19 years old and is still, to this day, one of the most requested songs I have. I say this in the book: 'I’ll be playing this 'til the day I die, God willing.' It was meant to be something that feels like a gift to the fans, where they are getting a little bit of the backstory, a little bit of what’s happening behind the scenes."
You said that it was “empowering” to write the book. How?
"I feel re-contextualized. Observing yourself do something that you never thought you could do or never imagined you could do, be it good, bad, or ugly or whatever, it’s empowering, it’s exciting. Even if nobody likes the book or nobody likes the show, I feel really proud of myself for bringing something to completion. These projects have been really challenging, and they have encouraged me to push my own boundaries... Getting an opportunity to watch yourself do something you never thought you could do is really exciting."

The book is very confessional and personal, whereas to write a musical, you have to insert yourself into other characters. How did those things work together?
"I think that was the biggest challenge. The [mindsets]...demanded by [these mediums are] quite different from each other. So I was struggling with going from diving inward for writing these essays for the book, and then having to shift gears and finding the right way into the psyche of these fictional characters, and wanting to tell their story. I tried to compartmentalize a little bit, and take chunks where I would work on only one or only the other because it was really hard to go back and forth. But, at the end of the day, deadlines coincided and I had to make it work. But that’s why I have a therapist. Eventually, I made it through but it was certainly uncomfortable at times."

How did
Waitress come to you?
"I got a phone call from my theatrical agent saying there was a project in the works, and they were interested in having a meeting with me to see if I was interested in coming on board as a composer. I had a meeting with Diane Paulus, the director. I hadn’t even seen the movie at the time, so I couldn’t even have said yes or no. When I moved to New York, three years ago, I thought I would venture back into the theater. I grew up on musical theater, and I loved the idea of returning to that genre. But I thought it would be as a performer, so it was really striking to me to be offered this role and it was really interesting, and it felt very scary, and it felt very big. I was also on this kick of trying to say yes to things that scared me. I said, 'Let me watch the movie; let me see if there’s any connection there.' And I did, and I felt like I wanted to see if I could do this. And I made it really clear it would be kind of an experiment, and that was three years ago and the experiment is still ongoing. We shall see."

What struck you about the film as something you wanted to take on?
"I loved that it was odd. I liked that this world that [writer-director-costar] Adrienne [Shelly] built inside the movie was feminist, and it was a little bit surreal. It had this touch of magical realism, this little fantasy, dream scenario threaded through, but these characters were very human — but they were all just a little bit off from what you would expect the typical archetypes to be. I loved at the end of the movie, spoiler alert, that it’s not a typical romantic comedy. This is a woman who finds strength within herself, and ultimately chooses to be alone with her child. I really loved that triumph in the story."

How did you decide to release an album that features songs from
"The record is completely self-indulgent. It is totally a selfish, fully narcissistic expression for me to allow myself to sing the songs from the show before I hand them over and pass the baton to the cast. They are in wonderful hands, so I’m not worried about it at all."

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