LIANE HANSEN, host:
In June 2007, singer and songwriter Sara Bareilles released the first single from her second album, "Little Voice." She said she wrote this song in response to her label's request to write a marketable love song instead of one about an actual person.
(Soundbite of song, "Love Song")
Ms. SARA BAREILLES (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) That's why you wanted a love song, 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one. You see, I'm not gonna write you a love song, 'cause you tell me...
HANSEN: "Love Song" was then featured in a commercial for the online music service Rhapsody, nominated for two Grammy Awards and went triple-platinum.
Sara Bareilles has just released the first single from her new CD called "Kaleidoscope Heart." The song, "King of Anything," is making its way up the charts.
(Soundbite of song, "King of Anything")
Ms. BAREILLES: (Singing) Keep drinking coffee, stare me down across the table, while I look outside. So many things I'd say, if only I were able, but I just keep quiet until the cars just pass by. You've got opinions...
HANSEN: Sara Bareilles is in our studio at NPR West. Welcome to the program.
Ms. BAREILLES: Hi.
HANSEN: So, is this the anti-"Love Song," a heartfelt, perky piano pop kiss-off?
Ms. BAREILLES: I guess that's sort of my niche, so to speak. I think I have some anger management issues and they end up coming out in these sort of passive-aggressive songs that sound happy but I still get to feel like I'm telling someone to kiss off.
HANSEN: Were you telling the label to kiss off when you wrote "Love Song"?
Ms. BAREILLES: Oh, most definitely. And I think it was also, I was having a lot of trouble writing. And I had been told to sort of keep writing and keep developing, you know, my body of work before they would allow me to go into the studio to start recording the first record. And I was listening to the radio and feeling like I should be writing something that sounded like it was on the radio. And it became this very frustrating moment of realizing that I was attempting to sort of make myself into something that I wasn't so they would, you know, give me their approval.
HANSEN: And did the label like the song? I mean, obviously, the critics and your fans did.
Ms. BAREILLES: They did like the song, although they had no idea that they were the subject of it. So, I had to tell them that. But we all had a good laugh about it.
(Soundbite of song, "King of Anything")
Ms. BAREILLES: (Singing) Who cares if you disagree? You annoy me, who made you king of anything? And (unintelligible). Tell me who's the, who died, who made you king of anything? All my life, I've tried to make everybody happy while I, just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me brighter...
HANSEN: So, how did the label react when you presented them with "King of Anything"?
Ms. BAREILLES: I think this time around I've had a much more clear vision of what I wanted to achieve and I've really embraced the idea of being in charge to a certain extent. And when I wrote "King of Anything," I knew I wanted that to be the first single and that's how it was presented to everyone. And I sort of came at it from a different perspective. I wasn't asking permission anymore.
HANSEN: I'm speaking with Sarah Bareilles. Her new CD is called "Kaleidoscope Heart."
Your song, "Machine Gun," it has a very 1960s girl group sound. I mean, it seems to be influenced by Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and the Wall of Sound Production. You know, the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, kind of the "Leader of the Pack" vibe. Is that something that you did consciously?
Ms. BAREILLES: I think that's definitely near and dear to my heart. I always have really gravitated towards really tight harmony. You know, I remember listening to the Andrews Sisters and people like that and really loving just sort of the intricacy of the tight harmonies and what that sounds like.
And this song, I mean, for me, I think it's very theatrical and it's very tongue-in-cheek and it's about, you know, critics and who do you think you are, kind of thing. And...
HANSEN: I see.
Ms. BAREILLES: ...actually wrote it after watching some friends' albums come out. And this was months and months ago but I try not to read reviews of my own work, but I couldn't help but, you know, be curious about what was being said about some friends' records that were coming out.
I remember one review just wasn't very kind at all, and it struck me as being so cruel. And it's so easy to just sort of rip someone's work apart. You know, and it's very objective and it's just one person's opinion. And I'm thinking about my friend here who'd been working in, you know, blood, sweat and tears over this record and to this person it's just so easy to just tear it apart. So, I was sort of writing that as an aid to myself to sort of build up my defenses, as I knew I was stepping back into the world of being able to be critiqued.
(Soundbite of song, "Machine Gun")
Ms. BAREILLES: (Singing) Locked and loaded, you practically floated away now. In your fortress, you feel like you're more or less (unintelligible). I don't mean harm or (unintelligible) charming. You've come undone, 'cause that's where you started from. Baby, nobody loved you when you were young. Crazy boy, when you cry, nobody ever comes. Well, I tell you, I give up the machine gun...
HANSEN: September is the beginning of meteorological winter and the hours of sunlight are dwindling. The song "Not Alone" suggests that you're not used to having not a lot of sun.
Ms. BAREILLES: Well, I did grow up in Northern California and it is kind of dark and damp up there. I think, you know, a theme for this record for me was definitely about acknowledging the fear that sort of resides inside of me. It's funny, "Not Alone" actually is sort of referring to a very literal sense of I live alone and that for the first time I'm in a house by myself. And just kind of all of the crazy images that come into your mind as you're, you know, living alone as a female. And I think I wrote that song, again, sort of to myself to pick me up and feel like I was giving - it makes me feel like I'm doing something constructive with something that can be very debilitating. So, if you take you fear and you mash it into something that's actually useful, then it feels like it didn't win.
(Soundbite of song, "Not Alone")
Ms. BAREILLES: (Singing) There is something I don't want to (unintelligible). Something seems very strange that I haven't seen yet. I don't wanna be alone. God, don't let the sun go. I'm not ready for the darkness, swept on a heartless soul. And I don't wanna cry and you go. Stay a little longer, you know. You're making me feel not alone.
HANSEN: Because you also work with new musicians and you talk to them and you're interested in their development, what lesson do you think you've learned as a professional musician so far that you'd like to pass onto aspiring musicians?
Ms. BAREILLES: I think a theme for me right now is there is no right way to do anything of this. I think every career trajectory is very different from the next, and the only thing that you can really rely on is that if you're being your authentic self.
So, I really try to - I mean, just speaking from my own perspective - I really try to make sure that my decisions and my intentions are coming from a really true, honest, authentic place. And then I could always look back on the choices I made and feel really good about them. Whether they were the most successful choices or something I just learned from, I feel like I never...I don't have a lot of regrets, which I'm grateful for.
But I think, you know, as a young artist getting into this industry, you feel like there's some secret. There's, like, some way to do this that makes, you know, it's the golden ticket-kind of thing. And I think it's just, that's a fallacy. It doesn't exist, I don't think.
HANSEN: Sarah Bareilles, her new CD on the Epic label is called "Kaleidoscope Heart" and she joined us from the studio at NPR West. Thank you. Good luck.