Grammy-winning musician Sara Bareilles was playing stadium gigs when she was a teenager. (Well, technically, it was singing the national anthem at a Dodgers game — but still.) In this interview, Bareilles reflects on how the Broadway musical Waitress led to opportunities like working with Tina Fey on the Peacock comedy Girls5eva. Then, she gets quizzed on one of her favorite shows: The Golden Girls. Bareilles' latest album is Amidst the Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRAVE")
SARA BAREILLES: (Singing) You can be amazing, you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug. You can be the outcast or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
We're not just playing Sara Bareilles because it's the only thing in our engineer's playlist. It's because our next guest is Sara Bareilles. She's the Grammy-winning artist behind the hits "Brave" and "Love Song." She stars in the Peacock comedy "Girls5eva," and her new album is called "Amidst The Chaos: Live From The Hollywood Bowl."
Sara, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
BAREILLES: Hi. I'm so excited to see you...
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: It's such a pleasure to meet you.
BAREILLES: ...And hear you.
EISENBERG: Thank you so much. How's it going? I like your backdrop, a tapestry.
BAREILLES: Oh. That's hilarious because...
BAREILLES: ...It's truly - so I just moved into a new apartment in December. And now, you know, with everything, it's like, you see so much of your home.
BAREILLES: And so I'm trying to just, like, manufacture something that looks remotely considered. But it's a mess (laughter).
COULTON: Can I just point out that you and I have both made the decision to put a thing on a Wurlitzer in view of our camera?
BAREILLES: I'm clearly indicating that I am a musician. So...
COULTON: That's right.
COULTON: That's what I'm going for as well.
BAREILLES: ...Don't get it twisted.
EISENBERG: You know, Sara, I was reading about you. And you sang the national anthem on opening day at Dodger Stadium when you were a mere 14 years old.
BAREILLES: Yes. I sure did.
EISENBERG: Oh, my goodness. How does someone get a gig like that as a teenager?
BAREILLES: So my math teacher in eighth grade, Mr. Funkhouser (ph)...
BAREILLES: His brother somehow handled some of the bookings - the musical bookings - for the Dodgers. And so they had me make a tape and send in a submission. So my family drove down to Los Angeles from Eureka, Calif., where I grew up. So it's, like, an 11-hour drive or something like that. And I did opening day at Dodger Stadium. And I was very dressed up. And somebody - as I walked to my seat, someone in the stands was like, it's California, chick, you know? Like, you - I'm like, I live here, I promise. I thought this was important.
EISENBERG: Now, I - you know, I know you're 14 and, obviously, that was a big gig. That - I'm sure that felt...
BAREILLES: Oh, yeah, really big deal.
EISENBERG: ...The big...
BAREILLES: Really big deal.
EISENBERG: ...Did you think about your approach to the national anthem, you know, like if you were going to do any extra flourishes, how you were going to approach the last couple of lines?
BAREILLES: My dad was always pretty vocal about his disdain for people who would kind of, you know, make the national anthem too much their own.
BAREILLES: So I think I took a pretty simplistic approach. I was very worried about forgetting the lyrics, which is something that continues to this day even though - you know, how many times have we all sung that song? But I think I did a pretty straightforward - I might've done, like, a (singing) hey - or something like that.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) OK.
EISENBERG: So - OK. So in 2015, you composed the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical "Waitress," and that was based on a 2007 film starring Keri Russell. Now, I have heard that you've described your life sort of in two categories, before "Waitress"...
EISENBERG: ...And then after "Waitress." What does that mean exactly?
BAREILLES: It totally changed my sort of profile as an artist and as a creative. It opened doors for me. I ended up making a TV show with JJ Abrams and a record with T-Bone Burnett and now a television show with Tina Fey. And I just - all of these things have opened to me in a way that I don't know that they would've found me otherwise. But I had no idea, first of all, how much work it would be because, knowing me at the time, if I had known that I would work as hard and as long as I did on this show, I would've been like...
BAREILLES: ...No, no, no, no, no. I've got other things to do. But I am so grateful that I did. It was working on something that was brand new and confusing and, you know, unpredictable.
EISENBERG: And you started it after a couple of years. When you were writing it, was that always kind of a plan that was percolating?
BAREILLES: Not in so many words, but I think - I didn't know how to write anything for anyone else's voice at that point.
BAREILLES: I had only ever written the songs for myself to sing, so - I mean, even the men in the cast were like, you do know we're men's...
