August 28, 2010 / 10:52 AM / 7 years ago

Sara Bareilles learning to enjoy mainstream success

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Sara Bareilles is a very nice woman who broke through to music's mainstream by writing songs that sweetly and eloquently tell people precisely where they can go.

Don't be fooled by the video to "King of Anything," the lead single off her sophomore album for Epic, "Kaleidoscope Heart," due September 7. In the clip, which has already attracted upward of 1 million views on Vevo, Bareilles, 31, is wandering through a park in a gauzy tutu and singing with a generous smile. But much like the monster success of "Love Song," a track off her first Epic album, "Little Voice," "King of Anything" is an anthem to sassy assertiveness dressed in a lilting singer-songwriter sheen.

"It was the last song I wrote before we went into the studio, and I was at the point where I started sharing the music with my inner circle and started getting feedback," she says. "I remember having a very vivid realization of, 'Oh, I forgot that this was a part of it. Everybody gets to tell you what they think about what you do.' I could tell I was getting defensive. That song was a little bit of a pep-talk song -- and that's exactly what 'Love Song' was."

"Love Song," released in 2007, sold 3.2 million digital downloads, earned two Grammy Award nominations -- one for song of the year and another for best female pop vocal performance -- and bolstered sales of "Little Voice" to 985,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Mainstream success came to Bareilles swiftly, and she's the first to admit she was unprepared. "I was so precious about every choice," she says. "I was so guarded, and I don't know that I enjoyed it as much as I could have. There were times where I was so fearful and so anxious about the process: 'Am I doing too much? Am I selling out? Do I look all right?' All those things swirl around in your brain. What I'm here to do is play my music, and I want to be able to enjoy the process this time."

THE LIVE EXPERIENCE

Bareilles was a fixture on the Los Angeles bar and club scene for years after she graduated from the University of California Los Angeles -- the Fairfax area's premier kosher Chinese restaurant, Genghis Cohen, was a frequent stop -- and she's still most invigorated by playing live. The Obamas are fans -- Bareilles performed at both the G20 Summit and the White House Easter Egg Roll -- and she was on the roster for six Lilith Fair shows this summer, an experience she treasures.

"That was so magical. I feel like I went to female songwriter school," she says. "There was so much negative press about Lilith Fair, and it makes me a little angry. The essence was totally intact. The crowds were small in some of the markets, but we played huge shows of 10,000-15,000 people."

On September 25, Bareilles will start a 30-city headlining tour in Portland, Ore., including stops at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Webster Hall in New York. The size of the venues gives Bareilles a chance to have a full band backing her -- her previous headlining tour was acoustic -- and include theatrical stage design elements, she says.

Bareilles' live show has spawned several releases: Her iTunes-exclusive "Live Sessions EP" has sold 30,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and she released the CD/DVD "Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore" in 2008.

Besides gabbing on Twitter -- a recent tweet from Bareilles reads, "At home, sick, watching Oprah talk about hoarding. Feeling sicker by the moment. Gotta go buy more stuff" -- she's been documenting the making of "Kaleidoscope Heart" in a video blog on her website.

IN TUNE

Coming off the success of "Love Song" was daunting for Bareilles, who says that she took procrastination to an art form while preparing to write "Kaleidoscope Heart." (In her bio for the album, she admits that she spent a significant amount of time shopping for throw pillows at Target in lieu of putting notes on paper.)

"I am the tortoise of the 'Tortoise and the Hare' story," she says. "It definitely takes me a little while to process things and make decisions about what I like and what I don't like."

But everything clicked once she sat down with producer Neal Avron, who has worked with Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park and Weezer. "I looked at his discography, and I was like, 'Fall Out Boy? I don't see how I fit into this at all,'" she says. "But Neal and I met and it felt like a good fit. He really listened. He has no ego, and I love that quality in someone."

Avron encouraged Bareilles to stay true to her instincts and make "Kaleidoscope Heart" as personal as "Little Voice." Bareilles says the centerpiece song on the album is the second track, "Uncharted."

"I was worrying (to a friend) about how I was never going to be able to write another song, and I was starting a lot of songs but I couldn't finish any of them," she says. "I was really worried about stepping into the unknown and I didn't know what to expect the second time around ... and that afternoon, I sat down and wrote 'Uncharted.'" The title of the album, in fact, comes from a lyric in that song.

For Bareilles, "Kaleidoscope Heart" is another album where the personal becomes public -- but this time around, she's prepared. "Nothing is brand-new to me anymore," she says. "I don't have to be so consumed with learning how to get through it. I'm just like, 'Oh, I've been here before, so now let's just see how today can be a great day.'"

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