Sara Bareilles’ singer-songwriter and acting sides both get a workout this month. On May 6, she debuts on Peacock’s “Girls5eva,” a Tina Fey-executive-produced comedy about a late-’90s girl group whose 40-something members reunite after their ancient hit gets sampled in a hip-hop song. And she’s back on more familiar show business turf — albeit what was at the time a new headlining venue for her — on the album “Amidst the Chaos: Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” out May 21.
You’re a New Yorker now, but you chose to commemorate your recent tour with a live album from the Bowl, not Madison Square Garden. Why?
The Bowl was my very first experience of live music as a new UCLA student. My college roommate and I went to see Faith Hill and Deana Carter; we sat in the cheapest seats at the very top, and it was transcendent. The Bowl has so much warmth, and envelops you in the canyon. That’ll forever be an imprinted memory about the possibility of Los Angeles as a new place in my life. As I was getting started, playing Molly Malone’s, Genghis Cohen and Hotel Cafe, I forever imagined that place. And Nov. 2, 2019, we got it on the boards. I literally could look out at the audience and see lots of people who had seen me at Hotel cafe or even UCLA Bruin Plaza, who had been watching me on stage for 15, 20 years at this point. So there was a sense of like, “Oh guys, we did it.” It was kind of sweet and wholesome in a way, where it felt like this was a big deal for all of us.
Scheduling a show for November at the Bowl can be a big risk. You mention “warmth,” but that was the coldest outdoor concert I ever attended.
The temperature was miserable. Looking back, it makes me laugh because it was the universe reminding me not to take myself too seriously. I literally was doing squats in the back and then running across the stage, trying to increase blood flow, because I was playing wrong notes on the keys. But even though I was very cold onstage, the warmth of that experience was not eclipsed by that at all.
To promote the live album, you’re taking to your YouTube channel [May 7 at 4 p.m. PT] to stream a fresh mini-set that you just filmed at the Hollywood Bowl, with no audience. What was it like to go from headlining the Bowl a year and a half ago with a full house to headlining it now with no house?
Well, it felt like a really beautiful way to acknowledge like the context of where we’re at. I found it to be really even more jarring than I had anticipated, to be in a place that’s meant to hold thousands of people, with the absence of the audience, and how incomplete a concert experience feels that way — even though the cameras are set up and you know there’s going to be an audience watching. It really highlights the power of the audience and how that is the element that closes the circle. It’s the communion. It’s the reason we go on tour and think about music and play music, to have the receivers in the space with you. So I was kind of shocked at how even a place as sacred as the Bowl, that feels like a cathedral, still feels very incomplete. It’s still beautiful and it’s still an honor to be there, but it’s just not the thing.
It felt hopeful. though, to me, because I can now imagine how it would’ve felt very different to have done this same (livestream) show last year, when we were so far away from the light at the end of the tunnel. But now I feel hopeful. You know, everybody in my band is vaccinated. We’re on the cusp of really getting to come back into these spaces to share music and time and energy together as crowds of people. I felt like doing (the livestream) at this time, I can see what’s on the horizon.
Was it part of a grand scheme to have the live album come out as your TV show is debuting?
You can try to make the choices that will best benefit the most visibility. But we had recorded the Hollywood Bowl concert in November 2019, and we were all set to release it last year. And then it just felt like it wasn’t the right time; it felt oddly just really tonally off to me to be doing self-promotion or any kind of attention to “Me — listen to me!” (at the height of the pandemic). I couldn’t wrap my brain around it, so that all went quiet. And then I went into production for the show, and so there just wasn’t really space. So here we are. It did kind of serendipitously line up to be in tandem with the show.
On Broadway, you did some acting stints in “Waitress,” for which you’d written the songs. With “Girls5eva” debuting now, you get to exercise some of those muscles again. But how was it trying TV comedy for the first time?
Getting a call in the middle of a pandemic from Tina Fey saying, “Do you want to do this thing?” I felt like, yeah! I felt underprepared and unsure of my ability to step up. But I had been curious if that was an occasion I could rise to. The show is a crazy, magic manifestation of my favorite things: It’s comedy and music and female-forward and about women of a certain age reclaiming their validity and voice in the world. It’s heart-forward but hilarious, and we get to sing just ridiculous things. I had a fucking blast making it.
After being involved in the creation and running of “Little Voice” for Apple TV Plus, had your people kind of been putting your name out there, that, “Hey, Sarah doesn’t just create TV shows — she is interested in available to show her comedy prowess on screen as well”?
[Laughs.] You know, it actually wasn’t really that. I have to say that I think almost everything that has come for me in television has actually come from my work on “Waitress.” That’s how Tina and I encountered each other for the first time. She had come to see “Waitress” and she just liked my work when I was in it at the time. So I think she just felt like I would be a good fit for Dawn. And in some ways I was really thinking about it, Dawn and Jenna, the leading character of “Waitress,” have a few similar qualities, in the sense that they sort of ended up inside the life they didn’t altogether choose. It was sort of circumstantial, and they’re at this crossroads of deciding who they want to be from this point on. So it’s really beautiful that that theme has kind of cropped up in my life a few different times.
In the TV realm, with “Little Voice,” you were helping create a coming-of-age story for an early 20s character, and “Girls5eva” is a coming-of-age for an early 40s character.
There is a lot of coming-of-aging. It was one of the things that I know that all of my castmates as well as I were really excited about — telling stories about women at a certain age. There’s a lot of the stuff that gets built around young women, and I’m a really big fan of those kinds of shows as well. But this one is fun because you get to see grown ladies a little bit out of their comfort zone. They’re all in this place of rediscovery and they’re taking risks. And I mean, I love that one of the first scenes of the first episode is getting a mammogram. It’s like so humiliating, but that’s what we all have to go through, so it’s fun to kind of dance in that territory.
How was it transitioning from being completely behind the scenes on “Little Voice” to completely in front of them on “Girls5eva”?
Even though I was No. 1 on the call sheet, I felt less pressure on this. It had such a playful spirit. Working on “Little Voice,” which I will forever be grateful for, gave me an appreciation for how much work goes on to get a show up and running. It can be tedious at times, but there’s so much orchestrating of the macro vision. In this case, I got to be more hyper-focused — just learn my lines, show up and try to be honest on camera. So I think I might be more well-suited to something that’s less demanding. [Laughs]