Sara Bareilles Dishes On Her New Book, How to Get Over Heartbreak, and Her Dream to Make the Princess Bride Into a Musical
Sara Bareilles is a woman who wears many hats. You know her best as the singer-songwriter of hits such as her breakout “Love Story” and the powerful anthem “Brave,” but now she can add author and Broadway composer to her impressive resume. (Her new memoir Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song hits shelves today; Waitress: The Musical, starring Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’s Jessie Mueller moves to Broadway in April 2016.)
When we caught up with the busy triple-threat, she dished on some of her fondest childhood memories, how she gets over heartbreak, self-love advice she wish she had as a kid, and her musical future (yes, possibly on a Broadway stage). Trust us, you’re going to want to listen to the soundtrack to her life.
Glamour: You picked such great songs to be the chapters of the book. Are there any that you cut or wish you included, or are you happy with the soundtrack you put together?
Sara Bareilles: I am very happy with the soundtrack. I think it was tricky to curate in a way, because of course there are a million things that I wish I could have said or would have said. I worked my ass off on the book, but it was also racing to meet deadlines. I think if I had more time — well, I don't know what I would have done if I worked on this book for a longer period of time. I think it was the perfect gestation time for this particular piece. One of the songs that I considered talking about was "Manhattan," because it was chronicling the end of a long relationship that was part of the reason why I moved from Los Angeles to New York, which was such a life-changing decision. I don't regret that it’s not in there, but that’s one that I considered diving into, and I have little piecemeal snippets of writing about that floating around. So, the next book!
Do you feel that people should listen to the songs while they read? Was that what you imagined when you were writing it?
SB: I think my hope was that people would take the time to really read the lyrics as prose in a way, and I think that as a songwriter I spend so much time on the lyrics and they mean so much to me. People listen to music very differently. Some people couldn’t tell you what the words are if you pay them, so for me, I really wanted to extract the moments of the songs that encapsulated the heartbeat of those stories and those chapters of my life. So my hope is that people just read the lyrics, but if you get the audiobook, I sang all of those parts of the songs. You get two birds with one stone!
There are some stories of heartbreak in the book and in your music. Do you have any Dos and Don'ts of getting over someone, whether your own advice or what you've learned?
SB: I do a lot of reading on Buddhist philosophy, and a Buddhist nun named Pema Chödrön that I mention in the book talks a lot about acceptance. It's one of the main tenets of Buddhism — accepting that what is, is. The root of our suffering is when we just don’t want to accept a truth. We want something to be different than it is. I know that I’m very susceptible to getting caught up in story lines like, "I want him to be different. I want him to be more open. I want him to call." We have all of these story lines that kind of take over sometimes, and I think there's real grace and a peaceful heart at the center of just accepting what is, and knowing that everything's OK. The good, the bad, the ugly, the pain, the hurt, the frustration — all of that is valuable and part of this human experience, so we should lean in to all of it.
Another big part of the book was the "Beautiful Girl" letters that you wrote to yourself, giving advice about body image and other hardships. Do you have any advice for young women now that you wish you had when you were a kid?
SB: The thing about writing those letters — which I highly recommend to anybody, to sit and privately write a letter to yourself — was that I found it such a cathartic experience, by doing this over the span of my life. What I learned was that it’s all the same shit over and over again — it just comes dressed up a little differently. At the end of the day, the only thing I ever wanted to feel was loved. So I think if I could give someone a piece of advice, it’s really learn how to be kind to yourself. In all of our ugliness and all of our brokenness and our bad choices, to really learn to nurture that part of yourself that can be your own big sister in a way. And that's something I still work on to this day. But when I look back, I was so mean to myself, and I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. I still feel that very loudly sometimes, but to try and really nurture that sense that you are your own friend.
A big part of your life right now is Waitress, which just wrapped its run in Boston and is headed to Broadway. But first, you’re putting out an album with your take on the musical. How did that come about?
SB: It’s actually kind of unfolded in a cool and organic way. I didn’t anticipate that I would want to do an album for myself with the music from the show, but as I got deeper and deeper into the process and fell more in love with this music and the show and the characters, I selfishly couldn't imagine handing them over without getting to sing them myself at least one time. It’s kind of a self-indulgent project, but I kind of don’t care. [Laughs]
How did it differ from the actual show? Is it more stripped-down?
SB: Actually, we kind of went the other direction. I really wanted to take the approach of just treating these songs as I would making them a Sara Bareilles record. So I went back to Neal Avron, who did my second record with me, Kaleidoscope Heart. He and I just have a great working dynamic and great rapport, and he does very ear-candy pop music really well. I just wanted to be in the space where I could really play with these arrangements and with the orchestrations, so the process was super fun and I had friends come in. I had Jason Mraz guest on the record, I had a friend write string arrangements, I had my music director and her sisters do the background vocals. It was a community effort, and it was kind of fast and furious too — we were in and out of the studio in about a month, which is kind of quick for me. I wanted the songs to feel very much like I was treating them as if they were on any other record of mine. I didn’t want to make a "musical theater" record. I just wanted to capture these songs in their essence as I would in any other way.
In Sounds Like Me, you talked about having Broadway dreams, like trying to play Cinderella in Into the Woods for Shakespeare in the Park and Jessie Mueller ending up getting the role. Could you see yourself doing this show?
