Sara Bareilles on ‘Girls5eva’, ‘Amidst The Choas’ Live Album & Laugh Through Loss
Before Sara Bareilles was a household name, she spent her days rehearsing in a rented storage unit and wandering between evenings with an open mic with her keyboard wrapped in bedding. She sang anywhere who would have it; in bars, tiny rooms, even a Chinese restaurant. “People ate eggs while I sang my heart out,” Bareilles tells Bustle of his nights at Los Angeles restaurant, Genghis Cohen. “Another place I played had a stripper pole in the middle of the stage. It was a very, very long slow road [to today]. “
The Northern California native first rose to fame in 2007 with her near-ubiquitous success “Love song.” “It was a complete shock to me and to the label that it was a success,” says Bareilles. “I don’t think anyone expected the song to sound the way it did.” It took a few years for the singer-songwriter to find her bearings after she rose to fame. “I was so worried that I was somehow going to ‘sell myself’ … I spent a lot of time [in my early 20s] with my dukes and it was a bit exhausting.
Finally, she found her own rhythm. Then came Grammy nominations, tours across the country and a foray into the theater writing the music for the hit Broadway musical. Waitress. Now she is simultaneously releasing her live album Amidst the Chaos: Live from the Hollywood Bowl while making her television debut with the comedy produced by Peacock’s Tina Fey Girls5Eva.
Days on the set of Girls5eva, who follows members of a 90s girl group now in their 40s trying to return, were a blur of chants and laughs with her fellow cast members. You would never know this was Bareilles’ first time performing on TV thanks to his portrayal of Dawn, the show’s anxious and pounding heart. “I immediately saw similarities between Dawn and myself. She realizes that there may be more for her and it’s worth expressing, ”says Bareilles. “I told this myself.
Below, Bareilles talks about her stage in musical theater, her love for ABBA, and the song she’s most proud of.
During his first Open Mic evening and the Catharsis of Girls5eva
Your new live album was recorded at the Hollywood Bowl. And was this place special to you?
I moved to Los Angeles from Eureka, California, a very small town I grew up in, in Northern California. As a rookie at UCLA, my roommates and I went to see a show at the Hollywood Bowl, so this was one of my first experiences with live music in Los Angeles. I was fascinated. For anyone who has never seen a performance at the Bowl, this is a cathedral set in the mountains – breathtakingly beautiful. The design of the shell is extraordinary, there is just a warmth that emulates this place.
What were your beginnings as a budding singer-songwriter before playing in these huge venues?
I went to UCLA and in my senior year I knew I wanted to play music. I had been part of an a capella group, singing with people, that’s how I met my first band mates. My very first show was an open mic at Molly Malone’s on Fairfax. I didn’t invite a single soul – I went alone with my keyboard because I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and I did. Then I have performed hundreds and hundreds of shows over the years in Los Angeles.
Was there a time when you really felt like you really did it as a musician?
I always felt very uncomfortable considering myself as a musician until one day I bought a case for my keyboard. I used to roll up my keyboard in my bedspread and take it from the back seat of my car and put it back on my bed [later] and fall asleep. It was disgusting! The day I got myself a zipped case with a wheel, I was like, “Wow, I’m a musician now,” but I was still playing in small venues. When I quit my job as a waitress because I was making enough money from my shows … it was really a big deal, to realize that I could make ends meet and pay my rent with the music alone.
Now you combine music and television in Girls5eva. What strikes you the most about Dawn and this reunion of a group of girls?
Like many people, I suffered a lot of loss during the pandemic. I lost a very dear friend and went into production [on Girls5eva] shortly after his death. I was so grateful for the catharsis of laughter, I couldn’t believe the great chance to get down to work on a comedy after going through so much grief and heartache. I saw a lot of similarities between me and Dawn but also Dawn and Jenna, the main character of Waitress – Jenna and Dawn both find themselves in a life they don’t exactly feel chosen. It was sort of [that] life happened to them, and I think that’s a really amazing crossroads to meet in a character. There is so much fear of being faulty in front of people that sometimes I think we pull out of the race. It’s really nice to see women get a big boost and know that it won’t turn out perfectly.
Loving Paul Simon and his Apple Fiona phase
What is the first record you bought?
I really wanted You can call me Al by Paul Simon, but I was a little too young to go to the record store, so my mom went to the store and came home with the wrong record!
What were your biggest musical influences growing up in a small town in California?
I am really inclined to phases. I had a really strong musical theater phase which was one of the first for me. I became very interested in The Phantom of the Opera and The set and Chess and The secret garden. The There were a lot of Broadway casting albums. Then I got into a bit of a country phase in high school because we’re in the sticks where I grew up and there were a lot of country music fans there. I really loved pop country like Faith Hill, Deana Carter and Shania Twain. Then I took a left turn to alternative music and Fiona Apple blew me away and rocked my world. Radiohead was the same. I was just turning around OK computer and Curvatures, but the starting line was the singer-songwriter troubadour types: Paul Simon, Elton John, Carole King, people like that that I always listen to all the time. I think these records are so timeless.
Who is your current musical idol?
Is there a musician or band that you like that people would think has no character for you?
ABBA. I don’t know if they would think it has no character, but I love them. You can put them on anytime, day or night. I think I consumed a lot of it at a certain age. It’s a happy nostalgic moment.
What’s your favorite karaoke song?
“Son of a Preacher,” by Dusty Springfield.
Which song are you most proud of?
I think writing music for Waitress has been such a change for me in terms of broadening my perspective to tell someone else’s story. “She was mine” was the first song I wrote for this show and there was just something really special that happened in the writing of this song, in the glue it formed between me and the project , the channeling of [late Waitress writer and director] Adrienne Shelly. This is going to sound new-age, but she passed away and I spoke to her mind a lot and invited her to go through the writing. I really feel like she did. “She Used to Be Mine” sounded like a song that landed for me personally in a truly unique way. Seeing how it resonated with others was a real surprise, and it has remained really special to me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.