Sara Bareilles has breathed melodic life into the pop music scene with her piano infused rock songs. While she’s a chart topper on tour, she’s also becoming a television star. Bareilles has joined NBC’s a cappella competition show The Sing-Off as a judge.
Bareilles told the Television Critics Association on August 1 that she finds criticism more effective when it’s compassionate, so she will not provide Simon Cowell-esque critiques. After her TCA session, Bareilles hung around to chat about her own music and more thoughts on joining The Sing-Off, which returns September 19 at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Q: I love hearing piano in rock music. Why do you think more band don’t include pianos?
SB: Oh, they’re not portable. I learned that the hard way. But I think it’s just a matter of taste. Different strokes for different folks. For me, the piano was always something I had access to so it became integrated into my musical world very early on. It was just a really natural fit. It was like an old friend from moment one. That’s kind of cliché but that’s how it was.
Q: How did it start? Did your parents make you take piano lessons?
SB: No, I had an older sister that played piano so I think I kind of probably started trying to follow her footsteps a little bit. It’s something I sort of fell into, started taking some lessons and then never fell out of love with it.
Q: This show really reminds you how important harmony is. Are artists losing the background of harmonizing?
SB: Potentially. Music is always changing. What’s popular and contemporary keeps shifting but I think the pendulum swings and it comes back. This show is great because it does showcase this more theoretical side of music. It’s very difficult to do. It’s very difficult to arrange, especially like a pop contemporary song, to be great for a cappella voices. So I think it is interesting and I love it because Ben [Folds] has talked about this in the past. If you’re teaching people one new thing about music or music theory during the show, then you win.
Q: How would you do in a competition like The Sing-Off?
SB: Probably terribly. I don’t know. I’m not a very competitive person and I remember I auditioned for Star Search and I didn’t even get on that. I auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club, I didn’t get on that. I think under pressure situations like that I’m a little weak.
Q: Does it take a certain something to be in a show like that, a killer instinct?
SB: Well, the motivation can come from a lot of different places but I think you do have to have a certain drive and intensity. Especially on this show we’re seeing with these kids - I’m calling them kids, some of them are 60 years old – but there’s a real devotion and a personal drive that is coming across so clearly from each and every one of these groups in different ways. Their dynamic is different. There’s a family and there’s a group of guys that have been singing together for 30 years, there’s a refugee choir. There’s all sorts of people who come together for all different reasons but they’re all there to showcase. They’re proud of what they’re doing.
Q: Are you very critical of yourself?
SB: My relationship to my own music has changed over the years. I am hyper hyper critical of myself. However, I’ve learned to be forgiving of my choices because all I know when I look back is that I made the best choice that I could at any given time. I did my best. I know that wholeheartedly 100%. I don’t compromise artistically for anybody. So my music reflects my choices so I have to sort of own that. There are things I’d love to change that I don’t think I made the best choice on, but that’s me today. That’s not Sara when I was 24, 25.
Q: What have these past few years been like for you personally?
SB: It’s been a roller coaster. It’s been amazing. 2007 my album came out, “Little Voice.” Then “Love Song” happened and my whole world was blown open. Things changed very rapidly for me but it’s been this really amazing journey and I think every day, because I’ve learned infinitely so, how fickle the music industry is and how quickly it changes, to be really grateful for what I have, not take anything for granted and expect it all to end tomorrow. At any given time, I’m taking everything with a grain of salt, I’m enjoying it and I’m doing my best to just stay unattached as well. I work really, really hard but my life is more than just my career. I have wonderful relationships and a wonderful family. I think to be well balanced, you have to not sell yourself completely to the devil. Just rent it for a while.
Q: Talking about how fickle music is, is it nice to have a steady day job?
SB: I already have a steady day job. I’m out on tour right now and I’m flying back. I have two day jobs right now. I’m on tour right now so it’s a very, very busy time for me. But as I said, it’s exhilarating. It’s so brand new, it’s really fun and energetic and exciting. I know everyone involved with the show is so excited, so I’m riding the wave right now. I feel really lucky that I get to be.
Q: What is touring like?
SB: It can be a grind. It’s definitely grueling in a lot of different ways but it’s like anything. You acclimate, you get familiar, it becomes comfortable. Now we’ve been touring so much these last several years, I’m almost more uncomfortable at home than I am on the road. I find that I’m more relaxed on the road because your purpose is ingrained into your daily habits. You’re already doing your job whereas I’m at home and I’m like, “Man, I’ve got to call the garbage company and I’ve got to trim the tree,” all these things that you do and make up for yourself when you’re on your own time.
Q: What are you talking about when you tweet on Twitter?
SB: I know, I’m very odd. I like Twitter because it’s sort of that perfect place to put those thoughts that don’t really belong anywhere else. I say all sorts of random sh*t but I never really apologize for it.
Q: Is that part of your personality?
SB: Yeah, and I’m hoping that I can get comfortable enough to share that authentically on the show because I really do love performing for people. Part of my schtick is just who I am naturally on stage. I’m not somebody who puts on a character. I really enjoy connecting authentically with people and I am awkward as all get out.
Q: Was your first night judging like your first night performing?
SB: Oh yeah. Very much so. I had all those same butterflies. Just learning the format and really nervous about having to be critical of people because I do know that is sensitive, but it was really exhilarating. It’s like doing something totally outside my comfort zone and it was great to be with Ben and Shawn because they’re so comfortable. It was actually really wonderful.
Q: Do people mistake brutality with honesty in criticism?
SB: Maybe sometimes and I think that I have to just let that be what it is. I’m uncomfortable watching that exchange go down on television. Those are the channels that I switch away from because I actually think you’re doing a disservice to these young performers. I do volunteer work with young girls at a rock camp. You’re watching these girls just find their voice and perform for the first time. I imagine what would they do if someone said, “Girl, give up your dream. You are never going to sing again.” I would never want to invite that because I’m just one opinion. I don’t know everything. I’m just one voice out there. So I think it’s great to seek what is positive and let people focus on that, and also I like where there is room for growth because that’s what our job is basically, to get better.
Q: Are you starting to write another album?
SB: Yeah, I’m going to be working with Ben in September to do an EP together that could potentially I guess turn into a record. Then I’m definitely in the writing mode. It’s hard, I’m somebody that has to be sort of isolated to dig into my writing process, so I haven’t had much time. But sometimes when you’re the most busy and frantic, that’s when the most creative expression can come out.
Q: How much sleep do you get?
SB: Lately pretty good, 8-9 hours.