Friday, Dec. 7, is Sara Bareilles‘ birthday. She’s just turned 28.
Yes, that’s Sara at the top of the front page on today’s Times-Standard. (She’s in this week’s Journal too and she has also showed up on the pages of Rolling Stone, People magazine and Entertainment Weekly.)
The L.A.-based singer songwriter is in a somewhat unique position, career-wise. In a couple of days she’ll sing on the stage of the moldering, historic Eureka Theater. A film crew will be following her homecoming, recording the event a concert the promoter is calling “Home for the Holidays,” playing on the fact that Sara grew up here in Humboldt.
The poster you see above tells part of the story. It’s sold out — — has been for some time now. The “Home for the Holidays” hook on the concert is just a bit of a misnomer. Sara is from here, went to school locally at Eureka High and other schools, but at this point her home is in Santa Monica, at least when she’s at home, which is not very often of late.
This summer she wrote a bio for her website. In it she posed and answered this question:
“Where are you from and how’d you end up here?”
Find Sara’s answer and an interview with Bob after the jump.
I grew up in Eureka, CA. Since hardly anyone knows where that is, I’ll tell you. It’s pretty much as north as you can go up the coast of California before you stop paying sales tax. (Oregon, baby.)
I lived on several acres of Redwood forest, 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. I sang in high school choirs and did community musical theatre and played right field softball and rode horses and had my heart broken a few times.
I was borderline normal.
I was incredibly lucky.
I moved to LA to go to UCLA, and realized the world was bigger than my hometown. Way, way bigger, come to find out. In school I studied Communications, but everywhere else I secretly studied the world around me. I felt stupid and wonderful and small and liberated and exhilarated and I started feeling the need to write it all down. So I did. And then I wanted to start singing those things. I played open mics and small shows that started becoming bigger shows and actually started calling myself a musician. I met my band/road mates and finally started sharing music. Because of them, I also rediscovered what “family” means. I met my manager, Jordan Feldstein, who has made tiny opportunities blossom into bigger ones, and now I’m not a waitress anymore. I fell on my ass more than once but figured that I’d rather do this than anything, so what the hell?
And here we are.
Where she was at the time (I’m guessing she wrote that early summer 2007) was on the verge of launching her major label debut, Little Voice. Because her album is on Epic Records, part of the very major Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the launch was a big deal. If you’ve been following what’s going on in the music biz, you know that there’s a bit of chaos. To put it simply, the majors are struggling to maintain their position in a rapidly changing media environment.
People are not buying CDs the way they used to, in fact many have given up on CDs entirely and simply own iPods or use their laptops as music players. My generation bought 45s and “long-playing” record albums; today if kids buy something at all, it’s a downloaded single, and sometimes the rest of the album, maybe a CD that they rip and pass along.
Radio, Top-40 or otherwise, is not as important as it once was. Songs break on the Internet. With that in mind Epic’s June launch of Little Voice was on iTunes with a free download of “Love Song,” the lead single. When her album followed in July, it became the No. 1 iTunes download of the moment. It debuted at 45 on the Billboard top 200, and according to Sara, by now it’s sold around 100,000 units between CDs and downloads.
If you haven’t heard her hit single, click on the title and it will start up on an embedded device on Sara’s website. It’s an incredibly catchy thing with a great hook, and no, it’s not a love song. There’s a touch of attitude in it. It’s her message to her producer and her label: She’s not going to write the song they’re asking for “because you asked for it, because you need one.” It’s her way of maintaining her independence in what might seem an unequal relationship.
Somewhere amid my looking around the Net for details on Sara’s experience in the whirlwind of promoting an album for a major label, a song popped into my head, replacing the irrepressibly catchy hook of “Love Song.” It was “Free Man in Paris,” Joni Mitchell’s tale of what I assume is either some music biz friend or herself.
The way I see it, he said, you just can’t win it…
Everybody’s in it for their own gain.
You can’t please ‘em all.
There’s always somebody calling you down.
I do my best, and I do good business.
There’s a lot of people asking for my time.
They’re trying to get ahead.
They’re trying to be a good friend of mine.
I was a free man in Paris; I felt unfettered and alive.
There was nobody calling me up for favors.
And no one’s future to decide.
You know I’d go back there tomorrow, but for the work I’ve taken on: stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song…
When I caught up with Sara (and it wasn’t easy) she was on a radio promo blitz tour back east, far from home.
Are you in L.A.? Or on the road?
We’re in Virginia, doing some Christmas radio stuff. Various radio stations put on these Christmas shows with a bunch of artists doing short sets. Tonight we’re in Norfolk playing with Collective Soul and some other bands.
You’re not playing Christmas songs are you?
No. We’ll do a short version of our set. It’s fun. We get to run around and meet all sorts of musicians. It’s a good time.
How are you coping with the whirlwind of activity? Looking you up on the web it seems like you’re everywhere. It brought to mind that song by Joni Mitchell, “Free Man in Paris” where she talks of “the work I’ve taken on, stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song.” How do you feel about it being in the middle of it?
It’s all very exciting. There’s a word that keeps coming up, it’s all a bit surreal. I don’t know many people who have gone through it. Every step is something we have to figure out for ourselves. I figure it’ll be nice to look back at where we were a year ago, two years ago, three years ago and see the slow progression always moving in the right direction. In that sense it’s really exciting.
What direction are you moving in?
It’s growing, the fan base is growing, we’re playing bigger shows in bigger venues. The song’s on the radio. It’s all very exciting.
And you attribute this mostly to having the Epic label machine behind you?
Well, yeah. In a lot of ways. (She pauses.) We are very fortunate to have the resources of the label behind us.
Of course this is all happening at a time when major shifts are happening with the power of the major labels. They seem to be in a struggle trying to figure out how to survive.
