- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Sara Bareilles debuted in July with her soulful album “Little Voice,” and her self-penned bio already is outdated — particularly the third paragraph. That’s where the 28-year-old pop singer mentions a rented piano on which she composes.

That piano? It’s gone, replaced by what the artist calls a “wonderful gift” from Yamaha, which now endorses her.

“It’s just beautiful,” the artist says of the new instrument.

The piano is one of many things that have changed for Miss Bareilles since she let her “Voice” be heard not so long ago. Other additions include a chart-topping, multiplatinum-selling single (the bouncy piano pop tune “Love Song”); an ASCAP Vanguard Award; and a gold record.

Miss Bareilles is out on her very first headlining tour, which is sold out. Its fast-paced ticket sales may have something to do with the Rhapsody commercial that has prominently featured the singer and her “Love Song.”

Then again, the scores of YouTube clips of her live show also have been good free advertisements. Though the picture quality isn’t great, the sound of Miss Bareilles’ pipes as they glide from whispery, jazzy growl to full-power belt is mesmerizing.

Kicking off her tour April 14 at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater was one of the most memorable nights in her recent life, she says.

“I kept looking around, and I just had the biggest little-kid grin on my face the whole time,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I made it there.”

The journey to her current success began among the Redwoods of Eureka, Calif., where Miss Bareilles indulged her imagination and her penchant for music at an early age. She sang in choirs, did musical theater and performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Dodger Stadium. She also auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club, but that didn’t pan out.

Back then, she says, songwriting was just “very playful. It was really just interesting and exciting, and there was no self-judgment whatsoever.”

When it came time for college, she headed off to the University of California at Los Angeles as a communications major.

“I kind of picked [the field of study] because I didn’t see anything else that was interesting,” Miss Bareilles says. “I don’t even know that I was thinking past college… I grew up in a small town, and moving to L.A. was really kind of shocking. My world exploded. It got so much bigger so quickly, I don’t even think I could wrap my brain around what would happen next.”

Both in school and after graduation, Miss Bareilles continued to dabble in music, writing songs and performing them at open mikes, local shows and contests. As her fan base grew, so did her interest in pursing music professionally.

Luckily, her family stood behind her.

“I know so many musicians whose parents always say, ‘Try music, but definitely keep your eye on something that’ll afford stability.’ We never had that discussion,” Miss Bareilles says.

She signed with Epic Records in 2005 and a year later began work on her major-label debut.

Miss Bareilles calls the year it took to finish “Little Voice” “one of the most tumultuous” of her life. She found it difficult learning to trust all those charged with helping her finish her highly personal album — and she also found the pressure hard to manage.

“I was so precious about everything — every decision, every choice,” she says. “I think if I could go back, I would’ve not been placing the weight of the world on this record. It was [and is] an important record … but I sort of convinced myself it was life or death. It was a really emotionally charged time.”

Nowadays, Miss Bareilles’ emotions tend toward elation. She has learned to tune out the naysayers and take in the positive feedback, particularly messages from fans describing how her music has touched them.

“My last blog post was really my Catholic guilt kicking in — about how I want to be able to say ‘thank you’ to everyone,” she says. “It’s a really special thing to be able to connect to people.”

As the scenery and props around her continue to change, Miss Bareilles hopes to preserve who she is personally and artistically. Some things, she says, must stay the same.

Sara Bareilles plays Monday at the 9:30 Club (www.930.com). Rachael Yamagata and David Ford open the sold-out show.

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