The title of Sara Bareilles’ new song, “Armor,” makes it sound like she’s ready for battle. And that’s not altogether off the mark for this female-centric anthem, as the lyrics take a so-done-with-this attitude toward a politicized patriarchy. But there’s even more compassion than fierceness as the lyric video for the single celebrates women and girls of different colors, orientations, ages and sizes, all of whom get to literally flex their muscles, in between holding up placards with the words of Bareilles’ song.
The T Bone Burnett-produced “Armor” is her first new non-“Waitress” single since 2013, and until recently, she didn’t see it, or any of the new material, coming out until next year. But watching the news coerced Bareilles into putting the song into circulation now, as she explained in a phone interview from London Thursday.
“To be totally honest, it’s been a hard year, watching and emotionally experiencing what been going on politically and culturally,” she tells Variety. “I think we were always kind of intending to save the music until the top of next year, closer to the album release. But with everything going on, I feel my responsibility as an artist is to respond. And that’s what this is, even though the song was already written and recorded, before I was sitting there watching the Supreme Court hearings.”
Bareilles adds that “both T Bone and I have to give a lot of love and gratitude to everyone from the label, management and marketing team who really responded so beautifully to my request to push everything up, which as we know in this industry is not the easiest thing to do. I just wanted to respond with a song that is really intended to be a message of support and community and solidarity. It felt like it belongs here, in this moment.”
“Armor” features her concentrating on the bottom end of her piano, which makes for an unusual sound… at least for her. “My homage to Tori Amos!” she laughs.
But seriously, “I think a huge part of the reason the song is an evolution of my sound is getting to partner with T Bone on this. One of the things that I loved about working with him is that he comes to the table with the perspective of less is more. We built this big ole deep end to the rhythm track, but essentially from an instrument standpoint it’s a three-piece band — drums, piano and bass, with a couple of other colors and flavors thrown in here and there. And my little internal pop artist got nervous for a minute wondering, like, ‘Oh, is there enough on here? Is there enough happening?’ But when I really sit back and listen to the message of the song and what I really want to put forward, it’s about the simplicity of it.”
The lyric video with the wide representation of women won’t be the only video for the track. “It’s the only video for right now; the anticipation would be to have another video down the line a little bit,” Bareilles says. “But it was such a beautiful treatment by Morgan Gruer, our director, and we talked through the ideas and the images and the treatment and what we were hoping to capture. And again, really what I loved about it was the simplicity of the intention. It’s about community and putting a face on the people that this song is talking about, in all of their wide range and spectrum. You know, that video could be a year long, and there still wouldn’t be everybody represented there, but it’s a portion of who this song is talking about.”
There’s no attendant album announcement to go with the song’s release. “We’re not quite ready yet for that,” she says. “This was kind of a rogue musical decision to put this song out as quickly as we did. It felt right. And then we’ll worry about the album later.”
Was there any thought of getting it out before the midterms, even though it’s not overtly political? “If it encourages anybody to activate in any way, I think that’s a good outcome for this piece of music. It’s not specifically written about voting, but certainly these are issues that are on the ballot currently, and the people that will make decisions that affect these issues as they pertain to women are on the ballot. So it’s really a time to engage and use your voice and educate yourself, and I really feel more than ever that it’s just our deep responsibility to engage. And so if anybody’s paying attention or listening to me, you know, that’s what I want to encourage them to do.”
The idea that elevating women and their experiences can be seen as a partisan political position in this environment seems puzzlingly backward to Bareilles, but she doesn’t regret the additional opportunities for conversation.
“I feel like it’s that classic adage that history is not moving in a straight line. And so in some ways it feels like we’re treading [territory we’ve been in before. But in some ways, we’re not. I think we’re still making progress, and I think that there’s something incredibly positive about the fact that these conversations my peers are having with each other (are occurring). I was going to brunch the other day with friends and we were talking about impassioned political views and what’s going on on a larger scale, and I remember a time when I wasn’t even paying attention.
“So I feel like there is a real value and a beauty to the fact we’re all awake — even if we woke up inside a nightmare,” she laughs.