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Sara Bareilles' 'Brave' new world
The pop songstress discusses new risks, new music, a new address and a high-wire solo tour

By Danielle Cheesman
Special to MSN Music

They (whoever they are) say you have to practice what you preach. And though that's usually easier said than done, Sara Bareilles proved to be up for the challenge when she decided to — while promoting her new single, "Brave," that (of course) encourages listeners be exactly that — embark on a completely solo 18-city acoustic tour ahead of the release of her fourth studio album, "The Blessed Unrest." That meant no reliable bandmates or warm-up opening acts; just her, her piano and her guitar (and a harmonium she pulls out from the shadows of the stage during one particularly hypnotic tune).

Selling out in reportedly three minutes, Sara's bravery was clearly well-received, and though she was noticeably more reserved via phone a week after her final show than her whiskey-sipping, sarcasm- and expletive-slinging onstage persona, she was still bravely blunt when talking about her musical pet peeve, her famous friends, the challenging album-making process and those televised singing competitions.

Listening Booth: Hear the new album, "The Blessed Unrest" 

MSN Music: I saw your performance at New York's Highline Ballroom where a fan asked you to be their surrogate. Is that the craziest thing that's happened during a show?

Sara Bareilles: Oh God, no; there's so many weird things that happen. I mean, everything from marriage proposals on the spot to people holding giant cardboard cutouts of my face. It was really spontaneous, this tour. So, because we're so close and intimate, people felt really comfortable to just shout out whatever was on their brain. It made for a really interesting, kind of unpredictable evening every night.

What's been the hardest thing, other than the weather, that you've had to adjust to since moving from L.A. to New York?

I guess the schlepping of stuff [laughs]. When you're out and about in L.A., running errands and what not, everybody has their own vehicle, which makes it easier, but in New York, I was furnishing an apartment here and it was challenging because I had to ask myself, "Do I really want this thing ... because I'm gonna have to carry it." [Laughs] I love not having a car, but it did take some adjusting.

In Part I of your "Sara Bareilles Makes a Record" YouTube Series, we saw you play, and struggle with, the drums. Any other obstacles you faced or sounds you experienced with on the new album?

Yeah, it was actually a super-exploratory time. We did a lot of programming on this record, which was new for me. We were working with a guy named Kurt Uenala, who has done a lot with Depeche Mode, but he became sort of our third-party producer, along with my producing partner John O'Mahony, so there's a lot of sonic landscape that is really outside the box for me. I feel like a celestial feel is happening, there's flairs of digital world that's happening. It's a new territory for me. I had a blast.

Bing: Watch "Sara Bareilles Makes a Record" videos

What was the hardest song to write, and which is your favorite?

There's a song called "December" that's the final track that is one of my favorite songs. For me, it was a really intimate portrait of where I've been at emotionally in the last six months of my life, and that felt like a really tender place. "Manhattan" is another song that's really special to me. I'm trying to think of what was hardest for me to write. I don't know! That's a good thing! I don't know if had any super-challenging writing. There were a couple of songs that I had to work pretty hard to put the finishing touches on.

So, this is your fourth album, but what was your first musical memory?

I definitely remember going to this state fair in Sacramento with my family -- Huey Lewis & the News were playing -- and my dad took me up into the crowd on his shoulders. I don't remember the song, but I remember it feeling very exciting. I was maybe 5 or 6.

What's one musical trend or song you wish would go away?

[Laughs] I feel like I can relate to and enjoy the slop-pop -- I don't mean to sound condescending to that genre; that's why I wanna be careful -- but I guess I'm such a lyric junkie, like, I love a great lyric, and I feel like a lot of times choruses are feeling a little half-baked for me. I wish these songs were saying more because I think we have the opportunity to reach large audiences. There is merit to that, though, to make a song that feels great, but sometimes I wish people were saying more.

Is there anyone you'd like to collaborate with?

I would love to do something with Frank Ocean or D'Angelo. Something in that world would be really exciting for me. [D'Angelo] just did something not too long ago. I know Ahmir Thompson did something with him. He might be brewing in a corner somewhere.

MSN Music: Sarah Bareilles live in NYC

You've worked with actors Jonah Hill, who directed your "Gonna Get Over You" video, and Rashida Jones, who directed your "Brave" video. How do these collaborations happen, and who would you like to work with next?

They happened organically, which is something I've learned is really important to me in terms of my creative endeavors. I'm really drawn to people who I have a human connection with. It might be kind of an unlikely pairing. Both Jonah and Rashida hadn't directed music videos before, but they're both clearly super-talented artists, and the fact that they were excited about doing something in a new medium was the most exciting part about it for me. I think it'd be awesome to work with Tina Fey or Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig, a comedienne, a female director. I loved working with Rashida; I thought she was magical. She was so brilliant and creative and visionary and such an awesome person on top of it. I'd like to work with more women like that.

What artist or music would fans be surprised to learn you listen to?

They don't know how much I love Olivia Newton-John. Well, they probably do. I love her.

Bing: More on Sara Bareilles

You were a judge on NBC's "The Sing-Off." What do you think of the quality and quantity of today's televised talent competitions?

Like anything, the market gets saturated. There's gonna be some shows that resonate more than the others. I think "The Sing-Off" was a really awesome vehicle for a cappella music to get the credit I think it's due. We didn't have crazy huge ratings or anything, but there's room out there for pretty much anything. It may be more like a niche market and it may get a little diluted because there's so many, but there's still really great shows out there.

What's your theme song?

The theme song to "The Golden Girls." [Starts singing] "Thank you for being a friend ..." That's the best theme song in the world, so I'm gonna just claim it.

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