During a recent show at New York's Beacon Theatre, where she opened up for British singer James Blunt, she cracked jokes, shared anecdotes, and gave a seasoned performance that belied her ingenue status.
And she was definitely connecting with her audience: After one song, when woman screamed out, "You're sexy!" Bareilles countered: "No, you're sexy, girl! I'm feeling you!"
Bareilles didn't always feel so at ease on stage, sometimes rushing through her songs because she figured the audience was eager to see the main attraction. But with the success of the melodic, slightly sarcastic "Love Song," it's safe to say that she's become the main attraction.
The piano-accented hit, which got a huge boost when the music service Rhapsody used it to advertise their service in a television commercial, is still high on the charts after nearly six months. The wit and humor she injects into "Love Song" and her stage act is evident in her oxymoronically titled debut, "Little Voice" - and in her recent interview with The Associated Press.
AP: When you were excited when Rhapsody tapped your song for their TV commercial?
Bareilles: I actually was a little bit apprehensive about it. I had some worries about doing something that was so commercial, because for me it's always been really important to stay focused on the live performance and make sure that my presence in the media overall is about the music, because that's what's most important to me. ... But then I thought, well, it's for a music service, and I like the idea of what Rhapsody is, so I felt like it was OK for me to do it. I had no idea it was going to affect album sales the way it has or even the exposure. I wasn't really thinking that far ahead. It's been a huge blessing for sure.
AP: These days, it seems imperative for artist to have a commercial tie-in. Have you resisted other things?
Bareilles: There's been a few things, like in terms of being in a TV show, or things like that. Never felt comfortable for me - I'm not an actress, I don't pretend to be one, so I always wanted to really focus on songwriting and live performance. But I realize that cross-promotion is imperative, in a lot of ways it's how people find new music now, through television and through movies.
AP: You studied communications at UCLA. When did you decide to focus on becoming a musician?
Bareilles: I started writing music really young, I guess around age six, and I sang in choirs and did musical theater, but I was kind of a late bloomer in the sense of really finding my voice through songwriting. It probably wasn't until I was around 21 and started to realize kind of the connection between songwriting and my own sanity. I was living in Italy at the time - I did a year abroad - and I didn't have any musical outlet and I was totally depressed all the time, and I couldn't figure it out, and I had this kind of epiphany one day, and I ended up at this little music school, and I reconnected with music. ... It wasn't just a hobby, it was part of my identity.
AP: How would you describe your songs?
Bareilles: I would describe the music as kind of sassy. It definitely has an attitude but it's very honest. I'm a real stickler with myself about that. I don't write from a place that I don't truly feel very connected to. I think that there's some humor in it. I try to encourage myself to look at things through humor and process the world around me with a lighter side, but it got some spunk to it - it's not the weepy lilting singer songwriter album.
AP: You say your songs are autobiographical. Some of them talk about relationships. Do you ever hear feedback from any of your past loves?
Bareilles: They've all actually been really respectful of that. I think you can't date a songwriter and not expect to show up somewhere (laughs). It's like, what are you going to do? ... I'm not really bashing anybody in these songs. I would expect an angry phone call if I wrote one of those songs.
AP: Finally, did you really write your own biography that's posted on your Web site?
Bareilles: I did! We hired somebody, a really sweet person and he wrote a bio, but I just didn't like it. It wasn't me. It's like, I don't need somebody to tell my story, I'll tell it! It was the only way I felt like my humor was going to get communicated, and my potty mouth, and all of the things that I want people to understand about me. I didn't want to hide any of that.
By Nekesa Mumbi Moody