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Sara Bareilles | Interview

Sara Bareilles topped the charts. So why's she still angry?

Three years after Sara Bareilles answered her label’s request for a love song with the breezy, hit-making lyric, “I’m not gonna write you a love song,” her sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Heart, debuted at the top of the Billboard and iTunes charts. The 30-year-old from Eureka, California—“I grew up incredibly naive and really innocent,” she says of her small-town upbringing, “and that’s the best gift I could have been given from my parents”—seems genuinely wowed by her success. Even when she’s voicing complaints (about the music industry, say), she does so with a polite, affable demeanor—a dichotomy that applies equally to her music. She stops at the House of Blues Wednesday 3.

Of the first tunes you penned after your previous tour, you write in your publicity bio, “I amazed myself with just how horrible the songs were.”
Oh, God, yeah.

Why so horrible?
It’s like any craft—I was a little rusty. And just in general, not everything’s gonna be good. But I started to scare myself with the sheer lack of anything of merit. By the fourth month of writing crappy songs, it gets into your brain.

So you took more time to write not-crappy songs?
My friend Matt Hales from the band Aqualung, we were sitting over a margarita and I was emoting to him about how stressed out I was feeling. I was supposed to go into the studio, and I felt like I didn’t have enough good songs. He just said, “Well, then, don’t go into the studio. You can’t polish a turd. You can make a song sound pretty, but it’s not gonna be a good song.”

You’ve said “King of Anything,” like “Love Song,” is a “fuck-you song,” a response to unsolicited advice. Who are these people giving advice, and what are they advising?
Everyone has an opinion on how everybody else should live their life. My parents, my friends, my label, my management—everyone has the answer for what I’m doing wrong or right. My dad—I mean, I love my dad and we’ve got a close relationship, but he’s got very specific opinions about what he likes or doesn’t like about the record, and he’ll tell me all of them.

So what does Dad like and not like?
He’s like, “Man, you should put ‘Basket Case’ after song number 11 on a ten-song record.” [Laughs] Stuff like that. And I appreciate that from my dad, but even though it comes from someone I love, you still have to not let it sink in.

Do you think the constant advice is something female musicians face especially?
People love to share opinions regardless of gender, but I’ve always felt that being a female in this industry—it’s an uphill battle. You have to fight really hard to be heard and to be given credibility. People like to placate the girls and say, “Oh, yeah, we hear you, but let’s still make the decisions.”

The “we” being…?
Being label people, the producer, the musicians in the room—and other songwriters, other musicians that you see on the road. I had to fight really hard to gain credibility.

“I have some anger-management issues, and they end up coming out in these passive-aggressive songs that sound happy, but I still feel like I’m telling someone to kiss off.” My question when I read that quote of yours was, Where does all the anger come from?
[Laughs] Deep-seated memories of childhood or something—I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as an angry person, but I do have very strong opinions about how I feel like I’m treated in this industry and how women are treated in this industry. I feel frustrated that I see a lot of the same from artists out there that I think have more depth than they are sharing with the public.

Like many a singer-songwriter before you, you write a lot about heartbreak. Does that come directly from experience?
Yeah, mostly. That’s the easiest way to feel like I’m tapping into something that’s really honest, and I find it very cathartic to share my own pain and see the connection people make with that.

Given how many songs you have along these lines, it seems you haven’t been very lucky in love.
[Laughs] It’s ironic because I’m actually in a close to five-year relationship that I am very happy in.

See, that’s kinda shocking.
[Laughs] Well, I did have several failed relationships before I met my current boyfriend. It’s easy to tap into those feelings of loss and fear and sadness. They stay very close to my heart.

It’s easier to write about heartbreak than happiness.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s the cruel joke of the world. [Laughs] It is much easier to tap into your despair than your joy.

Bareilles plays the House of Blues Wednesday 3 at 6:30pm.