COULTON: Different range.
COULTON: We have to - yeah (laughter).
BAREILLES: Like, the duets were all...
EISENBERG: They're like, work harder. Work harder.
BAREILLES: ...The duets were all up in the stratosphere. So I had a pretty steep learning curve in that sense. But I don't know. I don't think I had the confidence initially that I would be able to do it. And Jessie Mueller, who originated the role, was such a masterful storyteller that I really just got to watch and learn from. So then when I stepped in, I felt like, OK, I can play and find my version of this role, but I had to really - I'd seen the show probably thousands of times at that point.
COULTON: Before we move on from musical theater, I just have to say one thing, which is that you and I both contributed a song to the "SpongeBob" musical, and your song was fantastic, "Poor Pirates." I still remember it.
COULTON: They - because they had me do a little bit of lyric punch-up on some of the other songs. And let me just say, there were a handful of songs that I was like, no one shall touch these songs, and yours was one of them...
COULTON: ...Because it was just perfect out of the gate.
BAREILLES: You're the best. Aw. Thank you.
COULTON: That was true. It was great.
BAREILLES: It was so fun. That show was incredible.
COULTON: It really was.
BAREILLES: I mean, we went to opening night and I was just like, this is - holy cow, it was awesome.
COULTON: Yeah, it was like a Broadway show...
COULTON: ...In the middle of a circus or something.
BAREILLES: Yeah, exactly.
COULTON: It was really great.
EISENBERG: So I - you know, we all have our different things that get us in the mode to create or write. And when you're sitting down to write, do you have a song-writing habit - anything you have to do to, like, set the stage?
BAREILLES: You know what I'm learning? This just happened yesterday as I was working on a song. I think some of those things that I told myself are - you know, it has to be this way or it has to be - are just little tricks I've told myself that are really me resisting just sitting down and, like, doing the work.
BAREILLES: Where I'm like, oh, but it's not - oh, it's not moody enough outside...
BAREILLES: ...And it's not - I don't have a coffee yet, or whatever it is. I do need to be alone. That's...
BAREILLES: ...Kind of, like, the only must-have.
EISENBERG: No WeWork for you.
BAREILLES: No, babe. No.
COULTON: That is a terrible idea, going to WeWork to write songs. That sounds so...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Or just create. I know.
COULTON: ...That's a nightmare.
BAREILLES: Just - with an acoustic guitar.
COULTON: It's a nightmare for everybody.
EISENBERG: And you just happened to tell us that you love something that we love (laughter), so it's great. You told us that you love the classic TV sitcom "Golden Girls."
BAREILLES: Yes. Do you feel like I'm a fan (ph)?
COULTON: Oh, my goodness. You have "Golden Girls" prayer candles.
EISENBERG: I see a Rose.
COULTON: That's impressive.
BAREILLES: I'm holding...
EISENBERG: And a Sophia.
BAREILLES: ...I have "Golden Girls" prayer - and then...
EISENBERG: Oh, you have them all.
BAREILLES: I sure have them all. Although, I've somehow - oh, no, Dorothy's holding up my phone right now, so...
EISENBERG: That's good. Thank you, Dorothy.
COULTON: A place of honor.
BAREILLES: ...That's right.
EISENBERG: So here's how this game works. We're just going to give you a statement about the "Golden Girls" and you're just going to tell us if you think it's true or false.
EISENBERG: OK. True or false, the "Golden Girls" kitchen set has been preserved at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History?
EISENBERG: Is that true or false?
BAREILLES: Oh, I don't think that's true.
EISENBERG: You are correct. It is false. It is not true.
BAREILLES: Not that it shouldn't be true. But, yeah.
EISENBERG: That iconic kitchen set was actually recycled from a previous short-lived sitcom called "It Takes Two."
BAREILLES: Who is in it? Do you know?
EISENBERG: Patty Duke Astin, Helen Hunt, Anthony Edwards, Richard Crenna, Billie Bird, Richard McKenzie, Randy Dreyfuss and Della Reese were in "It Takes Two."
BAREILLES: That's - that takes more than two.
COULTON: All right. Here's another one for you.
COULTON: Director Quentin Tarantino appeared on an episode of "Golden Girls" as an Elvis impersonator. True or false?
COULTON: That is actually true.
BAREILLES: Shoot. Really?