It’s true. It is definitely a climate of fear, people wanting to make really safe decisions, nobody wanting to take risks. So you’re lucky if you get the time of day. But in the end, it’s an industry that wants to continue to function, to make money and all of those things.
Listening between the lines to your songs, I don’t get the sense that you’re a safe act. Your hit “Love Song” is questioning the whole idea of producing music to meet the demands of the industry. Isn’t that what it’s about?
Absolutely. And I never really considered myself… I don’t think the label looks at me as a ‘safe act.’ It wasn’t like we finished the record and all of a sudden the machine started rolling and everything started skyrocketing. We’ve been on the road consistently since the beginning of this year. We’ve been working at this for over six years. It hasn’t been an overnight thing. I don’t feel like they saw what I have to offer and went, ‘Oh, yeah, we just need to put her out there and everyone’s going to freak.’ It wasn’t like that and it still isn’t. So, I was lucky that they took a bit of a chance on me. But I really believe in what we do in terms of performance, what we give live as performers. We’ve been fortunate to have people be responsive to that.
I heard Epic is sending a film crew along for your homecoming show.
Yeah. We’re going to get the show taped and have a little behind the scenes footage of what it’s like to be home, to kind of show everybody Eureka.
You mention your dad in a couple of your YouTube videos. He’s called me a few times: when you were going to be on the Today Show, when your song went up on iTunes. I think it was your mom who sent me the Careful Confessions album when it came out.
They’ve been staunch supporters. It will be interesting to come home. I don’t get to come home as often as I like. Especially coming back for a show, it brings this whole other element.
Do you still think of Eureka as home? I get the impression that L.A. is home.
Eureka is still home to a certain extent, but in terms of the place I feel most comfortable and most at ease, that changes as you get older and you make a life for yourself. It’s a cliché, but home is where you hang your hat. My home is where I live in Santa Monica.
Or maybe your suitcase. How much time have you spent in Santa Monica this year?
Probably a month or two. Not all at one time. I’ve been out a lot. My idea of home has changed this year. I’m learning to be mobile and keep everything I need with me.
Is there space in all that moving around for writing more songs?
For sure. I don’t get a lot of alone time on the road, but there are all these experiences that kind of stay up in your brain. They’re all there and ready to draw on when it’s time to write.
Do you think the next set of songs will be an analysis of what’s been happening to you in the last year or so?
I don’t know. I don’t have the next set finished, but I suppose some of that will be in there. And also some on relationships, broken hearts and what that means.
Is there time for broken hearts in your busy schedule?
(laughs) There’s always time for broken hearts.
You dad was telling me something about flying into Eureka last minute if the writer’s strike ends this week, because you’re booked on the Letterman Show.
We’re waiting. We won’t know until the day before or whatever. We’re confirmed for Dec. 6, but if the strike doesn’t end, we won’t be on and we’ll look at some other dates and try again eventually.
And then, “next stop Vegas“?
Have you played Vegas? ["Next stop Vegas" is a phrase from her song, "Vegas."]
We did a radio show in Vegas. It was kind of like what we’re doing now, a festival the station put on. We were one of a bunch of acts playing.
Is headlining in a Vegas lounge really some sort of dream?
We haven’t done it yet, but we’re looking forward to it. I’m a fan of slot machines. That’s where you can find me.
You know we have plenty here in Humboldt now.
I know, I’ve been there. Blue Lake!
I was just there. They’ve redone the bar with a touch of Vegas. It’s pretty cool. They just opened it. I was out there dropping quarters.
That’s doing your job as a casino patron.
For the Eureka show, you’re coming with your band, but also Raining Jane.
Yes. They came up the last time we were there.
For the show at Mazzotti’s in 2005.
Exactly. They’re some of my best friends and they’re great musicians as well. It’s good to bring them up and share this with them.
Anything special planned for the show?
I don’t know. No fireworks or anything. We’re just going to do a good show.
What else? How about this thing with James Blunt?
That’s right. It’s the VH-1 “You Oughta Know Tour” in February.
A long one?
As far as I know it’s about a month. It should be cool; it’s the first time “You Oughta Know” is doing a tour with a male and a female artist. That’s cool to me because I’ll represent for the females. Plus we’re playing some legendary venues, the Warfield in San Francisco, the Wiltern in Los Angeles, places I’ve been going to see shows at forever. And I can’t wait to play them.
Out there for “the girls across the nation who will eat this up.”
What did you mean by that?
It’s a commentary on the idea of selling your art to people. It was like conjecturing from the label side of things, they’ll sell it to “girls who will eat this up. You know it’s your soul, but you bottle it up.”
Is that the market for your music: girls across the nation?
Well, there’s a thread of that. But I think one of the most rewarding things is that there doesn’t seem to be just one demographic. We seem to get people from all over.
Do you know how many CDs you’ve sold?
I’ve been told it’s close to 100,000.
That’s pretty good. Is that including downloads, which I suppose are not exactly CDs?
I think it’s all-inclusive, although the songs are separate. “Love Song” has sold exponentially more than the others. I don’t know the numbers on it.
I guess the word they use now is “units.” You don’t say records.
But there’s something about you’re music that makes me think of records. “Love Song” is the sort of thing you used to find on a 45, maybe in some jukebox.
That’s a really cool. Thanks. I like that idea.
We talked a little longer but didn’t say much. For those who made it this far, here’s the details on the show:
Sara Bareilles and her band play Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Eureka Theater. Doors at 6:30, showtime at 7 p.m. with another local boy, Mario Matteoli from The Weary Boys, opening the show (he’s great) plus Sara’s SoCal friends Raining Jane at 7:50, Sara is scheduled to come on around 8:45.
If you miss it, I’m guessing you might see some of the show on YouTube. Watch for it…