Sara Bareilles onstage during The 53rd annual Grammy Awards pre-telecast held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2011.
“I’m still pinching myself a little bit,” says singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, as she contemplates her two latest Grammy nominations—a prestigious Album of the Year nod for her fourth album, The Blessed Unrest, and a Best Pop Solo Performance for her smash single, “Brave.” She admits the recognition from her music biz peers came as a shock, given the actual personal life unrest that formulated her works.
“It’s been a really intense and emotionally dynamic year for me,” Bareilles says, including changing coasts from Los Angeles to New York, ending a long-term relationship, and bringing in new band members. “Calling it The Blessed Unrest and having this kind of acknowledgement be waiting, unknowingly, at the end of it all, it feels very surreal and really amazing. I’m feeling so grateful right now—I’m just like beaming every day from ear to ear.”
Born and reared in Eureka to an insurance adjuster father and funeral-parlor worker mother, the self-taught pianist honed her musical chops performing solo in LA singer-songwriter incubators like Hotel Café before her breatkthrough multiplatinum single “Love Song” in 2007 launched a career that garnered early Grammy notice. The current crop of songs from The Blessed Unrest were “as emotionally raw and vulnerable as I’ve ever really felt like I was able to be, musically speaking,” Bareilles reveals. “I coproduced most of this record, so there was this sort of DIY feel about doing this project.” Yet part of the key to the album’s feel was letting others into her sphere. “The biggest life lesson for me with this record was learning to open up the creative process and trust amazing collaborators,” she says. “I’m really stubborn, and I’m a total control freak, so it was new thing for me to try to trust someone else’s vision a little bit.”
It paid off: “Brave,” which Bareilles, 34, cowrote with Fun.’s Jack Antonoff, became one of the central pop anthems of the summer, a song legions of listeners held close to their hearts. “We both felt really passionately about a lot of the issues coming up around gay rights at the time when we were writing this song,” she says. “I’ve seen that song kind of take on a life of its own since then. The outpouring of bravery from people willing to share vulnerabilities has just been outstanding and such an incredible gift from the song. I feel like a proud mama.”
Bareilles says the embracing, emboldened response—from everyone from the gay community to kids facing cancer—was all the reward she hoped to reap. “I’ve never really been the critic’s darling, so really what fills me up is my relationship to people who are connecting to the message of the music in a bigger way,” she says. “That is just so pure—and it’s so immediate.”
An off-the-beaten-path project is on the horizon: crafting the music for a stage version of the 2007 film Waitress. “Musical theater’s where I got started, and so it feels like coming home in a way,” she explains. She’s also writing her first book, due out this year. “It’s autobiographical. I wouldn’t call it my life story, but it’s like a collection of essays,” she explains. “Some of them are funny; some, oddly enough, turned out a little bit darker. I’m just sharing thoughts about the business and my songs.”
With each project, no matter the format, she insists on staying true to her own vision. “I feel really content with the level of my achievements so far,” she says. “I’m really not trying to chase anything bigger down.”