Sara Bareilles On Memoir ‘Sounds Like Me’ & New LP ‘What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress’: Idolator Interview
Sara Bareilles is one of the busiest women in music. In the space of a year, the “Brave” hitmaker wrote the music and lyrics for a musical adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s much-loved 2007 comedy/drama Waitress, recorded those songs — with a little pop/rock twist — for fourth major label LP What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress (due November 11) and penned a memoir called Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song.
I recently spoke with the singer/songwriter about her incredibly productive 2015 and she opened up about the challenges involved with each endeavor. For starters, Sara found writing a book more confronting than channeling her thoughts and emotions into music. However, she relished the opportunity of penning songs from the perspective of characters in Waitress, instead of singing about herself. Find out more about her many projects and next album below.
Is writing a memoir as confronting as pouring your emotions into music?
It’s funny because I didn’t realize they would feel so different, but they really do. There’s something about my stories and my thoughts being in book form that feels much more indelible or final. I felt much more exposed writing this book than I do with writing my songs. I’m actually really autobiographical in my songs. I’m not squeamish about sharing vulnerable details. I’m really not.
It was kind of an odd thing to witness, how fearful I was in sharing my inside perspective. I got there but I definitely had to fight myself harder on this project than I do for writing songs.
How did you draw the line between what you would and wouldn’t share?
My barometer ended up sort of being… I wanted to avoid making this book gossipy in any way. I really wanted to keep this expression about my experience. Usually, that just spilled into wanting to talk about my emotional experience with something. I think that that’s, frankly, the thing that I’m better at than other things. I find solace in the process of being honest about my emotional experience.
That’s served me well over the years, so I tried to take the same approach with this. Finding memory is hard. Thinking back and trying to dredge up details. That was my editor’s big comment — you need to give me more facts about, for example, where were you when this happened. I was basically doing journal entries. Like, “I felt scared and sad.” We were always trying to draw things out, to paint more of the landscape to give context. That was really challenging for me.
Does writing a memoir force you to take stock of your life?
I didn’t want to write a life story because I would like to think that I’m too young to do that. That’s why it ended up being essays, sort of like little chapters. It ended up being in chronological order, but having these essays about my life, verses start to finish. The start to finish arc was a choice. It does make me take stock and look back at what has happened to me and around me. It’s been a really introspective year.
It’s been a really interesting and emotional look at everything that’s happened. It’s a little surreal, actually, to try to take that 30,000 foot view and look at everything that’s happened and not want to burst into tears. I always want to burst into tears, so that’s kind of my thing.
Looking back, do you recognize a sliding doors moment in your life or career?
It’s really interesting. I think back to a conversation I had with my first manager, Jordan Feldstein, about being in a commercial. “Love Song” had just… I can’t remember the sequence of events, but it was right around the time when “Love Song” was going to be featured as download of the week on iTunes. It wasn’t really on the radio yet. There wasn’t anything happening around the song yet.
We got an offer to be in a Rhapsody commercial. I was really conflicted about it. At that time it felt like you were quote/unquote “selling out” as an artist if your songs were featured in a commercial or on television. That used to be the thing that you didn’t do. So, I got an offer to be featured in a commercial and my manager pushed really hard for it. I was really reluctant. I think that commercial actually really changed things. It made a difference.
I don’t know but in a way my philosophy on that is like, I really believe everything happens for a reason. You look back on things that feel like mistakes. I believe that we’re exactly where we’re suppose to be. Whatever growth and learning needs to come will come.
Let’s talk about What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress. I read that you were attracted to adapting the movie into a musical because it depicts how messy and unpredictable life can be. Can you elaborate on that?
That’s my favorite part about life. It’s something that really, as I’ve gotten older, it’s something that I’m really embracing now. I think, as an adolescent and even as a young adult, I had so many black and white views about who I thought I was, what I’m capable of. This could be good or bad things. Like, “boy I never thought I’d do that! I never thought I’d have that great achievement or I never thought I’d fuck up that big.” That can go both ways.
What’s so beautiful is that all the lines in this story are blurred. I find that to be absolutely truthful. That’s such an accurate representation. I think, people do the best they can and of course nobody’s perfect. It’s this beautifully flawed representation of what life actually feels like. I was really thankful to Jenna [the main character] for her perspective, for Adrienne Shelley’s perspective.
It became such a pleasure to dig into that story line and give these characters a voice in a way that celebrated their flaws. Instead of making them… nobody was the villain because they were all good and all bad, which I think is really honest.
What I love about the movie is that it’s about everything and nothing. There’s a simplicity to it. How do you translate that into show tunes or songs that are appropriate for musical theater?
Oddly enough, it actually felt much easier to do than I thought it would. On the one hand, it was really fun to dig into telling someone else’s story. I’m so used to being so narcissistic in my musical expression. I’m only talking about myself, all the time. I really enjoyed the challenge of finding my way in as a story teller to what the crotchety old man would say and what the eccentric tax accountant would say.
I found all these characters to be really delicious and interesting exploration into humanity, oddly enough. It was certainly challenging in some ways but it also felt so playful because it was all brand new to me. There was a part of me that was really delighted in getting to play in this new medium.
Did you get a chance to talk to anyone from Adrienne Shelly’s family about the musical?
We did actually. Michael Roiff, the producer of the film, and Andrew Ostroy, who’s Adrienne’s widower, they were very involved and supportive. They were at opening night. They were at closing night and at all of our readings. We shared emails and letters. They’ve been so beautifully supportive of wanting to carry on Adrienne’s legacy in this way.
It’s made all difference. It’s so nice to have their support and their blessing. They are also really wonderful about giving space too. They’re not trying to control everything. They’re just being lovely and supportive.
How differently are the songs presented on the album? Have they been adopted to your signature sound?
I would say, it’s somewhere in the middle. What I wanted to do was kind of let the album be its own entity and not think too critically about whether or not it would make sense for us on stage. In that way, there are certain kind of production tricks we did and used that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in the live setting. At the same time, I think that our approach for arranging for the show was very similar to the way I arrange an album for going on tour.
We went into the rehearsal studio and we brought in the whole band. We all just hashed it out. Everyone had their recordings and had the sheet music and we dug in from there. They’re a hybrid of each other but they’re not so dissimilar that they’re going to feel like night and day. They’re not exactly the same.
You did a great job of incorporating a couple of big pop moments into the introspectiveness of The Blessed Unrest. Was it freeing to not worry about it this time?
I felt like the part of me that really reveled in this was the part that… I got to just focus on the story telling. I wasn’t worried about whether or not it would play well on the radio or if I’m a delivering what’s sort of “expected” of me as a writer or as an artist in the commercial sphere. It was really liberating in that way. The whole process ended up feeling very playful in that way.
You have written a musical, a memoir and an album in the same year. Your plate has been incredibly full, but have you already started thinking about your next album?
I have a little bit here and there. There seems to be a lot of flip-flopping. I vacillate between wanting to do something that’s really, really stripped down and raw and recorded live or going balls to the wall and doing this big studio record or going with a ’60s throwback soul record. My ideas for what I could do next are all over the place. I think that means that I need a little more time to figure it out.
The good news is that I am feeling compelled to create which is always excited because that’s not always there. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh shit. I’m never going to write another song again in my life.”
All of those options sound great. Good luck!
Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Good bye.