Sara Bareilles: It feels slightly foreign making the album after working on a musical
Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is back with her first record since 2013 - six years after she penned the score to acclaimed musical Waitress, now in the West End. She talks to Lucy Mapstone about how she got back into writing music for herself...
Sara Bareilles has never been busier, and she's thrilled about it. She is back with her first album of new music in six years, following her successful debut as a lyricist and composer for the musical Waitress, which has been a hit on Broadway and is now in London's West End.
Last year she co-hosted the Tony Awards and, later this year, she'll be heading out on tour for the first time in over five years.
She's also working on the very early stages of a new TV musical with JJ Abrams and Jessie Nelson, her Waitress writing partner.
Bareilles is in London doing promo for Waitress and, when we speak, she'll have been prepping for her appearance on America's Saturday Night Live, so I'm pleased she has managed to slot me in to her packed schedule for a chat.
"You steal moments for yourself here and there," she says, revealing she has just come back from a refreshing long walk.
"There's a lot of bounty in my life right now.
"It can feel chaotic and heavy at times, but I don't want to complain, because it's full of beautiful stuff.
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"My plate is full and I'm so grateful for all the juggling - even if it makes me cry sometimes."
She's not weeping right now, though. She's brimming with excitement, both for UK audiences to finally see Waitress - which received a handful of Tony nominations and a Grammy nod for Bareilles' soundtrack - and to release her long-awaited new album, Amidst The Chaos.
The aptly titled LP has been a process of rediscovery for the American singer-songwriter, who rose to mainstream stardom back in 2007 with the catchy pop hit Love Song.
Now, at 39 and following a huge, eye-opening career shift, she's back with a different view on life and a gutsier, socially aware sound.
"The main thing for me was re-emerging as a songwriter telling my own story after working on Waitress for the last six years," she explains.
"It does feel slightly foreign. I've been working in the theatre now for a handful of years and that became my familiar space.
"It's interesting to return to my roots as a pop artist and have it feel like a different skin.
"But I feel so proud of this record and I don't have a strong attachment to it needing to deliver for me in a certain way.
"This is just artistically exactly what I want to say right now.
"It's a joy to carve out time and reconnect with my fans in this way."
She's hoping that "those who need to hear it" can find solace in her soothing, melodic and poignant pop tunes, particularly at such a tumultuous time.
Two of the songs, No Such Thing and If I Can't Have You, were written as odes to Barack Obama following the 2016 US election, which saw Donald Trump gain power.
Another track, a rousing duet with John Legend called A Safe Place To Land, was inspired by the country's ongoing border crisis.
"I've definitely been affected by politics in America, but it's something we see on a global scale. I know the UK can relate too," Bareilles says.
"Sometimes it feels like the world is on fire.
"I've always dealt with anxiety and depression, so working through some of this material and metabolising the world through the music itself has been a big part of pulling this record together.
"I found myself waking up to a new sense of political consciousness and personal consciousness; feeling more aware of - and plugged in to - some of these movements that are just a big part of our identity as a global community right now, like the new feminist movement."
The topic of feminism is important to Bareilles. She touches on it in the album's powerful lead single, Armor, a modern feminist anthem written after the 2017 Women's March in protest against Trump.
It's also worth noting that she was part of the first all-female creative lead team in the history of Broadway when the show premiered in 2016.
"I hesitated to say it was disappointing - it is what it is," says Bareilles when asked how she felt about the landmark moment in theatre, which came far too late.
"The fact we are an all-female lead creative team was not a casting agenda.
"We were just artists working at the top of our fields who ended up on the same project.
"My hope for the future is that we get beyond attacking the agenda, which is necessary and totally worthwhile at this moment.
"But I hope that we all get to just be artists and collaborators and filmmakers and directors and choreographers and musicians and composers who just happen to be female while we're doing it."
The musical, which stars American Idol star Katharine McPhee and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer in the West End version, is beautifully feminist, as well as funny, edgy and heartwarming.
Based on the 2007 film of the same name, it tells the story of a disillusioned waitress who is in an abusive relationship and finds comfort in baking pies.
When she becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she strikes up an affair with her gynaecologist, while hoping a pie contest and its grand cash prize can be her chance to break free from the shackles of her life.
Bareilles believes audiences this side of the pond will love it, both women and men.
"People make a lot of assumptions that it's a girly show," she says, referring to the production's eye-catching pink and baby blue posters that have popped up across the capital.
"Certainly, our demographic is predominantly women, but there are loads of men in the audience and there are wonderful men in the show.
"The best part about the infrastructure of the show is that it's messy.
"It's not about heroes and villains; it's about good people making mistakes and doing the best they can.
"It feels so deeply human, and then at the end of the day there are just these wonderful characters who are really going to make you laugh."
The job of writing music for a musical was difficult, Bareilles confesses: "This show absolutely consumed my life."
Revealing her conflicting feelings, she adds: "But it was the most delightful and unexpected change. I said yes on a whim, and I'm so glad I did.
"If I had known how hard and how long I would work on it, I would have said no."
This begs the question - would she do it all over again if she had the chance? Does she have another hit musical in her?
Bareilles chuckles. "I actually would," she says. "I'd dive head-first into the right project.
"I have changed a lot because of saying yes to this project, and the part of me that would have said 'No, it's too hard' is no longer with me.
"It's taught me to really love something that's difficult."
Amidst The Chaos by Sara Bareilles is out now