California singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles came seemingly out of nowhere in 2007 with "Love Song," which was not a love song at all but a retort to the recording executives who were trying to control the young artist's creative decisions. "Love Song" enjoyed sales, airplay, and online success stretching over much of 2007 and 2008, as the song rippled across pop, top 40, and adult contemporary formats. Bareilles got a big boost when "Love Song" was featured in a television commercial for the Rhapsody online music service, and there seemed to be a bright future ahead for the singer. Her piano-based pop drew comparisons to such platinum-selling artists as Fiona Apple and Norah Jones, but she had a sharp edge of her own.
Sara Beth Bareilles (pronounced buh-RELL-iss) was born on December 7, 1979, in Eureka, California. "I lived on several acres of Redwood forest," she wrote in a biography on her MySpace Web site, "and spent most of my time in the woods developing a delightfully overactive imagination that I'm pretty proud to say I've managed to salvage." Her first musical inspiration came from Broadway. "The way I got into music and performance in general was through Broadway musicals," she told Elysa Gardner of USA Today. "I'm a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. Singing in my backyard, I would pretend that I was Christine in The Phantom of the Opera." Bareilles started writing songs when she was about six years old, and she was naturally musical—she sang in her high school choir and participated in community theater productions. Once she was chosen to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. But as a teen she didn't yet have a strong desire to express herself through songwriting, and she enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). She thought about studying music but couldn't pass the department's music theory entrance exam, so she ended up as a communications major instead, graduating in 2003.
Los Angeles was an eye-opening experience for the girl from the Northern California redwood forests. "I grew up in a small town, and moving to L.A. was really kind of shocking," Bareilles explained to Jenny Mayo of the Washington Times. "My world exploded. It got so much bigger so quickly, I don't even think I could wrap my brain around what would happen next." Her musical activities at UCLA included membership in the UCLA Chorale and Awaken A Cappella ensembles. Bareilles decided to spend her junior year studying in Bologna, Italy, and it was while she was there that the songwriting impulse struck her once again.
"I did a year abroad," Bareilles told Nekesa Mumbi Moody in an interview appearing in Michigan's Grand Rapids Press, "and I didn't have any musical outlet. I was totally depressed all the time, and I couldn't figure it out, and I had this kind of epiphany one day, and I ended up at this little music school." Her father had express-shipped her a keyboard in Italy, and back in L.A. she formed a band with some UCLA classmates.
She began playing open mic nights, supporting herself as a waitress and writing gloomy ballads styled after those of Apple. Soon she progressed to appearances at clubs like the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, recorded an independent album, and attracted the attention of the VH-1 cable channel's "You Oughta Know" emerging-artists program.
All these career stages were typical for a young artist on the way to major label success, and Bareilles was signed to the Epic label on April 15, 2005. Not so typical, though, was what happened next: the still mostly unknown Bareilles wrangled with executives from the giant label about the direction of her career. She had no shortage of material, but recording on her debut album seemed to stall as the label looked for commercial, upbeat songs. Bareilles in turn grew frustrated—with the pressure, with the compromises she was making, and with the gender issues involved. "I think sometimes women in this industry get underestimated and people will look to the man in the room and ask for his opinion," she told Sarah Rodman of the Boston Globe.
Her frustration culminated not in a creative split but in a creative explosion: Bareilles, normally a slow songwriter, dashed off "Love Song" in a short time while holed up in her L.A. rehearsal space. The tune expressed her feelings about the conflicts with Epic—"I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you asked for it," runs the refrain. But it also fulfilled the label's need for a catchy, radio-friendly recording with its pleasant piano lines, reminiscent of pop star Todd Rundgren's so-called blue-eyed soul music of the 1970s. Recording for Bareilles's debut, Little Voice, wrapped up in early 2007 after about a year of work, and the album was released in July of that year.
Epic recognized that it had a hit on its hands with "Love Song," releasing it as an iTunes single that garnered some 1.3 million downloads. The song topped Billboard magazine's Hot Adult Top 40 and Pop 100 charts, and it gained a new lease on life with the Rhapsody commercial that appeared over the 2007-08 holiday season. Bareilles felt ambivalent about the use of her song in a television commercial. "But then I thought, well, it's for a music service, and I like the idea of what Rhapsody is, so I felt like it was OK for me to do it," she recalled to Moody. As "Love Song" rolled into 2008 with new audiences coming aboard in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, and even New Zealand and the Philippines, Bareilles opened shows for British songwriters Aqualung and James Blunt, and for power-pop band Maroon 5.
As of 2008, Bareilles looked like more than a one-hit wonder. A second single from Little Voice, "Bottle It Up," was featured in its own Rhapsody spot. Bareilles ascended from opening act to headliner status, giving her the chance to perform darker ballads like "Gravity," and she found strong support from young female fans. In June of 2008, Bareilles made her live debut in Britain. She expressed big plans for the future. "If I could put my wish list out there, the next five or 10 years would definitely include a couple more albums," she told Gardner. "And touring is an important part of this endeavor. … I would also love to start my own record label at some point—don't tell Epic—and in a perfect world, I would also do a Broadway show one day."
For the Record …
Born Sara Beth Bareilles, December 7, 1979, in Eureka, CA. Education: University of California at Los Angeles, graduated with communications major, 2003.
Formed band while student at University of California, Los Angeles, early 2000s; featured on VH-1 "You Oughta Know" program; signed to Epic label, 2005; released Little Voice with single "Love Song" as featured iTunes download and as soundtrack for Rhapsody online music service commercial, 2007; toured as headliner in U.S. and UK, 2008.
Awards: ASCAP Vanguard Award.
Addresses: Record company—Epic Records, Sony/BMG, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Web site—Sara Bareilles Offical Web site: http://sarabmusic.com.
Little Voice, Epic, 2007.
Boston Herald, April 18, 2008, p. E5.
Daily Bruin, (University of California at Los Angeles), July 23, 2007.
Daily Mail (London, England), May 23, 2008, p. 80.
Entertainment Weekly, August 10, 2007, p. 23.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), May 3, 2008, p. B6.
New York Post, July 3, 2007, p. 47.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), April 11, 2008, p. D4.
USA Today, February 15, 2008, p. E12.
Washington Times, April 25, 2008, p. D2.
"My new bio," http://www.myspace.com/sarabareilles (June 23, 2008).
"Sara Bareilles," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 23, 2008).
"They tugged, she tugged back," Boston Globe,http://www.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2008/04/18/they_tugged_she_tugged_back (June 23, 2008).
—James M. Manheim
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