SB: You know, never say never. I guess I would cross that bridge when I come to it. I certainly have dreams of being on a Broadway stage someday, if they’ll have me. I think I want to stay really open to whatever possibilities present themselves. My role in this show as composer and being behind the scenes has been so delicious in such a surprising way. I thought I would have a much harder time relinquishing the role to someone else because I fell in love with our lead character so much. I love this woman, Jenna. She resonates with me, and I really identify with her. But then getting to work with someone like Jessie Mueller and watching her and how masterful she is at creating a character, I feel like I have a lot to learn before I would be ready to take on something like this. But again, never say never — I certainly have those dreams, and I hope that it happens at some point, whether it’s in this show or something else. I hope I get to see those stage lights at some point.
Do you have a favorite musical on Broadway now or one you'd like them to bring back as your dream role?
SB: Oh my gosh, I have to really think about that. Right now, it’s such a juggernaut and everyone’s talking about it, but I really think that Hamilton is a fantastically unique and innovative, creative, genius production. That is what I would have to say my favorite show on Broadway is right now. There are so many wonderful classic roles, but I also would be really interested in developing something brand new. I think my heart would probably be in developing something brand new; I think that sounds really exciting. But let’s vote for "The Princess Bride." I love it, so let’s do that one.
TV seems like a main character in the book, with references to old shows like "Golden Girls" and Full House. What girls were you and your sisters?
SB: I think I'm a Dorothy. The beautiful alchemy of that show is that all of those characters depend on the other ones to totally make sense in the world. That show without Rose isn’t as good of a show, and you could say the same thing for Blanche and Sophia and Dorothy. They just hit this perfect combination of human chemistry, and the casting is perfect. I’m that person who owns all of the seasons on DVDs, including the Lifetime intimate portraits showcasing "The Golden Girls." I am a massive fan. I think I’m Dorothy. She's my favorite.
What are you watching now? You seem to be a big TV person, with references sprinkled in the book.
SB: When I watch, I go straight for Seinfeld, Modern Family, Friends, and Golden Girls. Those are my pillars of strength on TV. I just recently watched a show called Togetherness on HBO. I actually really liked that. I think I’m someone who is really prone to melancholy, and the super heavy, thick shows kind of spiral me out into not being able to be as happy a person as I think I deserve to be, so I tend to watch things like "30 Rock" and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Anything Tina Fey's involved in. And "Parks and Rec." I love comedies!
Do you have any favorite movies or music from your childhood?
SB: I was a big Peter Cetera fan. It was post-Chicago. I got really into rock — soft, romantic rock was my jam. People like him, Amy Grant, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson, even though she was more on the pop side. And then I was obsessed with this record collection that my dad had that was one of those from Time-Life, like "Party Hits from the '50s and '60s," and I was obsessed with this collection because it was all of these classics like "Leader of the Pack" and "Venus," and "My Boyfriend’s Back…" and all of these songs from the '50s and '60s. I listened to that record so much that I wore it out.
What about favorite movies, other than The Princess Bride?
SB: I would watch Adventures in Babysitting over and over again. Any John Hughes film: "Sixteen Candles," "Breakfast Club," I loved all of them. That era in the '80s was just so ripe with "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Say Anything" and all of those movies that were just speaking to the teenage angst that was right up my alley, even though I was a little young when they all came out. I was living those movies.
You mentioned that you danced and choreographed routines with your sisters as kids. Would you ever go full Taylor Swift and dance and run around onstage on tour?
SB: I don’t know that I could see myself doing that. I’d like to think I could physically manage doing that, but I don’t think it feels authentic to the kind of performer that I am. I think that, for me, being stationary and just sort of singing the songs seems to be the most connected and authentic expression for me on stage. I've dabbled in running around onstage, and at certain times it’s nice to step away from the anchor of the piano and use a handheld microphone and connect with the audience, but I think my soul as a performer is just a little bit more connected to the instrument. To just sort of sit and sing — that feels like the most natural fit for me.
One chapter in the book was about the horror story of your in-ear not working when you sang "Brave" with Taylor Swift. Would you collaborate with her again to get that some redemption?
SB: [Laughs] Yeah, absolutely! I mean, I feel like I’ve absolved myself from feeling horrible about that anymore, and she was so grateful and kind to me that night and made me feel like it was fine. But you can definitely watch the video on YouTube and hear how horrifically off I was, but it's cool. I think it's one of those things about live performance — anything goes, anything can happen, and you have to just be ready and able to roll with the punches. That was a brutal experience, for sure.
If you were to sing with her again, is there a song of hers or yours that you'd like to do?
SB: I really love the song "Blank Space." I listen to it a lot. It's kind of my jam at the gym.
Do you have a go-to karaoke jam or dance move that you just break out in your free time?
SB: Oddly enough, my dance move has seemingly turned into push-ups. Sometimes, especially if I’ve indulged a little bit in an evening, it’s not out of the ordinary to find me, for some reason, doing push-ups. That seems to be my go-to dance move. I don't like karaoke very much. I like being around it, but I don't like singing it. If I had to sing a karaoke song, it's usually "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield.
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