COULTON: In fact, he credits the show with launching his career (laughter). He says he was able to live off residuals from that appearance while he was working to get "Reservoir Dogs" made.
BAREILLES: Oh, my gosh.
EISENBERG: See, I think people should know there would be no "Reservoir Dogs" if there wasn't "Golden Girls."
COULTON: That's right.
BAREILLES: That's incredible.
COULTON: We owe a lot to "Golden Girls" for sure.
BAREILLES: We do. A lot of violent movies, we owe.
COULTON: A lot of violent movies came out of "Golden Girls."
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's right.
COULTON: People don't know.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Estelle Getty, who played the oldest "Golden Girl" of course, Sophia, got pregnant in between Season 1 and Season 2. Is that true or false?
BAREILLES: That seems false to me.
EISENBERG: That does seem false. However, according to Betty White, who gives us the inside gossip - I don't know. But she did say that Estelle Getty got a facelift between Season 1 and Season 2, which made things very hard for the makeup department.
BAREILLES: I have to go back immediately, today.
BAREILLES: In fact, I have to go because I have to - oh, my God. Really?
BAREILLES: Wow, that's amazing.
EISENBERG: Yeah. So last year, "The Golden Girls" was ranked among who Hulu's Top 10 most watched shows. Is that true or false?
BAREILLES: Oh, that feels very true to me. But I could be - yeah, yeah, true, true.
EISENBERG: No, it's true. It's totally true. I mean, obviously, it's reaching a younger audience. There's a lot of us that watch it again...
EISENBERG: ...Because it - you're right. It feels - it's - it feels good. It's feel-good television for sure.
BAREILLES: It's also very - it feels very contemporary. They talked about a lot of issues that were so, you know, progressive at the time. And it was wildly, like, radical to have older women be sexualized in any way. I mean, just things...
EISENBERG: I know. And not a, like, science fiction...
EISENBERG: So, yes, a Hulu spokesperson said it was categorized as comfort television along with "Law & Order: SVU," which is also frequently in the Top 10, so there you go.
BAREILLES: That is really - yeah. It says a lot about us I think as people, doesn't it?
EISENBERG: It really does (laughter).
COULTON: That's right.
COULTON: Either you're a "Golden Girls" person or a "Law & Order: SVU" person.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Whatever helps you sleep.
BAREILLES: Yeah, right?
COULTON: All right. This is the last one. After "Golden Girls" ended, Betty White, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan starred in a spinoff called "The Golden Palace." In it, their characters buy and run a Miami hotel, and the show also starred Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle.
COULTON: Yes, it is true. Have you seen the show?
BAREILLES: Which is - I've seen I think not much of it. How many - did it even make a full season?
COULTON: One season, yeah. That's it.
BAREILLES: One season.
EISENBERG: It made one.
EISENBERG: Yup, 24 episodes, so...
BAREILLES: Oh, we undercut you, "Golden Palace."
COULTON: Yeah, sorry, "Golden Palace."
BAREILLES: Sorry, I promise to watch (laughter).
EISENBERG: Sara, you did - I mean, like, again, no reason for you to know this level of "Golden Girl" trivia. But you did fantastic.
BAREILLES: I'm just - I just am such a fan of the show. What an awesome show this is. It's...
COULTON: Oh, thank you so much.
BAREILLES: It's a cupcake.
EISENBERG: Thank you.
BAREILLES: I love it.
EISENBERG: Sara Bareilles' latest album "Amidst The Chaos: Live At The Hollywood Bowl" (ph) is available now. And you can catch her in the Peacock comedy series "Girls5eva." Thank you so much for joining us.
BAREILLES: Thank you so much. Thanks, guys.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: That's our show. Our house musician is Jonathan Coulton.
COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.
EISENBERG: Today's puzzles were written by our staff, along with Nick Garrison, Madeline Kaplan and senior writer Karen Laurie with additional material by Cara Weinberger. ASK ME ANOTHER's produced by Nancy Saechao, James Farber and Rommel Wood, with Gianna Capadona and our intern Zach St. Clair. Our senior producer is Travis Larchuk. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel. And our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.
COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.
EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: Next time on ASK ME ANOTHER, from "Better Call Saul" and "The Mandalorian," Giancarlo Esposito talks about meeting Baby Yoda. Then comic Bethany Van Delft and musician Donwill answer the question - is it broccoli? Plus, from "Hacks," we play games with comedy couple Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs. So join me on NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER, the answer to life's funnier questions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.