Her music has touched millions, and more than that, saved the lives of a few. For the first time, five-time Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter and musician Sara Bareilles opens up in her new memoir, Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) In Song about where her powerful lyrics come from — and how she’s survived life in the spotlight despite her own mental health problems and body image issues.
SheKnows: You talk about the vulnerability of writing this book as opposed to writing music. Do you feel music is a sort of mask — something you can hide behind and not reveal your true self? Or is it the other way around? Is music very revealing?
Sara Bareilles: I think music is exceptionally revealing. I write my stories and life experiences honestly for my listeners, but I think there is a strange magic to music that makes a song feel like it belongs to both artist and listener. So it feels less confessional and one-sided… it feels like a communion. Writing these essays felt like I was unzipping some part of my soul that hasn’t been seen before.
SK: You’re an avid journal-writer. Do you feel this is a necessity in life? Should more people be journaling and, if so, why?
SB: I love it. I always have. It’s not going to be the right thing for everyone, but what I will say that I can wholeheartedly recommend is the self-examination that journaling offers. I think you can get that from a lot of different sources, but for me, the tool of sitting and writing down my thoughts helps me to see them differently. It helps me slow down and distill a situation into its basic elements so I can process it more easily. And my journals from being a teenager are mortifying, and that’s just f***ing priceless.
SK: What’s some advice you have for young women struggling with body image issues?
SB: I think we have to practice being kind to ourselves. It’s like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. There will always be someone running around that has something you wish you had, but the more we can learn to see and celebrate what we like about ourselves, the more we can see what there is to like.
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SK: You talk of your own depression and fear of going crazy. Is this the artist’s curse? How do you move past the fear?
SB: I don’t think you have to be an artist to be overwhelmed by life. Every single person I know (without exception) has had moments where they feel like they don’t know which way is up. But I think part of the work we as humans are here to do is to learn to understand and have compassion for what is uncomfortable. Sadness and fear are a part of life (ask Pixar), and we can’t pretend they don’t exist. In fact, they enrich our lives. Sometimes an artist might be able to tap into a way of expressing those feelings in a way that makes people feel seen and heard, so I wouldn’t call it a curse… I’d call it a blessing. And I think moving past the fear is sometimes just strapping it on your back while you keep on walking.
SK: Tell me about your relationship with the music industry. Is it a love/hate sort of thing or more just hate?
SB: The music industry is just the marketplace for music, so I don’t really have any beef with that as a concept. I have complicated feelings about what it means to make music into a business, but I have complicated feelings about everything. (I’m very good at complicated feelings.) I am grateful for the opportunities that have come to me in this industry, and I will forever feel humbled and happy that I got a chance to express myself as an artist as my career. I have also felt a lot of frustration and pain because of certain people and sets of expectations and systemic beliefs that have challenged me deeply. But I don’t think that is a music industry thing … I think everybody feels some form of frustration when it comes to finding their way in the world.
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SK: You mention your melancholy is “something I’m deeply fond of.” How so? Because I get really frustrated with mine.
SB: My melancholy is my most wounded and softest self, the part of me that gets brokenhearted by both beauty and pain. I almost think of her as my little sister in a way. I love her because she feels things so deeply. It’s a very pure feeling, and it guides a lot of my writing. I don’t know if I’d be a songwriter if I didn’t feel so much heartbreak.
SK: What’s the latest news on your musical, Waitress?
SB: The musical just closed its run up in Boston, and we go back into the workshop to make some changes and some fixes, and then we open in the spring on Broadway! It was a gift of an experience, and I am over the moon for this project. My concept record of songs from the show will release on Nov. 7. It’s called What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, so it will give people a taste of the score of the show before they get to see it on the stage.
Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) In Song is available for purchase on Oct. 6.